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Confabulation of Dragons

Confabulation of Dragons

Dragons and faërie tales have gone hand in paw since time immemorial. They anneal the mettle of would-be heroes, or, if a Dragon-by-spell, teach some haplessly ensorcelled prince or princess a valuable lesson. Western storytellers usually cast our friends as the heavies – either monsters in their own right or the minions of even darker forces. Dragons in the East are often treated with a gentler hand, more in keeping with the reverence bestowed upon their Cosmic ancestors.

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Today, I offer my slightly truncated rendition of an old faërie tale from Anatolia which I first discovered when researching Dragons for Beginners. Like its land of origin, it falls somewhere between the attitudes of East and West. Enjoy.

The Black Dragon and the Red Dragon.[1]

Long, long ago, we are told, there was a Turkish king, a Padishah, who was surely the most ill-fated man in all Anatolia. He had forty children, all beautiful and loved, and all stolen from him when they reached their seventh birthdays. No one in the whole world knew such grief! How could they? He was the king, and his children were the best and the brightest! One night his royal loss became more than he could bear; pulling his despair tight about him, he walked out into the desert. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, “Not all those who wander are lost.” Sometimes we are just seeking. And sometimes, when the night of the soul is as starless as a black hole, wandering is the Universe’s way of shaking us up, opening our eyes, and returning us to the light.

For many days he wandered until, one day he saw in the distance what seemed like a great army standing ready for battle. As he drew nearer he was surprised to find the army was composed of Dragons of all sizes, the smallest being as large as a camel. “Woe is me!”he groaned. “What shall I do now? If I go forward I shall certainly be cut to pieces, and I cannot go back without being seen.” He prayed to Allah for deliverance from this danger.

It happened, however, that these were only newly-born Dragons, the oldest being only a few days old. Their eyes were still closed (poetic license, here, as Dragons are born with their eyes open), so they stumbled blindly around the desert, unable to find their way home. With a quick prayer of thanks, the Padishah gave the Dragons a wide berth and continued on his way.

Black Dragon - Art Fiction

Black Dragon – Art Fiction

That night, a terrible howling woke his uneasy sleep. It was the grief-stricken Dragon-mother calling her lost children. On seeing the man, she stood tall and thundered: “Human, what have you done to my little ones? Tell me quick or it will be the worse for you!”

Touched by her anguish – and not a little fearful – the Padishah showed respect in the face of power and related how he’d crossed paths with a veritable army of infant Dragons. Cautiously optimistic, the Black Dragon flew off and discovers that, lo, the king was right! There her children were, huddled together in the desert, frightened and forlorn. She herded them home and then, as was only fair, listened to the Padishah’s own grief that she might help him as he’d helped her.

Sand Dragon - Calavera

Sand Dragon – Calavera

When she heard of his stolen brood, she said, “Not to worry! Your children are in the Hyacinth Kiosk. Across this mountain is a desert where my brother lives; his children are bigger than mine and know the place well. Go to him, present my compliments, and ask him to escort you on your journey.”

The King did as she advised, travelling until he reached the desert where stood a Dragon twice as large as the other, a lick of flame emerging from his eyes strong enough to scorch any being who came within reach of it. The Padishah was convinced he was doomed for sure. Still, the love of his children drove him on, and at the top of his voice he shouted to the Dragon his sister’s greeting. Hearing the words the great beast opened his eyes and as he did so, it seemed as though the whole region was enveloped in flames. Too terrified to stand, the Padishah ran back the way he’d come and told the Black Dragon what had happened.

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Said she: “I forgot to tell you that I am called the Black Dragon, my brother, the Red Dragon. Go back and say that the Black Dragon sends greeting. As my name is known to no one, my brother will recognize that I have sent you. Then he will turn his back towards you, and you can approach him without danger; but beware of getting in front of him, or you will become a victim of the fiery glances of his eyes.”

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The Shah did as he was told and the Red Dragon, with his back turned, said, “My son, if thou wouldst enter the Hyacinth Kiosk, cry aloud at the gate, ‘The Red Dragon has sent me!’ At this an Arab will appear: this is the very peri who has stolen your children. When he asks what you want, tell him that the great Dragon demands the largest of the stolen children. If he refuses, ask for the smallest. If again he refuses, tell him the Red Dragon demands himself. Say no more than that. Then return to me.”

Mounted on the back of the Red Dragon’s eldest son, the Padishah flew off to the Hyacinth Kiosk. At the top of his lungs, he shouted: “Greeting from the Red Dragon!” So mighty was the shout that earth and sky seemed to be shaken. Just as the Dragon said, an Arab appeared, holding an enormous club in his hand.

“What is the fuss?” he asked.

“The Red Dragon,” said the Padishah, “demands the largest of the stolen children.” “The largest is ill,” answered the peri.

“Then send the smallest to him,” rejoined the Padishah.

“He has gone to fetch water,” replied the Arab.

“If that is so,” continued the Padishah, “the Red Dragon demands thyself.”

“I am going into the kiosk,” said the Arab, and disappeared.

The Padishah returned to the Red Dragon. On hearing how the king’s mission fared, the Dragon went to see the peri himself.

“So-ho! my dear Hyacinther,” the Red Dragon yawped. “You have the children of this Padishah. Hand them over.”

“I have a request,” replied the peri, “and if the Padishah will grant it I will gladly return his children. Ten years ago I stole the son of a certain Padishah, and when he was twelve years old he was stolen away from me by a Dew-woman named Porsuk. This Porsuk has a son who loves me, and evil has been done me because I will not adopt him in place of the stolen boy. I am aware that the children of this Padishah are brave and handsome, and I stole them to mitigate my sufferings. If he gets me my love, I will return his.”

With the help of the Red Dragon and his sons, the Padishah retrieved the peri’s lost changling. As soon as he caught sight of the boy, the Hyacinth Arab embraced and kissed him, gratitude pouring from his lips to the friends who had restored him.

Keeping his word, he clapped his hands and stamped his feet on the ground and immediately forty birds flew up, singing merrily. A flock of birds is silhouetted against the sunrise outside the town of Kyzylorda in southern KazakhstanWith a sprinkling from the peri’s magic flask, the birds were transformed into forty lovely maidens and handsome youths.  “Behold your children, my good Shah! Take them and be happy, and pardon me the suffering I have caused thee.”

A pardon was the least the Padishah could give, so joyful was he at having his children back. So they head home, a family once more. And along the way, the Padishah entertained his children with tales of his adventures, of the power of Dragons.

Black Dragon  Tempest - Peter Prime

Black Dragon Tempest – Peter Prime

For in the course of the Padishah’s trek, he went from pitiful to strong, shattered to whole, thanks in no small part to the wisdom of two remarkable beings, the Black Dragon and her brother, the Red Dragon. They not only helped him find his children but made him a better king in the process. In details as intricate as a Topkapi arabesque, he learned about families, about love and loss and setting things right. The self-absorbed Padishah at the beginning of our story would never have thought it possible for creatures, let alone Dragons, to love their children as much as he. Yet, in the company of the Black Dragon and her brother,[2] he discovered that family is family, grief is grief as anyone with more than a passing acquaintance with Dragons knows. He learned to treasure the similarities between us—even Dragons and humans—rather than fear the differences.

In the end, the Padishah returns to his palace wiser and more compassionate for his adventures. The lost are found, justice is done; there is dancing and laughter, even forgiveness where it is due. In the happily-ever-after way of these things, one likes to believe the Shah issued an edict banning Dragon hunting in perpetuity. It would have been the right thing to do.

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[1] Complete text can be found in Kunos’s Forty-four Turkish Fairy Tales.

[2] And even the mischievous peri.

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