Don Juans & Dragoons

Andrew Leon Hudson

"A necessary monster." Jorge Luis Borges

"Who follows me?" called the virgin, without fear.

"I, sweet thing," murmured the wyrm, unseen, its voice made silken with deceits.

"I only feed men, and clean their things," she replied with a dismissive air and continued on her way towards her village in the cove, where fishing boats sailed out at dawn and dusk, like now.

"There are more hungers than one, maiden." It used her Greek, though any tongue of men was its to command. It used the flattering word, for virgins fear that truth at times.

"You want my sister's service." She glanced back with a smile, seeing no-one. To the north the soldiers' camp was become only shadows, upon a beach of tan sands greening with the growing dark, against a sea of purple, beneath a dying ember sky.

Her dark eyes reflected it all. The wyrm's reflected only her.

"Can she be as lovely?" The girl flushed at the flattery, but did not pause again. "I ask truly, though I have eyes for no beauty but your own."

"Quite lovely enough for a soldier's relief, which you would not find with me. She is quick to share, and generous with her time. My price would be a life's length-" the wyrm grinned, though she did not know it "-and soon-dead men are not rich enough in years for me."

"No man am I," said the wyrm in its true voice, and approached as she faltered, transfixed.

The virgin lay restless in the wyrm's stomach. The great beast twisted and coiled on its hoard, unable to settle, much like its meal. It rolled onto its back, undulous like a river, baring its belly as the mystic heat of the virgin's untapped loins stoked its own fire.

It would need that soon. Not a needing like the compulsion which had led it to consume her, fiery though that was, but the more literal necessity.

It would need flame, as those seeking vengeance inevitably followed a meal.

In this era, with humans abound on every inch of the world like fleas on a rat's back, wyrmkind had been driven into only the most secluded places. Now, instead of roosting atop some fine crag beneath the sky, the wyrm dwelt in caverns by the surface, a shallow seep-water pool to reflect its treasures before snaking its way on to the sea. It had become as a tapeworm in that same rat's starving gut.

It was mankind's fancy that virginity's sole value was in its taking

The wyrm seethed. Forced by mankind's ever increasing numbers to hide, then by hunger to emerge and risk its precious skin. Forced to claim its sacrifices, not simply receive them from cowering crowds. Forced to provoke futile pursuits by little mobs - its seething became edged with satisfaction - who in turn were forced to breach its narrow passages by lonely ones and twos, no match for the wyrm without scrabbling multitudes at their back.

Two types predominated, as it perceived them. First, those who revenged themselves out of love (or so they told themselves, though the feverishness with which each man gripped his weapon was suggestive more of base lust). Second, those who sought revenge out of duty (or so they told themselves, for duty done at a king's command is more properly termed obedience).

The wyrm knew of human fancies and deceits, all the more powerful for being directed solely at themselves. Bravery was the self-deceit of the dutiful. In mounted ranks, King Louis' dragoons had come, but the rolling eyes and anxious stamping of their steeds gave lie to the deeper fear possessing each rider. It was communicated with every movement of their bodies, beyond the reach of lying tongues to deny, and their horses heard the message well.

But Louis' people heard his fear too, and no denial ever held back the guillotine's bite.

And fancies-it was mankind's fancy that virginity's sole value was in its taking, fools that they were. Even its bearers only preserved it with that purpose in mind, aside from the greater fools who sacrificed their true nature kneeling, knees tight together, at one altar or another.

What did any of them know of the enduring virgin's power? Urgency preserved, building, overwhelming. An unquenchable fire, kept ever thirsty for the slaking? They knew nothing.

The wyrm's own loins were cold as gold. Only when the fire of its breath was extinguished would its sexuality begin to burn, fuelling the need to seek out another fading serpent with which to mate, lay eggs with and, ultimately, expire beside, young nestling in their coils.

Yet as long as there were virginal fonts to sup from, the wyrm pledged it would maintain its fire. Not for it the civil choice, to quietly age and sire a fading future. It would roar, and live it.

Finally, from the seaward passage came at last the sound of men approaching, the overlaying echoes of faltering footsteps hinting at a dutiful mass-but, as their source neared, the echoes synchronised into that of only one man.

The wyrm watched as he limped into the cavern, his military dress slovenly and stained, hair lank across a handsome, no doubt lustful brow.

"There must be fever in my blood," the visitor said, "for there is a dragon in my eyes."

"I am no fever dream," said the wyrm, in its clicking, cracking speech.

"Both, then," he replied, "for I am more unwell than wine has ever made me."

"You are come to avenge my prey, the virgin." Heat flooded the wyrm, rising like liquor in its veins and throat. It shone beneath its skin, within its eyes, behind its teeth.

"Virgins no longer drive me." The man sneered as he stepped forward, his eyes swimming in their sockets. The wyrm's glow made him radiant. "I seek experience, not the lack of it."

The creature paused, its endless memory pricked. It knew of human arts and letters. It knew the vain and petty poem. The old story had presented the perfect form of the lustful revenger. Not the preening lord's version, though. He recast the plunderer Don Juan in the wyrm's new role: sought after, not the seeker.

"I know your way with words," the wyrm said, scarcely believing the evident truth. "You are the poet."

The man shook his head. "I am a soldier, come to throw the cursed Ottomans from out of noble Greece." He drew a sword from his belt sash with a flourish, swayed a moment, and stabbed the blade into the cavern floor for balance. "Though I may never have the chance to shed blood for her. My doctors seek to bleed me dry before battle is even joined."

"And what poor brew will quench your appetites once the finest vintage is consumed?"

"Then shed my blood, if you can, little lord," said the wyrm, delighted, "or I will drink what remains of yours."

"My flavour will be too rich," he said, and looked down at the blade supporting him. "To taste me once is to long for me always. And what poor brew will quench your appetites once the finest vintage is consumed?"

The wyrm chuckled, a sound like pebbles skittering down a cliff face, loosening huge boulders to follow crashing in their wake.

"Isn't the final taste the sweetest?" it asked.

"It is the saddest."

The man pulled his sword's point from the ground, looked with disdain upon his weapon, then swooned, leaning on the wall to keep his feet.

"If so, I shall mourn," the wyrm declared, and glided towards him on the flexing striations of its belly, winding back and forth, its smile gaping open, all needle teeth and fuming heat.

The poet tossed his sword aside, heedless of the wyrm's approach. The blade tumbled in the air and into the wyrm's yawning gape, piercing its throat, opening the fire's path and spilling it out into tender places only meant for virgin flesh.

The wyrm coiled upon itself, writhed, knotted, and died.

Byron stared at the mound of gold, at the burning hallucination, then rubbed his eyes and wandered back to the surface, to the camp, to enter mortal combat with his doctors.

© Andrew Leon Hudson 2015 All Rights Reserved

Date and time of last update 18:27 Fri 31 Jul 2015
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