Monday, May 14, 2012

The Grass-Snake

His grandfather was the Ice-Wolf, a dark and hulking brute who stalked the ends of the earth and brought them to heel.  His father was the Golden Lion, beloved in his glory and feared in his unpredictable wrath.

When he was born, the young prince, the soothsayer cast her jasper and bone dice and shook her head.  "He will be the Grass-Snake, twisted and cowardly.  Short-lived.  Harmless."

Though her pronouncement was not publicized, nonetheless - perhaps sensing something of the prince's nature - the wicked men of the kingdom surrounded him in his youth and strove against one another to claim his weak will for their own.  Though they scattered at the Lion's roar, they crept back ever and anon, clutching and prodding and whispering.  With every passing year, they fled less distance and returned sooner, and the Lion grew gray and weary, his terrible anger dwindling to toothless peevishness.

The Grass-Snake came to his majority and took a diplomatically advisable wife from a blithe and sunny foreign land.  In time, the crown passed to him, or more truthfully to his muttering advisors.  The Grass-Snake heeded his friends' advice, as he ever had, and the kingdom withered on the vine.

The little green snake that lives in fields and the banks of streams is not toothless, as popular conception has it, though what teeth it has are set far back in its jaw.  Its nip is no more dangerous to a human than the gumming of an infant.  It is an eater of insects, hunting crickets and beetles in its quiet way.  It bears no one any malice, not even its prey; it is too simple a creature even for that.

What the lurking viziers and confidence tricksters, the mockers and mountebanks did not recall - did not, perhaps, even know in the first place, is this: simple is not a synonym for stupid, and cricket-eaters have their place and their time even as lions and wolves.  Were it not for grass-snakes, the vermin would breed and breed in their way, and soon enough the land would fall to ruin.

In the halls, the loud-voiced and sly-eyed men carouse, spending money they never earned for their cruel and vapid games, chirping and singing until the small hours of morning.  Jaded, perfumed men and women attend them assiduously, even in the highest places in the palace.  The Grass-Snake huddles in the counting-rooms, his fingers stained with ink, a well-intended letter of warning crisping to ash on the hearth.  He has trained in all the gentlemanly arts.  He knows the location of the armory.

There are many kinds of insect, and many ways to hunt them.  The Grass-Snake knows them all.


Loren Eaton said...

Nice. Great imagery in those final paragraphs.

By the way, I enjoy these longer pieces.

Nathaniel Lee said...

I'm glad you like 'em. I toss 'em up here if I don't think they're sellable (usually if they're under 900 words but too long to make a drabble of.)

This one started with thinking about the names kings get and wondering what you had to do to get stuck with things like "the Unready" or "the Meek."