Rose looked around the fire at her family’s pinched faces. It was this terrible place. The Humboldt Valley was the cruelest land she’d ever seen. Constant worry–for the horses, for each other, for the terrible choices they might still have to make–they had all taken their toll.
As a small act of defiance against the fear that pressed in all around them, Rose fetched her journal and read them the story she’d finished last night.
“Once upon a time there was a dragon. He was proud and cruel, and his kingdom was in the desert, where he lived on rattlesnakes, lizards, and sage brush. He spewed out his poison on the ground, turning it white, and the only place left that was green was a river, for even a dragon must slake his thirst. But one day, he decided he wanted new lands, with slaves to do his bidding and new creatures to fear him. So he rose up and flew east, over a huge lake with waters that tasted like salt. Higher and higher he went, to a vast plain ringed by mountains.
“But that was the domain of a giant. He lived there in a huge cave, and in the winter he would burn whole trees from the surrounding forest to stay warm, for he could pluck them out of the ground as easily as you or I would pull up a sunflower.
“He ate buffalo, deer, and antelope, and the snow was no trouble at all to him with his long legs and heavy feet. The giant lived there happily, a king in all but name, until the dragon came.
“There was the usual sort of argument that happens whenever two strong adversaries want the same thing. Since they both refused to yield, they began to fight.
“It was a titanic clash, pitting the giant’s great strength against the dragon’s claws and fire. But the giant was made out of the stuff of the mountains and couldn’t be burned. Dragon fire stung him, and it made him angry, but it didn’t weaken him. So the giant finally caught the dragon from behind, in a wrestler’s hold, and no matter how the dragon clawed to get free, he was held fast. Then the giant squeezed his hardest and threw the dragon to the ground, where he lay gasping for breath.
“Then the giant grabbed one of the many chunks of rock that the two had dislodged during the battle, a jagged one, and using it like a sword, he chopped clean through the dragon’s neck.
“But when the heat of battle was over, the giant discovered the dragon had not merely scratched him, but gouged him deeply enough to wound him sorely. Winter was nearly upon him, and he was now too weak to gather wood like before, so he staggered back the way the dragon had come, thinking to live in his vanquished enemy’s home, since he could no longer remain in his.
“He came to a canyon made all of red rock, and there he lay down, for he could go no farther. He expected to die, for he had never shown kindness to others, and so he did not expect to see it shown to him.
“But a nanny goat took pity on him. She allowed the giant to milk her every day, and thus he recovered his strength. She had her kid goats in his red rock cave, and they grew to love the giant, and he to love them. He built them a bridge, putting it across a chasm that had caused them trouble on the way to the giant’s home, and he grew his food. For he had learned to love, and it brought him more joy than his former domination ever had, so he had no desire to return to his former ways.
“And sometimes, he will still come out of his cave to help others, if he sees them show an act of great love, that the world may become a kinder place.”
It was very quiet when she had finished, and something about the pause caused Rose to look anxiously at her family’s faces. It was the first fairy tale she had ever tried, and she was secretly a little proud of it.
Jean-Pierre stood and came to take her hand. “That was lovely, ma belle Rose. Someday, when we have built our farm in California, we will tell this tale to our children. And I will draw the pictures for it, and they will ask for it again and again.”
Rose searched his eyes anxiously, and she saw nothing but truth in them. And now hope as well.
This is an excerpt from my novel, California Trail Rose, the sequel to Bleeding Kansas Rose. As of this posting, I’ve just finished my second major editing pass. 🙂