The Manticore and The Sphinx

Dawn in the desert. The sun burned on the far edge of the world while the rocks of the great tombs stayed cold. Out from the north, across the open wastes, the Manticore came padding to the valley where his love the Sphinx dwelt.

He made no noise as he crossed the sand. Even his lying mouth was stopped up. He clutched a rose in that twisted maw, unmindful of the thorns.

This delicate rose, gray in the half-light, was laid at his lover’s feet. He sidled close, tangling as only cats can tangle when they relax in an embrace, and he whispered in her fair ear.

“There… you see the rose grow redder with the ruddy light? In a moment it will die, for it is not made for the wastes like these. This moment, its beauty is at its peak. The petals open, one by one… No other dance is so subtle. See how fragile? As rare and lovely as the fabled frost in motion. It comes from the garden of the King In The Desert. It was his only rose. I took it. It is my gift to you. Will you tell me now the answer to your riddle, the secret about the end of the world?”

The Sphinx, the keeper of mysteries, said nothing. The Sphinx believed that her claws were a melody of flesh when she moved, and that her tresses and neck were the lyrics. She didn’t like the dance of the dying rose, or any dance but her own. His gift did not please her. Her Grace was her answer.

“I’ll come again,” promised the Manticore.

Noon in the desert. The sun was high. Lizards scampered in the shadows of the tombs, because the sun was too hot for mortal things.

On came the Manticore out of the north. His evil mouth was stopped with a white lamb. He carried it delicately. The legs kicked and the back twisted, but it could not escape his maw.

The lamb was stunned and too afraid to run when it was released at the foot of the Manticore’s professed love.

He took a bite from its throat. With his mouth still bloody, he tried to insinuate into the Sphinx’s embrace. She held him away with a paw, and he had to stretch his neck to whisper near the fair ear.

“See the red of its life blood, steaming and boiling in the sun. The legs kick. Its life is flowing away. This moment it will die, and this moment is rare. There will never be another creature with a fleece so pure. It comes from the wedding of the King In The Desert. It was a gift from beyond the sand and sea. All the world pays tribute to him, and this was the most treasured prize. Yet, it is a better gift for you. I took it, and brought to die here. Will you tell me now? Your secret, the answer to your riddle about the end of the world?”

The Sphinx imagined that her own coat was like gold. She stood. She shook off the Manticore to rejoice in the power of the sun’s embrace. She didn’t like the lamb’s white coat, or any coat but her own. Her Indifference was her answer.

“I’ll come again,” promised the Manticore.

In evening, as the sun fell and the first stars were peeping out of their purple shroud, the Manticore came from the north with his final prize in his twisted mouth. It was a wriggling man, crying for mercy. The Manticore dropped him at the feet of his intended bride.

“Night is coming to the world. The myths of the morning are fading. I fear our days are ending. So I come with a man. He lies here naked. He lies here broken. But this is no ordinary man. I bring you for your own enjoyment, the very King In The Desert. I took him from his palace, from his cool garden, where all the world pays him tribute. He is my gift for you to kill however you please. Now, I beg for an answer to your riddle about the end of the world.”

The rose was gone. Dried to dust. The dance of the Sphinx's neck and tresses were the only thing graceful in the wastes. Besides, the Manticore lied. It was one rose among thousands.

Ravaged by jackals and scattered by winds, the even lamb’s bones couldn’t be found in the wastes. There was no fleece to admire in the desert beside the Sphinx’s own. Besides, the Manticore lied. It was one lamb among thousands.

And this king. A naked man who was scratching in the sand. A human in speechless awe of the figures of Myth that he himself created. He was simply one among the thousands in her valley of tombs. Her eyes had no bottoms as they looked at his gift. They were deep as the tombs in her valley. This was her answer. Graceful, indifferent and profound. This was her secret.

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