Image: Jorge Láscar
In the ancient paintings, now yellowing in museums, the knight sits astride his horse, while the dragon peers up, like a snake, fangs bared, ready to strike. As the lance pierces its body.
The truth (as I would tell it) is rather different-
The true slaying is a matter of legend, but we know the horse was killed before the battle, and the lance pinned beneath its immobile body. How the knight managed to defeat the titanic foe with but his sword and a battle-worn body, it is a fit mystery, and one that would haunt the imagination of the curious, inviting invention.
What we do know occurred after what must have been a violent and fitful exchange…
The beast was slain, its blood dripping from its limp body, and its head with bugged out eyes, and tongue lolling from a wide open mouth, across its rows of saber-teeth.
As the knight and princess walked away, she supporting him, for his twisted ankle and general exhaustion, the fog rolled in naturally from the sea, as it had not done for a long while.
In the fog, came the sound of clinking money.
A man came walking, slightly tipsy, with a dagger hidden between the folds of his dirty rags. He was a beggar/highwayman – Rallion, was his name. The sandalled soles of his feet twisted on rocks; he strolled gaudily, shedding tears of wine from his wineskin, as he pranced, free from conscience along the once-haunted lake…
“Rallion…” a voice spoke.
The man jerked up suddenly, with a tight grip on his wineskin, and hand hovering over his midsection and knife. Where was that sound coming from-?
“Rallion, seeker of gold…” the voice ended in a wet gurgle.
The man in him surged forward with empathy, and the desire to take advantage of weakness – the wine made it easier – and his knife was out, seeking prey and protection.
A lumpy bundle lay on the ground, dark in the fog. No man was visible. He paused, thief senses a tingle. Sounds must come from the hunted.
The voice came directly from the amorphous blob, he drew closer and then abruptly recoiled at the sight. Blood. Sinews severed. Water flowing dark over the rocks, amid scaly skin. And eyes that still followed his own, although with slight trembling and cataracts.
“Rallion Althusian. I am dying.” The mouth moved in exaggerated motions, as though forming words with lips through a fence of teeth. The eyes hypnotised him. “Come closer, that I may give my final gift to you…” Rallion kneeled before the hideous head, still active on its severed stalk, and watched the eyes, enraptured. They were huge, with an incandescent fire.
“I have a legacy, Rallion, and it is yours, should you find it,” growled the voice. “It is no use to me now.” A flicker of satisfaction flitted across Rallion’s eyes at the sight of the cloven neck. Rallion loved certainty.
A sudden gagging sound, like a river hacking up sludge echoed from the cavernous mouth, and a fount of blood spilled from beneath the catfish whiskers. The warm and fetid smell was fit to turn Rallion’s stomach.
“I don’t have much time! Come closer…” the voice was fading, eyes fading and closing. Rallion felt his chance slipping away, a dragon’s hoard! All within his reach. His face was within inches of the whispering lips, quivering like earthworms.
It was over in an instant. Dragon’s teeth closed over his hapless neck as the head lunged with what remained of its neck, and dug deep, instantly breaking the bone. Following a horrid crunch and crack, the head was gone. A ripple grew across the dragon’s scales, rapidly turning all its skull into a wavering form of smoke, complete with spikes and spears, all of which gathered in one direction, as though from a tilted bowl, and poured into the neck of the deceased criminal.
The body didn’t seem to like this one bit. An insane juddering came over all the rag-shrouded body, as though a perpetual electric shock, or something far worse was rapidly forcing its way through its limbs. Arms and legs flailed and snapped back onto the rocks again and again, propelled by an internal force, and possibly a final desperate resistance?
Finally, incomprehensibly, what remained stood up. The body was no longer headless, no, something was growing, first a nub no larger than an apple on top of the shredded stem, as tissue knit itself together, taking on form and shape of the dead man’s head and greed-lined face.
Except for the eyes.
When they finally opened, they glowed with a bitter, baleful light.