The Snake and the Mirror

The Wolf and the Dragon

 

It had been too long since Giovanni had seen the coast. While Barcelona had a fine coast line, he had traveled a little outside the city on Wilhelmina’s recommendation to a nearby village. Stella was staying in the city, enjoying the pleasure of civilization after a long pilgrimage.

The village was a small one, not unlike the village they had saved in North Italy, a collection of new smaller buildings within a palisade on the coast of the sea, making their living off of fishing and trade with nearby Barcelona. He kept his scarf on, keeping his ears out of sight as he greeted the locals, who welcomed him with polite greetings as he admired the serene midday coastline.

“Afternoon, sir.”

He turned and saw an old man sitting a chair down on a nearby pier, nodding to him politely.

“Afternoon,” Giovanni nodded his head politely.

“You a pilgrim? You look the type,” The man said idly, setting up his fishing rod. “Not to prod or be impolite, just an observation.”

“I am,” Giovanni nodded. “I was told this was a nice stretch of coast.”

“Oh, it’s about the finest you’ll see,” The man nodded. “I was just curious if you were a pilgrim or one of those ‘dragon slayers’ you hear about.”

“Dragon slayers?” Giovanni asked. “You mean Wilhelmina?”

“Ah, no, Miss Koenig’s got enough on her plate to deal with. But this village is popular with every man and boy who can pick up a sword and fancies themselves a monster-killer. Most of them we send home.”

“Why would they think that…is there a dragon around here?” Giovanni asked, slightly nervously, but the man just chuckled.

“Ah, well if you believe the stories there certainly is, but those are just stories. No great fire-breathing lizard’s ever come down on this town. It’s just fire up in the hills outside of town is all. Gas fissures some think.”

“I..see…” Giovanni said.

“Well, if you want to see for yourself by all means,” The fisherman nodded. “It’s not particularly dangerous hills, no more than any other place.”

“Any other place that might have a dragon?” Giovanni said.

The man laughed. “Ah, intrigued you, have I?”

“More like concerned.” Giovanni said. “Dragons are monsters of the devil.”

“Well,” The man said. “If that’s the case, someone should probably check in on what that old dragon is scheming.”

He finished with a hearty chuckle as Giovanni frowned.

“Ah well, if it’s that serious to you, one of those would-be knights came through earlier and was pointed to the hills. At the very least, you can probably go make sure she doesn’t stick her head in a fissure looking for dragons.”

“I…think I might,” Giovanni said. “Which way did she go?”

“Up north, over the road there,” The man pointed out of town. “Go quick enough and I’m sure you can catch her. People dressed in armor tend to make a lot of noise, so they shouldn’t be hard to find.”

“I will,” Giovanni inclined his head politely. “Thank you for your time.”

“Oh no, by all means,” the man waved it off. “Come back around afterwards. You’ve not lived till you’ve had some of the fresh catch here.”

Giovanni wasn’t normally one for fish, but his stomach rumbled at the thought.

“I’ll be sure to,” he said, before going off in the direction the man had pointed out.

As soon as he was out of sight of the town Giovanni shifted forms. He could track and move more easily as a wolf than as a man, and it wasn’t long before he had what was probably the trail. The scent of a young woman dressed all in metal was easy to find, and soon he was fast after her.

Giovanni wasn’t sure if he entirely believed the man about the dragon, but he wanted more answers and a ‘would be knight’ as the man put it would likely have them, or if they were as young and foolish as the man had implied, he could keep them from getting lost or injuring themselves.

As he drew closer to the source of the scent, he shifted once more into human form, making sure his scarf and robe were in place to cover his more wolfish aspects. Still on her trail, it wasn’t long until he heard the sound of an armored warrior moving through the brush.

“Hello there,” He called into the trees ahead of him and the sound came to a halt. Giovanni moved towards where it had been, letting himself clearly be heard as he moved.

She was pretty young, as the man had said, but not very. She was probably in her late-twenties. She was dressed mostly in reproduction armor that still looked at least marginally effective, and she had her brown hair tied up tightly at the back of her head.

“Who are you?” She asked somewhat nervously, hand moving to the hilt of her sheathed sword.

“Just a traveling monk,” Giovanni said. “No one of particular concern.”

“I see…” The woman’s hand fell to her waist. “My name is Isabella, and yours?”

“Giovanni,” he said. “I heard you were out hunting dragons.”

“I am,” she nodded. “The fact that there is a dragon in these hills is known far and wide.”

“All the better that a warrior like yourself is here.”

“Perhaps,” Isabella said. “The stories here are rather strange.”

“A man in the village said that there is no dragon,” said Giovanni. “That it was simply gas fissures and an overactive imagination.”

“And did you believe him?”

“It sounds reasonable…but in a world like ours, it’s never wise to discount hat it might really be dragons,” Said Giovanni. “If anything, it might be even stranger if there were no dragon.”

“Oh, there is a dragon in these hills,” Isabella said. “But it’s an unusual one for certain. Local stories say it’s a peaceful dragon, doing nothing and harming nobody.”

Giovanni scoffed. “Now that I find even harder to believe than there being no dragon at all.”

Isabella smiled. “Is that right? A peaceful dragon just seems too odd?”

“Dragons are the minions of evil,” Giovanni said. “From Saint Martha to Saint George, dragons are vicious and all-devouring beasts born from evil itself. I would think that would be obvious so close to Barcelona, where one can meet an actual noble dragon slayer.”

“Aaah, yes, Wilhelmina, the late Abraham’s young student.”

“She doesn’t seem much younger than yourself,” Giovanni said.

“True, I suppose, and she did kill an evil dragon. But was the killing of the dragon the only righteous thing that Saint George did?”

“Well of course not,” Giovanni said. “He was a saint and a martyr, one who lived and died for virtue and faith. When he slew the dragon, he saved the town and the woman meant as a sacrifice.”

“So was the dragon slain for being evil, or being a dragon?”

“I don’t see much difference,” Giovanni said. “Dragons are evil.”

“I hear rumors,” Isabella said. “And stories of dragons in the far east who are benevolent spirits of rivers and sky.”

“True or not, we’re not in the far east,” Giovanni noted. “All dragons here, going back to antiquity, are monsters to be slain.”

Isabella smiled. “Slain by knights and heroes and thunder gods, no?”

“That seems to be the way of it,” Giovanni said.

“But it doesn’t quite answer my original question,” Isabella continued. “If the dragon had not eaten villagers or demanded sacrifice, would Saint George have had reason to kill it?”

“That seems an odd question,” Giovanni said. “Like if it is still a bird if it does not fly.”

“Penguins don’t fly.”

“That’s not my point,” Giovanni growled.

“Nor do ostriches,” Isabella smiled. “My point is, monk, that judging a thing by its nature is rarely so cut and dry. Have you heard of the story of the Wolf of Gubbio?”

Giovanni flinched. Had she sensed something? Seen something like a slip of his ears? How could she have known who he was just from that…unless Wilhelmina had told someone…

Giovanni grew nervous, but he tried not to let it show.

“I believe I have yes.”

“In that story there is a wolf, a man-eater, who feasts upon a village and its livestock. Instead of a knight come to slay it, a holy man converts it instead into a pious wolf.”

“Yes, but before that holy man came, it was an evil wolf,” Giovanni said. “It did not know the grace of God or the meaning in its actions, it only knew how to kill and destroy.”

“But the wolf overcame its nature, could not a dragon do the same?”

“There is Saint Martha’s story,” Giovanni said. “She pacified the Tarasque and led it to the city where it was killed by the frightened villagers. But all of these stories require outside intervention for mere beasts of evil to be elevated to such a place.”

“Dragons aren’t beasts,” Isabella said. “They are quite intelligent, some more intelligent than men. Even if they are born with a predisposition towards evil, would they be incapable of becoming good? Is it sinful for a dragon to even attempt it?”

Giovanni opened his mouth to speak but paused, thinking on it. They continued walking together, Giovanni slightly behind her, as he thought over her words.

He had been a simple wolf. Powerful and dangerous yes but lacking in intelligence. Kebechet had been born with the intellect of a goddess and Capitolina had evolved as spirits do through the cultivation of her own personality cult in Rome. Giovanni’s intelligence had come all at once at the hands of his best friend and the touch of God.

If a dragon truly was as smart as a man, and it felt an earnest need to repent, could he criticize it? A dragon had no eternal soul to be saved, it is true, but neither did he. Giovanni did not think he would be rewarded for his virtue, but he felt that, blessed as he was with a man’s intellect, he owed it to himself to try. Could a dragon be any different?

“I suppose…it would be possible,” Giovanni said. “If the dragon wished it…truly wished it in their heart to do good and be virtuous in the eyes of God, I could say no word against it.”

He looked at her curiously as he spoke, brow furrowed. “Though for a dragon slayer, you seem much more an advocate than anything.”

Isabella smiled warmly at him. “Because I wished to see what measure of person such a deceptive pilgrim could be, Brother Wolf.”

Giovanni pulled back, ears falling flat against his head as he bared his teeth. Isabella just continued smiling at him, but beneath the armor and the light perfume he could smell something that had been carefully hidden suddenly blossoming to the forefront, a distinct scent that made the hairs of his tail stand straight.

Fire and brimstone.

“You…” Giovanni said. “You’re the dragon of these hills.”

“That I am, pardon the deception,” She bowed cordially. “Though my name is Isabella, that part is no lie.”

“Does Wilhelmina know?” Giovanni asked. “That you…”

“That I exist?” Isabella said. “She’s quite aware. I’m the reason she sent you here in fact. She wanted to know if a figure such as yourself could see the reason in what she does letting me stay in my lands.”

“You…you’re attempting to be a pious dragon?” Giovanni said.

“I am,” Isabella said. “I see no reason for bloodshed between myself and Wilhelmina. If we were to come to blows the only outcome would be bloody for both of us, and I now serve a…much higher purpose, just as you do.”

“And what purpose is that?” Giovanni asked.

“I serve to test all these knights and dragon slayers,” Isabella said.

“A test?”

“You see, after Wilhelmina killed her dragon, people came from far and wide to prove that their settlement could do it just as well as Barcelona. All of these young men and women flushed with pride went out seeking monsters to kill to prove themselves, seeking to be Wilhelmina’s equal.”

“Not because the monsters were evil…” Giovanni nodded as she spoke. “But to try and improve their own standing.”

“The sin of pride,” Isabella said. “I would not have it in these people of faith. If they came to hunt me, and I found a knight of noble bearing who feared for their homeland and their faith, I would reassure them and send them on their way to protect their homes instead of venturing on some fool’s errand.”

“And if they were proud warriors who cared more for bloodshed than faith?” Giovanni asked.

Isabella smiled, perhaps a bit too toothily. “I am still a dragon, after all.”

“I suppose you have me trapped then,” Giovanni smiled. “While I don’t approve of that, I did say I could not speak out against you.”

“You vowed to your friend to never kill a man,” Isabella said. “I made no such promise after all.”

“Then perhaps,” Giovanni said. “You and I might find much to talk about.”

 

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The Cities Eternal©2017, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa

 

 

 

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