15. Miss Potato Head

984 115 3
                                    

Five days passed with no sign of the dragon. The skies were clear. The wind was mild. The sun was bright in their eyes and warm on their backs. Everything was calm, everything peaceful. Too peaceful.

After his initial bout of volubility, Lord Manerion retreated into a stony shell of silence, resisting all efforts to draw him out. At night he would sit with his back against a tree for hours, whittling away at a succession of sticks as he stared out across the still, moonlit clearing. By day, he sat astride his horse in the center of the clearing. Even the palomino grew restless from time to time, snorting and pawing at the ground. Not so Lord Manerion. Apart from the occasional bugle-blast, he kept post from sunup to sundown, as still as any statue.

Moribus wished he possessed a fraction of his master's equanimity. After the ordeal of the journey, he thought he had been prepared for anything. But this waiting, this state of suspended expectation, this perpetual un-happening—he could hardly bear it.

He filled the hours with meaningless occupation. He counted the ribs on a leaf and the leaves on a branch and the branches on a tree. He watched spider's spin their webs, making private wagers on how many insects they would net in an afternoon. He followed foraging tribes of ants, placing obstacles in their way. He paced and leaned, stood, squatted and sat. Then he did it all over again. As one day slipped into the next, he began to dread the endless waiting more than the dragon itself.

On the morning of the eleventh day, an even worse fear overtook him.

He awoke in a cold sweat. In his dream, a veiled Meglinda stood before him, radiant in a dress of white satin and lace, while a holy man in a steepled headpiece rhythmically intoned the hallowed rites of marriage. Rings were placed on their fingers. At long last, the veil was pulled back to reveal the face of his bride. That's when the horror began.

It wasn't that Meglinda's visage was rendered ugly or hideous. Such a glaring distortion could have been easily dismissed by the wakeful mind. Rather, it was the indistinctness that troubled him. There was something missing or not quite right. He couldn't quite put his finger on it. Were the eyes set too far apart? Was the forehead too high, the chin too broad and forward-thrusting? Like a child transforming a potato into a human face by pinning on various buttons and beans, he attempted to reconstruct the particulars of her face, but nothing worked. Every new adjustment caused something else to go awry.

Perhaps it was the imperfections that were missing: the tiny pores of her nose, the freckles she meticulously powdered over, or the colorless fuzz that feathered her upper lip. But when he added in these details, they looked exaggerated, grotesque even. No matter what he tried there was always something a little wrong about her, something that wasn't quite Meglinda.

The truth was inescapable; after only a month on the trail, he had already begun to forget the face of his beloved. She had slipped away from him a pore and a freckle at a time and he hadn't even noticed.

* * * * *

Moribus was down at the river collecting stones when he heard the bugle blast. He knew instantly something big was afoot. While the knight sounded out at regular intervals throughout the day, those were short, beseeching blurts, whereas this one was long and trumpeting. Dropping the bag of rocks, he sprinted back to the clearing at a dead run.

The knight was facing east into the rising sun. In the newly forged light, he was the picture of the legendary hero, all shining armor and gilded dragons. He lowered the bugle and raised the looking glass to the sky, causing light to blaze forth from his palm.

Moribus heard the dragon before he saw it. It started as the sound of a wind moving in the treetops. Then there was a visceral thrumming like a silent thunder, a vibration that could be felt in the bones. Trees began to shake, softly at first, then in great sweeping motions that sent birds fluttering from their perches. Pinecones dropped around him like hail.

Moribus had heard hundreds of tales about dragons. He could describe its every feature from the curving fangs down to the trifurcated tail. But none of the tales did justice to the shimmering river of sapphire and gold that passed overhead. It was not its size alone that overawed him but the graceful slither and whip-crack way it moved through the air, so unlike the flight of a bird, bat or any ordinary creature. Here was something unseen before on the face of the earth, a new creation freshly sprung from the mind of God.

Dear Rhojë, Moribus thought. Suchmajesty!

The Mighty MorgWhere stories live. Discover now