Dragonslayer (Bent Lorenzen)


By Bent Lorentzen

She stole into the dark forest, crying as she went, and did not heed the gathering gloom of dusk. Soon, she had gone so deep into the woods that thorns reached out to her like the claws of that legendary dragon her father was said to have slain shortly after her birth. Ragged, weary, and bloodied, she settled upon a rocky outcropping from which nothing grew and the emerging stars began to twinkle through a rosy sunset.

She sat upon a still-warm stone and pulled her knees to her breasts, and began to cry again. From out of a dark cave unseen to her, the two eyes of a creature gazed upon the long, dark, leaf-tangled mess of hair that draped over the beautiful girl. Awful memories just out of thought’s grasp licked at his mind as he silently watched her sob far into the night. He never once blinked, daring not to lose a single moment of her beauty, phantomlike though it was in the deepening cold of starlight.

A pool of tears grew by her feet until she finally sobbed her final hiccup and gently whisked away the mist in her large, brown eyes. The stark outline of piny treetops encircled her dome of stars. She slowly let herself lie back, unheeding of the cold and wetness of her pool of tears, and cradled her head on the round stone by the hidden cave, and let herself be enchanted by the stillness all around and the twinkling stars above.

It was not long before the baying of three hound dogs in the far distance cut through the stillness. The creature within the cave witnessed her face grow dark with fear. But she did not rise.

"Dear God," she finally whispered in a voice that reminded the creature of a gentle spring breeze through young leaves, "I would give You anything to be free of him."

The creature was at first frightened by her voice, and then became even more frightened when words came into his mind that demanded expression. "Little girl," said the creature with a reedy voice, "who gives you such great fear that you would give anything to be free of him?" The voice, having echoed out of the cave, sounded much deeper than was real. The girl closed her eyes, thinking the stars had spoken to her, and hearing as well the approach of her father’s dogs.

"My father, who rules all these lands, has kept me locked in his castle since my birth eighteen years ago. In all these years I have never set foot in the green forest, save in my imagination as I gazed down from a high window."

The creature within the cave was again startled when human thoughts that needed to be spoken entered his mind. "Has your father perhaps not protected you from the dangers in these deep and dark woods whose only view you have had is that which has been reflected off the green canopy, which in fact perhaps keeps hidden old and deadly secrets?"

The girl had never thought of that before and opened her eyes. For the first time, the stars above seemed too far away for comfort, the ringlet of dark trees dangerously threatening, and the baying of the three hounds symbolic of her eighteen years of sheltered life. Her breathing came and went in uncontrollable gasps, like a doe felled by an archer’s arrow lying bleeding on the white snow. She had seen this happen once from her high window view of the world.

The creature within the cave now found words in his mind that didn’t seem so alien as he said, "Please, I did not mean to hurt you with such thoughts as my words have provoked."

Her breathing quieted even as the dogs drew nearer. She asked to the stars above, "Are you, who are frightening and comforting all at once, the ones who, in concert, are speaking to me?"

"I wish perhaps I were. But, alas, I am but a small voice within–"

A large dog chose that moment to burst into the rocky clearing. The hound sensed her proximity but could not see where she lay still as the rocks around her. He opened his large mouth to bay to his master, when the voice from the cave barked a command the girl could not quite understand. The dog obeyed and lay down, silent except for his heavy breathing. In the distance approached two more dogs, each apparently larger than the first from the sound of their excited voices.

All the while, the girl pondered the creature’s last words. She remembered an old sermon from the gnarly-faced minister. He spoke of a huge God in Heaven who punished the wicked with eternal damnation in the bowels of Hell and rewarded the good with an everlasting life free of earthly gravity in Heaven. He had once told her, in answer to a question she had posed, that God’s voice spoke from deep within her heart of hearts. It seemed, at that moment as she reflected in the woods, that everything the frail, foul-smelling minister had ever said–and indeed, he had loved to speak for hours, quoting this and that verse–could be forgotten, except that one phrase.

"Are you God?" asked the girl timidly, and once more allowing the tranquility of the jagged night to enter her.

The creature, again startled by thoughts that seemed to well from out of nowhere, said, "But you have not answered me. Why do you run from your father so?"

Suddenly it was as though her memory had been dashed. She could not remember why her father frightened her. Nor could she accurately remember how it was that she had first set foot into the forest. Her memory of things seemed to have begun in this rocky clearing and all else a vague sort of dream. She grew aware of the cold salty pool of her tears, her thickly tangled hair, and the blood-crusted scrapes upon her body.

Just then, the second dog crashed into the clearing and stumbled over her. He did not see her, but felt her beneath him, and was about to loudly bay to his master when the creature within the cave strangely barked an order for the dog to go lie next to his smaller brother. As if scolded, the larger dog whimpered as it crawled and lay next to the smaller dog–who actually was quite large by any standard.

The girl, having deeply pondered the last words spoken to her, said, "Is not the pain, blood, and tears on or about me come from my father?"

"It’s not polite to answer a question with a question," said the voice. "I ask again, why do you fear your father?"

A burst of anger erupted from her. "I demand to know who you are?"

"Ha!" retorted the voice. "You demand!"

Again, the dome of stars grew chillingly distant, the gap between their flickerings and her filled with endless peril. The cold rocks, pool of tears, and now the air itself sapped what little warmth she had in her. It seemed that perhaps now she could die, as that doe she had seen from her window, and be forever rid of her shadowy fears.

"You wish to die?" asked the creature, once more startled by words coming not from his mind. "You may, if that is your honest wish. But there is another way. But you must tell me why you fear your father, whom you say rules all that you know."

With frustration, the girl said, "I don’t know why! In the castle I had food and warmth, I think. In the castle, perhaps, I had all that a girl could possibly have want for. But something in that castle larger than life itself, perhaps even larger than God, stifles me. Keeps me locked away from my deeper wants, and works to make me into the image of his wants."

"Your father?"

"I don’t know. He is but a faceless shadow that rises taller than the castle, and clouds even the morning sun so bright. But whether he is my father or not does not matter if things are as my father says: That he rules all by a special right given to him by God."

At that very moment, the third dog–the largest of all–exploded through the thicket into the clearing. The roar of his approach sounded like a tornado, his mad sniffling like a wet wind through a leafless tree. The girl let out a yelp before she could restrain herself. She had never been so close to her father’s largest dog, Dragonslayer. Huge as a horse, his face was a map of scars from a lifetime of battles with the fabled creatures of the forest. All white except for a triad of black marks on his muscular forehead, he was the very face of death. Yet the voice in the cave erupted with a bark that evoked from the mastiff a single whimper and he lumbered to his two smaller brothers and lay still.

"Are they," asked the voice in the cave, "the ones who frighten you?"

Her answer flowed from her mouth without thought. "No."

"Do you truly wish to die?"

Her answer took longer. "Where would I go?

The creature seemed to laugh. "Another question to a question. But I will answer. You and I would then become the same, a voice without form."

"I thought God was large."

"God? Who is this God?"

The girl was puzzled beyond anything. "Why do I have to think of that? I ran from the castle to here. Now I can hear my father’s horsemen approaching yonder. I think I even see their torches glowing against the treetops. Please, take me away from all this to where You are."

She waited for an answer. In the distance, the crashing of horses through the forest grew louder, as did the movement of much flickering reflected off the tops of distant trees. She tried moving an arm but found no strength to do so. The creature in the unseen cave saw her attempts to rise, and was startled again by thoughts that turned into a voice. "You already are where I am. But again, I ask, why do you run from a father who seems so devoted as to be seeking you like this?"

Her answer flowed unexpectedly again: "Because it must be his shadow that has no face at night and which blocks the morning sun when I awaken. –Why cannot I move my limbs? Why am I frozen into the earth like stone? Have I arrived at Hell?"

The smallest dog, himself as large as a deer but more muscular, began to growl. Then the middle dog, the size of a pony, growled. Finally, the one larger than any of her father’s steeds, growled deeply. The first of her father’s knights rushed into the clearing, setting it aglow with their many torches. The voice in the cave growled also, just once, and the three dogs rose and circled the girl, facing outward to the horsemen. They bared their teeth, saliva drooling, and growled threateningly. The girl again tried to rise but could not.

The voice said, "No, this is not Hell, though Hell is quite close by. And you cannot rise because you have sunk into the earth, filtered into the cold air, and have sought to join the distant stars."

She tried to pay attention to the confusion of frightened horses bucking and heaving and the falling of the men, but she was more concerned with herself. As though from a great distance, she felt the barest ability to move a thumb. Oddest of all was that she could see herself, as from an altitude, and see as well the entry into the rocky knoll of her father. She heard him scream a command to his three dogs who stood guard by her prone body. It was seeing herself that evoked the greatest fear. "Where am I?" she cried.

"Where your father would be most afraid to find you."

"I demand to see you?"

There was a brief lull, even from the melee of horses and knights and their King, when the voice said, "Look by your head."

She stared very hard, and in the light of the torches, saw a tiny cricket hop out from under a stone and walk over her wildly strewn hair. "That is you? An insect?"

"No! I am speaking from within you, as I already have said. Your spirit moved from your body as you lay, and slipped into the cricket giving him the voice of your conscience, and has slipped also into most of what you now behold, including the stars above."

"We are one?"

"Perhaps. But only if you wish. But we must now take care of those who have gathered here. We cannot hold back many arrows should your father order his knights to kill his dogs."

Something inside her clicked, actually made a snapping noise that seemed to have been felt where her neck ought to be, and she barked an order to the dogs. They rose. At the same moment she screamed in her loudest voice, a voice that boomed from every direction all at once: "Men, I am your worst nightmare! If you leave at once and never turn back even to peek I will spare your lives. Your King will not be so fortunate, nor will those lackeys who do not now depart!"

There was a scuffling of men mounting their steeds and rushing out even as their King shouted, "I will slay every cursed one of you who listens to this witch’s voice. Stay! I command it! Archers, I command that you pierce these cursed hounds of mine with arrows such that they tremble like dying porcupines. –You," he said to his sergeant-at-arms, "I believe I see my daughter between the dogs. Gather her up as soon as the dogs begin to bleed."

But it was as though he had been talking to himself. The King found himself alone in the clearing. From everywhere, his daughter said, "Father, the days of you ordering everyone has drawn to a close as this dawn approaches. I give you but one choice. Be grateful; you never entertained me with any choice. Look up to these stars that are beginning to fade as the sun rises in the east, and beg for their mercy so as to save your soul. I haven’t much faith your body will survive. But you are quite used to ending the lives of innocent creatures so it should not come as a shock to see your own demise."

Her father, now but the shadow of the great man he had led everyone to believe he was, cowered with her words. He looked all around but could not see who was speaking, though he did recognize his daughter’s voice. Yet, his daughter’s body lay as prone as it ever had lain in all the years he had crept into her locked room after she had swooned from the potion he gave her each evening.

"I…I have no son," stuttered the King. "And your mother died after childbirth. Let us end this complicity you have entered into with a witch, and return to our castle. When I die many years henceforth, you will inherit all these lands as Queen."

"I am already that which you suggest I shall be in future years. But your end will come, in one way or another, before the sun sheds its first warming rays on your contemptible body. Do you not recognize this place which you have sought with such speed through the night?"

She watched as her father looked around. Fear exploded across his face. "It…it…." He struggled to speak. "–Cannot be."

"Yes," said she. "Here is where you murdered my mother in a fit of rage and lust after she had fled you. She, like me, found this place in the dead of night. But unlike her, I rose above it. No, there is no witch here. Nor was there ever a dragon such as you say you slew after it devoured my mother. Except that you are that dragon by having forced your largest dog to consume her remains. Now there is just you and me. You say your rights as King come from God. My rights come from an even higher authority. The God of your God, if you like. That God, like a stream forever flowing toward the ocean, always seeks to balance height with might, make right old wrongs, bring peace to tribulation, and destroys all that is unnatural along the way. Father, you are unnatural, and as such, I give you one chance to save your soul before eternal damnation. Look high to the stars and beg for forgiveness. Beg from the depth of your heart or I cannot save you from a worse death than the rotting of mortal flesh. I must hear you plead, not as reprisal to your deeds against my body and soul, but for you to connect again with the purity you once possessed as an infant. Surely all children enter the world with equal grace."

Sadly, though not terribly so, she watched her father’s face turn angry. He picked up his fallen bow and made a motion to notch an arrow. But before he had anchored the drawn line to his cheek, she barked a command to the smallest dog there. Without a second thought, he lunged on her father and ravaged at his feet until they were mere bleeding stumps. She then barked an order to the dog. He quietly retreated, licking the blood from his chops.

Her father, now forever several inches shorter than his former stature, looked around in pain and bewilderment. He mumbled angry, then forlorn, words to his dog. "I am your master," she heard him say. "I am the one who has fed and sheltered and trained you. How dare you turn on me?"

"They," said his daughter, "are not yours to command. They are independent of you, now. Perhaps they sense that freedom for the first time ever." She grew pensively silent as she rose and drew near like the wind, and caressed the trees and saw the approach of dawn from the pink haze to the east. "You haven’t much time. You will never again see the sun, so I ask once more that you reach up to the stars with contrite heart and beg for forgiveness. By your deeds, you have violated the very stars that created the earth, and the star nearest to earth will not be made to suffer again by warming your disgusting body."

Her father screamed an obscenity, saying, "How dare you speak to me as such! I am your father! I am King! God has placed me here to rule over all this." He reached for his sword at his side and raised it high. She barked another command.

Instantly, the middle sized dog simply reached down with his head and bit off the King’s offending arm and swallowed it whole, first spitting out the sword. Her father howled in pain. Above, the sun’s rose hues struck the pines‘ crowns.

"You have only a few moments, father," she said from everywhere. With the sun’s warmth on the air wherein she danced, she yearned for the beat of her own heart and to feel the sun’s glow on her skin.

Her father, weakened by massive blood loss, had fallen to his side. He looked to Dragonslayer and whispered an old command. The mastiff’s ears perked up at hearing the long forgotten command. But before he could carry out the King’s demand, he tuned his hairy white face skyward. The daughter gulped as only a spirit can, and with a voice as quiet as a breeze that doesn’t even move a blade of grass, made her wish known to the mastiff. Without hesitating, the dog opened his massive maw and inhaled her father, swallowing only once and then wincing as though having ingested something bitter.

"Don’t worry," she said to him. "In a day or so he will come out of you and will make some flies and worms in the soil quite happy. Your bowels shall be his Hell, though you will never suffer for it. And when he departs your bowels, your former master will enjoy the bowels of earth’s tiniest creatures until one day a tree pulls him up from the soil and he can again have his choice of begging the stars for forgiveness. Though, somehow I doubt he will do that until the very sun shall consume the earth and all creatures have departed for their place in God’s Heaven."

With that, the sun crested over the trees and she felt herself gently flow into her body and sink into a comforting sleep. When she awakened, three large dogs sat waiting before her, and a cricket beneath the stone upon which she rested her head chirped. She smiled, and with her heart thanked the diminutive creature, and said to the dogs, "I think it’s time to return to my castle and put things in order."

And you can well believe that she lived happily thereafter.

Authors note: This story is copyrighted ã 1999-2003 and was first published by FABLES MAGAZINE at http://www.fables.org/ For further information, please contact author at dane@kabelnettet.dk or go to his website at www.denmark.gq.nu

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