The sleeping dragon lay in her cave atop a mound of beautiful, multicolored gems and sparkling crystals. Through an opening in the cave roof, beams of sunlight played on her golden scales, casting a soft golden glow all about her.
She lay peacefully, dreaming of many things, especially of all the jewels yet to be discovered in the world. She had lain there for a long time and had nearly forgotten what ‘outside’ her cave looked like. She was quite happy to sit and dream in the sunlit caverns, where the shadows danced in the depths and where she felt safe and sound. She had spent so much time alone, that she had nearly forgotten that others also existed besides herself.
One day, a visitor appeared in her cave. He had crept in so slowly and quietly she hadn’t even noticed him. He saw her, apparently sleeping on her treasures, and carefully he made his way closer, picking up a sword that lay discarded on the cave floor. It looked better than his own sword. He held it in his hands, testing the blade for sharpness.
‘Can’t kill a dragon with a blunt sword,’ he thought to himself, as a drop of blood appeared on his fingertip beneath the tip of the blade. Satisfied, he slowly pulled his old sword of its sheath and placed it quietly on the floor of the cave and then crept closer to the sleeping dragon. But she never moved a muscle. She didn’t even twitch.
He started to feel slightly anxious. ‘It shouldn’t be this easy,’ he said to himself. ‘Something’s not right.’ He looked closely at the sleeping beast, watching the rise and fall of her body as she breathed. It looked like any other dragon. Not that he had actually seen one before, of course, but he had heard the stories. Big, fearsome, and definitely likely to devour knights and virgins, given half a chance. He had grown up with the tales told around warm fires on cold, misty winter nights when the days were short and the nights were long.
Like many of his kind, he was brought up to believe that in order to gain the treasures, he must slay the dragon. But this one was not exactly the fearsome creature he had been led to believe it was. He was perturbed, to say the least, and unsure of how to proceed.
As he stood, thinking of a plan and watching, the dragon shifted on her pile of jewels. She opened a large lazy eye to see the strange man in shiny armour, standing before her, wielding a sword and preparing to fight a battle to the death. ‘Mine,’ she assumed.
She moved her huge head closer to the petrified man who stood rooted to the spot. She took a long hard look at him and then smiled a large, toothy dragon smile. She reached beneath her and took from her pile of crystals a beautiful, faceted ruby, nearly a foot wide. She held it out to the terrified man who had regained his composure and was standing in a warrior stance; legs apart and sword hilt held firmly in his hands.
In his mind’s eye, he could see the huge dragon preparing to incinerate him and he was ready for a fight, but instead she was holding out a crystal to him, as a gift. His heart stopped for a minute, and then, stumbling and tripping over his feet and his sword he scrambled back to the entrance of the cave and outside, to safety.
The dragon, still holding the ruby, was surprised at the man’s reaction. ‘What’s the matter with him?’ she thought, perplexed ‘Isn’t this what he wanted? Humans. I’ll never understand them!’ She lay back down on her pile of gold and gems and resting her head on the crystal between her large forefeet , she closed her eyes and went back to sleep.
Meanwhile, outside the cave, the man, breathless with fear, and still holding his sword, had fully expected to see, and feel, a blast of fiery breath emerge from within the cave and burn him to a crisp. He hid behind a rock jutting out into the cave entrance and waited, breathlessly…but nothing happened. Everything was quiet. He couldn’t understand it. What was she doing?
He strained, trying to hear a sound from within, but there was nothing, not a whisper. After a few minutes he decided to risk taking a look, so he carefully peered around the stone and squinted into the cave, but the dragon had gone back to sleep.
He leaned back against the rock and slid down to sit on the ground. He balanced the sword across his knees. This was confusing. All of his life he had listened to the dragon stories. They were murderous beasts. They razed villages to the ground. They ate virgins for breakfast and they basically had really, really bad tempers! Only a knight, fearless in battle, had the strength and courage to slay the dragon and protect the village…and the virgins. But…and this is where it became confusing, this dragon did not fit into his ideas of ‘scary virgin-eating dragons’. He looked around the entrance of the cave, just to check. Yes, she was still there, sleeping peacefully, as though he had never even woken her up.
He stood and began to pace up and down in front of the entrance. “But all the myths say the same thing,” he argued with himself. “Only a fearless knight can slay the dragon and steal all her treasures. That’s the way it is…isn’t it?” He couldn’t figure it out.He felt rather powerless and didn’t like the feeling very much. This dragon did not fear him? Why not? He was a knight, wasn’t he? All dragons were supposed to fear the knights. They were brave and courageous men, fearless in battle and skilled on horseback. But this dragon had just looked at him and…smiled. Smiled, as if he was nothing, and definitely not a knight.
Then a thought struck him. ‘Maybe this is a trick. Maybe she will lure me in, and then when she thinks she has me fooled, she will burn me to a crisp! She will come screaming out as soon as I make an effort to take the ruby from her and I will die. Yes… that’s what she’s going to do.’
He thought he had it all figured out and, bristling with irritation, prepared himself to face the beast and save his land.
But then another thought entered his head, ‘But what if she really isn’t a normal dragon? What if she really will give me her treasures, without me having to harm her? That would be a win-win situation wouldn’t it? Nobody has to die, I get the treasure, she gets to live, what’s the problem? Yes, that was definitely a possibility. But then again, he was a knight. It was his job to slay the marauding dragon and free the people from the terrors wreaked on the countryside by the destructive, fiery breath of the winged demon.
But, now that he thought of it, he had never actually seen any fields of corn, burnt to a smoldering crisp, or a virgin tied to a post and left in a field for a dragon’s meal. He had never heard the great wings that sounded like thunder, according to the stories, as the dragon flew over the villagers whilst they sat huddled and terrified in their miserable hovels. He had never actually known anyone to lose so much as a sheep on the hillside to a hungry dragon.
He peered around the rock again, but this time he was not so scared. However, now he had to make a choice. Which path would he take? On the one hand, he could walk away and look for a more accommodating dragon; one who would play the myth out with him and which he could slay so that he could walk back into the village like a hero, OR, he could see what would happen if he walked into the cave and accepted the ruby.
Part of him wanted to feel like a man, powerful and heroic, but he was also curious. This golden dragon did not behave like other dragons were supposed to behave and that is what drew him into her cave.
He decided to take the risk. To see if it was a trick after all and she might really want to eat him. He would still be seen as a hero. Stories would still be told around winter fires about his brave efforts to save their village from the destructive, and dangerous, fiery dragon. They would still sing songs about him. Yes, that would be a good way to die.
So, gathering himself, he stood in front of the dark cave’s entrance and strode purposefully, if not fearfully, back into the cave. He took his sword, held out in front of him…just in case.
He walked right up to the dragon, his heart in his mouth, and stood there…waiting for her to acknowledge him. He was very nervous, and his armour did nothing at all to keep him cool. He could feel the sweat running down his back. He hadn’t realised it was so hot in the cave. But he didn’t budge; he didn’t move a muscle.
The dragon opened up one of her huge eyes and looked at him. After what seemed like an eternity, she rose up to her full height and extended her huge golden wings, bringing them around him, holding him in place. But oddly he didn’t feel scared anymore. He felt safe, and protected and very surprised.
The dragon lowered her head, pulled back her wings and looked him straight in the eye. She picked up the ruby that she had offered him earlier and held out the beautiful faceted gem, which shone with a brilliance he had never seen before. She waited for him to take it. He held out his hands and she placed the stone carefully into them. The ruby’s light shone even brighter and the dragon knew that she had given her treasure to the right knight.
As he stood in front of her, he realised that not all dragons were the same and that heroes do not have to slay them in order to gain their treasures, but need instead to be brave and courageous, to do something different. They need to risk their hearts and be vulnerable. In order to gain the Treasure of Creation, that is all that they need to do. He felt glad that he had returned to the cave. That he had been brave enough to do something different and challenge the beliefs he had grown up with.
‘Maybe the myths need to be rewritten?’ he thought, as he stared into the glowing light of the ruby. The dragon responded to his thoughts with a long contented sigh and softly closed her eyes.
They finally understood each other.