The Dragon

Treacherous beast, here I come!


If I wasn’t keenly aware of the horse beneath me, I could have sworn it was sheer determination that propelled me forward, over the river and through the woods, on my final quest, I go!


I hear nothing but tree branches whizzing past me and the rhythmic clomping of my trusty steed. My cheeks are flush – from windburn or anticipation, I have no idea, but my heart is racing, and I am beyond ready.


I focus on my final task of this mission: slaying the fearsome dragon in the cave on the mountain.


My entire mission has prepared me for this moment; the quests that came before this were merely training, nothing more than simple tests designed to prove my commitment and skills to undertake this ultimate assignment. Rescuing a child from the hands of a giant, removing a sword from a rock, scaling an eighty-foot tower for a magical goblet, etc., etc., etc.


Child’s play.


Those were nothing compared to what’s ahead of me – the true moment I’ve been waiting for. The moment I finally get to use my skills and prove that I have what it takes to lead and protect this kingdom.


I imagine myself in that moment over and over again. I see myself as I arrive at the mouth of the cave…


My feet hit the ground with a soft thud, confident and ready. I approach the cave, hand on sword, each step taken with caution but without an ounce of doubt. Suddenly, a low rumble rattles the walls, and the shadows of the cave begin to dance. I grip my sword, ready for the impending battle. I stand my ground, refusing to approach in haste.


Thud. Thud. Thud.


The heavy footsteps grow closer. My grip tightens. The anticipation grows.


I see a snout, big, burgundy, and scaly. I hear a soft snort, followed by another low grow. One clawed foot emerges, and then another. Two piercing green eyes, and a mouth full of long, sharp, icy teeth.


We lock eyes – a stare down.


Silence.


I breathe in and out, slowly and evenly, my eyes never leaving my foe as it grows more agitated, its breathing shallow and angry, until it finally releases its fury in a great roar and pounces.


Nimble and quick, I grab my sword and dodge its attack; the battle begins.


And a valiant battle it is!


We fight for hours, dancing between offense and defense – I evade its flames and talons as it skirts my sword and arrows.


We grow tired, but I refuse to give in. A noble foe is this one; never have I met with such tenacity and strength. But I will not be defeated!


And I am not. The dragon grows weary, and in a moment of thoughtlessness, it turns it back; I wound its shoulder with an arrow from my quiver, and it falls.


I bind its wings, snout, and feet with cables, and sound the call. I step back in pride; victory is mine.


I beam with happiness from my daydream, playing it over again, but this time, with all the different ways the dragon could attack. No matter what the dragon does, though, I always win.


I break out of my reverie the moment I spot the cave halfway up the mountain.


The time is almost upon me.


I can do this; I am ready.


My heart rate increases; my face flushes further. I imagine what I would do if it spread its wings and soared above me in an aerial attack –


Perhaps I should stop for a drink and bathroom break first…


What?


I shake my head, bringing my nemesis back into my vision. Dodging its flames while stringing my bow and arrow, dancing with it until –


Is it too close to dusk? Maybe I should start the fight in the morning, after a good night’s sleep and a fresh meal…


– until I grab its tail and climb onto its spiny back, rendering it incapable of attacking me without hurting itself, so I can –


Is my sword sharp enough? I should sharpen it, and who knows how long *that* could take…


– so I can…so I can…um…?


It’s too late – my daydream is gone.


The doubt has made its way out of its hidey hole and into my conscious mind. The closer I get, the stronger it grows.


By the time I reach the mouth of the cave, the confidence I had in my fantasy is nonexistent; I nearly fall off my horse, knees buckling as my feet hit the ground. Landing on my feet without collapsing is an accomplishment in itself.


My breathing is shaky and shallow. My eyes widen with fear. I can’t even lay a steady hand on my sword, which feels cold and clunky.


The temptation to turn around and run screaming for the hills is nearly inescapable.


Run – run NOW while you still can!


Who do you think is *actually* going to win this fight?


I can’t do this – it’s a freaking DRAGON!


I stand paralyzed, unable to move, speak, or even think; what was I doing? I can’t possibly believe I’m courageous, strong, or smart enough to complete this mission – I’m not ready. This is a mistake and I need to turn around and go back.


I stare at the open mouth of the cave.


What do I do?


I continue standing there, moving not an inch closer to that fearsome cave.


And yet, I don’t move an inch further away, either.


As I stand shaking in my boots, a sense of familiarity rushes over me.


I have felt this before.


Where have I felt this before?


I attempt to distract myself from my fear (and also, let’s be honest, to procrastinate) by turning my attention to this question: where have I felt this fear before? I’ve always been so brave and bold, I don’t remember feeling fear before –


Oh wait.


I have. I definitely have.


Many. many. times.


I felt this in every single previous assignment I had ever had.


I might call them child’s play in hindsight, but every single previous assignment I have been on thus far, as much as I don’t want to admit it, scared me before I completed it.


The fear of being crushed by that giant.


The fear of divine retaliation for removing the sword from that stone.


The fear of falling to my death off the side of that tower.


How easy it is for me to forget once the mission is successfully finished.


I didn’t want to be afraid in this final mission; I wanted to be brave, as if bravery meant having zero fear. Which is why I must have so conveniently forgotten of all the fears I have overcome before.


My body trembles, my breathing is uneven, my mind is screaming at me to leave lest I want to die.


Fear consumes me.


Or it’s trying to, at least.


Yet even in the midst of my fear, I know that I’ll have to face this dragon sooner or later; or if not this dragon, than a foe of equal might.


So I stand there – determined not to let my fear get the better of me.


Do something.


I remember the fears I’ve overcome before. I take one small step forward.


Keep going.


I remind myself that turning back is not an option. I take another.


That’s it.


I trust my training, skills, and intuition. I place my hand on my sword.


You’ve got this.


I hear a soft rumble. My chest tightens. I ready myself and stand my ground.


“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”

– Nelson Mandela


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