There once was a village nestled at the base of a large mountain range. Villagers told stories to one another about a terrible Dragon that lived on the other side of the mountain. Parents would warn their children: “The Dragon devours all who pass over to the other side of the mountain—do not venture to the other side, or you will surely die!” The townspeople wrote down their stories, they read them to one another, and no one dared to venture to the other side of the mountain.
Observing that some young people in his village did not take stories of the Dragon seriously, and seeing that they occasionally wandered dangerously high up the mountain, one man took it upon himself to assemble all the stories told by his people of The Dragon. He spent some time each day trying to impress upon his friends, family, and children the importance of staying far away from the top of the mountain and of the ferocity of the Dragon that lived on the other side. The man was careful in how he documented each story, and when he shared a story with others it was with such earnest pleading and concern that he soon began to to be called “Careful the Compassionate”, or “Careful”, for short.
Careful spent many years collecting Dragon stories and sharing them with others. Eventually, he realized that his collection could probably help save the children from other villages, so he decide to go abroad to share his stories. As he left for the town to the North, the villagers exclaimed to one another, “There goes Careful the Compassionate. His Dragon stories are marvelous, and they will keep me off the mountain my whole life! You can tell he cares so much—his heart is truly full of compassion. And to think that he would be willing to leave his work and his family to save others! What a saint! Careful truly is the very best kind of man.” And they went about their business.
Careful arrived at the village to the North and began to share his stories. The villagers had already heard of the Dragon, but they were impressed with Careful’s collection of stories, and their fear of the Dragon grew. The young people of the town stopped traveling so far up the mountain, just as Careful had hoped. Careful was pleased that he could save so many from an untimely end.
But Careful’s world was about to change.
Late one night, a young man came knocking at Careful’s room at the inn, and Careful invited him in. With a cocksure smile, the youngster strode into the room, “I have seen you passing stories around of the Dragon over the mountain. Your stories made me curious, so I climbed the mountain and journeyed well over to the other side. I never saw a Dragon, and clearly I was never eaten! Your Dragon stories must be just that—stories!”
Careful frowned—the story had caught him off guard. “Are you certain you made it over the mountain?”
“From where I was standing at the top I could see down to the village on one side and over into the expanse on the other. Then, just to be sure, I walked for several hours on the other side. I never saw a Dragon.”
Careful’s frown deepened, and he rubbed at his chin, “How do I know you are not lying to me? Do you see my stack of stories? You and I cannot both be right” he wagged his finger. “I know that there is a Dragon over that mountain.”
“Well,” the young man laughed, “you can always climb the mountain yourself! If you see a Dragon or it eats you, then I lied, I guess. But I know what I did, and what I saw, and you can see it too. I am happy to start you on the path I took—I tried to mark the trail as I went along so that it would be easy to return.” And after pointing out the trail he had taken, the young man went on his way.
Careful the Compassionate could not help but consider what it would be like to climb the mountain and see the Dragon himself, but he quickly shook the thought away. How much harm might befall him from pursuing such a course of action—he would most likely be eaten, and then he would not be able to warn anyone, or collect more stories of those who had been eaten.
His mind returned to all the Dragon stories he had collected, and even though they reminded him of the danger that lurked just over the mountain, he began to wonder about the stories: did the stories even match up? He had recorded so many with such great care, but he had never stopped to think how well the stories matched one another. “This is madness”, he finally concluded to himself. Careful dismissed the young man’s tale out loud: “It is just one person’s story. Why should I believe his story over the pile of Dragon stories I have before me? Why would the whole village lie to me about the Dragon? Surely these stories are true. The young man must be a liar—or a fool. I feel bad for him.”
A week later Careful was visited by an old man. The man had been tracking game and found himself at the top of the mountain. Given his old age, he felt he had little to lose, and he decided to walk to the backside of the mountain. He described the beauty of the other side of the mountain and how much he enjoyed the journey, despite its difficulty.
The following week a middle aged woman told him a similar tale: she had been grieving the loss of her child and had wandered over the mountain in her despair—but no such Dragon had devoured her, apparently. Careful quizzed them both about the details of their journey, and all three of their stories seemed to match up in the essential details. They described the same type of terrain, the same difficulties in the journey, and also the same vistas and beauties on the other side of the mountain. Could he be wrong about the Dragon?
Prompted by these three tales, Careful the Compassionate spent the next week poring over his Dragon stories. He began to read each story with new eyes, seeing that some of the stories might be too fantastical to be completely true, and some of them contradicted the others. Careful was amazed at the incongruity that he had somehow missed before: “Perhaps, just maybe, there is not a Dragon after all?” If there were no Dragon then his village was needlessly living in fear, and he was wasting his time sharing Dragon stories.
Careful pressed on in his investigation. He began to traverse the arduous trails that the three villagers had shown to him. After many days of difficult exploration, Careful returned to the inn, his mind racing. The three accounts had matched the landscape he explored, and he saw evidence of their passage right up to the top of the mountain. There could be little doubt—those three had climbed near to the top, at the very least. Were their stories true? It required an incredible amount of effort and energy just to get near the top of the mountain—why would they lie to him? The villagers he had spoken with did not seem the malicious type—were they playing some kind of trick on him? Would they really wish death upon him?
Careful began to consider what life might be like if there were no Dragon on the other side. The villagers would no longer need to live in fear of the Dragon, and there was so much they could do on the other side of the mountain. There would be game to hunt, new terrain to explore, and perhaps good land where new villages could be built.
Careful decided to find out for himself if the three stories were true. He would cross to the other side of the mountain and discover if the Dragon were indeed real. He knew it may mean his demise, but it seemed the right thing to do.
After many months, Careful the Compassionate returned home to his village. He went to the town-square, loudly proclaiming: “I went North to teach the villagers there about the Dragon on the other side of the mountain. There, I came across some who had traveled to the other side, claiming to have seen no Dragon. I decided to cross over the mountain myself.” The audience gasped. “And cross over it, I did.” The people began whispering in dismay to one another. “I spent three months there, wandering and exploring, living on whatever I could forage. Whatever you were told, I know that crossing to the other side does not mean certain death. I do not think there is a Dragon there. To be certain, we should send out our best explorers and map the terrain carefully from every possible angle. If there is a Dragon, then we will certainly find its lair. If there is no Dragon, then we will know it. We will need to be careful, of course. The other side may hold many dangers: cliffs, raging rivers, or dangerous animals. We should proceed with caution. But, the other side is truly beautiful, and there is much good there. Perhaps, one day, we could even build a new village on that side!”
The townspeople turned to one another in dismay and shock. Was this the same Careful the Compassionate they had known before? The one who had collected so many Dragon stories? The one who had left to warn others of the Dragon? Finally, one of them answered for the rest, “You have read the stories, so you know that there is a ferocious Dragon on the other side of those mountains. Why are you doing this? Has your pride run away with you? And why would you lie to us, your friends? Are you trying to get us killed?”
Careful was taken aback. He had never been treated like this before, and he did not know how to respond to such accusations. He stammered, “It is me, Careful the Compassionate! Except this last year I have lived in this village my whole life! Do you not know who I am? I have spent years now teaching the stories of the Dragon that lives over the mountain. And now I have spent months exploring on the other side of the mountain. I can see now that this could change how we do things in our village, but I thought you would be thrilled to hear of my journey! Of course I do not want you to die. I just want you to know about the other side of the mountain and that you may freely travel there yourselves.” The villagers crossed their arms, squinted their eyes, and shook their heads. Careful continued on, “Whatever the case may be, the other side of the mountain is not what you have been told. This I know, crossing to the other side does not mean certain death.” But the villagers remained unconvinced.
Careful began to panic, and he quickly considered how he could convince his village friends. It dawned upon him: “Let me show you the problems with our Dragon stories. You know I am careful, and you know I have collected many stories. Come, sit down with me, and you can see the problems, too.”
But the villagers would not listen, and they walked away, shaking their heads and scowling, “He is trying to get us killed! Our stories have no problems, and if we were to stop believing in the stories then we risk our safety and the safety of our children! It is foolish nonsense! Careful, indeed!”
One of the village elders stayed behind the rest, and he agreed to sit with Careful: “Tell me about the problems.”
Careful began to walk the elder through the problems, but before he had scarcely begun, the villager interrupted:
“Look, I have been around a good while, and I have heard people talk about these kinds of problems before. This is not my first walk around the village. Problems with Dragon stories have never convinced me there was not a Dragon over the mountain, and the fact that you want to share the problems so eagerly makes me wonder about your motives. After all you have said, it comes down to this: who can even know if there is a Dragon on the other side of the mountain? I do not know, and you certainly do not know either!”
Careful the Compassionate responded, “But I have only shared one or two of the problems—there are hundreds more. And none of that even matters, really—I can walk with you right over the top of the mountain. You do not even need to take my word for it! Maybe there is a Dragon over there, but it is not certain death to cross over to the other side!”
The elder shook his head in disgust, “This is a good village, and we have been safe here for a very long time. Talking about the Dragon, telling stories about the Dragon: that is a vital part of who we are. Why would you want to take that away from us? You know what I think about all of this? You have been deceived by the villagers to the North, and now you are trying to deceive us! And deceivers are the very worst kind of people. Good day, sir!” And with that, the man left him, and the villagers who had overheard the conversation remembered what the elder had said about Careful, and they began to call him “Deceived the Deceiver”, or “Deceived” for short.
Deceived tried to resume life among the villagers. Sometimes he spoke about his time on the other side of the mountain, but it was not well received. Some villagers decided that they would never speak with Deceived again. A few would converse with him, and the conversations went something like this:
“Deceived, I know you think you walked to the other side of the mountain. But this is a very big mountain. Also, how can you possibly have walked to the other side, for we know that all who cross to the other side are eaten by the Dragon! Perhaps you just think you crossed over when you did not actually cross to the other side? I too have been reading the stories of the Dragon my whole life, and I am certain they are true. I pity you. It is no wonder they call you Deceived.”
And Deceived would reply, “I am happy to walk with you to the top and take you over to the other side. I will even walk over first so that you can watch from the top and see that I am not eaten.”
“Hah! Then who will be around to teach my children about the Dragon, Deceived? Answer me that! I am doing my best to teach my children about the Dragon that lives on the other side to protect them and protect me! Every week we talk about the Dragon and we write stories about the Dragon. And even if I did believe you—which I do not—how on earth would I have time to climb over the mountain with you? Perhaps if you had spent more time teaching your children and collecting the right kind of Dragon stories, you would not have wound up deceived. Sometimes I think you are trying to kill us with your talk. You really are the worst kind of person, Deceived.”
On occasion a villager would quietly admit to Deceived that they did not really believe in the Dragon on the other side of the mountain:
“We talk a lot about a Dragon in this village, but I have always thought the Dragon really represents ‘danger.’ I did not always live in this village, you know, and I have crossed other mountains in my youth. I can tell you that there is real danger over those mountains: cliffs, fast rivers, dangerous animals. People get lost so easily when they wander from their village. So, Deceived, why are you making so much trouble? Do you want people to die? When did you start hating our village so much? I thought I knew you, but now I know: You are the very worst kind of person, Deceived.”
Deceived was sometimes questioned about his journey to the other side, but mostly in an effort to find flaws with his recounting:
“You say you wandered on the other side. Is three months long enough to be sure? What if the Dragon does not eat everyone? What if you were just unable to see the Dragon? What if the Dragon was already full? There are so many ways you could be wrong and a Dragon could still live on the other side of the mountain. Why should we trust your story?”
Deceived would reply, “I am happy to walk with you to the top and take you over to the other side. Come see for yourself. Let us explore!”
But the villagers would turn away and shake their heads, “You really do want us to die. You, Deceived, are the very worst kind of person.”
Many a conversation focused on the idea that belief in the Dragon made the villager’s life better:
“Listen, can you not see that we are better off believing in the Dragon! Our family enjoys telling Dragon stories. We gather around the hearth each night and sketch Dragons and write Dragon stories together. What would we do on long, cold winter nights without our Dragon stories? You never tell Dragon stories with your children—how sad, how lonely! I feel so bad for your children! Dragon stories were my favorite stories when I was a child. And, I have seen your children wandering dangerously close to the top of the mountain. They could fall, or freeze, or more than likely they will get eaten by the Dragon! You do not see any of our children falling off cliffs or freezing high up on the mountain, now do you? Our children stay far from the top parts of the mountain, like good children should. Perhaps if your mother had instilled the proper fear of Dragons in you we would all be enjoying Dragon stories together, instead of listening to this nonsense!”
“But why would you want to talk about a Dragon if there is no Dragon? Can you not tell other stories?” Deceived responded, his voice quivering.
“You really want us to die!? Why do you hate our village so much? And why do you hate Dragon stories so much? I think I understand now: you never actually cared about the Dragon, or protecting our village. It is clear to me now that you never cared much about us in the first place. Your heart must be as cold as ice.”
Deceived was at a loss for how to respond: “But I do love the village—that is why I collected so many Dragon stories, and that is why I went over the mountain. You may doubt my motives, but if I could just take you over the mountain, you could see for yourself that I am not lying, and then you will know that I am careful and compassionate, and my heart is not cold.”
“I do not want to be eaten by the Dragon, Deceived! Can you not understand? And why do you even care so much about what is on the other side of the mountain? It is always talk about the other side of the mountain with you. Look, as long as we all stay on this side of the mountain, then nobody gets hurt, our children are happy, and our families are together. It is more clear to me than ever before, you are the very worst kind of person, Deceived.”
Before long, the other children stopped playing with his children, and the other women stopped spending time with his wife: “You have to understand” the villagers would say, “your family does not believe there is a Dragon on the other side of the mountain and we have taught all our children that there is a Dragon. Your children would probably make them think they can cross to the other side, or worse, they might lead them right over the mountain to their certain death. How do you live with yourself, Deceived, raising your children to not fear the Dragon? Someday they will cross the mountain and they will be eaten, you know, and it will be your fault.”
Deceived countered, “But all of my children have agreed to never take their friends up the mountain. We know how important the Dragon stories are to you. It is true that they wander up the mountain sometimes on their own, but that is merely kids exploring their world. My children will respect the Dragon stories: your children are safe with us.”
“You do not understand, Deceived. Your children do not believe in the Dragon and that may rub off on ours. If our children stop believing then they will start climbing the mountain themselves and then they will be eaten. How do I keep my children down off the mountain if they know your children are always climbing it? And, your children will surely want to climb the mountain with my children, despite what they have agreed to. And what good is your word or your family’s word when you are a deceiver and deceived? The more I talk with you the more I am convinced that you want us to die. You are the very worst kind of person, and your whole family is a danger to our village.”
And sometimes Deceived would try to talk about his journeys up and over the mountain, and what he had seen on the other side of the mountain, but the villagers were resolute: “Please do not say such things around us and our children. Why do you lie to us, Deceived? Do you want us to die? When you talk about the top of the mountain and the other side it just reminds me that you are the very worst kind of person. It is bad enough that you talk about problems with our Dragon stories, but talking about the other side of the mountain as if we could visit it without meeting certain death? You should be ashamed of yourself.” So, Deceived talked less and less about the mountain and the problems with the Dragon stories, but it seemed a cruel irony that he lived at the base of a mountain that he could climb all over—but never speak of—surrounded by those who loved telling Dragon stories—stories he was never at liberty to question. He began to wonder if he belonged in the village at all.
Years went by and Deceived the Deceiver had fewer and fewer conversations with others, for they knew how much Deceived wanted to talk about the other side of the mountain and how eager he was to lead them over the mountain to their death. And how could they trust him—a man willing to lie about the Dragon had to be capable of lying about anything. Deceived and his family began frequent treks across to the valleys on the other side of the mountain. They set up camps there, and they began to think of the other side of the mountain as their side of the mountain. Finally, they decided to leave the village and set off to the other side for good.
A few villagers came to see them off: “You are leading your family to certain death, you know. You will be eaten. We will still pray for your souls, though little good we expect it to do for a family with such cold hearts. Farewell.”
As they left, the villagers remarked to one another about how little Deceived must care about them, how much he must wish death upon them all, and how much better they felt now that they were finally rid of Deceived the Deceiver and his troublesome family.
In their newly formed village on the other side of the mountain, Careful the Compassionate and his family lived out the rest of their days. On occasion, a bold villager would venture over the mountain, wondering what had become of Deceived, and they would see the village deep on the other side, and they would stop in. Of course, they were warmly received by the villagers there, and they would sit over hot drinks and talk about life on either side of the mountain, and the vastness of the backcountry, and which trails they had used to cross over the mountain. For everyone in the backcountry village spoke freely about the mountain range, all they had explored and all they had yet to explore. And they rarely spoke of the Dragon at all, except to wonder how the villagers on the other side of the mountain could still be so fearful of it.
And the traveler would return home, weary but excited, to tell the others about their trip over the mountain. Alas, as soon as they tried to explain how they had crossed to the other side and not seen a Dragon they were quickly labeled “Deceived” and treated just as Deceived the Deceiver had been. But to one who had crossed over the mountain the Dragon stories lost their appeal, and the problems with the stories were apparent. And when they considered how warmly they had been received by Careful, and they thought of the wonderful time they had exploring the mountain, and talking about their explorations with those in the village, they longed to join those on the other side. And all those who ventured over once eventually returned to live in Careful’s village on the other side of the mountain.
And all the villagers lived happily ever after.
Released under the CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain License 2018-03-06