|Crossing the Valley of the Dragon|
Once upon a time, across the red sea, over the gold mountains and through the green forest there lived a king and queen who ruled their country with wisdom and love.
They were growing old and wondered who would rule their fair country after them and if they would rule wisely. So they decided to hold a competition to see who was worthy. They ordered the trumpets blown to call all their people together to tell them of the competition.
"Any person who can cross the Valley of the Dragon, ride the Wild Black Bull of the plains and bring us back the Great Diamond that lies in the nest of the Eagle of the Mountains will put a smile on our faces and have our blessing." "Who will step over the edge and try the crossing?" said the King.
At first no one stepped forward. They knew all about the dragon - how it lived in a cave at the end of the valley and flew out at day and night to hunt along the valley. They knew about its terrible claws and its breath of fire and its tail which slashed and thrashed anything in its reach. Why the whole of that deep, dark valley was scorched with fire till no trees, or grass, or herbs could grow and the very rocks and boulders were burnt and black. To cross the valley would require great skill and courage. But no one knew about the Wild Bull of the Plains or the Eagle of the Mountains and not knowing about them seemed to make them all the more difficult.
No one came forward that day or the next but on the third day when the trumpets blew three people stood in front of the palace ready to accept the challenge. The first was the captain of the royal army. He had fought many a battle in the royal service and was skilled with the use of all the weapons of war. He was strong and fit and brave. If anyone could win the royal blessing it was surely him.
The second was a young man barely out of school. The son of a poor farmer he knew a lot about growing crops and looking after animals but nothing about fighting dragons, or climbing mountains but the idea of riding the wild bull of the plains excited him.
The third was an artist - the daughter of the royal musician. She was skilled with musical instruments and could draw and paint like a real artist but knew nothing about dragons or wild bulls and had never fought a battle in her life but the idea of finding the diamond high in the nest of the Eagle of the Mountains excited her.
The king called the three to him and told them to prepare for the competition. They could take only two weapons each to help them on their way.
The captain of the royal army held up his favourite battle sword and his mighty bow and arrows. The trumpets had hardly finished blowing before he was away. Dashing down the side of the valley of the dragon jumping, sliding, bouncing from rock to rock ready to do battle with the dragon should it appear. And appear it did. It roared down the valley with flames spurting from its nostrils and its mighty tail slashing this way and that. The captain of the king's army stood and fought. For every spurt of flame he would fire one of his arrows straight at the dragon and for every slash of its tail he would strike with his mighty battle sword. Slowly he fought his way down the valley and up the other side. By the time he reached the top at the other side he was scorched by the dragon's flames, bruised by the striking of the dragon's tail and tired beyond belief.
But the people cheered when they saw him appear at the other side of the valley and walk off across the plain looking for the wild bull. No one saw him again till late that night when he staggered into the palace grounds on his last legs and collapsed on the steps. Every inch of his body was either burned and bruised, but he had not come closer than a mile to riding the Wild Bull of the Plains, and he had no diamond from the nest of the Eagle of the Mountains to hand to the king.
When he recovered sufficiently he told the story of his horrible crossing of the Valley of the Dragon. The dragon was hard enough to fight in the day with its searing flames and dangerous tail. It seemed to appear from any where when you least expected it attacking from behind and causing landslides of rocks and boulders from the steep valley side. But coming back at night was particularly dangerous. Who could see their way back across in the dark and fight the dragon?
The next morning when the trumpets blew the daughter of the royal musician held up her favourite flute and a bag of her favourite paints and brushes. People would have laughed when she appeared with such unlikely weapons had they not been so worried for her safety but she disappeared over the side of the Valley of the Dragon before any one could stop her. By the time the crowd of people had rushed to the side of the valley she had disappeared from sight and, of course, everyone thought the worst.
The young farmer had thought a lot about what the captain of the royal army had said about the attacks of the dragon and he was ready with the biggest shield he could find in the royal armoury and his favourite strong rope from his farm. He didn't wait any longer. He jumped over the side and started climbing down. He followed a still wet, white line down and around a big rock and there sitting in the shade of an overhanging rock was the artist. She signalled him to be quiet and to sit with her under the rock. "Only the foolish would make a crossing like this without having a good hard look first," she whispered. They watched the dragon flying and burning and thrashing with its tail and they worked out where the next safe place was. And that's how they made the crossing.
When it was safe to move on the farmer would hold up his shield in case the dragon doubled back unexpectedly or rocks fell from the heights and the artist would paint a white line to show where they had been. Slowly carefully they made their way down the valley and up the other side.
How now to ride the Wild Bull of the Plains? The farmer led them to where the bull was likely to be in the heat of the day - in the shade of the biggest tree. The artist sat near some long grass and played a song on her flute and the curious animal came closer to investigate the sound. At the right moment the farmer jumped up out of the long grass and threw his rope over the bull's kneck and held on long enough for the artist to run up and jump on its back. With some more quick movements of the rope he had tied another loop around its middle and jumped up behind her.
The wild ride began. Bucking, jumping, twisting, turning, running as fast as the wind, that wild bull dashed across the plains with the two riders hanging on to the farmer's rope. As she rode the artist played on her flute. At first she played as the Wild Bull moved - wild and bucking - but slowly and surely she changed the music till it was smooth and steady. Slowly and surely the wild bull did the same until, as the music slowed right down, it was walking steadily towards the start of mountains.
When they got there they didn't waste any time looking at the view but started climbing straight up - up to the highest peak and there on a ledge was the Nest of the Eagle. The farmer tied his faithful rope around a rock and climbed down to the ledge but the eagle flew up and attacked so fiercely with its talons and its wings that he had to climb back out of harms way. The artist looked at him puffing and panting and scratched and sore and she took her paints and brushes and painted the fiercest looking eagle with the biggest beak, and the sharpest talons and the longest wings he had ever seen on the top of his shield. "Hold that up and shake it at that eagle when it attacks and you'll see the power of my brush," she said.
And sure enough that old Eagle of the Mountains kept a respectable distance from the eagle on the shield and the farmer was able to climb down and snatch the diamond from the nest.
Down the mountain they ran and across the plains as fast as they could. Back to the Valley of the Dragon they came as darkness fell. The farmer had reason once again to thank the good thinking and the paints of the artist because their way down and up was marked by her white paint shining in the moonlight. Slowly and carefully they went once again - from safe place to safe place watching all the time in case the Dragon of the Valley attacked.
They finally reached the top and walked wearily to the palace as the first rays of the sunrise appeared. The King and Queen appeared on the royal balcony and called for the trumpets to play. As the people gathered in front of the palace, the artist and the farmer held up the Great Diamond to the morning light. A wondrous beam of light shone out from the diamond and in that light everyone could see the white line painted down across the Valley of the Dragon - a safe white crossing for all who cared to use it.
The King and Queen called the artist and the farmer up to the royal balcony and gave them their blessing. It is said that in time the farmer and the artist were married and became King and Queen of that fair country.
They say as well, that each year, they hold a royal ceremony - the ceremony of 'The Safe White Crossing'. All of the inhabitants gather at the edge of the Valley of the Dragon and, as the first orange rays of light from the rising sun appear, they hold up the Great Diamond to remind all of that first crossing.
Daryll Bellingham ©
All contents copyright (C) 1996, Daryll Bellingham. All rights reserved.
Revised: June 25th, 1996
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