“The Weight of Empty”
Morning's light crept tenderly over her face, playing off the shimmering highlights in her hair. The sun's gentle warmth roused her from peaceful slumbers. Today was her birthday. The realization came to her in tingling waves as she jumped lightly from her plush bed and began to dress herself carefully. Twelve. Today she turned twelve years old, one step closer to being an adult.
She carefully laced the back of her delicate blue dress and began to pin up her hair with the utmost precision. She must look very nice for her mother and father. She wanted to show them how grown up she could be. Grown-ups always dress properly, she reminded herself. Her parents had emphasized that lesson plenty. If she was to be a grown up, she must demonstrate her mastery of this skill, just one of many that come along with being an adult. After checking her appearance in the long mirror more times than was necessary, she began to dance lightly down the stone hallway that led outside.
The laughing voices of her mother and father drifted to her ears like music and filled her with a comfortable sense of belonging. Just as she neared the entrance to the courtyard where her parents sat, chatting in the late morning sun, she ceased her dancing - coming to a complete halt - straining to stop her joyous movement. Dancing was childish. She knew her mother and father loved when she acted like a grown up; she wanted to make them happy. “Adults must have so little fun.” she mused quietly to herself as she continued outside, brushing away a few wisps of her hair that had fallen loose of the pins.
When her parents saw her, they greeted her with hugs and kisses, expressing how impressed they were with her immaculate appearance.
“You look like a little lady.” her mother cooed.
“Happy birthday, darling.” said her father.
When she turned to him, the girl saw a look of warmth and pride in his eyes that melted all of her little pretenses. She jumped into his lap, giving him the biggest hug she could. He returned the hug and then pulled back a little, lifting her chin so their eyes met.
“We have a present for you.” Oh, how she did love surprises.
Her mother spoke with excitement. “Now, we thought long and hard about what gift suited you best. Turning twelve years old is a big deal after all. That's why we've chosen to give you something of great significance, something meaningful.”
“Something fitting for a young lady, a young adult.” added her father.
Excited anticipation bred butterflies in the girl's stomach. “They see me as an adult!” she beamed inwardly.
Her father reached into his pocket and pulled out a folded piece of old paper, tied neatly with shimmering ribbon. The girl took the aged, yellowing paper in her hands, turning it over in search of some sort of hint as to what could possibly be so significant about this.
Sensing the girl's curiosity, her mother began to explain. “As children grow older and become adults, they need to seek out their own identities. Soon, a time will come when you don't want to spend your days with your father and me. You'll want to pursue your own adventures and ideas; to begin to learn how to live your own life.” The girl stared up into her mother's smiling eyes, captivated by the way they could hug more comfortingly than any arms in the world…and wordlessly express a lifetime of phrases with just a mere twinkle. She hoped her own eyes would shine like that someday.
“So we've prepared a place for you,” continued her father, “a place of your own; a retreat of sorts. It's a place to give you the space to blossom into the beautiful young lady you're becoming every day. A place where you can be both safe, and free.” He smiled at her and leaned in, kissing her forehead gently.
“This place sounds wonderful. But, how do I get there? And what does this paper have to do with any of it?” the girl asked quizzically.
Her mother took the girl’s hand. “On the paper is a map that will lead you straight to your sanctuary. It's up to you when to open it. You can take a look at it now, if you'd like. Or you can wait, until the time feels right to you. This is totally yours, sweetheart.” Doubt tugged gently at the fringes of the girl's joy.
“But how will I know when to open it? What if I can't understand the map, how will I get there?” She looked from her mother to her father, both glowing with confidence and pride. “You'll know, honey. You'll just...know.”
The girl glanced down at the paper once more, smiling. When she looked up, her parents weren't in their seats and suddenly, she felt the floor lurch beneath her. Soon she was falling into blackness, watching the happy life above her disappear as panic flooded her every limb.
Psyche awoke with a start, her heart pounding so hard her entire body pulsed with its rhythm. She rubbed her eyes and wiped her damp brow, trying to calm her shaking nerves. She hated dreams. They brought her back to a time when things were better - only to remind her how suddenly everything had been ripped from her. If only she could just forget her childhood, forget how good things had once been. Then maybe she could find some sort of resigned peace. Still, she couldn't seem to shake the feeling that there would always be a hole in her where her parents used to fit.
Psyche looked groggily around the once luxurious cave that her parents had prepared for her. This place had been intended to be a place of refuge, of exploration and self-discovery.
That's the promise she'd been chasing when she wandered, grief ridden, out to the lake on the fringes of her parent's property. She had only just turned thirteen when the Great Despair had taken them from her.
They so thoroughly protected Psyche from the evils of the world that they had inadvertently robbed her of connection to anyone outside of themselves. She had no friends, no extended family that she knew of. It had always just been the three of them. It was with a spirit of desperation that Psyche had opened the paper her parents had given her for her twelfth birthday. “Safety.” “Freedom.”
When she had arrived at the lake, after hours of walking, she'd found none of that. Nothing of the sanctuary her parents had promised her. Bereft of hope and of any idea what to do next, she had decided to bathe in the lake, in preparation to spend the night on the cool rocks on the lake's north shore, rather than make the long trek back to her home. It was then that she had discovered the entrance to the retreat of which her parents had spoken! Hidden beneath the lake, the cave's entrance remained unseen by any who passed casually.
“Safe yet free”, Psyche mused to herself. If her parents could only see what had become of their “sanctuary”. She heaved herself wearily into a seated position, swinging her feet down to the floor. She might as well get up and get a head start on her duties. Maybe then she could please him...maybe.
“Well this looks much better” he said in a dull tone, sweeping his monstrous tail gingerly across the freshly polished marbled floor of the cave. Psyche had only just finished putting the cave back together, hiding every trace of debris from their last “talk”, when he’d awakened. “Yes, far better than last time. What was it that convinced you that playing my way was best, hmm?”
The dragon’s voice was rich and powerful, filling the air around Psyche until she felt drunk on his words. She watched his slow, sweeping motions, feeling an almost eerie sense of being intrinsically bound to the great, powerful being that was poised before her.
“Was it our last conversation?” he asked. “All you needed was to simply be reminded how much I care for you, yes? I always have your best interest at heart, you know that right?”
He lowered his great head, leveling his eyes with hers. And what great eyes they were, shining with fierce intensity and gleaming with hues of deep purples and blues, browns and thick blacks. They were almost like her mother’s, yet so very different, so much darker.
“Don’t you, dear?” came the soft yet powerful question repeated.
Psyche stared back, trapped in his gaze. She searched his eyes for a foothold, for some sign of his love for her. He always said everything he did was for her, for her safety and happiness. But if that was so, why did she feel so miserable and trapped, so….empty?
“Of course, Midas.” she finally replied, finding nothing in his gaze but his usual calculated stillness.
“Good, good.” he said, raising himself back to his natural height. He was great and commanding and had promised Psyche so much hope and comfort.
Watching him she remembered how wonderful he had been at first; how he had been there when no one else had been. Midas had just been sitting in the cave when she first discovered it, almost as if he’d been waiting for her. With her parents gone, he was all she had left in the world.
“Well then, I think it’s about time for your trip to town for some supplies, don’t you?” he said in a tone conveying great power and dignity. “Oh,” his voice followed her as she turned to leave “and your hair has fallen from its pins. Don’t forget to straighten it before you leave the edge of the pool. We wouldn’t want someone to see what a mess you can be, now would we?”
She cringed inwardly. Her hair must’ve fallen when she had thrown her fit the night before. Thinking back, she wondered at how she could have possibly thought ill of him and lost control like she did. It was clear he only sought to protect her from herself, and from the cruel, lonesome world outside of their cave.
She dove quickly into the water at one edge of the cavern, swam a short distance, and surfaced at the edge of the pool by what appeared to be a simple rock formation. No passerby would take a second glance at the outside of the cave. Only she knew what lay beneath; she and her protector, she and Midas.
In town, the sun’s beams danced between thick, grayish clouds, giving the air around the market a hazy feel. Squinting up at the sky, the Knight knew rain would come soon. He turned his attention back to the task at hand, hoping to finish quickly, and beat the rain home. A line of well-crafted tools stood on display before him. As he ran his hand over the shining metal handle of a medium sized shovel, a bold, friendly voice caught his attention.
“Drooling over that old thing again?”
The Knight turned to see the friendly merchant watching him, grinning from ear to ear. “You know you’ll never be able to afford that antique.” he chided playfully.
“Oh, one of these days, Isaac...” The Knight’s voice trailed off as the two men embraced warmly. Two years of regular business had built between the men a deep sort of camaraderie.
“Don’t look now, sir, but she’s here again.” Isaac said, pulling away from the Knight’s embrace.
“Who’s here…” the Knight began, but turning, he found the answer.
It was her. She came to the market on the same day at the same time every week. Nobody seemed to know her name, though he’d done a good bit of asking. She perused the vendors’ wares with a look of nonchalance, seeming to need nothing. Always dressed in fine clothing, not a hair out of place, she appeared to hold herself in very high regard, keeping aloof from the throng that typically filled the market.
Through her surface arrogance, however, the Knight sensed something more, something deeper about this girl. Her withdrawal from the masses was almost lonesome and practiced, as though she knew no other way to exist. And there was something in her eyes that caught his attention, some profound emptiness he found himself hungry to satisfy. It was as though her very being drew him in, catching him entirely off guard, no matter how he tried to prepare himself.
“Are you going to just stand there again this week?” Came Isaac’s curious voice, rousing the Knight from his thoughts. Running a hand through thick hair, the Knight turned to face the merchant.
“I have no idea how to approach her. She seems so….beyond us all.” he said wearily. He watched her from the corner of his eye as he continued, “Look at the way she’s not buying anything of significance. Her basket is half full already, and there’s nothing in there but flowers and odd gold trinkets.” The Knight couldn’t figure this girl out.
“Well,” the merchant began, trying to encourage his friend, “a basket full of flowers and trinkets can get pretty heavy. Why don’t you start there?” Isaac smiled and nudged the Knight forward.
“Why not?” the Knight thought to himself. “The worst that could happen is that she’d say “No.” Besides, maybe this will give me a chance to see more of her, to try and figure her out.”
The Knight strolled over to the peculiar, enchanting girl, trying to appear confidant and sure of himself. “Can I help you carry your basket, miss?” he said, his voice surprising him with the level of calm it conveyed.
Clearly surprised at being approached, she turned and looked directly into his eyes. The Knight felt all the air disappear from his lungs. He hadn’t expected her eyes to disarm him so. There was some surprising trace of sadness in them, a vulnerability that he had not expected. As soon as he thought he had a grasp of the elusive quality, it disappeared quickly behind her veil, her façade of confidence.
Psyche drew a shaky breath, trying to calm herself. The curious look in the man’s eyes made her wonder if she’d given herself away. Had he seen through her mask? She forced the dreadful idea out of her mind.
“Pardon?” she asked in the most distant tone she could manage.
“Oh I…I was just wondering if I could help you carry your basket.” the stranger replied coolly.
“No, no, I’m fine.” Psyche chirped mechanically. She tried to pass around the strange man who’d approached her, anxious to head back to the cave.
“Please, miss. I don’t mean to offend you. It’s just that you’re all alone and…hey, what could it hurt?” he tried again, sticking out his arm to stop her.
Psyche noted a surprising tenderness in his gesture. She turned to look at him, trying to decide her next move. The man was tall but not quite handsome, his features arranged in a way that gave him a rough-hewn look. Despite his somewhat awkward appearance, he had a certain distinctive charm that she could not overlook. Psyche also noted his Knight’s armor, he was a protector. Reaching her decision, she shrugged, and handed the Knight her basket. “I’ll be done soon enough anyways,” she thought.
Psyche began to stroll to a nearby trinket vendor, admiring his sparkling wares. “Oh, Midas will definitely like something like this.” she thought. As she made her way through the crowd, maintaining her withdrawn air, a look of curiosity passed over the Knight’s face.
“Miss,” he began in an almost tentative tone, “why is it that you’re buying nothing of consequence, no food or clothing?”
Psyche’s heart leapt into her throat. She turned to face him, her cheeks flushed in…was it embarrassment or anger that the Knight detected? “Why, what on earth do you mean “nothing of consequence”?! These things are very important! This is what he wanted…” she started defensively, only trailing off after realizing that she’d mentioned Midas. Of all the things the dragon had told her not to do, the most important of them was to protect him at all costs. No one must know of his existence. Midas said such knowledge would ruin them both. What had she done?
“Who wants..?” the Knight began, his concern piqued by the mention of this other person.
Psyche cut him off heatedly “Are you trying to insult me, sir?” she tried desperately to draw the Knight’s attention from her mention of Midas. The Knight laughed in bewildered amusement, not deterred by her heated tone
“Oh no, miss, not at all. I was only trying to start a conversation. I’ve been told I’m not the best at that.”
Psyche was surprised by the calm manner in which he responded to her. He didn’t roar angrily or shame her, he simply….smiled sweetly and apologized. Her nerves calmed a bit and she managed a small smile. The Knight began to walk slowly towards the trinket vendor he’d seen Psyche eyeing.
“So let’s try this again. I’ve seen you here several weeks in a row, now. Where is it that you dwell?” he tried again, gently.
When he turned to face her this time, he saw an entirely new look painted over the girl’s face. Psyche wore a look of panic she could not hide. A wave of horror began to flood her from head to toe as her mind flew into a panicked tizzy. Only one consistent thought was branding itself firmly at the forefront of her mind – “Get away.” She had to get back to the cave before this strange man touched on any more of her carefully guarded walls.
“That is none of your business! I’m….I’m sorry. I’ve got to go!” Psyche stammered out, obviously flustered. Before the Knight could draw in another breath, she turned, took the hem of her skirt, and walked quickly out of the market, picking up speed as she went.
The Knight stood silent for a moment, in utter confusion, still holding the peculiar girl’s basket. Coming to himself a bit, he called after her as she fled the market, now at a quickening pace. “Wait, Miss! Your basket! Wait! I don’t even know your name!” If his voice reached her ears, she gave no sign, maintaining her course just as fixedly as before. The Knight, still trying to get his bearings, looked around then turned to head back to his merchant friend, Isaac. Isaac stood by his merchandise, arms folded and an amused grin on his weathered face.
Reaching his friend, the Knight set the girl’s basket on the ground as Isaac reached out and patted him on the back. “Suave, my friend, very suave.”
The sound of Psyche entering the cave woke Midas from the verge of sleep. “Good, she’s back.” he thought, drawing himself neatly into a more upright position.
Turning lazily, he said to the girl, “I trust your trip was without incident.”
Then, he caught sight of her. His eyes enlarged, as a surge of panic filled him. Psyche stood before him, a mess, a total wreck. Water dripped from her hair. It had come almost totally out of its pins and was sticking messily to her face. One of her sleeves was out of line and she appeared to be missing a shoe. On top of everything else, she didn’t have the basket of supplies he’d sent her to get. “Oh, no! I hope no one saw her like this!” Midas thought.
“What did you do now?” he asked…in an accusatory, icy tone.
The look of hurt confusion that passed over her face, before quickly turning to shame, alerted Midas to the fact that he’d jumped at her too quickly. He reigned in his temper before continuing with his questions.
Psyche’s heart was beating rapidly like a little bird in her chest. A great, empty sense of shame draped over her, weighing her down.
Midas’s questions rushed around her, his tone distinctly softened. “Are you okay? Are you hurt?”
Psyche’s heart was full of emotion; the shock of her close-call with the stranger in the market hadn’t worn off with distance. She shook her head wearily, trying, in a sense, to physically shake the lingering emotions.
In her sprint back to the haven, she had encountered a few brambles. But her frantic run to retreat into some perceived safety had kept her from checking for injuries.
Midas continued his questions, apparently taking her confused silence as a sign that she was okay. “Did anyone see you like this? Was there any permanent damage done? Is our reputation ruined?”
Slight resentment budded in the pit of Psyche’s stomach. Clearly he was more concerned with keeping their cover than with her physical well-being.
The resentment was soon smothered once again by the overwhelming shame, and shaken girl began to explain herself. “There was a man in town. A…a Knight I think. He spoke to me. He actually walked up to me, and spoke to me…asked where I lived. I didn’t know what…I just…I panicked! I did everything you said, I kept distant but…he was so kind, and he still asked…nobody’s ever asked anything like that before. Nobody’s ever bothered to speak to me!”
Psyche bumbled and tripped over her words. She simply couldn’t make sense of what had happened. How had the Knight seen through her? In the years she’d spent with Midas, diligently obeying his instructions to remain withdrawn and distant from the masses, no one in town had once questioned her façade of perfection. And it wasn’t just the Knight’s questions or his approach to her walls. There was something about him that had caused her to falter. She’d almost let him in.
As Psyche was speaking, Midas sauntered slowly over to her and began to carefully, gently coil his massive body around the shivering girl. She initially withdrew from his touch, still jumpy and rather shaken.
She finally took a deep breath and the great dragon began to speak to her in soothing tones. “Hush now. Don’t worry.” Midas cooed. “You didn’t do anything wrong this time. Anyone would have been flustered. That was so intrusive of him. People like that are just trying to control you, darling. They’re trying to take me from you. Me, you’re protector!”
The more he spoke, the more Psyche softened into him, leaning her body against his. But, even as she lay in his embrace, questions still lurked at the back of her mind. The Knight had said he’d seen her before. He was a regular visitor to the market. What if he was there when she went back? How soon would she have to go back? How could she keep him out?
As if he could read her mind, Midas’s voice crept into her ears saying, “Don’t worry about going into the town. We’ll think about that another time.” The fact that he spoke directly to her unspoken fears, reminded Psyche of what a close friend she had in him.
With her fears swept aside for the moment, she melted into him, relaxing completely, giving in to her exhaustion. As she closed her eyes, she could not manage to shake the thoughts of the Knight. Every time she tried to push him out of her mind she’d see his captivating smile, his caring eyes, the gentle way he’d moved. Some part of him clung to her. His sudden appearance in her world was new and perplexing. So few people had ever made an appearance in her life, and none since she’d met Midas.
Life in the cave continued as usual. Psyche attacked her daily chores with a new vigor, trying to prove her worth to Midas. She hoped to show him how much she was worth, to overcome her blunder in the market. Thoughts of the peculiar Knight haunted her. She often found herself thinking of him when she was idle. This only pushed her to work harder, desperately attempting to cleanse him from her mind, as she cleansed the dirt from the cave. Despite Psyche’s fresh diligence, and most avid attempts to please him, Midas was never satisfied. He insisted that she keep the cave perfectly clean and perfectly decorated. It had to be the epitome of beauty. No matter how hard she scrubbed, or how intricately she planned her decorations, the cave always failed to meet his expectations. The more supplies dwindled, the more agitated and restless Midas grew…until one day, after a particularly thorough inspection of the cave, he burst out in a rage.
“Do you call this clean? I can’t stand this filthy place anymore! There is dirt everywhere. Our home is an absolute wreck!”
Psyche cowered into a corner, allowing the shame he poured out to wash over her. She looked around the cave and saw nothing she could have made cleaner or more organized. Yet still felt as though she had utterly failed.
“After all I’ve done for you,” Midas roared again, “this is how you demonstrate your gratitude?!”
Cleaning supplies were running low and, in order to stay with Midas’s ever-growing expectations, the cave would require many new decorations. Psyche had avoided it as long as she could – she had to go back to the market.
The next day as she prepared to leave, she checked her appearance obsessively in a dingy old mirror which Midas had allowed her to keep. The careful nature with which she prepared herself for the day ahead was strikingly reminiscent of the morning of her twelfth birthday. Looking into her eyes in the mirror, however, she noted one distinct difference between that morning and the present. The eyes that had glowed warmly in her twelve year-old reflection’s face no longer had the young shimmer that she’d hoped would grow into a sparkle like her mother’s. It was as though something was missing from them, some life or fire. Psyche no longer recognized herself in them.
The sound of lively chatter floated on the delicate breeze to meet Psyche’s ears. The gentle, brilliant late morning sun had birthed a wave of gaiety among the people of the town. The people’s joy only served to make Psyche more aware of the increasing space that was opening within her. Only feet away from the bustling market, she stopped and drew in a deep breath, bolstering her confidence for what she knew was waiting for her just a little ahead. She scanned the market, looking for her first stop. The more direct she was, the sooner she could leave. Picking out a woman who was selling daisies in a plethora of colors, Psyche stepped forward with decisive effort. With each stride Psyche grew more determined in her quest. She could do this. She’d done this a hundred times before. What had she been so worried about?
The stream of confidence that had begun to flow through her was quickly dammed, however, the second she caught sight of the Knight. He was standing with a man who appeared to be a hardware merchant, and the two were engaged in jovial conversation. Psyche’s heart leapt in her chest as she turned her attention back to the daisy vendor. “Focus!” she hissed to herself under her breath. Despite her efforts to block out anything but this first purchase, she continued to sense the Knight’s presence in her peripheral. It wasn’t long before she felt his eyes turn towards her. Again, she felt her walls shaking under his compassionate gaze.
Excusing himself from his conversation with his merchant friend, the Knight began to jog towards her, his intention clear with each step – he was not going to let her evade him this time. The distance between them closed quickly, far quicker than Psyche had anticipated. She didn’t run or try to avoid him. She had spent a great deal of time preparing herself for this challenge and she wasn’t going to flee from it. When he reached her, somewhat winded, she turned to face him and almost immediately regretted her choice to stay and “fight”.
“I’ve been wondering about you.” the Knight began with his off-beat, crooked smile. Psyche’s well-laid plans fell away as she looked into his eyes. She felt a longing within her, something that had not been there at the pair’s first encounter. In the weeks that had elapsed, she’d felt herself growing emptier, shrinking into herself and away from the world. Standing there, in the sun-filled market, looking into this near-stranger’s eyes, she felt life budding within her again. Psyche found herself painfully aware of the desire to give in to this man’s kindness and warmth, to fall into his compassion, and let this love she sensed but couldn’t begin to understand, encompass her. “Oh, no. I can’t do this!” she thought and she turned to leave.
“Wait, don’t go.” the Knight said gently, just as she turned away.
His words held her stationary. Psyche closed her eyes and held her breath momentarily. She didn’t have the strength to keep running from this weird yet wonderful man’s kindness, especially not with the strange new longing that was creeping up inside her. Letting out her breath, she turned back to the Knight.
Despite her longing and her fatigue in the realm of her pretenses, Psyche still felt a drive deep in her core, to keep herself away from this man. Since her first trip to the market, as each day had passed, Psyche had understood the dragon less and less. What was Midas doing for her? Why did she need him? The answers that had once come so quickly now danced just beyond her reach.
Even though she had begun to see Midas for who he really was, she could not open herself to the Knight. This man was strange and new; he was different than anything Psyche had ever experienced. Though life with Midas was miserable, life with the Knight was unfathomable. He could be worse than the dragon. There were so many possibilities wrapped around something that had never been kind to Psyche – change.
Caught between progress and monotony, Psyche spoke quietly, “Okay, I’ll stay.” Glancing up at the Knight’s face, she saw a wave of relief pass over it.
“I was wondering when you’d come back.” he said tenderly. “I worried about you, the way you just ran off like that…” Psyche blushed at his words, having pushed her bizarre behavior from their last encounter out of her mind.
Sensing her discomfort, the Knight redirected the conversation quickly “But let’s not dwell on the past! I only mention it to say that I’ve got your basket. I kept it for you so there’s no need for you to buy all new things. I left it with a friend. Why don’t we walk and talk, okay?”
His concern for her was evident in his kind tone and the pleasant smile that danced across his eyes as well as his lips.
As they began to meander around the perimeter of the market, the Knight spoke, “Now if I remember correctly, last time I asked questions about your life and the conversation didn’t go too well.”
The laughing look he threw her direction told her he was comfortable poking fun at himself.
He continued “So this time, I’m going to do the talking, and you can just listen. I’m not going to ask much of you, just that you listen.” Psyche’s nerves quieted a little, understanding on some level that he was giving her the space she needed to feel safe.
The Knight spoke again, “I sense your guardedness. I see in you a poised, forced air; a need to stay away from others. Most people perceive that as snobbery or cold-heartedness. I understand that when someone is protecting themselves, it’s because they are vulnerable, because they have been hurt. So beyond your withdrawal, I also see your vulnerability. I don’t understand why you are vulnerable because I don’t know much about you, but I do understand feeling vulnerable. I have felt that way before. I wanted to share a bit of my life with you. Let you get to know me a bit. Would that be alright?”
Psyche smiled and nodded her agreement, and the Knight continued, “You see, I once had this “friend” who was a dragon.”
Hearing the Knight mention a dragon shocked Psyche. He had a dragon? She didn’t know anybody else had a dragon. She’d always been so lost in own world, so consumed with her own pain she’d not bothered to really look and see if there were other dragons in the world. She paused mid-stride and gave the Knight a look of sardonic disbelief.
Motioning her to continue walking, the Knight chuckled a little, “Yes, I know. It’s hard to believe that people can have dragons as friends, but I did! Let’s keep walking and I’ll explain.”
Questions swirled in Psyche’s head as they resumed their stroll and the Knight continued talking.
“You see, my parents put me under a lot of pressure to be Knight. They were well-meaning, of course; they just wanted the best for me. But unfortunately, their passion to make sure that I was the best drove them to care more about how I behaved than to care about me as a person. Slowly I lost touch with my budding identity.
One day, when I was training in the fields, I came across a fierce dragon. He was powerful and strong, gleaming from head to toe. His mighty roar was something to be admired, or so I thought. I went to the dragon and asked him to teach me to be like him: strong, brave, and everything a “real man” should be.
The dragon accepted my request. He taught me by berating my flaws and weaknesses, and by ordering me around harshly. My dragon wasted no time on pleasantries. At first, I was shocked by his cruelty, but I thought that was what I needed in order to make something of myself.
It was his purpose to make rules for me, and his rules kept me safe, in a way. ‘You have to do something! You have to be someone! You must achieve! You must make yourself matter!!!’ The dragon’s rules started running my life.
My dragon promised me honor and valor. He told me that he’d make me everything I could be, that I was nothing without him. And I believed him, you know?”
Psyche nodded at the Knight with understanding as she identified with his story.
The Knight continued, “I excelled, at first. I became a Knight much younger than most do. Shortly after attaining Knighthood, however, things started to change. I couldn’t attain enough honor to appease the dragon. I was never strong enough or important enough. I started feeling like a shell of a person.
Soon enough people started noticing. Friends and family worried about my exhausted appearance and vacant stares. They began to sense that I was losing myself, though they didn’t know why. Most of them gave up on me after a while. My old achievements didn’t attract them like they used to. Those who actually cared about me couldn’t break through my veil of brittle “courage”. But I had one friend who just wouldn’t leave, my one friend stuck by me through it all.” With that, the Knight glanced smilingly over at his merchant friend who waved back.
“My friend was able to help me see that true strength didn’t come from beating myself up, or from performing and achieving as my Dragon had taught. He helped me understand that I could stand apart from my dragon, and still be a good person. My friend also taught me that I just had to do one thing for my freedom from my tyrant’s hold on me: fight the dragon.”
These words sent chills down Psyche’s spine. She couldn’t begin to understand how anyone could possibly fight for freedom from the clutches of a dragon.
“I was terrified,” the Knight continued, “especially when my friend kept emphasizing how I had to fight the beast all by myself. One day I found that I was strong enough mentally to kill the beast. It was a long, hard fight but I did it. I actually used the tools my friend had given me: belief in myself, hope for a life beyond the dragon’s rules, a purpose greater than mere achievement.
It was the greatest accomplishment of my life. Looking back I understand that the life of integrity I sought to live, could not be attainted the way I was trying to get it. Such a life of integrity cannot be lived by mimicking its appearance. Integrity is birthed from within. I found that true honor is not following the rules, it’s living the principles.”
The Knight stopped walking and turned to face Psyche, taking a deep breath. “Phew! That was a good bit of chatter on my part.”
He smiled down at her, and she gazed back in awe. The more he’d spoken, the more comfortable she’d felt being with him. It was as though he was so at peace with himself that he had peace to lend her. He was still as charmingly awkward as he had been when they first met, but Psyche saw something more about this awkwardness than she had before. He wasn’t awkward out of pretense, or out of trying to be someone he wasn’t. It was just natural.
“Besides,” Psyche thought, “It makes him personable.”
Psyche’s head was filled with thoughts and questions. How did the Knight’s friend give him the tools he’d used to defeat his dragon? How was life different now? How badly had it hurt the Knight to lose his dragon? She wasn’t sure she could ever be so brave. Plus, she had no tools, no weapons…
Her thoughts were interrupted by a friendly voice calling out, “Hello there, friend! Have you come for the basket?” Psyche hadn’t even realized that they’d arrived at the stand where the Knight’s friend was peddling his wares.
The Knight answered his friend’s call “Yes, Isaac. I trust you kept it safe?” Isaac reached under his table and pulled out the basket Psyche had carried on her last trip to the market. He smiled broadly, and replied, “Yes, sir!”
The Knight took the basket and handed it gently to Psyche.
“Oh! Thank you.” She was unable to completely mask the surprise, and slight disappointment, in her voice. She had completely forgotten about her errands. A sinking feeling filled her as everything came back to mind. It was as though she was falling back to earth. The Knight’s story was nice, but her life was different. Honestly, how could she be free from a dragon? It had been silly to even imagine that, that was possible. And now she’d wasted an afternoon dreaming.
“Would you like to keep walking with me?” the Knight asked, hopefully.
“I…I can’t.” Psyche replied, her old emptiness returning. “I have to get back…home….before he misses me.”
She turned to leave but stopped short. Turning back to the Knight, she spoke in a quiet voice that was, for once, free of masks. “Thank you, for talking with me today. I don’t understand you, but I do appreciate the glimpse of hope you tried to give me. I just don’t think I can ever be free.” With a sigh, she turned and strode away from the market.
Psyche stood by the water’s edge at the shore of the lake, under which lay the entrance to the cave. The things the Knight had said to her danced around her head as she stared blankly into the placid water. It was more than what he’d said that’d touched her. It was his easy manner, the comfortable way he existed within himself. If a man who’d once been tormented by a dragon could achieve such a peace, was it possible that she could, as well? The hope in this thought caused Psyche to wince in pain. Hope was dangerous.
Forcing her attention away from her thoughts, she drew a deep breath. Like it or not she saw herself crumbling under the massive weight of living with Midas. Each day she became more his prisoner, and lost more of herself. Only now, in the eleventh hour, had she realized how much she’d sacrificed to please the magnificent beast that rested just beneath the rock formation. Clutching the basket of supplies, Psyche took one last breath before diving into the lake to seek out the cave’s under-water entrance.
Once safely inside the cave, Psyche set the basket of supplies down gently, and wrung out her dripping hair. Midas, who had been pacing the cave anxiously when she’d entered, immediately turned his attention towards the girl. He noticed that she had a certain weighed air about her.
“What? What’s wrong? Did you get everything?” the dragon snapped.
Ignoring his harsh tone, Psyche picked up the basket, not looking him in the eyes, and replied “I think it’s all in there.”
Midas snatched the basket from her outstretched arms and quickly examined its contents. Finding nothing amiss, he turned his attention back to Psyche, who’d found a seat for herself at the edge of a protruding rock. She appeared to be caught up in her own thoughts.
His anxieties and frustrations were not quelled in knowing that all necessary supplies had been replenished, so Midas turned his attention to the girl’s peculiar manner.
“What’s wrong with you? Why do you seem so…emotional?” he asked with sharp disdain.
Psyche was pulled from her thoughts by his voice. “Hmmm? What? No, no I’m fine. Nothing happened.” She tried to brush away the dragon’s question. The expanding inner emptiness of which she’d recently become aware, filled rapidly with new thoughts and ideas.
Midas’s great eyes flashed. It was clear something had happened in the market.
“I didn’t ask if anything happened in town. I asked why you’re behaving so oddly. So, tell me, what happened at the market?”
The dragon’s unsettlingly calm tone drew Psyche from her thoughts once again. A sense of alarm and defensiveness sprouted in her chest.
“It was nothing.” Midas’s raised eyebrow caused her to fumble into further explanation. “I mean, it was nothing bad, sir. The Knight was there again, just as I’d feared he would be. But I managed to keep him out, and keep my cool. He just wanted to talk with me for…”
Before Psyche could finish her sentence a wave of jealous anger washed visibly over the dragon as he raucously interrupted her. “You WHAT?!?! You SPOKE with the Knight?! Again? You gave away our secret didn’t you? So weak and needy, so eager to pour out your measly little pains to the entire world, eh? Just like you! I should have known you’d do something this stupid!!!” As Midas raged, he began to pace angrily from one side of the cave to the other, his great, solid body causing the ground to shake with each powerful stride.
The dragon’s words stung Psyche sharply. She was usually so shameful under his criticism. Today, however, a new feeling started to creep slowly through her, its roots in the pit of her stomach. The numb emptiness inside her began to fill with hot indignation. She’d done nothing to deserve this! She’d done everything for this beast, and here he was screaming insults at her! She heard a voice echoing through the cave…and it was several seconds before she realized it was her own.
“I didn’t do anything! I’ve done nothing wrong! Even if I had, what do you care? If you seek to protect me so much, then why are you so angry when I reach out to a kind soul?!” A new energy was coursing through Psyche’s veins. She felt emboldened, and alive in every ounce of her being.
Midas was clearly taken aback with the quiet, obedient girl’s sudden rush of resentment. He took no time, however in returning her anger with a fresh show of his own.
Raising himself up to his full height, the dragon bellowed, “A kind soul?! Your “kind friend” would have me out of your life! Is that what you want? You pathetic little weakling, you should know better than to trust anyone but me! I am in control of your life! I and I alone can properly reign in your miserable spirit!”
The dragon’s taunts caused the hair on the back of Psyche’s neck to stand on end, as fresh waves of fierce anger coursed through her. Hot tears stung in her eyes, and were soon making their way down her cheeks. It’d been years since she last cried. Midas had never tolerated it; he considered it a weakness.
Now the tears came, pouring from her eyes as she retorted, “I see through you more and more, Midas! You do more harm than good! I follow your rules, and keep myself in check. I do everything you ask and it’s never good enough! I can never please you!”
Psyche stormed over to the basket Midas had carelessly tossed aside when he’d first grown angry. Taking up one of the fine trinkets in her hands she screamed at the dragon, who now sat rigidly still, watching her with rage pouring from his eyes.
“These things are pointless!” she called to him. “Your precious decorations never make you happy! No matter how pretty they are or how hard I work to get them, it’s never enough! Nothing is ever enough! There is no end with you!”
As these last words left her mouth, Psyche threw the trinket roughly to the cave floor, dashing it to pieces. Turning irately, she kicked the basket of supplies, causing its sparkling contents to spill across the cave. Glaring up into Midas’s now black eyes, she saw an evil smile dancing in them. Letting out one last impassioned yell, Psyche stormed to the pool in the corner of the cave, and dove in. She had to get out of there before he killed her, whether directly or by her own hands.
The horse’s rough, rhythmic gait created a lull that helped the Knight organize his thoughts. He felt badly about leaving Isaac so suddenly, though the kind merchant had assured him that it was no problem at all. The Knight was so unsettled, after he’d last spoken with the mysterious girl, that he felt compelled to go after her. He followed the path she’d left in the tall, flowering grass that covered the rolling hills beyond the market. He wasn’t sure if it was the tone of her voice, or her words, or the empty look in her eyes that caused him such great unrest; and he wasn’t sure he cared. Something was wrong; he sensed it in his core. If there was one thing he’d learned over the years since he battled his dragon, it was that he was safe listening to those core feelings; they almost always took him down the best path.
Great compassion welled within the Knight as visions of the girl’s eyes danced before him. He understood all too well the inner struggle she must be facing. Compassion quickly turned to disgust as he pictured the evil beast that was her captor. A sick feeling of anger welled in his stomach and prompted him to give his horse an urging kick. The sooner he got to her, the sooner he could slay the loathsome beast and free her.
As soon as the thought crossed his mind he caught himself. What was he thinking? He couldn’t slay her dragon. Hadn’t Isaac taught him that only a dragon’s “prisoner” could slay the beast? It had been a very difficult lesson for him to grasp, too. Fear and ever present self-doubt had been hard-lined enemies to the endeavor.
Settling into his saddle a little more, the Knight better understood the task before him. He couldn’t slay her dragon, but he could give her the weapons she needed to fight the beast. If she’d only open up a little bit, just enough for him to see where she was most needing of protection, then he could properly equip her for her battle. Yes, all she needed was to see that she too could be free, to believe it enough to fight for it. The thoughts that had been swirling around his head now organized themselves. He soon spotted a small lake in the distance.
Psyche sputtered as she swam inelegantly to the lake’s shore. Still seething inwardly, she climbed out of the water and stormed over to the rock formation beneath which lay the cave. She was reeling inwardly, and trying to gather her thoughts. Wringing some of the water from her skirt, she lay on her back; arms stretched overhead. Her argument with the dragon played over and over in her mind, like a broken record.
She couldn’t fully understand what had driven her to such an emotional point. All she knew is that things were different now. She was no longer the same girl who’d wandered into the cave so many years ago. Midas was still her protector to some degree, but he wasn’t the comforter he’d once been. She didn’t know what the feeling was that was slowly yet steadily growing within her. It was painful, and at the same time it was productive. She felt as though her heart was growing.
The sound of approaching hoof-beats brought Psyche back to reality. Jumping to her feet, she saw a man on a horse quickly approaching. Straining her eyes, she saw that the man was none other than the Knight from the market. He was very close now. He must have been within sight of the lake for a while, but she had been too lost in her thoughts to notice.
Taking a quick look down at herself, she realized what a mess she looked. Her hair wasn’t pinned back, she was still quite damp, and she was barefooted. She was in no presentable condition but, oddly enough, she found that she no longer cared. Psyche felt inwardly the same as she appeared outwardly – a complete wreck. She was afraid of what the Knight would think of her, but there was no energy behind her fear. It was not bravery that filled her now, it was apathy.
The Knight was at the lake’s edge in moments. Psyche merely stood on the rock formation. She watched as he tied his horse’s reigns to a nearby tree, and then came towards her.
“Are you okay?” he asked kindheartedly as he approached. She’d heard Midas ask the questions many times before, but never the way this man asked it now, so tenderly and with genuine interest. The wet girl looked down at her feet, blushing a little, and nodded. She was quite aware of how terrible she must look.
The Knight understood her shame and addressed it gingerly, “It’s not your appearance that worries me. I just had a feeling there was something wrong. Was I mistaken?” He climbed onto the rock and sat in a patch of sun near the water, motioning for her to sit beside him. The look in his eyes told Psyche that he meant no harm.
She became suddenly aware of her own aching desire for love. Instead of fighting her intuitions, as she so often did, Psyche gave in. She took the simple comfort the Knight offered her in the form of a seat beside him. Not since her parents had she allowed herself to feel so connected to anyone but Midas.
Settling herself beside the man, Psyche sighed heavily, “I’m not hurt.” She cringed at the pain that was evident in her voice. Her vulnerability was frightening.
“What happened?” the Knight asked softly, in a tone that portrayed deep concern.
She melted inwardly. It was as though her parched heart was finally receiving the loving water which it so desperately craved. Tears crept slowly into her eyes as she began to explain.
“I fought with Midas.” Seeing that the Knight didn’t know of whom she was speaking, she followed the statement with a quick explanation. “My dragon. His name is Midas.” The Knight let out a soft “Ah.”
She continued, “I’ve often protested his orders before, heatedly even, but this time it was different. This time I felt…I don’t know…violated.” She shook her head in confusion. She couldn’t understand what had come over her.
“You felt like you had a self to stand up for, maybe?” the Knight suggested.
“Maybe.” Psyche replied, mulling over the idea briefly. “How is it that I can talk to you?” she asked curiously. “How is it that you so easily breeched my walls?”
“I don’t know for sure.” he returned honestly. “I know that me being comfortable with myself has something to do with it. I think it lets people know that I’m not judgmental. If I’m okay with my own obvious flaws and quirks, why wouldn’t I be able to accept someone else’s, you know? And, I think it has something to do with the fact that I really care, and you can sense that.”
There was no trace of arrogance in the Knight’s voice as he spoke about himself. He could have just as easily have been speculating why rain has its own scent. He turned, looking at her directly. His sincerity and care were displayed in his eyes. She liked looking at his eyes.
“I don’t know how to carry on anymore.” Psyche said, looking away. She was still ashamed of her pain. “I feel trapped between life and death, hope and despair, progress and stagnation, and I feel entirely unable to choose.” The tears that had been slowly collecting in her eyes finally spilled over, winding their way down her cheeks and falling onto her lap.
“It is very hard to feel like you’ve outgrown your protector, but that you have no ability to free yourself.” the Knight replied tenderly. “The good part about that is that you are in a place of action. Right now, you have the power to choose to slay your dragon, you have the power to free yourself from his clutches.”
She grimaced at his words as she turned to face him.
“I have no power against Midas. He rules me, dictating my every move. Without him I am nothing. If I don’t have him, I have no one.” The eyes of a young girl looked up at the Knight from the face of a young woman. Her sense of lost confusion was evident. She was letting go of her mask.
“Is that really what you believe? Or is that simply what the dragon has told you?” asked the Knight, as he reached out and lovingly wiped away one of her tears. When she didn’t reply he continued, “Often, our dragons come to us when we are most vulnerable, when we are lost and in pain. They promise us great comfort but in return demand total submission. Ultimately they demand that we sacrifice our selves. They berate us with lies about who we are, telling us we are worthless, weak, powerless, and nothing without them. “
Psyche looked down. He was speaking directly to the fears she’d expressed. The Knight continued,
“The truth is that dragons need us to believe those things. If we understood the truth about ourselves then we would no longer need our dragons to make us feel safe. In reality, Midas is the weak one, not you.”
Psyche had never thought of her relationship with the dragon this way. So much of Midas made sense when looking back with this new perspective – the way he shamed her when she tried to stand up for herself, the nasty things he taught her to believe, the jealous way he demanded she speak to no one, not even those who showed her kindness.
Fresh hope began to flower inside her with each new realization. Maybe she wasn’t who Midas had said she was. Maybe she could survive without him.
Even as the hope grew, doubts began to plague her.
“That makes sense.” Psyche said slowly, looking at the Knight, who smiled warmly. “But even if I’m not disgusting, and even if I can live freely, I could never fight Midas. You haven’t seen him. He’s so big, and powerful. And I’m just me. I’ve got nothing.”
“Well that’s where I can help you!” the Knight said, his tone unable to hide his excitement. “Wait here!” The Knight leapt from where he sat and quickly ran over to his horse. Psyche sat on the rock, stunned a bit by the Knight’s sudden burst of energy.
Perplexed, Psyche wiped the tears from her eyes, as she watched him pull a couple of large items from the sack tied to his horse’s saddle. She laughed a little, seeing him fumble with the awkwardly shaped objects.
“Do you need any help with that?” she called, trying to keep the curiosity and amusement out of her voice.
“No! Nope, I’m fine!” the Knight called back, somewhat strained.
Balancing the things in his arms, the Knight walked back to the rock. He sat the items down between Psyche and himself. Looking the objects over quickly, she saw that there was a finely crafted shield, and a long, sharp sword. The sun sparkled off the sturdy looking weapons, and she moved them into the shade, to keep the bright glare out of her eyes.
“These are my gifts to you.” the Knight said. “When I battled my dragon, my good friend Isaac gave me a sword and a shield of my own, not unlike these. They were strong and well made. Before I could use them, though, I had to understand what I was fighting for. I had to learn what the weapons meant to me, before I could wield them properly.”
The Knight reached for the sword, and then held it flat across both of his palms. Psyche could see delicate engravings, and inlaid gold, woven across the hilt. The engravings continued all the way up the blade of the sword, almost as if they told a story. She marveled for a moment before looking at the Knight with curiosity.
Seeing her confusion, he continued, “It is finely crafted of strong metals and decorated in a way that it is a true piece of art. But what makes this sword special is not its extraordinary appearance, but rather what it stands for. It represents the Spirit, that is, the written word of One whose truth is infallible. No falsehood can stand when measured against it. With this sword, you can go into battle with Midas, knowing you have the ultimate weapon against his lies.”
Psyche drank in the Knight’s words as she continued to gaze at the sword. It was something she had never seen before. No trinket Midas had ever sent her to buy could compare to its simple, breath-taking beauty.
“I don’t understand the truth you’re talking about though.” Psyche said.
“There’s a lot to it,” the Knight began, somewhat awkwardly, “but basically the truth is that you are loved so deeply and so purely that the Creator of the world would sacrifice his own son just so that you could live. You are beautifully made and you are never alone.”
Psyche’s eyes gleamed as she listened to the Knight speaking of this truth. It was beautiful and pure, everything she could have ever hoped for, everything for which her aching soul so often longed. She felt as though she’d finally found a piece of herself that the dragon had taken away long ago.
“What about the shield?” Psyche asked, her voice hoarse with emotion.
“Ah, yes.” The Knight said glowingly as he set down the sword and propped the shield up against his knees so that Psyche could see it better. On it, there was a cross spanning the shield’s width and height. On either side of the cross there was a single silver nail.
“What peculiar markings.” Psyche mused to herself.
“This is the shield of faith, faith in the truth that the sword represents. With this shield, you can fend off the fieriest of blows. The shield represents faith in the fact that you are loved unconditionally and that such love is worked out and shown in a perfect plan for your life. No matter what obstacles you may face, no matter what arrows are slung your way, you can find rest behind a faith in this perfect plan, behind this shield.”
Tears of joy crept into Psyche’s eyes. “This is too good to be true.” she whispered quietly.
”Don’t get me wrong,” the Knight began warningly, “after living un-armed for so long, even this small amount of armor will often feel like a huge burden. It will be awkward and difficult to use because it is new. In time, however, you’ll grow more comfortable with it and will carry and wield it with greater ease.”
Psyche took up the sword, feeling its weight in her hands. She stood and practiced swinging it, fumbling it several times before she managed to hold it steady. It was heavier and harder to carry than she’d expected, but it wasn’t impossible. Unlike the challenges with which Midas often presented her, the task of wielding the sword left her feeling whole, instead of feeling used and torn apart.
She looked at the Knight and saw him watching her, a pleasant smile spread across his awkwardly charming features. Embarrassed, she dropped softly to the ground, setting the sword in her lap. Looking down at it, Psyche began to grasp the full weight of what she had to do in order to be free. She’d allowed her heart to embrace the possibility of freedom, and now her mind was grappling with the reality that in order to have it, she must actually battle Midas. Looking shyly at the Knight, she saw an expression of concern pass over his face.
“What is it?” he asked gently.
“I’m…I don’t like admitting this but…I’m afraid.” Psyche mumbled ashamedly. The dragon’s message that admitting to fears was weakness had certainly left its imprint on her. Even now as she chose to shirk that belief.
“It’s going to be a hard fight.” the Knight said in a grave tone. “It won’t be easy to fight someone who has, for so long, been your protector. It will be difficult to fight someone who has dictated your every move.”
The Knight bent his head to meet her lowered eyes. Catching his gaze, Psyche raised her head as he raised his. It was a simple, wordless way, in which he expressed to her that she didn’t have to hide from him. Looking into the gentle, yet firm, eyes that stared back at her, she saw such compassion, such understanding for her looming battle. Her fears were not swept aside by this genuine care, but they were quieted some. Those kind eyes did not judge her or evaluate her, they simply expressed a thousand wordless gestures, of tender affection. Not since her mother’s eyes had she found some comfort in another person’s gaze.
The Knight broke their remarkably tension-free silence, “The most important thing to remember when going into this battle is to keep your shield close and your sword ready. With these weapons in hand, you will not fail.”
Strengthened by the Knight’s words, Psyche rose to her feet slowly. If she was ever going to be free, then the moment for battle was now. Taking up the sword in one hand, and the shield in the other, she made her way towards the water’s edge.
Just as the Knight had warned, the armor was heavy. Even the short walk to the shore was strenuous. Once she’d reached the water she stopped and turned to the Knight, who was still sitting on the rock formation.
“Thank you, sir.” she called to him nervously.
“You are always welcome.” the Knight called back sincerely. “I’ll be here when you get out, miss.” he added, trying to impart his confidence in her.
As his words reached her ears, Psyche realized she’d never told the man her name. Feeling a surge of hope and powerful gratitude, she called back to the Knight as she took a step into the water,
“Psyche. My name is Psyche.” Smiling warmly at him she took one last breath and dove into the water. She hoped that he would there when she got out. She would get out!
Psyche clamored clumsily out of the pool inside the cave. The sounds of her entrance reverberated off of the stone walls that surrounded her. Breathing deeply to calm her nerves, Psyche was disturbed by the eerie stillness that filled the air. Straining her eyes she could see that everything was just as she’d left it.
It was several moments before she saw Midas. He was almost entirely concealed in the darkness that hung in one corner of the cave. Gleaming with malice, his eyes were barely discernable from the dense blackness that concealed the rest of his body. He spoke suddenly, shattering the stillness that robed them. Psyche shivered in her very core.
“Ahhhh, I see you’ve returned. Come to pick up the mess you left?” His voice, dripping with disdain, sounded more like that of a snake than of the mighty dragon protector he pretended to be.
Psyche’s skin crawled, hearing the sickening way he spoke to her. How could she have given herself to him so entirely? What had ever made her think that he had her best interests at heart? Shifting the shield’s weight on her arm, she tensed her jaw.
“Well, now, what is this?” Midas called as he emerged slowly from the darkness, having noted her shift. “Weapons? Oh, my dear, why on earth would you need those? Nobody is going to get hurt now, are they?” The mockery was strongly evident as he began to speak, but dwindled as he spoke. As the last words left his lips, he withdrew himself fully from the dark corner in which he’d concealed himself.
The powerful way Midas moved captivated Psyche, drawing her attention away from her intended aim. He was so strong. Every inch of his reptilian body was well muscled and his scales shone with a captivating quality. Even as well guarded as her inner defenses had been, they wavered in the presence of such an imposing creature.
Raising his head to emphasize his grand presence in the cave, Midas spoke again,
“Did that “knight” send you with those new trinkets? What was he trying to do? Make you look like a fool? Oh, you gullible girl! Why on earth would you fall for such trickery?” He laughed a little as he carefully watched for the girl’s response.
Psyche felt suddenly embarrassed of her appearance, which she knew must be horribly disheveled. His words crept insidiously through her well-laid plans, and her once strong resolve began to wane. Though she showed no outward sign of doubt, Midas sensed her discomfort and continued with a slight smile. There was a new, though markedly forced, gentleness lacing his tone,
“You don’t want to hurt me, do you? You need me. I was here for you when you were most vulnerable. Who was there for you when you parents were taken in the Great Despair? I was. Who guided you when you didn’t know how to carry on? I did. Who protected you when the world sought to break you? It was me. I’ve been here for you when nobody gave you a second glance. You cannot live without me.”
Midas’s words slid over and around her, taking from her confidence with every passing second. The sick weight of regret formed in the pit of Psyche’s stomach as the trickle of doubt that had plagued her grew stronger, now becoming a torrent.
He was right. When no one had been there for her, Midas had brought her comfort. Without him she would be alone. He had protected her and guided her when she was without direction. If she didn’t have him to dictate her actions, she would be left defenseless. How had she ever believed that she could stand without him? What had she been thinking?
Midas continued to insult Psyche, as she hung her head in shame. Looking at the weapons which now hung limply from either hand, a feeling of despair began to creep into her chest. How quickly Midas had brought her back to the painful world which they shared!
Just as the last of her hope was draining from her, Psyche caught a glimpse of her reflection in the shield. A pair of sad, innocent eyes shone back at her from the center of the cross inlaid on the shield. She lost herself in them for a moment, feeling compassion edge slowly into her heart, pushing back the hopelessness.
“This is the shield of faith, faith in the truth the sword represents.” The Knight’s words came back to her, stirring up something inside of her. Turning her attention to the sword, she remembered what the Knight had told her about its truth. She was loved deeply and unconditionally. She was made beautifully. With each passing second, the conversation she’d had with the Knight came back to her more clearly. She clung to those memories, using them to fuel the fire within her.
Midas needed her to believe that she was nothing without him. He was weak. She had the tools she needed to defeat him!
Psyche lifted her eyes to the dragon’s, as she hoisted her shield and sword in preparation for a fight. She was not his prisoner anymore. She would not bow to his monstrous will. She would no longer live trapped by his lies.
“NO!” Her adamant call silenced Midas mid-sentence. The energy in her voice was almost tangible. “I will not believe your lies anymore Midas! I am not what you say I am! You are not my protector anymore! I know the truth you’ve tried to keep me from for so long!”
With that, Psyche lunged forward, brandishing her sword. The dragon roared as he stumbled backwards. Never before had she seen him cower from anybody, let alone her. Both combatants pulled themselves upright. Psyche saw desperation in Midas’s eyes, and sensed that she had found a hole in his usual poise and strength.
“How dare you!” Midas bellowed angrily. The rage that overtook him now was not like any Psyche had seen in him before. There was nothing controlled about him. “You insolent fool! You have never appreciated me! You are nothing! You are worthless!”
The dragon reared his head before releasing a blast of fire from his nostrils. Psyche heaved the shield to cover herself as quickly as she could, but she was not fast enough to protect herself entirely. The hem of her skirt singed and she felt a searing pain shoot up her right forearm. She cried out loudly, but did not let down her guard. Leaping forward, Psyche swung her sword powerfully at the raging beast, planting it solidly in his tail.
“That’s a lie!” she screamed as she drew back her weapon.
Midas let out a howl of pain and drew himself to his full height in an attempt to appear more intimidating. Psyche was not deterred by his games, continuing to yell as she sprang forward, dealing several more blows to the faltering dragon.
“There is someone who loves me more than you ever could! I don’t have to be your slave to be safe! You are a monster, nothing more than the stuff of nightmares! I know now that you have tricked me, and used me far more than you’ve protected me. I see through you, Midas! I will not be your prisoner anymore!”
Midas let loose another blast of fire and insults, but this time Psyche was faster, protecting herself from nearly all of the dragon’s flame.
“No, Midas! You will not control me!” she called again.
Psyche’s limbs were growing weak with the taxing effort of protecting herself from his powerful attacks, while still dealing attacks of her own. Though she was growing weaker, she sensed Midas’s waning strength. She’d wounded him badly and it was evident in his labored breathing and slowed movements.
Dancing between his massive front legs, she swung her sword into his sturdy abdomen. He cried out in anguish, falling against one of the cave’s walls. As she bounded out of the path of the falling beast, she slipped on some loose rocks and fell hard to her knees, feeling the sharp stones grate painfully against her legs. She didn’t know how much longer she could continue on like this.
A soft voice from within encouraged the battered girl, “Just a little bit longer, Psyche! Just a little longer, and the fight will be over!”
Taking heart in the promise of this inner voice, Psyche gritted her teeth, and heaved herself back onto her feet. She turned to face Midas just in time to raise her shield against a sudden, short burst of fire - which the dragon let loose, followed by a round of rough coughing. Just a little longer.
“You are pathetic.” Midas hissed hoarsely. “I can see you shaking. Just further proof of how you’ll never succeed without me!” With that, he swung a powerful claw in her direction.
Falling back and bracing herself against a boulder, Psyche held her shield close, absorbing the shock of the heavy blow with her defense. She had time only for a short breath before he blasted her with another stream of fire, this one more powerful than any he’d let loose yet. “You always have been, and always will be…mine!!!” Midas roared. Trembling from head to toe, Psyche drew herself to her feet.
“I am free!” Psyche shouted back resolutely.
She gathered all of her remaining strength and used it to draw back her sword. With all her might she plunged it deep into the dragon’s massive chest, aiming for his heart. Midas roared so loudly Psyche had to fight to stay on her feet, because the ground trembled violently. As the echo of Midas’s cry was fading, the dragon drew a last shuddering breath, and closed his enormous eyes.
The battle was over. Midas was dead.
Exhausted, Psyche tugged her sword free from the dragon. Looking around the cave, she searched for anything of significance that she would want to keep. After she left this place, she would never return. It wasn’t what it had once been; it no longer served its purpose.
Finding nothing worth saving, she trudged over to the pool at the edge of the cave. She let out a trembling breath as she looked back at what had once been her haven. Its current state of chaotic disarray was representative of what it had become to her. No longer was it cozy or protected. Instead it was a hidden hell. Once she’d finished drinking in her last moments in the cave, she allowed herself to fall into the pool. She struggled to the lake’s shore.
Surfacing, Psyche gasped for breath and looked at her surroundings. The sun was sinking into the western horizon, painting the sky pretty shades of purple, orange, and red. With great effort she heaved herself to her feet at the water’s edge. She searched the rock formation on the lake’s north shore. There her eyes found what they’d been hoping to see. The Knight was clamoring to his feet and rushing towards her. Seeing this, Psyche felt the strength drain from her. She sank to her knees, tears flowing freely from her eyes. The Knight reached her quickly, stammering out “Are you alright?” to which Psyche could only sob, “It hurts. Everything hurts.”
She was free, but she didn’t care. The only thing she was aware of was her overwhelming grief and the powerful sense that she was alone.
The late afternoon sun danced through the window over the sink. It warmed Psyche’s hands as she washed dishes. A few stray soap bubbles floated up towards her face and she swatted them away, playfully. It hadn’t been long ago that doing tasks such as cleaning dishes would have felt like a crushing weight. One of many tasks she must perform perfectly. Today she found she didn’t mind it.
Things weren’t like they had been in those dark days. Chores weren’t something forced upon her to measure her worth. She choose to do them, finding they gave her a sense of satisfaction and purpose.
“That was a hard lesson to learn!” she thought to herself, smiling a little at her own stubbornness.
The Knight had been very patient, teaching her slowly to appreciate and even enjoy the “silly” things in life; things she’d often scorned.
Rinsing a small plate, Psyche ran her hand over the scar on her right forearm. Her duel with the dragon had certainly left its mark on her. Thinking back to the crushing emptiness that had filled her on the day of her victory, she realized how much she’d grown since then.
Gradually, the immense pain she had felt she had to carry lessened until it was only an infrequent visitor in her thoughts. With each day that had passed, things had gotten a little easier.
“Psyche! Psyche, quick, come look at this!” the Knight’s joyful voice interrupted her thoughts.
The dishes weren’t done, but she didn’t mind. They would be there when she got back. Drying her hands, she called back laughingly “I’m on my way.” Life without the dragon was never bland, that was for sure. Things rarely went according to plan, social graces didn’t much matter, and appearances always took a backseat to messy fun. No, it wasn’t happily ever after, or perfect but it was pretty damn good.
The end, or something like that.