It was heat he felt when he kissed her like this. So much of it. He knew that the memory of it would keep him warm forever. Deeply, she moaned and tightened her arms around him. The desire rose from them both in waves till it formed a cocoon over them, till he even thought he could stay there wrapped, completely in love with her – his new found woman who erased thoughts of all else. But she moved, ever so slightly, that it broke the rhythm. He felt frustrated.
She felt his frustration and so she opened her eyes with a hint of complaint. “I really wish it could be different,” she said and sighed.
“So do I. But we both know it can’t. There’s no use pretending otherwise.”
“Yes. But when you come back, you can make me the Queen.” Her eyes shone with ambition, with something close to avarice. He only saw how bright her eyes shone. He sighed with regret.
“I will wait for you. I will wait for the time I can make you my Knight, my own, very own Knight.” And then she smiled at him. “But now, let me bid you bye again, by the sunset; while the light still belongs to the day.”
He smiled filled with joy. He kissed her again and even as he did, he promised himself he would slay any dragon for one taste of her like this.
The witch saw them, of course.
Usually, she saw them from a distance. Usually she saw them from her cottage behind the thickest part of the wood. They were always twined around each other. Needing, feeding on each other’s desire. But the lady never gave her man more than a few passionate kisses. She saw that clearly in her crystal ball. She also knew from some part deep inside of her that sensed these things that the poor man would get nothing but a few stolen kisses for all his trouble. But, she thought, that perhaps, was wise. It was good not to give too much to men. They never realized the good they had. A woman who gave openly, generously of herself would not know that till it was too late. But she was brought up by women, who needed no such wiles; who scorned such hypocrisy. Importantly, she herself disliked falsehood. That was the reason she hadn’t cast a spell like that other woman had. She had not played difficult. She hadn’t been bashful and coy. She hadn’t teased. She had been easy. She had been giving. And now she was alone.
And today she was spying on them from behind the bushes with a tear rolling down her pale cheek. She hurried away before she could whimper.
But she stopped. She couldn’t help herself. She loved the man. He had meant everything to her till one evening returning from the bar room he’d helped a damsel in distress and had forgotten whom and what he was returning to. Even the fear of her being a witch had not been able to keep him away from that cold, calculating woman. She didn’t blame the woman. Why should she? The woman wanted what she did and had only tried to do what she could under the circumstances.
It was him she was hurt by. It was he who ought to have resisted the spell. Wasn’t love the strongest spell of all? But that meant he had never loved her deeply enough. She sighed and leaned against a jacaranda. The purple blossoms always brought her happiness. But today, after what she had just seen, even the purple blossoms saddened her immensely.
And then she heard him. He was hurrying.
She couldn’t help it; she spoke out loud, “So the Knight runs on an errand to his false Queen, he does.”
“You. I have no time for the likes of you. Bid me go. You are a witch, what do you know about the world where women are gentle and quiet and loving; wanton and wild that you are?”
Predictably enough, just to reassure him; she cackled. It hurt her to act, but she did. “Aye. Truer words. That is why you walk with your stick still up between your legs and no relief in sight. But no, let us not waste words. I can help you in your quest.”
“You? Why would you do that?” But he was thinking it would be good to have her on his side. He knew she was gifted in the magic arts and not just a pretender like some others. So he wished he could have her on his side. That way he could return sooner and more successful than ever to his true love and make her Queen. Yes, that would be good, but there was no need to act like he wanted her to be on his side.
She saw the thoughts run around in his head as clearly as if he’d spoken them. She smiled then, a wry smile that hid her sorrow. “Let us say, it pleases me to do so. You know, I’ve always pleased myself.”
“Don’t I just?” he asked her arrogantly, filled with repugnance he didn’t bother to hide.
“There are two dragons you need to slay; not just one. The first will give you power as you have never imagined. Go east; follow the route left by the burnt branches of the trees and there when you reach the Cave of Darkness, you will find the dragon. It is not easy to kill but neither is it as difficult as the one you are set out to kill. Kill it; bathe in its blood and when you are cleansed, go and kill the second one. Be sure to soak all your body in its blood. Leave no part uncovered. If you do, you perish. And when you are done, drink the water from the clear pool, the Pool of Light, that faces the west and wash away the blood. Do not forget to wash.” She warned urgently in her husky tone, masking the pain at his indifference, at his repulsion to her and her kind.
He left without a word.
She smiled at that. There had been good times between them before. Times when they had laughed and shared minds and bodies as intensely as two beings possibly could. Times that she, who ought to know better, thought would last forever. He was a good man. Brave, intelligent, strong not just in the body but in the mind. If he’d put his mind to study, he could become a king, a wizard, anything at all he chose to. But he had put his mind to the lady of the manor; the soft woman who was all hardness within.
But that was a spell.
She hoped her Mother of the Arts would forgive her for the lie. It was the pool that held the magic, not the dragon. Bathing in the pool was known to give people visions, make them keener and sharper. She knew that once he bathed in the pool, he’d see things in a new light. He would slay both the dragons as that was what he was meant to do. She had seen that in her mirror. But try as she might she had not been able to see anything more.
And in her heart she was worried and proud.
The dragons had proved to be a menace. Life had become tedious and fraught with danger to all beings. It was the mute animals she cared about more than the people whom she knew could care for themselves. But even among the people they were those who were mute and weak and poor and powerless to help themselves. It was them she was concerned about. She needed him to slay the dragons, both of them. And he would. She would weave a protective charm and cast a spell, standing naked in the fading light and invoking power. She would help him slay the dragons. But she would not cast power to bring him to her. That, he had to do on his own. She was not going to be like that other woman and use him for her needs. It had to be love, freely given and happily accepted. She had to have him slay both the dragons. And when he did, he would become a hero, a rescuer and the people would applaud and bow to him. He would be King and he would choose her for his own, once he bathed in that pool.
She had to believe that. She would forgive him because wasn’t the love she bore him greater than all the heartache he had caused?
He went. In his heart was the anticipation, the thrill of the chase, the aphrodisiacal high of the fight. He’d fight. He’d win, that was his destiny and then he would be together with the one he loved, nay, worshipped. She would make a Queen. She was fit only to be a Queen. He’d revere her till his dying breath, he would.
He reached the Cave of Darkness. The dragon and he fought each other for twenty-one days and nights. At the end of it, he finally managed to sever the head of the dragon. The blood gushed and soaked him even as he fell in a heap. While he fell, a little fig leaf stuck itself to his leg as he was soaked in the blood of the dragon. Unaware he lay on the ground, too tired to think, to move, to act. He slept soaked in the blood for nearly three days.
On the third night, when he finally woke, he rose with pride and promise. He remembered the words of the witch. But he decided not to heed her. He was dirty but he knew he felt strong, powerful, and invincible. If with two days of sticking to his body, the dragon’s blood could make him so strong, what would letting it stay on for longer make him do?
And the witch had promised him that he would be the most powerful man on the earth. He had experienced that power of hers in the past at a time when it had brought him pleasure. But he would not think of that. He would think of slaying the dragons and getting home to the true love of his life. So he ignored the advice of the witch and went on to battle another dragon. But the dragon breathed its fire and he burnt and died even as he struck the dragon a fatal blow.
The fig leaf was the first thing to get burnt.
The witch lived on and healed wounds and aches. And still the people of the town feared her. They had heard such rumours about her, that she had helped the town’s hero – the man who had slayed not one, but two dragons. They had heard that they were lovers, till he had fallen out of love from her. Had she somehow killed him? The witch knew what had happened. Even her protective magic and loving advice burnt in the heat of his greed and desire. But she couldn’t explain that to anyone.
She felt their fear and their revulsion even as they came to her to become healthy, to become well. But she still helped them heal. And she never loved anyone again. The lovely lover of the man married a knight from the neighbouring county and made children and flushed rosily when she wore new jewels. She never remembered her lover.
And the people of the town, they erected a statue of the man in the town’s square right outside his favourite inn where he first met the woman who brought him to his death. They told his tale in taverns and bars and twisted it and made it a tale suitable for babes and taught them to fear witches and despise women who gave freely of themselves for love.
Disclosure: This was written some 300 years ago when I was a wee chit of a girl.