It says in the Holy Bible, “As yee give so shall yee receive.” It sort of means, “One good turn deserves another.”
In Roman times life was hard and quite often short. The Romans, though civilised, had no real medicine and living conditions were primitive compared to today. They didn’t have steam power and ships were either rowed by slaves or a crude sail caught the prevailing wind. For all their power and warlike ways the time came when the Roman Empire, or as it is sometimes known, the First Reich, headed for extinction. Rome was under attack from hoards of pagans. Christianity at that time was on the rise and dragons were on their last legs, so to speak.
Why mention dragons? You wonder. Well, to be honest, it’s the whole crux of this mysterious tale. Now contrary to what you may have heard from fairy tales or even have seen in Hollywood movies, dragons do not, or did not, eat virgins or, for that matter, any other kind of human. In fact, they prefer a diet high in carbohydrates. Unfortunately, only two dragons remained in the entire world by the time the Romans were leaving Britain to protect their homeland from the hoards. The larger dragons had already been extinct for over 1,000 years. The Draco viridis pupilla or, as it is more commonly known, the lesser green dragon stands roughly the size of a man – with the wings folded, that is. Their body is similar to a Tyrannosaurus rex, having large abdomen and short arms with a long tail. Unlike the great dinosaurs their legs are short, giving the animal somewhat of a duck-like appearance. With brilliant green scales covering most of the body they look less scaly than they really are and the scales turn to a leathery red skin near the mouth; this, of course, looks distinctly like lips.
We all know what a Roman is and what a human is, but at this juncture, as dragons are considerably rarer, it would be expedient to explain a little of their anatomy. Like dinosaurs or birds, they lay eggs, but like reptiles, the mothers do not need to care for the young. Once the egg is hatched the nestling dragon is on its own and has to face the world alone. As for breathing fire, well they do, but not like you would imagine. A Draco’s metabolism works rather like a wine vat. Food is fermented and the resultant high-carbohydrate mash is consumed for energy. Not having the endothermic capability like a human, they require either sunlight or some form of external heat to keep the blood from freezing on a cold day; of course, they can generate heat through their nose.
The strange thing that also made humans fear dragons is the catalytic exhaust. Actually, it is an intake. Using a catalyst system they are capable of drawing hydrogen or methane molecules in through their nose and the catalyst causes heat. The heat is drawn in with the breath and thus the dragon has warmth, even in a dark and cold place. The problem being it works in the reverse, too. If the dragon breathes out through its nose vent and the critter has been eating recently, then the methane exhausts through the catalyser and catches fire. It is rather inconvenient but something a Draco just has to live with.
Usually the animal’s breathing is under control; except for sneezing and coughing, of course. A dragon only has a very small lung capacity and for flying use they have an air sack in the lower extremities of their pear-shaped body. The air sack being complemented by the lungs gives the animal filtered oxygen and allows them to fly for several hours. This is also a source of problems. A frightened dragon may accidentally blow the air sack in fear. Simple chemistry will give you a clue here. Methane, catalyst and oxygen … yes, exactly – the poor creature bellows like an insane welding torch.
As our story begins, it just so happened that this Roman-cum-English knight by the name of George was minding his own business searching for food in the hills of Cumbria; that’s in northern England. The Roman Empire was already in shreds and he somehow got left behind. Suddenly and quite accidentally, he ran into one of the last remaining Draco viridis pupilla. The creature was as startled as the human. Naturally, the dragon exhausted and a flame lit up the evening like a Roman candle. George drew his sword and attacked. Although he had no grudge against the beastie, he believed in the old wives’ tale that this kind of monster went around eating young damsels. With a double-edged sword in one hand and a trusty shield in the other, he fearlessly ran at the monster.
Unfortunately, his sword found its mark and in moments the dragon staggered its last few steps and fell to the ground dying. Its mate saw the attack and she flew in, deliberately breathing fire and severely scorching the murderous Roman with her breath. But as she passed, he managed to inflict a serious wound. The female dragon crashed some distance away and staggered to her feet. George couldn’t see a thing as his eyelashes were singed, holding his eyelids closed. He fell to the ground and swooned with the pain of his own wounds.
The female dragon pulled herself together and walked back to examine her mate. Unfortunately, he was clearly and irrevocably dead. After mourning her loss for almost half an hour, she built up enough strength to fly back to her recently constructed nest. You see, she was about to lay her egg for this breeding season. The nest lay high in the hills, well away from any human interference.
The female dragon laid her egg and for sixty days sat on it to incubate the new life within. Normally the male would feed his mate during this trying period, but alas she was alone. So alone, in fact, that she was the only dragon in the entire world. Gradually and as the egg reached maturity, the female dragon slowly wasted away.
The new life eventually broke forth and wriggled beneath its helpless and dying mother. The female dragon looked at her new baby, saw that it was good and strong then quietly passed away, leaving the baby as the only representative of the nearly extinct species.
George, on the other hand, had fared much better. Some peasants found him still lying in the dust with sword in one hand and a dead dragon lying close by. Well, we’ve all heard of St George the dragon slayer. He became a legend in his own time – the only human known to slay a dragon and live to exaggerate the tale. So famous did he become that the Roman Catholic Church canonised him to sainthood and he became St George.
Life was not so good for the baby dragon. She had no mother to guide her or relatives to take an example from. She was alone in a world where her kind was definitely not appreciated or wanted. Dragons, well, the Draco viridis pupilla variety, are mimics like some parrots. They have the natural ability to imitate the sounds made by other creatures. Because she had no parents or friends, this particular dragon did not have a name; except for the genus, of course.
This particular baby dragon first learned that humans were not something to be near when, by pure chance, she wandered into a village stockade. In those days people often built large fences around the village to keep out unwelcome visitors and enemies, but this one had the gate left open. It was early morning just before sunrise. In those days artificial light was too expensive for the average peasant, therefore they would go to bed just before sunset and arise immediately after sunrise. This eliminated the necessity of making candles and reed lights or oil lamps and stuff like that. Sometimes, they allowed a fire to burn in the middle of the house, which had a hole in the roof to let out the smoke. Or perhaps the people would leave a fire smouldering in the yard, bypassing the necessity of going to great lengths to make new a fire every day. At that time matches and lighters had not been invented yet.
On this particular occasion the people had not only left a fire smouldering in the yard, but they had also left a rendering pot to evaporate the water away. The roots of some vegetables like carrot heart or white beetroot could be rendered down into a sweet broth high in sugar. It was the smell of sugars that attracted the little dragon.
Innocently the beastie, who was at this time not much larger than a medium-sized dog, wandered into the compound sniffing the air for clues. Although people smelled rather bad, the boiling sugar was most attractive. Cattle were in a compound while chickens and pigs walked freely about the place. A village dog barked in the background, a cock crowed and everything seemed at peace.
Quickly she found the pot, but the contents were too hot even for a dragon to digest. She nimbly knocked the pot off its hook so as to spill the broth on the cold earth. The clatter and rattle of the old iron cauldron aroused some of the villagers and started the dogs barking wildly. As the dragon carefully licked the edges of the pool of sweetness one of the warriors came rushing from a hut brandishing a sharp spear and yelling nasty words.
The shock of such a sudden attack made the dragon jump. She snorted and strained to climb into the air but failed. Her hot breath singed the warrior, who fell headlong into the hot soup previously spilled on the ground. Even before the dragon could recover her wits, more people came running, pelting rocks and stones at the defenceless and frightened creature. Although the rocks did little harm they hurt and caused bruises. Running as fast as her short little hind legs would carry her, she tried taking to the air while enduring a rain of cobbles. Eventually, the dragon managed to become airborne but collided with a tree in the darkness. Her exhaust caused the tree to catch fire.
As the dragon was well clear of the compound, the humans ran back to assist their comrade and lift him out of the gluey, congealing soup. The Draco took the opportunity to flee into the woods for safety.
Stunned, pained and even hungrier than at the beginning of the escapade, she cowered in the forest and cried floods of giant tears. Was there no one in this world who would help a poor baby dragon? It is very hard being the only animal in the whole world that nobody loves or even wants. On this occasion she was lucky that the village dogs were restrained and did not put chase. A pack of dogs can bring down a fire-breathing dragon.
As the ages passed so very slowly the last one-and-only Draco viridis pupilla reached maturity. Dragons are cursed with not being all that smart. Some believe it is because there is little room in their head for a brain, but in reality a dragon has a lot more to think about than other animals. Any creature can walk, that is the easy part, but birds and Draco viridis pupilla have the added difficulty of flying, navigating and walking. Though birds have a slight advantage, they don’t have the annoyance of setting fire to things all the time.
She moved into the north-west of Scotland, where there were plenty of hills and very few people to bother her. That had its difficulties, though, for with no humans there was no exciting food to steal. Honey, tree sap and the occasional root were all that she could find. Many times the lonely beastie contemplated attacking a southerly village and stealing their food. She thought that it might be a quick way either to end her eternal suffering or to get some grand nourishment. The only thing she feared was being injured and left to die a painful end. Or worse still, to get captured alive and become a prisoner for people to ridicule and have to suffer indignities day after day – especially when dragons live such a very long time.
At almost 500 years old – that’s really only a teenager in dragon years – she had reached the point of total despair. An idea occurred to her that may solve her prolonged suffering. To fly high into the sky and just keep flying until all energy was spent. In this way she could not be captured and death would be inevitable, as she would plunge to the ground. She decided to fly out to sea, making doubly sure the end would come, for she had no idea how to swim.
Her tummy rolled and gurgled from hunger as she unfurled those beautiful gossamer wings and gracefully took to the air. Tears clouded her vision as she slowly made altitude in a south-westerly direction. The cruel hills and barren rocks crept farther and farther away and soon she entered the clouds and lost sight of land altogether. As she flew nowhere in particular, her thoughts were for her mother and father, who the poor little dragon had never really known. A friend is all the dragon needed – just someone or thing who would occasionally give a word of cheer or praise, some creature to love and be loved by.
Gasping for breath in the dense fog she began to fail, her muscles weakening. Her air sack was depleted and her tiny lungs burned with the pressure of the laborious work. Muscles aching and lungs burning, the dragon knew this was as far as she could go. To die on such a miserable day seemed apt, but as she folded her wings and began tumbling towards the ground, the fog cleared and the sun began warming her tired muscles.
She was not at sea – far below stretched a green and pleasant-looking land as far as a teary-eyed dragon could see. Her plan had failed yet again and all was lost. The beautiful blue ocean crashed against a rocky shore and above the cliffs lay beautiful green pastures. The poor dragon had spied a cave higher up in the cliff face. Perhaps this would be a good new home. She unfurled her wings and prepared to glide down to the rocky beach.