The Problem of the Serpent

By Teel James Glenn (Different Directions teacher)

The problem of the serpent caused quite a dilemma.

“It is a soul-devouring beast,” the saintly looking Abbess said. She pointed at the writhing serpent that splashed in the lake a hundred yards from the   becalmed little ferryboat. “Such creatures feed on the wicked and convey them to the Ephimidal Pits; so say the sacred scrolls.”

“A Soul Devourer?” young Erique asked. He held tight to a lashing rope, already afraid of the vastness of Lake Kindree before the Serpent had appeared. “Why is it swimming around us like that?”

Why indeed, the passengers on the boat wondered. The great-scaled creature had appeared as the winds died, and it begun long, slow circles about the tiny craft. Its great flat snake-like head tilted this way and that, always keeping the boat fixedly in its gaze

So far it had rounded the craft three times, sometimes wavering inward from the circumference as if it had decided to consume the boat, just as quickly darting back to circle some more.

“It must be chased away or destroyed.” The General, joining the Abbess and the boy at the bow said, “Don’t you know some incantation we can use, Reverend Mother?”

He cracked opened one of the contraband rum kegs that were sharing the voyage with them and took a large swig.

The Abbess drew herself to as full a height as the gentle swaying of the boat would permit and said, “I am the twenty-third High Abbess. I do not concern myself with such details of practice as prayers and incantations. I guide my flock’s spiritual and moral life.”

“Prayer don’t do ye no good no how,” the Captain said from the tiller. “Yonder beast wants flesh for supper.”

“He’ll not get my flesh,” the General said drawing his great sword. “No devil-sent worm will find me cheap in the taking.” His battle-nicked blade caught the light and blazed reflectively.

“Valour will not win us free of this beast,” the Abbess said solemnly. “We must use cunning.”

“Cunning, Reverend Mother?” Erique asked, “What can we do?”

He had asked many questions of the Abbess during the voyage, spiritual and otherwise, having traveled little from his father’s small farm holdings in Umbria.

“Aye, Priest,” the Captain said. “I’ve no way to outrun that thing even if the wind come back. And it looks hungrier by the moment.”

It was true. The fearsome beast’s agitation seemed to be increasing, its great headmoving from side to side, and its many-segmented body undulating more rapidly.

“It will leave us be,” the Abbess proclaimed with pious certainty, “if we make a sacrifice to it. Of someone.”

The other three in the boat stared at her and then looked at the serpent’s gleaming fangs.

“I’d like to see one of you lubbers handle this tack,” the Captain said with a nervous laugh.

“And I’ll spit the first one of you that moves toward me,” the General said, in a brave voice. .

Young Erique looked at his companions, who as one turned to look at him. “But-uh-I-ah,” he protested.

“Do not resist the Fates, boy,” the Abbess said calmly. “The will of the High Ones is manifest through their servants, so it is written.”

“But I don’t want to die.”

“The General must lead his troops in the coming war. Our Captain Order. You simply have less value than we do, Boy.”

Erique looked confused and hurt.

“I have to be on the line by nightfall,” the General declared. “Does this sacrifice have to go into the water live?”

Erique grabbed his bundle of possessions, clutching them to his chest.

“Now, Boy, do not be selfish,” the Reverend Mother said calmly. “Why not leave your belongings to the poor?”

The General stepped toward Erique, his sword still unsheathed. Erique held up a hand that halted him.

“I am too young to argue with the will of the All Highs,” the boy said, “but I think you are all still too young to interpret that will.”

With those words the boy leapt into the water and the problem of the serpent was solved, for now the Serpent could consume the tasty wicked souls and flesh of the three in the boat and leave the far too pure and bland soul of the boy to ripen in the world of man.

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