The Lion, the Unicorn, and the Dragon
By Jeff Fleischer
“They’re at it again,” one of the messengers yelled, and Alice couldn’t help but feel curious. As she had earlier, she followed the king to the edge of the gathered crowd. Alice could see only a cloud of dust in which the Lion and the Unicorn were fighting for the crown.
The cloud was as hard to see through as ever, with the one fighter’s horn and the other’s tufted tail the only signifiers Alice could make out for much of the battle.
“I suppose they’ll just go at this forever,” she remarked to no one in particular.
“Forever sounds right,” a voice to her right replied. “They’re content to fight for the crown forever, just so long as only the two of them get to fight.”
Alice turned to see the speaker moving to sit beside her, which was a Dragon with bright red skin, horns, and a pair of enormous wings on his back. He had a corkscrew tail with a nub like an arrowhead at the end, and his tongue ended in a similar tip.
Not wanting to be rude, Alice introduced herself.
“Nice to meet you Alice,” the Dragon replied. “Surely you’ve heard of me in your schooling at some point.”
Alice thought for a moment, as the Lion threw the Unicorn to the ground. “I think so,” she said, clearing her throat to recite. “And behold a great red Dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth…”
The Dragon laughed, dribbling small flames from his mouth as he did so. “You’ve mistaken me for someone else. I have but one head and two horns.”
Alice laughed. “Then I’m afraid I’m not familiar with you.”
“It doesn’t matter,” the Dragon said rather sadly.
The two of them sat in silence for some time, watching the combatants fight a few more rounds. The Unicorn ran the Lion through with his horn, and the Lion swatted him away with his paw, but neither seemed to gain the upper hand. Alice soon grew bored watching the endless battle.
“I doubt either deserves the crown,” she said. “They don’t seem very smart.”
The Dragon asked why, and Alice continued. “When I met them, the Unicorn believed me to be a fabulous monster. The Lion could not even classify me as animal, vegetable, or mineral.”
“You’re quite right; neither deserves the crown,” the Dragon replied. “And yet they fight for it all the same. Often the Lion wins, sometimes the Unicorn. They batter and wound each other. For us, little changes but the herald they carry.”
After several more rounds of the fray, the king called for refreshments, and the messengers emerged from the crowd with the familiar loaves of bread.
“The white bread and the brown,” the Dragon said indignantly. He spat on the ground, which briefly caught fire before he stamped it out with his foot. “They would never deign try soda bread, though it bests both.”
“I quite like soda bread,” Alice said. “At least on the day that it’s made. It doesn’t last.”
“The best things rarely do,” the Dragon said, though it seemed as if his mind was elsewhere. “For we are the little folk we. Too little to love or to hate.”
“I’m afraid I don’t know that one,” Alice said.
“Unsurprising,” the Dragon said. “None where you come from know it yet. Or have they long forgotten it?”
“Tell me more of it,” Alice said. “I’d quite like to remember it.”
“I don’t see much point,” the Dragon said. “The Unicorn fears the Lion, and the Lion holds a grudging respect for the Unicorn, but neither gives the red Dragon a second thought. When you retell your adventure today, I imagine those you tell will forget our conversation entirely.”
As they had before, the drums began before Alice could answer him. She dropped to her knees and covered her ears to muffle the noise. “How I wish this commotion would finally drum them out of town,” Alice said, her hands still over her ears.
The Dragon just grinned at her affectionately, and bowed his head. “Me too,” he replied.
Editor’s note: This reprint originally appeared in 2016 in Zoetic Press Non-Binary Review.
Jeff Fleischer is a Chicago-based author, journalist and editor. His fiction has appeared in more than three dozen publications including the Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row Journal, Shenandoah, the Saturday Evening Post and So It Goes by the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library. He is also the author of non-fiction books including “Votes of Confidence: A Young Person’s Guide to American Elections” (Zest Books, 2016), “Rockin’ the Boat: 50 Iconic Revolutionaries” (Zest Books, 2015), and “The Latest Craze: A Short History of Mass Hysterias” (Fall River Press, 2011). He is a veteran journalist published in Mother Jones, the New Republic, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Magazine, Mental_Floss, National Geographic Traveler and dozens of other local, national and international publications.