My children are dead. My husband is long in his grave. My life and my loves are the stuff of legend now, and I wonder sometimes how much claim I have left over my memories. They are nearly all gone in any case, and even my beauty has faded though this does not concern me. It appears that at long last even my vanity has determined to pass on and leave me alone. No, you were right to laugh. That was a joke, for all that it’s true. If we can’t laugh at losing it all, what’s the point in having it?
No, wait. There is one thing left. You asked me many times to tell you what had happened, “the whole true story” as you phrased it, and I always demurred. So of course, you made up your own stories, you all did, all the bards and minstrels. And of course you got it all quite wrong. You always do it seems, whether in service to your craft, your patron, or your purse. But perhaps I’m being unkind, or at least unfair. I was certainly willing to let people believe your fictions when it suited my own purposes. And now I’ve nothing left to lose but this lingering silence. The truth of the matter, if you will. I think I will miss it when it’s gone, when it’s not a secret I can keep to myself, knowing it belongs me alone. So…
Oh, do pardon me, maudlin sentimentality has grown easy for me of late, and self-pity makes for a dull tale. Sit, pass me the pitcher of wine, and I’ll tell you the story you asked for so long ago and so many times since. Of my husbands, both of my husbands, one a dragon-slayer, and the other a dragon. I never was sure which one I loved best, so I will start at the beginning.
I was a princess, of course, and it was my duty to marry for the benefit of the kingdom. My parents had made it quite clear that was the case for as long as I could remember. I resisted, and out of some kindness to me they waited for far longer than was customary to make the arrangements. I think they hoped a male heir would appear, to tell the truth, and solve the problem. But then they could wait no longer, and when I was eighteen I was betrothed to a prince from Germania, a man I had never seen. I decided I hated him, for no other reason than my parents had decided that I would marry him, and did so with the fiery passion and single-mindedness that the young can muster.
For the next year I screamed at my parents, swore I would hate them forever, vowed to gouge the eyes of my betrothed out on our wedding night rather than submit to this unimaginable cruelty. As the date approached I grew desperate, and begged my parents to call off the wedding, pleaded with the priest to intervene, commanded knights sworn to my family to whisk me away to a high, lonely tower somewhere far away. My true love would find me there, be a much grander prince than my betrothed, and my parents would admit that I had been right all along. A childish fantasy, but it was what I had. They all refused, of course. And of course I prayed to God to stop the wedding.
When I was sure that even God had turned his back on me, I went to the lake. I think I had some half-hearted notion of drowning myself, an appropriately tragic death to punish my parents and everyone else who had so horribly wronged me. Instead I prayed for the death of my betrothed. For those who haven’t experienced it, death seems such a simple solution. God didn’t answer that prayer either, but the dragon did. Oh yes, there was no abduction. The kidnapping was one of your sillier notions, frankly. The mighty dragon stealing into the castle grounds at night and pulling the fair maiden from her tower window with all his strength and razor claws that would have shredded or disemboweled her in a moment anywhere but a bard’s song. Quite a ridiculous notion on your part, I must say.
The dragon didn’t answer my prayers right away. I knew he was there though, there was always a sort of sense of him in the air. A feeling of danger right behind your eyes, an urge to turn back and flee the way you came. A sort of pressure, a wrongness that made you aware of how small you really were in the world. Take a chicken bone, close your eyes, and start to bend it. Feel the tension in your fingers just before the bone snaps. That was the dragon. Animals fled from the lake when he arrived and even the fish crowded the shallows until they died. But I knew he was there, and that he could hear me.
I still remember it. My breath came a little faster, my heart beat quickened, my eyes widened and could see more than they usually did. It was very much like arousal, but with a sense of having survived some calamity, of being utterly and truly alive in the presence of grave danger. I had never experienced something like that before, the fear, the uncertainty, the danger. Yes, danger describes it well, I think. I slipped out of the castle for seven nights, and went to the lake and prayed each night. The entire time I trembled, scared out of my wits, kneeling there in the damp grass with the moon and stars looking down. Thrice I vomited, before I learned to eat very little and lightly. An extra cup of wine helped. Speaking of which, fill this again, would you my dear?
The dragon appeared on the seventh night. I eventually learned that above all, he respected bravery, and despised cowardice. Not weakness necessarily, for even the weak could be brave. But cowardice, surrender… that he simply could not abide. Truth be told he was quite mad, but beautiful and charming as well. He was everything you described in your stories, and so much worse. A creature of emotion, a thing which had never had to consider the well reasoned argument of a peer simply because he could not imagine anyone being his peer.
He seemed quite affronted that a man would take a bride by political treaty. Disdained it as a sign of weakness, and answered my prayers from anger as much from any regard for me. The royal procession was devoured as it moved through the woods, and he brought back the sword of my betrothed. When he gave it to me I just held it in my hand, dripping warm blood in lazy patterns on the ground. I could smell the carnage on his breath, the death, and I knew what it meant. And mixed in with all my revulsion was the overwhelming happiness of not having to marry. Of having my desires fulfilled by a beast so powerful.
That’s about where your tales usually pick up, isn’t it? The evil dragon slays the noble prince, takes his betrothed to his lair, and then ravages the countryside while she cries helplessly. Utterly preposterous. I remained by the lake, of my own will, knowing all that awaited me at the castle was another groom of my parent’s choice. The dragon accepted my being there, and seemed to love me in his own way. I never wholly understood his motivations, to tell the truth. Perhaps he just loved being near me. We did manage to communicate, after a fashion. I was much more certain of things then, and I even told him that I loved him after the storm.
They still speak of that storm, the horrible rain and wind. I stood in the darkness, rain pounding down, thunder crashing all around. The dragon watched from the lake, only his eyes visible above the water. I think he expected me to leave, to go back to civilization and let others make my life easier, make my choices for me. I thought about it, but going back to all that, going through it again, was unbearable. And my pride simply would not allow it, to admit that I needed the life my parents had decided for me. It was nearly dawn when the storm finally broke. I had almost broke as well, but I was still standing. Only God knows how.
That was when the dragon took me. I felt that long, sinuous tail wrapping around my chest, dragging me into the lake. I think he nearly killed me, in his eagerness. Oh, stop! It wasn’t sex, our organs were not remotely compatible. I’m not even sure dragons have a gender, to tell the truth. But there was such power there, he dragged me under the water, until he could feel my lungs collapsing in my chest, then he would haul me out of the water into the air. It seared my lungs, the shock and cold. I screamed, but I never begged. Not once. Over and over, almost suffocating, nearly dying, forced down and raised up, jerking and writhing, and finally living. I’m quite sure the similarity to the carnal act is not lost on you.
I think that was when the dragon fell in love with me. Hm? Oh, of course knights came from the castle, and eventually the surrounding lands, even your damaged tales got that much correct. They were slaughtered. I started to enjoy it, to tell the truth. Can you imagine what it’s like, to have been powerless your entire life, your choices made for you by your station? And now here I was, watching men break and die for me. And the dragon, all that power, doing my bidding, my will. The dragon never killed them until they surrendered, you know? I remember it well, and after the first I watched every one.
He would hit them, crush their legs. Tear the blades from their hands. Scar their flesh horribly with his venom. Drag them into the lake, down to the bottom where there was no light or air, only the cold and heavy pressure. Make their bones pop and break and watch them bleed. The sweetest moment, for me, was right before they broke. I would watch them fight, and fail by inches. Their swords would shatter, their armor would melt in the heat of the dragons breath. Bones would break, and blood would pour down on the ground. And then, I got to where I could hear it, the sound of their will snapping. When they would sink to their knees, and the dragon would finish them because they stopped fighting.
It was cruel and horrible of me to enjoy such suffering. I admit it. All I can say is that to wield such power over men and to be so young was quite intoxicating. Like the proverbial cup of water to a man dying of thirst, I had gotten a taste of power, and I loved it. Even more I loved watching them suffer for me, watching them bleed, and watching them finally break. And the dragon, so willing to kill… I think it was almost eager. We were quite the pair, the killer and the cause. To inspire such savagery, despite the cost, was the most powerful thing I had ever felt.
Then he came along, and he wouldn’t break. That was the only reason he was able to slay the dragon, you know? They fought for days. The dragon kept beating him, breaking him. Kicking him down, driving him back to the treeline from the shore, and he kept coming back. I can still remember every little gasp of pain, every drop of blood that hit the ground. I can hear the wet, meaty smack of the impact on his flesh. It was quite beautiful, really, how much he was willing to suffer, and all for me.
You don’t understand at all, do you? Refill this, yes again, and I’ll try to explain. Would you rather have someone willing to kill for you, or someone willing to die for you? Someone who is willing to kill for you is quite useful, especially when you have a lot of people you would prefer were dead. Or people who try to control you, and make you do things you would rather not. And the dragon was quite, quite good at such wanton, cruel destruction of men. On the other hand, someone willing to die for you, suffer for you, can also be quite intoxicating. Watching someone suffer for you, pushing themselves beyond all rational limits. I suppose I fell in love with him, I think, somewhere around the time his leg broke, and he just kept dragging himself along the ground, teeth clenched, one eye swollen shut, and still pulling himself towards his enemy.
I think it was difficult for the dragon not to kill him. The dragon was eager at first, as always, then frustrated, just waiting for the moment he would break and he could tear out the jugular, or disembowel him. But he wouldn’t break, and the dragon wouldn’t forsake his own alien code of honor, wouldn’t kill him as long as he kept fighting. Then the dragon made a mistake. The dagger, yes, a lowly dagger you might use to cut your meat for dinner and not a mighty broadsword, slid under the joint beneath the wing. There were no scales there. You got that right, at least.
And the dragon died, and I sat there in shock, for awhile. His death was rather anticlimactic, to tell the truth. He fell, sighed a little, and twitched. That was all. Eventually, I realized that I would need to go home, and take up my old life again. I bandaged the wounds of the knight as best I could, and he became the hero. Funny, isn’t it, that he was the hero for killing the dragon, not for suffering for me? And oh, how he suffered, then and for the rest of his life.
We fucked, right away almost, while he was still bent and broken and the dragon’s corpse was still warm. While he was covered in blood and bruises. His face was horribly distorted, he was almost dead, and he had nothing left. And I wanted him, so I took him. I don’t think he could have stopped me, and to tell the truth, I don’t think he wanted to. It was lust and violence, quite a beautiful thing. Every time I drove down onto his cock, I could feel his cracked ribs shift and he screamed, which hurt him all the more until he learned not to scream. Every time I caressed his face, the muscles twitched and his jaw clenched. Every time I ran a finger across a burn, the flesh was so rough, he would thrash and roll about. And then he came, and oh the delicious screams! How could I not love him after that?
I, with only my body and lust, had done what the dragon with all its might could not. I broke him, and yet he kept coming back for more. Oh yes, the rumors were quite true. We were both addicted to the pain after that, I suppose you might even call it cruelty. Mostly the pain though, I think. Horse whips and cold chains built our love and our marriage, not finery and vows in a church, or even the slaying of the dragon. At times I treated him worse than I would have ever treated an animal. I remember a truly miserable week one summer I left him chained in the stables, naked, sweating, wallowing in his own filth. I made him beg for water until his tongue cracked, and he pleaded to lick a single drop off my boots. Then I drank my fill in front of him, and beat him bloody and raw. Did you know if a man is thirsty enough he will drink his own sweat? He licked it from the back of his hands, then wrung his hair out and lick that up as well. Have you ever had anyone willing to lick their own sweat from a stable floor because it pleases you? Have any of your buxom farm girls you seduce with a song ever done something quite that depraved?
I thought not.
I loved him for what he was willing to do for me. For quiet groans and little snaps. For when he collapsed to the floor, his body unable to take any more, his spirit still willing, wanting me to hurt him one more time. Once he begged for the gag, so that he couldn’t ask me to stop. Although after seeing the lengths I would go to, he never did that again. The memory of it still makes me twitch with desire. And yet none of your stories ever mention his suffering, just the pain and death he dealt to the dragon, or his human foes. It seems logical that the dragon should have been the hero, if we measured worth in pain and death meted out. But you never talk about that. I do still miss him sometimes, the dragon. That brutal, lethal majesty. But that was a young love, full of violence and savagery. When you get older, I think you’ll appreciate the other kind more. When you learn that you can cause your own pain, you don’t need someone else to do it for you, and there is a whole other kind of power based on what you can stand to use, and what people give you of themselves.
I think in the end, that’s why I was glad when he killed the dragon. Watching grows tedious, and eventually you want to get your hands dirty. Eventually you want a different kind of love, or a different kind of lover. The kind that suffers for you, no matter how much it hurts. Just because it’s you.
Copyright Jerry Jones. Unauthorized use is prohibited.