ERY LATE THE NEXT MORNING, Xandra the donkey gave up standing between the shaves of the cart waiting to be harnessed and wandered off to graze on the tufts of weed that grew near the quiet campsite. Soft moans issued from beneath the draped canopy tent but they did not seem to indicate pain. It was not, in fact, until the next day that they moved their campsite.
Over the next several days, the campsite moved less frequently and shorter distances.
As the traveling trio progressed along the dessert road, laughter, singing, the playing of the dragonslayer’s whistle, and the ringing of bells that the gypsy wove into Xandra’s mane accompanied them. There may have been other travelers that they passed on this sparsely traveled road, but they were as quickly forgotten as they were encountered. At night, Selah and Steven would spend hours staring into each other’s eyes before they joined together to dance and play music. As often as not, they tumbled into bed with the music still echoing from the nearing mountains.
The mountains themselves seemed strange to Steven. They smoked.
For all his life, Steven had seen the mountain of the dragon from his village where belches of smoke would occasionally burst forth. It had been across the wide river in the distance. He knew that at last he was approaching his dragon. As the days progressed, he became more agitated, pushing Selah to move ahead on days when she would rather camp early and dance.
He had managed to almost forget the dragon in her company. The vision of being a dragonslayer was more an abstract idea than job he was prepared to do. He knew in his mind that his village had already been saved from the dragon the day he left. But would they be able to hold their freedom if the dragon continued to belch smoke and flame across the river, or would they quietly slip back into their fears. For once, he had no words to put into a story that would describe his turmoil.
One day, as they neared the smoking mountain, Selah sat down beside the road and refused to go on. Much to Steven’s surprise, Xandra the donkey sat back in his traces and refused to move as well. With a last glance up at the mountain, Steven relented and made camp.
After they had eaten, Selah rose to dance. At first her motions were barely detectable. A cymbal chimed and then was silent. Her foot came forward and then was still. A cymbal chimed again. It was as if the motions of her dance were being drawn out to extend till eternity.
Had she started her normal vigorous dance, Steven might have succeeded in remaining aloof as he thought about his doom. But the measured interruptions to silence drew his eyes to her. He looked at her feet and noted the delicate scratches they made in the dust as she beat their cadence. Her hips, swaying softly moved barely more than the breeze that began to arise.
His eyes trailed upward around the curve of her breasts and along the sinuous bare arms to the fingertips that clinked together with the chime of the cymbals. Her neck met her shoulders in a tiny depression that Steven thought he could spend a lifetime exploring. Above this, her hair whipped across her face as she turned her head, showing him the profile he had grown so quickly to love.
He absently reached for his whistle and put it to his lips. At its first piercing sound, Selah spun to face him and their eyes locked. The dance progressed gaining fervor slowly, the tensions of the day and Steven’s doubts dissolving in the movements they made as they pursued each other around the fire dancing faster and faster.
When the dance climaxed, Steven reached for his beloved. But rather than collapse with him into their nest of blankets, she pushed him down and stood over him.
“Tonight, Steven George,” she said, “you will listen. I will Once Upon a Time you. Or twice, or as often as you will,” she laughed. It was a sound Steven wished he could hear forever. “You have become confused as we traveled closer to the mountain. You do not wish to leave me, but you cannot bring yourself to forsake your mission. You have become obsessed with slaying the dragon, who, in truth, never meant you harm in the first place. Therefore, listen with your ears. Listen with your heart. For time is a twisting path. We follow it ever forward and no matter what turning we take, we come to where we are.”
The Inconsolable Longing
NCE UPON A TIME, when the world was young, there was a dragon named Siranith. This dragon was born from the world egg and for thousands of years lay wrapped around its shell at the heart of the earth. But the dragon had an ache in her heart. It started as a small discomfiture… a sigh. It grew to a tear. And finally it settled into her as a great inconsolable longing for something more than the empty shell could offer.
Now it was not clear to Siranith what would satisfy this longing. She recognized it only as a deep inconsolable desire for something more. And so, as time passed, Siranith began to stir for “Surely,” she thought, “if I do not go seek for what is calling me, I will die where I lie.”
Her first stirring shook the earth, and when she emerged from the ground, it split open before her. For the first time she inhaled the cool moist air of the world.
Then she sneezed and a gout of fire spouted from her and charred a thousand trees in its path. She covered her mouth and apologized to the trees, but there was naught that she could do to make them grow again. This new sadness temporarily displaced the inconsolable longing. She had meant no harm, but by simply emerging from her shell had caused destruction in her path.
She ran from the charred forest and her footsteps gouged craters where water gathered and became great lakes. Where her tail dragged behind her, rivers ran. Where the soil was kicked up from her feet, mountains grew.
Then Siranith spread her wings and flew. With the first beat of her wings, hurricanes blew across the face of the earth.
She screeched toward the heavens and the burst of flame set light to the stars and her tears fell like rain on the earth below her.
And then a wonderful thing happened. Where the tears fell, new life sprang forth. Trees, flowers, grasses. All manner of animals came to feast on the abundance, and there among the creatures of the earth was man.
When Siranith beheld mankind, she knew the source of her inconsolable longing. She longed to run free upon the earth, to love, and to live.
Siranith’s first attempts to talk to people met with disaster. The two-leggeds could not see the dragon for the fire and, alas, many were consumed like the trees. Siranith fled again.
Siranith second attempted to talk to the people by painting the sky with fire. The people fled from the fire and sought shelter among the rocks. So Siranith wept and the rains fell, but people rushed into caves and built houses to block out even the water that caused their crops to grow.
At last, Siranith came to the realization that the people she so longed for could not see her because she was so huge. They could only see the fire and the rain, and this made them afraid. She realized she would have to get further and further away from them in order for them to see her at all. And so, Siranith flew higher and higher into the sky. She glanced back, but people scarcely looked up until she was so high that stars collected on her wings. And when she looked down upon the people she loved she saw at last that they pointed into the night sky and said “Behold the dragon.”
But now, although Siranith could see the people and they could see her, she was so far removed from them that her longing began to grow again.
There was no way, she reasoned, that she could talk to them or truly love them as long as she was a dragon and they were human. Only by becoming human could she find the love she so longed for.
Thousands of years passed as Siranith felt the ache in her heart grow ever stronger. Stars fell from her wings, some blazing across the night sky until people no longer recognized her when they lifted their eyes to the heavens. Even her tears seemed not to reach them when she wept in despair. Only by becoming human, she thought over and over again.
And so, bit by bit, Siranith began to move back toward the earth. She chose carefully the place where she would return, far from where people usually came. It was a dry and barren place and she crawled silently back into the womb of the earth beneath a mountain to reforge herself as a human.
And there she lay until she emerged from her cave as a woman.
It was not a complete transformation. Where her breath had been fire, now her spirit was fire. Where her tears had been fertile, now her womb could bear fruit. Where her feet had scraped rivers and lakes and mountains, now they danced across the fields.
“Now!” she declared to herself. “Now I can find that for which my heart has so long yearned. I will find love.”
But it was not so easy. In her absence fear and hatred had grown on the earth and love was hard to find. And even when she found lovers, they were short-lived compared to the thousands of years she possessed. In despair she returned to her mountain to emerge only occasionally and seek for love. Her dragon fire, still buried in the mountain, seeped forth as the longing grew ever more fierce.
But still she comes out to dance across the earth, alone and lonely, hoping that one day a man will emerge to dance with her.
The gypsy lay beside Steven George and he could feel the heat radiate from her. He turned to kiss her lips and was caught again in the depths of her eyes. She held him there and whispered.
“You have reached the mountain, Steven George. But it is only the dragon’s fire that remains there. Her heart lies in your arms.”
“I can see the truth in this story,” said Steven.
As he gazed into her green eyes he thought the pupils lengthened to slits, but when he blinked they were round again.
N THE EARLY LIGHT of the morning, Steven George rose from the arms of his lover and faced the mountain. The wind had sprung up in the night and tugged at his hat. He took it from his head. Then he flung it into the morning breeze.
The winds caught the hat and it ascended. High on the mountain he could see it silhouetted against the glow of fire. Higher still it soared until it was only a speck and then nothing at all. He returned to Selah where she lay and welcomed him back into her arms.
“Here is where I belong,” said Steven. “And whether to a mountain, or to a desert, to an ocean or to a city, I will walk the endless road with you, my love.”
She smoothed his hair.
“Where is your hat?”
“What need have I of a hat if I have already found my dragon?” he said. Then he pointed back toward the mountain where he had flung it and the wind had carried it.
There was a distant rumbling of thunder that grew until the ground around them shook. Then the mountain exploded and fire, ash, and air shot into the sky. The dust rained down around them as the wind knocked them from their feet.
When the shockwaves subsided, Steven, Selah and Xandra picked themselves up and gazed at the remains of the mountain. The blast and the prevailing wind were carrying the debris north, out over the desert. As the dust blew away the ragged tooth of the mountain still smoked, but it seemed the smoke of dying embers.
Steven wrapped his arms around Selah and they embraced.
“I’m glad we got down to this side of the mountain before that happened,” Selah said. “Shall we continue.”
“It’s a long road,” Steven said. “I’m glad I am traveling it with you, Madame Selah Walinska. Or should I call you Siranith?” he smiled at her.
“Why would you do that?” she asked. “Who is Siranith?”
They hitched Xandra to the cart and walked off into the south.
IME IS A PATH THAT WE FOLLOW, and all paths lead to where we are. And once upon a path of time, a storyteller walked with his beloved, whom he teasingly called the dragon lady. Her green eyes flashed at him, but when he looked into their depths he saw only the peace and love that consoled his deepest longings.
If you, too, should travel this path, you might find a small marker near an extinct volcano. Scratched in rude letters on the stone are the words:
Here Stn George Mastered His Dragon.
This story is dedicated to my loving wife who missed her Once Upon a Time last Christmas while I was writing mysteries and without whom there would be no Happily Ever Afters.
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