| The of Lassok and Zairbhreena
by Cobalt Jade
8. The Golden Virgin
Abrimel and the prince walked up the rocky slope to a ledge where they
had an excellent view of the dragon's cave. "I've observed this dragon all
my life," Abrimel said. "As a shepherd, there's not much else to do. I
noticed he has certain quirks that render him vulnerable."
"Such as?" the prince said, as baahed around them in low, discrete
voices. As this was not a rich land, they were as thin and scraggly as the
vegetation, and their wool, when shorn, yielded thin, scraggly garments as
"He never flies at night or when it is overcast," Abrimel said. "I
believe he needs the sun the same way a plant does. Should the shadow of a
cloud fall across him, he quickly flies to where the sun is bright."
The prince remembered the line of fire the creature had created with its
metallic mane. "He needs the sun to create his fire?"
"Yes. I've seen him toast members of my flock many times, and he does
so by focusing the sun's rays like a lens. But if there is no sun, he
cannot use his fiery weapon, and is therefore helpless."
The prince glanced up at the clear, cloudless sky. Rain and clouds did
not come often to this desert land. "There is little chance of that," he
"Contrary, there is a very good chance," Abrimel said. "Through
discussions with my uncle the sage, I have learned an eclipse of the sun is
to take place tomorrow. First Moon will cover the sun and shadow her
completely, and should the dragon be caught unawares during that time, he
will be helpless." He stood up from the rocky ledge, lending a hand to the
prince so he could do likewise. "Come, let us go see him."
The two left the view of the dragon's cave and hiked down the slope to a
crumbling stone villa that squatted by a stream. The ancient building
sported a number of telescopes, astrolabs, and sundials on its roof, all
suited for tracking the progress of the heavens. "Uncle!" Abrimel shouted.
"What is it, boy?" the sage creaked. He looked up from his solar
observations, parchment and quill in hand. He was an imposing figure,
dressed eccentrically and shabbily as philosopher-hermits usually are; his
nose was beaked and his eyes vague and watery, as if used to reading
ancient texts in weak lamplight.
"I've brought a visitor. This is Prince Lassok, of the Caliphate of
Carsimbad, a great state on the far side of the Dry Sea."
"Hmm," the sage said, unimpressed. The prince was not annoyed, for
after nine months in the desert he knew he did not look very impressive.
The coddled health of his adulthood was being replaced by something
harder and tougher, though not as fine to look upon. "I've heard talk of
you at the village, Prince. You intend to fight this dragon, I hear."
"Yes," the prince said, his grip firm on the magical sword. "Your
nephew tells me an eclipse will occur tomorrow that will greatly affect my
chances of succeeding."
"Ah," the sage's weak eyes lit up. "That is true. The exact time I
will tell you, in exchange for a favor."
The prince sighed through his nose. It was the same thing the Sand
Gorgon had said, and he was growing tired of sealing bargains. But he did
not show his annoyance, for if Zairbhreena was ever to be flesh again, the
dragon would have to be defeated. "That I will grant you, if it is within
my means. What is it?"
The sage rubbed his bony hands together. "The blood of a senmurv, which
is what this dragon is, is the greatest of all alchemical treasures, for
with it a may transmute lead to gold. The blood must be collected
immediately or else it will boil off into the air, as all dragons are
creatures of heat and fire. Procure me a good amount, and I will help
The prince frowned, but the request didn't seem too extreme. If he
killed the dragon there would likely be plenty of blood anyway. "All
right," he said. "Provide me a proper flask, and I will collect you some
blood. Now, what of the eclipse?"
"It occurs near noon tomorrow, just before the sun is at her full
height," the sage said. He gave the prince a miniature sundial that
contained a compass. "Use this to gauge the time. Hold it before you,
making sure it sits level, and make sure the arrow is aligned to the north.
When the shadow of the gauge touches the numeral twelve the eclipse will
The prince stared at the object. He had never seen a sundial before; it
seemed almost magical to him. But the principles of its workings seemed
simple enough. "My thanks, wise sage."
The sage waved them off, chortling and chuckling over his good fortune.
"The dragon usually flies out at mid-morning," Abrimel said as they
walked back to the village. "I'll drive my flock to the upper slope to
distract him; few dragons can resist an easy meal. Situate yourself among
them and wait until the proper time to make your challenge. If you catch
him while he is feeding, you have a good chance of succeeding."
"You may lose a few members of your flock," the prince said. He looked
hard at the youth, used to now by mutual favors. "What do you want in
return for all this?"
Abrimel shrugged. "The excitement. Nothing else ever happens around
here. And perhaps, my prince, the chance to find myself a stony maiden in
that cave who is as luscious as yours."
The prince spent a fitful night in the village on the shepherd's dirt
floor. Try as he might, he could not fall into a restful sleep. He
trusted the eclipse would occur on time. But even if the beast lost its
fire, how could be prevail against its teeth and talons, and its scaly
The next day Abrimel disguised him with a cured sheepskin so he looked
like just another member of the herd. The youth couldn't help giggling as
he crouched low among the rams and ewes, trying to keep pace with them as
they capered up the slope. "Take care the dragon doesn't eat you, Prince
Lassok. You are by the far the slowest member of the flock."
"I am better armed than they, though," the prince said, touching the
magical shield and sword he had strapped to his side.
"True. Remember not to fall too far behind, though."
They soon reached a patch of grassy ground. "I'll be taking my leave
now," Abrimel said, a discrete way of letting him know he planned to be
well away from the battle scene. The prince didn't blame him.
"Thank you for all you've done," he said.
Abrimel made a disparaging gesture with his hand. "Posh. What's the
price of a little adventure?"
For the rest of the morning the prince baahed and bleated with the rest
of the flock, following them as they wandered up the slope. It was
uncomfortably warm under the smelly, scratchy sheepskin, but he kept his
head low and his body concealed. He periodically glanced at the sundial,
but the shadow moved as sluggishly as he did. The dragon must be biding
his time, waiting for the flock to come closer.
In fact the dragon was engaged in a long conversation with Princess
Zairbhreena, his petrified companion, that morning, and he noticed the
flock only when they came within earshot of the cave. *That shepherd grows
careless,* he said in his mind-speech, eyeing the tender lambs as
they romped among the rocks. *I think it is time for breakfast.*
*What about me?* the princess said. Like the prince she too had
experienced a disturbing night, full of portents of doom and forgotten
faces from her past, and she clung, as a child does, to the reassurance of
The dragon curled his talons about her waist. *Come with me, then,* he
said, and unfurled his wings. In one majestic leap he cleared the cave
entrance and was honing in on the helpless flock below. He picked out a
particularly plump ewe as his quarry and stooped like hawk, claws
extended for the killing blow.
The prince saw the dark shadow flash over him and turned swiftly. The
remainder of the flock scattered, bleating in fright. But the dragon took
no notice. It hunkered over the slain victim, tearing it into bloody
chunks with the workings of its jaws. To the prince, it looked utterly
preoccupied. He saw also the creature had brought a guest to its horrid
The dragon had poked her in the dirt feet-first as if she was a stake,
her slim golden form stoic and motionless. She was as beautiful as the
last time the prince had seen her...so near, yet so far, a prisoner of the
brutal creature that fed before her. Had she been flesh, she might even be
its desert. The blood suddenly boiled in the prince's veins. To think his
future was a captive of...*that!*
Staying the violent motion the situation seemed to call for, he threw
off the sheepskin and armed himself with his weapons. He glanced at the
sundial, then to the sky. Before First Moon covered the Golden Virgin of
the Sun he would bite her, taking a dark, smile-shaped chunk out of her
side as he passed. But the sundial's shadow had yet to reach the proper
position. The prince girded himself. Time to make his approach, then, if
He crept from bush to bush, from rock to rock. Abrimel waited well
away, peeking out from behind a sturdy boulder. The dragon was larger than
the prince remembered, a sleek in its prime of life, its
crescent-shaped scales throwing off iridescent flakes of curry and apricot.
Its wings, neatly folded on its back, were a pair of silky fans the noble
ladies of Carsimbad might envy. Indeed, it was beautiful creature, it
spite of the horrible destruction it caused. But it had to die, so
Zairbhreena could live.
The prince's eyes swept to the sun. First Moon had taken the tiniest
bite out of the sun. It was time for battle.
He rose to his full height from the bushes, sword held high. "Foul
beast! Prepare yourself to die!" He knew it wasn't particularly original,
but something had to serve to get the creature's attention.
The dragon lifted its dripping snout. The prince thought he saw its
golden eyes widen as it registered a challenger. Its tail twitched in
agitation, coming dangerously close to bowling over the helpless
Zairbhreena. *What fool is this?* the dragon grumbled. *Princess, shall I
But Zairbhreena was momentarily without words. Before her, holding a
shining silver sword and shield--obviously magical, from the sparks of
light that shot off them--was her erstwhile lover, the unfaithful Prince
Lassok, who she thought had abandoned her months ago. The sight went to
her head like a deep draught of strong liquor. feelings rushed back to
her, strengthened rather than dulled with time. She sorrowed a little that
his journey had treated him badly. But he was here now, he had been
braving the harsh desert sun for her all this time. Yes, yes! Let him
rescue her, take her back, make her his wife! She would eagerly melt her
marble limbs into his, soften her cold shell of stone, if he would but take
The dragon snarled, immune to her happiness. *Wait here,* he said,
forgetting that Zairbhreena could do nothing but wait. *I'll take care of
*No, dragon, no!* Zairbhreena shouted. *Don't him! If you harm
him, you will be harming me as well!*
But the dragon was fired up by the imminent battle and did not hear her.
He rounded on the prince, tail switching like a cat's, and raised his head
high, the metal mane splaying out like the petals of a flower.
But First Moon continued his journey. The land fell into chilly shadow,
and though the lens was focused, the fire did not come.
Zairbhreena trembled in fear, not having experienced an eclipse before;
it seemed an apocalypse out of her worst nightmares.
But the prince knew what to expect. He took advantage of the dragon's
confusion to dart in close, shield raised, to plunge the magical sword deep
into the creature's ribs.
The dragon regained its senses and parried him with its thick-taloned
forearm. The blow might have sent another warrior sprawling. But as
noted, the prince's weapons were magic, and they, along with his sheer
determination, enabled him to fend off the blow and hold his own. The two
fought under the hot noonday sun, the dragon coiling like a pretzel, the
prince darting like a swallow. The sword chipped loose scales off the
dragon's legs and face, yet the greater prize, the heart, remained
Zairbhreena waited helplessly on the sidelines as the two beings she
loved most in the world tried to butcher each other on her behalf. Yet her
expression remained composed and serene, for being a statue, she could take
on no other.
Meanwhile Abrimel watched in terror behind the boulder. He had never
seen combat like this before, a whirl of flashing silver and liquid gold.
He muttered a string of prayers to his gods, hoping to call some of their
power down upon the prince.
First Moon straddled his lover for several minutes, then climaxed and
moved on. The Golden Virgin of the Sun was virgin no more. A bright spark
of light, the god's seed, appeared at the edge of the solar disk, then
brightened further as First Moon moved away. Darkness began to recede from
The dragon knew nothing of eclipses, only that something strange had
happened to the sun. But now the sunlight, and his strength, was
returning. Roaring with triumph, he reared his head back, stretching his
mane-petals to collect the lengthening rays.
"No!" the prince shouted. Quickly he charged, the point of the sword
pointed like a spear. As if guided by magic--which it may have been--it
slipped between the heaving ribs of the beast clear up to the jeweled hilt
and struck its heart.
The dragon screamed, fatally wounded. Zairbhreena screamed as well.
She had not wanted it to die, for all her loyalty to Lassok; she had hoped
by some chance things would resolve peacefully. The prince looked amazed
as the creature tottered backward, easing itself off the long, sharp blade.
Its blood spurted into the air like bright molten gold smoking from the
furnace. It splashed on the prince's shield with a noisy hiss, steaming,
as the creature continued to fall. He did not die quickly, the dragon.
Heartbroken he was, for he had lost his princess, and broken in heart,
literally, he writhed in agony on the hard stony ground. His smoking blood
sprayed upon the princess, rendering her a deeper gold than the gold she
*Zairbhreena...* he cried, one last time, before his large topaz eyes
went dead. His massive tail flicked in a death-throe, sending the prince
tumbling down the slope before he could regain his wits.
The golden blood smoked like steam into the desert air. The dragon
settled, no longer brassy and magical but contained, contorted, inert...a
great heap of dead meat.
Abrimel peered out from behind the rock. The dragon lay still, but the
prince had been hurt; he lay sprawled against a large rock with an
egg-shaped lump on his skull. Abrimel splashed some water in his face and
roughly massaged his temples. "Prince Lassok! Prince Lassok!"
The prince groaned and his eyelashes moved a little. Abrimel pulled him
into a sitting position and poured some water in his mouth. The prince
coughed, his eyes opening. His look was blank.
"Prince Lassok, are you all right?" Abrimel said anxiously.
"I..." the prince began. He looked very muddled. "Prince Lassok? Is
that me? I--" he shook his head. "I am confused. Do I know you, friend?"
Abrimel shot off a string of colorful invectives. The prince had lost
his memory with the blow! "I'm Abrimel, my Prince. Your friend. You
killed that dragon over there but were hit on the head. You seem to have
lost your memory."
The prince looked at the sword he was still gripping. He relaxed his
fingers, letting it fall, and frowned. "I have no knowledge of this."
"Of course you wouldn't, you have lost your memory!" Abrimel shouted.
He hauled the prince to his feet, discovering that, aside from the bump on
his head, he was uninjured. "You fought the dragon to rescue your fiancee,
the Princess Zairbhreena, who was turned into a statue by an evil
sorceress. Look over there, she still waits for you!"
"She is gold," the prince said in awe.
With some shock Abrimel realized he was right; the magical blood of the
senmurv, washing over her, had turned her hard marble flesh into the
softest, purest gold. His uncle's hunch had been correct after all. The
prince might have been a gold statue as well, had his shield not protected
him. Now it, and his sword, were golden treasures also.
But the sight of Zairbhreena sparked no recognition on the face of the
prince. "You spin a strange tale, my friend. Why should I want to marry a
"She is no statue!" Abrimel said. "She is a magicked to that form.
By your kiss, you can free her!"
The prince only scowled at him. But there was no time left for further
persuasion. The villagers, having been alerted to the battle by the noise,
were now running towards them. They had thought to glean the gems from the
prince's roasted corpse but were now faced with a hero, and a hero under
the protection of the gods who had the very sun for him. Indeed, it
must have been the Golden Virgin herself, for she had left a statue of
The villager's eyes grew round with fear and awe. There was little
doubt the prince was not some avatar, a demigod at least. They fell to the
ground in worship.
"Why do they kneel?" the prince asked in puzzlement.
Abrimel had caught on to the situation quickly and saw that he had to do
some fast talking if the prince was to emerge unscathed. "You have
defeated the dragon," he said. "Therefore, they think you are a god. Go
along with them and you will rule a great kingdom, for the dragon's
treasure is yours now."
"But I--" the prince protested.
"Listen to me," Abrimel insisted. "Go against their beliefs, and you
may find yourself an outcast, or worse, a sacrifice. Pretend, for the
moment, that you are their new god-king. I know you remember nothing and
that you are very confused. But if you want to recover your true self and
your memories, you must survive *now,* and this is the way to do it."
The prince closed his eyes. He *was* very confused and his head
throbbed like a waterfall. It was as if he'd been born a grown man,
standing before a dead dragon with a golden shield and sword in his hands.
He was a hero, but it didn't make sense. He had the nagging feeling he had
failed to recount something, something very important, and that something
was the linchpin to his identity, but the ghostly memory darted away like a
He looked at the villagers. There were many of them, and one of him.
He made his decision. "All right," he said. "I will be their god, king,
or whatever. I will go along with this ruse. But you must help me! I
"Don't worry," Abrimel said. "Just go along with whatever I say." He
led the bruised, disheveled prince to the crowd. "Here is your great
king!" he announced "He has delivered you from the dragon, just as the
prophecies have said. See his golden sword! He will be a fair ruler, and
a just one, for he is the son of the Sun Goddess herself. Bring some
refreshment and some royal robes, and take him to Lakthira so he can claim
"The dragon is dead! Hail the new king!" the villagers cheered, and all
that followed was noisy chaos as the prince was scrubbed and shaved and
arrayed in the finest robes the village had to offer. Crews of villagers
worked the mountain cave all night, groaning under the of treasure it
produced. In the morning a great caravan set off for the city with drums
booming and horns at full bay, as lithesome maidens sprinkled mica dust and
rose petals on the road ahead and bards composed songs of praise for the
new king that recounted his mighty deeds. No king had ruled in Lakthira
for nine centuries. Now one would, and since he was of the royal lineage
of the Sun, things would change.
In all the rush the princess was forgotten, having been categorized as
just another piece of loot. She watched the prince with despair from her
perch in the treasure wagon. Look at me! she wanted to shout. It is I,
Zairbhreena! You have rescued me! Please look at me, touch me, turn me
back to flesh! But the prince didn't even glance at her. From the look in
his eyes she knew the blow on the head had disoriented him. He didn't
remember her. She hadn't wanted either the prince or the dragon to die;
now, it seemed, both had.
But the dragon had left her a final gift. Marbelized, she had been cold
and hard, yet alert and ironic; golden, she felt rich and heavy and
sensuous. For the transformed, each substance has its own timbre; as gold
she felt far more solid and languid than stone. But no less vulnerable.
The sage, having been cheated by fate of his dragon's blood, stole her away
from the procession to have his reward: in his workshop, she would be
smelted down into many gold ingots, to fetch for him a fortune in the
markets of the east.
Luckily Abrimel noticed him missing, and a few inquiries brought up the
fact the statue of the Golden Virgin was missing, too. Reassuring the
prince he wouldn't be long, he left the procession to catch up to him.
However, the sage had a good head start, and by the time Abrimel burst
through the doors of the villa the preparations were already underway.
Zairbhreena was laid out like a golden corpse on a metal bier, about to be
placed in the kiln that would be stoked up around her, rendering her to
"Uncle! What do you think you're doing?" Abrimel said sharply.
"I am claiming my reward," the sage said peevishly. "The fool prince
failed to get me my dragon's blood, so I am taking my share of gold now."
"You can't do that!" Abrimel said. "She's a princess under a spell, not
a statue. She was his fiancee, she was going to be his wife! What you are
doing would be murder!"
The sage glanced at the statue, and shrugged. "Have you proof of that?"
How like his uncle to go the logical route. But Abrimel had to admit he
was right; there was no way to test the story's veracity. Still, it would
a cruel blow to the prince, when he did finally remember his petrified
fiancee, to discover she was now a pile of ingots. "Leave the statue,
uncle. There's other gold treasure. I'll get some for you."
"You? Hah! No, I will keep this statue. It looks to be of pure gold,
unlike the coins and jewelry I saw. It will melt down very easily."
Abrimel was at a loss. He felt loyalty to the prince, yet he had been
taught in the village to have respect for his elders; besides, his uncle
had summoned an efreet, which was how he had stolen the heavy gold statue
in the first place, and the fiery genie now waited at alert for the order
to place Zairbhreena in the kiln and make the flames crackle high around
her. One did not cross supernatural creatures lightly, or those who
"Should the prince find out about this, he will be very angry!" Abrimel
shouted as a last resort.
"The fool can't even remember his own name, much less some ridiculous
folktale," the sage said. He gestured to the efreet. "*Sa'jeed!*" The
creature began to slide Zairbhreena into the kiln.
So this is the way it ends for me, the princess thought. Helplessly she
watched the flames draw near her gilded toes. She knew she would melt
quickly. What would it feel like, she wondered. Would pain consume her as
she liquefied, or would her consciousness just gradually fall away, as if
dissolving into a dream?
The door closed. The flames leapt high around her in many shades of
tangerine and marigold.
She began to feel warm, but not uncomfortably so. In fact, it felt
rather pleasant, like the rays of the sun. When she had been marble her
many brushes with destruction had brought only panic and fear. But now she
felt only a sad, final acceptance. The dragon had left her, the prince had
forgotten her; she was no longer even a girl, just precious metal to be
refashioned at will. Perhaps that was all she ever had been. As a
princess, her wishes and desires hadn't mattered; her job had been to
please her father, then please her husband. It was the logical end for her
to become a puddle of gold. Reformed into rings and crowns, she would be
precious and pleasing forever, to a great many more people.
The crackling grew louder, the light became a white-hot fog. So it
ends. Lost in her own desirability, she fell into fantasies. At least she
would be become objects of beauty. The traces she left in this world would
be positive ones.
"Quench the kiln!"
"Wha--?" the sage sputtered.
"You heard me. Quench the kiln!" The high priest of Uyandha Devi, the
Golden Virgin of the Sun, strode into the workroom, his entourage behind
him. "How dare you smelt down a holy relic of the goddess! You will pay
dearly for this!'
The sage realized he had been caught and that his dreams of wealth were
over. He bade the efreet to quash the flames. He could have used water,
but that would have created clouds of scalding steam; he had no desire to
be poached like a dumpling.
The efreet hauled the princess out of the kiln. She was hot to the
touch, but undamaged; she gleamed as if polished, bright as the heart of a
To the golden-robed priests and monks, she *was* the goddess. They
conversed in wonder among themselves. They had heard of the dragon's
demise, yet, having to trek all the way down from their mountain monastery,
they had reached the scene too late to verify the miracle for themselves.
They had heard about the statue from the villagers, though, and had quickly
gone to the sage's villa to claim the holy relic before it could be melted
down. That the sage had even tried to do so was apostasy, a blasphemy of
the first order.
The high priest examined the statue for damage. Satisfied there was
none, he dismissed the efreet himself with a ward against evil, then turned
on the sage with the righteous fury of the goddess in his eyes. "You will
be roasted alive over a slow fire for this!" he said.
"He's only a foolish man," Abrimel said, feeling obligated to help
his uncle. After all, he had helped the prince defeat the dragon in the
"It is you who are the fools," the sage said in a calm voice. "This
statue is nothing but a statue, and likewise, your sun goddess is merely a
ball of flaming gas hung in the airless void, and your First Moon, an
orbiting piece of rock that merely passes before it from time to time.
Such things all sages know."
"He is mad!" the high priest exclaimed.
"We must reeducate him," another of the shaven-headed monks said.
"Yes. Bring him to the monastery so he may witness the Goddess's true
mercy," said a third.
"No! You cannot do this!" the sage cried. As a learned man, he had
nothing but contempt for religion. "Get out of my house!"
But his protests went for nothing. The monks took him away, as they
took away the slowly cooling princess, to make the journey back to their
monastery at Palampang. On a flatbed wagon they settled her, a stately
golden dreamer, and lashed the mules forward. At the temple she would be
installed in a place of honor, surrounded by flowers and offerings, her
face to the mountain breezes as incense burned and acolytes chanted.
Abrimel watched them go. While for his uncle poetic justice had been
served, he worried about the princess. Still, she would be safe; when the
prince recovered his memory, he could claim her easily enough.