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Sunday, 19 February 2017

The Dreadful Dragon Heavy-Foot

(First posted in Portuguese, in March 2011, when J. was 5 
years old)

For my niece, Jessica

Long ago when animals used to speak, there was a palace in the Kingdom of Flowers with a king, a queen, and a princess.

Despite it's beautiful name – the Kingdom of Flowers – the people who lived there were not very happy. Their misfortune had begun seven years earlier, when Dragon Heavy-Foot moved to the nearby hills. He was a huge dragon that made the ground tremble when he walked. But that was not all! No, to keep him out of their houses, the elderly had to comply with the dragon's demands: every three months a girl would have to be delivered to him. No one knew what the dragon did to the girls. They only knew that the girls were never seen again. It's like they disappeared into thin air.

It was once again time to give another girl to the dragon, and everyone was even sadder than usual. There were only two girls left in the kingdom: Princess Jessica and her best friend, Constance. The girls' names were written on two pieces of paper and put inside a hat for a name to be picked at random. The king's hands trembled as he unfolded the slip of paper.

'Constance!' said the king with a sad, shaky voice. He was also somewhat relieved that his daughter had once again escaped the sacrifice. However, she would only be safe for another three months.

'No!' cried Princess Jessica. 'I'm going with Constance. No one will ever split us up!'

And that is what happened. Hand in hand, Princess Jessica and her best friend, Constance, climbed up Dragon Heavy-Foot's mountain. To soothe their fear, they decided to sing the song of the ducklings that swam over the hills and far away and each time they returned home there was always one missing, until there were none left ... But when mother duck quacked out really loudly, all the the little ducklings came swimming back.

When they reached the dragon's cave, the two girls were not crying as the other girls had been. This surprised Dragon Heavy-Foot who, for the first time, spoke with his victims.

'Hmmmm! I smell a rat!' said Dragon Heavy-Foot in an angry voice. 'This time they've send me two of you, and you don't look in the least bit scared. What are you up to?'

'Well, you're wrong, Mr. Dragon!" replied Princess Jessica. 'We're the last two girls from the Kingdom of Flowers, and I did not want Constance to come alone. She is my best friend ...'

'That's right. We're really close. We're also scared, but we're together... and we have each other's backs.' added Constance.

'Well, you both have long hair ... yum-yum ... Good! It looks like I'm going to have a feast today!'

Clever as she was, Princess Jessica noticed there was something strange about the dragon's words, so she decided to ask him there and then to clarify what he meant.

'Hmm-hmm,' she said, clearing her throat. 'Excuse me, Mr. Dragon. What difference does it make whether we've got short hair or long hair? If you're going to eat us anyway, the length of our hair shouldn't matter at all.'

'Ha! Ha! Ha! What's your name, little girl?'

'Hey! You mustn't talk to my friend like that.' said Constance, somewhat astonished by the dragon's lack of courtesy to the princess. 'She's...'

'What she means is that I'm Henry's cousin, have you met him?' interrupted Princess Jessica, lying to the dragon. She thought it was better not to tell him who she really was. 'My name is Jessica. And you still haven't answered my question!'

'Who on earth told you that I was going to eat you? I'm just interested in your hair ...'

'But, then, where are all the other girls who have been sent here?' asked Princess Jessica feeling very intrigued.

'There's a garden on the other side of my cave … You can find them there. I do not know why, but they always cry when I gobble up their hair, and then they do not want to go back home ...

'They must be ashamed to go back looking like boys.' the princess said softly and almost crying. She did not want to go back home with no hair either.

'I don't know anything about that.' All I know is that their hair is long again when they decide to leave the cave, and I eat it up again before they can escape …' On saying this, Dragon Heavy-Foot licks his lips in anticipation of the beautiful double treat in front of him and moves closer to the two girls.

'Halt! said Princess Jessica in a stately tone. Then, in a more gentle and humble tone she added, 'Just a few more questions ... if I may, Mr. Dragon.'

Dragon Heavy-Foot stopped and, for the first time in many centuries, smiled from ear to ear. He found this little girl with a questioning tongue quite amusing. No one had ever bothered to talk to him. For the first time, he felt like he was actually socializing with other beings.

'So what is it this time?'

'Why do you only eat the girls' hair and not the boys' or even the adults' hair?'

'The thing is... Hmmm … let me see if I can explain this. When I first went down to your kingdom everyone used to run away from me and hid in places I couldn't find them. Well, except for the girls. I found them because I could smell their scent. You know, girls usually smell better than boys, maybe because of the shampoo they use, I do not know. They were just easier to find. Then, when the elderly people of the land came to negotiate with me, they started sending me only girls.'
'A-ha! Since you only caught the girls, they must have thought you only wanted them... Constance, I have a plan. Come on, stop crying! It's okay, we'll let him eat our hair, then we'll go and get the other girls and we''ll all go back home together!

'What on earth are you saying? I don't want to be bald!'

'We won't end up bald.' said the princess. 'We'll just have short hair. Don't you go to the hairdresser's every once in a while? ... Look at it this way, we'll be creating a new short-hair fashion. Anyway, it'll soon grow back!' Then looking back at the dragon she began to negotiate:

'You heard that, didn't you, Mr. Dragon? You can eat our hair, but not all of it. Then when we get back to my kingdom, I'll find a way to send you a basket full of hair every week. Picture that, every single week, a basket full of yummy hair! Had you explained your situation properly to the elders of the kingdom, you would have had hair to eat more regularly.'

'Come again? You mean, a basket of hair per week?' asked the dragon.

'In our kingdom there are hairdressers and barbers whose job it is to cut people's hair." We all cut our hair regularly and willingly.

'And what do you do hairdressers and barbers do with the hair that they've cut?'

'That's exactly what I'm trying to explain to you: we do not have much use for it. Hair that's still in good condition can be used to make wigs ... otherwise, most of it goes straight into the garbage bin.'

'What?!? I can't believe my ears!' said the dragon, putting his hands on his head and shaking it in disbelief. 'How can you do such an awful thing?'

'Well, nobody knew you liked hair!' said Constance, with a sigh of relief.

And that's how it all happened. As soon as the dragon ate their hair, the two friends went to get the other girls, who now lived in the garden on the other side of the dragon's cave. As soon as they saw Princess Jessica, also with short hair, and they heard her plan, they were all thrilled and full of hope.

It was singing the song of the little ducklings, that the group of girls descended the mountain, back to the warmth and protection of their parents, uncles, grandparents, brothers and cousins. 

A General Assembly was called and the little princess explained her plan to her parents, the King and Queen, and the rest of the population at he same time.

What a simple solution to your problem!  Everyone was very proud of the little princess who would one day become their fair and just queen.

'Just one more thing,' said the little teary-eyed princess. 'I wasn't the only brave one. If Constance hadn't been by my side, it might not have been so easy to talk to Dragon Heavy-Foot. We backed each other up, and I'm extremely grateful that she never let go of my hand. You know, I think I've learnt a very important lesson: we may be able to solve our problems on our own, but it's together that we find the courage to face them.

'Long live our Princess!' cried out the subjects of the Kingdom of Flowers. 'Long live our Princess and her faithful friend Constance!'

And it must have been at this point in time that a new popular saying emerged: "Out of the mouths of children comes the wisdom of the world."

© Paula do Amaral

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