How Many Stars There Are

To Clara, Louise, and Ida

Many years ago, in a rough and dirty place, there once lived a peevish dragon. He was an ugly pal, stinky, and fond of burning stuff. One day, after his work of messing up things was done, he sat outside his hole. It was in the evening and the dragon was in a sombre mood. The day hadn‘t been that much fun, there hadn’t been many things left to burn, the ones that were had been rather difficult to be set on fire. No, life was dumb and boring.

As the evening rose, the clear sky showed its first stars. The dragon sat on the doorstep of his hole and looked at them. “How many of them might there be?“ he thought, and as he had nothing better to do, he started counting. But soon it happened what happens to all who try to count the stars … his eyes began to blur and he miscounted. Again and again he started anew just to reach the point where he either mistook a star he’d already counted or confused the number. Finally, he gave up.

As ugly and at times nasty the dragon was, so proud he was too. It bothered him that he couldn’t count all the stars, and the longer he tried in the coming days and weeks, the more it bothered him that he couldn’t figure out how many stars there are. Finally, one misty early morning, after another long night of failed endeavour, he decided to visit his neighbour and ask him whether he knew the correct number of all the stars in the sky.

His neighbour was a grumpy turtle who lived all alone at the banks of the tiny river. He was very old, and as he had moved very slowly and deliberately all of his life, his thoughts had grown deep and vast. He knew things, and Dragon always came by when he sought for an advice or answer. But this time Old Turtle couldn’t help. “Nah!” he said, “Dunno no num’ers of no stars whatever. ’ll be a quite a lot. But listen, boy, if yer really wanna know, perhaps my cousin can help yer. Lives across the grassland in this hallow b’side the mud field. Try there.” With these words he pulled back his head inside his shell, and soon a faint snore sounded from it. 

The dragon set out to cross the grassland to find that strange relative of Old Turtle. He walked many days, through fields of stones, glistening in the sun, cold at night, and after several weeks he arrived at the mud field Old Turtle had told from.

It was a warm day, the sun was shining, the temperature not too hot, and Slow-Worm lay beside the mud field in the shadows of a rotten tree. She had raised many children, and now was in a kind of comfy mood. All had been done, nothing to expect or to fear, just lieing bare in the warm afternoon.

Dragon had been fiddling around with a loose armour plate at his back, so he wasn’t in the best mood. He mumbled to himself and scuffed his feet towards Slow-Worm. After a brief introduction he came right to the point: “Do you know how many stars there are? Your cousin, Old Turtle, thought you might know.” Slow-Worm felt flattered because her cousin rarely conceded he didn’t know about something. And that he even had sent this guy to her, now that was short of marvellous. But to her deep regret, she didn’t know the answer. This kind of annoyed her, because she would have loved to bath in the admiration of that big guy who out of nothing had come to ask that stupid question.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “I don’t know the number. And I have never heard of anybody knowing it. And you must know, my family is an old and savvy one. But listen, a friend of mine, Curious Squirrel, he may know. He’s always eager to find out new stuff. And as he lives in trees, he may have seen more of those shiny little things up there. And he talks with birds – What a fool, they are dangerous! – so he might have heard something. Try there.” And with that she sent Dragon across the grassland to the wood at the feet of the mountains far in the west.

Dragon walked for days and weeks. He lost the lose armour plate, a second one started to move. Then, one evening, he finally arrived at the wood, and some minutes later Squirrel from above looked down on him. “What’d YOU want?” it asked cheekily and snappishly. 

“I was thinking whether you could help me with a problem,” the exhausted Dragon replied. “Look, I went to my neighbour Old Turtle who sent me to Slow-Worm who sent me to you. Nobody can help me. So, if you don’t mind, can you tell me how many stars there are in the sky?” It was rather unusual that Dragon addressed someone that nicely, but after the long journey he simply hadn’t the power left to angrily push ahead. In fact, he was even too tired to breath much fire, just a little smoke.

Curious Squirrel looked at him thoughtfully. “How many stars …?” it mumbled, “What an interesting question. I’ve never thought about it. Nice. But, well, I’m sorry, I can’t help you. I don’t know how many there are.”  “But don’t your friends, the birds, some of them, might know? Or do they know whom I might ask?” Dragon replied sadly. “Nope,” said Curious Squirrel, “they have no idea either. When they fly, they rarely look up. In fact, they don’t mind the sky. All they know is the earth, the plains, the grassland, the rocks. Ask them where the rivers go, or what lies beyond the desert in the south, and they’ll tell you. But the sky? None of their business.”

As it explained to Dragon why the birds wouldn’t know, the noise of flapping wings resounded from above, and its friend, Perky Magpie, landed beside of it on the tree’s limb. “What’re you talking? What’re you talking?” she croaked bustlingly. “I just told this fellow down here that neither I nor you nor anybody of yours do know how many stars there are in the sky. And that you wouldn’t care.” “Bah!” Perky Magpie replied, “we are interested in everything and all. We fly to the moon and the sun, we know everything between here and there.” “So, then you do know how many stars there are?” Dragon asked with a glow of hope. “Nah! I don’t. We don’t. Of course, we would, if it were of any interest to us. But who cares about them? Far more interesting are worms and frogs and mice. I can tell you from my own experience how many mice there are in the meadow down there. And I can tell you all about the slugs and snails. Would like to know that?” “No, thank you,” Dragon replied sadly. This wasn’t what he wanted to know, and Perky Magpie somewhat tested his nerves. “Listen, do you know somebody whom I might ask to find out the number of all the stars? It’s really important to me.” “Well,” Perky Magpie said with an important voice, “perhaps on the other side of the mountains. There are people, industrious and always running around. I saw some of them looking up to the sky. What stupid folks. As if there were any food or shelter to be found. There’s nothing but the winds and sometimes rain, everything that drives you nuts and makes manoeuvring difficult and dangerous. But they look to the sky. So perhaps with them you’ll find someone who can answer your question. But honestly: the number of all frogs in the lake 30 miles due south, now that’s important to know. Good knowledge, that. Do you wanna know?”

In order not to lose his temper, Dragon politely interrupted this monologue, bode his farewell to both, and hit back on the road towards the mountains and beyond.

It was a long and arduous journey. He had to climb high and walk again downhill, food was rare, and he lost more and more of his armour plates as he tried to force himself through the narrow canyons and gorges. Then, one day, spring had come, he finally reached the other side of the mountains and entered a valley full of green meadows and white cherry trees. He wearily walked the path he had found down from the hills to the shades of some trees. A hamlet lay a bit beyond, and when the evening rose he finally reached the side of a tiny well. And here he saw a young woman, dressed nicely, moving with care and attention. I cannot describe all the facets of her beauty, but it suffices to say that Dragon all of a sudden stood there in awe and wonder. Never had he seen such a beauty, and as he stood with the mouth wide open, the girl looked at him. In an instant his eyes fell into hers, those dark blue seas. She smiled, and in this very moment all his remaining plates crumbled to the ground, and Dragon, no longer a dragon, became a young lad, handsome to look at, with a shy and boyish grin. He returned the smile, and in this very moment, as smile reached smile, and eye met eye, he suddenly knew how many stars there are. Exactly one. And all the others are just reflections of it.

* * * 

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One Response to How Many Stars There Are

  1. David Marsden says:

    Beautiful story. Thanks for sharing :-)


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