Saturday, May 27, 2006

Kallia and the Dragon

Thursday wasn’t special in any way. Kallia woke up around sunrise, as always, and heard her parents working in the yard. There were cows to be milked, eggs to be collected, and other assorted chores. As days go, this was an ordinary day, except for one thing.

Kallia had dreamed she was to become a great ruler. But first she must find her dragon. She didn’t like this dream too much. After all, only men became rulers, only men could slay dragons, and, besides, she was only twelve years old. She was to be married in four years to a man from the next village, a man whom she did not even know.

As the day wore on and Kallia did her chores, mended her brothers’ clothes, and fed the animals, she kept thinking about the dream. She also wondered what it would mean to find a dragon. “I bet no one would want to marry me,” she thought to herself.

Yet, the truth of the dream stuck in her chest. It felt like a new heartbeat that she couldn’t ignore. For three days, she thought about nothing but the dream. The image of the dragon became the most important thing her world. Her life seemed small when compared to the life she might live if the dream came true.

Her mother noticed that Kallia was not very attentive to her chores. “Where are you, young lady?” her mother asked. “You seem possessed by spirits.”

“I’m just thinking, mother. No reason to be worried.” Kallia tried to act as though everything were normal. She even tried extra hard to get her work done.

Her mother was still worried. “Well, stop thinking. That’s work for the men.” Kallia heard these words and wondered how her mother could believe them. She wondered why women were not allowed to think or act without permission.

The dream was too strong. She decided she would go in search of a dragon. She could carry a small sword and shield, perhaps the one her father used to train her brothers to fight. No one had seen a dragon in these parts in several generations, but many stories were told of great leaders having slain a dragon to prove their valor. Kallia had no intention of becoming a leader, but she was sure she must find a dragon.

It took nearly a week to work out a plan, but Kallia finally managed to take the weapons and leave the village without being seen. Traveling at night was difficult, but she chose a night when the moon was round and a faint light shone on her path.

Kallia felt her stomach tighten and her breathing become quick and shallow. She had never been out in the woods at night, and had never traveled alone in her young life. As she walked, she realized she had been denied so much because she was a girl. Her brothers had been trained to fight, hunt, and survive alone in the woods for days at a time. She was taught to sew, feed animals, and cook for the men. It was the life her mother was living, and the life she was expected to live.

She had never questioned her life before. But now, having set out on this adventure, she was filled with questions and feelings she had never known. Even though she was scared and every strange noise made her jump, she felt good. She felt free in a new way, like being alive for the first time.

After three long days and nights, Kallia found a giant cave leading into the base of a rather big mountain. She was tired and hadn’t slept much, just a few hours each afternoon. She had been eating berries and other wild plants her mother had taught her to collect for food. But she had also packed a pouch of dried meat, enough for many days.

It was still light out, so Kallia decided to take a short nap. Her long brown hair, tied up with a bit of rope, had collected leaves and twigs during her journey. She kind of liked being dirty, she thought, as she drifted off to sleep.

When Kallia awoke, the sun was setting. She pulled her cloak over her shoulders and settled her back against a tree. “If there is a dragon anywhere in these woods,” she thought, “he will be in this cave.” She stared at the cave for hours, well into the night. She imagined meeting the dragon and being flamed by its breath or swatted by its scaly tail.

During the dark hours of the night, every possible fear raced through Kallia’s mind. She wondered over and over why she was doing this, why she was seeking a dragon that would surely kill her. Dragons had killed many great warriors. Why should she be able to do what they couldn’t?

Kallia had never before thought about dying. She knew all people died but, at twelve years old, that truth seemed unreal to her. However, dying did not scare her; only the thought of pain was frightening. “At dawn,” she decided, “I will go into the cave and find the dragon.”

The more she thought about the dream, the more she felt she must find this dragon. She didn’t remember actually killing the creature in the dream, but that was the only possible choice. Everyone knows dragons must be killed.

Dawn finally came. Kallia took a deep breath, tried to stop her body from shaking with fear, and walked into the cave. Even with the torch she had made from an old piece of cloth, it was dark. As she walked, the cave kept getting bigger and bigger. Soon she was in a massive cavern. She felt the temperature change -- it was warmer now. If she listened very quietly, she could almost hear the sound of snoring. “Maybe a hermit is living here,” she hoped, feeling a bit safer for a moment.

Kallia took a few cautious steps. The snoring was getting louder. Holding the torch up over her head, she saw a large shape in the far corner. Her breath stuck in her throat, and her heart skipped several beats. She knew at once that she had found a dragon, no matter how much she wished it were just a large bear.

She moved closer, feeling fear in her stomach as she wedged her torch into a crevice in the wall. Kallia readied her weapons, deciding to attack while it slept. No need to give it warning by waking it. She raised her shield and sword and ran at the beast, intending to thrust her sword deep into its ribs.

Before she could get close enough, the dragon woke up and saw her coming. Kallia nearly froze in her tracks but decided to keep charging. The dragon yawned, a lazy kind of yawn, and raised its tail. With just a little swat, Kallia was knocked off her feet, landing on her backside.

She raised her shield, fearing the dragon would eat her. She could feel the heat from its breath. But the dragon just sat there, looking vaguely tired. Even dragons need their sleep.

Kallia lowered her shield and took a peek at the dragon. The dragon was just sitting there, half awake. She felt like a failure. The dream must have been all wrong. Tears rose to her eyes.

The dragon yawned, then looked at Kallia sitting on the floor of his cave. “Well, my child, have you learned anything from your adventure?”

Kallia looked up, startled. She did not know that dragons could speak. Words tumble from her mouth. “Uh, yeah, I have learned that little girls are foolish.”

“Try again, child. Being a girl is not your problem. That can’t stand in your way if you follow your dreams.” The dragon, smiling, didn’t seem so scary.

“Do you know about my dream?” Kallia asked.

“I knew you were coming to kill me, but I did not know why,” the dragon said.

“I dreamed that I must find a dragon,” Kallia began. “The dream said that if I do, I will become a great leader. But women are not warriors, and a woman has never ruled our land. I’m afraid I was wrong and that the dream has no truth. I thought all dragons must be killed.” Kallia felt a wave of disappointment move through her body. She felt like a balloon being deflated.

“Killing me is not your lesson, young lady.” The dragon seemed to know an awful lot for a creature that was supposed to be evil and mean.

Kallia felt confused. She just wanted to go home and sleep on her mat. “I don’t know why I had that dream, Dragon. I think I will just go home now, if you’ll let me.”

The dragon laughed, fire flaring out of his nostrils. “Giving up so soon? You haven’t even learned why your dream sent you here.”

Kallia sat down on the dusty floor of the cave. “Uh, so, why am I here? Am I supposed to learn something from you?” Her voice was shaky and thin.

The dragon smiled. “Very good. Whenever you meet a dragon, always ask it what lesson it has to teach you. That is the purpose of dragons. Do you understand?”

Kallia still felt confused. She felt safer, now, but unsure of what was happening.

The dragon continued, “The lesson I wish to teach you is that confronting a dragon -- not killing it -- is the way to become wise and powerful. Do you know how many people are frightened of us?” The dragon laughed again and more flames shot from his snout. “They see a dragon and try to kill it out of fear. Because we must protect ourselves from harm, people never discover the lesson they were supposed to learn.”

Kallia was beginning to understand. “So, you are my friend? If I learn the lesson you offer, you will not eat me?”

“Yes,” the dragon said, “on one condition. You must truly learn the lesson.”

Kallia smiled. “Yes, I will do that. Thank you. To be honest, I thought you were going to eat me.”
When Kallia arrived back at her village, she told her father of her adventures. He was very happy that she had returned safely, but angry that she went into the woods without telling anyone. Kallia explained the dream and what the dragon had taught her.

“Father,” she began cautiously, “I don’t want to be married in four years. I want to learn things and see the world.” Saying those words felt harder than facing a dragon. “I won’t marry that man.”

Having faced a dragon in its lair, she felt like there was no challenge in life that she could not handle.

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Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say that the lesson is lovely and important to learn at a young age. You don't need to be defined by the relationships that you keep. Anyway, althought this isn't a grateful link, I am greatful to be coming home soon. I miss my well ordered life.


Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this story. I makes me want to pull out one of my old book of fairytales, or maybe the Bhagavad.

Kai in NYC

WH said...

Thanks, you two.

I liked this story, too, but it never found a home as a result of length (too long for the target age group) and the message (too off the beaten path for many publishers). Glad someone else has seen it and liked it.