The story that Nan told Mo was one that lots of people had known, and slowly, over time, had forgotten. Versions of the story had been told over the years – some of them more correct than others – and like many legends, bits had been added in, details exaggerated, until everyone knew a slightly different version and the only thing that everyone agreed on was that there was a cave with a king’s treasure in, from a long long time ago, under the lake.
In fact, what would you think if I told you that Mo’s Nan was the person who had the story completely right? And that Mo himself was right, too, about one thing. He was right that it was a lonely life, to be the guardian of the treasure cave underneath the lake. What he wasn’t right about was that the creature doing the job was scary. She was quite big, but she wasn’t particularly scary at all, at least not until you tried to get into the cave.
She was a sea-dragon. A long time ago, she had been captured by the king and set to work, guarding that cave below the lake. She had no choice: the spell that had made the cave also held her fast. As Mo’s Nan had said, there always had to be a guardian for the cave.
For many thousands of years, the sea-dragon had snoozed down there in the watery depths of the lake, undisturbed, for no one had tried to enter the cave and take the king’s treasure. Occasionally, she would open her big sea-green eyes to look at the sunlight refracted on the surface of the lake. She would think how much she would love to feel the breeze on her scaly cheeks. How she would love to swim in the ocean, where she had lived for so long before she had been trapped in the lake. There was so much more room in the ocean. Room to leap and play and splash in the waves. Here, she had to curl up at the very bottom of the lake so as not to disturb the surface of the water. She had to wait until it was dark to pull herself up onto the lakeshore and lie among the trees and even then the spell would not let her go far.
She missed the sea. She missed her family. Sometimes she would cry big dragony tears down there in the dark water.
But she could not leave. The king’s spell would not let her.
And so she stayed, as the world beyond the lake changed. As houses grew up all around it. As children like Mo rode their bikes around the lake, and fishermen came to throw their lines in it, and birds paddled on the surface and made their nests around the lakeshore.
The sea-dragon stayed down there through all of this. Until one day.