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by Mary Ansell, Copyright © 2001

The red-gold dragon lived in an ancient oak tree in the middle of the forest. A thousand years ago, he had been the pet dragon of an emperor. This story was written by the red-gold dragon at the request of the emperor, who had painted several pictures and wanted a story for which they could serve as illustrations:

Once upon a time, there was a little bird, who lived in a forest with his parents and his brothers and sisters. He was a pinkish colour, but he knew that when he grew up he would be red with black wings, like his father. He loved to eat insects and juicy green grubs. He had just reached the age of perfecting his flying, and was very eager to explore the world and unravel its mysteries.

When he asked his mother where he had come from, she said that a stork had brought him, which he found difficult to believe, especially as there were no storks in those parts.

One day he met a strange orange beetle with black spots. "Who are you?" he asked. "Are you good to eat?"

"I am a ladybug," she replied, "and I am not at all good to eat," and she waved her two large antennae at him.

Another day he described to his parents how he had met a large furry animal who crept along very slowly on four feet, with bright green, watching eyes. "I let him almost reach me, to see what he would do, and then just as I was flying away up into a tree, he pounced at me. Then he scratched at the tree trunk and looked up at me, lashing his tail."

"That was a cat," explained his father. "They sometimes come into these woods. But you mustn't play with them, because they are very dangerous."

The bird's mother was anxious about him, fearing that his curiosity would be his downfall, but his father assured her that it was a necessary part of growing up, and was only a phase he was going through.

It was on the morning after an extremely wet and windy night that the little bird was attracted by the sound of scolding. On arriving at the scene, he found two chipmunks pelting a very bedraggled bird with nuts and bark.

"Leave that bird alone," he cried. "He's a friend of mine." Then he asked the bird who he was and where he came from.

"I am an arctic tern," said the bird. "I am on my way south from the North Pole, but the windstorm has blown me far out of my way. It isn't that I mind storms, it is just that I don't like to be so far from the sea."

"What is the sea?" asked the little bird.

"Have you never seen the sea? How unfortunate you are! The sea is a vast body of water, so wide that it would take days to fly across it. There are wind currents over the sea that you couldn't find anywhere else. And then there are the animals of the sea. Far in the south there lives a bird that cannot fly, but can swim under the water, using its wings as flippers. It likes to lie on its stomach in the snow and push itself down hills with its feet and wings. In another ocean there is the sea otter that loves to frolic and play in the waves, and great turtles that live on little islands in the sea and eat thorny plants called cacti. My wings are dry now, and I can wait no longer. I am off to the sea!"

With that the tern flew up over the trees and away to the east. The little bird was much impressed by such boldness, and immediately determined that he, too, would see the marvels of the sea. First he went to say good-bye to his parents and to boast about his intentions to his brothers and sisters. They were rather inclined to laugh at him, but his mother, seeing that his mind was made up, warned him never to sleep on the ground and never to talk to strangers, and gave him her blessing. His father was proud to have his son show so much initiative.

The little bird set off towards the rising sun, as he had seen the tern do, and flew over the forest until he was tired. By this time it was late afternoon, and he perched in a tree to rest and to eat a few insects. When he had done this, he saw that the tree was right at the edge of a body of water. However, as he could see across to the other side of it, and there were no strange animals frolicking or eating cacti he decided that this could not be the sea, but must be a different body of water. He was suddenly startled by a loud slurping noise beneath him, and he looked down to see a very peculiar-looking animal having a drink. It was the largest animal he had ever seen, with four large feet and long legs, brownish in colour, with a long neck, a tail, and a huge hump on its back. He was so surprised that he forgot his mother's advice about not speaking to strangers, and called out, "Who are you?"

The animal finished its drink, which was a long one, and then looked around and replied, "I am a camel. I live in a desert, which is very hot and dry, but I like to explore other parts of the world, too. My friends call me 'The Wanderer'. Who are you?"

"I am a bird," said the bird, "and when I grow up, I will be red with black wings. I like to explore too. I was on my way to the sea but I got tired, so I am resting."

"I am going that way too," said the camel. "Why don't you come with me? You can ride on my back, and then you won't get so tired."

The bird agreed. He felt a bit queasy at first with his new way of travelling, but soon got used to it, and he and the camel became good friends.

First they crossed the water, which the camel said was a river, by finding a shallow place. The camel said that many animals could swim, but that he didn't like to very well, and some animals, called fish, could live in the water altogether. (Here he pointed out their darting shapes to the bird, who was amazed.) He went on to say that by following the flow of such a large river they were sure to come to the sea eventually. The other side of the river was a grassy plain, which the camel found easier to walk in than the woods. The bird preferred the trees, but he didn't complain, as the camel was doing the walking.

They travelled down the river for what seemed to the bird like a very long time. At night he slept on the camel's back, or in one of the few trees scattered here and there on the plain. In the daytime, the bird sometimes flew ahead or far up into the air to see where they were going, and then he would drop back and tell the camel. The camel thought it must be wonderful to be able to fly, but the little bird didn't know; he had never thought about it. As they walked they observed the wildlife of the plains - snakes slithering away through the grass, strange rodents and insects, and vultures wheeling high in the sky. The camel told the little bird all about life in the desert, and he in turn told the camel all he knew about the forest. The camel, who was kind-hearted, soon noticed that the more the bird said about his parents and brothers and sisters and the juicy grubs of the forest, the more he sighed and the sadder he grew. His friend was obviously homesick.

The camel asked the bird what he knew about the sea, and heard about the animals the bird expected to be there. That night, while his friend was sleeping, the camel snuck on ahead to a large lake that was in their path, and persuaded the otters and turtles there to put on a convincing performance when he and the bird would "discover" the lake the next day.

The mist was still on the lake when they arrived early the next morning, so that it was impossible to see the other shore. The otters frolicked so entertainingly, and the turtles told such tales of the prickliness of the cacti they had to eat, that the little bird was quite satisfied, and was able to go home and boast that he had seen the sea.

This he joyfully did, accompanied by the camel, who accepted his invitation to visit the forest. The little bird's family was very glad to welcome him back, and proudly showed his friend all the sights of the forest. But, best of all, when the little bird discovered that his brothers and sisters had changed their plumage during his absence, he peered over his shoulder at his own back and wings, and found that he too had grown up, and become a red bird with black wings!

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