Reptilian eyes gazed at her from within a hooded, serpentine head. Not unlike the cobras that often entertained her father’s guests. The creature had a long neck that matched its hooded head in crimson scales. That was where this creature’s resemblance to her father’s snakes ended, though.
The child stared in awe at the adventurous contortion of beasts that comprised the rest of the strange creature’s body. One front leg was clearly that of some great hunting cat, while the other was akin to the knobby limb of a flamingo except for a disturbingly human-like appendage at the end of it. By craning her neck, the child could clearly see that it’s back legs neither matched the front ones, nor each other: one, the leg of a goat, the other like that of a mouse grown to monstrous proportions.
Charcoal-grey fur covered the creature’s body, starting at the base of its neck—where the scales began—and ending just before the large, striped barb that crowned its long, thin tail. The child stepped back a pace, eyeing the creature with fearless wonder. Amused chuckling escaped the animal’s shadowy mouth, a forked tongue darting forward from that darkness in punctuation of its humor. Words followed and the child’s eyes lit with startled delight.
“What iss your name?”
“Claudia, sir monster.”
Claudia had a curious thought. “Do you have a name?”
The creature hesitated, its lidded eyes registering the faintest sign of shock as they regarded this young human. After a moment of doubt-filled consideration, it answered.
“I do, but I have never shared it. The world sees me as you have described me; a monster. We are all defined, and named, by how we look to others, and by the shapes of thought available to them.” The creature paused. “It is for this reason that I chose my own name. I cannot control how they define me, but I can strive to define myself. By the rules of others, this conversation would never have happened. For being brave enough to see differently, I will tell you the name I have chosen for myself.”
Claudia leaned forward, turning her head slightly as the creature whispered its name into her ear. With a squeal of delight, she hugged the startled creature, exclaiming as she did so. “It’s wonderful! And so are you!”
Claudia had understood her new friend’s words with an insight that balanced any lack of intellectual comprehension with the visceral conviction of empathy. At such a youthful age, she had not yet been taught by the few to fear the many. Neither scarred in body nor mind by the world or the actions of others, Claudia had yet to learn of the dangers that came with life.
On that day, a great friendship began. One that blossomed over the years and played no small part in the events that would later encourage historians to refer to Claudia as the greatest empress of an era. She never lost the open-mindedness of her youth. Not for lack of pain or strife, but because of her own resilience, and the support of a wonderful and unusual friend. The emblem of Claudia’s rule was composed runes that translated to: “past fear is peace”. And though fear within her people was never eliminated, her reign dealt it a harsh blow. It took a lifetime of effort, and the greatest seat of power, but before she died, Claudia saw a land come true where there were no more monsters. Where all were accepted by simple right of existence.