When my youngest daughter was very small, I made up a bedtime story about a brave little girl who rescued and befriended a dragon. Over the years, she kept asking for more stories and I've lost track of how many there are in my memory. Eventually the stories stopped.
When she applied to college, one question on the admission was to write an essay on a favorite fictional character. She chose the Brave Little Girl.
So when she graduated from high school, I wrote one last story, and handed it to her after the ceremony.
The Last Dragon Story
"It's been a long time." said the dragon, looking at her closely.
"I know. I've been so busy with school and helping on the farm and..."
"It's good to see you again.", he said "You've grown. I'm glad you're here. The Big Monster is visiting his Mom, and I'm all alone this week."
"I'm glad I came, then. I really don't know why I came, but it's always clean and fresh up here, so I decided to visit."
She sat down on a big rock and looked down to the river. The summer was ending and the trees were beginning to show red and gold on the far side of the brown water. She looked back up at him. "Take me flying."
"I'd like that. And I know just where to go."
He took them far from the mountain, and came to rest in a field by a road.
"Do you remember this place?"
She looked around the hollow, and back to the road. And then she remembered. "We camped here overnight, looking for you. I was so homesick, and worried."
"Climb on." he said. And not long after, they were in the middle of trees. "This?" he asked.
"The scary forest? I was so scared here, and now, it doesn't seem scary at all. Because you're with me, I guess."
"Because you're not the same, now. Let's take a walk."
And under the trees, it was just as dark as it was before, but the Brave Little Girl wasn't scared at all. And there were still things looking out at her, but she wasn't bothered.
"What if a great wolf comes bounding out at us?"
She frowned. "I'll set his tail on fire! I still remember that spell." she raised her staff in both hands. "And I'll beat him silly!"
The dragon chuckled. "Come on, there's more to see."
Trotting along to keep up to him, she tripped and fell, and then scampered up a bank through some bushes to find an open field before them. And in the center of the field was a wooden pole from which hung the remains of a rusty old birdcage.
"Ahhh... this means..."
"My cave in exile is..."
"Down the path,... across the stream... " She puffed as she ran.
"Up the hill... and..."
And they were there. Not as big or scary as she remembered. She peered in. Empty, except for a few webs. "It looks so sad."
"I was happy to leave. I owe you a great deal for your bravery. I will never forget that. But now, it's time for us to go home."
They didn't talk at all on the way back. And when they got to the mountain, she suddenly hugged the dragon with all her might, and he gently held her close to him.
"You're leaving, aren't you? That's why I came here today, wasn't it? How can you leave us again? What will happen when you're gone?"
"You will do fine. People do best when they...."
"...solve their own problems." She finished for him, rolling her eyes. You can't leave. I love you." She started crying and clung to him.
"I must leave. It's time for you to grow, and I can't be part of that. I love you too, brave girl, and I will never forget you. But I must go."
"What will I do?"
"You will grow up, and have a family of your own, and when you have a child, there will be a dragon on the Yellow Mountain for him. Teach him about dragons, so he is ready."
"But it won't be you!"
"No, it won't be me. I was for you only. But there will be one for your child. Prepare him. Tell him the story of the Dragon of the Yellow Mountain."
"Come here." the dragon said, and he gently hugged the brave little girl one last time. "Remember, when I am gone, there will always be a part of me inside you, and when you are afraid, I will be there for you and you will know what to do. Remember this."
The Brave Little Girl looked down, and then she raised her gaze to him. "I know," she sniffled."I'll remember."
"I must go now." he said, and crouched to leap into the sky.
"Wait!" she cried. "I have to know." Tears had started to run down her face again. "I don't even know your name. I never asked you your name."
He stopped and looked back at her. And he smiled as a tear dropped from his muzzle and burned a mark in the stone. "Courage." he said. "My name is Courage." And in a rush, he was into the air, and winging far away into the west where the dragons are.