It was terrible. Yes, after a while I began to get used to it; though, how “used to it” is possible for one who was a human for half of his life and then transformed in a sickening crunching of bones, stretching of skin, and lengthening of limbs into one of the most despised creatures in all of Creation?
Although…I suppose I did deserve it. The slaughter I have caused, the havoc I have wreaked…I am sorry for it now. But alas, I am paying my debt and it is too late to be repentant.
Trapped here in this lonely valley, with only the birds and small animals for company, I have had plenty of time to reconsider and reconcile with myself. I am no longer in denial—I am no longer angry with myself. I understand the reasons.
I hunger not, so I need not trouble myself with hunting. That is a gift, I suppose. I would have not lasted long if I had to hunt to survive. I could not bear having to kill another creature. The reason for this everlasting “fullness”, you ask? The water is my answer-- the sweet, clear pools. Yet every time I dropped my head to take a sip of the filling liquid I was reminded. If for a time, I was able to forget, it was a blessing. But the blessing vanished when I saw my reflection in that pool. Hideous. The reflection of the very creature I, and so many others, now despise.
Serpent. That word, every time it entered my mind, I was pierced. Pierced with arrows to my heart, arrows that, when they destroyed the flesh and blood, allowed the light of day to shine on my darkened soul, forever stained. Ashamed. That was I. Not angry, but ashamed. I had become the very creature I had killed for. Evil itself, with deception as its fuel, I had allowed to enter my heart. I could try to defend my actions with the arguments I had memorized over the years, but because I no longer believed these arguments myself, it would not have been worth it.
So there I was, trapped. Trapped, with only the dark remembrances of my past hate to haunt me.
One morning, as usual, I went to the pool for a drink. As I lowered my head, I closed my eyes. My snout plunged into the cool liquid and I drank deeply of the filling water. Suddenly, a voice, clear and sweet as the water itself, sang out to me. “Dragon,” the feminine voice trilled. “Why do you drink of this water?”
I lifted my head and opened my eyes. Sitting on a rock at the edge of the pool, was a young girl. She was draped in a white gown that flowed gracefully around her slender body. Her shining chestnut hair was sleek and straight and hung about her like a curtain. A wreath of ivy, every bit as green as her emerald-like eyes, encircled the crown of her head. Small white blossoms dotted the foliage. My heart jumped within my armored breast. Not because of her innocent beauty, but because she was human. Another thinking being, one with whom I could converse. “Who, pray tell, asks this question of me?” I winced inwardly at the sound of my own voice. Harsh and rough, yet slithering and snakelike, I had not heard it in ever so long. After raving about my plight for the first several days of my imprisonment, I had vowed to never speak again. There was no need to. That is, until now.
The girl smiled sweetly and dipped her bare feet into the water. She swirled them around, creating little cyclones with her toes. She gazed into my eyes, her own sparkling. “My name is of no importance. You may call me Child.”
“Very well, Child. I shall answer your question, if only for the honor of speaking with you.” I stretched out on the soft turf, folding my legs up below me. “I drink of the water, because it is my sustenance. When I drink, I am filled and do not hunger. Because of this blessing, I am not required to shed another drop of innocent blood for my own profit.”
“Another drop, my lord?”
I sighed and lay my head down on my crossed forelegs. “Yes, Child. I have shed much blood in my lifetime.”
“Your own, my lord?”
“No, Child. The blood of others; of the innocent such as yourself.”
The girl lowered her head and stared into the water for a moment, then looked back up. She cocked her head to the side and knit her light brow. “I sense a sadness in your voice, sir. Tell me, were you always as you are?”
“A scaled deceiver? Yes. Though I only now wear the visible garments of that livelihood. I was once a man, my only natural protection being skin, hardened from many days of heavy labor in the scorching sun. I rose in the ranks from slave to master, fighting my way to the top with lies, thievery, and stealth. I then took out my rage on others, abusing my power, forcing them to work, building my empire. Many died from exhaustion, still others from the wounds inflicted upon them by my orders.” I sighed and closed my eyes once more. “I can still hear the snapping of the whips and the cries of the children in my dreams.”
“But sir, surely, you could not have known. This was how you were raised, was it not? You were told from your youth to look out for yourself and that you had to fight to win the best.”
I chuckled humorlessly. “Aye, Child. Yet, I knew in my heart that something was amiss. I remember one night when I was a mere lad of seventeen. I lay awake in my bed, a hard mat filled with sand, wondering if all I had ever been taught was false. I had very nearly convinced myself that it was. I slipped off to sleep and restlessly tossed and turned the entire night. The next morning, I awoke to the sound of sharp thwacks, followed by heart-wrenching cries. It was a fellow slave, an acquaintance of mine, being beaten. He was a lazy fellow, one who avoided tasks at every turn. He was dead within the hour. My heart was enraged. I dismissed all thoughts that had passed through my mind the last night. I would not allow that to happen to me. I would work and be successful. I did have to fight to win the best. And,” I opened my eyes. “I did. That is, I thought I did.”
The Child nodded sympathetically and plucked a pretty blossom from the water’s edge. “And how, my lord, did you come to reside in this plated armor?”
I heaved a deep breath. “That is a much more complicated tale, dear girl.”
(to be continued)