Many, many years ago, trouble came to the high mountain kingdom of Gakkal. The tyrant Ngodup, hoping to reduce the people to serfdom, stormed through the gates with his army and seized the throne, exiling the rightful king to a cave some way down the mountain.
The old king, Asim-Himal, still cared for his people, even though he was living in conditions rather like theirs: a damp cave for a home and nothing but leaves and berries to eat. Not daring to go to Gakkal, he sent his favourite bird, Danfe, to see what was going on. “Maybe Ngodup will be a better king than I was, Danfe. Maybe the people are happier with him.”
But they were not. Danfe brought back news of Ngodup’s greed and cruelty: anything the people had that he liked, he took. And not just furniture and jewellery. He took the prettiest girls, the best blacksmiths, the most creative cooks and imprisoned them all in the palace until he needed them. Everywhere, Danfe had seen the long faces, the ragged clothes and the emaciated bodies of people from whom everything has been taken. At the gateway to Gakkal there now stood a statue of Ngodup, made of the melted-down gold of the people. Welded into his hand was a sword from the royal treasury, the mightiest weapon in Gakkal, known as the Sword of the Dragon.
When Asim-Himal heard this, he wept. “It’s so sad, Danfe, it’s so sad! What can I do for my kingdom?”
Danfe replied, “I, my lord, do not know. But as I was flying back from Gakkal, I saw a holy man sitting outside his cave, meditating in a cloud of incense. He was only a young man but already his beard reached his chest. When he saw me, he came to himself and waved to me. He knows what has happened and he knows what we must do.”
“Danfe, " replied the king. “I think you may be right. Take me to the Holy Man.”
And Danfe led the way, flying ahead of the old king like a piece of a rainbow. After some time, the stony path led them to the cave of the holy man.
“I salute you, trickster, saviour and king!” called out the holy man as they drew near. Asim-Himal, convinced he was not really any of those things, letting his people down as he felt he was, was about to contradict him but Danfe landed on his shoulder and he found he didn’t dare.
“I salute you, Holy Man,” replied the king.
“I will tell you how to get rid of Ngodup. Come inside.”
And Asim-Himal, with Danfe still on his shoulder, followed the Holy Man into the cave.
Years later, the happy kingdom of Gakkal was under the reign of Asim-Rai, grandson of Asim-Himal. He was a good king and a kind one; everyone had enough to eat, a place to sleep, a sense of pride but not too much, a sense of community in which individuals were valued. The rainbow bird, Danfe, was long gone but he had given his name to a whole species and a new Danfe was now at court. There was just one fly in the Gakkalian ointment. On the terraces below the city, where the farmers grew their crops, a dragon had come to live in the old cave once inhabited by Asim-Himal. Chickens and goats had so far satisfied the dragon’s appetite but he had now exhausted the supply of livestock and the lives of the terrace farmers were in danger. Asim-Rai knew it was up to him to get rid of the dragon. He had heard about the Sword of the Dragon and was ready to harness all his regal courage and defend the farmers. The sword, however, was still part of Ngodup’s statue.
Asim-Rai sent the royal goldsmith to dismantle the statue and went to preside over parliament. But just as he was about to announce the beginning of the session, the most cacophonic screaming rent the air of Gakkal. It was the statue, which had cried out in pain as the goldsmith started to saw at it. The noise brought everyone from his house and soon the streets were filled with horrified Gakkalians, holding their ears. The king, too, ran out from parliament and followed the noise to the city gate where he found the terrified goldsmith, his saw at his feet where he had dropped it.
“Whatever in the world is happening?” asked Asim-Rai.
The statue stopped screaming.
“Finally. The “king,”" it sneered.
Asim-Rai sent the goldsmith back into the city and turned to face the statue. “You vile thing!” said the king. “The Sword of the Dragon is mine! You’re only a statue; a statue we left here as a reminder of how terrible things were here under Ngodup, a reminder to be grateful it is not like that now.”
“Things were not terrible under Ngodup,” replied the statue. “I, for one, enjoyed that time very much. I had a beautiful palace to live in and everything I wanted! Yes, it was a fine time…and you shall not have this sword.”
You have probably guessed, as Asim-Rai now did, that Ngodup’s spirit had gone into the statue when Asim-Himal tricked and killed him two generations ago. Asim-Rai now faced the same challenge Asim-Himal had faced. Asim-Rai may not have had the restraint of exile but he had the good sense to hold back. He needed to go home and decide what to do. He took control of his temper and simply said to the statue, “Is that so?” and came away.
Once at the palace, he went immediately to his own rooms and Danfe came immediately to perch next to him. “What am I to do, Danfe?” he said in despair. “I cannot let the statue keep the sword -that would mean leaving the farmers to the dragon.”
Danfe thought for a moment. “Well, your majesty,” the revered bird replied, “if Asim-Himal got rid of the Ngodup who made the statue, you can get rid of the Ngodup who is in the statue.”
The king spread his hands in confusion. “But no one knows what my grandfather did.”
“You don’t. But someone does. The other birds say that the holy man told him how to trick Ngodup.”
“But we do not have a holy man.”
“Yes we do, your majesty, not far down the mountain from here. I have often flown past his cave and he has always come out of his meditation to wave to me. I think we should pay him a visit.”
Later that day, Asim-Rai and Danfe set off for the cave of the holy man.
“I salute you, trickster, saviour and king!” called out the holy man as they drew near. Asim-Rai, convinced he was not truly any of those things, letting his people down as he felt himself to be doing, was about to contradict him but Danfe landed on his shoulder and he found he didn’t dare.
“I salute you, Holy Man,” replied the king.
“I will tell you how to get rid of Ngodup. Come inside.”
And Asim-Rai, with Danfe still on his shoulder, followed the Holy Man into the cave.
The next day, Gakkal awoke to a great procession. All the court was out in great array: the musicians in ceremonial uniforms led the way, blowing their horns and sounding their drums; horses were next, ridden by the finest equestrians Gakkal could offer; thirdly, the king himself, carried in a gold litter and last of all, the highest ranking officials carrying the most highly prized items from the treasury. They passed right through the city and out through the gate to where the statue of Ngodup stood.
“Spirit of Ngodup!” began Asim-Rai, “I have come to buy the Sword of the Dragon from you! See the wonders from the royal treasury I have brought you.”
Nogdup’s spirit, ever greedy, was quite taken by the jewels the officials were carrying.
“Spirit of Nogdup, what say you?”
The statue started to think but greed took over.
“Is that the best you can do?” it said. “The treasury of Gakkal is the richest in these parts. What you have brought me is not enough.”
“Oh!” said Asim-Rai, mildly. “Pray forgive my underestimation. Would you have me bring the Jewel of the Sun? It is the biggest diamond in Gakkal.”
“You must bring me the Jewel of the Sun. But that will not be enough.”
“Oh!” said Asim-Rai, mildly. “Pray forgive my underestimation. Would you have me bring the Stone of the Mountain? It is the biggest emerald in Gakkal.”
“You must bring me the Stone of the Mountain. But that will not be enough.”
“Oh!” said Asim-Rai, mildly. “Pray forgive my underestimation. Would you have me bring the Eye of the Dragon? It is the biggest ruby in Gakkal.”
“You must bring me the Eye of the Dragon. That might be enough. I will not know until I see it.”
“Very well,” the king replied. “But that is not so easy. You have the sword that I must use to release the Eye of the Dragon from its keeping-place. You must know how the Sword of the Dragon got its name.”
Blind with avarice, the statue agreed. Ngodup’s spirit could not resist the promise of so much treasure. Ngodup had been into the treasury long ago when he was alive and he had seen its splendours but now, jewel-lust and time prevented him from remembering exactly what he had seen there.
“May take the sword?” asked the king.
“Take it, take it!” insisted the statue.
The king gave the signal to the goldsmith who started again to cut the statue. But, just as before, the statue let out a great scream that rent the air of Gakkal.
“Spirit of Ngodup, honoured statue, we are hurting you,” said the king. “This need not go on. You may keep your sword and I will keep my treasure.”
“No!” said the desperate statue. “Wait! There must be a way.”
“Well,” said the king, still very mildly. “If you will let the goldsmith remove your head, the removal of the sword will give you no pain.”
“Anything! Anything!” said the greedy statue. Then it hesitated. “How do I know you will replace my head again?”
A little glint came into the king’s eyes, but maybe it was just sunlight reflecting off the golden statue. “I swear on the Eye of the Dragon, the biggest ruby in Gakkal.”
“Very well,” replied the statue. “The goldsmith may proceed.”
The goldsmith sawed the head off the statue. Then he sawed off the hand holding the sword and gave the sword to the king. The king took the sword away to do battle with the dragon who was terrorising the farmers. The Sword of the Dragon’s magic filled his heart with the courage and his body with the strength to fight all through the night and, when the sun came up, it was to shine on victorious Asim-Rai standing over the body of the dragon.
As for the statue, well, it never was put back together. The Eye of the Dragon, the biggest ruby in Gakkal, had never existed and Asim-Rai had sworn nothing. The vessel of Ngodup was melted down and made into gold coins which were given back to the people. Ngodup’s work was completely undone and Gakkal and its people prospered for evermore. And, at last, Asim-Rai knew how his grandfather had tricked the evil usurper.
Only virtuous people get to have their wits about them!
I am aware that this could be developed quite a lot more but it already has a blistering word count of nearly-2000 so I’ll save it until I get a publishing deal and the hang of epic poetry!