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The Business of Dragons

By Lois Jean Thomas


Long ago in a faraway land, a peaceful little village lay at the foot of a tall mountain. In the village lived a young girl named Komala. She was a tenderhearted child, an artist who loved all things beautiful.

When Komala would finish her schoolwork for the day, she would rush outside just to gaze at the loveliness of fluffy white clouds in a bright blue sky. She would open her heart to the splendor of the majestic mountain, the graceful shapes of tall trees, and the vivid colors of the flowers in the village square. She loved to capture these beautiful images in her paintings.

Everyone in the village admired Komala’s art, and she enjoyed delighting the villagers with gifts of paintings to brighten the rooms of their cottages. Sometimes, the younger children would gather around her, and she’d teach them how to create their own lovely works of art.

Now, high up on the mountaintop lived a clan of dragons. The dragons never came down the mountain, nor did they bother the villagers. But they were well-known for their quarrelsome behavior. Sometimes on a quiet evening, the villagers could hear screeching and bellowing from the mountaintop. Sometimes flames from angry dragon throats would leap high into the sky, and smoke would drift down the mountainside.

The villagers generally paid no attention to the activities of the dragons. Sometimes when the dragons would become especially loud, some villager would shrug and say, “The dragons surely are carrying on tonight.”

But Komala’s tender heart was troubled by the dragons’ fighting. “Mother,” she said one day, “we live so peacefully here in the village, while the dragons seem so miserable up there on the mountaintop. Someone should teach them how to live happier lives. I wish I could help them.”

“Dear Komala,” replied her mother, “your loving heart is filled with compassion. But other villagers before you have tried to help the dragons, only to meet with unfortunate consequences. We in the village live the way we choose, and we’ve learned it is best to let the dragons live the lives of their choosing. You have your schoolwork and painting. Focus your attention on those things. Don’t trouble your mind with the business of dragons.”

That evening, Komala lay in her bed, thinking about her mother’s words. Perhaps mother is wrong, she told herself. Can it be right to leave the dragons in such misery and suffering?

The next morning, as Komala skipped along the path to her school, she paused at a turn in the road and gazed up at the mountaintop. She could see dark shapes that she imagined to be dragon dwellings, and more than ever, she wondered what kind of lives the dragons lived.

Suddenly, her heart grew bold, and she decided to venture a short distance up the mountainside. I’ll just go close enough to get a better view, she told herself. I won’t let the dragons see me. I’ll be in no danger.

Taking a deep breath, she plunged into the thicket at the foot of the mountain, expecting a difficult climb. But after a few minutes of battling briars and dodging low-hanging tree limbs, the brush cleared away and a path opened up in front of her.

She was surprised at how well-worn the path was. She’d never heard anyone tell of a path up the mountainside, but, clearly, others had walked that way before.

Higher and higher she climbed, her heart pounding with both excitement and fear. I’ll go just close enough to take a peek, she promised herself. 

Suddenly, a stone wall loomed before her, and she realized she was looking at a building on the edge of the dragon village. She could hear the sound of shuffling feet and the murmur of voices, along with an occasional angry roar. She knew she was listening to dragons moving about the streets of their town. Terrified, she turned to scurry back down the mountainside to the safety of her own village.

But she stopped short at another noise that came from a cluster of trees to her side. It sounded like a sob. Another sob came, and another and another, followed by a pitiful moan.

The sounds of sorrow touched Komala’s tender heart, and she crept closer to the trees. Then, she saw the broad, scaly back of a dragon sitting on a large rock, her face buried in her hands.

Despite her efforts to move silently, Komala stepped on a twig and snapped it, and the dragon swung her head around. Her large eyes dripped with tears, and her face looked so sad that the fear in Komala’s heart turned into pity.

“Who are you?” the dragon sniffled. “Where did you come from?”

Komala stepped closer. “I’m Komala. I come from the village at the foot of the mountain. Who are you?”

“I’m Karuna,” the dragon replied. She wiped the tears from her eyes with a bony hand, then peered at Komala curiously. “You are so lovely, little one. Come closer so I can see you better.”

Slowly Komala walked up to Karuna and laid a gentle hand on the dragon’s cold, scaly arm. “You are so sad,” she said. “What makes you weep so pitifully?”

Once again, tears poured from the dragon’s eyes. “How kind of you to care!” she whimpered. “It’s such a long story. Let’s not sit out here where everyone can hear. Come to my home, and I will tell you everything.”

Oh, no! Komala thought. Entering the dragon village might put me in danger. But what choice do I have? This suffering dragon needs my help. So even though her insides trembled with fear, she followed Karuna the rest of the way up the path to the top of the mountain.

“Here is my house,” Karuna said, pointing to a cave-like structure at the edge of the village. “You’re the first guest I’ve had in so many years. No one else has cared enough to pay me a visit.”

Before entering the dragon’s dwelling, Komala glanced at her surroundings. The narrow streets of the village were lined with other dark buildings made of stone. When she saw several dragons shuffling in her direction, she darted into Karuna’s home to escape their notice.

Komala was accustomed to the cheerful colors of the cottages in her village, so she was quite disappointed with the dreary condition of Karuna’s dwelling. The single room was furnished with a table and two stone benches. A tattered mat lay in one corner of the room, and Komala imagined it to be the dragon’s bed. Dingy gray curtains shut out the light coming through the one small window.

Anyone who lives in such a place can’t help but be sad, she thought.

“Have a seat,” Karuna said, pointing to one of the stone benches. She lowered her heavy body onto the other bench, then reached for a soiled handkerchief lying on the table.

“It’s a long story,” she sniffled. Then she wept bitterly as she poured out a tale of cruel lovers, ungrateful children, and neighbors who treated her so unfairly.

Komala listened, dismayed. She’d never known anyone in her own village who lived such a miserable life. When the dragon stopped talking to sob into her handkerchief, Komala leaned toward her, patting her shoulder and whispering comforting words.

Finally, Karuna stopped weeping and smiled through her tears. “You are such a dear friend to comfort me like this,” she said. “You must be an angel, sent to me in my time of sorrow. I’ve been lonely for so long, but now you’ve come into my life. Do visit again tomorrow!”

“Of course, I will!” Komala said without hesitation.

As the pitiful dragon walked Komala to the door, she patted her arm with a rough hand, whispering, “My angel!”

Komala ran down the mountain path to her village, thoughts racing through her mind. Mother was wrong. My schoolwork and painting aren’t everything. I have a more important job: to comfort the weeping dragon. I am all that she has.

That night, Komala tossed and turned in her bed. She couldn’t get Karuna’s sad stories out of her mind.

The next day, as she skipped down the path toward school, she didn’t even hesitate at the bend in the road. “This is my work,” she said, she plunged through the thicket to reach the mountain trail. “It is my duty to help Karuna.”

When she reached Karuna’s dwelling, the dragon greeted her with a broad smile, showing jagged teeth. “Come in, come in, my angel.”

Komala seated herself on the stone bench, ready to listen to Karuna’s stories. Karuna’s smile was soon replaced by tears as she launched into her tales of misery. Sometimes, her sobs became loud snorts, and small flames leaped from her throat.

Frightened, Komala drew back from the heat. But Karuna reached out her bony arms and clutched the girl to her cold chest. Komala could scarcely breathe, and the dragon’s scales scratched her soft cheek. But she told herself everything was fine.

When Komala announced that it was time to for her to leave, Karuna whimpered, “Promise me you’ll come back tomorrow. You’re all that I have.”

Komala wanted to tell Karuna that she had other things to do, that she needed to get back to her school and her painting. But when she saw the tears dripping from the dragon’s eyes, she agreed to return the next day.

On her way home, Komala felt too tired to skip down the mountain trail.

The next morning, as she dragged her weary body up the mountainside, she whispered, “I don’t feel like visiting Karuna today.” Then, startled by her thought, she said aloud, “But I must do this. It is my responsibility to comfort the sorrowful dragon.”

Once again, Komala knocked at the dragon’s door, then spent the day squirming on her hard stone seat, dodging tongues of flame that leaped from Karuna’s sobbing throat. Again, she struggled to breathe when the dragon clutched her to her scaly chest.

When it came time for Komala to leave, Karuna clung to her, whimpering. She refused to release her grip until Komala said, “I’ll be back tomorrow.”

As she closed the door behind her, Komala sighed with relief. She closed her eyes, breathing deeply, trying to gather the strength to make the trip down the mountainside.

When she opened her eyes, she was startled to see a dragon seated on a bench in front of the house across the street. A fine-looking gentleman, he wore a colorful jacket made of shimmering fabric and a wide-brimmed hat with a jaunty plume. As he puffed on his pipe, he leaned on an ivory cane carved with intricate designs. His beady eyes peered at her from behind gold-rimmed spectacles.

Komala couldn’t help but stare at the handsome dragon, and when he saw that he had caught her eye, he smiled at her.

“I was hoping to meet you,” he called in a deep, melodic voice. “I’ve noticed you slipping into Karuna’s home the past few days. Come over here and chat with me for a minute.”

With a pounding heart, Komala crossed the street and stood in front of the dragon. He extended his hand, and she noticed his sparkling ring and long, manicured nails.

“I’m Uddhata,” he announced, “And who might you be?”

“I’m Komala,” she replied. “I’m from the village at the foot of the mountain.”

“I’m most pleased to meet you, Komala.” Uddhata’s smile revealed several gold teeth that flashed in the sunlight.

Then he frowned, his beady eyes focused intently on her face. “I’m concerned about the hours you are spending at Karuna’s house. That will do you no good. No doubt, she’s boring you to tears with her tales of woe.”

He shifted his position on the bench, and the look in his eyes sent a shiver of fear through Komala. “The dragon lady is not what she seems to be,” he said. “She blames everyone else for her misery, but she’s brought all her problems upon herself. She’s a most difficult creature, and that’s why so many have turned their backs on her.”

His face darkened with anger. “Why, once upon a time, Karuna and I were lovers. Unfortunately, it was impossible to live with her demanding ways. Try as I might, I couldn’t please her. So, I had no choice but to leave her.”

Then he smiled, flashing his gold teeth again. “A lovely young girl like you shouldn’t waste your time with such a miserable dragon. Come visit me tomorrow, and I’ll show you an enchanting time.”

Stunned by this unexpected turn of events, Komala stared at the gentleman dragon, speechless. “I-I-I promised Karuna I’d visit her again tomorrow,” she finally stammered.

“Cut the visit short,” Uddhata commanded. “I’ll be waiting for you.”

Komala turned and hurried to the path down the mountain, filled with both excitement and dread.

The next morning, Karuna opened her door with a scowl on her face. “I saw you talking to Uddhata when you left me yesterday,” she sniffed as she motioned Komala to her stone seat. “I might’ve known this would happen. Uddhata will steal you away, and you will leave me, just like the rest.”

She sighed deeply, a tear trickling down her cheek. “But why must you associate with Uddhata? He and I were lovers once, you know. He broke this tender heart of mine. His betrayal was the most bitter of all.”

“Oh, Karuna, you know I’ll never leave you,” Komala protested. Hoping to soothe the dragon’s distress, she said, “Tell me the story about you and Uddhata.” And Karuna wept her way through the dark tale of heartbreak and unfaithfulness.

Remembering her promise to Uddhata, Komala prepared to leave Karuna’s house much earlier that day. “I must go now,” she said, afraid to look Karuna in the eye.

“I know you’re going to visit that scoundrel!” Karuna screeched, stabbing the air with a bony finger. “You can’t deny it!”

“Karuna!” Komala fell to her knees in front of the raging dragon. “Please don’t forget! I’m your friend. I’m your angel, sent to comfort you. I’ll be back. I promise!”

Karuna turned away with an angry snort.

Komala could feel Karuna’s eyes on her back as she crossed the street to Uddhata’s home. Before she could knock, the gentleman dragon threw open the door, bowing and gesturing. “Come in, come in, my dear.”

He chuckled as Komala stared in amazement at her surroundings. Compared to Karuna’s dark, shabby dwelling, Uddhata’s home was magnificent. Shelves and tables held chests overflowing with sparkling treasures. Colorful silk curtains adorned the windows, and embroidered velvet cloths covered the stone seats.

He led her to a seat at a table, then placed a large chest in front of her. “Take a look,” he said.

Komala gasped with delight as she opened the chest. It was filled with all sorts of exquisite toys, dazzling ornaments, and fine jewelry. One by one, she inspected the treasures, astonished at their beauty.

Uddhata watched her from his seat across the table, saying little, but occasionally chuckling at her pleasure. Once when Komala glanced up, she saw the dragon’s beady eyes fixed on her in a cold stare. Her insides clench with fear. But then he smiled, and her fear melted. “Before you go, fill your pockets with treasures,” he said, gesturing toward the chest.

“How gracious of you!” Komala exclaimed. She picked out a bracelet made of sparkling stones, a tiny dragon statue with flashing eyes, and a small mirror with an ornate frame.

“You’re most welcome, my dear,” the gentleman dragon crooned, “I can see you and I are going to be special friends. Come again tomorrow. Come a little earlier, so that you’ll have time for a tour of the town. You must see more of what the dragon village has to offer.”

As Komala trudged own the mountain path, the trinkets felt heavy in her pockets. Her mind whirled in confusion. Did poor Karuna really bring all her troubles on herself? Why was Uddhata so kind to me? Why does he want to be special friends? Is he lonely, like Karuna? Are all dragons lonely and in need of friends?

She sighed deeply. Oh, there’s so much work for me to do in this dragon village!

When Komala visited Karuna the next day, the dragon lady refused to speak. The silence between them was broken only by Karuna’s offended snorts.

What have I done? Komala wondered. Even though she was tired of hearing sad stories, she begged Karuna to tell her one.

“So, you still wish to comfort me?” Karuna sniffed.

“Of course,” Komala replied. “You know I’ll always be your friend.”

After listening to a few tales of misery, Komala politely excused herself, trying not to look at the bitter tears dripping from the dragon’s eyes.

When she crossed the street to Uddhata’s home, he was waiting for her, seated on the stone bench outside his house. The gentleman looked so grand that she couldn’t help but smile. He was wearing an even more splendid jacket than the day before, along with a jaunty bowtie.

“Good afternoon, my dear.” Uddhata stood up and offered Komala his arm. “Are you ready for a stroll around town?”

He led her up and down the dark streets of the dragon village, pointing out the homes of the important citizens in the town: the mayor, the high priest, the banker, the tax collector. Komala was used to the bright, cheerful colors and the well-kept cottages in her own village, and she was secretly disappointed in the dreary conditions of the dragon village. But because Uddhata seemed so proud, she pretended to admire the sights he showed her.

They passed a number of dragons going about their business in the streets, and each time they met someone, Uddhata would announce, “This is my special friend Komala, from the village at the foot of the mountain.” The dragons’ cold stares chilled Komala’s heart, but she told herself she was safe with Uddhata by her side.

After a time, they arrived at the village marketplace, with its booths of goods for sale. Crude pots and utensils for preparing dragon meals were laid out on tables. Small hairy rodents, the dragons’ primary food, squirmed and squealed in large cages. Scraps of colored cloth were displayed along with dingy toys and trinkets.

At one booth, Uddhata pulled several thick metal coins from his jacket pocket, and made a grand show of buying Komala the most expensive ornament on display. But nothing in the marketplace came close to matching the splendid treasures in the gentleman dragon’s home. Komala wondered how he had acquired all his wealth.

“My dear,” Uddhata said sweetly, “you must be weary from our tour. Before you leave for home, let me buy you a refreshing drink at our tavern.”

He led Komala into a dimly lit building, where the air felt thick and heavy. When Komala’s eyes became accustomed to the darkness, she saw dragons sitting around stone tables, conversing with one another. The sounds of their harsh voices grated on her ears.

She glanced up at Uddhata with frightened eyes, and he placed a cold, scaly arm around her shoulders.

“There’s nothing to fear, my dear,” he crooned. “I’m here to protect you.”

After guiding her to an empty table, he stepped up to the bar to buy her a tall glass of dragon’s ale. Komala shuddered at her first taste of the bitter drink.

“How do you like it?” Uddhata inquired, smiling proudly. “I bought you the finest ale served here.”

“It’s wonderful,” Komala lied, forcing herself to gulp the nasty liquid. Her stomach heaved, and she felt dizzy and lightheaded.

After they left the pub, Uddhata escorted her to the path down the mountainside. “Come back tomorrow,” he said. His voice sounded sharp. Komala knew this was a command not an invitation.

She could think of nothing to say but, “I’ll be here.”

Several days passed in this same manner. Each morning, Komala trudged wearily up the mountain, then knocked on Karuna’s door. She would endure several hours of miserable stories, then try to soothe the dragon’s hurt feelings when it came time for her to leave.

Then, she’d cross the street to Uddhata’s home, where he would entertain her with his never-ending supply of toys and trinkets. The gentleman dragon would then escort her to the tavern, where he would buy her a foul-tasting drink. He always reminded her of their special friendship, demanding that she return the next day.

During her visits to the tavern, Komala noticed a particular dragon who seemed to spend a great deal of time there. He was a jolly fellow who drank glass after glass of ale, entertaining his friends with loud stories and rowdy laughter.

One day when Uddhata left Komala’s side and stepped up to the bar, the jolly dragon left his table and slid into Uddhata’s empty seat. Leaning close, he spoke to Komala in low tones.

“I’ve seen you here with Uddhata,” he said. “I must caution you about your association with that dragon. He’s well-known for his involvement in many shady deals, and I can promise he’s up to no good with you.”

Alarmed, Komala turned to stare at the dragon. He chuckled at her dismay and his voice became lighthearted. “Anyway, you shouldn’t stick with just one companion. You need to meet other dragons in the village.”

He extended his bony hand. “My name is Manthara. I’ve been telling my wife and children about you, and they want to meet you. Come to our home for dinner tonight. I live three doors down the street from the tavern. We’ll entertain you well.”

Startled by this unexpected turn of events, Komla saw no choice but to accept the dragon’s invitation. Manthara chortled with pleasure, then slid out of his seat and returned to his own table.

“Why were you talking to that worthless fellow?” Uddhata scolded when he came back from the bar. “You should never bother with dragons of such low social standing.”

As Komala finished her bitter drink, her eyes well with tears. What will I do now? she thought. Uddhata will be so angry with me if I go to Manthara’s home. But Manthara and his family will surely be offended if I don’t keep my promise to join them for dinner.

So, after she said goodbye to Uddhata, Komala walked a short distance down the mountain path, then hid behind a tree until she heard Uddhata’s door close behind him. Then she scrambled back up the path and hurried down the street to Manthara’s dwelling.

Manthara opened the door with a hearty laugh. From the back of the room, a female dragon called, “Welcome!”

Two small dragon children darted out from the dark corners of the room, flames shooting from their throats as they shrieked with delight. They danced in circles around Komala, and she couldn’t help but laugh at their merriment.

She glanced around the room. The windowpanes were cracked, the curtains tattered and stained. Soot from dragon flames covered the stone walls, and broken toys cluttered the filthy floor.

“This is my wife,” Manthara said, “and these are my children.” He showed Komala to a dirty table, where his wife ladled sour-smelling stew into chipped stone bowls.

Komala stared in horror at the chunks of hairy rodent meat floating in a cloudy broth. She longed for the delicious fruits and vegetables grown in her mother’s garden, and the fresh bread from the village bakery. But even though her stomach churned in protest, she forced herself to eat what the dragons set before her.

During the meal, Manthara entertained the family with stories he’d heard at the tavern. His wife clapped her hands, laughing loudly. The dragon children bounced on their seats, alternating between giggles and wails as they threw chunks of meat and splashed one another with broth.

Occasionally, Manthara’s wife would stop laughing long enough to slap her misbehaving children and shout threats at them. She grew increasingly irritable with them, then turned her temper on her husband, berating him for the long hours he spent in the tavern every day. He shouted back at her, reminding her of all her shortcomings as a wife. Komala squirmed uncomfortably on her hard seat, embarrassed by the family quarrels.

After dinner, while Manthara and his wife continued to argue, the dragon children pounced on Komala, shouting, “Play with us!”

They pinched her with their sharp nails and nipped at her with their pointed teeth, and soon her arms and legs were covered with scratches and bruises. She tried to calm the children by entertaining them with the broken toys lying around, but they showed no interest. After a while, she found herself returning their scratches and bites, and the little dragons howled with delight.

When Komala announced that it was time for her to leave, the dragon children threw themselves on the floor, screeching, kicking, and clinging to her ankles. She convinced them to release her only by promising to return the next day.

And so, the days passed. Early each morning, Komala would drag her weary body up the mountainside. She’d spend the first few hours of the day listening to Karuna’s tales of woe, then would endure the dragon lady’s indignation when it came time for her to leave.

“I thought you were different from the rest,” Karuna would sniff. And Komala would once again promise never to abandon her.

Then Komala would rush across the street to Uddhata’s home, where she’d spend several hours dutifully admiring his treasures. Then she’d endure his cold arm around her waist as he guided her around the dragon village.

When she’d cut her visit short, Uddhata would give her a look that would strike terror in her heart, saying, “Have I offended you in some way, to cause you to treat me with such ingratitude? After all, no none else has done for you what I’ve done.” Then Komala would praise his kindness and generosity, and would agree that their friendship was indeed a special one.

She would then hurry to Manthara’s home, where the dragon children would greet her with their nips, scratches, and fiery shrieks. She would try to calm Manthara and his wife when their arguments became especially heated. She would sit through a dinner of revolting rodent stew, and would always assure the weeping children that she would return the next day.

Back in her own village, Komala gave up any idea of returning to her schoolwork. Her artist brushes lay untouched, and her paints dried up in their jars. She grew thin and pale, and dark circles appeared under her eyes.

Then one day when Komala arrived at Manthara’s home, she came upon an uproar the likes of which she’d never heard before. Manthara’s wife was chasing him around their house, beating his head with the heavy stew pot, loudly announcing to the gathering crowd that her good-for-nothing husband had spent their last few coins on glasses of ale at the tavern.

“And now we have no money for food,” she bellowed, flames shooting from her throat.

The dragon children wept pitifully, clutching their stomachs and calling for something to eat.

Oh no! Komala thought. This is a terrible state of affairs! I must do something to help. She ran into the dragons’ house to find the last scraps of food to offer the weeping children. Then she approached Manthara’s raging wife. Speaking softly and calmly, she promised to find a solution to the dragon family’s problem.

Then an idea came to her. I must live with Manthara and his family for a while, to make sure that all is well in this household.

So, Komala did not return to her own warm bed that night. After the dragon family went to sleep, she curled up on a cold stone bench, hugging herself to ward off the nighttime chill.

The next day, she looked for ways to earn enough money to keep the dragon family supplied with food. She took on the jobs of scrubbing the tavern floor and sweeping the path in the marketplace.

Day after day, she got up at dawn to complete her tasks of scrubbing and sweeping. Then she’d hurry off to visit Karuna and Uddhata, trying ever so hard to keep each of them pleased with her.

Finally, she would return to Manthara’s home, presenting the dragon’s wife with the few coins she had earned. She would then turn to entertaining the quarrelsome dragon children. She’d be too exhausted to choke down more than a few bites of the foul-tasting dragon dinner. At night, she would curl up on her cold stone bench, trying in vain to sleep.

Komala’s once tender heart was now dark, heavy, and filled with fear.

Then one day as Komala was sweeping in the marketplace, the last ounce of strength drained from her body. The broom fell from her hands, and she collapsed to the ground, weeping.

“What has happened to me?” she sobbed. “I can’t do this anymore.”

She heard the shuffling of feet, as curious dragons crowded around her.

“What are you saying?” one dragon snorted in a disdainful voice. Other dragon voices murmured their disapproval.

“I can’t do this anymore!” Komala cried out. “I want to go home!”

As more and more dragons crowded around her, the murmur of voices became louder and louder, rising to a frightening din.

“I never did trust her!” It was Karuna’s bitter voice speaking. Peering through her tears, Komala saw Karuna and Uddhata standing side by side, shaking their heads in disgust.

“Some friend she turned out to be,” Uddhata sneered. “After all I did for her!”

“She carried stories back and forth between our homes,” Karuna added. “She tried to turn us against each other.”

“She insisted on living with us and eating our food when we had barely enough to feed our children,” Manthara called from the other side of the crowd. 

The dragons leaned in closer. Komala could feel their fiery breath scorching her skin. “If she weren’t so bony, she might be a tasty morsel herself,” someone said.

Then she felt a cold hand grab her arm, while another grabbed her ankle. Frantic with fear, she screamed and thrashed, struggling to free herself.

“Why, look at that!” one dragon exclaimed. “She’s become one of us! See the flames leap from her throat as she cries out!”

Horrified, Komala fought until she finally broke loose. Out of the marketplace and down the mountainside she ran, crying, stumbling, then picking herself up and running again. Flames leaped from her throat as she sobbed, scorching her lips and cheeks, singeing her hair.

“Oh no! Oh no!” she wailed. “I have become a dragon!”

When she finally stumbled into her village, the villagers crowded around her. “What has happened to you?” they cried. “Where have you been?”

“Oh, my poor child,” Komala’s mother wept as she held her daughter in her arms. “I’ve been looking for your everywhere. Where did you go? I thought you were lost forever.”

Bu Komala made no reply. She was afraid that if she uttered even one word, dragon flames would shoot from her throat.

Day after day, she sat alone in her room, her heart dark and heavy, her frightened eyes unable to take in the beauty of life around her. Although her mother pleaded with her to go outdoors and play with friends, Komala remained in solitary silence. Although the villagers begged her to paint beautiful pictures as she’d done before, her paints and brushes lay untouched on her table.

“What a shame!” the villagers murmured to one another. “A once-joyful child now broods in darkness.”

Then one morning, Komala awoke to a ray of sunlight shining through her bedroom window, and a faint flicker of hope stirred in her heart. She slipped out of bed and crept cautiously out of her room. And then, her timid footsteps carried her all the way through the doorway of her cottage.

Lifting her head, she gazed at the fluffy white clouds in the crystal blue sky. Then she looked around, taking in the stately forms of the trees and the bright colors of the flowers in the village square. And the words, “How lovely!” escaped her lips.

She recoiled in fear, dreading the terrible dragon flames. But none came.

She said the words louder: “How lovely!” And then she raised her arms to the sky, and from the depths of her wounded heart, she called out, “How beautiful!”

And there were no flames. No scorching flames burned her cheeks or singed her hair. Only words sprang from her throat: “How beautiful!”

Komala leaped and danced around the village square, her heart overflowing with joy. “I am Komala, I am Komala,” she sang. “I am not a dragon, I am Komala.”

When she stopped dancing, she picked up her paints and brushes, and once again, the treasures of her heart poured out onto her canvas.

As the days passed, she created beautiful paintings that delighted the villagers. The small children crowded around to watch while she painted, and she taught them how to use graceful lines and brilliant colors to create their own lovely works of art.

And she smiled as she whispered to herself, “Someday, I will teach these children another lesson, the lesson I learned when I became entangled in the business of dragons.”

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