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Volume 17, Issue 5: Similitudes

Straight as a Spear

Douglas Wilson

In the morning, Andrew was standing on the top of the ridge again, looking down at the castle. Suddenly the dragon fluttered, or rather clattered, over the wall and landed heavily in front of the ruined gate. But from their distance, it looked like he fluttered and landed as lightly as a bird would.

After a few moments, the dragon began to crawl toward a brook that was running merrily down the ridge, and winding off to the right, toward the sea. Andrew realized for the first time how fitting the ancient name wyrm was for this creature. The dragon crawled slowly, methodically, and when he finally reached the brook, he bent his ancient head, and Andrew and Beow saw several streams of steam rise up. The dragon drank for fully half an hour while the two watched from the ridge.
"I suppose having a fire like that inside you all the time would make you thirsty. It would make me thirsty."
Beow struck the ground in front of them with his right front hoof. "Yes. He does this twice a day. Once in the morning, and once in the evening. After his evening drink, he flies for a time. We must have missed his drink last night, and saw him circling his domains. That means he is still a young dragon. The older ones cease from flying, and just sleep on their gold."
"Does he always walk out to the brook that way?"
"It has been many years since I have been here. But yes. Dragons are very methodical in their habits. They hate changes, and always do everything the same way." But then Beow looked at Andrew in warning—"Everything is always the same except for their lies. Those are always different."
"Look," Andrew said.
The dragon was slowly worming his way back to the castle. When he got to the rubble in the gates, he hopped, flapped his wings twice, and floated over the wall.
"Shall we go down?" Beow asked.
"It is the time," Andrew said, feeling strangely confident. He wondered how long that would last, and where it came from. He was exhilarated.
They walked together down the path and decided to walk toward the tower on the south end of the castle. They could tell from the periodic plumes of smoke where the dragon was inside the castle, and he was somewhere in the courtyard near that south tower.
"I would venture that the maiden is in that tower," said Beow.
"I still don't understand why the dragon holds the maiden captive," Andrew said. "If he ate her, that would be wicked, but understandable. But to hold her captive . . . what good is a maiden to a dragon?" As they walked, they came to a crevice, a rain gully that they had to jump across, Beow rather more easily than Andrew. Andrew pretended to stumble on the other side, and picked himself up slowly, looking down in the crevice as he did so. It was about four feet deep and three feet wide. He grinned widely. Here was a gash in the dust of the ground.
Brushing his hands together, Andrew resumed walking toward the castle and Beow resumed his answer. "This is the story, and the dragon knows it as well as we do. The girl is necessary to bring us here, and this Fafnir wants us to come to him as much as we want to come. He knows we approach."
As if to confirm these words, Fafnir suddenly appeared at the top of the wall adjoining the base of the tower. Andrew thought he saw a girl's head appear in a window high at the top of the tower, but he was too busy staring at the dragon.
They walked slowly up, and Andrew decided that he should be the first to hail the dragon. He raised his spear with his right arm, and cried out, "Hail, Fafnir! We have come to visit you. Do you receive visitors?"
"I receive them from time to time, I must confess it," Fafnir said, his voice sounding gravelly and wise, just like the dragon on the mountain. "It has been some time, though."
"Do you know why we have come?" Andrew shouted.
The dragon bent his head slowly. "I do." He spoke as a matter of fact, and though it did not appear that he was offended by their mission, his voice was still full of a cold and icy hatred. He obeyed the rules, and even cherished them, and hated the one who made them.
"We come to riddle you a question," Andrew said. "And if we return tomorrow, you will answer us. If you answer correctly, then I will pose you another, and if I return the next day, the same thing again. If we do this through the third riddle, and you answer them all correctly, then we will have to decide the dispute between us some other way."
"And what is the dispute between us, little one?" Fafnir said.
"You have a maiden in the tower named Maggie. If you answer any of the riddles incorrectly, then you will release her to us."
"You said that if you return tomorrow. You might not return?"
"I make no promises. I may return, I may not. But if I return in this way, it will be to riddle according to our agreement."
"Though I could fly over there right now and gobble you up, your proposal pleases me. It will draw the anticipation of my meal out over six days. It pleases me very much."
Andrew nodded his head, and turned to walk back to the ridge. When they came to the crevice, Andrew pretended it was too wide and walked up and down the side of it, looking for a good place to jump.

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