When the world was new: forming and reforming, heaving and twisting, spewing fire and splitting earth, the first men shivered under endless days of cloud and dust.
The wisest person guarded a captured flame. At night, they worshipped the flame which kept back the wild beasts and the bitter dark. In day, they worshipped the flame which dried their clothes and warmed their food.
But they were still cold. And wild beasts circled in the relentless night.
Only beast befriended them. They shared their hunting with the dragon and the dragon curved around the camp and the fire and the people leant against his soft hide. Purring, he told them about the worlds beyond their valley, their mountains. They begged him to carry them flying above the trees, above the cloud. They thought it would be warm, closer to the sun and they did not believe it when he told them of the coldness of the blue.
The dragon felt sorry for the people, shivering and huddling round their fire yearning for the sun. So he taught them to lighten the dark by treasuring friendship and laughter and song.
And he worked his magic. Flying above the forest, above the mountains, above the cloud, he hunted and captured rays of sunlight, carrying them into his mouth and thrusting them into the frigid rock and frosty streams until they froze into gold.
And he said, “come and look, people, here is a little of the sun for you to behold. It is cold but it will not rot or fade. It will sparkle in the waters and it will glint in the rock faces. It serves no purpose but for its beauty to make you feel warm.”
The people asked, “what do want in return?”
The dragon replied, “nothing, my friends. Nothing but that you do not disturb the gold and that you share the knowledge of this magic without destruction. It is enough for you to know that it is beautiful, mostly hidden under your feet. If you seek to possess it, evil will befall you.”
But time passed and the people became numerous. They learnt not just to hoard flame but how to create it. They rarely called on the dragon as they sought mountain passes to other worlds. They learnt to make shelters and weapons. And as they multiplied, so they divided.
And soon it was not enough to have the strongest bow or the sharpest blade or the most beautiful features. Soon, a man’s value was dependent on the number of things he possessed which he did not need. And the people looked for something which would shine and not rust or dim and they remembered the frozen sunlight and took flakes from the streams and fashioned them into jewellery for the most important people.
And the dragon was angry. “Did I not warn you!” he cried, “Did I not say that evil would befall you if you sought to possess this gift and keep it from each other?”
And the people said “we’re not afraid of you! You who live alone in the mountains and fly alone in the sky. Your hide is soft, your claws are small and you purr behind teeth like bone needles.”
And the dragon said, “Feel my hide – it has grown hard with time and neglect! Look at my teeth – they have grown as large and sharp as flint daggers!”
And he slashed the gold from the chieftain’s head and arms with a swipe of his wing and he reached forward with his scaly snout and swallowed the blazing fire around which they stood and the camp became cold and the wild beasts came closer and for a while they huddled in silence, waiting for the dragon to die but he did not die.
The dragon’s eyes grew red and narrowed. Then he opened his mouth and with the sound of volcanoes, of hurricanes, of thunder, he roared: “Is it not enough to be warm and safe and happy? I was the one who captured the gold! If it is anyone’s it is mine! And I will bury it deeper and I will guard it and from this day forward, we are enemies and I curse you with greed. Forever more you will dig and destroy and sift and fight and die for the sake of things you do not need; for things with no purpose or function except to be beautiful and forever more, you will measure your value by possessions yet will never have enough!”
The people cried, “give us back our fire!”
And the dragon roared again and flame came from his belly and he swung his head from side to side and burnt down the camp and the trees behind them and swallowing the flame once more, his flexed his wings and flew back into the mountains.
And ever since, gold has been harder and more deadly to find and the dragon has been at enmity with man, the fire growing in his belly ready to destroy and overwhelm the greedy and the proud and the exploiter. And he lies in wait for the day when they dig too deep for treasures they do not need.
And he will consume them.
Words and photograph copyright 2017 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission