How the Dragon Became Wise: A Fable

In the fifth age of the world, long before mankind awakened, a dragon hatched on the white sandy shores of a peaceful blue lagoon. As the sun touched his crimson scales for the first time, he felt an intense heat burning inside of him. The warmth of the sun and the fire within him frightened him into fierce cries, and his mother rushed to his side to soothe and shade him.

Many days passed, and the dragon’s mother taught him to walk and stretch out his wings. The sun bothered him less each day, and the fire in his belly came out in flaming belches which gave him great delight.

One day, his mother’s green-gold eyes met his red ones, and she said, “It is time for you to taste meat. I must make a journey to fetch some food. While I am gone, do not stray from the lagoon. I’ll return tomorrow.” So she left to go hunting.

The young dragon felt her absence immediately and wished he had someone to keep him company. He walked to the edge of the lagoon and noticed a school of bright yellow and orange fish gathered just under the surface of the light blue water.

“Would you like to be friends?” the dragon asked the fish. “My mother is gone, and I am all alone here.”

The school paused and the largest fish came forward. “Did your school leave you behind?”

“I’m not sure. All I know is that I am very lonely, and I would like some friends.”

The fish had no concept of what it meant to be alone, but it sounded terrible. He felt sorry for the dragon and wondered why anyone would leave the poor dragon all by himself.

“Join us in the water,” called the fish. “We are newly hatched, and you may swim with our school and learn with us.”

The dragon was so overjoyed at finding new friends that he did not worry about whether or not he ought to swim. He waded into the turquoise water where the lagoon was quite shallow. The dragon had no problem prancing in the belly-deep waves, but he soon found that he could not keep pace with the fish. He noticed that they were swimming slowly so that he could stay with them. Many of the fish watched with pity as the dragon waded behind the school, but others became frustrated because he held them back.

“Why must we wait for him?” they asked the leader. “We need to learn to dive deep and swim fast so that we can leave the lagoon. How can we do that if the dragon slows us down?”

The leader asked them to be patient and encouraged the dragon to put his head under water and at least attempt to swim. But whenever the dragon tried, cold seawater filled his lungs and cooled the fire inside of him. He emerged from the water shaking and chilled to the bone.

“Do you see the line at the edge of the lagoon where the water turns dark blue?” the leader asked.

The dragon strained his young eyes, “Yes, I think so.”

“That is where the sand suddenly stops and the water becomes very deep. Tomorrow we will swim to that line, and those of us who are ready will pass beyond it to join our elders. You must learn to swim by then or you will not be able to go with us.”

“Why do you want to leave the lagoon?” the dragon asked, puzzled. “It’s so beautiful and peaceful here.”

“The only way to attain wisdom is to leave home,” the leader fish replied. “We want to be wise, and we want to find our elders and join a larger school. Learn to swim and come with us.”

The leader fish wanted to include him! Finding a larger school meant that the dragon would have even more friends, and he would never be alone again. He was more determined than ever to be a part of the school, to swim like they did, and to find wisdom with them. He wasn’t sure what wisdom was, but if they wanted it, then he did too.

All that day, he walked around the lagoon, wading as deep as he dared. Occasionally, he tried to stick his head under the water, but every time, he came back up sputtering with steamy coughs. Long after the fish had settled for the night, the weary dragon collapsed on the sand and fell asleep. At dawn, the leader fish approached him.

“Can you swim yet?” the fish asked with hope in his voice.

“No,” the dragon wailed. “I will wade with you to the line, and I will try one last time. Then we will either part ways or I will go with you.”

As he followed the school, the dragon moved even more slowly than normal. When they finally arrived at the line at the end of the lagoon, the fish crossed it one at a time.

“This is it, friend,” the leader fish said to the dragon. “I’ll be just ahead of you over the line. If I don’t see you again, I hope you find peace in the lagoon even if you never become wise.”

The leader fish lingered a moment longer, and then he swam over the line into the dark blue beyond. All alone once more, the dragon trembled in the cooler water. Finally, fighting all of his fear and instincts, he plunged his head into the dark water over the line. As he stepped forward, the dragon could no longer feel the squishy sand under his feet and claws, but he did not quit. He fought the cooling in his stomach as the water entered his nostrils. He fought the steel bite of the cold water on his crimson scales. He fought all of the uncertainty that made him question whether he ought to be doing this.

His friends were probably waiting for him. They had succeeded in the plunge, and so would he. They would all find wisdom together. But the dark water was unlike the tranquil shallows of the lagoon. It was colder and moved with more intensity. The dragon panicked. He kicked and tried to resurface, but there was no sand to kick against. A strong current gripped him and dragged him deeper beneath the surface, and in that moment he knew that he had lost his friends, his purpose, and now his life.

As he surrendered to the current, he glanced up and saw a strange shadow above the surface. A long arm reached through the water and encircled his waist. He felt himself rising. As he emerged from the water, he recognized his mother’s green arm around him and her long, golden wings beating furiously against the wind. With a mighty effort, she carried him to the shore where they collapsed beside each other.

“What were you thinking?” she gasped. “You were going to drown. If I hadn’t returned just then, you would have died.”

She exhaled a furious scream of bright orange flame. An enormous log of driftwood sparked and crackled and warmed the young dragon’s skin. The flames and the sun brought life back into him, and in moments, steam poured out of his nostrils.

“I made friends with a school, and they were going to take me to find wisdom,” the young dragon tried to explain.

His mother shook her head, “You weren’t made for schools and waters.”

She walked back to the cave where he was hatched and emerged with two rabbits dangling from her jaws.

“This is what you were made for, son. You find and eat these and other animals. You set fire to forests and prairies. You come and go where you please like a king. What more could you want?”

He didn’t know how to explain to her what he felt in the company of the fish and how he longed for something that seemed beyond his reach. So he watched in silence as she showed him how to roast the rabbits and how to eat them. Following her example, he scorched them black and crunched their bones, and they were delicious.

“Without us, the rabbits would grow in number and destroy everything. In time, I’ll show you how to hunt them and deer and boar and a number of other tasty animals. Be satisfied with your status. Be glad of your abilities as they are.”

After that, she curled up in the cave and rested. The long journey home and the rescue had exhausted her. The young dragon walked to the shore of the lagoon where the sunset reflected golden on the gentle waves. Had his friends found wisdom? Had they found the larger school? He remembered how their colorful little bodies glided through the waves with ease, and he wondered what fate they had met. Finally, the dragon fell asleep watching the stars’ reflections twinkle in the glassy surface of the lagoon.

Early in the morning, while his mother was still asleep, the young dragon was awakened by a familiar voice. His school had returned.

“We found it,” the leader fish shouted. “A great red and white and green coral reef stretches just beyond the line. It proceeds unbroken for miles and miles. No one knows how far it goes. A host of other fish live there, some like us and some different. Tomorrow we are joining one of the schools that lives deep in the red part of the reef. It is the most beautiful and glorious thing in all of creation. You must come and see it with us. There is even enough room for you. Can you swim yet?”

The dragon shook his head in sorrow. “Mother says I am not made for swimming but for killing and scorching. I wish I could go with you and find wisdom and see beauty, but I will die if I try again. I suppose we must truly part ways now.”

A murmur of sadness echoed through the school. They mourned for their friend who would never understand the depths of their knowledge or see their beautiful world. One by one, they said goodbye to him. He watched them swim toward the line and disappear beyond it like a shimmering shadow melting into the darkness.

The dragon felt like his heart would break. How could he explain this to his mother? She did not seem to understand what he sought with the fish and was content just being a dragon.

As he stared into the calm water, a new reflection appeared beside him, and he turned to see the Maker standing next to him. The dragon was speechless. Here was the Being his mother had told him about, the One who set the stars in the sky and built the forests in the deeps and knew the journey of every living thing. What could such a Being want with a grieving dragon?

“What troubles you dragon?” asked the Maker, and his voice was filled with music and time and glory.

“I wanted to know wisdom and see beauty like my friends, the fish, but when I tried, I could not follow them. Mother said I must burn and kill, and I will never know what the fish know or see what they see.”

“It is true,” the Maker said. “You will not see reefs or swim in the trenches of the ocean floors. Instead, you will fly. I will show you.”

The Maker pulled open the dragon’s wings and blew into them. A great wind rose up and filled the wings, and the dragon lifted off of the ground. The Maker led him high above the lagoon until it was a small blue-green circle beneath them.

“Look around you,” said the Maker. “What do you see?”

The dragon looked up from the lagoon and saw that he was surrounded by towering white clouds. The dark ocean beyond the line at the end of the lagoon stretched farther than he could see. Behind the lagoon lay miles of gentle green hills, and beyond that, a series of islands were scattered across light blue waters.

“I see beauty,” the dragon said in awe.

“And one day, you will find wisdom,” said the Maker, “but you must go beyond the islands and into the world and search it out, just as the fish had to leave the lagoon. Listen to your mother, and do not ignore your thirst for wisdom and understanding.”

With that, the Maker disappeared, and the dragon returned to the shore where his mother waited, beaming with pride.

As the days went on, the dragon flew higher than he ever imagined possible. All of his attempts at swimming had made his lungs and heart exceptionally strong, and he could spit fire twice as far as his mother. One warm afternoon as the sun was setting, she came to him with sad eyes and her head lowered.

“Son, I have taught you all that a mother can teach her child. It’s time for you to leave the lagoon and find your place in the world. Tomorrow when the sun rises, you must leave.”

They were sad to part ways, but the young dragon knew it was time to follow the Maker’s advice and search for wisdom. 

The dragon traveled the world for many years. He flew north into bitter cold, south into steaming swamps, east to the mountains, and west to the plains. He found herds of traveling animals that were slowed down and made weak by their sick and aged kin, and when he ate them, the herds became stronger. He found packs of animals at war over disputed territories, but they allied in fear of the dragon. He found plains that could feed thousands upon thousands of animals but only if the long grasses burned every year, so he scorched them with joy. Over time, the dragon realized that no matter where he went in the world, he was needed and that he brought strength and peace to places where no one else could.

One day when he had grown very old and was flying high among the clouds, the dragon thought he heard the gentle lap of waves on a shore and smelled the salt of a warm sea. He felt the fire in his heart calm ever so slightly, and he decided to turn toward the lagoon where he was born. As he flew there, his wings became weaker, and his fire became cooler until he could barely see the steam escaping his nostrils. Finally, he arrived at the familiar beach just before sunset, and he collapsed wearily on the shore.

As he lay on the beach huffing and staring into the water, he saw a school of brightly colored fish watching him and whispering excitedly. Finally, the leader fish emerged.

“Are you the famous dragon who schooled with our great-great-grandparents?” he asked.

The dragon smiled. “I did not think I was famous for anything. I never made it past the line.”

“That’s exactly why you are famous,” the leader fish said. “You wanted the beauty and wisdom that we all see when we come of age, but you were never able to find them because you could not cross the line. Your story has passed from generation to generation among us as a great tragedy, and because of you, we treasure our reefs and larger schools more than ever.”

The dragon did not tell the fish about the wide world of mountains and forests and furry beasts that he had found. What could the fish ever understand about that?

Instead, he nodded respectfully to the fish and said, “I am pleased and honored that because of me you love your world more, and I hope that it is always so. I wish you well on your passage across the line.”

The fish thanked him and took their leave. Then the dragon began to feel a chill not unlike his attempts at swimming. As the sun began to descend, the Maker once more appeared beside the dragon and placed his hand on the dragon’s drooping head.

“Well done, dear dragon. Your sons and daughters have much to be proud of in you,” said the Maker, and he stayed with the dragon until the sun set and the dragon breathed his last.             

And so sweet reader, when you feel like you are drowning while everyone else around you swims, remember that you may be a dragon in the company of fish.

Sarah Hogg