Welcome back Byron Gillan, who shares with you today his reflection on dragons. Enjoy!
’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”
He took his vorpal sword in hand;
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree
And stood awhile in thought.
And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!
One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.
“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.
’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
– Lewis Carroll, Jabberwocky
Once upon a time in a land hewn from both legend and myth…
Ser George of Trent made his way along the old road, following the markings of the beast. The earth was scorched as far as he could see in all directions, and small fires still crackled and hissed. The air was heavy with white smoke, along with the stink he had come to know well after so many years of service in his profession. Beneath Ser George, his horse whinnied and trembled; it had no doubt caught scent of the creature. The knight leaned down to pat the beast with one hand and he whispered a few words to sooth it. His horse quieted some, but he could still sense its fear-feel its body quivering. He cursed, knowing full well he should have taken Asher instead. His horse was a strong destrier, gifted to him by the Baron of Volice, after his slaying of an especially dangerous serpent that had long-haunted the land outside the Baron’s estate. Asher had been Ser George’s faithful companion through the past year of work, and that had made him soft for the animal. It was not uncommon for dragons to kill the horse of their attacker. They were lumbering, slow creatures, and agility was their greatest weakness. By disabling a knight’s mobility, they evened the fight considerably. Ser George had lost more than a few horses since beginning his trade, and Asher was too special to risk so foolishly. Instead, he’d used some good will to “borrow” the use of another destrier from the king’s stable. Just in case.
“The dragon has long troubled my land, Ser Knight,” the old king had told him, just before he’d left the castle. Ser George had been fixing his belongings to the saddle of the horse when the king and his family had descended upon him a final time to see him off. He remembered the princess, a young and beautiful maiden, standing behind her father and watching him with widened-eyes.
“It will be no easy feat, with how little information you’ve provided, but I shall see it done, your grace,” Ser George had replied.
“Yes, yes,” the old king had mumbled while nodding his head. “It is a dangerous beast, and it must be cleansed from the land.” Ser George had wondered if the king truly thought him such a fool. It was one thing for the man to lie before the gathered masses of his court, but now it was only he and his family, and Ser George.
“We both know why you wish this thing dead,” Ser George sighed. “I have hunted nearly three dozen of these animals since my work began. That sort of experience has allowed me to glean many interesting facts. I know that dragons do not feast on the flesh of men, as stories like to say. We don’t much offer much in the way of meat for them. They hunt larger prey, many of which hunt us, in turn. If anything, they are beneficial to our kind.”
“I also know that dragons covet jewels and gold, sapphires and rubies. Once their wealth has reached a substantive total, they dwell in their hold, basking in its radiance.” He looked at the king then, meeting his steel-gaze. “Did you know that already, your majesty?”
“Perhaps I did,” the man replied.
“I figured as much,” Ser George said, “because all my previous clients did as well. They were lords and generals, barons and viscounts, and they all wanted to be made rich, or, richer.”
“It’s hold could make me the most powerful man in all the lands of men,” the king said, finally speaking the truth for once.
“Aye,” Ser George agreed, “but only if I kill it for you.”
“You already agreed,” the king said. “You took my gold and my praise. What more could you ask for?”
“I think the man who would make you a king beyond all others, would not be out of place for asking anything of you in return,” Ser George told him as his eyes found the princesses’. She giggled quietly as her face turned red. Ser George returned the smile. “But never you worry, your grace. I am not a man to make wild demands before proving myself. We will discuss the matter of further compensation when I have returned.”
When he came to the dragon’s lair, Ser George found that it’s nest rest above a rocky bluff, with only a thin trail accessible by foot. He would need to leave the horse and his supplies behind. There were few details provided to him beforehand about this particular dragon, other than what gossip the common-folk of the surrounding farms and holds had relayed to their king. It was not a winged-creature, but a great serpent instead; long-bodied and quicker than others. Great serpents made up for their lack of flight with a speed that allowed them to quickly dance around their prey before striking a lethal blow. Ser George had not faced one in some time, and his last encounter had left him with a vivid-scar, which ran down the length of his back.
“Looks like you got off easy fella,” Ser George told his horse as he tethered it to a dead tree not far away. He retrieved his sword and shield, along with a small sack of wet stones. The knight then set off, climbing the steep path that lead to his foe. As he came upon the den of the beast; a massive cavern embedded in the side of the bluff, his nostrils were filled with its stink. The air was heavy with dragon piss and shit, while the ground outside of the black maw of the cave was dotted with the bones of its prey.
“Oh, now at last he arrives. The shining knight, the conquer-hero! Vanquisher! It took you long enough,” a voice echoed from within he darkness. It slithered forward, drawing down upon him as it spoke. Its voice a booming thunder as it echoed against the walls of its cavern-dwelling. ““Beware the Jabberwock, my son! The jaws that bite, the claws that catch! Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun-The frumious Bandersnatch!” The serpent was silver-white, with thick scales and dark, golden eyes. Its elongated tail whipped in the air behind its twisting body, barbed and deadly. Ser George could see it was older than the king or any of his folk had implied. He could see the deep rings around either of the serpent’s tusks that extended from either side of its jaws. The rings were markings of a creature well-past four centuries.
“I know this story, dragon,” Ser George interrupted it. “I sang a tune of it on my way here. Were you listening? I had hoped you might hear me.”
“I did,” the serpent replied. “So tell me, human, do you know where that song originates?”
“A poem, I would think, from some bard or another. I don’t honestly care,” Ser George shrugged as he answered. “It has a nice ring to it, that’s all.”
The dragon shook its head. “No, a bard might have played it once upon a time, and named it his own, but that does not make it so. That is a tale told by dragons, grifum boum and slether well. They sing it often,” it’s voice rumbled as it spoke.
The knight did not rise to take the dragon’s bait. “You lie, creature,” he simply said. “Dragons do not create poetry or art. You are a monster of nature, and you have lived well beyond your time.”
“A monster am I?” the creature made a sound like a laugh. “I am named Horath, and I have lived beyond one-hundred of your petty lifetimes. I have seen more than you will ever know.” It gestured with one clawed-hand to the grounds surrounding them both. “Do you see the bones of innocent men and women, or children? Do you take me for some mindless thing, capable only of slaughter? Tell me, knight, does a monster try to reason with its enemy when it meets one? Or does it simply attack, without reason or rhyme to its deeds?”
Ser George nodded his head in agreement as he continued to clean the blade he held. It glinted brightly in the light of the sun, and the runes inscribed along either of its twin-faces hummed softly with ancient power. “Ah, but you know, I have heard this tale before. Multiple times, in fact.” He rose and raised the blade high for his enemy to see its splendor. “The Green-Death of the Northlands asked the same question of me, before he met his end-the White-Fang of the Southlands as well. The Purple-Devil to the East…” Ser George continued on for a time, listing each and every one of his many kills. All the while, Horath remained silent and still. His eyes alone showed his pain at each new name that the knight spoke to him.
“You have killed many a creature I knew and named friend,” Horath finally said, when Ser George spoke no more names. “You are a talented murderer.”
“I am a talented knight, you mean to say,” Ser George hissed back at it. “Do not try to dissuade me into thinking you are anything other than what you are, or that the others of your kind did not deserve the death I brought them.”
“You are a killer,” Horath’s voice was quiet, a shadow of its former greatness. “It does not matter, I suppose. You are what you are, and I am what I am.”
“Yes.” Ser George retrieved his shield from the ground and made ready for battle.
“There is no changing your mind in this?” the dragon asked finally, though its tone implied it already knew the answer.
“No,” Ser George said.
A spout of flame erupted from Horath’s snout, and the dragon rose to tower over his small foe. “One, two! One, two! And through and through-The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!” the dragon then bellowed. He did not sound like a monster, powerful and bold, in that moment at least. Instead the beast sounded almost sad. As if he were already reserved to his fate to follow.
Ser George raised his shield and slid his sword over the top-edge of his defense. He smiled then, and replied: “He left it dead, and with its head-He went galumphing back.” They came together in a vicious clash of fang and steel-fire and death, and when it was done, Horath’s last words came: “I name thee monster, wearing the flesh of man!”
“And I name thee dead, so die,” Ser George shouted in return as he cleaved the dragon’s head from its neck. With the fight finished, the knight took a moment to rest upon the rock he’d favored before. He cast his sword and dented shield aside as sweat poured down his ashen-covered face. The dragon’s corpse twitched occasionally where it had fallen, while its head rested beside it with both eyes open and gaping at the world. When his strength had returned to him, Ser George gathered the beast’s head.
He thought of the king, and of his daughter, the princess. As Ser George envisioned the girl’s face, a wide smile grew upon his lips. It was not long after before the dragon’s head was tethered to the saddle of his horse, and Ser George was on his way back to the castle. As he followed the trail back down the lowlands below, his smile; worn all the while, only grew larger. Ser George began to hum a soft tune to himself as he went, and not long after that he broke out into joyful song.
“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock? Come to my arms, my beamish boy! O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! He chortled in his joy!”
Byron Gillan is an avid reader, recent college graduate, and freelance writer, with multiple publications in various newspapers, magazines, and online publications, including work for the Buffalo News. His first novel, The Children of the Forest, is currently seeking funding on Inkshares, and was recently entered in the Nerdist.com writing contest. Byron focuses primarily on fantasy, horror, and science-fiction, and enjoys blending the various genres together to create something new. His writing seeks to ask difficult and important questions about pressing social issues, such as race, environmentalism, religion, and more, exploring them through the lens of his favorite genres.