Some stories begin at the beginning. That is the natural way of things. But some stories begin before the beginning. And that can be the most interesting of tales.
Lizzy had just moved to New York City; she had needed a change and she thought she could find anonymity here. She wanted to wander silently through the crowds and soak up the beauty that was New York but she didn’t want anyone to rely on her or for her to rely on anyone else. Maybe just for a little while. And that is how Lizzy found herself in a small art shop buying a few supplies. She like to sketch what she saw but she didn’t have what she needed. And of course, she needed something to carry all the supplies she would use. The shop offered perfectly sized canvas bags. It was great and it was, well, boring. But the shopkeeper had a plan. She supplied the paints so anyone could paint what they wanted onto the bag. Lizzy loved the thought but had no idea what to paint. So, she looked around the room and saw a book with a fierce picture of a dragon on the front and the words “MYSTICAL CREATURES”. She thought the idea of a dragon was great but he had to be a little less menacing so she put her head down and started to paint. Eventually she was happy with what she had done and she was just finishing off the tail when a small child approached her cautiously.
“I think he would like to have a purple ribbon around his tail.”
Startled, Lizzy looked up and then immediately looked down. After all, the voice had come from almost below the table from a beautiful little girl dressed in purple.
“I like your dragon but I think he needs a purple ribbon.”
The voice spoke with the confidence of innocence. Lizzy smiled and answered her.
“I agree. And what is your name?”
“Olivia,” she said. And then with a sudden burst of shyness, she turned and ran from the store, her father in tow. He smiled a tired smile at Lizzy and followed his daughter.
Lizzy grinned. She wanted to credit the little girl with giving her the idea so she started to print her name on the ribbon. O L and then she thought maybe she shouldn’t because she didn’t have permission. She wondered what to do. And then a thought came to her. She already painted an O and an L and she would add an I but in lowercase to acknowledge the small child. And OLi was born.
In a time very long ago and in a place very far away, lived a tribe of dragons and a tribe of people. The dragons lived on top of a mountain while the people lived in the valley far below. It was an uneasy truce but it had lasted for hundreds of years. And it was expected to last for hundreds more.
But what is expected and what actually happens is very often the exact opposite. In a nest on the edge of the cliff were several eggs. They were quite large. One of them was restless. It seemed to shake and roll about the nest. It really was disturbing the other eggs. Eventually the egg rolled to the edge of the nest and over it. At that point gravity took over and the egg began to roll down the mountain. Now dragons’ eggs are quite strong, they are tough creatures. But it was a very long way down the mountain. There were fields and forests and streams that had to be navigated and it all seemed to happened as if by magic. No harm came to the egg. In time it reached the valley and it started to slow down. Eventually it came to rest at the edge of a red barn at the outer edge of a farm. It wasn’t there very long before a young boy named Christian found it.
Now, Christian had never seen a dragon before but he knew exactly what the egg was. He had grown up learning about the mystical beasts. They had been taught that they were fierce warriors and would eat little children if they misbehaved. Christian believed they were really just tall tales to keep the children from being naughty. The dragons had never ventured into the valley as long as he had been alive. But there were stories . . . .
Christian looked at the very large egg at his feet. He wondered what to do about it. He knew he couldn’t tell his Father because of course he would just destroy it. As he was looking intently at his latest dilemma, he noticed it start to shiver. It was cold. Without thinking Christian picked it up and took it into the barn. At the very least he would keep it warm until he decided what to do. It was an old barn that was rarely used but it still had remnants of hay and it was protection from the wind. The egg would be safe here. Christian made a little hollow in a bale of hay and placed the egg in it. He then wrapped an old blanket around it. He also wanted to make sure no one else could find it. Goodness only knows what would happen if he was found harbouring a dragon! It didn’t bear thinking about.
As he was eating dinner that night Christian was distracted. What did baby dragons eat? The tales never told you that. But he was enjoying his mashed potatoes and peas and he wondered if maybe he would just try to feed it whatever he was having for dinner. He figured he could sneak something into the barn. But of course, it all depended on when the egg hatched. That was something he was looking forward to.
Several days went by and Christian was very diligent about making sure he was in the barn as many times as possible. He found it gave him great pleasure to hold the egg and feel the life inside. It seemed to move, gently at first and then more vigorously. It was also warm, calm under his hand. And then one day it happened. It cracked. Christian wasn’t in the barn but he noticed it as soon as he did come in and he sat down on his hands and knees, face inches from the shell and watched.
Slowly, oh so slowly, the crack started to get bigger. Eventually a piece fell off and Christian looked in wonder and saw an eye. It blinked. He almost couldn’t contain his joy. But he knew that too much excitement might scare the new life so he clapped one hand over his mouth and hugged himself with the other. For a while nothing seemed to happen and then everything happened. A little face poked its way through the shell and shook furiously. A shoulder showed and then two small hands. Ah! Quietly whispered Christian… and then, Wings! Before too long the shell was gone. Or rather bits of it were strewn around a very small, miniature dragon.
Barely daring to breathe Christian put his hands out to the small creature in a gesture of friendship. The tiny dragon burped. Christian smiled. And then it made a noise that sounded a little like “Olly”! It really wasn’t much more than a squeak but now Christian knew his name. He put his hand on the forehead of the small creature and smiled. In return he seemed to purr and when he put his head in Christian’s hands, a friendship was born.
Christian knew he had to keep his young charge out of sight of the others. He was after all a dragon, albeit a very small one. They developed a routine that seemed to work for both of them. First thing in the morning Christian would arrive with fruit and nuts which the young dragon seemed to love. They would play for a while and Christian did bear a few scars from OLi’s teeth but he didn’t mind. The dragon was fed again after Christian’s dinner. Basically, whatever Christian ate, so did OLi. It was interesting to discover that the young dragon’s favourite food, was mashed potatoes.
One day Christian noticed that his little sister had put ribbons on her dolls. They looked pretty and helped her identify which one was which. So, without thinking he pinched one. It was a beautiful purple and he thought it might look good on OLi’s tail. OLi didn’t agree. If you weren’t a young dragon snapping at a ribbon that is now dangling from your tail, you might find the whole situation quite funny. Christian did. OLi performed some quite amazing aerobatics trying to get away from this purple thing and from another’s perspective it was quite spectacular. Maybe he was learning something. When he finally came down to the ground, he sniffed at this purple thing hanging from his tail and he seemed to have a change of heart. This was his.
Unfortunately, time does not stand still. Even for young boys and their young friends. OLi was growing. He had learned to fly all by himself and while his takeoff wasn’t the best, he was pretty good in the air. He also hasn’t figured out the fine art of fire breathing, which, given that there was a lot of hay around, that was a good thing. He rarely left the barn but it was pretty big so that was OK. Something else Christian noticed: there were no barn mice or rats. He thought he probably shouldn’t think too hard about it. OLi was in this barn all by himself a lot and he never seemed to be hungry.
The days and nights blurred for Christian. He loved his new friend desperately but he also knew that the valley was no place for a dragon. OLi was becoming quite big, although nowhere near as big as a full-grown dragon he was still becoming more than Christian shoulders could handle. It was time. The young boy had a plan. He would tell his family he was going to stay with a friend for a few days and he and his dragon would climb the mountain. OLi would go home.
It took it several days but Christian and OLi made it to the summit of the mountain. Christian dared not go over the top but he encouraged his young friend to seek his own kind. It’s almost as if the dragon didn’t want to leave. He butted his head into Christian’s arm and wrapped his wings around his hands, his version of an embrace. But he was intrigued by the sounds coming from the top of the mountain and the glimpses he could see of the full-grown dragons. Eventually he did go. And Christian stumbled down the mountain barely able to see with the tears in his eyes. He knew he had done the right thing and he also knew that he would never forget his friend.
As the years went by, Christian often thought of OLi. He wondered if he had been accepted by his tribe and how big he had grown. He would look up towards the mountain top and think of his friend looking back. He never forgot.
Over time memories change. Truths become myths and myths often distort the truth. People remembered that once upon a time there were dragons. But the general belief was that they had died or left. No one had seen one in so very long. Except of course for Christian but had he kept his secret carefully hidden. The valley grew prosperous. People had time to indulge. And with that indulgence came complacency. Never a good combination. Young men started to wonder about the dragons that no longer existed. Eventually they wondered too much and decided that they would find out for themselves. They decided to climb the mountain. They didn’t make any preparations because they didn’t think there was anything dangerous at the top. They were wrong.
Seven young men in their prime left the valley that morning. No one knows for sure what happened because the four that made it back three days later were so filled with terror that they would not speak of it. But there was a growing concern that the myths were true. A gloom entered the valley. People looked to the skies more often and with trepidation. The air seemed to quiver with anticipation and it wasn’t a good kind.
Christian looked at the pitchfork in his hand. What was he thinking? How could you fight off angry, fire breathing dragons with a pitchfork? The minutes ticked by. He ran a hand over his eyes, shaking his head. He didn’t understand why it hadn’t happened. They had heard the dragons coming. The sky was black with them and red. Fire. The children ran to the wells to get buckets of water. The adults ran for tools, weapons, anything to protect themselves. But at the last minute one dragon had broken free. He came straight at Christian’s farm. When the others turned to follow him, he took a stand. He breathed fire on his own kind! He protected Christian’s farm, his family! Why?
The other dragons took flight. Perhaps they had grown tired of their sport and returned to the mountain. All except one. The one that had protected Christian landed in his field and stood there. He wasn’t menacing. He looked almost sad. Could it be? Is it at all possible? Christian put down his pitchfork and moved slowly towards the dragon. He heard the gasps behind him but he ignored them.
“OLi?” He whispered, “Is it you?”
The dragon put his big head down just the way he had when he was small. He used to invite Christian to rub his forehead. And now he did it again.
“OLi!” Christian cried and he ran to his dear friend. It had been so long but he had never forgotten. And apparently neither had OLi. The dragon wrapped his huge wings around his friend in such a tender embrace that people wept. For a few moments they held each other. Christian felt something warm touch his hand and he instinctively grasped it. Then OLi backed slowly away and with one more nod he took to the sky. He glanced back just once and then was gone.
Tears streamed down Christian’s face. “Goodbye my friend,” he whispered to the wind. He glanced down at his clenched fist and slowly opened it. There nestled gently in the palm of his hand was a faded and slightly scorched purple ribbon.