The Boy, the Dragon, and the Sun
I was eight when my father left. He disappeared into the sun-dappled afternoon and we never saw him again. Ma told me that he was swallowed by sunlight, and the sun would never give him up again. After that, I hated the rays and the golden droplets of light that would find their way through the leaves of the oaks. The light of the afternoon sun on my face was like a burn that would never go away, and I blamed each one of my tears on the great flame in the sky above me.
So I hid. I hid in our little cottage at the foot of the mountain, or in the shadows of the trees and stones the size of dragons' eggs. I found all kinds of tiny creatures who, like me, hated the sun. There was the fox, hiding in his darkened burrow, and the opossum whose eyes only glowed when there was darkness. There was the owl, who, unlike other birds, hated the sun for it made him sleepy, or so I told myself. I made half-formed plans with these partners of shadow, plans to fly to the sun to free my father. My compatriots never spoke back to me and half the time they ran from me in fright but I liked to pretend that they were always there, ready to come with me on a flight into the sky.
My sister mocked me for my hidden ways and secret shadowed friends.
“You are too pale and frail,” she would say, lip curling in distaste. “Don’t believe what mother told you. It is all lies. Papa left because he couldn’t take it. Papa left, he wasn’t swallowed by the sun.” And she would laugh harshly and run through the fields and make her browned arms even browner. She couldn’t fool me though. I knew she didn’t believe her words. Instead of hiding from the sun like me she was challenging it. She wanted to be swallowed like Papa.
One year after the sun took my father I climbed up to a crag and faced my enemy. I endured the sting and the burn and shouted and cursed it with all my might. I spoke until I had no more words and only tears remained, salty wet reminders of the words of my heart. I was afraid then and angry and slipped into the shadows of the oak and maple. I wanted to get away from the sun, as far away as I could get. The mountain heard my wish and I found my way out of the light and into the mountain's heart.
I found the dragon by a wide pool of water the color of sapphire and underneath a limestone sky. He was as blue as a robin’s egg and white edged the spines on his back and wings as frost would a windowpane. His neck rose, long and serpentine, as I approached and he looked at me with eyes of burnished bronze.
“You come a long way, child, into the mountain’s heart.”
“The mountain let me, so I came. I had to get away.”
“Get away from what?”
I thought I glanced a smile on the dragon’s face, but then again I am not even sure dragons can smile. He motioned at me with an ivory claw and I came slowly forward like a guilty child.
“Now why,” he asked gently, “are you afraid of the sun?”
“I am not afraid,” I said defiantly raising my chin. Not for one moment did I want this great beast to believe I had ever been afraid of my nemesis. “I hate the sun. I hate it so much I never want to see it again.”
“Hmpf,” the dragon snorted, his hot breath mussing my sandy hair. “But does not the sun bring life?”
“No,” I pouted, “the sun steals and the sun takes what it wants. It took my father, but I am not afraid of it. Someday when I am strong, when I am a man, I will fly to the sun and save my father. I will make the sun give him back.”
“Ah, I see now,” the dragon nodded sagely. He opened his great jaws and yawned and I saw his teeth, sharp and sparkling white in the darkness. “So, child, how will you defeat your enemy, this great burning enemy? It is far away in its great blue kingdom and you do not have wings or a flying chariot to get you there.”
“I will find a way.”
I chanced I saw the dragon smile again and I felt small and defeated under his gaze.
“Well,” he rumbled low and thoughtful, “please sit and tell me your plans for this mighty battle.”
I felt my chest swell with pride and so I sat on a stone in the crook of the robin egg tail and told him of my plans. I told him of my allies, hiding in their shadows and how we would go together and fight a mighty battle on a field of blue. I would have a sword of ice and the sun would recoil from me and beg for my mercy. And then I would see my father, locked in a flaming cage and I would bring my icy sword down and break him free. Then we would fly together, back to the earth, to my mother and sister and they would cry tears of joy as they welcomed Papa and me home.
The dragon did not laugh but rather told me an ancient tale about a hero who had diverted a river to save a burning city and so I added rivers into my plan. Together we planned and plotted, in the depths of the cave in the mountain's heart. When we got tired of planning, the dragon told me tales of the wonders he had seen and the people he had met in his great life. Under the bronzed eyes and smoky voice, I found my eyelids drooping and I was swimming in a world of dreams.
Everyday, from that day forward I would visit my dragon, or try to. Some days the mountain would not let me in and I would wander among the oaks and the ash not knowing what to do. Other days I found my way into his cave and we would tell stories in the dark. From each tale I took something and added it to my escape plans, but before I knew it, the summer had past and I still had not made my flight into the sky.
“Will you take me to the sun?” I asked the dragon one day. “You have great wings, great mighty wings. You could easily make the journey. And then you could help me free my father. You could fight at my side and fly us home and be sung about for years to come as a hero!”
The dragon sighed and patted my head gently with his taloned paw. “I am sorry, child, but the crimson blood that flows through your veins is hot and fiery like the sun itself. Mine is made of ice and water as cold as the mountain streams. I am a dragon of winter and of night. I would die on such a noble quest.”
“I don’t want you to die!” I wailed. “If you did I would hate the sun even more than I do now. No, I will find another way to the sun, don’t you worry!”
“I never do,” the dragon replied softly.
In the evenings I would drag myself home and eat a little before collapsing into bed. Some nights I would never come home at all. My mother watched me, her own face growing paler and paler and it grew hollows in it like the hollows of the mountain. When she got sick in the winter I sat by her bedside and put cloths on her forehead and made her drink strong smelling tea. I missed my conversations with my dragon but, late at night, when the snow was thick, I could see him flying across the moon. When this happened, my heart would be gladdened, and I would pat my mother’s hand and tell her about my dragon. I would tell her some of the tales he had told me, and I told her he was watching over our house while she was sick. She never responded or said anything until the day her spirit left her and she wished my father had been there.
I cried, not for my mother, but for my father. I wished he had been there to fulfill my mothers last wish and I wished I had been strong enough to carry out my plans sooner. I decided it was time for me to be a man and I ran to the shed behind our house where I kept the two birch branches I had been smoothing out all winter. It was spring now and my sister called me crazy as she washed dishes in the kitchen, but I ignored her and ran on.
Across the birch branches I stretched two tight pieces of cloth. I smoothed them and placed sticks under them for support. I had dyed the wings with some indigo but they were a lot darker then the robin egg blue wings that had been my inspiration. My dragon was going to fly me to the sun, whether he knew it or not.
I went to my spot, where the earth dropped off into a great chasm with rocks of all sizes at the bottom. Here the wind rushed through and up and I was sure I could catch an updraft and fly straight into the sky. I took a few breaths and felt my heart pounding in my chest. And then I ran.
Oh how fast my feet carried me! It was as if I were flying before I even left the ground. I skimmed over the grass and leapt over rocks until I reached the edge and jumped into the wind. My wings caught the air currents and I was lifted up higher and higher.
For a moment I really thought I could do it. I really thought I was flying into the sky, but then my weight became too much and I began to fall. I remember not being scared when I fell, but just falling and being at peace with the world. The rock faces blurred before my eyes and so I closed them and prepared myself for a landing where I knew I would see Mama again.
But then something caught me. Something great and powerful was defying the wind and the weight and I opened my eyes and saw the world far below me. I saw tiny farmhouses and the patchwork of crops. I saw trees that could have been toys and even the peaks of the tallest mountains. I cried out in joy and let the wind blow through my hair and I sat up on the robin egg blue back and shouted a battle cry into the wind.
“I thought you had a battle to fight?” The dragon rumbled beneath me. “You can’t fight if you’re dead, so I suppose I’d better help.”
I laughed joyously and hugged my dragon's back, tears of happiness stinging in my eyes. “I knew you’d help,” I murmured. “I just knew it! Thank you!”
“Save your energy,” he called, “for the sun.”
I took the spear I had made and had earlier fastened to my back and waved it in the air whooping. I sat astride my mighty dragon and made up battle cries and songs I would sing when I beat my enemy. I sat and sang for what seemed like hours and eventually fell asleep.
When I awoke the world had dropped away beneath us and the dragon was quiet. His wings were beating slower than what I remembered and I sat up and rubbed my eyes.
“Dragon, are you okay?”
“I am fine child, we will be there soon! Ready yourself!”
But I was not readying myself, I was watching my dragon's wings. The frosty white that edged the wings was dripping slowly. More water was dripping from the dragon's tail and his entire back was wet with melting ice.
“Dragon, you are melting.”
The dragon turned his serpentine neck around and smiled. “I will be fine. I want to help you fight your battle.”
“No,” I cried, tears stinging in my eyes. “Your blood is of ice and you are of winter. You told me this. If you continue you will die! I don’t want you to die. You are my friend and I love you. Please turn back! I don’t want to battle the sun if it means losing my dragon.”
The dragon gave a small groan of pain and I cried and beat my arms. “If you don’t turn back now, I will throw myself from your back and then you’ll have to turn around to get me. Please, stop!”
The dragon looked at me again and I thought I saw him smile. He turned and dipped his wings down and we sped toward the earth, away from the sun. We landed and I helped my dragon into a cool cave where I sat next to him and cried. He tiredly patted my head and looked at me through his eyes of burnished bronze.
“Why child? You could have freed your father, like you wanted. You could have had part of your family back.”
I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand and sniffled a bit before meeting his eyes. “I don’t remember my father's voice and I don’t really even remember his face. I remember the stories you told me and I remember our time together. I remember your eyes and I remember seeing you fly across the moon and how happy that made me. You may have ice running through your veins and I may have fire running through mine, but you don’t have to have the same blood to be family.”