The Dragon

From the gable the hanged man swayed,

weather-worn and his long coat frayed,

and, down below, the blacksmith laughed

to see crows as he plied his craft.

The sun went down, but the corpse stayed

while the blacksmith bettered his trade

until he heard hooves beating swift

neath the moon, in the midnight rift

of life and death, flesh and soul,

while the fog, thick, began to roll.

On pale horses there came a host

through the moonlight, each like a ghost

in fine Fae feature and attire,

of noble bearing, knight and squire.

“Hail,” said the blacksmith, “lord of streams,

lord of hills and of moonlit dreams.”

The Fae lord nodded, yet his eyes

went to the hanged man, and the flies

that buzzed about and swarmed around,

their song of joy a constant sound.

“You are as we,” remarked the lord,

pointing with his sharp silver sword.

“You have hunted and won, with skill,

as we have, in field, mount and hill.

But what worth is such common fare?

Wherefore this man dances in air?”

The blacksmith smiled shrewdly, and said

“Tell, first, the stories of each head

hanging from your fine-worked saddles,

for I wish e to hear such battles.”

The Fae lord gestured to a knight

and he dismounted, at child’s height,

taking down, then, an ogre’s head

from his lord’s saddle, splattered red,

and the head had tusks, sharp and long,

and its jaws were big, its chin strong,

but all lay lax in that dead face,

life gone from it, without a trace.

“I slew this monster near the bridge

that extends from stone ridge to ridge

for he preyed upon our kindred,

his hunger great, yet now ended.”

The knight returned the trophy, now,

and sought another, whose broad brow

was maned with marshy hair that hung

blackish green, and a limp pale tongue

between needle teeth, its long snout

like a horse, its horns curving out.

“Here is the pookah, a deadly mount

who haunted the swamp’s bracken fount,

dragging drunkards into the peat

and tearing them apart to eat.”

The third head was of an eagle,

but giant, golden, beak regal.

“And here, at last, is the griffin,”

said the lord, and, with a sniff, then,

told of how the foul fowl laid claim

to all his flocks and all his game,

and so the lord had set a trap,

baiting the beast till, with a snap,

he brought it down with an arrow

which pieced shrieking through the air so

that the beast fell at once, quite done,

though the quills still shone like the sun.

“My only regret,” said the lord,

as he sighed and sheathed his stained sword,

“is having only trophies three

whereas four would better please me

for my trophy hall has such space

that it would gain from one more face.

But enough of such things,” he said.

“Tell me how he came to be dead.”

The blacksmith grinned like a demon.

He said, “By his ill-spilt semen

upon that which was fairly mine—

my wife!  So I showed him the line

between good and bad, life and death,

and the lecture cost him his breath.

As for my wife—she is chained

within my house, our vows profaned,

yet even now I work my bellows

to make right of this.  Trust, fellows,

that this scarlet letter shall bleed

from another maiden, whose breed

is made of the finest points known,

and has iron in place of bone.”

The Fae lord looked at the maiden

which the blacksmith made, so laden

with spikes where her heart should have been,

more monstrous than any such kin

of ogre, griffin, or such ilk

nourished by wicked blood-laced milk.

“She is my wife,” the blacksmith said,

“as is that faithless girl whose head

and heart were won by Love’s deceit,

but my good wife shall drink replete,

for the faithless wife shall so slake

the steadfast wife, for her mistake,

and by merit of blood provide

from bed to bed, and bride to bride.”

He worked the hot, wrathful bellows,

the embers of orange-yellows

flaring like fitful flies of fire

or, perhaps, flecks of vain-desire.

He said, “To me her only worth

was insomuch as field to serf:

a thing to be plowed in such time

for hale harvest in proper clime.

But she harbored fancies bygone

with this rogue, whom I have high-drawn.

As if the heart should rule such things

when we know gold rules even kings,

and I have amassed a great hoard

through my flames, by horseshoe and sword.

Verily, I have grown steel plates

for whole armies, helms for pates,

and such great horns like a ram’s crown

that could blow ancient mountains down.

Should I not revenge myself

against fickle wife, lordly elf?”

The blacksmith grinned, very much pleased

and then laughed loudly, till he wheezed.

The Fae lord smiled, too, though grimly,

and then he hopped down, quite nimbly,

from his horse, silver sword in hand

and though short, his eyes held command

of all they gazed on, man or Fae,

his decrees none could disobey.

“I thank you,” he said, “for your truth,

and I thank you for more, forsooth,

as I longed to slay once more before

returning to my hillside door,

and here I have found at long last

a dragon whose flame hath cast

horrid shadows of deeds foul done

and deeds yet done beneath the sun.

Thus I have found my fourth trophy.”

And no sooner than lord quoth, he

struck head clean off the man’s shoulders

whereupon his banner-holders

fetched it up from the bloody lawn

(the mouth slack-jawed, as if to yawn)

and hung it on their lord’s horse

thereafter freeing bride, of course,

from her shackles, then cut down, too,

her lover from his gabled view.

The cock’s crow heralded first light,

so the Fae company took flight

and vanished as dew in the dawn—

like mist from fabled Avalon.

Salamandrine Measure

Ambition beyond his small size,
the salamander dreamt of a hoard
whose vast spillage would fill his eyes
as he scurried beneath grate and board.
Ofttimes his fire-coiled tail fell free
as he flitted fleet-footed therefrom
fierce fireplace and hot-breathed chimney,
wishing to think such his fate to come:
a wish to breathe fire and puff smoke,
to be cobbled thick with scales like stones,
to tower taller than an oak
and to be strong with hard timber bones;
as chimney and cottage so that
wizards and warriors would all fear
to hear him, as he feared the cat
when that sly huntress came stalking near.
And so he thought gold the measure
whereby he would grow to dragon size;
gold wherein he’d lounge in leisure,
knowing himself grown monstrous likewise.
For a mountain of gleaming gold
had a magic to transform all things;
as if magic cauldrons of old
that could transpose paupers into kings.
One day such were his golden dreams
to find mountains of coin to covet
when a man split his pocket seams
and a landslide of coins rained from it.
The salamander gathered fast
the coins to the fireplace, just below
the grate—a mountain thus amassed
where fire and gold could both gleam and glow.
A hoard of gold! A dragon’s den!
He lounged among his golden tender
as if changed by a magician
to a dragon in all his splendor.
And though he was as yet so small
as to be crushed by a careless heel
he felt he towered over all:
he felt how a real dragon must feel.

The Knight And The Dragon

He was a dragonslayer, born and bred
to hunt and kill those hot-blooded lizards
with spear and shield and a plume upon his head,
and without the aid of ballistas or armies or wizards.

His kingdom flew proud banners at high mast
with vibrant colors arrayed in blue, red, and white
and held a celebration for him to thereby cast
him forth from the castle with love and delight.

Yet, the only person who set forth with him
upon the long journey into faraway foreign lands
was his squire, Verus, for whom the apparent whim
was a means of funding life’s necessary demands.

Rumor told that there was a new dragon, very strong
and more snake in make than the previous drakes,
its eye shrewd, its fangs sharp and its coils long
so that its constant burrowing caused great earthquakes.

Where the dragon flew, acid rain fell in its wake
as it snorted coal-black smoke and ashen death
to poison every creek, river, and freshwater lake
that it touched with its sooty shadow and putrid breath.

This new dragon was, in fact, quite old
and had bided its time with patient care,
taking land and tribute, but not being too overbold:
remaining quiet as its coils expanded in its lair.

The knight knew he needed to slay it soon
ere it became too big in its massive size,
but there were things to curtail the dragon’s fortune—
natural impediments to its scaly enterprise.

To the Southwest lay a mountain range, tall and wide,
and just on the other side many foes did roam:
large Bengal tigers who hatefully eyed
the dragon as it grew close to their beloved home.

To the North spread a bleak reach of ice and snow
where there slept a bear, brooding in his cold war cave,
and to the East a sea of hostile depths, its uneasy flow
rife with sea serpents that vowed to protect their enclave.

As for the knight, he knew the perilous path
and ventured forth boldly, fancying the quest
a fairytale story, full of valor and courage and wrath,
never doubting that he was the best of the best.

He glanced upon the terrain where the dragon dwelled
and bethought himself more than ready for the fight,
even as his squire told him to wait, lest he be felled
by overconfidence and the want of keener insight.

But the knight was bold, impatient, in want of war,
riding into the rice paddies with his spear raised high
and charging at the dragon with the intent to gore
the serpent as it slept beneath its smoggy sky.

Imagine the knight’s surprise when his brand new spear
suddenly snapped like the thin twig of an elm tree
as it struck the giant dragon’s hide from the rear
and bent and broke into pieces of two and then three.

Astounded, the knight could only blink in dismay
as the dragon began its terrible counterattack.
The knight was thrown from his horse, falling to lay
sprawled out, spreadeagled, on his aching back.

His armor fell apart with each undercutting slash
and so the desperate knight called out to his squire
as his breastplate melted in a blinding white flash
from the serpent’s breath of industrial fire.

“Wherefore mine armor thus fail?”
he demanded, retreating from the beast,
fleeing as if followed by the flames of Hell
and fearing to be the main course in a feast.

“It was cheaply made by the dragon himself,”
the squire said. “And so is cheap attire, to tell truth.”
The knight exclaimed, “T’were better some witless elf
made it in mirth and mischief! Forsooth! Forsooth!”

After having retreated to a distance, the knight
stripped down to his cloth, then cast aside his spear,
and looked about for a way whereby he might
win the day, and not submit to despair and fear.

The squire, being a curious boy, climbed a nearby rock
and watched the dragon as it coiled inside its cave.
He said to the knight, “I think you should try to talk!”
to which the knight replied, “You are a silly knave!”

But then the dragon gestured toward the knight
as if he did, in fact, wish to speak of treaty terms,
and the knight, having already lost the good fight,
thought it prudent to speak with this king among wyrms.
So the knight followed the dragon inside his den,
finding, to his surprise, golden coins of all types,
including a lot of gold coin from his own kin
and his own house, inlaid with stars and stripes.

“You make such cheap things, dragon,” the knight said,
“and I do not believe any of us should pay more.”
He then crossed his arms and ruefully shook his head,
to which the dragon replied, “You get what you pay for.”

The knight blinked at this, then suddenly laughed out loud,
and so, too, did the dragon, each one eyeing the other
with an uneasy sneer as they laughed, too proud
to admit aloud that they truly needed one another.

“But what of my people?” the knight said at last,
thinking of his kingdom and what they might think.
“If I do not kill you I will be exiled, an outcast!”
The dragon told him he could kill him, with a wink.

The knight, thereafter, returned home to his people
with a cheap, fabricated dragon’s skull
which he paraded through town, and beneath the steeple,
before putting it in his house’s bank, now not half so full.

As for Verus, the squire, he stayed with the dragon
to learn what he could from that poisonous beast,
and learn much he did, though he was not one to brag on
how much he knew, for that was not wise in the least.

The dragon, himself, grew larger, spreading to the savanna
where lions and elephants pledged that they, too would be loyal
and to give him tributes of labor and land and mana,
much as the knight did, gripped in each tightening coil.