KJ Hannah Greenberg
Jase shrugged. It didn’t matter whether he recited in first person, in third person, or in elusive second. As soon as someone opened a page for which he was the narrator, he was compelled to speak of plot points and of evolving characters.
Only when covers were closed and smartphones were turned off could he return to visiting questionable taverns and to seducing fair maidens. In the spotlight, he was a largely uncredited, neutral player, but out of sight, he was a popular rogue who supped with fiends.
Then Bernia shook up his life. Jase had been repositioned as the narrator of Two Blue Dragons, a story in which a tournament champion wins Bernia’s hand. In that epic, mages and dragons try to thwart an emperor’s desire. At the behest of his empress, that sovereign seeks grandchildren.
To readers, Princess Bernia was a young woman accustomed to the finest goods and the savviest suitors. Beyond the ever after, though, she was a Rasputin, a frequenter of drinking halls, and a legendary scoundrel. That she was comely and bright, and that she bought rounds for all of the bar patrons, whom she encountered, added to Jase’s besottedness.
Whenever all reserves containing Bernia’s fairytale were closed, Jase resumed his pursuit of her. That he had no corporeal presence didn’t alarm either of them - their world was full of necromancy.
“Your eyes are more beautiful that cats’ intestines.”
“You flatter me, Sir Voice.”
“If I could but encircle you, you would be better complemented.”
“My chambers … and then the Tinsel Knight from the Southern Mountains rushed at the target, only to get thrown from his mount.” Jase recounted Bernia’s saga until all of the readers, who had newly opened their folios, had shut them, having learned that Bernia failed to wed any noble because she got decapitated by a blue dragon.
“Master Articulator, save me from re-experiencing my horrible destiny. Ravish me, lavish me, tickle me, pickle me, but save me from being visited mortally and eternally by the azure-footed snake.”
“Heartfire, if I could steal you away, we would join highwaymen. We’d spend our nights dogging incompetent rich folks. I’m not sure I would pickle you, though.”
“We could not thieve my parents, the emperor and the empress.”
“We’d never rob royalty. Do you prefer peacock feathers or tickle grass?”
“Tickle grass. So, make manifest! Abscond with me!”
“That’s okay. Meanwhile, my castle’s garden is flush with tickle grass.”
“The grass is no issue. The woe is me. I’ve a bit of an existential crisis.”
“You’re a demon? Not my first choice, but we could make it work.”
“Ma’am, I’m very much a man, with heart, head, pulse, and pole.”
“Present yourself! I abide a saucy fellow.”
“You’ve boasted of ales sucked and of stolen embraces.”
“All true, my lady.”
“…and to break the enchantment?”
“Unachievable…and then the heralds were sent throughout the land to declare the tournament and its prize. Wisely, Emperor Huffnstuff, who had yet to make an alliance with the countryside’s maraudering dragons ….” Much later, Two Blue Dragons’ newest readers closed their laptops.
“I falter from repeated beheadings. If you do not rescue me, you aid my demise.”
“Fair Bernia, that’s not my plan! I would wed thee if only I could find circumvention for this madness.”
“My, such big words you use.”
“You’re becoming mind-numbing. Let the dragon eat me. I can’t believe a great magus bothered taking your body.”
“None tried. The author did.”
“Arthur, the king? He reports to Daddy. I’ll tell him…”
“The author, the storyteller, the being who fashioned you and me.”
“So, you need a cleric, not a spell caster.”
“No, not the Creator, the creator.”
“You are indeed wearisome.”
“I am fatigued. Only ruffians and drunkards trust a man without palpable limbs. Alas, I bid you well. Have a good life and death, again and again. I will return to stealing kisses. Few maidens, including you, ever objected.”
“You trothed your love to me!”
“And the queen had been dead for long years. It felt like centuries that…” Jase narrated until the podcast finished. Afterwards, he returned to his beloved.
“Bernia, Bernia, speak to me!”
“Not if I can’t see you. I determine the mettle of a man by his girth.”
“My metal’s fine. You can touch it. You can touch me. I can touch you. We can touch each other and evoke marvels. Maybe the author will even write of them.”
“Oh, my dimpled dear…”
“Idiot! Stand back! I never want to see you again.”
“You never saw me in the first instance.”
Bernia ran into the night.
As Jase watched his heart shatter, inexplicably and suddenly, he ceased to be the narrator and I was thrust into his place. Needless to say, all copies of Two Blue Dragons went missing.
Much later, in the town’s darkest tavern, fair Bernia spoke, “Jase! You are pleasant to look at. I consent to spend the night with you.”
“Bernia, I wanted to taste your golden hair and to see you golden lair, but you rejected me.”
“How did you know of my lair?”
“I was The Narrator. I knew the entire story. Besides, why else would a blue dragon bite off your head instead of holding you for ransom?”
“My siblings tend toward jealousy. Shall we to bed? You are attractive.”
“No, Princess, I am repulsed.”
“Figured you’d be. Well, we’re outside of your plot, so I, too, can bite off heads.”
Sated, Bernia resumed her human form.
When the revised edition of Two Blue Dragons was printed, it became even more popular than the original.
“And so, on the third day of the tournament, during the jousting competition…” I sing out the required words. My voice grows heavy. Providentially, the story always ends.
Meanwhile, I’ve become acquainted with Bernia. She is rich with coin as well as fair to gaze upon. Perhaps, I could win her favor.
KJ Hannah Greenberg: Never tiring of applying whimsy to pastures where gelatinous wildebeests roam, or of applying solemnity to the soil where fey hedgehogs play, Hannah’s been nominated four times for the Pushcart Prize in Literature, and once for The Best of the Net. Hannah's seventh and newest short fiction collection is Walnut Street (Bards & Sages Publishing. June, 2019).