In his delighful Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm, Philip Pullman says that, unlike “literary” works where the author’s text – the words as set down upon the page – are the heart of the thing, “a fairy tale is not a text of that sort.” A fairy tale is shaped with each telling by each teller.
It’s a transcription made on one or more occasions of the words spoken by one of many people who have told this tale….The fairy tale is in a perpetual state of becoming and alteration. To keep to one version or one translation alone is to put a robin redbreast in a cage. (Which ‘puts all Heaven in a Rage’ [Wm. Blake])
Being a storyteller, I wholeheartedly agree, especially when it comes to Dragon tales.
Yesterday, I presented the ‘traditional’ lore surrounding Cymu’s Y Ddraig Goch. Today, I offer a more whimsical version I cobbled together a few years back. I hope you enjoy.
A Lost Dragon Found:
The Red Dragon of Wales
As everyone knows, Dragons come in a rainbow of colours: green, gold, black, and blue. Their scales sparkle like emeralds and shimmer like embers on the hearth. And when they wish to hide, they can blend into the background like nobody’s business. Get a bunch of Dragonkeepers together and they will each have their own opinion about which shade is the most common or handsome or prized. One thing most people agree on is that one of the rarest—and most famous—Dragons in the world is the Red Dragon of Wales. Or, as the Welsh call him, Y Draig Goch. This noble creature is so famous he even has his profile on the flag of his homeland.
But how did this wonderful creature come into being? Where was he born and how was he tended?
There are many stories about the Red Dragon, about his origins and what he means to the people of Wales. Some include wizards and great kings and fierce battles between nations. Proper Dragon stuff, for sure. However, the tale I like best I heard from an elegant green Dragon from the Enchantments of Anglesey in northern Wales. Her name was Cymcaille, and this is what she told me:
Long, long ago, when Stonehenge still had that new temple smell and London was barely a pit stop for invading Romans, there was a village in Wales in the lush, green valley of the Glaslyn River, a village so small it didn’t have a name. The people who lived there were strong and wise. They fished the river and hunted the woods; they tended their sheep and cattle and fields. They feasted when there was plenty and shared when there was little. And like one big family, everyone, from young child to grey-haired elder, worked hard and played hard when their chores were done.
Now, the clan chief had two children, a daughter, Efa, who was ten, and her eight-year-old brother, Brychan. Every morning these two woke up just looking for trouble. They would hurry through their daily tasks, eager to run off to the woods or down to the river. One day in late summer, with chores done and lessons learned, Efa and Brychan headed out to pick blackberries. The berries were so big and juicy that more went into their stomachs than their basket, and, by late afternoon, they were purple-fingered and full, with nothing to show for their labours. Not wanting to go home empty handed, they walked along the river, hoping to find a fish or two tangled in the nets stretched across the shallows. But the fish were too clever and refused to get caught that day. Just about ready to give up, Efa and Brychan rounded the bend in the river and there, in the last net, saw the strangest thing they’d ever seen: a great round egg, all midnight blue with specks of silver.
“Let’s smash it,” Brychan said grabbing a stick thick as his arm. “I want to see what’s inside!”
“No!” Efa said. She stood between her brother and their find. “No, I have a better idea: we’ll hatch it.”
Brychan thought about it for a moment, then smiled. What a great idea! Besides, his sister was older than him and would squash him in a second if he crossed her. With his big stick, they dug a hole in the sunny side of the bank. Then, working together, they freed the egg from the net, rolled it to the hole, and buried it where it would stay warm and out of harm’s way.
“This is our secret,” Efa warned her brother. “Don’t breathe a word to anyone.”
“Not even Mother and Father?”
“Especially them. Come on, it’s getting late!” And they ran back to the village, arriving just in time for supper.
Now, Efa didn’t know it then, but she was about to become a Dragon Keeper. Led by common sense and good instincts, she returned to the egg every couple of days—more often when she could. Sometimes Brychan even tagged along. She dug up the egg, tapped it, talked to it, then returned it to its warm, sandy nest.
So the summer passed, day upon day, week upon week, until the sun travelled lower in the sky and a whiff of coming autumn lingered in the air.
“Is it going to hatch soon?” Brychan asked impatiently as they pulled turnips and greens from the garden.
“I don’t know,” Efa said, unable to lie even to her pest of a brother.
“Well, I should have cracked it open—Whack!—long ago. Then we’d know—“
“Absolutely nothing. We’d just have a broken egg. Too big to even scramble!” Brychan laughed then shrugged, returning to a particularly stubborn turnip that wanted to spend another day or two underground.
Though she wouldn’t say so out loud, Efa was as eager as her brother to know what grew inside the star-lit-shell. Something amazing was about to happen, she knew it in her bones. And as soon as she could, she gave her brother the slip and ran off to the check on her treasure. When she neared the river, her heart sank. Through the brambles and honeysuckle, she saw waters churned up and muddy, a great mass of paw prints ripped deep into the bank. My egg! Someone’s after my egg! And without a thought to her own safety, Efa followed the tracks down the river bed, until, under a wind-bent tree, she found a lustrous silver Dragon—a mountain of a Dragon!—sobbing into her paws.
“What’s wrong?” the brave child asked.
“Who are you to ask, tender morsel?” moaned the Dragon.
“I’m Efa. A—a girl. I only want to help.”
“Help? Oh, how can an insignificant scaleless thing like you help me?! I am a wretched Dragon—a Dragon bereft and bewailed. A Dragon beyond help. I am a Dragon who has lost her egg.”
“Was it all blue with specks as silver as your scales?”
The Mother Dragon pricked up her ears and wiped her eyes, drenching Efa in the tears she flicked from her paws. “Yes, that’s it. Where is my egg, what have you done with it? Answer quick or I’ll eat you where you stand!”
“Oh, I’d much rather you didn’t. Really. The thing is, my brother and I found your egg caught in one of our nets. He wanted to—well, that’s not important. I—we—buried it in the sun, not far from here. I’ve taken good care of it, I promise. I’ve turned it and talked to it. Come, I’ll show you where.” And she led the Dragon down around the bend to the sunny side of the river. There, with tears of joy, the Silver Dragon unearthed her egg, wrapped it in the curl of her tail and blew a hot-hot breath upon it.
Then they waited, Dragon and child. And when the sun tipped over the hills, and dusk was fast approaching, the egg began to tremble, to rock, to roll. Then, with a loud crack, it split open, spilling forth a baby, yolk-soaked red Dragon.
“Oh, he is perfect!” the Dragon said with proper mother’s pride. “You saved him, girl, and I and all the Dragons of Cymru are eternally grateful.” She plucked a scale from near her heart and placed it in the child’s hands. “Keep this until our return,” she said, “a sign of our thanks.” And with that, she scooped the little red Dragon up in her paws and flew off into the western hills.
With a Wow! in her heart and a lump in her throat, Efa watched them disappear over the horizon. Then she plopped down on the bank and stared at the token heavy in her hand. Oh dear, she thought, how ever will I explain this to my brother?
Many years later, when Efa and Brychan had families and children of their own, a great Red Dragon swooped down into the village—the same Red Dragon they’d helped hatch so long ago that it all seemed like a dream.
“I am Y Ddraig Goch,” he roared. Then recognizing the Dragon scale which hung around Efa’s neck, he bowed low. “I am here to thank you for helping me come into this world. I owe you a great debt. You and your people. The Dragons of my Enchantment—my clan—owe you, too. We shall teach you and guard you, till the end of time.”
And so they did and so they do, to the end of time.