The Tooth with a Mind of Its Own

Once there was a man who had a pet dragon so small that he kept it on a lead and took it for walks like a dog. As it grew and its teeth and claws grew longer and sharper, and it began to breathe clouds of smoke, the man decided that he did not want a dragon for a pet after all. He took the collar and chain off the dragon and told it, “Now go, make your own way,” and he himself went to the pet shop and bought himself a canary instead.

The dragon did very well by itself. It grew broad, heavy wings and flew over mountains and valleys and cities and towns, and breathed fire whenever it wished, staining the sky with puffs of grey smoke.

One day one of its teeth came loose, and dropped out. It fell on the grass in a small town, where a woman who was passing picked it up.

“What a pretty stone!” she said. She tied it on a string and wore it around her neck, and all her neighbours admired it and were jealous of her, which was just as she wanted.

But the tooth began to whisper to her. Night and day without rest, the tooth whispered. The woman cleaned and tidied and scrubbed and polished as the tooth told her to, but still it whispered. She baked and fried and stewed and boiled but still it whispered. The woman’s husband bragged before all his friends that his house was the neatest, and his belly was the fullest, which was just as he wanted it.

Still the tooth whispered, night and day, until the woman could bear it no more. She tore off the necklace and threw the tooth into the street. “There!” she exclaimed. “I have finished with you!”

A boy who was passing saw the tooth where it lay and picked it up. “This will be a fine present for my grandmother!” he said. His grandmother worked very hard, and the boy, whose name was Rustum, hoped that the pretty necklace would bring a smile to her face.

When he got home, the wails of the neighbours reached his ears. “Aiee! Your grandmother is so sick, she will soon die!” they said.

The boy clenched the tooth in his hand and cried, “My grandmother! What can I do to save her?”

Immediately the tooth whispered, “I can tell you what to do, if only you are brave and strong enough.”

Rustum heard the tooth whispering, and he said to it, “Tell me quickly what I must do!”

“You must go to the land of Travail and climb the mountain of Trial. When you reach the top, you must grasp the Star of Hope and bring it back to your grandmother.”

Rustum said, “Will that make her well again?”

The tooth whispered, “No-one can tell. But without it she will surely die.”

“Then I will go at once, ” said the boy.

The land of Travail was cold and hard, covered with jagged rocks and deep, wild streams. Guided by the tooth, Rustum travelled for days and days, with aching legs and bleeding feet. Some days it was so difficult he felt he must give up the struggle, but the tooth whispered and hummed, and from somewhere Rustum found the strength to go on.

After some time they reached the mountain of Trial. It was steep and made of sand, without a single bush or blade of grass for him to hold on to. Rustum started to climb as fast as he could, but his feet sank into the sand and he slid back, bringing a pile of sand down on top of himself.

“How can I climb it?” he cried. “It’s impossible!”

The tooth replied, “Did you think you would reach the top at your first attempt?”

Rustum gathered his strength and tried again, running at the mountainside and trying to grasp the sand with his hands, but again he found himself at the bottom, covered in sand.

“I will dig away this mountain of sand with my bare hands!” he said, and began to dig.

“Not in a thousand years,” the tooth said, and indeed, with every handful the boy dug away, a bucketful of sand fell to replace it.

“How can I ever climb this mountain?” Rustum cried.

“With patience and courage and a determined heart,” said the tooth. “These alone will see you reach the top.”

Rustum set his teeth and gathered his courage. He planted a single foot in the side of the mountain and waited until the sand stopped falling. He planted a second foot in the mountainside. He sank a little and slid a little but he was higher than when he had begun.

Step by step, little by little, Rustum climbed the mountain. At times he slid back and at times his legs felt so heavy with tiredness that he felt he must surely let go and slide to the bottom of the mountain again, but step by step, hour by hour, he went on, the tooth whispering to him without ceasing, until at last he came to the top.

There, glowing in a cloud of darkness, was a tiny white star. Rustum grasped it and put it in his pocket. At once his heart was light. He turned and ran down the mountainside in a great shower of sand, one hand grasping the star in his pocket and the other holding tight to the tooth, in case they should fall out into the sand and be lost.

He ran to his grandmother’s house and burst in. “I have brought you the star of hope!” he said.

His grandmother’s face broke into a smile, and from that moment on, she began to get well again.

Rustum placed the star in her hands. Then he took the tooth outside. “It is well,” said the tooth. “And now it is time.”

Rustum threw the tooth as high as he could up into the sky, and the dragon, who was passing, caught it in his mouth. And what happened to the tooth after that, you and I can only guess.

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