This is a story from the fairy tale fantasy book 'Amber and Willem'. Willem has gone to visit his friend Garnet the gander, and Garnet's three sons, Girilyn, Geddes and Grey.
“Tell us a proper story though, Papa,” said Grey.
“What do you mean?” asked Garnet. “That was a proper story. I’ll have you know that was one of my finest and I’m keeping it for good and all.”
“I’d like to hear a real story too,” said Willem, propping himself up on an elbow. “And I have to go home soon.”
“All right then,” said Garnet. “I’ll tell you the story of the Gander-Dragon.”
Willem sat up in surprise. “I’ve never heard of that story!” he said.
Garnet laughed. “Us old ones still sometimes know things you young ones don’t,” he said, “even if you are grown up now. This is one of my favourite stories. It’s about three young ganders, or it is to start with anyway.”
“Like us?” asked Geddes.
“Like you,” said Garnet, “but perhaps not quite so handsome. These were not my children, you see. In fact I don’t know who their father was. Their names were Jinny, Jonny and Jackamanny and they were lucky because they had a wonderful, beautiful mother who was also very wise.”
“Can geese be wise?” asked Geddes. “I thought you always said…”
“Geese can be anything,” said Garnet. “It’s just that usually, they are not.”
Willem laughed, and Garnet looked at him with beady-eyed disdain before continuing.
“Her name was Celeste and she was extraordinary. All three of her gander-goslings were chosen to be the gander and live because that was what she wanted. I think perhaps she could do magic, even though I have never heard of any other goose or gander who could, but I don’t know for sure because she died.”
“Oh no!” said Grey. “Were the goslings very sad?”
“Well they were at first,” said Garnet. “Celeste knew she was going to die, and when she told them they were terrified but she soon put a stop to that. ‘You do not need to be afraid, my loves,’ she said. ‘For you are not ganders at all, you know; you are dragons. You can live as ganders if you like; you will be happy that way when everything is peaceful and the world is kind, but just remember, should any danger come along, really you are dragons, and dragons are the most powerful creatures of all. Nothing can stop a dragon!’
“Now those young ganders were sad for a while after their mother died, but old birds do die, and life goes on. Soon enough they were happy again, for everything was peaceful and the world was kind until one day…”
“I knew it! I knew something else bad was going to happen,” said Geddes.
“Oh, it wasn’t too bad to start with,” said Garnet. “The people in the story, the humans, you know, they forgot about Celeste faster than the birds did and they wondered why they had so many ganders in their gaggle. They scratched their heads over it. There were five, you see, two older ganders and the three young ones.”
“We have five ganders in our gaggle!” said Geddes.
“Yes, but that isn’t usual,” said Girilyn. “Don’t you remember that Papa and Gilly were the only ganders here for years and years before we came along?”
“Two is usual,” Garnet said. “Three is brave. I can’t imagine it myself, but ganders are often silly and sometimes they fight each other.”
“Did the ganders in the story fight?” asked Grey.
“Oh no, not at all. They were very civilised creatures, like we are! But nonetheless, the humans decided five was too many. They kept the two old ganders and one of the young ones, and they took Jonny and Jackamanny to the fair with all the young geese to be sold.
“Jinny the gander cried and cried, for he was the one to be left behind, but his brother Jonny spoke to him sternly. ‘Don’t forget, you are really a dragon,’ Jonny said.
“‘All right, I won’t forget,’ said Jinny. ‘As long as you don’t either!’
“Anyway, Jonny and Jackamanny did not stay together long after that, for they were sold to different people.
“‘We are all of us dragons, my brother, we are!’ called Jonny as he was herded away to his new home, to begin his life all over again.
“Now as it turned out, Jonny’s life did not change a great amount. His new home was not so very far away from his old one, and some of the geese and ganders in this new gaggle were his sisters and cousins. He settled into his new life easily and sometimes forgot that anything had ever been different.
“Not so Jackamanny, you can be sure, for if everything stayed the same for all three of our protagonists, this would not be much of a story.”
“What’s a protagonist?” asked Geddes.
“You’ll know what it is if you think about it,” said Garnet. “And if you can’t work it out you are no son of mine!”
Willem smiled at that. Garnet certainly loved being a father, much more than Willem would ever have expected. And he wondered idly why that was, why he wouldn’t have expected it. It showed anyway that he knew nothing at all about the world.
“Jackamanny was bought by a foreigner, him and two geese. The foreigner took them back to her own land and it was a long, long way. They went on a ship over the sea and just as far over land too, sometimes walking, sometimes riding in a cart. When they arrived finally, after Jackamanny had decided that his new life was to be travelling, he found himself in a land that was unlike anywhere he had ever seen or imagined he might see.
“The trees were strange and flat and the land itself was dry and dusty, even the sky was an unfamiliar colour, but there was a river to swim in with grass on its banks, strange grass, but it tasted all right, and there was corn too. Jackamanny lived there for some years anyway, and he got used to it. He got used to the way the river dried out completely for part of the year, and the land around went brown with no green life at all; how sometimes rain fell for days on end like a waterfall, and at those times the river got fed up with its bed and spread itself out everywhere with a great sigh.
“And one day there appeared a massive shadow over the land. There were often shadows from the monstrous storm clouds that brought the rain, but this shadow was different. The people looked up at it and then they began to run around and take all of the things from their houses – for everyone knows that people keep piles and piles of things around them all the time, but God alone knows why they do – and put them onto their carts and their carriages and wagons and they went away. All of the people with their horses and their donkeys and their different kinds of cattle, but Jackamanny and the geese were left behind. Maybe it was because geese have short legs and can’t walk very fast, and there was no room for them in any of the carts or wagons, or maybe they were simply forgotten about, but soon enough Jackamanny and his geese found themselves all alone, and the great shadow was getting darker all the time. Something was coming along, it seemed, something that might chill all the blood in your veins until you died of fright.
“‘We should go too!’ the geese all said. ‘Quick, quick!’ And they set off in the direction the people had gone, but Jackamanny did not go anywhere. He remembered, you see, what his mother had said to him and his brothers before she died. ‘It’s all right!’ he called after the geese. ‘There’s nothing to be scared of. I can protect you!’
“But the geese did not listen, and they did not come back.
“Jackamannny looked up at the sky, right into that shadow as it came closer, and he saw what it was that everyone had been afraid of and had run away from. It was a real dragon. He could see the talons on its feet and the scales on its sides as it flew down towards him. He could see the glint of gold in its eye and after a time he could feel the heat of its breath, but he was not afraid of it.
“‘Who are you?’ the dragon asked, when it finally landed right in front of him. ‘I could see you from a long way off, for you are a bright patch of white in a dull land like this.’
“‘I am Jackamanny,’ said the gander, ‘and I am a dragon, just like you.’
“Well what do you think? The dragon roared with laughter. It really roared, with flames and smoke, a great rolling roar that shook the earth. ‘You are not a dragon!’ it said at last. ‘Whoever told you that is a liar or a fool. You are a bird, the kind of bird that eats grass and swims in fresh water.’
“‘My mother told me that, and she was neither a liar nor a fool. She said my brothers and I were all dragons and that is what we are. I am not afraid of anything and I am certainly not afraid of you!’
“The dragon laughed again. It liked to laugh and it took some time over it. ‘You are a small bird and I could cook you in an instant and eat you in one swallow, but I do not think you are worth the trouble. There were people here not long ago, and larger animals than you. I will find them and I will eat them instead, for I have flown a long way and I am hungry.’
“Jackamanny was interested in what the dragon said. My mother said I was a dragon, he told himself, but I have no idea what it is that dragons do.
“Jackamanny could not fly. Like Soubrey and I and all of our geese, the flight feathers in his wings were kept clipped. But he did not want to lose the dragon, so he walked up its tail and on to its back, and when the dragon took flight once more, Jackamanny went with it.
“The dragon flew fast, and it soon found the people who had run away and all of their animals. It roared fire and cooked and ate every single one while Jackamanny balanced on its back and watched. So that is what dragons eat, he said to himself. People eat geese and dragons eat people, well that’s certainly a change-around! And then the dragon continued on its way with Jackamanny riding on its back all the time.
“Jackamanny the gander stayed with that dragon for a long time, though I don’t know how long, not exactly. The dragon seemed to like his company and talked to him. And as time went on so Jackamanny began to change. For one thing, without people to clip them, his flight feathers grew so that he could fly. And oh, how he loved to fly! He soared under and over the clouds and made races with the dragon who seemed to have become his friend. He found out the things that dragons like too, and if you didn’t know, those things are mostly gold and magic power. The dragon sought out those things to take from others by force and consume in furious ecstasy, making itself richer and more powerful and at the same time laying waste to towns and cities and even whole countries when it needed to. Jackamanny, in all that time, began to grow larger and into a different shape. He began to think dragonish thoughts as well and to quietly long for magic power and gold of his own.
“Now one day, after years and years, the dragon came down to rest on the top of a cold, lonely mountain where there was no magic power and no gold at all. It lay down, that dragon, and closed its eyes and do you know what? It never opened them again.”
“Did it die?” asked Girilyn, in a whisper.
“It did,” said Garnet. “Jackamanny waited with it for many days until it was cold, but there was no reason to stay there after that, so he hurled himself into the sky and flew away.
“He flew and flew. He did not care where, for all of a sudden the dragonish thoughts he had become accustomed to seemed not to fit him very well. He flew and flew over all kinds of different lands, over mountains and seas and great lakes and deserts until he came to a land that he liked the look of, a land that was green, with long grass and wide pools reflecting the sky and shady trees, and he came down to land in that place.
“As Jackamanny spiralled down towards the ground he could see the people running away, taking their horses and their donkeys and all their different kinds of cattle and getting out as fast as ever they could. He was not surprised to see this; it was what he always saw when he landed in a place where people lived. But he was surprised to see the two white birds who were walking steadily towards him from two different directions. ‘Who are you?’ he asked them.
“‘I am Jinny,’ said one of the birds, while the other said, ‘I am Jonny.’ And both together they said, ‘We are dragons, just like you!’
“Can you imagine what happened then?” asked Garnet the gander. He was pleased as anything to be telling this story to such a spellbound audience, and to have almost got to the end of it. “The people who had lived in that place never came back. Neither did any of their animals, or even the geese who had run away with them. Jinny and Jonny and Jackamanny lived there, just the three of them. They flew together in the soft skies, those two ganders and Jackamanny, the gander-dragon, and they ate grass and wild corn and they slept in the shade of the trees, and everything was peaceful and the world was kind till the day they died.”
Amber and Willem are best friends and they are the only people in their village who can do magic. Willem speaks to birds and he longs to fly above all things, but when he visits the Great Eagles in the mountains, he learns that he never will - and he may never walk again either after his failed attempt. Amber only wants to be with the horses, who are people to her, since she knows their language. The problem is, none of the horses she loves belong to her, since she is only a goose girl. She makes up her mind to develop every scrap of power she has and seek fortune.
Willem can't imagine his life without Amber. He battles to stay with her, but when the dragons come he has to begin to think for himself and find his own power.