"Unhand me, you brute!"
I smiled as two of my salamander-like underlings carried in a near hog tied figure in a pink dress to my banquet table, depositing her in the seat of honor. "Welcome, Princess Strawberry."
When our eyes met, her face flushed red, all the way to the tips of her pointy ears. "What is the meaning of this, you, you scaly creep?"
I waved to the feast my reptilian chefs had set out on the linen spread. "Dinner."
She shook her blonde locks out of her face, giving me a pouty look. "What, you intend to poison me?"
I laughed, trying real hard not to make it sound sinister. "Princess, let me ask you something: Why do you think I keep kidnapping you over and over?"
The princess furrowed her brow. "Is this a trick question?"
The white-gold triangle emblem of her country glowed from the center of her blouse. I feigned disinterest in how well she filled that blouse. "No, no. Be honest. What do you think I have to gain?"
She blew a raspberry. "Gee, I don't know, ransom money?"
I gestured to the elaborate tapestries on the wall, the suits of armor, the gold sconces and expensive vases. "Seriously?"
Princess Strawberry squirmed in her chair. "My...kingdom. You want to rule the entire land of Mysteria."
I rubbed my snout. "Guess again?"
The princess stared blankly. Her lower lip trembled.
I signaled for someone to shut the large double doors. "If I untie you, will you promise not to run?"
The look on her face said no.
"At least until we have dinner? A lot of time and effort went into the preparation. I'd hate to see it go to waste." My claw unthinkingly went to my belly, but I didn't want to say I was fat out loud. "Could you please give me the courtesy of staying that long?"
Princess Strawberry gawked at me like I'd grown an extra set of horns. "You're serious. You just want to eat dinner with me."
"You're not even the main course," I joked.
She shuddered in response.
"I'm sorry, that was in poor taste." I patted my belly. "I can see how you might think that I enjoy eating princesses, but no, it's not that either."
The princess took a deep breath. "I...okay. I'll stay to eat, but only because you starved me in your dungeon all day, and I demand to know what this is about."
"It was only an hour," I protested. "And I'm really sorry about that."
I gave the order to release her.
"But your highness!" cried Bruno, my scaly captain of the guard.
I shook my head. "I've had my say. If she runs, well, I guess it wasn't meant to be."
My voice echoed uncomfortably loud through the chamber.
The princess's jaw dropped at the same day the ropes did. "Wait, what?"
Blushing, I pressed on. "I know this looks like a lot of food, but that's only because I don't know what you like. You could be vegetarian for all I know."
She frowned as her eyes traveled from a steak to the potatoes. The rows of chairs between us seemed to frown at my social awkwardness.
"I confess I've never seen you eat before. I guess that's why you have such a nice figure, huh?"
Princess Strawberry's mouth formed a large O. "You mean, you...you kidnapped me, because..."
I nodded. "If I wanted your kingdom, I would have kidnapped your father. To tell the truth, I didn't want to do it this way, it's just that my letters got ignored, and when I asked for an audience with you at the gate, the guards turned me away. Big scary lizard man asking for a princess. Go figure."
She suppressed a giggle, forcing her lips back into a pout. "That's still no way to go about it. You shouldn't be rewarded for taking advantage of a woman."
I sighed, staring at the table. "You don't know how bad I already feel about this. If there had been some other way, I would have done it. I'm really sorry. Can you forgive me?"
Only then did I dare look upwards, awaiting her response.
She pursed her lip, shapely bosom heaving.
"Look. Every time I kidnapped you, I never really harmed you, did I? I even left your clothing intact."
Princess Strawberry put a hand to her chest. "...Those...breaded mushrooms look good. I think I'll have some of those."
I directed an attendant in a chef's outfit to fetch some, and a guard to place her royal circlet back on her head.
To my surprise, she took it back off, placing it beside her. "That thing makes my head itchy."
I grinned at her, propping up my chin as I gazed into her blue eyes. "You look very nice today, Princess Strawberry."
"I would have looked nicer if your goons hadn't—" She suddenly looked ashamed for some reason. "Thank you."
The princess ate a forkful of mushroom, eyebrows raising in surprise at the flavor. "This is really good!"
Unused to smiling, I tried to fight it down at first. "Glad you like it. I do have the best chefs in the Dark Lands."
"King Malachi, do you have any hobbies, I mean, other than kidnapping princesses?"
My heart pounded, fearful of when the rejection would come. "Well, you know I study the magical arts. I also play around with botany, and have aquariums. I can show you my fish after we get through with dinner...If you want to stay, that is."
She pointed to the tuna steak. "Did you make that from your pet?"
I chuckled. "Oh no! That would be wasteful. Would you like a slice of that?"
A chef rushed to serve her. The princess's eyes wandered. She seemed embarrassed when I caught her. "...Is that a new robe?"
I glanced down at my fine purple trappings. "Oh this?" My turn to look embarrassed. "Never worn it before. Do you like it? I was hoping to impress you."
She actually allowed herself to laugh. I braced myself for an insult. "It's very nice, King Malachi. And the studs too. I always thought they looked cute on you."
A grin came unbidden. I let my face do what it wanted as I self consciously touched my bracelets. "They're not new, but thank you. By the way, it's okay to just call me Malachi, I mean, if you want."
"You...look like you work out a lot..."
My spiky collar shifted as I swallowed a lump. "I do?" I pretended not to have just put a claw to my paunchy stomach. "I mean, yes, I do some weight lifting from time to time."
She reached over the table, grabbing a piece of chicken. After taking a bite, she covered her mouth. "Sorry, King Malachi, I mean, Malachi. Forgot my manners." To further illustrate, she cut into the drumstick with a knife and fork.
"I kidnapped you. You can do whatever you want."
Grinning, she abandoned the silverware formality. "They never let me do this at home."
"Just Strawberry, please."
Just Strawberry! My heart pounded so loudly I thought for sure she could hear it. "I always thought Strawberry meant red hair, not that I'm complaining..."
"It's a family name."
I glanced at the casement windows. "No offense, but are you, by any chance, killing time until someone comes to rescue you?"
Strawberry sighed. Did I detect...guilt? "That would have been clever, wouldn't it? Honestly, I prefer to come up with an escape plan and sneak out on my own. I've seen some of the traps you've set for my knights, but for me..." She paused. "Oops. I think I said too much."
The comment made me smirk. "Don't worry. This is the last time I'll ever kidnap you."
She helped herself to mashed potatoes. "Are you going to eat?...Or are you saving your appetite for me?" The princess seemed to be asking only half in jest.
"Sorry." I started in on my chef salad. "I...don't do stuff like this very often. Dinners, I mean. My stomach...I'm very nervous."
Strawberry coughed and pounded her chest. The grin told me she found something funny enough to make her swallow food the wrong way. My face flushed hot with embarrassment. "What!"
"Nothing. That's very healthy."
She asked for some fried shrimp. "Do you...normally have a lot of guests here?"
"We used to, but we had some family disagreements, a couple provinces fell apart, your father's army destroyed a few other ones..." I rubbed my face. "Again, not why I kidnapped you."
The princess stood up, plate in hand, her right straightening her hem. "This is silly."
My eyes bugged out when she strolled up to my end of the table, seating herself right next to me.
"That's better." She nonchalantly served herself mushrooms, and after a few bites, glanced down. "Are you wagging your tail?"
In my excitement, the stubby thing had emerged from my robe, thumping against the chair. "Um...maybe?"
"That is so adorable!" she squealed.
That, to my utter humiliation, made my tail thump more.
The princess serioused up all of a sudden. "So...you like me...and you've been trying to get my attention."
I adjusted my collar. "I'm...sorry I had to resort to these kinds of methods—"
"I'm not," she blurted. "In fact, I have a little confession to make. I've...been kinda making it easy for you to kidnap me. A lot of times I wander into places near your territory on the pretense of picking flowers, or practicing riding my new temperamental horse, when I really just wanted to see you. In other words, what I'm trying to say to you is—" She kissed me full on the mouth.
Once recovered from the initial shock, I reciprocated, though utter disbelief prevented me from closing my eyes like she did.
Seconds later, Bruno burst through the giant doors. "Your majesty! There's an ice cream man with a sword at the gate! He's gotten past all the lava pits and booby traps and giant poison gas breathing spiders!"
The princess pulled away quickly, brows knitting in anger...Or shame. "Pablo!"
Steam blasted out my nostrils. I came close to roasting my salad with my fire breath. "He got past the whole thing? Even the collapsing bridge, and the spinning fireball sticks and the poison dart cannons?"
"Yes, sir. He's very nimble."
I groaned, shaking my head.
"Sir, what do I tell him? He's trying to break in."
I stammered, casting a questioning glance at my dining companion. "I was meaning to ask, are you two—"
Before I could finish, she looked straight at my captain, giving this order: "Tell him, `I'm sorry, Pablo, but your princess is in another castle."