The dragon demanded a sacrifice.
I was chosen: I only had to be patient, they said, and kind.
He could be redeemed. The love of a good woman, the best and brightest village
girl, would shed his scales, return him to man from monster. For the good of
everyone I would have to peel down my personhood, layer by layer, and hope for
No one asked what I thought. They told me not to cry as they
tied me to the rock. My younger sister wept so hard she could not stand.
“He wears a gold serpent ring,” they said, “If you can
convince him to set it aside, and hide it from him as he sleeps, he will be a
One old woman whispered in my ear, “Pray to slender Aphrodite
that a hero may come and slay the beast. Then you will be a happy bride.”
Alone in front of the sea I asked the silent gods why it was
that a devourer of sheep and men, a despoiler of lands, remorseless and greedy,
was worth more to the village that suffered under him than I was. I got no
Wise-Eyed Athena, make
me another gorgon sister, with the power to turn him to stone.
turn me to a deer: I will die clean rather than be consumed alive.
Aphrodite, there is no love in this, there is no choice, save not only me but
the maidens who will be sacrificed when I fail –
Roaring and sparking, the dragon came and snatched me up.
The rock stood empty.
Before my time, the dragon had been a man. A hero in the
kingdom of Cepheus, beloved for his deeds of great power. A man larger than
life – a man famous and proud.
He had set fire to houses, devoured whole flocks, and
demanded the yearly tribute of a maiden for twice as long, and yet all those in
the village still saw him standing in triumph, a bold, boasting hero, bronze
sword in the backs of their enemies.
They did not question when he had changed. They did not do
more than whisper.
Perhaps he hadn’t.
They say every dragon has a weak spot. And every dragon
keeps at least one bright-polished knife amidst his treasure.
Perhaps he had forgotten that a weapon can be lifted by any
hand, not just his. Blood drenched my skirt to the knees as the scales fell
away, sloughing off to reveal not a man, but a corpse.
A gold serpent ring, too large for human hands, fell from
his finger. In some far off story, I would have simply severed the claw and
claimed the nine-fingered man as my husband. A triumph of what the rest of the
village would have assumed was love.
Why should I devote my life to his redemption? At the side
of his cave was a heap of maidens’ bones.
They gambled us recklessly. How many girls would they have
sacrificed and yet lauded this ruinous serpent of a man? As if his legend were
worth more than our lives.
I picked up the ring and walked, a trail of bloody
footprints, to the sea.
“You have a choice,” said Many Splendored Aphrodite, sitting
alone on the rock.
“You said you would rather die clean than be consumed alive,”
said Sure Footed Artemis, from the shuddering pines.
“There is a power in monstrosity,” said Wise Eyed Athena,
standing on the beach.
The village would not be proud of what I had done. Perhaps
some would say I had saved them, but others… the dragon had once been their
hero. Easier to revile me than to accept what he had become.
“Glorious Goddesses,” I said, my mouth dry as it had not
been when I wetted my knife, when I waited, when I planned, “I beg of you the
answer to one question. Will the power of this ring make me a ravaging beast?”
Artemis laughed, the sound of an arrow nocking. Aphrodite
sighed, the sound of clean sheets turning over. Athena shook her head and from
her hair fell olive leaves.
“The ring does not change your nature,” said Athena, “Merely
your physical form.”
“You saw true,” said Aphrodite, “His greed and arrogance
were not some affliction a tender heart could cure him of.”
“If you wish it, you may join my hunters,” said Artemis, “You
have more than proven yourself against this quarry.” Her smile was the gleam of
a bronze hunting knife.
I sat at the foot of the rock between the goddesses, thinking of what my life
would be. I could join Artemis, and answer the desperate prayers of other girls
trapped as I had been. I could fling the ring into the sea and take my chances
on the road. I could ask a boon of the goddesses who had appeared to me only
after I had violated the sacred hospitality of the gods, and murdered my host –
my abductor – in his sleep.
I could never go home with his blood on me. I could never
see my younger sister again.
“Thank you, Lady Artemis, for your generous offer,” I said,
staring at the ring, “But I think I am more a shepherd than a hunter.”
When I looked up once more the goddesses were gone. Alone by the sea, I walked
into the waves and washed the tacky blood from the ring, the armor I would wear
forever, the layers to cover over what had been peeled away.
I became the dragon.
These days, I lie in the sun in the fields, my sister
leaning against my cold scaled shoulder, and village maidens spin in my shadow, chattering like birds.
For their sake, no more bold, boasting heroes will come to
the kingdom of Cepheus.
Sometimes my friends write awesome little story things. 🙂
Holy wow. This is beautiful. I love the narrator’s tone, and how she intends to make her life her own. Plus, the inclusion of the three goddesses? Oh yes. I am here for that.