This was written a few years ago, but I was reminded of it this week while driving across the Yorkshire Dales and thinking of how local stories to explain the landscape come about.. I hope you enjoy this simple tale.
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Once there was a frightened and very fearful dragon. He roared at anything, from a falling leaf, the blowing wind, the falling rain, the bright hot sun and most of all any living thing that came his way. Even those who came to see if they could help, were destroyed. Soon the land around the dragon became a wasteland of fear and destruction and all that was left were some ragged grass, a stunted bush, burnt earth and shatter boulders around the cave in which the dragon had found to hide from the world.
The visitors that passed close by to this land, heard the stories of the dragon, of the fear it instilled in people and such is the way of people, the stories got bigger and more fanciful as the years went by, till all that was remembered was the killing and the destruction by the dragon. And such is the way of people, few would come seeking the dragon. There they would stand, shouting at the dragon, daring him to come out and fight. Such is the way of the ego brave and surely they died in the heat and the jaws of the dragon. Their glory a burnt out shell of nothingness rotting on the earth and stories grew of the lost souls of the poor brave warriors who sort to free the land of the dragon.
And so the legend of the dragon grew, till only those who were driven by the need to prove something about their bravery or ego came to the land. Some stayed as guests of the dragon, never to return, others fled, their own fear adding to the tales.
As for the dragon, he roared at the loneliness of his life, for being what is his lot in life. To those who he sort friendship from, he found only fear, which ignited his own and so their perished, other he found only hatred and so he did what a dragon does. For so strong was his hide that never was a sword or spear made that could even a dent in it.
As the years passed, the dragon grew tired and sorrow of loneliness grew in his soul. With weary tread, he came out to meet the challenges of the few that now came his way. He even held back his flames, half fighting, half goading the knight to find a weak spot and end his life, sometimes he even threw himself on the blades, but naught would end this pain of life.
Then one day on the edge of the land of the dragon, there came a travelling group of searchers, displaced from their own lands by war. Looking for a place to build their community again, they came looking, driven from place to place as other villages closed their doors to the strangers.
The strangers looked at the land before them, there was a gentle slow river, the earth putting forward lush grass and strong trees. Looking at each other, they scanned the horizon for dwellings. Seeing none, they descended into the valley, for here was a place they could make a home.
As none of the villages had talked to them, they knew nothing of the dragon, so this band of travellers set about making a home. Taking only that which was the bare minimum, they felled trees to make houses and fences, yet for each tree felled, they planted two seeds. For these were people who loved the land and all it gave them, so they returned much to the land back.. And so the seasons passed and the travellers grew slowly in number, caring for the land and the place, the valley grew in beauty. And if they sometimes wondered at the lack of passers by or visitors from the nearby villages, they just shrugged and laughed at their loss of paradise.
Then one autumn, a mist fell upon the land, the first frost had iced the hedgerows and a stillness hung in the air that even the birds did not want to break. Listening, the villagers heard something they could not place. Fear started to take a hold of their hearts and yet they could not put a name to it. Each man placed his arms around his family and then it was heard, a scream that tore at every heart… “My child is missing.”
This was no ordinary child, this was the blind one, yet her face was always full of laughter and joy and her presence would lift even the gloom of the weary.
In a rush the whole village lit torches, though they flickered with cold light in the mist and raced to the centre of the village. They talked and shouted, cries filling the air as the grief of the family spread to the other children of the village. Then they looked to the sky for the sun was starting to break through and there they saw the reason for their dread. Upon the sun’s face, was the shadow of the dragon.
The dragon had been a sleep for many a year and now he took to the sky in the joy of flight, his muscles felt alive as the cold air washed away the tiredness of sleep. He laughed at the diamonds of ice that flew from his wings became stars in the light of the sun before falling to earth. He felt the air breath life into him and he realised that for the first time in many a year, no one was trying to kill him.
Then he saw the flickering torches and happiness fell from him and the old fear and dread and loneliness took a hold. Circling he took a look at the land that was beneath him. He saw the earth was still full of crops and fruit yet to be harvested. He saw the gentle lazy smoke rising from the small houses, yet it was the sound that he heard which gripped him, the cries of mankind. Knowing that in the mist, they may be traps set for him, he rose back into the sky and headed for a hill that overlooked the village and there with the rising sun behind him, the dragon landed on the earth.
The villagers stood in wonder, for now they realised why no one came to their village and why this land had been left and the fear of the dragon took their hearts and just as they were about to flee, the voice came out of the mist… “My child is missing.”
The villagers looked at each other and knew this land had a price to pay. So they all gathered something to fight with, no shining blades forged in kingdoms faraway and blessed by priests or magician’s lore. No trusted steed of tales boldly told, bored them and no fanfare blew at their leaving. Yet all took the step and set off towards the hill.
In wonder the dragon saw this and pity was in his heart, for he saw the beauty they had brought to the valley, he admired at their courage and knew the fate that awaited them and he cursed the fate that made him what he was.
Then to his own surprise, a tear fell from his eye. For it was too long since the dragon had thought he had cried his last tear in anger and bitterness. Even as the dragon, was lost in wonder, a small voice was heard that shocked him even more,
“Heh, who is throwing water over me? Not fair!!” and a peal of laughter rang through the air.
Looking down the dragon saw the little girl was curled up on the ground between his feet.
“Ok, own up or I will tell father when I get home!”
Then to the dragon’s surprise, he heard himself say in a low voice,
“Sorry, I never saw you there.”
For he had seen the eyes that saw not the sun and the world.
“That is ok, “ came the laughing reply, “You did me a favour. I came here to watch the sun rise and would have missed it if you had not woken me up.”
Then she threw back her head and laughed harder, “And mother can not shout at me, for I have had a bath as well.”
Back in the valley, the noise of the villagers finding and supporting their courage, meant they never heard the laughter that carried on the morning air, they only saw the dragon on the hillside and knew the child was out there somewhere in danger..
In disbelief, the dragon stood there, the child’s laughter ringing off his scales and hide, his ears hurt and his heart was filled with something he had forgot the name to.
“What are you doing here?”
“I have come to watch the sun rise and to see the valley of my home come alive” came the simple reply.
“But how? For your eyes have not the skill of life to see.”
“Yet I can see. I see the warmth of the light fill the sky and I see it on my face too. I see the life of the valley come alive and see it in my skin too. I hear the wonder of the earth and sky as life comes back to it and I see the darkness of night remove herself to sleep the day away.”
The dragon, looked at the sunrise and knew what she saw, for in his flight he had seen it too
“What and who do you see before you?” the dragon asked.
“A friendly stranger who saw the world as I do. One who is sorry for soaking me, even if it was in error and my fault for being here, when I should have been at home. A stranger who is dressed in jewels, for I hear them dancing as you move and a stranger who is not afraid to walk the hills alone”.
At that moment the shouts and screams of the villagers started to reach the hillside.
“Oh dear, they are angry with me. For I left no note of where I was going and my family must have panicked”, the child cried. “Friend, can you see where they are and let them know I am here and safe, please”.
The dragon looked down at the crowd coming towards him and knew they would not hear. He saw their blades would not hurt him and he knew in defence of his own life, he would kill all those and most of all, the child would die too.
“Child, feel the stone that is by your side and lift it high. That way they can see your strength and know you are fine”.
Laughing, the child did as she was told.
“Hold it steady my friend and remember the wonder”
And before the child could reply, she felt pressure against the stone and a water flowed over her.
“Heh, that is cheating,” she laughed.
But there came no reply. In silence the child wondered, but before she had time to ask, the villagers appeared and swept her up in their arms.
The joy and anger of the villagers was dissolved into laughter as the child was safe.
She held her mother tight and said sorry many times.
âWhere is the friend who was with me?â She asked.
“There was no friend, my child, only a wicked dragon who was going to eat you and us”
“No mother, you are wrong. I saw him and he was a lonely friend who saw the sunrise as I did. He told me to hold a stone up high so you could see my strength and that I was alive. Then he bathed me again.”
The villagers were silent.
“My darling child, the stone was his claw and as you held it, he pressed it into his own heart. He bathed you in his tears of pain and blood.”
“But mother, I heard only laughter. Where is he? Mother, I must go to him for he must be hurting.” And with that she tried to jump from her mother’s arms.
Ashamed of the child’s courage, the villagers turned to where the dragon had stood. There was nothing, only a spring of clear water flowing from the hillside and red roses.
“He is here, mother, I can still see and hear him.”
“His laughter is still dancing in the air, his scent fills the air, look for him mother please.”
Then the mother saw a old man lying behind some rocks, rushing towards him, the child followed. As the villagers gathered round, they saw his eyes were fading and a dark stain was on his chest.
“Let me bless the child who saw the man”
And with the blind child by his side, the man faded into the earth and sun.
In the years that followed, many returned to the land of the dragon and many of the horror tales lived on, but in one village, these tales were never told. And every morning they looked to the hillside and if the sun was shining, they saw the laughter of the dragon in the rainbows in waterfall which now fell from the spring. For the village was blessed with fertile earth and the spring never dried, even when drought took the river and each day they gave thanks to the legend of the blind girl who saw.
a story of how a landscape may have it’s own oral history