Alexis Lloyd

The Great Dragon

This is a tale about a powerful dragon and a priceless pearl, about a famous goldsmith, a lowly blacksmith, and a beautiful girl. It is about a small village on a narrow river, smoked duck, moonlight, and, most of all, courage.

On the eastern bank of this river lived a young blacksmith named Kwan Ling.  Through many good fortunes, he had met the beautiful Su Chu, the eldest daughter of Su, the renowned goldsmith who lived on the western side of the river, and they had become greatly enamored with one another.  Just two things impeded their marriage; Su’s disdain for Ling’s lowly station, and the fearsome dragon that demanded tribute from anyone who dared cross the river.

All knew the ancient legend of the mighty dragon that could swim faster than the salmon, melt metal with its breath, and eat more in a day than a village eats in a week.  Yet even dragons have fears, and the villagers said that their dragon was terrified of the five-colored scarf; but afraid of no man, for no man had ever defeated it.  Every dragon searches endlessly for the Mother Pearl, while tightly holding a daughter pearl in its back claw.  When Ling had been only six, on his first trip across the bridge, he had seen the dragon, and the shiny black pearl in its claw.

Chu prevailed on Master Su to invite Ling to dinner, hopeful that Ling could prove his worth and manners.  On the night of the dinner with the goldsmith, Ling approached the bridge, stopped, set down a large bowl of rice and hurried across the bridge.

Ling was a very well-mannered guest and the Su family enjoyed a feast of smoked duck with the blacksmith suitor, who had never before been beyond the stables of a home so grand. After thanking Master Su and his wife profusely for their lovely hospitality, Ling headed home.  He thought briefly about asking for a bowl of rice to take for the dragon, but refused to allow Chu’s father to consider him poor and unmannered.

Walking slowly towards the bridge, thinking that he might lie atop the moss until morning, he heard footsteps behind him.  It was Chu!  She drew the scarf from around her neck, smiled mischievously, handed the scarf to Ling, and ran quickly back to her grand house.  Ling looked closely at the scarf, pulling its silky softness between his work-roughened fingers.  Then Ling, too, smiled.

At the first sight of Ling, the dragon jumped onto the bridge and demanded smoked duck. Ling wadded up the scarf and tossed it high into the air, revealing all five colors of the silk.  The beast made a horrible, unhuman wail, and splashed so deeply into the river as it swam away that Ling was soaked to the skin.  Ling whistled as he walked home, dried off at his own fire, and dreamt of Chu’s mischievous smile.

When spring began to show its face, Ling was invited again to dine. Any hopeful suitor knows that the second dinner might be the last …or the first.  Ling placed his bowl of rice upon the bridge, crossed quickly, and showed great respect and good manners as he shared a feast of smoked duck, snap peas with ginger and winter rice.  At the end of this dinner, Ling received the happy news.  Chu’s devotion and Ling’s manners had softened Su’s heart, and the goldsmith consented, only a bit reluctantly, to his daughter marrying the blacksmith.

Ling’s happiness blinded him to the danger ahead.  At the bridge, the dragon demanded the smoked duck that Ling still did not have to provide. Ling had no five-colored scarf.  The dragon glowered at him, fire coming from his nostrils in sharp hot blasts.

The ancestors have warned that the dragon is too smart to ever be tricked.  They have cautioned that a blacksmith could never marry the daughter of a goldsmith.  Ling could have been like any other man.  He could have panicked, could have fled.  But Ling was not like any other man.  Ling did not panic, did not flee.  Ling thought.  Ling gazed at the water and the reflection of the beautiful, full moon.

“Great dragon,” Ling began, bowing before the flames, “If I can show you the Mother Pearl, will you let me pass?”

The dragon stood up straighter, its eyes gleaming. “Yessss,” it hissed.

Ling thought about Chu living on his side of the river after she was his bride, unable to ever safely cross the bridge to visit her father and mother and sisters.  Ling pressed his advantage.

“If I show you the Mother Pearl,” Ling began again, “will you let me and all my family pass, now and forevermore?”

“Yesssss!” hissed the dragon, impatient now, and eager.

“Then look down,” Ling instructed, “for the Mother Pearl is at the bottom of the river, shining up at us.” 

Ling pointed to the reflection of the full moon, which indeed resembled a huge round pearl deep under the water.

“Ahhh!” breathed the dragon, releasing the black pearl from its claw as it dove towards the Mother Pearl, in order to reach for the Pearl with all its talons.  Ling leaned far out, grabbed the black pearl in his palm, and sprinted home before the dragon could realize the trick.

The dragon’s fury boomed through the village, and the mulberry leaves nearest the river were singed by the dragon’s flames.  Then the dragon, who knew he could never demand rice and smoked duck from villagers who did not fear him, swam far down theYangtze, never to return.

On his wedding day, in front of the whole village, Ling presented the black pearl to his father-in-law.  People stopped calling him “Ling the blacksmith.”  Young boys began to call him “Ling the Great,” and though he never said it aloud, Su the goldsmith, who was indeed pleased with his son-in-law, thought of him that way as well.


Copyright 2002-2006 Student Publishing Program (SPP). Poetry and prose 2002-2006 by individual authors. Reprinted with permission. SPP developed and designed by Strong Bat Productions.