“The Suevi and other uncouth tribes beyond the Rhine report that mother-dragons have been seen carrying their drakelets by the nape, just like a cat does with her kittens; I have myself seen, at Aachen, two of the smaller kind of dragon groom one another in precisely the manner of cats.”
—Sulpicius Alexander, Historia, vol. II (c. 380 after the birth of Jesus)
In the worm-cote, high above the Moselle,
The dragoness draped slank and smeedy around her twin eggs,
Whispering to her children in their shells.
“Listen,” she said, her tongue washing the eggs.
“Cleave to the words of my mouth, wear my utterances like
A garland, the florilegia of your lives, little ones not yet born.”
“Listen, to the lore of the Koheleth, the wisdom of Moses,
Our own enchiridion.”
She spoke of the meeting eons ago, when God sent an angel
To announce the good news to all the creatures of the mountains.
The hoopoe was the messenger,
The raven was the scribe,
The magpie was witness.
Lind-worms like oiled whips wound about the cenotaph,
Griffons bowed in the garden, gerelings genuflected,
The basilisk shut his eyes, the manticore sheathed his sting.
“We were among the first, before the apple was tasted,
We honored and we obeyed,”
Said the mother to her mottled eggs.
“As you must, all the days of your long, long lives.”
Argante and Ollyphant she named them,
Her children hatched from twin eggs,
A daughter and a son,
Who played hide and seek in the wind-shadows,
Flew merlew muses (krusediller in the air),
Tumbled over spalted rocks,
Hunted libbards on the snowy downs.
Every night, she taught them more,
Had them pray on a rosary she made
From the vertebrae of oxen she’d slain.
Always they said,
“Yes, mama” and “We will, mama,”
Blinking their lemony eyes,
Solemn as adolescence,
Rustling their great grackle wings,
Restless with iridescence.
“We will, mama.”
Argante and Ollyphant buried their old mother in the mountain-side,
Shivering with cold.
The glaciers had come again,
Food was scarce,
They were alone and men feared them.
“Men claim we have no souls,” said Argante to her brother.
“But mama taught us better,” said Ollypant in reply.
They recalled their mother’s words:
How dragons had succoured St. Anthony in the desert,
Had helped build the cathedrals,
Been honored at the monasteries,
Helped Bishop Ossius write the Nicene Creed.
“Mama said that the Venerable Bede thanked the dragons,”
The sister told the brother, as they searched for rabbits in the valley.
“She said St. Jerome thought dragons descended from Raphael himself,”
The brother told the sister, as they gnawed on meager bones in the valley.
“Extra ecclesium nulla salus,” they said to each other
As they counted out stations on the rosary
Made of ox-bones that their mother had given them.
The Cardinal in Trier preached a crusade against
Argante and Ollyphant.
Memory was lost,
Worse, replaced with another story.
The dragons, last of their kind along that border,
Fled to the highest caves above the river.
“The Morning Star stole our guise, and for this we are made to suffer,” said Argante.
“Let us petition God to intercede for us,” said Ollyphant.
They asked the magpie to witness, the raven to write, the hoopoe to speak on their behalf.
But the only reply they ever got
Was the belling of hounds and neighing of horses
In the mountain-pass,
The rattling of spears and the gearing of cross-bows.
Argante farewelled Ollyphant, making the sign of the cross with one talon.
Ollyphant hung the rosary from his sister’s claw.
“We will, mama.”
Daniel A. Rabuzzi’s majored in the study of folklore in college and spent two years doing graduate work at the Institute of Folklore Studies at the University of Oslo, Norway. He has collected oral traditions in Norway and England, with results published in journals of folklore in the U.K., Sweden and Denmark. His fiction has appeared in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Shimmer, Sybil’s Garage # 5, ChiZine and Cabinet des Fées.
Image: Medieval Dragon, British Library, Harley MS 3244, Folio 59r