The tavern door opened and in stepped a young man. His hair was wind blown and wet from the pump in the front yard. His clothes were travel worn. The man's dark eyes darted across the room and caught Corinna staring at him. Only then did Corinna remember to drop her gaze back to trestle table in front of her. She didn't want to draw anymore attention than she had to.
A thunk on the other side of the table caused her to jump, pulling her elbows off the sticky surface. Settling into the bench across from her was the traveler. He gave her a fleeting smile. Corinna swallowed as she made out the insignia on his jacket marking him as a member of the House Royal of Montmallet.
The serving girl returned with Corinna's dinner of Shepard's Pie and a glass of milk, saving her from having to greet the newcomer. The serving girl gave the man a long look and stood half protectively over Corinna. Corinna tried to hide the holes in her sleeves from her fight with the blackberry bush as she picked up a fork. Compared to the serving girl, Corinna was in a horrible mess. Her dress was dirty and she didn't think she would ever get the tangles out of her hair. The serving girl had offered her a room and a bath for free tonight and Corinna didn't want to do anything to jeopardize that generous offer.
"What can I get you, sir?" The serving girls voice wasn't nearly as kind as when she had welcomed in the travel-stained woman.
"You can tell me what is going on here," he replied in frustration. "I traveled this far to help rescue a princess. When I got to the tower, there was nothing but empty stone rooms. If she was rescued, why isn't Bengary celebrating? If she never existed, why are princes from every surrounding country out trying to find her?"
He seemed honestly confused by the situation, and Corinna couldn't blame him for it. The girl even relaxed her stance against him and glanced at Corinna. She fidgeted with her apron for a moment before answering. "The word is that the dragon got loose and ate the wizard and the princess and went flying off."
"But then why isn't the country in mourning?"
"Oh, it is." The serving girl fidgeted again. "But nothing is certain. There is some who think that the dragon stole the princess away."
"Then I must go find and slay the dragon!" The prince stood up only to loose his balance as his the back of his knees hit the bench.
"Oh sit down," Corinna snapped, dropping her fork back into the pie. The girl and prince both stared at her as she crossed her abused hands over her stomach. "The dragon didn't take off with the princess and don't you dare go hurt that beast. She was spelled and tortured into helping that horrible wizard and left as soon as he was dead."
The prince sat back down, smoothing out his tunic. He frowned at Corinna and the girl put a hand on her shoulder. "How do you know this, young lady? You look like you've been traveling as much as I."
"Not that much. Just from a tower to a castle to here." Corinna muttered. She looked back up at the prince and met his gaze. "I am the Princess Corinna, and I rescued myself. I loosened the bonds holding me and kicked the wizard between the legs. He lost his concentration and the dragon freed herself from his magical bonds and ate him. She went home to her family and so did I." Corinna sniffed and looked around the room to find all eyes were on her. "I went home and was kicked out for the crime of defending myself. My parents didn't want to explain to all those princes who had traveled so far that they weren't needed."
The prince stared, open-mouthed, at the princess. At the end of her speech, he rested his chin on a fist, elbow propped on the table. His dark eyes looked her over and nodded slowly. "I can see how that would be a difficult situation." He cleared his throat, "I suppose that I should be returning home then as there is no need for me."
Corinna nodded and turned her eyes down to her dinner but the prince grinned and lifted her chin with a finger. "If you happen to be heading toward Montmallet, I could offer you the use of my second horse. A gift from one fighter to another."