DRAGONY: A Fable
Being a fable that came to me in 1991 during Mystic Rose silent sitting in Lao Tsu Walkway, Osho International Meditation Resort, Pune, India
Illustrations by Chinmaya Dunster
Frontispiece: ‘Old-Saw-Herself’, together with a tiny portrait of the Fire Man.
Endpiece: In the Land of the Monkeys.
1 Long ago and far away
2 The dragons’ second great talent
3 The monkey tells his horrifying tale
4 First confrontation with the Man
5 Some forgotten barbs and a suggestion
6 The most desperate struggle in the history of Dragony
7 An understanding and its consequences
Long ago and far away, in a forgotten land called Dragony, there lived the dragons. They were a peaceful folk and serene, not much given to travel, passing the time of their long lives in the practice of their two great passions.
The first of these, and the dragons’ highest delight, was in the making of mirrors, a secret unknown in other lands in those days. Here is how they made their mirrors:
On the inside of their great dragon eggshells, a mirrored surface naturally formed. The art of fashioning these into the most perfect and reflective mirrors required the dragon parents to sit brooding, as a hen does with her egg. The longer and more tranquilly they sat, the more shiny the mirror became. Once a baby dragon had hatched, the mirrored shards of shell were admired and treasured or exchanged as gifts. However dragon folk could often be heard praising the peaceful joy they felt while brooding even higher than the mirrors themselves. As many a dragon mother, at the end of her patience with a badly-behaved youngster, would exclaim:
”You rascal. there was more pleasure in the getting than what I got!”
And this was the second of the dragons’ great talents, and one for which their fame spread far beyond Dragony: their fiery tongues. For dragons were known to have the sharpest wits of any creature and knew how to defend themselves with words of fire when threatened.
Even in their far-off land there were sometimes problems. A rogue elephant might cross the border into Dragony, filled with anger and bent on destruction.
“Get out of here, Ugly One!”, a dragon would call out to him before he got very far. “You have a tail on both ends, your skin is full of wrinkles and your legs look like muddy logs!”
“Yes, and you walk as gracefully as a dead tree too!” another would jeer. “Go home and don’t come back until your temper is better than your looks!”
It was easy – why, even a child could do it! The elephant, the heat of his anger turned to embarrassment, would turn one of his tails and Dragony would be safe again.
Or perhaps a pair of hungry and desperate lions might appear, outcaste from their own land because of their troublemaking.
“Hey Arrogant Ones! Where are you off to with your noses stuck up in the air like you made the ground you stand on?” a mother dragon would shout. “Why, you look so full of your own importance you probably expect the fleas in those filthy coats of yours to bow down and worship you! Bet you they don’t!”
“No, they just hide in that mess of hair and bite your necks!” her little son might add, from the shelter of her wing. “Stuck up Bigheads, go home!”
Ashamed and glad to get our of range of such treatment, the two lions would slink out of Dragony, perhaps even reflecting that there might just be some truth in the words, and that maybe they could be a little less overbearing when they got back to their own country.
This is the story of the greatest challenge that the dragons of Dragony, with their mirrors, their wits and their tongues of fire, ever faced.
It all began with the arrival of an exhausted and terrified monkey bearing a disturbing tale. A Man had come into Monkeyland. A Man wielding a sword and invisible spears that came out of a long bone he carried, a Man who marched in a straight line ahead, with the bone pointed out in front of him.
Now Men were creatures of legend in Dragony. Nobody had ever actually seen one. All they knew about them was based on stories told by other monkeys: how men cut down perfectly good forests and planted in their place forests of a single kind of tree underneath which nothing grew; and burned wonderful meadows of grass and covered them with a hard shell on which nothing at all could live; that men sometimes even stripped off the whole surface of the earth so that they could eat the rocks below. Of course everyone knew that monkeys told tall tales. Who could believe such nonsense?
Nevertheless, as the poor monkey described how this Man had passed through Elephantland butchering elephants and piling up their tusks in great piles; how he had passed into Monkeyland burning everything around him, and stealing the coloured stones that baby monkeys found in the streambeds and hung up in the trees so they could catch the light; how this Man burned and then ate any creature who tried to stand in his way – as he described all this, a few of the youngest dragons stopped laughing and began to ask each other in whispers: “What would you say to such an animal?”
The assembled dragons looked at each other in alarm as the monkey warned them that this Man was even now approaching the borders of Dragony. Who knew what he might want? In Elephantland it had been part of the Elephants’ own bodies he collected; in Monkeyland, stones that were worthless as food but fun for the children. He seemed to be completely unpredictable. The dragons should run for their lives, the monkey advised, and take everything they valued with them.
As soon as the monkey had been led away to be fed and to recover, the dragons decided to send out a party of the most sharp-tongued adults to keep this Man out of Dragony. Following the smell of burning, the group came upon the Man among the tall grasslands on the border. It was just as the monkey had described. He marched stiffly, the long bone held up in front of him, his eyes restlessly roaming from side to side. Behind him the grass had been burned black by his fires. They watched him for a while from hiding. “Good beef pasture, minus the weeds.” they heard him mumble to himself. He was so small this bumbling clown of a Man…..Surely this wasn’t going to be difficult?
“Hey Tiddles!” one of them called out, stepping into the Man’s path. “Why don’t you stand up instead of walking on your knees, so we can see you?”
“He IS standing up!” jeered a second. “Hey, Shorty, don’t you get cockroaches crawling in with your mouth so close to the ground?”
The rest of the dragons laughed maliciously but the Man seemed quite unaffected. He just made a sound like “PAH!” and before the dragons knew what was happening, whipped out his sword and made a viscous slash at the dragon in his path.
The astonished dragon hobbled back into the long grass, his wing bleeding.
“Just as nasty as you are ugly, I see!” one of the senior dragons shouted. “A silly little skin and bone toadstool, with your face all scrunched up like a mouldy tomato. Get back home and leave us in peace or we’ll tell you….”
His voice was stifled mid-sentence. The bone in the Man’s hand had spoken a word that none of the dragons could make any sense of and the old dragon lay on the ground clutching at his bloody chest.
“PAH!” snorted the Man. His pace had not slackened a bit.
The remaining dragons exchanged looks of alarm. Who was this creature who had only gibberish to say in reply when taunted? Did he even hear what was being said to him? From the safety of the tall grass two of them half-heartedly started a mock discussion in loud tones over which was more stupid: a hippopotamus who fell in love with a bat and left his mouth wide open so she could hang from his teeth, or a man who marched in a straight line all day without noticing that he was stepping in buffalo turds.
But it soon petered out. One of the younger dragons unwisely let himself be seen and got a burning brand of wood thrown at him. The grass beside him caught fire and in the smoke and confusion the dispirited dragons beat a hasty retreat, mourning their fallen comrade.
In the heart of Dragony a gathering of dragons took place to hear the report of this first contact with the Man. News began to come in: of dragon families slain, of baby dragons roasted and eaten and –most strange- of dragon eggs broken and smashed into thousands of shards as if in a fury.
Everyone remarked that the Man seemed to take no interest in their beautiful mirrors except to break them. That he seemed to have found nothing he wanted to steal appeared had apparently only increased his destructive rage.
Teams of dragons went out to confront him, calling him every name they could think of: “Acne” (such a good one with leopards); “Stinky” (a sure bet with camels); “Fartface” (great against large herbivores like cattle and rhino).
Old-timers brought out their long-forgotten barbs: “Shoe Licker” and “Kaka Roller” (useful against dogs); “Garbage Breath” and “Bees Up Your Bum” (so effective for bears). But nothing they could say stopped the Man’s deadly march through Dragony.
Finally the dragons agreed to one last desperate offer made by an old grandmother. She suggested she go out and find as many ways as possible to humour the Man. Perhaps, she reasoned, he might at least listen to such words where all other words had failed. Distracted by flattery, he might allow himself to be led safely out of Dragony.
Shaking their heads sorrowfully, the dragons watched her disappear into the smoke.
She came upon the Man in the forest, on one of the rare occasions when his relentless hunt for treasure seemed to have paused. He was seated by a fire, munching on roasted dragon meat and from time to time mumbling “Eucalyptus…..Jatropha….Plantations…” as he spat out the bones.
“Most Great Lord….” She began from a safe distance. “We dragons of Dragony have heard from afar of your wonderfulness….”
“PAH!” spat the man, chewing on a wing, but he didn’t reach for his sword.
“Of how none can stand against your superior strength. Of you noble daring and great ingenuity in the use of fire…..”
“PAH!” exclaimed the Man again and tossed a burning log in the old dragon’s direction.
She leapt out of danger and continued bravely: “We dragons would be honoured to pay you homage and pass our days singing your praises. If you would just care to step this way I will lead you to where we are assembled nearby ready to do Your Majesty worship…..”
As she spoke the cunning old dragon began to move off, away from the heart of Dragony, in the direction of the endless bogs on its northern edge.
The Man reached for his sword and strange bone and got to his feet with a “PAH!”, scattering his fire so that several blazes started among the trees. And so began the most desperate struggle in the history of Dragony.
Constantly calling out her words of flattery, the grandmother dragon tried to lure the Man northwards. But he too was cunning. Although he stayed in range of her voice, she kept finding her way blocked by a burning branch thrown in such a way as to keep her moving steadily closer to the dragons assembled at the heart of Dragony.
As the smoke and flames from burning trees began to confuse her and wear down her strength, she realised to her horror that she had failed. Far from leading the Man away, she had herself been driven towards the place where the helpless dragons were gathered!
Soon she heard the screams of baby dragons and their parents through the smoke. Desperately she called on the last of her strength and crawled to where the Man, watched by a crowd of terrified dragons, was hacking with his sword at the eggs that lay among the trees.
“Killer….Murderer….Madman!” she groaned, the last futile gasps of the worst insults she could bring to her dazed mind.
Instantly he was in front of her and she found herself face to face with this creature of nightmare. His bloodshot eyes, empty of anything she could comprehend, met her own as he raised his sword to strike what she knew would be her deathblow.
Its blade was falling on her where she lay in the mud, when in a flash the old grandmother understood what she had seen in those eyes.
“Coward”, she whispered. “Frightened Baby”.
For a moment the sword’s movement stopped and the red eyes blinked. Then the Man spat out a “PAH” and the killing sword stabbed.
But the delay has given her a second in which to roll aside and the sword plunged harmlessly into the ground by her head.
“I can show you what you are most frightened of!” she cried, leaping to her feet. “The most frightening thing in the world. Scaredy-Cat! Yellow-Belly! Cowardy-Custard!” And from where a broken dragon egg lay, she caught up a fragment of its silvered shell. “Here…” she thrust its mirrored face triumphantly into his, “….is what you fear!”
There was a scream as the Man saw into the mirror for the first time in his life. Then, throwing down his sword and bone, he ran.
He ran without stopping, the dragons tell to this day, until he got back to the Land of Men. And to this day neither he, nor any other Man, has ever been seen again in Dragony.
Rumours come sometimes from Monkeyland, that Men still make trouble there. Other rumours tell that the Land of Men is now itself a place of mirrors; some even say that it was the Man who came to Dragony himself who began the making of mirrors there, which Men make after their own fashion. Others report that as the art of mirror making grows in the Land of Men, so the disturbances in the Animal Lands get less.
In Dragony they live anyway in the hope that such is true. And continue delighting in their mirrors, their wits and fiery tongues. The day they were saved from the Man they celebrate every year as ‘Fire Day’. And the wise old dragon who saved them they simply call ‘Old-Saw-Herself’.