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How to Host a Dragon in Your Castle or Lair

If you are brave enough to invite a dragon to tea, be warned: she might say yes.
And now, instead of slicing cucumbers and cutting the crusts off bread, I'm roasting three sheep in an open pit and steeping nuggets of pure gold with the tea.
I made a separate pot of Earl Grey for myself. I'm not a monster.
(Well, technically, yes, I am a monster. Just not when it comes to tea.)
Fannifari arrived precisely on time. My grimoire, Playing with Fire: How to Host a Dragon in Your Castle or Lair, posited that because ancient, nigh-immortal souls made no distinction between fifteen minutes and fifteen years, they were prone to punctuality, lest they accidentally arrive after their host died of old age. Speaking personally, if you've ever waited six months for someone to answer one tiny riddle before you can eat them, punctuality is a quality you treasure.
I knew Fannifari was purple--all the humans' manuscripts had that part correct. But I didn't know how it would glow like burnished amethyst.
Fanni flicked both my cheeks with her forked tongue and stepped into my home. Most people think sphinxes live above ground, but that's just where we work.
"So chic!" Fanni said. "I love what you've done with the skulls. Is it your own design?"
Most guests don't notice the mural, let alone compliment it. "Bone mosaics have been a hobby of mine for centuries." I was starting to blush. Blushing had not been on the agenda.
Fanni touched my foreleg with a taloned hand. Her scales were warm, even through my fur. "Do you take commissions? There's a wall of my cave that I haven't been able to do a thing with."
Was she... inviting me over? To her cave? Just like that?
"Make me a mural of human skulls" wasn't exactly the same as "Let me show you my etchings," but it was damn close. If only I'd read the grimoire chapter on flirting!
And the chapter after the chapter on flirting.
Oh sweet Hera, now I was blushing from wingtip to tail.
Remember what words are, I told myself. You are supposed to be amazing at words.
By the time I managed to mumble, "I'd like that," Fanni had made her way to the roasting pit and was sniffing the sheep.
"Would you like something to eat?" I asked, and immediately winced. Surely I could have said something suggestive instead. Are you hungry? Is there anything you want? DO YOU WANT ME?
(Though, to be fair, jokes about eating are always a little risky when one or both of you are monsters.)
Fanni sniffed the fire again. "They could use another few minutes for perfect charring."
I gestured to the table of finger foods. I'd harvested the fingers just last night. "We can snack while we wait."
My paws barely shook while I made her a plate and poured her tea.
Fanni stirred her drink with one deliciously sharp claw. "You know, I've been hoping for an invitation for quite some time now."
"You have? I've only been here a few decades. I wasn't sure you were even aware that I'd moved to the region." My body thrummed to the rhythm of a thousand rowing Argonauts.
Fanni's slitted pupils opened to full moons. She said, softly, "One always notices the coming of a new sun."
In the kettle, the tea over-steeped.
On the fire pit, the sheep burned.
Silence stretched between us, a silence ripe with possibilities ready to be plucked. And licked. And maybe bitten a little bit, if that's what the possibilities liked and agreed upon beforehand.
Fanni chuckled, and it was gentle and sweet, especially for a dragon. "Are you going to make me answer a riddle?"
A riddle. Yes, a riddle! I was good at those. They'd been my entire raison d'etre... until a few short hours ago.
I smoothed my wings, and breathed, and reminded myself that I had, in my deepest places, the indomitable strength of a sphinx.
And just like that, words returned to me. My beautiful, dangerous words.
"Are you ready?" I asked. "The penalty for failure is quite steep."
Fanni's sinuous tail wound behind me. She grinned, "Oh, I've seen the mural."
I closed the distance between us. A thousand stars pooled in her scales. I whispered, "What tastes sweet, but makes you hunger?"
Not one of my better riddles, but then again, I had no intention of waiting for her to answer.
If you are brave enough to invite a dragon to tea, you should be brave enough to kiss her.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, August 6th, 2020
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