Friday, May 18, 2012

Story of the Week: The Unicorn Dilemma

Lamia (1905),
John William Waterhouse.
Ronald Ferguson's "The Unicorn Dilemma" from the March 2012 issue of puts a new twist on dragon hunting. The story begins with mention of sacrificing a virgin to the forest dragon and then we see MaryLynn, wearing a white dress with a red rose in her lap, sitting on a log. A manacle binds her wrist to an oak, but something is not quite right. "With a deft squeeze of her hand, she slipped the iron from her hand, massaged her wrist, and then restored the bond." A unicorn comes through the woods, nervously approaches MaryLynn, and bows its head for her to stroke. The arrival of a knight frightens away the unicorn. MaryLynn resumes her place and patiently waits to be liberated, but it appears the knight plans to liberate the manacled virgin of something else.

She arched an eyebrow, smiled, and said to the knight, "I suppose you are here to slay the dragon and save the virgin."

The knight stepped forward, peeled off his gloves, and loosened his tunic to reveal his chainmail shirt. "Actually, I have a completely different strategy in mind." He let the gloves drop to the ground and pulled at the waistband that bound his tunic.

A blast of dragon breath puts an end to the knight's quest and his super-heated armor roasts him to a crunchy morsel. MaryLynn is no damsel in distress.

King Wilhelm, who has lost a few knights to the forest dragon, finds Sir George's story difficult to believe.

"You say that the forest dragon is actually a girl who lures knights to their death. She sounds more like a witch to me."

"She is no witch," George said. He hated these sessions at the royal court. The solitude of the open countryside suited him much better. "She is at times a girl, a gentle, beautiful girl at that. At other times, she is a dragon, an impressive, ferocious dragon, thrice the size of a warhorse. But she casts no spells nor brews any potions."

When questioned further George admits that he heard about the damsel/dragon from a unicorn. King Wilhelm commands George, who has already slain three dragons, to take care of the forest dragon, no matter what it is. George carries no armor to his confrontation with MaryLynn, only a poniard. "'Each dragon requires its own approach,'" he tells a squire.

I won't tell you exactly how George defeats the dragon. He enlists the unicorn to stab at MaryLynn's weakness with a weapon far more powerful than steel. The battle between the dragon intent on slaying knights and the knight intent on slaying dragons is a study in opposites: love versus hate and trust versus mistrust. Ferguson deviates from dragon lore--MaryLynn appears to have no hoard of shiny things, only a taste for knights--but pulls off an entertaining tale with unexpected twists. I'm left wondering what's going to happen when the dragon gets hungry again.

To learn more about Ronald Ferguson and his writing, check out his website at

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