What is the myth that you are living? To answer that question we first need to define “myth”: I will suggest that myth is a story that points toward a truth that our consciousness cannot totally comprehend using only the gifts of the rational mind– we need to open ourselves to the gifts of the intuitive Self!
These gifts of the Self come to us through our conscious understanding of the energy of the collective unconscious or Self–Carl Jung calls this archetypal energy–and its source is not limited to the lifespan of our physical bodies. We benefit from these energies of the spirit/soul/Self; they help us to understand the lives we are living and to find wholeness of body and soul!
There are many ways to explore these gifts of Self–my way is through stories–and these imaginative stories will take the liberty to share information of the historical Raymond Lowell Gray and the intuited Raymond Lowell Gray!
Curiosity is succor for the human soul, sometimes producing joy, sometimes grief. The secret lies in finding a balance…your path between the dark and light of life.
A last sharing before the first story: I have chosen to use another name for the main character in the stories. There is a reason for this decision–when I started this project fifteen years ago I was not aware that I was creating my own myth: and in fact, I was focused on creating a children’s story about dragons! It was years later that I realized I was exploring Jung’s concept of archetypal energy and how it found it’s place in my life.
A TIME BETWEEN TIMES
The summer of 1951 Edward R Davis’ family moved from a mill town on the bank of the Ohio River to a house along a country road five miles from town. That fall, when it was time to go to school, he was assigned to attend a one-room, red brick, country school about a mile from his new home. There were no school buses to transport country kids to and from the school. Edward had to walk a mile every day to school and back, rain or sunshine. Now you might think that was a bad thing, but for Edward it was the opposite. He treasured this time alone, a half hour, two times a day: away from family, away from teacher and other students…away from reading, writing and arithmetic…free to be lost in the world of nature with the creatures that inhabit it.
Edward might have walked to and from school with other kids. No, he planned his walk just five minutes from the time when he knew the other kids going to school would be walking the country road. Now if you had asked this boy in 1951 why he chose to walk alone, he would not have given you a reason for it–it was an unconscious act–and he knew nothing of such ideas as conscious and unconscious, or having a reason for your actions in life–nevertheless, the collective unconscious was at work in the life of this boy. His connection to the natural world had been established in a time long past.
A walk along a Pennsylvania country road with young Edward R was an opportunity to experience a distinct reality that many did not bother to engage. He noticed and felt a connection to many things along his road. By the middle of September the roadside was home to milkweed plants, their pods bursting with white floss–or as Edward called it, “Santa Claus’ Whiskers”. He loved to blow his breath on the pod to release the floss into the air. For Edward it was a bit of joyful play. He did not think about his role in nature–helping to sow the seeds for next year’s milkweed plants– but unconsciously he was part of the natural rhythm of life!
On a sunny and warm fall afternoon, the blacktop of the country road was inviting for a variety of snakes that welcomed the warm surface as the season turned cooler. Using a stick, Edward liked to stir the snakes from their slumber–sometimes the snake was dead because a car had run over it, other times it wiggled and scurried away. Again Edward was not aware of the hunter in himself–though he did sometimes think about what it would be like to eat a snake for supper!
One morning, as he walked to school, Edward spied at Red-Tailed Hawk at the edge of the woods. The bird seemed to beckon to the boy and he responded to the calling. When the bird flew deeper into the woods, Edward followed after it. For nearly half an hour he continued his pursuit–calling out to the creature–until he remembered his human duty to another form of education. And indeed, he was late for school and the teacher reprimanded him when he arrived at the one-room school.
Edward’s attraction to the natural world was not limited to his walks along the country road. Behind the house where he lived with his mother, father, older sister and brother, there was an orchard that mixed with a pasture where milk cows grazed. On warm summer days, when Edward had time to daydream, he often made his way into the pasture and walked among the cows. Some summer days he went down to the barn where the cows were milked. The farmer did not mind that he watched the milking and feeding of his cows. Somehow, for some reason, Edward found in this bucolic activity a sense of contentment.
Actually, in truth, there was no familial reason for his attraction to the natural world–he came from a family where the males had worked the steel mills and coal mines of Pennsylvania for nearly a hundred years. Men focused on work that brought in a paycheck to support the family. The natural world was a place where you worked in your vegetable garden after an eight hour shift in the mill or mine. On weekends in the fall of the year you might go out to the woods to shoot a deer to provide extra meat for the family. So in Edward’s world, your connection to nature was tied to the practical need to feed a family and make a living–there was little appreciation of the mystery of nature and the creatures that inhabited it. This was about to change for Edward–he was about to have an experience of life that few are privileged to encounter–a time between times.
Perhaps at this point in our story it would be useful to share a little more about our friend, Edward–beside his love of nature. He was nine years old and big for his age. Physically he was taller and stronger than any of the boys in his grade at the one-room school. After the first marking period in his third grade year, Edward’s teacher sent a note home with the report card. She commented in the note that she thought Edward was a good boy, but for some reason he had trouble with reading. When the third graders read aloud he often labored over his words and other children would chuckle and smile at his struggle with the written word–Old Stumblebum became a name used behind his back.
Nicknames were common in Edward’s world. At home, his father often called him, Nebnose, because he was always curious about everything, always tinkering, taking things apart and trying to put them back together again. Sometimes Edward would struggle with the “back together” part of his play. One day when his father found him taking his bicycle apart, he complained, “Would you leave that bike alone, there’s nothin’ wrong with it!”
Edward’s mother heard the criticism and defending her son, “He’s not doing anything, bad, leave him alone, he’s just trying to understand it.” Yes, if there was one thing you could say to describe Edward R, he was curious about the world around him and he was always playing, exploring things, trying to understand them…and that is central to our story.
One crisp autumn morning Edward came out of the house: as usual he waited until the other kids passed the house on their way to school. This morning Edward’s busy mind was not thinking about the creatures that inhabited the woods along the country road; no, this morning, he was remembering a conversation from last evening around the dinner table. His older brother, James, told a story about a man who lived on a side road off the way to school. The man’s name was Charles Wilson, but in the community he was called Noface Charlie. This derogatory nickname grew out of a family tragedy. There had been a fire in the house where Charles lived with his parents and sister. All died in the fire except Charles. He was badly burned and his body was permanently scarred–his face a mass of rubber-like scars that disfigured his appearance. According to James, he and his friend had encountered Noface Charlie walking along the country road the previous night and they had been brave enough to talk with him–face to face!
The apocryphal stories of Noface Charlie circulated around the community. Young people proved their mettle by telling stories about meetings with him. Naturally the stories gained potency by vilifying the character of Noface Charlie. Some said he carried a gun and threatened those he met on the road. Others claimed: If Noface learns your name, he will put a curse on you! So as the years passed, the stories of Noface Charlie became like a puss-filled sore that grows ugly and threatens to poison all around it.
This morning, as Edward started his walk to school, a part of him feared a chance encounter with Noface along the country road, but another part of him wondered about the truth of these stories. This mix of imaginings lasted only until he topped the hill past the side lane that led to Noface’s shack and he could see to the one-room school in the distance. When he saw the green wooden door of the red brick school house, Edwards’s thoughts turned to the reality of the day–first thing this morning, he had a reading lesson that required that he stand in front of the room and read from the third grade reader. For Edward this stirred a real and present fear, not some creation of his imagination. He did not understand the existence and role of dyslexia in his life, but he sensed its presence. He did understand that for some reason he had trouble reading–and reading aloud in class was particularly difficult. He understood that other students saw his stumbling over words to be humorous. He understood that the teacher saw this as a sign that he was not as smart as most of the other kids in the school. This reality, this understanding created in Edward a strong sense of rebellion against his life in the one-room school.
This morning Edward entered the front, green door of the school and paused to take off his coat at the back of the room. He looked about him and saw kids talking, the teacher, Ms. Pliffer, was sitting at her desk in the front of the room–she was correcting papers from yesterday’s lessons. With one arm out of his jacket Edward surveyed the scene, this world that he did not feel part of…and then he pushed his arm back into his jacket, turned around and walked back out of the red brick, one-room school! No one noticed this action, this rebellion against a world that Edward did not want to be part of his life. Without thinking, he started back along the country road toward home.
For five minutes Edward walked. What was he doing? Where was he going? If he went home, his mother would just send him back to school. If he found some place to spend the day, he could go home at the usual time, like he had just spent the day in school….but where could he spent a whole day? Just then he found himself passing the side road that led to Noface Charlie’s place. Edward thought about his mother’s warning when he did things that were a little crazy, “better to be safe than sorry”. Edward thought this, recognized it and said to himself–out loud–“No, I’m willing to take the chance that I will be sorry”–so he turned and started up the lane to Noface Charlie’s house!
The side road was not paved with blacktop–it was a gravel road. Noface’s house stood in the woods near the top of a rise in the land. It was in reality a one-room shack–the exterior had never been painted and now was weathered, gray-brown in color. As Edward came near the front door, he paused on the edge of the gravel road and looked toward the place–his eyes searching for some sign of Noface Charlie. Cautiously Edward moved toward the door.
Suddenly he heard a hi-pitched scream–WA-WAAA-WAAANN!
The boy felt an urge to flee danger, but something in him held him in place and he did not run. Then from around the far corner of the shack there came a bird, a big bird, not flying, but running toward him with its tail feathers expanded like a great fan. This aggressive behavior by the bird–first the call and then the action–convinced Edward that it was better to be safe than sorry–he turned from the shack and ran back along the gravel road toward the main road.
When he came to the blacktop, Edward stopped to consider his action. Should continue toward home or return to school? This day he decided to go back to the one-room school and face the teacher’s wrath–and indeed she accused him of sleeping in and being lazy in additional to not being a very good reader.
Edward’s encounter with a peacock–he was able to identify his nemesis that afternoon after school when he explored the family bird book–stirred his curiosity. He read that the peacock was called the bird with one-hundred eyes because of the coloration of its tail feathers. The ancient Greeks said that the peacock was eternally awake and aware. He–only male peacocks have the exuberant tail feathers and coloring– was the helper of the Greek god, Argus, who watched over the lives of all humans for the great god, Zeus. In addition, he learned that the peacock was a symbol of eternal life because its tail feathers retained their beautiful color after you kill them. Edward did not understand much of what he read: What is a symbol? And eternal life: he had heard those words related to Heaven when he went to the Presbyterian Church with his family. Nevertheless, his curiosity had been piqued.
The next day was Saturday and Edward was still thinking about the peacock that lived with Noface Charlie–at least he thought there must be some connection between the bird and the scary man who lived in the old shack. Saturdays were family work days–clean your room for Mom, get your clothes washed and help Dad with work in the vegetable garden. All day Edward’s thoughts kept returning to the old shack along the gravel road just half a mile from home. After supper the family always watched the television news, but this evening Edward did not join them. He slipped out of the house and headed off to satisfy his curious mind and heart.
The sun was already slipping below the tree line as Edward made his way up the gravel road to the shack. Thoughts swirled about in the mind of the nine year old boy: He thought about his mother’s favorite saying–“better to be safe than sorry”–this was balanced by his father’s favorite saying–“go get ’em boy!” Edward weighted his family wisdom as he approached the shack; his heart and mind were ready to confront the fearsome bird.
No matter how well you steel your mind for a frightening experience, you cannot repel the shock of it. As Edward approached the shack his eyes searched the bushes and shadowy spaces under the surrounding trees for signs of his nemesis–suddenly from the shadows he heard a hi-pitched scream–WA-WAAA-WAAANN!–and the bird came charging toward him.
This time Edward did not turn and run: he stood his ground and the Peacock stopped ten feet in front of him. The two combatants tested the mettle of each other. I will not venture a description of the Peacock’s experience, but Edward felt a wonderful sense of presence, of living an experience and being wholly aware of it. In awe he watched the bird arc his great tail, a display of the peacock blues and greens, and then Edward looked directly at the countless eyes that seemed to assert their authority over him…but he did not back away from the challenge. For a time–perhaps aptly described as a time between time– Edward starred at the beautiful creature that seemed to belong to a world other than his own country road community in the hills of Pennsylvania!
“You boy, what do you want?”
Still frozen in place, Edward could turn only his head to look to the shack door where Noface Charlie stood. At first, no words came to answer this question–WHAT DO YOU WANT? As Edward’s champion, I will suggest this experience set a standard, a measure of life for the boy who would become a man one day. For the rest of his time on this earth Edward would contemplate all of life and consider what he wanted from it.
“I want to….to, to talk with you”, offered Edward in an unsure voice….for it was the first time for him to assert his will. Edward looked directly at Noface Charlie and he saw not the anger of one rejected by society, but the compassion of a human, Charles Wilson, who understands the pain of others. He continued: “I, I want to be your friend.”
“So you have confronted your two fears” said Charles in his raspy voice, “and you will be rewarded for your courage.”
Now Charles Wilson turned to the peacock that stood between them with his tail feathers now gathered to his body. Charles spoke a command and slowly the bird opened his tail feathers to display the opulent colors–greens and blues that dramatized the eyes of wisdom. Mesmerized by the display Edward stared in wonder at the bird and then he turned and looked back to the man, Charles Wilson. He felt a presence, a balance of heart and mind that he was able confront his fear and discover a truth that was not common in the world that had birthed him. So began Edward’s friendship with Charles and he understood the gift we receive when we find the courage to face the monsters that haunt our imaginations!
The human psyche is not just of today.Its ancestry goes back many, many years.Individual consciousness is only the fruit of a season;But it spring from the perennial rhizome beneath the earth. The psyche finds truth when in accord with the present and the past.For the root matter is the mother of all things.
ANOTHER TIME BETWEEN TIMES
There once was a boy called Arrd who lived in a world that held strong beliefs in the powers of good and evil spirits; curses and cures were common in every village. A lock of hair could be used to call down an evil spirit by a savvy practitioner. Likewise, a word spoken in prayer to a good spirit was believed to have power to heal the body.
Yet, in Arrd’s time, few people believed in the power of dragons as they had in the past. These compelling spirits had been reduced to imaginary characters in stories shared to frighten young children into proper behavior. The path to the Blue Mountains, where the dragons were said to live, was choked with the growth of new ideas. Soon this path would be lost forever.
The village called Nestore was home to Arrd. It was a gathering of earth-colored cottages huddled on the south bank of the rushing, dark water called Allegewa. This river meandered, west from the Blue Mountains, past the village and on to a world unknown by the people of Nestore. Few villagers tested the strong currents. Most were happy to farm the rich, moist bottom land along the river and live their lives in peace and quiet.
Still, the potential to travel on the river was there. Young people walking along its banks in the evening often talked of riding the waters into a new land of adventure. Many dream-talked by the yellow light of evening, but few were willing to risk the unknown by the hard, white light of day. Life in Nestore was good; it was normal and there was no reason to take risks–indeed, this reason, was one of those new ideas choking the path into the world of dragons.
Rising up from the river bottom land there was a hill that opened the path leading to the Blue Mountains. The people of Nestore called it simply the river hill. Half way up the rise stood a gnarled dead tree. The older children of the village liked to play a favorite game with this tree. They pretended this tree was a dragon that threatened the people of Nestore. Small groups gathered near the tree with bows and a quiver of arrows–a scar on the bark of the tree represented the heart of the dragon. The youth whose arrow first hit the heart of the dragon was declared winner of the game and regarded as a brave warrior for killing the fearsome monster.
Past the dragon tree on the river hill there lived a real test of young courage. In a small clearing near the top stood an old, one-room shack; there lived a man the villagers called Noface. He was so named after a terrible accident. As a boy, he had lived in the village of Nestore. One night a fire destroyed the cottage where he lived with his family. Only this boy survived the blaze, but he was terribly disfigured by the flames. Unkind villagers named him Noface, which forever linked the boy with his family’s tragedy. Ashamed and angry, Noface eventually withdrew from the village and chose to live in isolation on the river hill.
Older children in the village sometimes dared to climb the river hill, past the dragon tree and up to the clearing where Noface lived. One’s metal was measured by how close you dared to come to the shack where Noface lived. Most stopped at the edge of the clearing and called insults. Some hurled rocks from a distance. A few ventured too close to the shack, causing Noface to emerge and chase them from the clearing.
Over the years of rejection and taunting, Noface’s appearance grew more angry and hideous. His shoulders hunched over; his face became a shapeless mass of gray scar tissue with two holes for a nose and a lipless mouth through which his voice could be heard, sounding like the hiss of a coiled snake. In the heart of what had been an innocent child there grew a will for revenge; it festered like a puss–filled sore, and then grew hard, rubbery and senseless like the scars on his face. Noface bided his time; he waited for fortune to provide the means for a reckoning with the people of Nestore.
Arrd was the only villager who regularly traveled past the shack of Noface and over the top of the river hill. His daily trips had nothing to do with a wish to prove his bravery or torment Noface. No, Arrd made his daily climb of the river hill to fetch milk from an old woman who herded milk cows. She lived contentedly on the far side of the river hill with her animals, and she paid Arrd to carry fresh milk back to the village.
One morning Arrd hurried down the narrow steps from the humble room he and his mother shared over the village bakery where she worked. A cuckoo bird greeted the morning from a plane tree against whose trunk rested the yoke and buckets Arrd used to carry the milk. The yoke was carved from oak wood to fit the contour of his shoulders. The iron hooks attached to the yoke, clanged against the buckets as Arrd slipped the empty load onto his shoulders and started up the rough cobblestone path to the river hill. As the grade grew steep, Arrd leaned forward, his muscles flexing. Already, his body showed the developing form of young manhood, but his childlike courage and resolve were still untried. He did not know that this day the spirits of the land would begin testing the strength of his mind and heart.
The switchback path led steep up the river hill and past the dragon tree. The path leveled a bit near the shack of Noface and a small clearing appeared in the woods. Once there had been a cottage for a woodcutter and his family; now the clearing was overgrown with sumac and briars. Only a single, old apple tree stood near the one-room shack where Noface lived.
Arrd stopped suddenly as he entered the clearing and saw Noface was outside his shack, bent over something under the apple tree. The clanging of the empty milk buckets on their hooks alerted Noface to the young boy’s presence. He whirled about and called out an angry greeting: “You boy, what are you doing here so early?”
“I’m, ah, I’m on my way to get the milk”, answered Arrd, “before the heat of the day.” Arrd’s eyes now focused on the body of an old man lying on the ground under the apple tree–his face covered with blood from a blow to the head.
Arrd looked back at Noface and saw a distorted grin and laughing eyes that sent a chill through him. “Come here boy”, hissed Noface, “I won’t hurt you.”
Arrd steadied his yoke and buckets; then he bolted back down the river hill to Nestore. Over the clanging of his milk buckets he could hear the hissing laughter of the hermit who lived on the river hill.
Back in the village, winded and still wild-eyed, Arrd climbed the steps to the room over the bakery and found his mother eating her morning meal. “Mother, Mother, I was on my way to get the milk when….”
Arrd’s mother listened to the terrifying report of her son, and then, together, they ran to the village center to find an authority. One of the village elders, aware of Noface’s anger, saw a reason to confirm the boy’s story. So Arrd, his mother and the elder climbed the river hill back to the clearing where Noface lived: but when they came to the apple tree, there was no dead body beneath it.
The elder, exhausted from the hike up the hill, looked angrily at Arrd, “Boy, I see nothing. Where’s this dead body?”
Arrd looked around the tree and then turned and pointed to the shack: “Ask Noface, he knows. He was standing over the body when I came this morning. He knows who killed the man!”
The village elder shook his head doubtfully and went to the base of the steps that led to the shack’s front porch and called loudly, “Noface come out! I know you’re in there! Come out!” No answer. Then the elder climbed the steps to the door of the shack and knocked loudly on it. Finally there was a stirring inside; the door creaked and slowly opened.
Noface appeared in the doorway yawning–as if just awakening from a night’s sleep–and said, “Master, what brings you to my door this early morning?”
“Noface, this boy says he saw you standing out here over a dead body this early morning!” said the elder, pointing to the apple tree.
“Dead body”, repeated Noface as he looked to the tree. “I know nothing about a dead body.” Now he looked to Arrd, “This boy is making up a story to stir the hatred between us.”
The elder looked hard at Noface and then gave Arrd and his mother a look of disgust. He said nothing, but turned on his heel and headed back toward the village. Arrd and his mother followed slowly behind. As his mother put an arm around him, Arrd looked back to the shack. Noface let out a quiet, hissing laugh as he slipped back inside his shack. That day there was no fresh milk in the village and no money for Arrd and his mother to buy food for the table.
Next morning, even earlier than the day before, Arrd lifted his yoke and buckets to his shoulders and started up the cobblestones to the river hill. Anxious to get past the shack before Noface was up and about, Arrd moved steadily up the hill to the clearing where Noface lived. Nearing the shack he slowed and looked around. Holding the buckets so they would make no sound, he slipped past the shack. Once safely in the woods again, Arrd increased his pace over the river hill to the open pasture beyond.
Sleek brown milk cows grazed on the lush, green grasses that reached down to the barn of the old woman who cared for them. Each animal was fitted with a collar from which dangled a bell. As the cows grazed on the grass the valley was filled with the music of their bells. Arrd loved the sound and he relaxed as he approached the house-barn where the kind old woman lived with her animals.
Mereth was her name and though she was old–gray hair and sun-wrinkled skin–she moved without the usual signs of age. Mereth lived happily alone with her animals and seldom went down to the village. She had no house–only a single room that adjoined the barn where the cows were milked and housed through the winter months. These animals provided her with warmth in winter, income from their milk to provide the few things she needed from the village, and most important, life-sustaining companionship. Mereth believed that her cows were as intelligent as humans and kinder by far. Arrd found no disagreement with the herder’s way of life, or her notions about her cows.
With no tone of criticism, Mereth called out: “Boy, you did not come yesterday.” She motioned for him to put his buckets down under a spreading ash tree near the barn door. There was a water spring in the shade of the tree and a wooden bench on which to rest. The old woman sat down on the bench as Arrd dropped his load and dipped into the cool water for a drink. After satisfying his thirst, Arrd told Mereth the story of his encounter with Noface and the dead man.
When he finished, Mereth shook her head, “Old Dragon’s Breath is about his ways again. Stay clear of him. The world has created a monster in that one.”
“Why do you call him that”, asked Arrd.
The old woman laughed and then added soberly, “Have you not heard his hissing voice and smelled his evil breath? He is one who sends a chill through the mind and heart–better to be safe than sorry”
After resting a short time Arrd filled his buckets with milk from the spring house. He thanked Mereth for her advice, slipped the yoke on his shoulders and started back to the village. On the way, Arrd tried to slip quietly past Noface’s old shack. He was unsuccessful.
“You boy, come here!” Hearing the hissing voice, Arrd froze in his footsteps. The door to the shack was wide open and Noface was standing in the gaping doorway.
Arrd’s first thought turned to Mereth’s words of caution: “Better to be safe than sorry”. Yet some unspoken force, contrary to mind, some spirit of the heart–good or evil–drew him toward the eerie looking shack. Under the apple tree he dropped his yoke and buckets of milk and turned to the door of the shack.
Again, Arrd’s mind told him to run, but his heart gathered courage to confront this evil nemesis. Noface withdrew into the dark shack as he called out again, “Yes, yes, come inside. I have something to show you….a treasure!”
At the door Arrd paused to allow his eyes to adjust to the inky darkness inside the shack. It was like a hole in the ground, an animal’s burrow where no light of day can penetrate. Again, Arrd’s mind reasoned a warning: “Better to be safe than sorry.” Yet his heart cautiously pushed his body across the threshold and into the world of Noface.
Slowly the shack’s interior became visible to Arrd’s eyes: he saw a hearth and fire burning on it. By the glow of the flames he could make out the shadowy figure of Noface moving toward the fireplace. From the timber mantel above the hearth, he picked up an object. It shimmered and flashed a crimson red color as it caught the light from the fire. Arrd moved toward it.
“Yes, yes, ha, ha, haaa”, hissed the inviting voice, “come see what I have here….a treasure, yes, yes a treasure to be sure. The old thief you saw under the apple tree will have no further use for it, ha, haa, haaa!”
Arrd could now smell Noface’s foul breath. He reached out to touch the treasure.
“Careful boy, careful!” said Noface, “it is a dragonstone. Touch it and the dragon’s curse will be upon you…..Death comes to all who touch it!”
Now Noface reached out his scarred hand to touch Arrd, but the boy whirled around and ran out of the shack. At the apple tree he clumsily gathered his yoke and buckets. Spilling milk as he went, Arrd hurried down the path and away from Noface’s shack. From behind him, he could hear the hissing voice: “Cursed, I am cursed. The whole village will soon be cursed!”
So Noface’s threat of a curse on the village of Nestore hung over the river hill through the seasons until the coming of a new year. One morning in early spring, the apple tree near Noface’s shack opened its first green leaves. It was then that Noface took the dragonstone to the tree. As the rising sun cast first light over the branches, Noface circled the tree, touching its branches on each side: north, south, east and west. As he touched a green leaf with the dragonstone, he spoke these words: “May the curse of the dragon be upon the fruit of this tree and all those who taste it.”
The next day the apple tree came fully into blossom, but the tree was not covered with the usual white blossoms tinged with pink; rather, its blossoms were red, red as the dragonstone’s color. When Noface saw them he cried out: “I am cursed, the tree is cursed and all who eat its fruit will die!”
It was soon after that Arrd passed the tree on his way to fetch the milk of Mereth’s cows. He admired the ruby red color of the apple blossoms, imagining how delicious the fruit would taste when it came ripe in the fall of the year. So the seasons passed and fall came to the village of Nestore.
Now it was a custom in Nestore to celebrate the Harvest Home every fall. The villagers who farmed along the Allegewa River thanked the good spirits for the bountiful harvest and shared part of their crop’s yield with the less fortunate of the village. For Arrd, the Harvest Home was always a time of embarrassment. He and his mother had no land to farm, so they always received from others and never had fruits to share with their fellow villagers.
The morning of the Harvest Home celebration, Arrd hurried up the hill to fetch the milk for the day. His thoughts were of the festivities to come that night: music, dancing in the village center, feasting, storytelling and finally the time when thanks would be given and the earth’s gifts shared with others less fortunate. Thoughts of sharing the fruits of the harvest happened just as Arrd approached Noface’s shack and the apple tree. The tree’s limbs were now bowed by the weight of many, luscious, red apples, perfectly ripe for the picking.
Stopping by the tree, Arrd dropped his milk buckets to the ground. He looked at the apples and again his thoughts turned to words as he imagined sharing this fruit at Harvest Home: “All will admire my gift. Yes, it will be stolen, but I’ll only take a few….there are so many…Noface will not miss them.” With a quick look toward the shack, Arrd ran to the tree and filled his pockets until they bulged with apples; then he gathered his buckets and hastened on his way.
Arrd thought his theft was unseen, but Noface saw all and called after him: “The stone is cursed. I am cursed. The apples are cursed and death to those who eat them!”
Crossing over the river hill and down to the barn of the cow herder, Arrd found the old woman in the barn still milking the last of her cows for the day. Mereth called a greeting, “Arrd, I see you’ve come for the milk on this special day, Happy Harvest to you.”
Arrd dropped his buckets to the ground with a clanging sound and returned the greeting: “Happy Harvest to you, Mereth!”
The old woman looked at the young man standing before her and saw his bulging pockets full of apples. Pointing to Arrd’s pockets, she said, “What have there, a gift for the Harvest Home?”
Arrd looked down to his pocket and said, “Yes”, he lied, “I have apples. I bought them in the village. Would you like one?”
Mereth stood up from the stool where she was milking one of her cows and reached out a weathered hand. Arrd struggled to pull an apple from his bulging pocket and handed it to her. Accepting the apple, Mereth held it in her hand. She could feel its energy. For a moment she paused, and then went to a bench, picked up a sharp knife and cut open the apple. The apple’s meat was blood red and the juices the same. Mereth turned to Arrd and said quietly but sternly: “This apple did not come from the village. From whom did you steal it?”
Arrd fell silent for an awkward moment and then spoke: “I’m sorry Mereth, the apple came from Noface’s tree! I didn’t think when I picked it……he has the dragonstone.”
“All of these apples have the power of the dragonstone”, said Mereth with authority, “anyone who tastes one will die…we must return the stone to the dragon….that is the only way to negate the power of the curse on this apple and on all the apples from that tree.”
Arrd looked fearful as he responded to Mereth: “Noface would sooner die than give up the stone. He is determined to use its power to visit his revenge on the people of Nestore for wronging him.”
The old woman slowly nodded her head in agreement, “And he has reason for revenge, but two wrongs do not make a right. I can neutralize the power of the lethal dragonstone with a bit of my own magic. A dried birth sac of my animals will protect us from the curse. Come, we will act before the coming of Harvest Home.”
So that day Arrd and the old woman with a birth sac hurried back over the river hill to the shack of Noface, the hermit. They had one purpose–take the dragonstone from Noface and return it to the dragon.
The sun was high in the afternoon sky as the two souls, young and old together, approached the clearing where Noface lived. Before the door they both stopped and Mereth called out: “Noface, are you in there?” No answer. Again she called out: “Noface, come out and bring the dragonstone with you!” No answer.
Mereth stepped forward toward the door, but Arrd touched her arm and said, “I started this adventure and I will see it to an end.” He motioned for the old woman to pass him the dry birth sac in which to carry the dragonstone. Without hesitation Arrd stepped up to the shack’s door and opened it.
That day the sun was shining as it was just past midday, but when Arrd opened the door , he found the inside of the shack to be as dark as night. Pausing, he let his eyes adjust. Again, it was like a hole in the ground, an animal’s burrow where no light of day can penetrate. And again, Arrd’s mind reasoned caution “better to be safe than sorry”, but his heart boldly pushed his mind and body across the threshold and into the world of Noface.
The flickering of a single candle on the mantel over the fireplace was the only light in the shack. Once accustomed to the darkness, Arrd saw Noface sitting on a chair facing the cold fireplace.
“Noface, are you sleeping”, called Arrd.
No answer followed.
Arrd stepped around the slumped figure on the chair and looked directly into the eyes of the old hermit. What he saw was the blank stare of a dead man and there nested in his limp hands was the gleaming dragonstone. Arrd could feel the pulsing energy of the crimson stone, but he did not touch it. Instead he first admired it: the shape was like that of a teardrop, the surface smooth and the color a rich, dark red. Again he felt the urge to hold it, but Arrd did not touch it. Instead he reached into his pocket and pulling out the dried birth sac given him by the old woman; he carefully slipped the sac around the stone. Securing it with a binding, Arrd carried the precious and powerful omen of the dragon’s world out of the shack.
Mereth saw the sac and knew what it held. She said nothing of Noface and his fate; instead she turned and pointed to the path that led from the clearing, back to the verdant green pasture where she cared for her animals. Silently, they walked with Arrd carrying the wrapped dragonstone in his hands.
It was evening and the sun was setting when Arrd and Mereth came to the barn. While she tended the animals, Arrd sat down with the wrapped dragonstone on the bench near the spring. His thoughts were of the stone and its power to bring death into the world of humans–already two had died–and he feared for his own life if he tried to return the stone to the dragon.
In his mind Arrd heard the words of caution: “Better to be safe than sorry.” He recognized the reality of the dragon and its power to bring death to those who touched the stone or ate the apples from the cursed tree. At the same time, Arrd’s heart urged him to explore a new reality–an unspoken thought between thoughts–a thought that the dragon might bring good into his life and the lives of all who lived in the village of Nestore. This balanced Arrd’s mind and heart. Mereth understood Arrd’s unexpressed thoughts and was prepared to support him in realizing his destiny.
At the first morning light the old woman said simply, “Follow the sun to the dragon’s lair.”
So Arrd set his path to the west, toward the Blue Mountains and the home of the mythical creature. For a day he followed a branch of the Allegewa River, upstream. The way was easy, but by afternoon he saw the stream was turning north and away from the direction of the setting sun. To the west, Arrd saw the rising mountains, but no path showed the way to them. Without hesitation he turned from the well-worn path along the stream and set his purpose to reach the mountains by the next day.
That night Arrd found a place to rest on the brow of a hill that looked out to a high mountain in the distance. He built a small fire to warm him and from his leather pack he took the bread, fruit and spring water that Mereth had prepared for him. When his hunger was satisfied, Arrd wrapped himself tightly in a blue wool blanket and lay down to sleep.
Deep in the silent expanse of night, as Arrd lay sleeping, there came a shadow that blocked out the moonlight. Down from the mountain it came, hovering over the boy. Though asleep, Arrd sensed the dragon’s presence and drew the birth sac holding the dragonstone close to his body. The dragon paused overhead for a moment like a messenger who leaves a missive at the door and disappears into the night without a greeting. In his dream consciousness, Arrd recognized and understood the message.
Awakening, Arrd was greeted by the first light of a new day. He had one clear thought in mind–there was a field of yellow flowers on a mountainside and this was the place of the dragon’s lair. Once more, Arrd’s heart ignored the mind’s reason–“Better to be safe than sorry”– and he pursued instead, his unconscious thought that had come to him in the night. Without taking time to eat or drink, Arrd set out for the mountain with the coveted package clasped in his young hands.
Stories of the dragon’s lair are filled with chilling descriptions of dark caves, monstrous creatures and threats of death. They speak of fear, not the promise of joy and new life that Arrd felt in his heart as he climbed the mountain. The sun was bright and the cloudless sky, a robin’s egg blue. After an hour of arduous climbing, Arrd stopped to seek further assurance that he was doing the right thing. He lifted the dragonstone high into the air, sensing an even stronger energy radiating from the stone. This sensation was followed by the thought of the yellow flowers that had come to him as he’d greeted the morning light.
After hiking for still another hour, he came to a cave secreted into the mountainside. At the cave’s entrance was a patch of bright yellow flowers, just as he’d imagined; from within the cave, came a glow of light that harmonized with the color of the flowers.
Arrd called out: “Most Honored One, I come bearing not a gift, but that which was stolen from you by one of the humans from my world. Please forgive our mortal understanding of good and evil and accept us despite our shortcomings.”
There was no sound–no response to his greeting. Arrd stood for a time before the cave and his mind said, “Do you really believe this creature exists? And, if it does, should you not fear it? Is it not better to be safe than sorry? Turn and run!”
A moment later he heard another calmer voice speaking words of the heart: “Patience and strength….have faith that your dragon exists and will come forth to speak with you.”
Standing uncertain before the cave entrance, Arrd listened to both voices and did not run away…time passed until a time between times came to be for Arrd. Then it was that the great dragon emerged from the cave, first bending its horny head low to clear the cave’s entrance and then raising up to its full height, to tower over Arrd.
The dragon’s body was the color of well-aged copper. Slowly the creatures’ mouth opened and Arrd saw its great red tongue moving about. Arrd feared a rain of fire might fall upon him, but he was reassured in seeing the dragon’s eyes – they shone with a look of human understanding. Then the dragon’s tongue formed words that Arrd could understand, “You have brought the stone.”
Arrd was astonished to hear the dragon speak. For a moment he was tongue-tied, but then he found the words to respond: “I….I have . . . and I ask that you release the curse of death on my village.”
“It is done”, said the dragon, “and for your courage and love for all, I give you the gift of common understanding.” Bowing low before the dragon, Arrd laid the ruby-hued stone on the ground before the cave entrance and turned from the lair of the copper-colored beast.
As Arrd descended the long path from the mountain, he felt a sense of wholeness, a feeling of oneness with the earth and all creatures that call it home. He sensed his mind and heart were now one….a new balance that bore its first fruits as Arrd passed a plane tree. Sitting on a twisted branch of the tree were two, shiny black crows. One crow looked at the boy and remarked to the other bird, “There goes the one who understands the language of all on earth and heaven above.” And, Arrd, the milk boy from Nestore, wondered at the meaning of these words for the life that lay before him.