The trouble had started, as it so often did, with a dragon. The mighty Draco was rarely satisfied, whether it be gold, jewels, or conquest, and it had lurked in the same lonely grotto for longer than any human could remember. One day it glanced around its rocky cave, considered the treasure it had accumulated, and snorted. It wasn’t such a mighty hoard after all, not when he compared it to the tales he’d heard of the city of the gods. He rose to his scaly feet and flapped his enormous wings. Then he flew south, leaving devastation in his wake.
The people all fled the ebony monster in the sky, but they were of no account. The dragon flew to the edge of the sea, a place he rarely lingered because its hunger exceeded his, and bellowed.
Other than every creature taking flight, no response could be seen, either above the waves or below. But undeterred, Draco called again. His mighty roar resounded over the turbulent waters, and from their depths, a cry rose in answer.
Long and undulating, the great serpent’s reply caused the dragon to nod in satisfaction. Men were fortunate they had never combined forces before. Now even the Olympians would learn the taste of fear. The two of them together would conquer the very heavens.
The serpent would attack from the east, where only a scant few miles separated the salty waves from the approach to Olympus. The wily dragon would mount an assault from the south. If they were swift and ruthless, they could be feasting on ambrosia that very day.
But when Draco had first called out, Cygnus the swan had taken flight, not merely to flee as the others did, but to bear word to Hercules. If anyone could stand against the dragon, it would be he. Cygnus flew with a speed born of desperation, and he found the hero before a single hour had passed.
Hercules had been resting from his many labors, but when he heard of the unholy alliance headed for the home of the gods, he caught up his bow and his new club, one the god Hephaestus had studded with the claws from the Nemean lion. He swung it, and it cut through the air with a satisfying swish. Soon, both he and it would have their mettle tested by dragon fire.
Hercules lived due west of the mountain of the gods, and he sped to Olympus by the shortest way. For if he came too late, if the dragon and serpent joined forces before he arrived, even his prowess would not suffice to defeat them.
The swan flew on ahead, trumpeting a plea for aid, and the first to respond were the bears, both the greater and the lesser, just as the dragon reached the rocky foothills at the base of Olympus. Unable to face the dragon head on, the bears resorted to harrying him. First the lesser bear ran up from behind and swiped the scaly tail, opening four crimson gashes.
The dragon spun, dripping gore, and before it could connect, the great bear tore into its shoulder. Then he swiftly ducked behind a granite boulder. The dragon’s blast of fire singed his fur and made him roar in pain. Still, the bears maintained their deadly dance, weaving and ducking. The lesser bear’s paw got burned in passing, and he howled, but just as the dragon blasted him with flame, Hercules leaped in between.
The dragon engulfed the hero in fire, then he turned to battle the great bear who now attacked with redoubled fervor, bent on vengeance. But Hercules had covered himself with the pelt of the Nemean Lion, that miraculous hide, impervious to the elements, that no weapon could pierce. Hercules joined the great bear in attacking Draco. Even the dragon’s thick scales were no match for the claws of the Nemean lion, wielded with the strength of a hero.
Meanwhile, the great serpent had toiled its way to the foot of Olympus. Its webbed feet and short legs, unmatched in the seas, made it ungainly on land. But its teeth were sharp and deadly, and it came up fast, angling to attack Hercules opposite the dragon, where one or the other of the unholy alliance must eventually bring the hero down.
But the swan’s cries for aid had been answered from the skies by Aquila the eagle, one of Zeus’s own messengers. The eagle dived at the sea-green eye on one side of the huge serpent’s head, and the swan caught up one of Hercules’s arrows in its beak to lunge at the other side.
The serpent’s head struck the swan, propelling it into a rocky ravine, and the swan flew no more. But the eagle had scored its own triumph with its sharp talons. One great eye now dripped blood, and the serpent shook its head and cried out in rage.
And the ocean answered. The beaches teemed with huge crabs which sped toward the battle. If they reached Hercules, he might well be overwhelmed by their sheer numbers.
Draco took to the skies and dived down on Hercules, causing a cascade of rocks that threatened to bury the hero alive. Then the dragon flamed the eagle and resumed its march on Olympus, flanked by the serpent. Their main advantage had been speed and the complacency of the gods. The two sped upward, their feet casting rocks behind them in their haste, and Hercules and the bear tried to dodge the many boulders rolling down the mountain.
Despite the rocks, Hercules caught up to the serpent, and he grabbed it by the tail. Outraged, the beast swung its tail with all its strength, and the hero was flung to the ground, with the lionskin caught beneath him. A single swipe from the serpent’s razor-sharp claws, and the invaders no longer had anything to fear from the mighty warrior.
But the swan’s cries had brought one last ally—Pegasus the valiant, who bore the thunderbolt to Zeus. Before his tenure at Olympus, Pegasus had battled the fearsome chimera, and he knew how to face a foe who breathed fire. But the chimera had lacked wings.
The dragon took to the skies, and Pegasus had to bank wildly to avoid the flame that would hurl him to his death on the rocks below. But this dislodged the thunderbolt carried between his wings. It sliced through the air, faster than Furies, and landed with a resounding crash.
The thunder that followed caused all present to cower, and before they could recover, Zeus appeared, Athena on one side, Ares on the other. The dragon and serpent bowed their heads. In the many years since they had faced the gods, they had allowed themselves to forget the Olympians’ overwhelming presence. Even though both dragon and serpent had grown in strength and guile, they still lacked the might to oppose the gods face-to-face.
Zeus considered the broken bodies of the swan, the eagle, and the lesser bear, who had given their lives to slow the onslaught. His sorrow became fury when he discovered his son Hercules, and he cried, “Halt!” His voice echoed down the mountainside, and the crabs froze in terror before fleeing back toward the sea.
The god of the heavens strode up to the cowering dragon, and Athena whispered counsel into his ear. Zeus nodded and said, “Let it be so. If the dragon and the serpent wish to conquer the heavens, then the skies shall be their home forever.”
And he set in the night sky constellations to honor the battle. The lesser bear, who had given his life first, was given the honor of marking true north. The bears would harry Draco for all eternity, and the dragon would not be able to escape them.
Zeus set Hercules to oppose Draco, and the serpent would be forever blocked by Cygnus and Aquila. Even the crabs were not forgotten. The rearmost straggler was set in the heavens as well, but too far away to ever join forces with the serpent.
“Let humans remember well this day,” Zeus cried. “For treachery and courage both have their just reward. The names of the heroes shall be forever honored, and they shall triumph over their foes for all eternity.”
And to this day, the night skies display the fearsome battle, for any with the eyes to see and the wit to listen to the wisdom of Olympus.
I actually wrote this story because I’ve been stargazing at night. In the northern hemisphere during the summer, these are the constellations you’ll see if you face north. The bottom two stars of the Big Dipper point to the North Star of the Little Dipper. Draco is sandwiched in between. The head of Draco runs into Cygnus and Hercules, with Aquila nearby.
Hopefully, this tale will also be helpful to assist folks in finding constellations in the sky. Happy stargazing! : )