The King sat at his favourite lookout pondering his life. He rested his chin on the large gold ring that adorned his index finger and adjusted his ermine cloak around him, as a chill ran over him. An omen? he wondered. He sighed. What is the matter with me? My queen loves me…well, at least when she’s not preoccupied with all the other commitments she makes. Not many kings can say that.
He looked out over the vast valley below him, and couldn’t help but feel pride that all this belonged to him. A mist hung over the village, but it was early yet, and all that would soon dissipate and the sun would shine once again on his kingdom.
My son is off at University, bettering himself, his thoughts continued. What more could one expect from a future King, even if he is forty? I just wish he’d settle on something! The King sighed again. The chill came once more. Maybe I’m coming down with something. I’ll have to call the Royal Physician.
The mountains that surrounded his kingdom were now emerging from the fog, He loved these mountains. They were like old friends that never faltered: strong and bold. He could stare at their magnificence all day.
He continued to take inventory of his life. My daughter is as a princess should be: beautiful, articulate, kind; I just wish she would come down from that tower! Admittedly, he’d locked her there years ago, after that awful incidence with that man – and a peasant, too – but she wasn’t getting any younger, and, well…… He sighed again, looking heavenwards. So much for one man to manage, God.
At least my kingdom is at peace. The thought warmed him. He loved his people. He loved their industry, their loyalty, and above all, he loved it when they were all content. It had been over thirteen years since they’d suffered any strife. He didn’t want to think about those times. Four years the battle had gone on, and while they won, they had also lost so much. Ah, well, such is the price of war.
The King shifted his position. He was feeling it again: the restlessness. He hated this sensation; it made him feel as if he wasn’t in control, and he couldn’t abide that. Two weeks ago he’d sent the Royal Page out on a mission to find something to cure this abomination, but the boy had not yet returned. Blasted child! the King thought to himself. I should have sent a man. Or maybe a woman. But who else could be trusted?
Wrestling with his thoughts, the King failed to notice that the sky had cleared and the valley was now in full view. All was not calm. There, in the middle of town, stood an eight-foot-tall dragon, breathing fire, and lashing his long spiky tail in a wide, destructive arc. People were fleeing in droves, their cries filling the air.
At first, the King thought it was the cry of the morning birds he was hearing, but soon he recognized the sounds of panic. Alert once more, he spotted the source of the problem. What the…..? “Guards!” The King was up and running.
A call went out in the castle, and all available knights mounted their steeds in a race to save the kingdom.
But this was no ordinary dragon. He moved with the agility of a trained martial artist: eluding the knights lances, and scorching them as they passed. Within the hour the streets had cleared, and no one dared approach the beast. It looked as if the town was lost.
Then one lone figure stepped out from the shadows. Bare legs and arms revealed the slender figure of a young woman. Clad only in a deerskin tunic, her hair pulled back in tidy braids, she held what looked like a tree branch at her side. She approached the dragon from the side, and all gasped as the dragon caught the young woman in his peripheral vision. Ten feet away, she stopped and nodded slightly to the beast, holding her hand up, palm towards him, as if in greeting.
The beast groaned, but seemed to settle.
The woman spoke a few words that surely only the dragon could hear. The dragon let out a howl, and the crowd screamed in response, but the young woman remained calm, gesturing to the crowd to stay back and be quiet.
She took another step. The dragon shifted its weight, angling slightly towards her. The crowd held its breath. The King too.
Then the young woman did an extraordinary thing. She sat down.
The dragon sat down.
She stretched out her legs, and leaned back on her arms, in a state of repose.
The dragon stretched his paws out before him, and laid his head on the ground before him.
The young woman then laid herself down and gently rolled over, closing in on the dragon. To the amazement of all gathered there the dragon didn’t flinch, in fact, some would say later that the dragon itself, moved towards her, but the King was so excited by what was happening, that he didn’t see any of that. He’d run off to the stables to get himself a horse. He needed to meet this dragon-tamer, and now!
By the time the King caught up them, the young woman had mounted the back of the dragon, who was contentedly munching on the tree branch.
The dragon and his rider blinked in unison, turning their heads to find the source of this command. The woman whispered to the dragon and he stopped eating. She stayed where she was.
“Your Majesty,” she bowed her head out of courtesy.
“What is going on here?”
“I am Sheboygan, and this is my friend, the dragon.”
“Your friend! Did you cause this destruction?”
“Oh no!” protested Sheboygan. “I have no desire to destroy your kingdom. I noticed that the dragon was missing and I came in search of him. That is all.”
“Explain yourself, young lady.”
“I am Sheboygan,” she repeated with authority. “I live beyond the woods, near the body of water over there.” She pointed to the west. “The dragon is my neighbour. I know him to be peaceful and loving, but when I saw he was gone, I knew something must be wrong. So I came in search of him.”
“If this dragon is peaceful, why did he just threaten my village?”
“He didn’t mean to, your Majesty. He was only looking for food.”
“For food? What does he eat, children?”
“No, not at all. He is vegetarian. He eats only the fruit and berries of a particular tree. But sometime in the night, all those trees were cut down. He must have been awfully hungry to show such anger here.”
The King started to say something, but found he was at a loss for words. A vegetarian fire-breathing dragon? Who’d ever heard of such a thing? Was he dreaming?!
“I don’t understand. Who would cut down those alleged trees, and why?”
“You’ll have to look to your own people, King, to answer that question.” And with that, dragon and rider ambled off.
The King, who didn’t like it when things happened without his knowing, called an immediate meeting of his advisors. While the men were assembling, the King spotted his Page sneaking in through the a side door.
“Halt, there! I’ve been looking for you.”
The Page looked exhausted. His hair was all array, and bits of twigs and leaves clung to his tunic.
“What is this?” the King demanded, pointing to a saw the young man was holding. “What have you been up to? Cutting down trees, perhaps?”
The young man couldn’t tell a lie, especially to his ruler. Holding up the saw, he proclaimed: ” I was finding a cure for your restlessness, you Majesty.”
“Yes, yes I’d say!” remarked the King. “Effectively so, and you almost caused me my kingdom.”
“Oh, no, Sire! The dragon was harmless! I swear!”
“Well, you certainly shook things up young man. Now tell me, who was the young woman that saved the day?”
“Sheboygan? She’s a friend of mine, Sire. A very worthy young woman.”
“Worthy, indeed. In fact, I’d say the two of you are just what this kingdom needs. Clean yourself boy, and get some sleep. I’ll be expecting yourself and your young maiden friend at supper this evening. Now go!”
With that the King spun on his heels and strode into the council chambers where his advisers were gathered. “Gentleman,” the King began, “today marks a time of change, and as with all change, there must be death before there can be rebirth. While we have known peace in this kingdom for some time, we have also grown stagnant, and that can be a problem unto itself. Today, in a time of real need, no one was able to rise to the occasion and defend this kingdom but one lone young woman. None of our forces, and certainly none of you, were of help. It took the energy and willingness of the young to make a difference.”
“But, your Majesty, the dragon was a formidable foe, even our best knights could not defeat him. What were we to do?”
“The dragon appeared to be an insurmountable force, but you, like many of us, were fooled by appearances. I pay you to see beyond appearances. Your job is tell me what is really happening. I have not felt at peace for sometime, and I now realize why : I have been depending on men whose heads are in the sand, men who are not informed enough to give me the right advice when I need it.”
“But, your Grace…..”
“But nothing. This dragon has lived on the fringe of our community for some time, yet none of you took the time to find about it. A young woman did what none of you, and a legion of men could not!” The King’s anger was rising, the veins in his neck popping as he raged. “From this moment, you are all demoted! I’ll let you know your new positions, when I’ve had time to think.”
Heads hung in shame throughout the room. The men daren’t look at one another, knowing full well that what the King had said was true. They had been lax. They had wiled away their days with trivial activities, sated with complacency. The King was right; they deserved to be disciplined.
“In the meantime, I have found myself two new advisers, and we shall be welcoming them at a feast tonight. Busy yourself with the preparation, and make it fitting for a young woman and man of their nature. Have the Royal Guest rooms prepared, and make arrangements for the young woman to be properly attired.” Then on second thought, the King added: “No, scratch that. Let her come in the style she chooses. Find appropriate entertainment. Now be on your way. I must advise the Queen.”
Solemnly, the group of men began to disperse. They were not happy with the outcome, but they knew their King to be just. In time; all in good time, they told themselves.
“Oh, and would someone please remind the Princess that the door to the Tower is no longer locked, and suggest that she might want to join us.”
* * * * * *
Part II – “The Valley”