A Parable for Modern Times.
Twenty years after the turn of the last century, a Great Dragon awoke from a long slumber.
He had been sleeping for more than 100 years.
When he awoke, he rolled over onto his side, stretching his thick legs and feeling the wriggle all the way down his long tail. His scales were iridescent red—the kind of red that changes shade depending on how the light hits them. As he stretched and gathered his great breath in and out of his being, he could see his scales were musty and dusty and grimy. He could see this in the reflection, bouncing off the gold and silver and captured armor that made up his sleeping bed.
“Hmmmm,” he muttered, the sound coming from deep in himself. “This will not do.”
So the Great Dragon righted himself on his clawed feet, shook his body from snout to tailtip, and clambered out the door of his lair.
“I need a flight to clear the cobwebs,” he said. “To clear the cobwebs, yes.”
When the Great Dragon reached the edge of his lair, high up in the mountains, the scent of things struck him like a thunderclap. Where he expected the clean aroma of pine and oak and warm blood on the hillsides, instead he smelled the acrid, thin scent of old bones burned, of metal clashing against fire, of life-choking smoke filling his lungs. The Great Dragon squinted his brows together, and his ruby eyes flashed as anger flickered within his Great Dragon heart.
He could feel a growl growing within him.
“This will not do,” he spat out, flames flickering from his ears, now pinned back against his fearsome head. “I must learn what is happening. The AllMother will know.”
So the Great Dragon gathered himself, dropped off the ledge of his lair, and, spreading his wings, caught the wind and the light and worked his way North, searching for the AllMother.
As he flew, high and swift and silent, the Great Dragon noticed how different things were. He was an aged dragon, and he knew that landscapes change and continents shift and oceans do oceany things, so he was used to seeing all of this.
But these changes were different. Being a wise creature, the wisest of his kind still living, he could see these changes weren’t the natural ebb and flow of epochs and eons and ages—no. These changes were hasty and haphazard. They were reckless.
These changes were careless.
And if there was one thing the Great Dragon did not abide, it was carelessness.
In moments he was at the home of the AllMother, hidden high in the crevasses of the Great Northern Wild. He swooped down upon her rampart, silent as Death itself, and gathered his wings in around himself. And there he waited, because he was a respectable Great Dragon, and the AllMother merited great respect.
It was midafternoon, but the Dark Season. A quarter hour went by, and then another, and so the Great Dragon began to amuse himself by creating little balls of flame, just tiny ones, and seeing how far he could blow them out his nose. It was a fine dragon game, and a good way to pass the time. Soon he lost track of the hour, awaiting AllMother to arrive. He knew that She knew he was there, so he did not fret. Dragons can be a patient sort, for those they dearly love. Dragons can also be complicated creatures.
After a particularly splendid fireball had skipped and hopped so far that it made him laugh at his prowess, the Great Dragon felt her presence slipping up the balustrade. He could see the glow of her lantern, growing brighter as she got closer. He could hear her footsteps, although the cadence caught him off guard, a little. One step, then another, then a third, then a pause. The Great Dragon wondered why there would be a third step, that didn’t sound like the first two.
When she rounded the final corner and came into view, he got his answer.
The AllMother was different than when he’d seen her last.
Her silver hair was duller than he recalled, and the lines on her face deeper, with dark pockets beneath her eyes. She was thinner, frailer than he remembered. She still carried Anpao, her lantern, in her left hand, but in her right hand was a heavy walking stick, which she hadn’t used when last they met.
The Great Dragon was saddened. Saddened to see her this way. But he mustered his politeness, and spread his wings, and bowed his head in greeting, in the way that the Great Dragons do. “I’m honored to see you again, AllMother. It has been too long since we spoke.”
The AllMother smiled, and her smile was still the same, and the twinkle in her violet eyes was still just as merry.
In a flash of blue light she appeared next to him on the rampart, gently stroking his bowed dragon head. At her touch, the Great Dragon could not suppress the tear that slid from his ruby eye. The AllMother caught it, held it in her palm, and deposited it into the pocket of her frock. Dragon tears are a rare and amazing gift.
“Now, now, Little Brother. There is no need for all that fuss,” she gently said. “It has been more than 100 years since you paid your last visit, after all. We all change with the ages, you know that.”
The Great Dragon drew in an anxious breath, in spite of himself. He turned to look at her, and speaking plainly, as dragons will, he told her, simply. “This is different.”
The AllMother nodded.
“You are right, of course,” she sighed, settling in to sit next to him. “I have the Crone in me, always have. I just didn’t expect her to emerge quite yet.”
The Great Dragon looked at her, and the question went unsaid.
AllMother tossed her hand, as if to bat the thing away. “Oh, it’s the Children, of course. They take more than they give, they’ve forgotten their lessons, choose their ignorance instead of knowledge. Always in such a hurry to get this way and that, heads down, focused on faraway lands and their manufactured tales. They miss what’s right in front of them.”
She leaned in closer to him, with a knowing, weary smile.
“It takes a lot out of a girl, Little Brother.”
The Great Dragon felt AllMother’s weariness—and it angered him. It angered him so much that the crimson flame of a growl started burning deep within his dragon belly, and inflamed his dragon heart, and before they both knew it, it emerged as a great, hissing, angry roar of fire and rage and hurt. The roar echoed through the Great Northern Wild! And the flames lit up the sky, starting off crimson, then turning yellow and green and violet the higher they rose.
“I’ll teach them what happens when Children hurt you, AlMother,” the Great Dragon screamed. “I’ll burn them all to a crisp, I’ll salt the ground with their bones, I’ll make a Dark Age of their finery!”
“Hush now, Little Brother,” AllMother soothed. “Hush now. They’re just children. Some of them are lustful and have a taste for the little power they have in their short lives; we’ve seen that before, you and I. But they are mostly good. They’ve just forgotten themselves, and things are out of balance.”
“But I cannot abide them hurting you!” the Great Dragon roared.
“You know as well as I do, that I’ll be here long after they’re gone, long after you’re gone, even. They drain me, to be sure, but that’s what all mothers endure.” She stroked his face again, now red as the underworld fires, stoked by his fury.
“You cannot act out of anger, Little Brother. No lesson can be learned if it comes from anger.”
He took a huge dragon breath, and exhaled it slowly, so only trickles of flame came from his nose and mouth. Then he took another, and then another, eyes half closed. They sat there together, the AllMother and her brother the Great Dragon, in silence, while the stars watched nervously, and the wind whispered anxiously around them. The fate of the world lay in the balance.
Finally, the Great Dragon opened his eyes and turned to his sister. “I know what to do,” he said, simple and plain.
The AllMother nodded. “I know you do,” she whispered.
She reached to kiss him on his Great Dragon cheek, caressing the long bridge of his snout.
“Remember,” she reminded him. “Be kind.”
And then she faded into a mist, a formless gray shadow, and she glided away beyond the walls. Anpao the lantern was the only mark of her, and the Great Dragon watched until the light faded into the edges of the Dark Season.
It was approaching midnight.
The Great Dragon sat there on the ramparts a while longer, listening to the anxious breeze in the dark, breathing in the coldness, smelling the smells of the Great Northern Wild. He looked around, taking in all he could see in the dark with his dragon eyes, holding fast to the memory of the walls, the hills, the snow. Then he took one last deep breath, and closed his eyes, and spread his enormous wings, tilting his head up toward the sky.
As he exhaled the breath, he opened his eyes, and hopped lightly into the void, scaly red wingtips cupping the air, flipping the stillness into propulsion, carrying his tons of dragon weight like it was light as a feather.
The Great Dragon lifted himself into the sky and headed east, to meet the Sun.
While he glided, he began, deep in the far reaches of himself, deeper than his heart, deeper than his Great Dragon soul—deeper than any imagining of his great wise mind—to make the Sacred Sound. It rumbled and coursed through him, touching all seven of the holy places within him, and he felt a great peace in himself.
As he moved his Great Dragon wings, heading straight and true toward the East, he remembered the AllMother’s words.
“Be kind,” she had said.
So he kept making the Sacred Sound within himself, over and over, until it filled him with peace and love and the kindness she had demanded, and as he turned the curve of the Earth, the Sun peeked over the horizon, and he felt glad. He nodded his Great Dragon head, and said out loud:
“I know what to do.”
And then a remarkable thing began to happen. The Great Dragon, scales shiny and flashy and clean as the day he was made, flew nearly into the face of the Sun, turning away when he felt the heat burning away his doubt and his anger. And the Great Dragon led the Sun in its journey around the globe, dipping down towards the East of the Earth, then back up toward the Sun, then back down to the East of the Earth.
Then he flew to the West, and down nearly to the surface, and back again to the Sun, and back again to the West. And then to the South of the Earth, and back up to the Sun, and back again to the South.
Seven times he made this triangular arc, up and down from above to below, East, West, and South.
Only the North, where the AllMother lived in the Great Northern Wild, did he avoid.
And as he flew, with every pass up and down and up and down, East and West and South of the world, bits of his scales would fly off of him. First the scales on the spines of his back flitted away, burning into the sky and dropping down like embers from a fire, until the spines were no more. Then the scales of his tail, sliding off him and burning down through the high sky, disintegrating into particles so fine the eye could not see them. The Great Dragon kept humming the Sacred Sound as he made his flight, and the Sound kept the pain at bay as he arced up and back, and up and back again. He could feel himself drifting as his scales burned away, disappearing but not dying, leaving his Great Red Dragon form and joining the Void of All Things.
All the while making his Sacred Sound.
His scales, invisible now, so tiny they could not be seen or smelled or felt or touched, drifted down to the ground, alighting on the busy people of the East, and the West, and the South of the world. These dragon scales were ground so fine by their journey, made so potent by the Great Dragon’s Sacred Sound, that they alighted on the busy people, and made their way to their hands, and then their faces, and then in less time than it takes to finish a quick breath, into their bodies.
And the minuscule dragon scales began to wreak changes upon the busy people, forcing them to slow themselves, jerking them away from their habits, afflicting them with fevers and chills and grievous coughs, and ultimately, many began to die strange and horrible deaths. Like drowning on dry land, they died.
Healthy and strong one day, and dead a week later.
Learned men and women, healers, began to gather to find answers, and seers with their scientific-looking glasses began to probe the sick and the dead, looking for clues. Soon they had their answer, from scientifical photos of the agent that caused the disease. And they called it Dragon’s Crown, because the pictures showed the tiny remnants of the Great Dragon’s scales, with spikes like the ones on his back, that cleaved to a person’s body and caused the destitution and suffering.
But the “what” of things doesn’t always explain the “why” of things, and it surely doesn’t give the “how to proceed” of things.
And so each region of the World went its own way in trying the “how” to save its people, even as the Dragon’s Crown slipped from cough to handshake to hug, across borders, across continents. Princes and prime ministers were afflicted, but as always, the old and the sick and the poor suffered most, and suffer most still.
And those in power in the Modern Lands, whose aim is always to stay in control no matter how and no matter what, they tried first to assure their people to have no fear, to convince them that they were protected, that the Dragon’s Crown would not afflict them as it had the rest of the world. But the Dragon’s Crown knew no map lines, and brooked no foolishness, and obeyed no falsehoods.
And in the 70 Days of Deception within the Modern Lands, the Dragon’s Crown found its grip, and countless were afflicted, swamping the healers. The dying suffered alone, devoid of the comfort of family. Kin could not even gather to send off their loves, so the dead began their Journey to the Void in silence, without the comfort of knowing they were missed and cherished. Death is always a confusing time, and the Chronicles tell us both dead and living need the Rites to begin the Great Journey, both in this World and the Next. We do not know how the aloneness has affected those who have passed in solitude.
The Wise will gather, perhaps, and fashion new Rites to show the fallen the love and respect they are due, but now is not the time for such things. Not yet.
Meanwhile, in the Great Northern Lands, the AllMother sat before her Black Mirror of Tezcatlipoca, where she saw all that transpired. She saw how the Great Dragon had sacrificed himself, and she wept at his gift.
She saw the terror the Dragon’s Crown had brought the people of the world, and she wept at their suffering.
She saw how the leaders of the world went each their own way, many holding fast in their apartness and aloof to the common affliction they faced. She wondered aloud especially at the leaders of the Great Lands, whose delay and stubbornness caused their people to suffer unnecessarily. As she gazed into the Black Mirror, all she could do was sigh, allow the suffering to pass through her.
“What will be, will be,” she whispered to the empty room. “I have hope for you still, my sweet children.”
And after days went by, and the panicked pandemical pandemonium passed, a strange slow rhythm began to emerge.
The first flurry of anxiety had settled, when unknown fear ruled the world. The learned passed along their knowledge to the people, and all who could were advised to mind their closeness, to prevent the Dragon’s Crown from passing so quickly one to another. And the wise people heeded these directives.
But a dark cloud of death and heartbreak spread, and for this the AllMother wept; for the pain was undeniable. Through her tears, again, she whispered: “What will be, will be.” Like a fire the disease raged, bounding with no sense, borne by wind and cough and touch, silent and invisible and deadly. And where it passed, fear and anger grew as well, and blame was laid, wrongly.
Some leaders guided their people with wisdom and courage.
Some leaders did not lead at all, and their populations suffered the worse for it. And the numbers of the sick and the dying grew, and they grew, and they grew.
The AllMother sat in her chamber, the Black Mirror before here, and saw everything. Motionless and timeless she sat, taking in all that transpired, reflected in the Mirror of Tezcatlipoca. And every now and again, when doom seemed darkest, she saw little glimmers, faint and light, poking through the sickness.
A family helping an elder next door.
Teachers guiding their charges through the magical lightwaves of learning.
Friends gathering with wine through the computed looking glass machines, and fathers and mothers and children doing the same.
Calm and grace for the healers most needed and most in danger. Singers tossing their joy out into the vast world, neighbors singing on balconies, wild things wandering the streets while the people rested indoors.
A slow, strong rhythm of balance and survival, and life.
And for this, all of these glimmers of what could only be called hope, the AllMother smiled.
“You have this chance, my loves,” she sang into the Black Mirror. “Remember this when the time comes. Your new lives need not be like your old.”
And then the AllMother reached into the pocket of her cloak, and she retrieved the Great Dragon’s teardrop. She bowed her head and whispered, “You gave much, Little Brother. The end of it all is still unforeseen, but the Children will remember this history. For this, you are greatly loved and honored.”
Then she placed the teardrop in the Bowl of Ashkaypatra, and mixed it with tears of her own. She sat and she sat and she thought and she thought, and she closed her eyes and held a grand image in her AllMother mind.
And when her eyes were opened, the Great Dragon’s tear was no more, and in its place, settled in the Bowl of Ashkaypatra, was a small Great Dragon, golden in hue, and perfectly formed. He carried within him all the knowledge and wisdom of his red predecessor, all held within the perfectly formed dragon’s tear. He bowed to the AllMother, and she bowed to him in return.
“Welcome home, Little Brother. Welcome home.”
The small Great Dragon flew up onto the AllMother’s shoulder, and together they watched the Children of the World undergo their trials.
The two talked, and they laughed, and they cried as the slipstream of Time eddied around them.
But mostly, as they sat in the stillness of the Great Northern Lands and watched this age unfurl, mostly, they hoped. And again and again, as they watched the Children of the World struggle backwards and forwards, the AllMother would whisper:
“Your new lives need not be like your old.”