I saw you first in the dance, the bright flame to which I was drawn, helplessly fluttering. I saw him first as my enemy, a rival. We were both young, strong, manly: we locked glares across the torchlight while you twirled out of reach. When the dance stopped we reached your side together. You laughed and took his hand as the music started once more, but your eyes watched me over his shoulder to tease me with your choice.
I struggled through the brambles to your house, and heard him crashing stubbornly through behind me. You gave us wine, admiration, the gift of your gaze; you set us tasks. You flirted, but we never knew which of us you preferred. I was the first to return with the tree’s teeth, the hound’s crystal bell, the sparkling dust from the floating stones; he brought the giant’s shoehorn, the malachite harp and the blood of the wayward knight. We fought, shoulder to shoulder, the bristled, sinuous creature which guarded the grotto, and staggered back together with the sacred pestle, jewelled and heavy with gold. Our blades became strange and scintillating, bathed in blood and ichor and spider-silk. I never knew what enchantments you wove with our trophies. It didn’t seem to matter.
By then we were brothers, fellow captives. We beat our wings against your indifference, and were burned. For you we overcame the doughtiest foes – the invisible basilisk, the earthquake owl, the twelve shrieking ghost-damsels escorted ruthlessly back to you while we spelled each other in wincing, ear-stoppered shifts – and in reward you allowed us to touch your fingers, no more. We would have it no other way.
But our quest was always for this eventual respite. Our wings are dusty, now; that last tangle with the thorned phoenix left us tattered and lame. And tonight I watch you shine in the dance, while the eager young chevaliers challenge each other, drawn inexorably inward in hopeless rivalry, fuelled by desire. I hope they are strong and determined. We have taught you to demand much, and have it fulfilled.
Outside the glittering circle we flutter our wings in the darkness, and hope only to be allowed to alight for a moment on your fingers one last time. Perhaps you will pause for a careless instant of gratitude or even tenderness before we are burned utterly away. It will be enough. We ask for no more.