An episode went live before it should have, so there are two Dunsany fragments this month
This tale is told in the balconies of Belgrave Square and among the towers of Pont Street; men sing it at evening in the Brompton Road.
Little upon her eighteenth birthday thought Miss Cubbidge, of Number 12A Prince of Wales’ Square, that before another year had gone its way she would lose the sight of that unshapely oblong that was so long her home. And, had you told her further that within that year all trace of that so-called square, and of the day when her father was elected by a thumping majority to share in the guidance of the destinies of the empire, should utterly fade from her memory, she would merely have said in that affected voice of hers, “Go to!”
There was nothing about it in the daily Press, the policy of her father’s party had no provision for it, there was no hint of it in conversation at evening parties to which Miss Cubbidge went: there was nothing to warn her at all that a loathsome dragon with golden scales that rattled as he went should have come up clean out of the prime of romance and gone by night (so far as we know) through Hammersmith, and come to Ardle Mansions, and then had turned to his left, which of course brought him to Miss Cubbidge’s father’s house.
There sat Miss Cubbidge at evening on her balcony quite alone, waiting for her father to be made a baronet. She was wearing walking-boots and a hat and a low-necked evening dress; for a painter was but just now painting her portrait and neither she nor the painter saw anything odd in the strange combination. She did not notice the roar of the dragon’s golden scales, nor distinguish above the manifold lights of London the small, red glare of his eyes. He suddenly lifted his head, a blaze of gold, over the balcony; he did not appear a yellow dragon then, for his glistening scales reflected the beauty that London puts upon her only at evening and night. She screamed, but to no knight, nor knew what knight to call on, nor guessed where were the dragons’ overthrowers of far, romantic days, nor what mightier game they chased, or what wars they waged; perchance they were busy even then arming for Armageddon.
Out of the balcony of her father’s house in Prince of Wales’ Square, the painted dark-green balcony that grew blacker every year, the dragon lifted Miss Cubbidge and spread his rattling wings, and London fell away like an old fashion. And England fell away, and the smoke of its factories, and the round material world that goes humming round the sun vexed and pursued by time, until there appeared the eternal and ancient lands of Romance lying low by mystical seas.
You had not pictured Miss Cubbidge stroking the golden head of one of the dragons of song with one hand idly, while with the other she sometimes played with pearls brought up from lonely places of the sea. They filled huge haliotis shells with pearls and laid them there beside her, they brought her emeralds which she set to flash among the tresses of her long black hair, they brought her threaded sapphires for her cloak: all this the princes of fable did and the elves and the gnomes of myth. And partly she still lived, and partly she was one with long-ago and with those sacred tales that nurses tell, when all their children are good, and evening has come, and the fire is burning well, and the soft pat-pat of the snowflakes on the pane is like the furtive tread of fearful things in old, enchanted woods. If at first she missed those dainty novelties among which she was reared, the old, sufficient song of the mystical sea singing of faery lore at first soothed and at last consoled her. Even, she forgot those advertisements of pills that are so dear to England; even, she forgot political cant and the things that one discusses and the things that one does not, and had perforce to content herself with seeing sailing by huge golden-laden galleons with treasure for Madrid, and the merry skull-and-cross-bones of the pirateers, and the tiny nautilus setting out to sea, and ships of heroes trafficking in romance or of princes seeking for enchanted isles.
It was not by chains that the dragon kept her there, but by one of the spells of old. To one to whom the facilities of the daily Press had for so long been accorded spells would have palled—you would have said—and galleons after a time and all things out-of-date. After a time. But whether the centuries passed her or whether the years or whether no time at all, she did not know. If anything indicated the passing of time it was the rhythm of elfin horns blowing upon the heights. If the centuries went by her the spell that bound her gave her also perennial youth, and kept alight for ever the lantern by her side, and saved from decay the marble palace facing the mystical sea. And if no time went by her there at all, her single moment on those marvellous coasts was turned as it were to a crystal reflecting a thousand scenes. If it was all a dream, it was a dream that knew no morning and no fading away. The tide roamed on and whispered of mastery and of myth, while near that captive lady, asleep in his marble tank the golden dragon dreamed: and a little way out from the coast all that the dragon dreamed showed faintly in the mist that lay over the sea. He never dreamed of any rescuing knight. So long as he dreamed, it was twilight; but when he came up nimbly out of his tank night fell and starlight glistened on the dripping, golden scales.
There he and his captive either defeated Time or never encountered him at all; while, in the world we know, raged Roncesvalles or battles yet to be—I know not to what part of the shore of Romance he bore her. Perhaps she became one of those princesses of whom fable loves to tell, but let it suffice that there she lived by the sea: and kings ruled, and Demons ruled, and kings came again, and many cities returned to their native dust, and still she abided there, and still her marble palace passed not away nor the power that there was in the dragon’s spell.
And only once did there ever come to her a message from the world that of old she knew. It came in a pearly ship across the mystical sea; it was from an old school-friend that she had had in Putney, merely a note, no more, in a little, neat, round hand: it said, “It is not Proper for you to be there alone.”
I hope you’ll pardon that this isn’t statted up: the dragon has the basic form, however beautifully described, and has the power Spirit Away, which allows it to steal humans and shift them into faerie.
When I was reviewing stories for the podcast, I didn’t think this one had much promise. I was going to merge it with The Magic Window and throw it away later in the sequence. Dan Casar, one of the Patreons, mentioned something on Twitter: an arch in Malta with a regione of Atlanteans behind it, and it clicked somehow with this story, and gave me a way to use it with a little more depth, even though it has nothing to do with Atlanteans or Malta. Thanks, Dan!
There is no rule which indicates that Aura scores need to be positive. The way we often talk about the Divine and Infernal in Ars Magica often describes them as opposites, and effectively makes the Infernal a negative Divine. This is a heresy in Mythic Europe: God does not have an opposite in Satan. Satan is even, technically, the adversary of Man. God is so vastly powerful that calling him the adversary of God is like calling a head louse your adversary. Mechanically, however, Hell is the furthest place from Heaven. If you are a Holy Magus, in some mathematical sense, Infernal auras are negative Divine auras.
My insight for this story was this: there’s no rule that says Faerie Aura scores need to be positive numbers. It is possible that there are places behind and underneath Mythic Europe that are more mundane than Mundane, and so if you wanted to include places like Victoria’s Empire, you’d merely need to state that they come from a level less magical, less romantic, less mythic, than an Aura of zero provides.
Now, within that place. faeries would be rare and weaker, but in specific situations it might be possible for a faerie to nip into that place and spirit away the few fragments of enchantment that remain. Miss Cubbidge is an attractive young woman, on the verge of adulthood, being painted at twilight, in a Romantic manner, by an artist with Free Expression. The dragon, which must have extraordinary Might, dips into her realm to take her to Arcadia.
In this story it takes her to Arcadia: in your own campaign, it could just leave her in Mythic Europe. This allows you to play characters from other genres, like Steampunk, and allows your magi to travel outside their genre, by going ot the places with negative Faerie Auras. There is some question as to if Magic also has negative layers. This is likely true if the Criamon cosmology about Time being an upward spiral has any merit. That’s covered a little in the books of the line, so I won’t go into detail about it here.
The dragon steals away Miss Cubbidge, and what happens to her is illustrative of what may happen to magi who fail to complete the Mystery of Becoming, which makes a person into a faerie (arguably) while allowing them to retain human personality, memory and volition. Miss Cubbidge, a bit like Peter Pan, has a damaged memory. He forgets the people he kills, she forgets the mundanities of the previous world: patent medicines of her home, and the details of political causes.
The dragon emerges in Hammersmith which, as Neil Gaiman notes, may have a relationship to Wayland the Smith. Miss Cubbidge lives on Prince of Wales Street, and the symbol of Wales is the dragon.
Miss Cubbidges father is becoming a baronet. Baronets don’t exist in Mythic Europe. They were invented by James I, as the lowest level of nobility. The role was not inherited, and was purchased by the rising middle class. Miss Cubbidge is stepping into the role of a noblewoman, but does not know any “true” knights, or any other method to defend herself from dragons.
The lands of Romance are the parts of Faerie people tell stories about, so, Arcadia.
The haliotis shells filled with pearls are mentioned are abalone or ormer. They are coated with mother of pearl on their internal side, giving an oily, prismatic appearance suitable for Imaginem vis. Their name means “sea ear”, which refers to their shape. . This is important because in this story the sea is teaching Miss Cubbidge Faerie Lore via Exposure, by whispering its knowledge. She may or may not need the sea ears to learn. Characters taking the sea ears home may be able to study from them by listening to the whispering of the sea within the shells. Also, I like both Aquam magic an puns, so I like the idea of a player character seeking out a seer, but instead finding a se ear, then being disappointed until they learn the sea itself can predict future events.
The dreams fo the dragon that she can see seem to be linked with the real world, or at least the literary world. The pirate flag described is not a flag often used in the real world. When the nautilus sails,, does it mean the tiny paper nautilus, with its shell and tentacles, or the submarine of Jules Verne? The characters can learn from the dreams of the dragon, but perhaps only the odd faerie lore of the weakly enchanted places.
As a player, however, the dreams of the dragon allow stories from outside Mythis Europe to escape into the game setting, carried in the brains of the player characters. A visual representation of a literary source is a movie. The dragon might be able to show you Lord ofthe Rings, or the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Faeries in Mythic Europe can then read the stories from the characters, or from those they tell them to, and take the forms of characters from our literary tradition.
Miss Cubbidge is locked in a cycle of twilight and night, and is either ageless or is in a place that is timeless. Events occur, so from a game perspective she is progressing through seasons, but she does not seem to care about events. Princes come and go, kings fall and demons rise, then they fall and kings rule again. She may find the changes in this cycle uncomfortable enough to seek allies in Mythic Europe, offering some of her enormous treasure, the chance to study the wisdom of the sea, or the opportunity to watch the dreams of the dragon to the magicians.
I’m not sure what the part about the pearl ship from Putney comes from. English listeners: write in! The note makes it clear she is transgressing a social boundary.
Miss Cubbidge may be a pet or a muse for the dragon, but there’s also the possibility that this is how the creatures from Deep Faerie recruit agents to go into the places with negative Auras, to spirit away the few scraps of enchantment. If that’s the case then this whole story is background for her character, and underlies her Virtue selections.