Dancing Leo

lion

“You walk like a dancing lion! What’s your name, warrior?”
“People call me Leo, mother.”

He felt uneasy in the old crone’s presence. Where did she come from? What is she doing here, in the middle of the grey mountain ridge? Why did she ask his name? Why would anyone ever directly ask another person’s name? The clawed ones can hear it and tear your soul out… Leo shook his head to make the dark thought go away.

“So, you are Leo?” The crone smiled. “I am Lota the Seer, so people call me. It’s no mere coincidence that we have met, oh young warrior who walks like a dancing lion…”
“Are you lost, mother Lota? It’s a bare, evil place, no people live here…”
“Oh, no, they don’t, they don’t. These are the lands of the Dancing Lion. Listen to Lota the Seer, son, go back before it’s too late…”

Old Lota hadn’t been allowed to finish. A golden ray of light fell upon her making the crone collapse on the hard rocky ground of the unnamed ridge. Leo kneeled before her, worried, and touched the dirty robe… only to find out that it was empty. There was no body under the rotten cloth, only bones which had crumbled to dust a moment later.

Leo raised his eyes to look for the source of the golden light. That was when he saw the Dancing Lion.

Oh, he had seen lions before all right, those big shaggy cats with bad temper, called “the kings of beasts” for some reason.

But this “lion” was no lion at all. He looked way too human. His eyes were very human as well, so clever, so indifferent...

The Lion danced in the golden light. The warrior watched, mesmerized, unable to look away. The longer he watched, the more human the Lion became, the more he resembled Leo. The Lion copied his gait first, his dancing gait! Then the beast’s paws changed shape to resemble human hands, warrior’s hands, a bit yellowish, but otherwise totally normal. Finally, his face lost the beastly features.

Leo watched the transformation, unable to stir. After the light had faded he faced his golden twin, no longer the Lion, but another Leo who carried a sword of his own and was clothed in yellow velvet. The twin wore no shoes and had shaggy hair, but otherwise he looked like an ordinary human. The former Lion waved Leo goodbye and left him standing there, alone.

Leo watched him cross Vertel, a little river below the ridge and head east, toward the farmlands.

Only after the yellow dot had disappeared from Leo’s view, he became free from the spell. He shuddered as his gaze fell to his hands, now old and wrinkled like his grandfather’s. He touched his face, he unbuttoned his shirt… Leo was old. The Dancing Lion stole his youth, ate his time, and took his future.

As the horrible despair took over Leo, he remembered that he had heard of Lota the Seer before. She was a great hero of old. But was it really she? Or was it the Dancing Lion again?

Leo knelt on the bare stone and wept, helpless and hopeless. He came to his senses only when he had seen the Moon in the sky, so large and bright among the young evening stars. There was nothing in the world left for him. He could either end what was left of his life or stay there, like Lota did. Who knows how many travellers she saved from the Lion before her hour had struck? Leo decided to do the same.

One thing he knew with a bitter certainty: when his time comes he would need to find someone else to take his place…

(June 19, 2003)

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English is not my native language.
If you see an error or a typo, please, tell me. I will fix it.