She woke up at the very crack of dawn on the day she was due to start her return journey. The Sun's rim had just started to show itself in all its enormous early morning red circumference above the horizon, far away over the blue sea.
The white horse had been awake even before the Princess and was pawing the ground, snorting impatiently through his thoroughbred equine nostrils in his eagerness for the great adventure to come. He was bored after months of comparative inactivity. Soon, perhaps, he would be bearing on his willing back the weight of his beloved rescuer, mistress and friend on the final stage of her return journey.
It was the work of a few minutes to saddle the noble beast and fill the saddle bags with enough food and water to last for a couple of weeks. Princess Sara gave one last look at the cave where lived her unlikely friend, the dragon, seeing that there were no signs of life from him. He would not be up and about for hours, yet!
She noted with relief that the plump and greasy skinned village maiden had been released from her uncomfortable captivity. She led her faithful horse down to the plain, not looking back once at the scene of her hibernal resting place. It would only have made her sad.
The ground was still soft underfoot after the winter rains and easy for the still barefoot Princess to walk over. It was covered as far as she could see by a profusion of wild flowers, of a myriad different varieties - a breathtaking kaleidoscope of blues, reds, pinks, yellows, ultramarines and every other colour of the rainbow. She still found it hard to comprehend that a landcsape that was so barren and parched in the long summer months could yield such an amazing fecundity of floral richness in the Southern Spring.
The little girl in her longed to make a chain of daisies and other flowers, draping them around her delicate, fragile neck, framing her small, firm and exquisitely formed breasts with their colours, but the proscription on any kind of adornment or covering, save the fairy ring, made this quite impossible. She contented herself with making a garland for her beloved white four-legged friend. He knew that this was a special gift from the adorable Princess and successfuly resisted the temptation to eat it - for an hour or two at least!
When she came to the site of the healing lake, there was no sign of those warm and gentle waters, whose touch had restored her torn body to normal. However she was sure that it was not imagination on her part that the carpet of flowers was even richer here than elsewhere. It was still a place of magic.
She was not without her misgivings when her route led her through that town where the now deceased mob had bayed for her blood on that terrible day. She need not have feared. The dead had been buried and the survivors, the little children and those peacable decent souls who had not been carried away by the puritanical zeal of the majority, locking themselves into their homes and praying that the poor girl might be spared, flocked out to greet her. They assured her that they bore her no ill will for what had befallen the rest of the townsfolk.
"After all" said the new mayor, "They were going to kill you in the most degrading and painful manner, bringing everleasting shame on themselves and also upon the rest of us. They only reaped what they had sown."
She accepted their offer to replenish her supplies of food and drink, continuing on her way, thankful that her earlier adventure had not been repeated.
For whatever reason, the horse then diverged from the route she had followed earlier in the year and she found herself in unfamiliar territory. The homes and farmsteads seemed meaner and poorer than those she had passed earlier. She came to a town and was saddened at the decrepitude of the buildings and the shabbiness of the people. Everyone seemed sad and shrivelled - in some way oppressed, as if by some ever present fear, which the Princess, herself could sense in the very air of the place.
"There is a purpose in my coming this way" she told herself. "I wonder what, exactly?"
Her question seemd to be part way to being answered soon enough. A group of people were walking across to her, breaking away from what looked like some kind of meeting in the town square. They were a sorry looking lot, shabbily dressed and downcast, with the very notableexception of one tall and faired haired young man, extremely young, but sufficiently far removed from boyhood as to have grown a full red beard, which accentuated the stern and decisive manliness of his features.
He was the only person in this place who did not look a slave to fear. Princess Sara felt herself drawn towards this youth -he seemd to be the sole healthy feature in what otherwise looked to be a diseased and dying community, a community being eaten away from within by defeatism and despair. She knew, as soon as she saw him, that Destiny had brought the two of them together for some great purpose! She waited for him to speak, but was surprised when one of the older members of the group spoke first.
This elder spoke in a thin reedy voice. "Greetings, exquisite and undressed lady! What misfortune have you suffered to reduce you to this wretched nakedness? What wrong have you done to incur such a punishment?"
"I have done no wrong, save give my heart to the man I love and be rejected unless I travel the world naked and homeless with no companion save this beloved steed whom I am forbiden to mount. I am a Princess and a very great lady in my own land and a great lady in your and any other land, despite my poverty."
The old man frowned at this. He explained, in a stern voice, that in this land there were no Kings and Queens and no Lord and Ladies either. All men and women were equal in this country and no one stood higher than his fellows, all decisions being taken by popular vote at meetings, one of which had been in progress when the Princess entered the town.
"A fat lot of good this freedom seems to have done you!" said the Princess, appalled to think that these people owed allegiance to no King and ruled themselves. Shocking!
"It is true that we have our problems here, young woman. We live under the shadow of a great evil. A monster lives at the top of that hill and demands tribute from us every year, such as that we have little left of our produce to feed ourselves. Worse than this, this Thing demands the sacrifice every month of a fair maiden to appease his wrath. The time is near when we must decide which beloved daughter of our community must be surrendered to his insatiable greed for blood."
"I resent being called 'Young woman', my good man. I am used to be addressed as 'Your Serene Highness', but since you are obviously benighted and ignorant folk hereabouts, I will overlook your impertinence on this occasion. You need a King to rule you and I can see just the one you need."
She pointed to the fair young man, who stood head and shoulders over his fellows, even allowing for his upright stance and their shifty hang dog demeanour.
"Where is the unfortunate young lady you propose to sacrifice, miserable man?"
The elder pointed to a cowering maiden with pale and tear stained face, who stood a few yards apart from the rest.
"She is indeed the fairest of all your maidens as far as I can tell. She is not to be a victim of your cowardice and this monster's evil. She shall be this young man's wife and your Queen. As for the sacrificial victim. This monster shall be fed no more innocent maidens. He shall be killed this very day! I and your future King will do the killing!"
She turned to the young man.
"Come, fair youth, lead me to the lair of this creature and let us despatch him forever!"
The young man responded eagerly to these inspiring words. He offered to find a suit of armour and a sharp sword for the Princess, but she refused haughtily.
"I wear no clothes and I carry no sword. Neither must you! Remove all your clothes, this instant! Naked and together, with nothing save our humanity to oppose this creature, we shall remove the curse under which you have all lived for too long. Come, youth! We waste time!"