Here There Be Dragons By Arthur Sanchez

Date 2009/9/13 19:11:00 | Topic: September thru October 2009

The young prince examined the old map like a bloodhound on the trail of a fox, his nose sniffed the surface, his eyes examined every blemish, his mind focused upon all of the available information. Metchlock grinned at the boy's intensity.

"And what," Metchlock asked, approaching his student's desk, "does my Lord find so
fascinating?"

Prince Leartes frowned as he put the map down. "It's lack of details," he grumbled.

"Excuse me?"

Leartes tapped the map. "It shows the lands to our West, South, and East, but has nothing of the seas to our North. Look, except for some faint words scratched into the paper, it's blank. Can you read that?" He held the map up for Metchlock to see.

Metchlock smiled. "No need. It's a standard warning placed upon unexplored regions:
Here, There Be Dragons."
Leartes paused. "Really, dragons, in the northern seas?"

"I doubt it, but men fear that which they do not know. Hence, the warning."

Leartes wasn't satisfied. "We should explore those waters. We shouldn't be afraid."

"Your grandfather thought that," Metchlock offered. "He sent ships to map the seas, none ever returned. He eventually vowed to lose no more men in such quests."

Laertes nodded. "A King should never ask his subjects to do that which he is not willing to do himself."

"So Ambrose the First said upon his coronation," Metchlock confirmed. "Very good, you've been doing your readings." But Laertes barely heard the compliment. He was busy making himself a promise.

Ten years and a thousand leagues from that classroom King Laertes strode out upon the deck of his ship and took in the view. As usual, Metchlock was already there.

"You know," he said to his aging friend, "you should get more rest. You were up late last night filling in the maps."

"Pish," Metchlock scoffed, "hardly any work at all. Besides, if this is to be our last day upon this adventure then I would like to see it from the bridge and not from the bunk in my cabin."

Laertes snorted. "Some adventure. After all the planning, all the concessions to the Council of Lords, all we've got to show for our effort is a whole lot of . . . nothing." He gazed out upon the blue-green sea. Its unbroken expanse was like a sheet of glass. "Sixty days and not even an island to show for our troubles."

Metchlock though was far more optimistic. "But now we know there's nothing here. You've expanded the boundaries of our knowledge tenfold. You'll be remembered for this."

Laertes gave him a wry smile. "Yes, I can see it now: King Laertes, the man who discovered . . . nothing."

"Now, my Lord," Metchlock began, "I really do think --"

A sudden shout cut him short. "Movement off the port bow!"

"What now," Laertes grumbled, "another whale?"

"I don't think so," Metchlock replied softly. He'd already had his spyglass fixed upon the
direction the sailors were pointing. "It's too big." He then offered the spyglass to the King.

Laertes held his breath. The creature was big as his ship, green and scaly. Its head was equine in shape and had a frill of scales that ran down the back of its head, between its ears, and to a body they could not see. It moved with serpentine grace through the water and it was headed straight for them.

"Arm the guns!" Someone shouted.

"Belay those orders!" Laertes countered. "Hold your positions!"

The ship's captain came running up to them. "My Lord, we are under attack. We must defend ourselves."

Laertes stared hard at the man. "Under attack? From whom? We are strangers here. It is only natural that we be investigated. That creature has shown no aggression towards us but threaten it and you will give it reason to be hostile."

The captain, whom Laertes had known for years, blanched and fell to his knees. Laertes
immediately regretted speaking so harshly to him. "Now, now, no need for that. I was --"

"I don't think it's you that's frightened him," Metchlock said from behind him.

Laertes, sensing something was amiss, turned and found himself face to face with the great serpent. Not nearly as big as he had imagined its head was still as high as the foredeck. It had large glittering eyes and smelled of the deep ocean. "Impossible," Laertes heard himself mutter.

"Quite possible," the serpent replied in a voice both high and melodic. "At least, for my kind."

"Greetings," Metchlock said as he stepped between the creature and the King. "from your neighbors to the south."

The serpent looked at Metchlock. "We offer greetings in return but we will speak with your Chieftain."

"Our Chieftain," Metchlock jumped to answer, signaling Laertes to be silent, "is in the ship behind us. We are his ambassadors."

The serpent gave Metchlock a long look. "It does not bode well when a scholar lies. Your words should be beyond reproach."

Metchlock was stunned. "I, I don't know what --"

"It's all right," Laertes said, stepping forward. "She knows who we are."

The serpent returned her gaze to Laertes. "Indeed we do. We have been watching you for some time and your actions have caused us concern."

"You have me at a disadvantage, Lady," Laertes said with a bow. "You know me but I do not know you."

"As it should be," the creature said primly. "It is not appropriate for our two races to mix."

"The old maps," Metchlock whispered.

Laertes turned his head slightly. "What about them?"

"They were right. Here, there be DRAGONS."

"Ay," Laertes agreed, they were right. And from this point on nothing would be the same. Assuming that the dragons would let things change. For suddenly Laertes felt there was a lot more behind those empty spaces on the maps than just fear. It seemed that their ignorance had been intentional.



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