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The Dragon and the King - a poem (part 2)

“I’ll go out first,” Moruna said, “for if by chance I fall,
you will still live to fight the beast… if that gives hope at all.”
Shaedast did not reply to this, but took his comrade’s hand,
and aided her (for she still limped) across the marshy land.
A hundred paces in, they came upon a dead, white tree:
they rested there awhile, and gazed on what there was to see.

At once a voice rang out to them, its echoes loud and deep:
“Who dares wake the Guardian Reaper in his needed sleep?”
Shaedast spoke up, “We need the aid of all we can acquire—
I fear my kingdom shall soon be destroyed by dragon-fire.
The beast Hacos is coming from D’nim, with dread intent,
and he must be destroyed, lest all our doom be imminent.”

Then something slunk among the weeds, invisible but heard,
its voice now lowered to a hiss, concern in every word.
“Who seeks the aid of Adi Nox in his time of despair?
Tell me, for I may have the means to help you here or there.”
Shaedast drew himself up and faced the unseen Guardian.
“I am the King of this island: Shaedast, Talveric’s son.”

The shadow-voice came closer, and the darkness coalesced;
a hooded figure soon took shape, and knelt down in respect.
“I did not know you, sire,” he murmured, pulling back his hood.
“Forgive me and accept my aid, if to you it is good.”
Shaedast looked into Adi’s eyes, which were an earthy brown,
and gently pulled him to his feet where he was lowered down.

“Your aid shall be rewarded well,” he promised solemnly,
“When this chaos has passed, and peace returns to Eptory.”
“My thanks, good king,” Adi replied, a soft smile on his face.
“Now, let me see… the thing you need lies far beyond this place.
By the southeastern shores there is a forest great and deep:
it holds that which can send Hacos to death’s eternal sleep.”

“What thing is that?” Shaedast wondered. “A beast of flesh and bone?”
“It is no living man or beast, nor plant—the Dragonstone.”
“A stone?” Moruna asked. “Why not a war-hammer or blade?”
“Dracaletum,” said Adi, “is the only substance made
which can get through the dragon’s hide, and halt the beast for good.
The cost of that is high: the bargain must be paid in blood.”

“There will be blood if we do not halt Hacos in his tracks!”
the king exclaimed. “Lead us to it, that we may take it back!”
Adi nodded, and took the pair further into the bog.
“The path is long and perilous; I’ll lead you through the fog.”
He led the way, with Shaedast and Moruna just behind,
in silent dread of what strange things they would or would not find.

The ground was thick and spongy, and it squished under their feet;
a stink of rotting plants hung in the water and the peat.
The searchers slipped and slopped along, while in the murky muck
small slimy things hopped to and fro, all croaking bruck-a-bruck.
Their ankles tangled in the weeds, and many times they fell,
but Adi helped them up each time, and kept them safe and well.

Suddenly Shaedast gave a cry as something slimy curled
around his wrist; he leapt back in alarm, but soon was hurled
forward into the bog. Moruna grabbed his arm to help
to pull him up, but without warning she too gave a yelp
as some same things snaked up and tried to drag both comrades down.
They struggled to hold up their heads, both terrified to drown.

Adi leapt into action, drawing forth a gleaming scythe,
and slashing at the rope-like vines, which moved as though alive.
Soon all of them were severed, and none dared to rise again.
Shaedast and Moruna rose slowly, grimacing in pain
and rubbing at the stinging welts the living vines had left:
they thanked Adi and praised him actions swift and deft.

“Forgive me,” said Moruna, “if to ask would be a crime,
but why are you called Guardian and Reaper at one time?”
“Because,” Adi replied, “I guard those who come with great need,
but of those fools who wander aimlessly, I take no heed.
Unless, of course, they die—in which case I preserve their souls,
and lead them to the Everworld, out of this marshy hole.”

The ground sloped slowly higher as they neared the swamp’s south side,
and came to solid ground. Adi bade both searchers goodbye,
fading into the fog as Shaedast and Moruna strode
up to a forest, into which it seemed no man had trod.
The air was sweeter here, with scent of fruits and flowers lush,
and gentle sounds of birdsong trilling softly through the brush.

Small animals and timid deer were sometimes heard to pass
as they walked onward, grateful to leave Adi’s foul morass,
though loath to part with he himself. They pressed on undeterred,
hoping the thickness of the wood would let them be unheard.
But two blue eyes were watching them as they picked through the trees:
a young wood-sprite was roused by stirring gossip from the bees.

Her eyes disguised by cornflowers, she gazed up wondering,
and sent a whisper through the wind: Long live the human King!
Shaedast stood still a moment as the whisper grazed his ear;
he turned around and looked about, murmuring, “Who is here?”
The sprite stayed still, holding her breath as he stood over her,
then turned away; she rose and quickly ducked behind a fir.

A stifled laugh escaped her lips—she hid it with her hand,
but feeling the king’s eyes on her, she willed herself to stand.
Her slender body was unclad, but many leaves were sewn
to wrap across those parts of her she wished to be her own.
The same was bound around her breasts, for sake of modesty.
She curtseyed to Shaedast and dipped her head. “Your Majesty.”

“Fair nymph,” he said, “might I have your name, if you’ve one at all?”
She blushed and smiled. “I am Erthi, watch-sprite of Levarcall.”
“Erthi,” he nodded, “I have come in desperate need of aid.
Hacos is rising; he will raze my kingdom if not stayed.
I seek the Dragonstone, that I might strike him down for good.”
Erthi nodded. “That which you seek lies deep within the wood.

“This way!” The sprite left on transparent wings like dragonflies’,
as the two humans followed, doubt and wonder in their eyes.
The forest path was long and overgrown with grass and ferns,
and Erthi led them swiftly on down many bends and turns.
The sun and moon swept overhead above the shady trees,
spotting the earth with gold and silver ‘neath the canopy.

At last they reached a quiet glen, which held a great black oak.
As they beheld it, in an urgent whisper, Erthi spoke.
“The Dragonstone is kept somewhere far underneath its roots,
guarded by he who’s owned the tree since it was just a shoot.
You’ll have to get past him to claim the stone, but do beware—
he’ll use all of his wits to keep you both from getting there.”

Shaedast nodded and took a step into the sunlit glen.
Moruna followed at his side. Another step, and then
another; nothing happened yet. A dozen paces more,
and suddenly a shape rose up where none had been before.
a figure robed in deepest black, which wore a vicious leer…
“Adi?” cried Shaedast in surprise. “What are you doing here?”

The figure did not speak, but lunged, its clawed hands reaching out.
Moruna darted forth and leapt upon it with a shout.
She pinned it to the ground, and under her it hissed and spat,
then fled like smoke. Moruna stood up slowly. “What was that?”
Shaedast came forth to help her, staring at the empty ground,
and out at their surroundings, but no others were around.

They started forth again, unknowing what they should expect,
and praying that they now might claim that for which they had trekked
so many miles. But suddenly the earth began to shake,
and split beneath their feet like a vast, deep and empty lake.
The oak stood on an island in the middle, yards away
and inaccessible; they gazed upon it in dismay.

“Is there a way around this? It’s too far to jump across!”
But for all their deep thinking, the two friends were at a loss.
They had no tools to fell a tree with which to build a bridge,
and the pit’s walls were deep and slick, with not the faintest ridge.
Shaedast recalled the watch-sprite’s words: “He’ll use all of his wits…”
“Of course,” he cried, “it isn’t real! It’s just a clever trick!”

He took a step over the ‘edge’—Moruna gasped in fright,
but he, instead of falling, stood quite easily upright,
as though a sheet of glass lay overtop of that great rift.
She laughed and went to join him there, feeling her spirits lift.
But soon two screams tore from their throats as suddenly they fell,
the echoes of their landing mixed with echoes of their yells.

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