A GREAT & MIGHTY WONDER
A Christmas Fable

Written & Illustrated by Bob Beideman

 

I'm pleased to depart from the usual tales of myself and my companions the Patient Creatures to present this unique take on the Holiday Season. This story was published as a limited edition some years ago and achieved a small measure of fame, and I'm very happy to present it here for all my human friends. It was written and illustrated by my human companion and assistant Bob Beideman. Enjoy!

 

 

“A great and mighty wonder,
this joyful feast day brings;
The Virgin bears the infant,
Our Lord, and King of Kings.
The Word becomes incarnate,
Descending from on high;
And cherubim sing anthems
To shepherds from the sky.”

-  Henry J. Gauntlett
1805 – 1876

 

The man with the long, dark hair and glasses peered up at the shelves filled with prints; desperately searching for the Carridene Nativity Scene he had spotted the day before. The owner hadn't been able to locate any record of such a picture, but the young man had been collecting Carridene almost as long as he had been collecting dragons, and they now numbered over one hundred.

Carridene was an obscure artist from the early 1600s. He specialized in religious subjects, and was famous for copying directly from woodcuts and sketches from earlier centuries, translating the simple drawings into magnificent multicolored paintings. Carridene's work was extremely difficult to find, but ever since being introduced to it by a former artist-girlfriend, the young man would occasionally venture into dingy, second-hand print shops searching for treasure that most shopkeepers knew nothing about.

There it was second shelf from the top, behind an old Ansel Adams. The young man caught his breath, then quickly snatched at it, claiming it before anybody had the chance to take it from him, or even worse, before it had the chance to fade away into a dream.

It was incredible. It had all the Carridene trademarks; rich, deep hues shaded with almost microscopic precision, and exaggerated postures of the characters, detailed with such warmth that they seemed not the least bit exaggerated. It was a vision of Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, and all the figures of the Christmas story gathered around in a decrepit, dusty manger, somehow made even more holy in the dirt and grime. His eyes traveled over it, and his heart beat faster as he knew that he had to own it, no matter what the price.

Then he glanced down at the bottom of the picture and gasped suddenly, his eyes widening, as he gazed upon a strange and beautiful marvel…

 

 

“About this time, Caesar Augustus, the Roman Emperor, decreed that a census
should be taken throughout the nation. Everyone was required to return to his
ancestral home for this registration. And because Joseph was a member of the
royal line, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea , King David's ancient home -
journeying there from the Galilean village of Nazareth .”

LUKE 2: 3 – 5

 

He stood inside his mountain lair at the top of the world, staring out at the great iron plains beyond, sensing a presence greater than himself. He had not thought that possible, yet he knew with the ancient certainty of all dragons that what he felt was true.

He stared hard across the plains, his steely-gray eyes steady and unblinking under the fiery sun. The wind beat against the great scaled form, and in reflex he twitched his huge leather wings, letting them unfurl and then close again. His hooked mouth smiled grimly at the heat of the day, and for a moment he forgot about what rested over half a world away. Then the weight was upon him again, and his delicate, clawed hands clenched as his mind turned over several possible responses.

One, ignore it. He rejected that at once. A being with a psyche this strong represented a possible threat to his existence, and he preferred to meet it head-on, rather than wait for it to come searching for him.

Two, attack. He considered this, then reluctantly rejected this as well. On the bare chance that the being was more powerful than he (an unlikely possibility, but its very existence was an unlikely possibility), it would be best to proceed with caution until he had more information.

And so, he arrived at option three, and with a mighty beating of his wings he lifted gracefully into the silver sky and embarked on the long journey of investigation. He circled his lair once, making certain that no interlopers were nearby, then easily turned and headed south by southwest…

 

 

“And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born, and she
gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him in a blanket and
laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the village inn.”

LUKE 2: 6 – 7

 

He flew quickly, high over the mountains, his gray eyes narrowed against the wind. Occasionally he gave three flaps of his huge wings, for Chalcedon (that was the dragon's name) was able to glide for miles without effort. His sleek form glistened in the setting sun, and as he flew he looked down on the terrain rushing beneath him.

He was the most powerful dragon on earth; of that he was certain, although he had seen no other dragons to test himself against for many years. He ruled the lands surrounding the Iron Mountains for a generation, and he watched over human, animal and mythic alike. He had passed into the realm of legend, and humans told tales of his fierceness and magnificence to each other and their children.

But lately, deep in the dark, moonless nights, he turned a terrible fear over in his thoughts: the fear that he was alone, the last among the great mythics. He had once had a friend in an old, wise unicorn named Perceus, but Perceus had passed onto the planes where mythics depart after their time. He had known many like himself, enjoyed dragon company and conversation, revelry and chase; but the companions he once valued were not seen, save for an occasional exploit passed on by the animals.

He was now over the lush green forests that once held score of unicorn, elf and gremlin. Now farmlands ringed the trees, and each year the humans traveled deeper into the dark woods, to build homes and hunt. A sudden rage came over him, and Chalcedon let loose a tremendous roar, a dragon bellow that echoed off the air and land, causing all to pause in their tasks and look upward in awe and fear.

He could not be the last! He would not accept that! What of all the powerful ones? What of the griffin and the giants, Pegasus and the gorgons, the fairies and goblins and spirits of the ages? Had man progressed so far that they were to be forgotten, laughed away like a bad dream? Chalcedon felt his anger burn, and flapped his mighty wings ten times, increasing his speed.

He had to find this presence. He had to know what other had come, what force was as powerful (perhaps) as he was. Perhaps he had the key to the disappearances. Perhaps he was the cause. If so, then he would have to be dealt with, for a dragon's honor demanded satisfaction. But even more important, he had to find the presence simply to assure himself that there was another such as he, a great and mighty wonder.

Perhaps then, he would not feel so alone…

 

 

“That night, some shepherds were in the fields outside the village, guarding
their flocks of sheep. Suddenly an angel appeared among them, and the
landscape shone bright with the glory of the Lord. They were badly
frightened, but the angel reassured them. ‘Don't be afraid! I bring you the
most joyful news ever announced, and it is for everyone!'”

LUKE 2: 8 – 10

 

He passed over the forests.

He passed over the wide sea waters.

He was approaching the vast desert lands when he saw a star, and he came to a stop, hovering in the bright night sky.

It was a marvel. It danced and gamboled in the heavens, washing the desert sands in turquoise light. It easily outshone even the North Star, and as Chalcedon watched it seemed to shimmer and turn like a living thing, beckoning to all to come and join it in a mysterious celebration.

Chalcedon felt himself smiling at this sight. As he watched, he saw several other points of light join the star, dancing and singing in choral splendor. Chalcedon started as he realized that each light was an individual, beings of pure goodness and mercy. He listened entranced as they sang, then he threw back his head and let go a melody of his own, and was not surprised when it blended perfectly.

After a moment, they were gone, but the music lingered on for a long time in Chalcedon 's soul. He looked earthward again, and saw to his amazement that a group of humans were hurrying at great speed towards a town on the near horizon. The town seemed to lay directly underneath the great star, and Chalcedon realized that what he sought was in that town, and he was not alone in noticing. How wonderful it must be, to have attracted the attention of the light choir.

Spreading his wings, Chalcedon set course for the town at an easy speed. There was no longer a need to hurry; he knew now that the presence was not a threat to him. If anything, it was a companion to his kind, gentle and understanding.

Sensing the end to his quest, Chalcedon gently glided towards earth…

 

 

“Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others – the armies of Heaven –
praising God: ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,' they sang, ‘and peace on
earth for all those pleasing him.' When this great army of angels had returned again
to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, ‘Come on! Let's go to Bethlehem!
Let's see this wonderful thing that has happened…”

LUKE 2: 13 – 15

 

He landed behind the stable next to an inn. Around the entrance were scores of people, most dressed in shepherd's rags. His appearance caused a stir in the street, but the people inside the stable paid no attention to him. All were looking into the cattle stalls with a combination of love and reverence. He glanced down at himself, then whispered a spell that allowed him to fit through the narrow entryway.

As he stepped quietly through, the crowd parted around him, and at last the people seemed to notice his arrival. He felt a stab of annoyance, certain that there would be a commotion. Amazingly, nobody ran in fear, or shrank from him. Rather, the mood was one of communion. They seemed to accept his presence as another of the night's miracles. Come, they seemed to say. You are a magnificent being. Come and see another magnificence.

Chalcedon glanced around. At one side of the stable were three kings of various oriental dynasties. Chalcedon recognized two of them, Caspar and Balthazar. All were attended by their respective ministers, and by the far wall were camels and oxen loaded with chests of precious jewels and metals.

The shepherds ringed in the outer stalls, some with their wives and families, many with their flocks; outside that circle stood citizens of the town. Chalcedon took all this in with a long look, then turned his gaze towards the center of the manger.

There, by the patient cattle, next to the silent horses, surrounded by the sheep and goats and geese, all mute with respectful veneration, were a young man and a woman. The man had the rough build of a heavy worker, a laborer, or a carpenter. The woman was small and delicate, with deep, vividly blue eyes and a smile both shy and knowing. The two stared at him with surprise for a moment, then bowed and nodded towards a makeshift bed of straw.

Chalcedon looked down at the infant lying in the straw, and slowly stepped forward…

 

 

“At about this time some astrologers from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem,
asking, ‘Where is the newborn King of the Jews, for we have seen his star in
far-off eastern lands, and have come to worship him.'”

MATTHEW 2: 1 – 2

 

He lay there in the manger, tiny hands reaching skyward, a smile lighting his features, filling the stable with warmth far greater than the sun over the desert. It was good warmth, warmth that promised hope and happiness, and a deep, heartfelt peace.

Chalcedon looked down upon the baby, feeling his radiance deep beneath his armored skin, down into his dragon's soul. Here was the being so powerful he could be felt half a world away, cradled inside the delicate form of a newborn. Chalcedon stood quietly, then, obeying some strange urge to be near this child, he lay down in front of the manger, thinking dragon thoughts.

He felt close to this infant. He felt power beyond measure within him, and that it had been entrusted wisely. The kinship was strong, and Chalcedon knew that this baby would someday also be a creature of myth, not unlike himself. But this child was no mythic; he was much, much more than that. He would change the course of history, stretching out his hand and drawing others together in affinity and worship. Perhaps he would fail, for some no doubt, because some are not willing to accept fellowship with anyone. Still, many would hear, and be touched, just as he had been.

Chalcedon also knew that this child meant no harm; that men would still dream and wonder, and the mythics would always remain, perhaps as part and partners with him.

He would have to consider that when he returned home. Now, the thought made him smile a great horned smile of satisfaction.

He did not know how long he lay there, but finally he rose to leave. He glanced over at the wise men, and again saw their gifts. Reaching into his dragon pouch, Chalcedon brought forth a silver jewel that he carried for good luck. He placed it gently before the manger, bowed again to the father and mother, and quietly withdrew before the crowd.

After he had flown awhile, he thought again of the light beings that had been over the town, singing in their lovely, unearthly voices. The feelings of joy overtook him once more, and before he was aware of it, Chalcedon was roaring a dragon song of good news to the night sky, echoing over the deserts and forests and mountains, proclaiming the great and mighty wonder to all who would raise their heads and listen, men and mythic alike.

He couldn't wait to tell Pegasus, Kraken, and the others…


* * * * * * * * * * * * *


Now, many are not aware that of the three wise men, Balthazar was an accomplished artist. When he returned home, he sketched some scenes of the event, drawing the child and his parents, the shepherds, the animals, and even the strange and magnificent beast that had visited the stable. Most of the sketches were lost through time, but some were handed down from father to son, passing through the hands of an artist or two along the way…

 

 

The man with the long, dark hair and glasses peered up at the shelves filled with prints; desperately searching for the Carridene Nativity Scene he had spotted the day before. The owner hadn't been able to locate any record of such a picture, but the young man had been collecting Carridene almost as long as he had been collecting dragons, and they now numbered over one hundred.

There it was, second shelf from the top. The young man caught his breath, then quickly snatched at it, claiming it before anybody had a chance to take it from him.

It was incredible. The colors were rich, deep, and shaded with almost microscopic precision, and the exaggerated postures of the characters were detailed with such warmth that they seemed not the least bit exaggerated. It was a vision of Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, and all the figures of the Christmas story gathered around a decrepit, dusty manger, somehow made even more holy in the dirt and the grime.

He looked over the print, finally glancing down at the bottom of the picture, and he gasped suddenly, his eyes widening as he gazed upon a strange and beautiful marvel, maddening in it's enigmatic being. His owning this was more fitting than ever now.

For in with the shepherds and wise men, beside the animals of the stable, laying curled around the base of the manger, was a dragon, his broad wings folded back, his eyes shining with love, and a satisfied smile on his great horned face.

 

 

“The shepherds told everybody what had happened and what the angel said about
this child. All who heard the story expressed astonishment, but Mary quietly
treasured these things in her heart, and often thought about them.
Then the shepherds went back again to their fields and flocks, praising God for the visit of the angels, and because they had seen the child,
just as the angel had told them.”

LUKE 2: 17 – 20

 

 

Merry Christmas to people and dragons everywhere.

 

 

© 2013 Patient Creatures Ltd.