Disclaimer: Mary Howitt provided the framework; K. A. Applegate provided the impetus and the setting; various other people who shall remain nameless provided the unexpected topicality. All I did was write the thing.


The brown-backed dreth (pronounced "DRAYTH") has acquired a lasting place in Illaman folklore from its habit of lining the upper tunnels of its lair with a pheromone that mimics its own smell when near death. This lures such scavengers as the chorkant ("jor-GANT") into its lair, where the dreth easily subdues and devours them.

In times past, because the chorkant was best known for the healing resin it exuded (hence its name, which in Illaman means "little physician"), it was popularly thought that chorkants were attracted to dreths' lairs by the prospect of healing dreths that they believed to be injured. This belief inspired a number of fables and morality tales, of which the song that follows is by far the most celebrated.

.❦.

"Won't you step into my lair, sir?" said the dreth to the chorkant.
"Don't say that you'll deny me; by the Merciful, you can't!
My babes lie gravely wounded in their chamber far below;
They need your healing unction, or they'll perish from the blow!"
"Good madam," said the kind chorkant, "I fear you tell me lies.
An hour ago, I saw your babes with these my own four eyes."

"Indeed, 'twas only lately," said the dreth to the chorkant,
"That my poor darlings went to play beneath a lusor plant.
You know what lusor mites are like – how deep their pincers tear…
Oh, come down quickly, lest my darlings die for lack of care!"
"Good madam," said the kind chorkant, "uncertain I remain
That, if I step inside your lair, I'll ever leave again."

"What would you have me answer?" said the dreth to the chorkant.
"You won't let ancient prejudices keep you adamant?
Our kinds have had their differences, and maybe mine's to blame,
But aren't my babes' lives worth more than the odor on their name?"
"Good madam," said the kind chorkant, "alas, I must decline.
Whoever's flesh you taste today, I vow it won't be mine."

"Go on, then!" said the dreth in tears. "Go on your merry way!
Live, and remember all your life the thing you've done today!
When you've a larva of your own, who fills your heart with pride,
Think of those other little ones whose lives you once denied!
But never mind, I'll say no more; why should I think you'll care?
Go!" and she fled, still sobbing, to the darkness of her lair.

Then the chorkant was conscience-struck, and long he stood and thought.
Supposing he'd denied the dreth a boon she truly sought?
Perhaps this wasn't one more of her race's cunning traps;
Perhaps she truly needed him to heal her babes; perhaps…
A noble impulse seized him, and he took a leap of faith,
And thrust his slender form into the tunnels of the dreth.

– Whereat the latter sprang at him, impaled him on her sting
Through thorax and through abdomen, and shred his nearer wing.
"Poor fool!" she cried. "Poor simple fool! Your kind will never learn;
A hundred times we spoil you, and a thousand you return!
Know, doctor, that compassion without wisdom's but a cheat;
Then cease to know, and cease to breathe – and then my babes will eat!"

With that, she clambered downward with the meat that she had stung,
And served the luscious morsel to her quite unwounded young.
And so I say to each of you of kind and suppliant will,
Who scarcely can believe that even devils wish you ill:
When you are moved, your adversary's piteous plea to grant,
Recall to mind this fable of the dreth and the chorkant.