The Dragon and the King - a poem (part 3)
by, 3-28-12 at 5:12 PM (533 Views)
They looked up from the bottom of the great pit where they lay,
and standing up, they cursed the game it seemed they had to play.
Limping together, they progressed to where the oak still reared
so far above them: its thick roots snaked down, twisted and weird.
Slowly they climbed, but when they reached what should have been clear air,
the barrier returned again, trapping them both down there.
Soft laughter stirred the air around them, hissing in their ears.
“Why are you so distressed? That which you seek resides down here.
But I won’t simply give it up; you’ll have to play with me.
I’ll ask you both a riddle each, and if you win, you’re free
to wander and seek out the Dragonstone, where still it hides.
But if you both should fail, forever here you shall abide.”
“Agreed,” the pair nodded, and the voice spoke another time,
softly in the ears of the king, a mystery in rhyme.
“What things bide ever in the dark, yet never without light,
And hide when radiance far brighter banishes the night?”
Shaedast thought hard; the answer could be one of many things.
He dared not speak yet, dreading what a slip-of-tongue would bring.
The voice then gave Moruna a strange puzzle of her own:
“What power is it that can turn a tree into a stone?”
Unthinkingly she touched one of the tree’s hard, blackened roots,
and some faint smudges came off on her fingers, dark as soot.
The answer dawned upon her, and she gave a joyful cry:
“When lightning strikes a tree, it causes it to petrify!”
“Well done,” the unseen voice praised her. “But what of you, my lord?
I gave your riddle to you first—you haven’t said a word.”
“I have two answers,” said the king, “which both ring true to me:
a glow-worm makes light, but daylight renders it hard to see.
Also the stars shine out in darkness, but fade at the dawn.”
“Well answered!” said the voice again. “You both have passed—search on!”
They thanked the owner of the voice, which still they could not see,
and searched the crevasse, circling the base of the stone tree.
Between two roots, at Shaedast’s touch the earth crumbled away,
leaving a narrow gap, leading to what, they could not say.
The air that hung inside there held a rich and damp perfume,
but still the king’s heart quailed, fearing the cave would be his tomb.
For your kingdom, he sternly told himself, you must prevail!
Who knows what terrors shall befall your people, should you fail?
He gave his head a shake and looked toward the hole again,
thinking, if I risk nothing here, then nothing shall I gain.
He drew a breath and held it in, briefly closing his eyes,
then leaned toward the gap and wriggled carefully inside.
The room beneath the tree was wide and long, its ceiling tall;
light pooled around his ankles, casting out some of the pall.
He heard Moruna coming through the fissure at his heels,
and looked around the chamber, his insides writhing like eels.
The thick, wet air under the ground made both companions cough.
They took two paces forward—suddenly the light cut off!
Once more the king’s heart cringed in him, but now his mind stood strong,
and kept his body sound as slowly they progressed along.
A tunnel at the room’s far end led down, and was quite steep:
together they approached those unknown caverns black and deep.
A rhythmic drumming and a crimson light came from ahead;
this room held a great orb, fist-sized and smooth, and glowing red.
The orb sat at the room’s far side, set deep into the wall,
but no guards came to shield it, if there were any at all.
Shaedast stepped forward, and there came an awful ringing shriek:
“No man just TAKES the Dragonstone! Is that courage or cheek?”
“I am the King of Areth,” cried Shaedast, “and I have come
to claim the Dragonstone so I might preserve my kingdom!”
The king strode quickly forward, reached out and picked up the stone.
No voices spoke to halt him now; it seemed they were alone.
He held the orb in his right palm: it drummed against his skin,
the faint sound and the light both pulsing outward from within.
They hurried out and upward, through the hole and to the light
that shone upon the glen, whose eerie state had been put right.
The voice spoke up again: “Fair journey and good speed, my king.
I will not halt you further now, but service shall I bring.”
There was a whistle, and a great shape appeared overhead—
a she-gryphon, who soared to earth and bowed her feathered head.
“I am Ibryd, friend of Falasdin, Imp of the Stone Oak.”
Her voice was low and gentle, purring softly when she spoke.
She bowed her body to the ground so they could mount her back
(its tawny feathers merged with golden fur, spotted with black).
The takeoff forced the breath from Shaedast and Moruna’s lungs:
they gasped for air, and chilly winds brought numbness to their tongues.
Travelling east had taken many weeks, but this took few,
but as they hastened westward Shaedast’s terror only grew.
The southern towns of Areth were engulfed in deadly fire—
each house and home had become its household’s funeral pyre.
The carnage drew a line of flame on the shores of the sea,
and Shaedast knew it would not end if it reached Eptory.
The Dragonstone in his left hand, his sword-hilt in his right,
he fortified his nerve for the inevitable fight.
The dragon swooped up near ahead and blotted out the sun,
roaring a challenge to the skies—“Come face me, anyone!”
Shaedast unsheathed his sword and cried, “I’ll face you, sulphur-breath!”
Hacos whirled ’round to face him. “Then, fool, come embrace your death!”
“For all I love,” the king exclaimed, “to doom or victory!”
“You fool,” the great beast shouted, “this triumph will fall to me!”
Ibryd soared swiftly to Hacos, just out of his jaws’ reach.
He snapped at her, but she ducked under him and gave a screech.
Shaedast sat up, his sword held high, Moruna at his back,
and stabbed at his black belly—steel met scales with a loud clack!
The dragon turned a somersault, gnashing his yellow fangs,
but missed his prey; he roared as Shaedast’s blade before him sang.
The flap of mighty wings stirred winds like two contesting storms,
and ragged shreds of cloud obscured the fiercely warring forms
of Ibryd and Hacos, who dealt out blow for stinging blow,
yet only on the gryphon’s hide did any damage show.
Blood flecked the sky like crimson rain, dousing the human friends,
but Ibryd struggled bravely on, fearing no gory end.
The fighters swooped and ducked and darted in a deadly dance
of scales and feathers, flame and steel, like they were in a trance.
Townsfolk of Aragest below were gaping at the sight
as much they could, for Hacos’ wings could turn bright day to night.
But soon Moruna looked, and saw an opportunity—
she grabbed the sword from Shaedast and leapt out. “For Eptory!”
Hacos’ great, ugly head lunged down: he opened wide his jaw,
and she soon vanished, sword and all, into his grinning maw.
But blood sprayed from the dragon’s throat that partially was his—
the sword had torn his mouth apart. He gave an awful hiss,
and Shaedast saw the swallowed blade was lodged against his spine,
having ripped through his gullet like a gleaming silver tine.
But dear Moruna had been slain. Shaedast clutched at his chest;
a madness born of rage and sorrow flamed within his breast.
He crouched on Ibryd’s back, caring not whether he was seen.
“If I should die, then go and tell my people and my queen
that victory was not all mine; we all played our parts well.”
He rose again and roared, “Battle me now, you snake of hell!”
He held aloft the Dragonstone; it glowed like scarlet flame.
Hacos cried out again, and Shaedast laughed. “You know its name!
This is your doom; look into it, see which of us will fall!
Now, Ibryd!” And the gryphon flew up with a ringing call,
while Shaedast stood upon her back, the stone still held up high.
Then Dragonstone met dragonflesh, and thunder filled the sky.
The stone against the dragon’s gleaming scales burnt through the skin
in moments: Shaedast’s hand went through the hole that sizzled in.
Blood drenched his arm like liquid fire, igniting as he screamed,
and tore the muscle from the bone, which in the sunlight gleamed
like wet red ivory. The burning spread out to his chest,
and curled beneath his ribcage, setting swift light to the rest.
The king and dragon plunged like comets flung from heaven’s field,
and Shaedast’s final thoughts wondered, what did this journey yield?
Was everything in vain, or did we earn our victory?
Then blackness closed around his mind; he thought he heard Adi:
“Rest now, my king—you’ve won. The dragon Hacos is no more.
Come walk with me: I’ll guide you to the Everworld’s white shores.”
The blackness turned to swirling mist of pearly golden hue,
and Shaedast looked about, seeing not one figure, but two:
the kindly, hooded Adi, standing with his hand outheld,
and Moruna, standing as tall and strong as ere she fell.
She smiled as he embraced her, and the Reaper led them on
to gleaming shores, and into the eternal realm beyond.
A feast was held years after Shaedast’s renowned victory:
the new king, Shaedast’s son Arcent, did with the widowed queen
retell the tale of bravery that brought peace to the isle,
when two bold friends rose up and slew the dragon black and vile.
They would live on forever in the story of their fame,
and heroes ever after would be proud to bear their names!