Thursday, 9 September 2010
The Earth Dragon
I went out one Saturday with Pixie, which was not her real name, but there was something of the pixie about her and so the name stuck. She wanted to go for a walk and I enjoyed her company, so I went with her. We walked up over the sinuous ridge overlooking the Vale of Wyvernwyck and along the walk Pixie talked about work and life and other things. We laughed and chatted and she said, almost wistfully,
"Oh what larks."
Her grey eyes darting about the landscape looking for a photograph that waited to be taken, while she spoke. There at the top of the hill were large stony ridges, rocks that followed the ridge and had thrust upwards jaggedly out of the earth. They were grey with blues in them and greens where mosses had grown. They were high in places and near them a couple sat while a small boy ran about shouting and squealing. He seemed as full of energy as they seemed ready for a rest. We watched in amusement as the little boy ran about with his arms out and his red woollen mittens bound by elastic, flapping in the breeze. We said 'hallo' to the couple and I indicated the boy with a nod, remarking that I did not know how they had so much energy. His mother laughed and called him over. As he came, he jumped upon the stony ridges as if he would stamp them into the earth.
Suddenly, Pixie's face changed from amusement to alarm and dashing across, she lifted him up and carried him in her arms to where the couple sat.
"You mustn't jump on the rocky ridges," she told him, "You'll wake up the Earth Dragon and he won't be happy. Nobody is ever happy at being rudely awakened."
Like the couple I smiled, but a look at her face made me suddenly aware that she was serious. She sat with the little boy on her lap and kissed him, brushing back his hair from his face. She was single and had longed for a child. As such she was very loving of children herself. She used to tease me that it was why she was so good to me, though I was sadly not a child any longer. When the little boy said there was no such things as dragons she shook her head.
"My dear, you may have been told that and you may even believe it, but I promise you the Earth Dragon lies beneath the earth here. His bones are stones, his flesh is earth and the tiny streams beneath the earth are his blood. He is very old, old as the earth itself and nobody actually knows where he comes from. If you're very good, which I am sure you are, I will tell you how I know," she said.
The little boy glanced at his mother and then asked Pixie if there was really a dragon and what did he eat? Pixie gave him a hug and answered that the dragon was definitely there and he ate what he could get. But for the last two hundred years he had mostly slept but for once when he stirred in his sleep.
"Then everyone knew he was there," she said.
The couple did not interrupt her, nor did I, for Pixie knew a lot about the area being a historian of note, though that was not her paid job.
"It was a long time ago when I first came to this country and was a little girl. A little bit older than you sweetie, but not too old to think I knew better. My family used to come out here and walk as we are doing today. I loved it so much that one morning very early, I got up and took a bus out to Stonehouse Eaves and got off near the road here. It was not quite light just yet, but the sun was turning over in his bed and thinking about rising. I walked along the track, through the gate and up the hill here to just about where we are now. Like you, I was curious about the rocky ridges and began to jump on them from one to the other.
Suddenly I heard a rustling in the grass and the rocky ridges shook so that I fell and rolled away. I was surprised, but I thought it was an earthquake. They had a serious one in America in 1906, which was before even I was born and I'd read about it. Well the earth stopped moving and I got up and began to jump again from one rock to the other. Then I heard a low grumbling roar and the rocks shook me off again. This time I noticed that it was only the rocky ridges that moved. The rest of the earth was mostly still. I was puzzled so when I could stand up again, I went over to the ridges and looked down beside them. The earth had shifted and I got a stick and poked through it until I hit something hard.
Then there was a great movement of earth and the whole hill seemed to shudder all the way along to Greenleas. I fell over again and when I looked up there was a great big eye looking at me. It did not look happy either. I was frightened so I scrambled backwards until I saw that the eye was set in a huge face with a large grey-green muzzle and very long sharp teeth."
"Were you scared of it?" the little boy asked.
"I was, but especially when the vast mouth opened and stretched. Actually the dragon was yawning up at the sky and for a moment I thought he might swallow the sun itself. Where he had raised his great head the earth was all torn up and there were clods of earth and grass upon his head and powerful neck. I found that I could not move. I was too scared to move. I thought that he might notice me and then I would be a small breakfast snack for him. So I stood very, very still.
The dragon yawned and grumbled for a moment before turning his great eye upon me again.
"Was that you jumping up and down on me and prodding me with a stick?" he asked me.
I was tempted to hid the stick behind my back, but instead I nodded and then apologised.
"I didn't mean to disturb you, I was just curious," I told him.
He harrumphed in disgust and mentioned what happened to the proverbial cat when it got curious.
"Well if you're going to disturb me, then you can get me some food," he told me.
I shut my eyes tightly then for I was sure he was going to eat me up, but he hummed and then chuckled a long low chuckle.
"Not you child, you would barely make a mouthful. I mean go and get me some food. A cart of hay or four cows or some sheep or something," he said grinning.
I ran away and found a farmhouse at the bottom of the hill. The farmer was already up and when I told him I needed a cartful of hay, four cows and some sheep he frowned.
"What d'you want that little lot for lass?" he asked me kindly.
When I told him he laughed, but I pointed up the hill and when he saw the dragon his jaw dropped in astonishment. Instantly he gathered up a pitchfork and told me to come along. I was put to work pitching hay into a cart, while he hitched it up to a tractor. Then he frowned about the cows and the sheep, for he did not like the idea. But instead, he went into the farmhouse and brought out lots and lots of pies that were meant for the farm shop. He also brought out some cheeses and a six barrels of ale.
"That should do him," he said.
I got up on the tractor beside him and we took the cart up the hillside to where the dragon was gazing about him. He turned his huge head when he heard us and bowed most politely. The farmer told him that no sheep or cows were available, so instead there were some pies, cheese and ale as well as fresh hay. The dragon thanked him politely and lowering his head he began to eat up the hay and then followed it with the pies. I had to get up onto his paw and tip the ale into his mouth, which was hard work, I can tell you. The dragon yawned again and told me not to jump upon the rocky ridges or poke him with sticks.
"It's very impolite and you wouldn't like it if I came and did it to you when you were asleep," he said gently.
I promised him that I wouldn't and hoped he would have a good sleep. Then he lay down again and before long he was asleep. The earth slipped and fell about him and over him like an endless coverlet and before long he was covered up again. The farmer put me into the cart and took me back to the farmhouse. Then he made me breakfast and phoned my mother who was very cross with me for wandering off when I was so young.
"Anything could have happened to you," she told me.
I did not tell her what had happened to me, she would never have believed me. The farmer winked at me and gave me a hug and said he would take me home. From that day to this I have not seen the dragon, but I have done well for myself. So young man, no waking the dragon. Let him sleep or he might come and wake you up and you wouldn't like that, I promise you," she said.
The boy crossed his heart and said that he wouldn't wake up the dragon.
"Goodnight dragon," he said softly and Pixie kissed him again before handing him back to his mother.
We got up then and wandered along the ridge.
"That was a wonderful story, Pixie," I said.
She turned to me crossly and said, "I wasn't telling a story I was telling the truth."
I said nothing but I have never forgotten the very serious look on her face. She was indeed telling the truth. We wandered on in silence for a bit and as we went home I turned to the hillside and murmured,
"Sweet dreams Dragon."