Just F.Y.I., I calculated wrong at first, and I think we’ll actually finish The Sacrifice by late May. Sorry about that!
Part Fourteenth: Breakfast
Penelope closed her eyes again and rolled over. What was the worth of getting up? Her throat burned with thirst. The floor of the enclosure was scattered with rotting leaves, but they were not enough to mask the hard stone of her chamber. Her every muscle ached. She had spent so much time preparing to die, the idea of living had never even occurred to her. Really, if she had known, she would have brought water—or a pillow. Or a hairbrush, she thought ruefully, opening her eyes and brushing loose, gold strands from them.
She sat up painfully, using her hands braced against the floor more than anything else. Her back and shoulders screamed at the movement. It was so tempting to lay down again. Actually, if she piled up the leaves they might make a bit of a bed. Why not get comfortable?
She had not thought of anything of the kind last night. All she remembered was the triumphant look in the dragon’s eyes. . . the painful pressure of his almost hand-like (and yet not really hand-like) front paw on her arm. . . watching the daylight disappear as she was dragged down into the cave. . . being flung into this tiny cleft in the rocky wall of the tunnel. . . and the dragon banging the iron gate that enclosed it like a small room (or cell) with ferocious glee. And then finally throwing herself down and letting out all the pent-up tears. She must have fallen asleep like that.
She could hear Abadalyx coming up from the depths of his lair deep in the mountain-side before she could see him in the dim light, that filtered down from the morning sun into the cave. He shot her a fiercely happy look as he passed her, before darting out of the cavern’s mouth. Penelope cowered under the harsh glance of his fiery eyes. She thought it strange that he had her here, instead of trying to put her down lower, where he could rest in between her and the entrance. Still, there was the gate. She wondered where the dragon had come by it, in this lonely mountain cave. Had he made it? Of course he would not have any trouble heating iron, but shaping such intricate twists and curls with his clumsy, four-inch claws? She did not think it possible.
Nearly half of a hour later he returned. He stopped now and glared at her through the bars of the gate, and the Princess saw he held something in those great claws today. After they stared at each other for a moment he tossed his handful into her cage, some of them pouncing off the bars of the gate back into his face, and some tumbling between them to roll in all directions across the stone floor inside—chestnuts.
“Breakfast,” Abadalyx snarled.
“How do I know they’re not poisoned?” Penelope asked, trembling. Killing herself, even when death threatened every moment, was not her ideal. She didn’t understand why she was alive, and spending the rest of her life like this would be a nightmare—but something in her still begged her to be cautious.
Abadalyx snarled and sparks flew from his nostrils. “You are in my hand, Princess. If I wanted to kill you, I would not use nuts—I would do it without persuading you to cooperate.” He blasted fire against the already smoke-blackened wall across the tunnel and stormed down into his cave.
“Hateful creature!” Penelope muttered, shivering. But in this she felt sure he spoke the truth: if he could burn her alive at moment, why poison her?
She sat knelt down and began to gather up the chestnuts and bang them on the floor to crack them.
She was hungry.