“Strong” female protagonists are all well and good, but sometimes I prefer the relentlessly practical ones, as in this story from Merrie Haskell.
Time passed swiftly in the bear’s castle; winter turned to spring. I had time to practice my swordcraft, for there was an armory, and time to practice my riding, for there was a stable. As for my night duties, the bear was a gentler lover than my husband.
The bear took some interest in my daily activities, and often showed up to watch me exercise my borrowed swords against a variety of straw dummies.
“What are you training for?” he asked. His voice rumbled so deeply that it caused my ear bones to itch.
“For dragons,” I said.
“What does a miller’s daughter who can spin straw into gold care for dragons?” he asked.
“I kill them.”
“I see. And how do you go about it?”
I told him. I showed him the dragon claw and the dragon-scales I had carried in my pocket since my first and only battle. I explained about my grandfather the dragon-slayer and his philosophies of dragon combat. I explained also how my first and only dragon had eaten my husband’s donkey.
“After that, my husband wanted nothing more to do with me,” I said. “An unhappy marriage cannot bear the loss of a much-cherished donkey.” I stopped. The bear was looking at me strangely. “I’m boring you?”
“Not at all. I’m amused, I assure you. Go on.”
I went on, talking about the three days in the forest before he found me, all the while in the back of my mind trying to figure out how I amused him. When I wrapped up my story, he took me in his paws.
“Close your eyes, and keep them closed,” he growled to me, and scrumped with me right there, on the floor of the armory.
It seemed that day, as it always did during our matings, that his body was smaller than it appeared, and I felt more skin than fur beneath my fingers. I nearly cracked open an eye, but as if he sensed my curiosity, he growled, “Eyes closed!” and slobbered a beary kiss into my ear.
Later, as I pulled together the tattered remains of my shirt and watched him bear-waddle away, I wondered if I was just imagining him as more human when my eyes were closed.
I looked down my breasts poking through two of the four large rents in the fabric. “Alas, Lissa,” I told myself regretfully. “Human hands don’t do that to good linen. Not generally.”