Hans exaggerated when he had written
that she threw herself into the sea
after her beloved prince became smitten
with a more talkative beauty.
She did not, in fact, become a bubbly spirit
nor simply die in the tossing sea foam,
nor go up to heaven, or anywhere near it,
nor beg the sea witch to let her return home.
Rather, she went wandering away from Denmark
and became lost in Germany, and then France.
Homeless, she was found starving in a park
by a kindly woman, who saw her by chance.
The woman happened to be a teacher of ballet
who owned her own school in Paris
and she felt pity for the girl, asking her valet
to stop and invite her to lunch on the terrace.
As the woman watched the girl eat she bethought
that the lithe, pretty thing had a certain essence
which could be transformed, if only trained and taught
to dance; she had a certain stage presence.
While the girl could not talk, she could nod
and so when asked if she would like to live with her
she answered “Yes” and the woman said, “Then, by God,
we will have you dancing hence thither!”
Because her tongue had been cut out to pay
the witch so she could walk on land
she could not talk and gossip and flirt everyday
like the other girls under the old woman’s guiding hand.
Undistracted, she practiced with her human legs
to finely tune their muscles and sinews
until she could dance unfaltering along pointy pegs
only on her toeballs, and without ballerina shoes.
Pain, too, was an apt teacher for her
as the spell’s knives cut her in her swirls
and so her acrobatics were airy, yet surer
than any of the other ballerina girls.
Such a deft foot when she danced!
Each step was cautious of the spell’s sharp bite
so while she spun and leapt and pranced
she did so soft as a falling feather, and just as light.
She could also tip-toe in perfect rhythm
to the most chaotic, jazziest piano tempo
and, while in a group, pirouette in harmony with them,
her arms arced above her head, or akimbo.
In time she unburdened her heavy heart
of that old barnacled anchor that was Love
and excelled at every single dancing art,
so weightless of form she seemed to float up above.
Famous, yet nameless, she was dubbed “Ariel”
for she danced as if upon the very air
and was as powerful as Shakespeare’s fairy thrall
in stirring tempests in hearts everywhere.
For her dance was of the air and of the sea
united between the two, as a swirling hurricane
that comes ashore, a terrifying beauty
whose expression was joy and sorrow and pain.
She danced only once in her prince’s palace,
unrecognized in her ballerina outfit
as her prince peered lazily over his chalice—
his dark eye indifferent about it.
He had grown tired of his new wife, and her prattle,
and “Ariel” smiled to know she escaped a fate so fraught
as being bound to one who viewed people as chattel
and could not care less what his wife thought.
She left his palace with the rest of her troupe
and looked out upon the sea, where diamonds burn,
watching in the shallows an array of fins in a group
that waited for their princess’s return.
The tree’s shadow was a raven’s wing—
ragged, black, and riotously flapping
to the bellowing gales of the coming storm,
the winds cold, yet the season warm.
She waited until the sun had disappeared
behind the dark clouds that rose and reared
like black bears newly awakened from sleep:
angry and clashing, their roars loud and deep.
She went, then, searching for the three witches
as the forest struck her with its hateful switches,
and she came to the storm’s eye, where they dwelled;
a calm circle around which the vortex swelled.
The lightning crackled and the witches cackled,
each to the black cauldron was shackled.
The girl approached them, unhesitating,
while they watched her, silently wry and waiting.
“Did you summon the storm?” the girl asked,
“Or did it summon you?” The witches, each masked,
stirred the steaming, storm-funneled pot,
the broth of which bubbled sullen and hot.
“Take a gander into yourself,” the witches said,
“and know what it is that is in your head.”
The girl stepped toward the cauldron’s fuming funnel,
and dared a glance into that whirling, swirling tunnel.
She saw in the broth Hanna, the foreign maiden
whose beauty she hated, only now her body laden
with a humpback and warts and all of the features
that would ruin the most divine of creatures;
and she saw a prince, handsome and strong,
lifting herself to his saddle, amidst a festive throng,
and he had the face of the man to whom she gave
her virginity, thinking he would thereafter save
her from the mills and the cottage and the peasant life
and take her to his castle to make her his wife.
She saw the villagers who mocked her for a fool,
including her parents, now subject to her rule,
and relished how they kneeled and bowed
as she stood tall above them, beautiful and proud.
She saw, also, herself bedecked with jewels and lace
as her husband held her close and kissed her face.
And lavish banners were raised in her honor
while lords and ladies of the court fawned on her.
But as soon as these sights appeared, they dissipated,
and she saw images of what was true, what she most hated:
her prince adjusting his purple pantaloons as he rose,
shoving her aside as he struggled to put on his clothes.
Gruffly, he left that hayloft where they had embraced—
her maidenhood bleeding; no longer chaste.
“Who are you?” the girl whimpered, recoiling from the broth
as it bubbled over, slobbering like a lunatic’s froth.
“We are you,” the three witches said, “as you well know.”
The girl tried to flee, then, but found she could not go.
They doffed their masks: maiden, mother, and crone,
and they each had her face, and her face alone,
marking, with a map of ridged wrinkles, her future years,
mirroring her life to come, carved by heartache and tears.
The cauldron was her heart, the storm her soul,
and the rage and the sorrow swirled from that hole.
The blackguard’s fickle word, and betrayal,
had churned this fury, they say unknown even in Hell.
Her rage increased, like a whirlwind of annihilation
that gyred outward to level village, castle, and nation
with all of the powers of a woman thoroughly scorned,
her Hecate crown like the sickle moon, sharply horned
with all the bestial rage of her jilted pain
as the elements obeyed this vengeful Queen’s reign…
The guards found her at the first light of dawn,
babbling madly upon the diamond-dewed lawn.
She raved and clawed at the prince’s tower—
his wedding was moved to a later hour.
Hey there now. A fellow frog-gigger, I see. This pond has some good pickings, but it ain’t nothin’ like the waters of Suamp county. No, not Swamp County—Suamp County. Never heard of it? Course not! And I bet you ain’t never heard of Joseph Willet, neither. Lucky you. He was what Suamp County was known for, among its locals, anyway. There weren’t no knowing worth knowing unless it was knowing of Joseph Willet.
Joseph Willet was known as the handsomest young man in all of Suamp County. He had a hammer chin, dark black hair, the straightest teeth ever known in that tobacco-chewin’, moonshine-chuggin’ bottomland. He had his choice of women, and consequently had the choicest women, and he was envied by every man with sense enough to think of his own shabby lot in life in the shadow of that sunny son-of-a-buck. But young Joseph had his troubles, too, and, like himself, they weren’t your ordinary run-of-the-pondmill troubles. They were damn near biblical.
It happend one day that he was out near the swamp, gigging for a living, as we all did back then. I was with him, and a couple of other boys, in his ol’ pontoon. We had quite the haul that night, and stayed out till mornin’, fillin’ our buckets and bringin’ ‘em back ‘n’ forth to the dock. It was as daylight broke that we reckoned we had had enough and so docked one final time. Me and the other boys were estimatin’ how many pounds of frogs we’d gotten ourselves while Joseph was securin’ his pontoon to the dock with his rope. Ain’t nobody ever wrapped cord fast as Joseph did. Some of ‘em women in town would have fainted to see his biceps flexin’ as he worked ‘em on that needsome task.
Nonetheless, he was only half-done securin’ it when he happened to see a frog perchin’ on his boat. The audacity of the frog was what halted him. I reckon he didn’t know if it had hopped up there when we docked or had been perched there all the while we was busy in our humble profession. Whatever the case, ol’ Joseph looked at that frog with ire in his eyes, and also with mischief.
“Look here,” he told us, and we obeyed, because you always obeyed Joseph Willet. Back then, anyway. “How much you wanna’ bet I can knock that frog off with a spit?”
We knew better than bettin’ anythin’ against Joseph, so we just grinned and told him to do as he liked. And he did. He hacked up a loogy— never mind you how big— and reared back and spat at the frog, knocking it clear off the rim of the boat and we all startin’ roarin’ with laughter. And then we stopped, cold in our chuckle-headed idiocy. For the frog landed on the deck, and consign me to the nuthouse if it didn’t go and suddenly bloom into a woman! Or half-bloom, so to speak, for the naked girl weren’t but half and half, frog and woman. I swear by the three nails that Teed Jesus it did! She was something to see! Faintest nub of a nose with slitted nostrils always flaring and closing as she breathed through ‘em, and lank black hair, slimy and matted and clingin’ to her wide head, and whatever else it happened to touch, like pond algae, and nearly so green, and bulging golden eyes that locked onto Joseph as if he was Christ come again. Her fingers and toes were webbed, the latter being so long she could have skied with ‘em, and all of her body either lime green with dark stripes, or pale white, such as her chest and neck and belly.
Me and the boys was all dumbstruck as a pair of donkeys that up’d and kick each other in the nuts. But not Joseph Willet. He saw her layin’ there, naked and all a’sprawl on his boat as if God had just made her— in a fit of indecision— and he ran inside his house and fetched his other pair of coveralls. I should say that— and not unkindly, you see—while he was seein’ to her, his boat’s rope unwound itself and his pontoon drifted out toward the salt marshes. I guess you could have said his ship had lit’ally sailed out to sea. But he didn’t mind none of that then, even if he did later on. He just took his time and gently put her in ‘em coveralls, though they was too big and long for her strange body. That cumbrousness didn’t stop her none, though, after he had let her go from dressin’ her. She squatted down, contractin’ her doubly-long legs, as was her wont, and she hopped about, just like a damn frog. From then on, that woman was inseparable from Joseph, even for all his tryin’. Her eyes bulged, as I might ‘ave said, or might not ‘ave said, and were golden, the pupils more in proportion to a normal woman’s as they rolled about in those large round whites, and they ever went anywhere with half so much light as they went to Joseph.
And why wouldn’t they? It was the fairytale come true! Or half come true, as it were, and inverted as a snake-skin boot inside out and backwards. It was all sorts of muddied up, on account of Joseph breakin’ her curse with his spit instead of a kiss. Course, I don’t reckon I can say where she came from, neither. There ain’t no kingdoms ‘round there, and never had been. It’s goddamn swampland and river bottom! She must have floated a long ways away.
Anyway, Joseph tried to kiss her afterwards, and make her wholly woman by pressing his lips against her wide, lipless mouth, but Fate wasn’t havin’ any of it. The girl’s eyes bulged in loving admiration of him all the same, and she hopped after him, as I said,, with her long legs foldin’ and springin’ under her and standin’ up like a real woman only when she was of a mind to hug him.
She had no human speech, her human brain but only halfway transformed, but we all knew she likely been turned by a witch long ago, or some such moonshine. And now Joseph was obligated to her, as these things were, and so him being a young man of honor he did her right, putting her in some clothes borrowed from his sister and takin’ her to Preacher Tinnell’s chapel for a brief ceremony. She did not stand most of the time, squatting down next to Joseph’s feet instead. Preacher Tinnell had some reservations, as we all did, but Joseph was a man set upon his path and so the goodly Preacher carried through it anyhow, hoping to sanctify the two of ‘em before it was too late and this abomination should stick in the craw of God overlong.
Only a few of us attended the wedding, it being so slapdash, but rumor always flies fast when the word is peculiar, and soon everybody was talkin’ about it. The women were downright vicious with their gossip, as it was they resented the frog-girl for what she happened to have: Joseph, with all his straight teeth. The men, also being resentful of Joseph, laughed at his luck and congratulated themselves on his being out of the way, now. I often heard them talkin’ unseemly when I visited them, sayin’ there was a lot of good “frog-giggin’” goin’ on near Joseph’s pond. They’d make gestures and faces and I laughed along with the rest of ‘em, though it shames me to say so today. I knew Joseph well, and knew he hadn’t touched that frog girl one bit other than tryin’ to kiss her right. He had married her out of tradition, and tradition was strong and ‘onorable in these parts. Least, once upon a time it was. Nothin’ stronger to compel a man than tradition.
That is to say, other than, perhaps, the need of settlin’ an eye for an eye.
But the sad truth was that his new bride disgusted Joseph. Not only did she look like a frog and a woman all mixed up, but she acted like it, too. She caught bugs all the livelong day with her tongue, snatchin’ ‘em out of the air like a sniper. The human side of her would try cookin’ for Joseph, only she’d do it with the whatnot the frog-side favored. The other boys laughed about this, too, when they heard him complainin’ one day about her cookin’, but I’ll tell you one thing: you never saw no mosquitoes and horseflies around Joseph’s land much after she came. Who could think meanly on that? I know I don’t like havin’ my ass bitten by bugs every minute of every hour of every day! No, sir!
And no one could say Joseph and his bride didn’t try to do right by each other. They looked after one another, which is more than what I could say about the rest of ‘em two-timin’ lovers in Suamp County. Even Joseph forewent his womanizin’ for his new bride’s sake. Whatever else might be said, he tried to be a good husband to her. And the more’s the pity! I noticed— and I don’t doubt Joseph noticed— that his new bride was aware of what was wrong with her sometimes. Often she kept her lank green algae hair draped over most of her face, as if she was keen aware how her eyes and nose weren’t “right” and bothered people. She rarely went to town, stayin’ instead on Joseph’s marshland and waitin’ for him to come home. She never leapt so high as when he come back from town. And how many husbands can say that of their wives?
And I’ll say one more thing on the matter of her love: her eyes shined bright gold beneath her slimy dark bangs whenever she looked upon her husband. There weren’t no fakin’ that shimmer. No, sir! And here’s another secret: Joseph, the pride of Suamp County, didn’t give her cause to fault him, for he smiled at her more often than he had any reason to.
Still, Joseph liked to drink, as well all did in Suamp County. There wasn’t much else to do there, really, other than workin’ and survivin’. One night he and I was drinkin’ on his porch. Nobody else was there, except his wife, but she always stayed in the cabin when he was drinkin’. She didn’t like the smell or somethin’. Anyhow, Joseph got to drinkin’, and so got to hankerin’ after a woman, as he always did when he was drinkin’. He hadn’t touched a woman since marryin’ his frog-girl and he was damn restless. The problem was that there was no willin’ woman to take him on account all of ‘em in Suamp thought the lesser of him for takin’ the frog-girl as his wife (and not any of ‘em). And, as I said, I don’t think even drink would have compelled the self-righteous fool to break a religious vow (even if plenty in the Bible did it all the time).
As I said, he was restless like a bitch-cat in heat. Nothin’ was holdin’ his hankerin’ back but opportunity. But then his girl came out on the deck, offerin’ him a pie made of fish and mice, and he got to lookin’ at her— more than he ever could of looked at that godforsaken pie—and as his drink turned to lust he saw she had haunches more or less like a woman’s, never mind the elongated ankles and toes and the green of all that, and she had pale breasts, even if the nipples stuck up in the air like toadstools and were as dark green as her algae hair, and her webbed fingers were dainty enough, and she had no teeth, which, I suppose were all the better for it when indulging the carnal flesh, and so she was well enough a woman, besides all those peculiar exemptions, to be hankered after. So, he hankered after her, and took her to bed while I left to mind my own damn business and drink myself into oblivion over what was happenin’ then and there at that moment. Yet, I don’t blush to say that even now I imagine him hunkerin’ down on her, as a frog might another frog, and she received him willingly enough, and even gave it a go with her own hunchin’ on him, and, in sooner time than he would have thought, how he begot child upon her, the two of ‘em layin’ down in whatever sweat and slime was conducive to their fornicatin’.
And from then on, every night was one where Joseph took his passions to her, never needin’ again a drink to grease his gears, for he never bought none from me no more! Hell, he rarely invited me or the giggin’ boys over again after that. Don’t know if it was from embarrassment or from not havin’ the time or energy to entertain company with a friendly word. What I do know is that his frog-woman birthed several hundred eggs in that pond of his, away from predators. I seen ‘em. Clear as day through the swamp canopy! They startled me near to an early grave, comin’ upon ‘em without warnin’. But I thought they was cute enough when they hatched and took to the water. You could say they was all happy there; happy as tadpoles in a mud hole. But it had to end. Every blasphemy has to end sooner or later, even Eden.
The bad business started when the kids grew legs and lost ‘em tails and started comin’ on land. Really it started before that, with the envy and jealousy of Suamp County, but that weren’t the trigger of it. True, that place had always been backwards—backwards and back-looking and backwoods and backwater. It never had no tolerance for things that were different. And boy were those kids different! They could do all sorts of things the other kids couldn’t. Out-swim gators in the swamp, leap from one tree to another, play Tag with their tongues from waaaaay far away. Unlike their mother, these kids could talk and they talked to animals just as good as they did any people tryin’ to speak to ‘em. They helped their daddy catch fish in the deeper parts of the swamp, like gar and carp and whatever other big fish they could get their webbed hands on. They also found pearls for their momma, divin’ deep into the sea and comin’ up with a fortune’s worth of precious things. Joseph gave such things to his wife, or sold them to outsiders, and though he had lots of wealth, on account of his wife and his children, he never moved away or flaunted it to the rest of us. He even gave a hefty sum to the Preacher Tinnell’s Church, all the while grinnin’ his straight teeth as if he never deviled nobody.
All the same, my fellow Suampians became wroth with resentment. It seemed to ‘em that his wife and children were spawn of the Devil, and that good-lookin’, straight-toothed Joseph was the Devil in question. Not that I ever suspected it. No, sir! Not me.
Then came the day that one of Joseph’s many sons got his leg caught in a bear trap that had never existed in that part of the woods beforehand. It was right suspicious, those circumstances, and because his bones hadn’t fully hardened, the poor boy lost his leg in a single snap of that rusty gator. His brothers and sisters carried him home. While Joseph and his wife were tendin’ to their dyin’ son, the bear-trap, and the boy’s leg, disappeared. Don’t ask me how. I won’t give you nothin’ but soft morass to stand on. I’m not one for conjecture, neither, or gossip. All right! All right. Some say Joseph’s long-time Suamp County rival, Cleetus White, was the one that set that trap and took off with that leg. It certainly makes enough sense to me. But the worst ol’ Cleetus did to Joseph and his family was to come after they had already buried that boy in the soft, muddy ground.
What a mind for vengeance Cleetus must have had. Was it conscious, though, or subconscious that led him astray like it did? I imagine it was a little of both; like seein’ a gator’s head in the water and watchin’ it float over to you, and goin’ out to meet it instead of fleein’ in the other direction like any sensible person would do. But Cleetus was strange even by Suamp County standards. He had a mind for vengeance. Slow, like that gator, and then springin’ forth all at once. Once he got you in his death roll there was nothin’ helpin’ for it.
I can even imagine him now, lookin’ at that leg and sayin’ “That looks just like a frog leg,” and then he starts thinkin’, “That’s an awfully big frog leg,”, and then he thinks,”I bet it taste just like a frog leg”, and so he heats up his deep fryer and chops that poor boy’s leg up, and eats it. The hankerin’ for it then got hold of his head like a gator and wouldn’t let go. He had to eat more of it, and he had to share it so others could know what he knew. It would get ‘em on his side. And so he did just that.
That’s how I imagine it. Maybe Cleetus was jealous of ol’ Joseph and his wealth, as he was jealous of everythin’ Joseph had. Maybe Joseph never thought to see Cleetus as nothin’ but another well-meanin’ neighbor, too beneath him to be a threat. And maybe Cleetus wanted revenge for that slight. However it really happened, it happened that several people got a taste of that boy’s leg during the Church Sunday lunch. And when they got a taste of it, they got a hankerin’ for it, just as Cleetus did. And by hankerin’ for it, I mean they wanted to eat it more badly than any fried catfish they usually slapped with grease and breading and threw in a fryer for Jesus. I’d even wager that their hatred of Joseph and his family was what imparted such flavor. Frog legs never tasted so good to me before I had me a bit of that leg. I’ll promise you that!
The night of the raid was spontaneous and without a leader. We all just sorta’ converged on Joseph’s land in the middle of the night, surrounding the pond, where his children slept, and lettin’ none of ‘em escape. We took his wife, too. He tried to stop us, but shotguns had better say than anything he tried to do that night. We left him in a pool of blood on the porch, and so far as I know he is still rottin’ there. A lot o’ good his straight teeth did him that day!
As for the rest of us Suampians, we fried up every one of those children and ate ourselves stupid. Afterwards, the hankerin’ remained, but since we had no frog-people to satisfy it, we tried regular ol’ frog legs. They didn’t do no good for it, so we thought plain ol’ people would do just well enough. We began to snatch each other’s children, in turns, and then the elderly, and finally each other. It was cannibalism run amok, and it didn’t satisfy nobody at all, yet we was set in it. At the end of the year only one person remained, and he left Suamp County for good, tryin’ to leave the whole fiasco behind him.
So. That’s why you ain’t never heard of Suamp County. I don’t miss it much, to be honest, but I feel real bad ‘bout what happened to Joseph and his family. If we had only left a few alive to breed then we could ‘ave eaten ‘em special frog legs from now to kingdom come. But when you get a hankerin’ for something, you never can control yourself much. You eat till there ain’t no more left. And now there’s nothin’ left.
You donna’ believe me, do you? Well, I promise by my great-great-great-grandfather Louis Clay White that it happened. Sure, there are things I ain’t so square on no more. As I said, I donna’ know if Cleetus just forgot that he put that bear trap out there, where the Willet children always went playin’, or not. I also don’t know if Cleetus got the idea in his head before or after eatin’ that leg. Maybe he just hated Joseph for all the wealth he brought to Suamp County with his devil-spawn kids, and thought he’d get him good. Maybe the frog fairytale comin’ true was the last straw, even if it only came half-true. Maybe it was the way Joseph’s straight teeth grinned as if God himself wasn’t makin’ a fool out of him with his half-frog wife. Who knows? I donna’ know, myself.
Slim pickings tonight, ain’t it? Real shame, too. I got a hankerin’ for it somethin’ fierce. By the way, you got a nice set of legs on you…
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.