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Short Story

Miranda and the Over-Dragon

Nolan Whyte with his second fable about the philosophical adventuress.

Miranda was a girl who lived in the time of kings and kingdoms, swords and sneak thieves, wizards and charlatans. She was quick on her feet and quick with her sword, and most important of all, she was quick with her mind. Miranda travelled far through the wide wide world, and she always had her eyes and ears open for adventures, which were by far her favourite thing.

After a journey across the sea on a great wooden ship, Miranda landed at a fishing village on the coast of a hilly country. The grey mountains in the distance were dark and foreboding, but Miranda was ready to travel over land once more, to see new places and meet new people. With affection and respect for the kindly old captain of the great ship, Miranda paid her fare and took her leave of him, walking down the gangplank onto the dock of the town.

The dock was crowded, and many of the people she saw were preparing to depart. Miranda slipped through the crowds, passing into the village thoroughfare. The streets were busy. Many people passed by, most of them walking towards the pier. Tired looking mothers carried crying babes in their arms, and men with shaggy beards carried bundles and parcels, looking like they were bearing everything they had in the world.

Miranda had seen such sights before. Though it saddened her to think it, these people looked like refugees fleeing from something terrible, and what they were likely fleeing from was a war. She sighed, for there’s perhaps nothing more terrible than war, and no one more in need of help and sympathy than war’s civilian victims. Miranda decided that if there were any way she could help these people, she would do her very best.

Knowing that before you can help you have to understand, Miranda approached a man who looked like a police officer. He was a big fellow in a long dark cloak, and he blew on a whistle as he pointed people towards the pier.

“Excuse me sir,” Miranda said to the man. “I was hoping you could tell me who is at war, and why?”

The man looked down at Miranda and arched his bushy eyebrows. “War, my dear? There’s no war in this country, and thank goodness for that! We have enough troubles without war, thank you very much!”

“But if there is no war, why are all of these people leaving?” asked Miranda.

“Don’t worry about that, child. You just be on your way as well.” The man turned his back to Miranda and resumed blowing his whistle and directing the people toward the pier.

“How very odd,” said Miranda to herself. “I must admit, I’m even more curious now than before. I wonder who I can find to tell me what’s happening?”

She walked into a tavern to have a bowl of soup for her lunch. In the dusty little establishment she found an old woman who was willing to talk about the troubles of her land. “No, there’s no war here, dear,” the old woman said, echoing the big man in the street. “But there is something that drives the people away from their land. You see, our country is being terrorized by – a dragon!”

“A dragon!?” exclaimed Miranda with wide-open eyes. “But I didn’t think there were any dragons in the world any more.”

“Well, they certainly are rare,” the old woman said, “But there’s no doubt about it.” With a sad look in her eyes, she explained how the dragon made life horrible for the people of her country. “This used to be a rich land,” she said. “We had mining and skilled smiths who made useful and beautiful things from metal, and productive farms and hardworking people. But this dragon, curse him, came only a year ago, and in that time he has managed to raze the whole of our land and chase away too many people. He has eaten our animals and many of our citizens. He has a keen nose for gold and will tear a whole village apart to find a speck of it. Hah! What good is gold to a dragon?”

The old woman brought Miranda her soup. “I’m sorry child,” she told Miranda, “but I really believe the best thing for you to do is to leave our land as soon as you possibly can.”

“I think you may be right,” said Miranda, blowing on a spoonful of steaming soup, “but I should very much like to see what a real dragon looks like. Do you think it would be possible to see it before I leave?”

“If you’re crazy, you could try and get a look at it. There aren’t many people who have seen it up close who are alive today. A day’s journey north of here our army is gathering, preparing to slay the beast. They are brave, but I fear they will soon meet their end, as so many of our countrymen have recently.”

Miranda ate her soup, and decided that she had better travel north to observe the army ride into battle against the dragon. As the old woman had said, dragons are rare, and although Miranda had no intention of riding into battle against the monster herself, she saw no harm in having a look from a safe distance.

It was a difficult journey up into the mountains to the north of the village. The roads were rough and rocky, and choked with citizens fleeing to the coast, where they could find passage on ships to seek sanctuary in foreign lands.

Miranda travelled all night. By morning the stream of people had thinned, and by noontime she could see no one in any direction. Tired from her long night of walking, she sat in the shade of some trees in a mossy green hollow. After a snack from her bag and a drink from her waterskin, Miranda fell asleep on the soft moss-covered ground.

It was not long before a sharp blast from a trumpet woke her. She opened her eyes. She wasn’t sure if she had really heard any sound at all; but soon the first trumpet call was followed by another, and then by another still. Miranda scrambled to her feet and crept in the direction the sound was coming from, climbing up the side of the hollow. At the crest of the hill Miranda was able to look across a vast plane. Upon that plane was the army she had come looking for.

The trumpet sounded again, and the soldiers stood to attention. The knights tried to calm their horses, and everyone strained to listen as the general began to speak.

Miranda too strained to hear him. As so many young people do, she had very sharp hearing. And so this is what she heard: “Friends of our dear land!” the general began. “I know that you are brave to join me here, ready to face the most horrible enemy anyone could have. But you have been asked to ride into battle, and if there is one thing the people of our country are known for it is following their leaders and doing what is asked of them, no matter how terrible. Now be ready, for our scouts have told me that the terrible dragon approaches. When you see him, give your greatest battle cry, let loose your arrows, and we shall do our best to make this his last day!”

At that moment Miranda heard a most terrible screeching noise, and from beyond a nearby mountain came the dragon. He was giant and red, covered from the tip of his nose to the end of his tail with sharp scales, and his great wings could have covered a whole village. The soldiers gave their battle shout, arrows began to fly, and what Miranda saw next made her wish that she had kept sleeping and not seen anything at all.

A short time later the battle was over and the army was defeated. In fact, the army was not just defeated, but was gone altogether – every single soldier, knight, archer and general had been roasted by the dragon’s dreadful fiery breath and gobbled up. The dragon, with his enormous appetite had even eaten the horses, and the sight of the burned and empty plane was deeply sad for Miranda to see.

The great dragon was now lying on his back, wings spread wide, resting his head at the foot of a mountain, his huge belly swollen and stretched. He looked slightly ill, as many of us do when we eat too much at a meal.

‘He doesn’t look too dangerous now,’ thought Miranda to herself from the safety of the hollow, where she was sure the dragon couldn’t see her. He looked so stuffed that he couldn’t even sit up, let alone fly! ‘Perhaps I could speak to him, and ask him why he’s being so terribly cruel to the people of this country. Surely, after eating so many horses and soldiers, he would have no appetite for one little girl,’ she thought.

So with great trepidation Miranda crept out of her hiding place and walked towards the beast. When she was close enough to the dragon to be heard, but still far enough away to run for shelter, she called out “Good afternoon, Mister Dragon!”

The dragon belched with a thunderous roar, releasing a ball of flame and sooty black smoke up into the sky. He blinked lethargically, and without moving his head, glanced around to see who had addressed him. Miranda had to bite her bottom lip not to run away with fear when the dragon’s glowing yellow eye stopped and focused on her.

“Good afternoon, Mister Dragon,” she said again, trying to remain as polite as she possibly could, for she didn’t want to upset him and find herself eaten like the others, “I hope the day finds you in good keeping.”

Again smoke poured from the mouth and nostrils of the dragon. With a voice like a thousand terrible engines burning away, the monster spoke. “This afternoon finds me with a full belly, child,” he said. “And if the evening should hope to find you alive, you would be wise to be on your way, lest I feel hungry once more.”

“I certainly shall be on my way very soon, Mister Dragon,” replied Miranda, doing her best not to sound frightened by the dragon’s threat. “However, with your permission, I was hoping to ask you a question before I take my leave of you.”

Ho ho ho,” chuckled the beast, puffing sooty smoke. “You are a cheeky one, aren’t you? Come to ask a dragon a question? Very well child, ask your question, and if it pleases me, perhaps I will answer.”

“Thank you very much, Mister Dragon. I will try not to use much of your time. It’s only that I wish to know why you are making so much trouble for the people who live in this land. Have they done something to upset you?”

Ho ho ho!” laughed the dragon again, spewing smoke. “Child, I am doing what dragons do! What kind of dragon would I be if I didn’t burn villages and eat livestock and capture gold and gobble up whole armies and make my name known throughout the whole wide world as a terrible and frightening monster?”

“Since you have answered my question with a question, I will venture to ask you another, O Mister Dragon,” replied Miranda. “You ask what kind of dragon you would be if you did not do these things; and so I must ask why you should want to be a dragon that does do these things?”

The dragon said nothing for a moment, and at last gave Miranda a sharp look with one reptilian yellow eye. “Child, have you heard tales of the dragon Gorgamoroth?”

“Certainly,” she replied. “Those legends are told to every child in the wide wide world.”

“They are no legends, child,” said the dragon. “Gorgamoroth is as real as you and I, and every story about him is true. It was he who raised me from a hatchling and taught me the way of the dragons. And the way of the dragons is to spread fear, and to spread their name… to take whatever gold they want, and to eat until their bellies are full, and to smash armies, and to burn villages. These are the things that dragons do.”

“I see,” said Miranda. “But Mister Dragon, are there not other things that a dragon could do instead?”

Humph,” puffed the dragon, releasing another cloud of smoke. “Perhaps, child, but seeking other pursuits is not for me. You see, Gorgamoroth raised me and taught me, and now I have grown mighty while he has grown old and frail. Gorgamoroth lives far to the north, in a cave so deep that he shall never emerge to see the sun again. It is my turn now, and I wish to do my teacher proud, by doing the things he taught me to do… and as you can see by the tattered remains of this puny army, he taught me well.” There was a look in the dragon’s big glowing eye that frightened Miranda as the dragon continued, “Not only is it my turn to be a dragon of renown, but I wish to make my name even greater than my old teacher’s. I wish to be the most important, famous dragon that has ever been… I wish to be the dragon that people will remember over all the other dragons.”

“Yes indeed, Mister Dragon,” said Miranda. “I can see very well that you are certainly on your way.”

Ho ho ho,” puffed the dragon with lethargic pride.

Miranda thought about what she could possibly say to the dragon so that it might leave this poor country and its inhabitants alone. “You have learned much,” she began, “and I am just a small girl in a big world. All the same, I have always tried to learn all that I could from everyone I met. I have heard people say that dragons are very clever and especially very wise. Mister Dragon, is this true?”

“You attempt to flatter me, child!” he laughed, his great belly heaving. “But yes – it is certainly true that dragons are both clever and wise. That is what comes of living so very, very long in this world.”

“Well, as I am in the presence of one so wise, might I be so bold to ask for your help in understanding a very old riddle?”

“Your many questions may yet begin to vex me child,” said the dragon, “But since I am sitting here with a full belly, I will find an answer for your riddle. But hope that you are not here when I grow hungry again!” he added with a chuckle.

“Well, I certainly do hope not to be in the path of a hungry dragon,” said Miranda, smiling as she agreed with her monstrous companion. “My riddle is this,” she said, growing serious. “A wise old man once said, ‘One repays a teacher badly if one remains forever a student.’ Now certainly this must be a riddle, for it makes no sense at all to me.”

Again the dragon laughed his booming, smoky laugh. “Oh child, this is the simplest riddle I have ever been told. It means that to make teacher proud, the student must go beyond what the teacher has taught. Learn more than what your teacher knows! If you never begin to learn on your own, without your teacher’s aid, how can you possibly ever cease to be a student?”

“But should it not make a teacher proud that a student should want to be a student forever?”

“That, child, would be true only of a poor and foolish teacher. A true teacher understands that a successful student must one day learn enough to go beyond what he has been taught, and create for himself.”

“I am just a child, Mister Dragon,” said Miranda, “and I do not understand difficult things easily. An example would help me. Could you explain how you have gone beyond what your own great teacher taught you?”

The dragon was silent for a long moment while he thought about his answer. “Well,” he puffed at last, “I’m going to do the things he taught me to do, only bigger, and more often. You know. Eat bigger armies. Amass more gold.”

“I’m not sure I understand, Mister Dragon,” said Miranda. “If you do only what he has taught you, bigger or not, are you not still his student?”

The dragon was silent for a long time. His great glowing eyes stared off towards the far horizon, and his smoky breath puffed thoughtfully from his sooty nostrils. At long last, he rolled off his back, reared up on his hind legs, and stretched out his great wings so wide they might black out the sky.

Miranda became very frightened, but she did not run, for she knew her little legs could not carry her away fast enough. Instead she stood still and looked brave, hoping the dragon would talk, not breathe fire on her or make her into dessert.

“Child,” the dragon said at last in a great booming voice, “You have given me something to think about. Perhaps I am only repeating what he has done. Truly, if I am to go beyond the teachings of Gorgamoroth I will need to learn and to think for myself. I will be on my way now, and I will leave this country and its inhabitants until I decide what it is that I must do. I bid you good-day child, and good luck in finding answers to all the riddles that may cross your path.”

With that the dragon leapt skyward, spreading his wings and flying higher and higher, off to the far north where all dragons come from, and where they all must eventually return.

“Goodbye, Mister Dragon,” Miranda said quietly as the great beast faded from sight. “I hope you find an answer to your own riddle, and I hope that it is a peaceful one.” With that, she turned and began walking back towards the village.

© Nolan Whyte 2007

Nolan Whyte lives in Toronto, Canada. More information about his work can be found at nolanwhyte.com. Miranda’s first adventure appeared in Issue 54.

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