Modern Lessons from Ancient Lit

My guest post this week is offered by Aesop, that most ancient and underappreciated of wise men. Having spent much of his life as a slave, encountering many layers of repulsion due to his apparently ugly appearance and some form of disability, Aesop went on to prove time after time just how quick witted he was, how keen to observe, and how cunning to act. His fables stand the test of thousands of years, which I doubt will ever be said of many modern award winning publications. But then, when I think of it, how many popular, socially acceptable, government sanctioned ancient writings do we have today? How many have just gone the way of all the dust of time?

Enough. To Aesop!

“As a Wolf was lapping at the Head of a Fountain, he spy’d a Lamb paddling at the same time a good way off down the Stream. The Wolf had no sooner the Prey in his eye, but away he runs open-mouthed to’t.

Villain (says he) how dare you lie muddling the Water that I’m drinking?

Indeed, says the poor Lamb, I did not think that my drinking here below could have foul’d your Water so far above.

Nay, says t’other, you’ll never leave your chopping of Logick, till your Skin’s turn’d over your ears, as your Father’s was, a matter of six Months ago, for prating at this saucy rate; you remember it full well, Sirrah.

If you’ll believe me, Sir, (quoth the innocent Lamb, with fear and trembling) I was not come into the World then.

Why thou Impudence, cries the Wolf, hast thou neither Shame nor Conscience? but it runs in the Blood of your whole Race, Sirrah, to hate our Family; and therefore since Fortune has brought us together so conveniently, you shall e’en pay some of your Forefathers Scores before you and I part.

And so without any more ado, he leap’d at the Throat of the miserable helpless Lamb, and tore him immediately to pieces.”

Now gentle readers, what lessons can be learned here? Enter your answers below!

 

(excerpt taken from Aesop Fables Children Classics, Alfred A. Knopf, New York)

Roses in Dreamtime

I often have elaborate dreams. Some of them become stories or parts of stories. They are often multifaceted and complete in their narrative; that is, they have a beginning, middle, and end. This dream from last week was one of those.

Roses

There was a man who rode the bus every day to his job. He was a quiet man, leading a quiet life, and he was especially shy. He eventually noticed that among the regulars who commuted along with him en masse was a woman about his age. She rarely looked up, and she was always alone, just as he was. To his special notice, she was always reading: old books that looked decades old, not ebooks or romances. He started watching her out of the corner of his eye. Each day they sat in roughly the same spots. He preferred the sun on his back as they rode into the downtown region, so he sat on a side riding bench that gave him a view up or down the aisle. He was able to observe her sitting facing forward a few rows back.

While he was secretly observing her, she was able to more thoroughly observe him. She liked what she saw, but had little to no idea of what to do about it, so she decided it was up to the male of the species to make the first move. So things continued weekday after weekday, with the regular intervention of the weekend and a few major holidays thrown in for variety.

Finally the day came when he resolved to do something, and turned over many ideas, most of them uselessly over grand. He settled on a small gesture, nothing too demanding, but with charm. He dug the quarters and dimes out of his change jar and went for a walk.

The next morning he did nothing, The next, he sat nervously on the bus and wondered if he was able to even move at all. After that, he got on the bus one morning and walked up to her, and lay a paper rose across the book in her lap. She was already looking at him, surprised that he had passed his usual seat in an apparent approach to hers; she had begun to suspect something was wrong with him the last few days- a pending lay off or some such thing. So when she looked up and watched the paper rose slide into her open library copy of The Odyssey, she was very happy for him. She was happy that his job was secure after all. Then she did a double take and realized she had been brought into the picture and that something might be expected of her, and she quickly met his look just as he sat and turned partly away. She smiled gently and then looked down quickly. Neither looked at the other until it was time for her to get off the bus. She held the book close with the rose poking out of the top, and she smiled again as she passed. He simply stared back in some sort of shock.

They started smiling to one another each morning after that, sometimes even saying something vague and polite. This went on for awhile until one day he slipped a plastic rose into her lap. She smiled in surprise. So few words- thank goodness, she thought- and yet so much was said. The rose did the work for both of them, and drew together hearts that had been shy burrowing creatures from childhood on.

She began to expect something more without knowing what it was going to be. Suddenly one day he was wearing better clothing, and sitting up a little straighter on the bench. It was apparent he had been promoted-somewhere. Somehow. He carried a little briefcase now. A few days later he silently presented her with a real rose. It was velvety, dark, and deep. She held it tenderly, glancing at him over and over as they rode the bus. Others had begun to notice these goings on, and they kept themselves quiet with the sense of people who did not wish to frighten the wildlife. They smiled as they watched her smile over the rose. They sighed when she inhaled the scent. They walked a little differently when they got off the bus, at least for a little while.

Their friendship progressed to an entire dozen roses, which she held tightly and laughed over while their ride shuddered and eased around corners. People swayed in their seats and the sun shifted position until the bus went around another corner.

One day he got on the bus and did not look at her. He sat as quietly and casually as a sleepy commuter who expected to spend the next half hour alone. She watched him, waiting to catch his eye, but nothing happened. There was a great blankness on his face. He did rather notice her looking at him once, but there was no recognition in his expression, and he turned to look the other way. Her bafflement smothered her a bit until she reached her stop. She rose and walked past him and then she got off the bus and went her way.

It took a week, but she got used to not looking at him. She was tired from not sleeping well, too. But as she sat there watching him in resignation, he looked up and caught her eye. And he smiled shyly, a fleeting thing that had him turning away again.

So it had not been her that had caused his abrupt change. She smiled at him as she got off the bus.

A couple days later he slipped a paper rose into the book she was holding on her lap. She was a little surprised, and not in the best way, but she quickly smiled and pretended to sniff the paper.

Another day came, and he gave her a plastic rose, which she took and held in a meditative manner, twirling it and casting a questioning look his way. He smiled bashfully and looked down.

The day came when he gave her a live rose. She cupped it in her hands, inhaling the scent, and watching him. He was slow to look away. His face beamed. His eyes were full of questions. The bus brakes squealed and the engine thrummed noisily. It was only a day or two later that he presented her with a dozen roses. She opened her mouth to say thank you, but he only nodded a bit and smiled side ways and looked down again.

Other observers had lost interest. This looked like it was going nowhere.

The couple, for that is what they were, in their way, continued to smile and say hello from time to time. One day he got on the bus and the blankness was in his face again. He sat alone and lonely while she looked upon him and considered a different set of questions in her mind. She smiled at him as she got off the bus.

Again, one day he noticed her and again, one day he slipped her a paper rose. She was delighted, but quietly so. She waited for the pattern to repeat, and it did: paper rose, plastic rose, real rose, and then a full dozen. All the while he seemed to be falling in love with her all over again. The effect on her was a mixture of warm gratitude and slightly irritable confusion. As the months went by the confusion quieted and the warmth deepened. She accepted him as whatever he was. He always fell in love with her again.

She tested him, as women do. She told him her name one morning as he slipped a rose to her. He heard her in surprise. When the blankness came upon him the next time, the pattern developed a little differently afterwards. He found the courage from somewhere to ask her for her name. She wondered if some part of him had retained that thread of significance, some aspect of the idea of name: her name. It made her feel fierce and protective. Let the unsuspecting fellow commuters crack a joke about it all and she glared with real and dangerous passion at them. She had time, and the ways of the shy were not those of the not- shy. She began to get ideas of how to coach her suitor, and sometimes when the blankness came on, he almost recognized her. The pattern did seem to pick up speed. Instead of taking weeks or months, the entire pattern of the roses took days and weeks. Something was happening, and in her tiny little mind and ever growing heart she knew this.

As my dream came to an end, I got to follow her off the bus and into her little apartment. She had two rooms: a kitchen/living room and the bedroom with a tiny bathroom. In the living area there had been a small round table with a vase on it, but it could not be seen now. The entire corner was a scree of roses, all in varying shades of pink and red. On the buried table was the first paper rose, and the vase for the plastic one, and the fresh rose with the plastic, until the plastic was removed and a full bunch put in, and eventually the vase and roses and table entirely covered with roses that she never got rid of. The room was heavily scented in rose potpouri at this point, and she sat in her chair and carefully considered her friend as best she could. Perhaps he had a job, or perhaps he was getting some sort of daily medical help.  It must be a very strange and difficult ailment to have. She could not even consider giving him up; she wanted him. With a glance at the scree across the room she guessed it was time for a fresh dozen. She decided to dress up for the occasion. She was determined to accept for as long as he needed her to. No other course of action held the least attraction for her. Indeed, she felt as if she needed to accept his roses as much as he needed to offer them. The future was uncertain, but, she smiled, it was certainly rosy.

And then I woke up.

 

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Dragonmother

Since I’m going to be extraordinarily busy this week, I thought I would post a short story of mine from a few years ago. It should last all five of my readers the whole seven days of next week.

Dragonmother

“There’s just no accounting for dragons,” the squire muttered. “If it pleases your lordship to say so.”
His big brown eyes flicked their gaze across the saddles to his master. The aging knight didn’t seem to have heard. The squire cleared his throat and began a little louder, speaking up over the swaying squeak of leather and armor.
“It’s dragons, you know. There’s just no-”
“I heard the first time,” his master interrupted. The graying beard and moustache hid his mouth so it seemed he had not even moved his lips to speak. He certainly had not turned his head, nor shrugged a shoulder, nor raised one hand in the slightest gesture. The squire grudgingly sank down into the company of his own thoughts. Hopefully an inn was nearby. He craved human conversation and he apparently wasn’t getting it here.
The knight reined in his white charger and his servant obediently followed suit. The lower man watched the face of his lord as he raised his old armored bulk up in the stirrups, straining his senses that were more easily strained than in times past. The squire wondered, what was his lordship thinking?
His lordship thought to himself: my knees don’t lock in the stirrup like they used to. He eased back down into his saddle.
“We’re near the lair.” His subdued tone indicated that he wanted quiet. The knight was wise and shrewd, and had gotten them both out of so many scrapes that his servant had the utmost faith in him. Dismounting, they led their horses through the underbrush. It became easier as the vegetation died away to charred stubble. They passed among outcrops of bare boulders. Three riderless horses were picking their way towards the men. The squire caught one by the bridle. He examined the saddlebags which hung in shreds from their sides.
“Nobility lost these steeds, sire.”
“Tie them. We’ll collect them on the way out.”
‘If we’re not fleeing for our own lives’, the squire thought, biting his tongue. The last meeting with a dragon had not gone so well; he knew better than to mention it.
A stench grew as they rode, and the stench was dragon. The two riders found themselves looking up at a cave from their position along a bitter resentful creek of tainted water. Bones were strewn about and several hungry horses stood amongst them, looking guilty by association. They shied a bit- just a bit, before the recognition took over- when the great green scaly body of the dragon pulled itself from out of the cave.
Dragon heads were ridiculously large by proportion and covered with intricate detail. The purplish scales around the golden eyes told this observant knight that here was a female in her prime. That was good to know. He started marching forward as she herded the horses together and spied a human skull she’d overlooked before. Idly popping it into her fang lined maw, she spied the visitor and watched his approach while she crunched up the tidbit.
“Good afternoon, Madam,” the knight said politely. He bowed low to her. “I am Sir Galaird, and I am very pleased to make your acquaintance.”
The dragon eyed him, then the petrified squire, then their horses. She leaned down and sniffed the knight a few times. There was much to tell about a man by his scent: his health, his fear, his deceit. The knight stood very still. He was pure in purpose and strong in constitution. He also carried an ample supply of lemon drops.
The golden eyes lit up on catching their tangy scent. She regarded him with new interest, and he boldly winked at her. The dragon found this amusing and sat back on her haunches. She seemed to be waiting for something. The knight always found this particular gesture most comforting. It meant he would probably walk away from this encounter alive, perhaps even successful.
From a safe distance the squire marveled. By what saint was his brave master able to tame dragons? The servant, being relatively new to his lordship’s service, knew nothing of an aged mother who still made lemon drops for her son, he of the stiff knees and dulling senses. He did not know the story of the knight’s conversion: the evening when he’d been surprised by two young dragons who had thrown him to the ground, devoured his horse, and eventually started ripping their way through his armor.
“I see you have a fine collection of steeds, milady,” the knight was saying. She glanced over them, and smiled a toothy smile.
“Are these your trophies of past contests? Or are they larder for the coming winter?” he asked. She pursed her lips and, ducking her head, listened at the mouth of her rocky home. Satisfied by what she was – or was not- hearing, she spoke in a whisper to the knight. It was a ravenous sounding whisper.
“I do hope for a nibble of them, but the truth is, these are my daughter’s pet collection. She loves horses, you see.”
“Ah, a romantic soul, is she? She must bring you great joy.”
The dragon nodded proudly. She was very obviously pleased with being treated so graciously by a human knight and obvious gentleman.
“I hesitate to bring this up, but there is one observation I feel I should mention.” He shifted his feet on the barren terrain, and she cocked her head in concerned interest.
“It’s just that these horses are looking a little thin. I presume they keep wandering off, as well.”
“You know horses,” she commented.
“Perhaps I might show you how to build a corral. It will keep them in one place. Then there is the matter of food. We could trade some of them for you- in town-“
“Oh, no, she couldn’t part with them. She’s named most of them,” the dragon interrupted.
“Perhaps her least favorite ones, then. For the sake of her favorites.”
The dragon considered and then nodded.
“I will talk with her. Will three do?”
“Three should, milady. It has been an honor.”
“Ooh, another white one!” came a squeaky reptilian voice. A slender head with a hint of purple around the face showed from the cave. The knight turned to regard his charger. It took a few moments’ consideration.
“It’s yours, sweet princess,” he immediately offered, gesturing to the squire. The man removed saddlebags, saddle, blanket, and bedroll. With trembling in his limbs he led the sturdy horse forward.
“This is Sir Galaird,” the dragon mother said. “This is my daughter, Fire Eyes.”
“Sir Galaird…” the younger female breathed as she led the skittish horse aside. The charger had a new name, and the lord had a new client. That made three for him so far, and fair enough business for any aging knight facing retirement. Knights rarely faced that prospect: they were intended to prefer the honor of a horrible death. Galaird had, over time, become a more prudent man whose discretion knew fewer bounds than did his valor.
Fire Eyes reluctantly let them talk her into giving up three horses. On leaving the area of the lair, the squire gathered up the other three strays. Six chargers for one was not bad business. The knight would have his manservant sell some for hay and feed, others for their business commission. After the promised delivery, it would be time to make the rounds of more dragons’ lairs. The knight could tell that he was already making a name for himself among his new clientele. The long hours and extra attention to service were paying off. Not a drop of blood had been lost; only a bag of lemon drops sealed each deal.
As they rode back towards civilization the squire was relieved to the point of tears. The knight reflected upon the evening of his conversion long ago. It’d been the first time he had ever heard dragons speak. Perhaps, he sometimes mused, it had only been the first time he’d recognized their noise as language, inspired as he was by his own desperation. Dragons were usually solitary and made for breathing fire rather than making conversation, or so he had always assumed. The two that had paused above his breathless and flattened form that night had startled every dove-winged assumption out of his soul.
“Wha- what is that?” one had said, snuffling his chest where the pouch of lemon drops lay.
“It…smells good…” the other had said. Planting a clawed foot on the knight’s legs, the second dragon had investigated the bag more thoroughly. Then the two of them binged on their newfound treasure, sucking the lemon flavor out and crunching the hard candies. The knight lay as quietly as possible, observing their behavior as well as the drool that was something like hot melted wax as it dripped onto his supine figure. Afterwards they demanded to know how they could get more candy.
Lemon drops. Loving mothers indulging their children. A knight with a fresh opportunity rather than his previously grim future. He felt God must truly be smiling upon him.
The squire certainly thought so.
The end.