2. The Old One

by Thomas Davis

The old one, fierce inside her double hearts,
Kept flying high above the human child
As snow whipped down from caves and jagged peaks
Into the plateau where the cottage stood.

She’d sensed the mother’s death and saw the girl
Construct a grave of heavy, rounded stones
And watched her as she harvested the garden,
Trapped rabbits, drying pelts outside the shed,
And fished in waters tumbling down the mountainsides.

At night, inside her cave where hot springs bubbled
From rocky walls, the old one’s dreams were filled
With how the human child looked as she faced
Her lonely life with only dragons flying
Above her to and from the caves set deep
In slopes so steep the mountain goats avoided them.
The dreams were like a fever, always there—
The human child so slight compared to dragons,
But real beyond what any child could be,
Her face emaciated, body starved.

Each day she flew above the cottage roof
She saw the child had made a fire and managed
To get herself through yet another night
As cold raged like a dragon spewing fire.

The humans in the valley far below
The girl stayed in their village, hunting deer
And other game, including goats the dragons
Depended on when winter frosted dragon hides.
The old one kept imagining they’d leave
Their cottages and climb the mountainside
To fetch the girl into their small white houses,
But days passed, weeks passed, a month, and then more weeks
And no one seemed to think about the girl.

At last, her dreams more powerful than ever,
The old one swooped down on a hunter far
From where the village was, her mind on fire.
The man was bigger than most humans were.
He had an arrow notched and stared at her
As wings threw shadows on the snowy ground.

“I know enough to shoot into your eyes!”
He screamed while standing tense before her scales.

She snorted smoke and dug into her memory
For human words she’d learned to use against
A foolish knight who’d sought to find her lair
In days when gold and jewels made her feel
The blazing glory of her dragoness.
Her honeyed words back then had brought him close.
He’d felt the deadly heat of dragon flame.

“The plateau woman’s dead,” she said, her voice
As guttural as water rumbling down a cliff.
“Her child’s alone and needs your human help.”

The hunter’s eyes glared fear and hate at her.
He looked as if he didn’t know if he should flee
Or stay and fight a battle to the death.

“A child?” he asked, voice hard, fear in his breath.
He seemed to search his memory to see
If he could understand what made a dragon
Concerned about a girl, a human child.

“The child above your village in the cottage,”
The old one said. “The little, lonely girl.
She needs your help to get her through the winter.”

“A little girl?” the hunter asked. His eyes grew large
As understanding dawned. “You mean the witches’ child?
The one who lives below the dragon caves?”

The old one’s fires stirred deep inside her throat.
She rumbled even though she tried to still
Her double hearts to keep the hunter calm.

“What foolishness,” she said. “A witches’ child.
What does that mean? A human is a human.
She is a girl, a human girl, and humans
Should have enough humanity to care
About their children when they face starvation.”

The hunter, frightened, drew his bowstring back
And shot an arrow at her shining eyes.
She turned her head and let the arrow bounce.
She roared her rage and sent a spume of flame
Toward the foolish man and set his beard
To smoking as the tree behind him whooshed
Into a puff of angry, flaring flame.
The hunter turned and ran as if he’d seen
The end of time confront him in the woods.
The old one sat and looked at emptiness.

What was a human child to her? she asked.
She’d lived through generations of the villagers.
What was a human child to her? She spread
Her wings and lifted heavily to sky.
She flew above the cabin, saw the little girl,
An axe blade swinging at a chunk of wood.

You humans are a clutch of stupid fools,
The old one thought. She flew up to her cave
And hoped she’d sleep without her troubling dreams.

To listen to this section of the epic, click on The Old One.

Note: This is the second section of a long poem that I am skeptical about publishing in wordpress format. The first section was published in this format earlier as “Dragonflies, Dragons, and Her Mother’s Death.” The story was inspired by John Keats’ tale in his narrative poem, “Lamia,” although this poem uses blank verse rather than the rhyming couplets Keats used. Click on the number to go to an earlier or later section: 1, 3.

10 Comments

Filed under Poetry, The Dragon Epic, Thomas Davis

10 responses to “2. The Old One

  1. I’m really glad you published this second part. I was so anxious for the poor girl as I read this. I love the way, near the end, when the dragon repeats: “What was a human child to her?”. It shows uncertainty, as though the dragon doesn’t know how the girl crept into her heart. Amazing!

  2. Julie Catherine

    Thomas, I echo Tanitha’s response, and am eager to read the next installment of this beautiful narrative poem. I am entranced by your writing! ~ Julie

  3. Oh, 4windows, I am so totally enthralled with this ongoing narrative poem of the child living below the dragon’s cave after her mother, the village “witch”,l has died. That man just could not understand a dragon caring about a human child, could he? A real insight into our societies around the world today, I am afraid.

  4. I love this story I love the way it is being told, this is the form of writing I yearn to attain. Why are you so unsure as to wordpress being the medium in which to tell this story. I am enthralled by the narrative I need to hear more, I want to know what happens I care about the characters. xx

  5. Oona Hays

    This is really marvelous, both the story and the poetry. Thank you for posting more!

  6. You have a wonderful way with words, old one. I really enjoy reading and viewing every posting.

  7. More, more, please! I’m eager to know what happens next…. such wonderful writing, Thomas!!

  8. Caddo Veil

    Beautiful work, as always. Please don’t be mad, but I’ve nominated you for yet another award: The Reader Appreciation Award. No pressure–I just wanted to say how much I love you and Ethel; have for months, expect I always will. God bless you this day!

  9. sonjabingen

    I love this and need to go back and read the the first part!

  10. Anna Mark

    Yes, more please. I want to know what draws the dragon to the child, the child to the dragon, her fearlessness, their fearlessness. I am also thinking about Ursula Le Guin’s Earth Sea series. This poem captures the same kind of fantastic curiosity, enjoyment, and depth of experience.

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