Here’s this weeks Author Aerobics: Internal Dialogue Challenge response and #FridayFlash. I can’t believe I haven’t written about dragons until now.
The Old Woman and the Dragon
By T.S. Bazelli
The sheep began to bleat and pull against the rope. It smelled dragon.
“Come now, hush.” Marie spoke softly out of habit, but it had little effect. Her leg slipped, and her old shattered knees throbbed against cobblestone.
Dragons were not meant to be pets. She knew this, they all knew this, but the Lord would not be denied. The job of keeping the dragon fell to Marie. Others had been given the task before her, but they had all been eaten or injured. She marveled that she was still alive, that her old stringy muscle and bone were unappetizing.
She raised her lantern up to see better. The scales glittered like a mound of copper coin, as the dragon lay curled at the bottom of the pen. Perhaps once it had been a majestic beast, but now it’s head it’s head hung low. The fire had long since left him. He seldom raised his long neck now.
His dark eyes followed Marie as she entered the pen with the sheep, and tied it to a post. An old dragon, and an old woman. What a pair they made.
“Hope you have an appetite, old man.” She mumbled as she drew the rope into a knot. A few whiskers fluttered as the dragon sighed and rumbled. The poor thing was so slow.
The Lord’s son was getting married and the manor had been in a flutter of preparation for weeks. The kitchen had spared a live sheep for the dragon. A rare treat, when usually the king threw him nothing but scraps, as if the dragon were one of his hounds.
She patted the dragon’s smooth neck as it stumbled to it’s feet. The scales were hot to the touch. The huge bulk of it loomed above her. The dragon could crush her instantly if it slipped, it could swallow her whole if it wanted to.
Yet, there was something about the dragon that reminded her of her late husband. Something in the way it’s head bobbed when she entered the pen, in the slow movements, in the toothy expression, and cracked lips. She’d thought of giving him a name once, but decided against it. Who was she to give a name to a dragon?
The thick metal chain that bound the dragon rattled as he moved. Marie knew it chafed, that it pressed into its flesh, that there were welts and blisters beneath the shackles, but a dragon was not a pet. A dragon on the loose was a dangerous thing.
She thought of her husband. Her old knight. He’d returned from the crusades battered and broken nosed, yet still proud to the bone. Other wives had not been so lucky. They’d never had any children, though they tried. Oh how they tried.
“What will I do if you leave me?” She asked him once. Her husband laughed in that deep rumble of his, “You know in other lands the people believe that when we die, our souls come back to this world, perhaps an animal, or a flower.” She had scoffed at that. She’d never been particularly religious, but even that was too much to believe. She missed him terribly. The memory of his death was still heavy upon years after he passed. She couldn’t remember crying when he passed away.
“Did you have a family, old man?” The sheep had disappeared in two gulps. The chain rattled.
There were so few dragons. Perhaps he was the last. Marie had never seen another, but she knew this was no life for a dragon. She imagined what he must look like flying high in the sky. There was hardly enough room in the iron pen for his wings to extend. They sat tucked in close to his body, wasting away.
The dragon, settled back onto its legs, its head sunken once more to the ground, as if defeated. As if reliving defeat, but always its dark eyes watched her.
It was not right, not for a dragon. She felt a pang in her heart. Marie fit her key into the chain that held the dragon in place, fumbling and hoping to be done with the task before her senses returned. Her heart beat quickly as she struggled with the heavy iron shackle. It was almost too much for an old woman, but she’d always been strong. Who else was there to work the fields while her husband was away at war? The shackles fell to the ground.
“Get away while you can! Now. Shoo!” She slapped the dragon on its side, she yelled and stomped, but the creature did not blink. “This is your chance, old man! You may never get another.” The old creature shifted, like a giant creaking boat, and curled up as if to sleep. “It’s your fault then.” She cried, aware that tears had begun to flow. She was just a stupid sentimental old woman. The dragon was only an animal.
She wondered what her husband would have thought of this all, as she hefted the shackles back onto the leg to hide her disobedience. It was a leg as thick and sturdy as an old pine tree. She might as well have been dealing with a horse or a cow.
The sky erupted with light, and she stumbled back, frightened. Fireworks, she had heard them called, but she had never seen such a thing before. Witchery from the orient. She plugged her ears, as the booms echoed in her body. The dragon curled warm beside her and the bright colors, were mirrored in scale. Then there was silence, but for the heavy breathing and beating of the dragon’s heart.
As Marie locked the pen behind her, she heard voices. Young men, she figured, and drunk. She heard piss hit the ground and she sighed. They laughed and grinned.
“I want to see the dragon. I’ve never seen one before.”
“That old thing?” The other man laughed. “I bet just the sight of it will make you piss in your pants again.”
These are the lordlings of the land, Marie sighed, as she picked up her long skirts and tried to move quietly past them.
“Hoy, it’s the dragon keeper!” One young man shouted with too much enthusiasm. He was not a lord, but a rich fool. She recognized him from the town.
She curtsied, and tried to continue on her way.
“Show us the dragon.” One of the men leered, a mug sloshing in his hands.
“It is late. I must be going. Come back in the morning when you are sober.”
“You will address me as Lord!” The man slapped her in the face, the color flickering on his face in the lamplight. “You insolent servant!”
“Very well, my lord, please come back in the morning.”
“No, I will see this dragon now.”
Marie had no choice but to lead the drunken fools to the dragon pen. When her husband had been alive, no one dared speak to her like that. She felt the color rise in her cheeks.
She raised her lantern through the slots of the gate, and the dragon lifted its dark eyes up to greet her.
“What did you expect?”
The Lordling held Marie by the arm. “Open the gate.”
“The dragon is dangerous my lord. Many men have been killed.”
“Well if he’s hungry, then we have snack for it.” His hand pinched at her wrist, and he pushed her into the pen in front of them.
The two men walked around the silent form of the dragon. They prodded. And pushed, but the dragon hardly stirred.
“Don’t!” Marie warned, wondering if there would be time to call for help, wondering if she wanted to. The Lordling shoved her to the ground, as if she were an old coat.
It was in that instant the dragon coiled. It moved so fast that she heard the chain breaking at the same time she heard the Lordling scream. Huge wings beat at the sky, extending above them like a curtain of copper, sending dust up into her face. There was another scream as a body was crushed beneath a massive taloned foot, and a column of fire blasted the earth, as blue and hot as the fireworks from the orient, leaving nothing behind but ash.
Marie stood frozen, feeling the blast of it, the roar of the fire echoing in her ears as the dragon returned to the earth, and lay it’s head down beside Marie.
She realized then that the shackles had never been enough. This was a dragon. No one made a dragon do anything that didn’t please it.
Marie placed a hand on it’s wrinkled snout. Her old tired legs gave way beneath her, and her tears began to flow. She did not cry for the men who had died, but for her husband, who she hated for leaving her so alone in the world.
She buried her head in the dragon’s warm neck. “What will I do if you leave me?”
A low rumbling sound came from deep within the dragon’s chest, and it almost sounded like laughter.