Readying for battle, the champion
checks weapons, adjusts armor, ties back
hair. Her hands, dextrous from weaving, coaxing
crops from the soil, soothing children, now grip
warrior's blades. Striding to the cliff where fate
waits like a patient reptile anticipating dawn,
she discards the villagers' charms and tokens, keeps
one leaf from the sprawling tree she climbed as a child.
The dragon appears, unthinkably nimble, lighting like
a butterfly at the cliff's edge. Calm descends, she forfeits
her sword, empty hand drifting downward, a gesture that feels
like a dignified way to die.
The dragon's iris contains flecks of every human eye color
she has ever seen, gaudy bird feathers and glints of mica,
like an amalgam of rocks coalesced into a presence
with opinions. The oval narrows—a house cat reacting to the sun—
but she is drab and devoid of superiority. Warmth fades as the
dragon inhales, she exhales toward its nostrils, years of
exchanging breath with horses kicking in.
The rasp of her in the dragon-dominated stillness sparks fear
at last, tremors agonizingly perceptible, her lids sting from
staring, hands rising like a request.
Dragon-whisker scrapes her palm, she touches mammalian
heat, the dragon's chin whitening at the pressure of her infantile
grip. Her hand released, fingertips chapped, the now distant dragon
a glowing planet floating above the horizon, immobile by choice.
The champion knows she is free, absolved of expectations.
With her intact hand she loosens her hair.