The sound of panicked meowing came from an animal that did not resemble a cat in the least. Frump, a small and rather dimwitted dragon, was enjoying the idea of having a cat lost inside his cavernous belly. Just a few minutes earlier, he swallowed the feline whole and was not in a hurry to commence digestion.

The other animal, nay, person in the cave was not enjoying the high-pitched concert at all. A small long-haired girl was glaring at the dragon, although that feat wasn't easy for her. She stood less than five feet tall, whereas Frump's thin neck alone elevated his head to ten. Frump's two braincells tried to hook up for a conference about that girl. She was either a threat or lunch. In the back of his slow and tiny mind, the dragon also recalled something about ravishing, whatever that meant.

He knew that dragons ravished each other at times, but that's all he knew. Other members of his kind had avoided him with an insulting deliberation. He wasn't sure why, perhaps his superiority embarrassed them.

His attention returned to the problem at hand. He intended to barf the cat up to flame-broil it and re-swallow. He felt a little uneasy about performing such an intimate feeding function in front of a stranger. Maybe he could eat her, too. Dinner tells no tales, as we all know.

Princess, Frump's involuntary guest, was in a state. She had just licked her fur clean, but now all that tongue work was under a foul-smelling layer of reptile saliva. Surrounded by a mangy black pelt, her yellow eyes glowed like headlights . The cat's whiskers prickled against the insides of the dragon's belly, irritating Frump.

Princess examined the contents of Frump's belly, gaining no comfort in the process. Skulls of an old-time paladin and his squire bounced around in their helmets like gigantic baby rattles. The undigested armor was thick with verdigris. What truly disconcerted the cat was the substantial hairball, evidently made up of numerous feline remains. Princess herself disposed of such dainties regularly onto pillows or into petting hands, but this hit too close to home.

The cat sat on a rusty helmet and considered her situation. Her tail twitched spasmodically. She had no wish to be dragon food, yet her name was obviously on the menu. Her human retainer Mellie was doing yuck-all for the rescue effort. Somebody would get a scolding once the danger passed.

Frump regarded Mellie with loathing. Maidens were supposed to be ravishing: this one was anything but. She had no scales! Without beautiful, functional green or tan scales, the girl looked like a giant peeled scab, all pink and soft. She was scrawny, barely large enough for an appetizer and certainly not of the romantic kind. Besides, she had no tail and that just ruined it for Frump. He got up and sucked in his belly, an action which caused the cat to hit the top of the stomach. The dragon gasped and sat down again. Then he began to work the cat up his gullet. He wanted spit the mangy thing out, bounce it off the cave roof and roast it on the rebound.

Mellie spied the movement and screamed "Stay back, worm!" Frump stood back, so insulted he was by the worm comment. He thought about eating this ugly person just to avenge the rudeness.

"Daahling," he said with a lisp he affected when trying to pretend geniality "come here and let me appreciate your precious looks."

The ploy did not work. He wondered why that would be. Certainly his delivery was perfect and the line itself classic. Maybe the base wench just didn't appreciate genteel approach. He tried again: "Nice ass, baby! Bring it to daddy!" He wasn't sure what he just requested, but he had heard road crews scream that to passing females of their own species.

Mellie blushed. She has never been so inconsiderately treated in her entire life. That a two-legged lizard permitted itself such liberties amused her more than it annoyed her, but she wasn't going to let it get away with rudeness anyway.

"I am not your servant,” she shouted, stomping her foot “I am a princess maiden! Show some courtesy to my rank, you scaly scalawag!”

Frump looked embarrassed. “And that cat is my property,” he heard the girl add “Give her back!”

Princess could hear the conversation faintly. She felt herself slowly worked up the dragon's gullet. The sticky hairball was also working it's way up, pushing up from behind Princess like a battering ram. The cat's fondest wish was to get to outside of this loathsome reptile and say a few choice words on the subjects of dragon's breath and mental health. She also wanted to correct Mellie on her apparent self-delusions.

"Maiden princess" was so patently false, the cat didn't know where to begin. The pesky girl did have delusions of grandeur, but Princess was the cat and servant wench was the human. Was it not so the world over? The delusion of maidenhood was an affront to Mellie's annoying boyfriend: that creep couldn't have been as impotent as he looked. Princess didn't much mind his fixation on her human, as it distracted him from recreational cat torment. "Not your servant" was the sole grain of truth in that statement. Mellie wasn't a servant of anyone save Princess, though not a well-trained one.

The cat flexed her claws out and began to climb towards the light. Frump felt pleasantly burning stimulation, not unlike a well-peppered salsa aftertaste. Unfortunately, that sensation was heading the wrong way. Suddenly he turned green under his already green scales and said under his breath: "I think I'll be sick now."

Frump was embarrassed. He was sick in front of a girl, even if she wasn't a likable girl. So great was his discomfort, that he forgot to roast the cat until it scampered out of flame range. At least the stupid feline ran further into the blind cave corridor. It stopped at the first turn, sat down and began to lick its fur clean.

"Cat!" said Frump in disgust "Do you kiss yo momma with that tongue?"

Mellie guffawed. Frump wasn't sure what he said wrong but his ego was hurt again.

"Stop laughing and bring me my food," said Frump indicating Princess with a wave of his fore-paw.

"I don't think that food is inclined to cooperate just now," Mellie replied "I, on the other hand, just might be nice to you...provided that you behave."

Frump decided to behave. He did a half-bow which looked like a mad cow spasm and declared that he shall spoil Mellie with gallantry. He breathed out a thin jet of fire and asked if he may light a cigarette for the lady.

The lady proved herself unworthy of such attention by laughing at him again. Frump found this constant display of teeth and funny involuntary noises aggravating in the extreme, not in the least because anything funny to humans tended to be painful for the dragons.

"What do I look like to you, worm," she asked "Sarah cancerous Brady?"

Frump was confused again and turned to hide the hurt on his face. That maneuver brought him eye to eye with Princess who was about to bite the dragon's tail. He hissed and spurted a little more flame in the direction of the cat.

"Cat," he declared "You probably don't even taste good. Go away before I roast you just to hear you scream."

That sort of encouragement robbed Princess of her last grains of courage. Going away required going right past Frump and she didn't trust the goddamn steroidal lizard enough to make the attempt. She ran back into the cave and watched from what she deemed a safe distance.

Girl," Frump said in what he considered his affable voice "I shall ravish you now. Tell me what you like."

He had to ask, as his understanding of "ravishing" was nonexistent. Mellie caught onto that fact and smiled wickedly. She brushed a cobweb out of her hair and said modestly: "I am hungry."

Frump prided himself on being able to fix up a meal from scratch. He looked about for a bat but any creature witless enough to inhabit his abode have long since been flame-broiled and consumed.

"Do you eat mice?" he asked unhappily.

"Listen, lizard, you are confusing me with that mangy fur-ball yonder in the corner. I want steak."

The dragon felt crushing frustration. He was too slow to run down catching deer and his rank smell made ambush attempts futile. Cows were easier but didn't think the farmers and their dogs would let him take any. Maybe the pesky female could be starved into going away, he thought.

"Please excuse me, my fair lady," he said "I am a bit short of vittles just now. To keep your mind off hunger, may I sing for you?"

He has never tried singing but he had heard once that song made men forget sorrows and women forget caution. Either he'd annoy Mellie into leaving him tooth to tooth with her pet or she'd lose her head and would get romantic action after all. Frump hated these imprecise euphemisms. Why couldn't humans spell the important things out for his benefit! He cleared the residual cat fur from his throat and began to sing.

Mellie's hands were over her ears at once. Princess winced and hissed at the performer.

"Listen to me, you smelly dino! This little girl is going to stomp you when she gets tired of your gallantries!"

Frump opened his mouth to laugh, then the new information registered in his brain and his crashed his jaws shut. That crazy cat might just be serious, he decided. He glanced at Mellie: the girl seemed preoccupied with cleaning her fingernails with a small knife. Frump did not like the look of that at all. Being a reptile, he didn't heal well. A break in the skin that would annoy a mammal could be fatal to him. Ordinary prudence demanded that he stay out of combat. He did eat a knight and his squire once, but those worthies were passed out drunk when ingested.

"Thank you for not singing," Mellie looked up at him with unconcealed annoyance "You know, I don't think anyone would believe me about you. Hold still and open your eyes!”

Frump did as he was told out of pure reflex. The girl brought both of her hands up, covering her face with a little silvery square. Frump heard a faint click, then his world disappeared in brilliant bluish glare. His eyes, adjusted to the murky cave, saw nothing but spots for several minutes. “Nice picture,” he heard Mellie chuckle “You look right handsome for a dinosaur.”

Frump wondered if she was serious. “You'd look just beautiful on my arm,” he heard her say and couldn't help smiling. His ego, rachitic and needy, sniffled in gratification. The dragon's pleasure at Mellie's words did not escape the cat.

You stupid, pathetic lizard,” hissed Princess “She means that your hide would make a fine purse!”

All right,” said Mellie, louder than he thought she could speak. Her voice boomed and echoed through the cave crevices. “Let my cat get by you and we will be off.”

This sudden transition to business shriveled Frump's ego and it scurried back into the recesses of his little soul. He savvied that his lunch would be taken from him, and that his date plainly intended to stand him up. The dragon was outraged and said so.

Give me something!” he screamed “You can't just leave me without dinner...”

His voice faded to a sob. Mellie looked disgusted.

I'd give you ninety-five grains to get my cat back,” she said unpleasantly “Is that what you want?”

Frump couldn't see what he'd want with grain. He preferred meat to grain and, besides, she offered so little of it! He shook his head and indicated the cat's corner of the cave with his fore-paw: “Take the fur-ball, you greedy thing!”

The fur-ball wouldn't even consider moving to the mouth of the cave. To do so would require most disagreeable proximity to the dragon's head. Mellie observed the cat's reluctance and tried to motivate it to move.

I will be going now,” she said airily.

Princess heard that and fainted.

Frump, with his hopes of getting action fading rapidly, was spurred to action instead. His head snaked after Mellie, his toothy mouth open in a silent grimace of despair. To the retreating girl, his move looked like a lunge. She almost shot him right in the snout as promised but thought better of it.

To stop a dragon at once, she would have had to hit its tiny brain. Mellie had no clue where Frump's twin braincells resided or if they were even vital to his functioning. Nothing she'd seen suggested that cerebral activity figured much in the dragon's conduct. She whipped out an aerosol can and put a fine mist of pepper and tear gas into the space separating her from the rapidly approaching jaws.

Frump's face hurt suddenly! Frightened, he sneezed and breathed out fire simultaneously. His fiery breath detonated the mixture of particles, blinding him briefly and bouncing his own head against a cave wall. The girl was propelled out of the cave like an ill-fitted cannon ball from a stone bombard. She landed without grace into a cushy bush and blinked rapidly. Like Frump, Mellie was blinded by the flash and the suddenly bright sunlight.

A few minutes later, Mellie was studying the cave mouth closely. The re-entry of the fatal funnel did not appeal to her in the least. She felt for a pouch on her belt and discovered that the hard landing broke her cell phone. So much for calling the cavalry! The girl's eyes went over the dirt and grass stains on her clothes. Her face set into a positively Medieval expression of focused hatred. That pile of scales would pay dearly for all this!

Frump's shell-shocked mind was racing. He darted ponderously about the cave in hopes of finding a good hiding spot. Any minute now, that mean human would be back to turn his ass and other precious body parts into leather goods. He found a nice, deep crack to fit his head and long neck...that should be good enough, he thought.

Princess came to beholding Frump's tail right in her face. To stunned to practice her customary cowardice, she grabbed it with her teeth and bit down. The reflexive twitching of the tail tossed the cat sideways, its fluffy tail drag stabilizing her for a clean parabolic trajectory. At the end of that trajectory were Mellie's arms, into which Princess landed with a sense of profound relief.

Took you long enough!” the cat said “I could have been his lunch twice over by now if not for my valiant resistance.”

Mellie stared at her cat. The cat filled that pause with hacking and coughing and proudly deposited an orange hair ball into her human's shirt. Then the kitty was flying again, this time on a steeper trajectory than before. In flight, she reflected that girls who play soccer can really kick. Princess landed into a rose hips bush and elected to stay under it till everyone's tempers cooled.

A timid wave of a dragon tail holding a white cloth caught Mellie's attention. She was on a rock by the entrance, musing about the best way to pry that fine dragon skin off its current owner. The girl knew plenty of ways to knock out the dragon, but all of them involved hide damage. She heard a nervous cough followed by a barely audible offer of a surrender.

Come out with your mouth closed and your paws and tail where I can see them,” she said.

Frump did as he was told, keeping his little forepaws and a twitchy tail tip in plain view. Trying not to open his mouth, he whimpered about Geneva Convention and the right of prisoners not to be skinned for handbags. That much, Mellie admitted, was a reasonable appeal.

What shall I do with you?” she mused. Feeling devious, the girl intended to recite steak recipes but the dragon took her question literally.

I can be your leather couch!” he offered “I change shape on command and my flames keep me warm from within. And,” he thought to himself, “I'd be touching your butt every time you sit down.”

Mellie considered. A fine leather couch that delivered itself was almost a sufficient consolation for all the trouble of the day. She holstered her pistol and whistled to the cat: “Princess, come meet our new furniture!”