Coffee For Poetry

Entry by: Freya

24th March 2016
Coffee for poetry / A Utopian legend
The dragon couldn’t be killed. The bravest men had tried to slay it but to no avail. One after another, the heroes who only wished to preserve their homeland, first the young, then the grey-haired, perished in the flames of her burning breath. A cloud of despair filled the hearts of the usually jolly folks of Utopia.
For centuries, the merry god Suntaour turned its bright face towards the remote island, lost somewhere amid the vast ocean, and under his warm stare the forests grew luscious, the soil fertile and eager to bear the crop of juicy pumpkins, sweet golden corn and thick barley that made the stews hearty. Its mountain springs abounded in rainbow trout, and the ocean provided the Utopians with seashell and edible algae they liked to barbecue. The green-wool sheep, the speckled cows and the giant, slow moving, flightless birds sustained the kingdom with angora for their clothing, and the dairy and eggs to fill their stomachs.
No violence, no terror, no hunger teared the contented Utopians apart. The folks blessed their god, their generous, laid-back king, and their bountiful land. Their kingdom had no known neighbours, with the surrounding islets uninhabited. Unadventurous by nature and comfortable with their lot, the Utopians never voyaged and thus knew not of the world beyond their friendly shores.
Their sole guilty pleasure in the otherwise wholesome lives was cultivating a berry plant that grew in mid-sized bushes and produced a fruit, a pit of which the Utopians dried, roasted and boiled. They named the brew cara, the one that makes life worth living. And they enjoyed it at the twilight of each day to celebrate the goodness of the god who created their perfect kingdom and continued to shine on it with kindness. Some older folks reckoned the pleasure offered by the drink, its scent that cleared the senses, its velvety texture that fondled the tongue, was what made the Utopians so pleased with their existence. This joy of being alive meant that they would never reach for anything that didn’t belong to them. It wasn’t their way to think of their fellow Utopians as less deserving. As the Utopian elders believed, cara kept their people’s innocence while the rest of the world bled in endless wars for power.
The king of Utopia was an ardent follower of the cara cult. He enjoyed nibbling on the roasted seed as much as he liked savouring the brew. When his wife died, giving birth to their only child, he named the little princess Cara. And for a while, until he accepted the will of the god who took away his beloved wife, it was his daughter that made his life worth living.
Eighteen years later, on an overcast morning when Suntaour the god must have been suffering from a headache, as he never even peeked from behind the low clouds, the king strolled in his gardens. Glancing into the skies with hope for some warming presence, he spotted an object that should not be there. The skies belonged to the god. They only ever featured Suntaour’s bright face during the day, his glossy back of the head or the sliver of it at night, depending on the god’s sleeping position, of course, the little bright twinkles the Utopians believed to be their god’s freckles that escaped his face, or the clouds, when their god was not in a mood for socialising.
The king frowned. As the object hovered closer over him, he guessed it to be a bird and stared at it with interest of someone who only ever sighted flightless birds. Utopia was too far from any continent to make it a natural host of migrating birds, and thus the happy folks were never introduced to them. But this bird was unlike any other creature on the island, not the least thanks to its mountain-like size. No feathers covered its glossy lizard-like skin. Lizards, while a rare sighting in Utopia, had been familiar to the king, as frequenting some of the submerged caves. Seashell collectors had spotted tiny, slippery animals occasionally and once or twice brought a dead one they found as an offering to their king. He was known among his people as a keen chronicler of the oddities of his beautiful land.
The giant bird slowed down mid-air and was drifting towards the king’s gardens. As he knew no fear, the king advanced briskly towards the animal to be able to admire up close the purple scales that covered its majestic, sinewy body. For a few moments, the dragon ignored the king, focused instead on snuggling down in the soft grass. It drew heavy breaths of a one that toiled heavily, and the grumbling noises it made told the king it was exhausted and possibly famished. Suddenly its nostrils flared and it leapt back to its feet. Its meaty tail snaked around the king who lost his balance and fell.
The king opened his mouth to say something. While he wasn’t afraid, he felt uncomfortable being in the grasp of the wet-skinned animal which smelled of something foul. The dragon however offered him no respite. It wrapped king’s body with its tail and brought its muzzle closer to the king’s face.
The king looked into the large watery eyes and their gaze fascinated him. If he hadn’t known better, he would have supposed that there was intelligence lurking in them. For a moment he pondered whether to address the creature as he would any of his guests. The creature stared at him motionless, as if it was waiting for something to happen. Why not, the king told himself. There was no harm in being polite, and in any case the animal would most likely not understand the human tongue.
‘Greetings, bird,’ he said a bit pompously, as he wasn’t used to addressing animals and couldn’t think of the right tone.
The dragon’s gaze shifted, becoming momentarily cold. A loud throaty sound came from behind the spikey teeth the dragon revealed opening its jaws. The king felt the warmth of the animal’s breath at the centre of his abdomen.
‘Greetings, bird,’ he bellowed, wondering if the bird heard him the first time.
The dragon clicked his tongue, grabbed the astonished king between his teeth and clenched his giant jaws.
The king of Utopia was no more, and the kingdom without a monarch ceased being a kingdom.
The arrival of the large bird and the death of their beloved king shook the life of the Utopians. Unused to defending themselves, at first they perished in the dragon’s gullet or were trampled by its large paws as soon as they approached the creature. In time, they figured that they needed strong weapons to fight the uninvited guest. Yet, even the most elaborate of swords couldn’t tear the scaly skin or draw the dragon’s blood.
The Utopians would have disappeared completely from the surface of their lovely island if not for their elders. The elders taught the people where to hide so that they didn’t become a dragon’s meal. They also instructed the common folks on how to build a vessel to carry the bravest of them away from their beloved island, in search of a new home. Alas, many of these boats ended up sinking, with their crew drowning. The elders didn’t give up and tested new and newer designs. Eventually, one boat managed to get further than any of the Utopians would dare to think was possible. Still, the crew couldn’t find any land. Disheartened they pondered on which was worse, to perish on the unknown waters or between the teeth of the monster but at least in the proximity of their loved ones.
As the days passed by and their rations shrunk, the crew lost their last hope of finding a new land and turned their vessel back towards Utopia.
On the way there, one evening, they spotted another boat, a much larger one than theirs. They guessed it to belong to someone of their searching parties, but as they rowed closer towards it, it transpired that the vessel couldn’t be Utopian, so grand and majestic it looked with its shiny sail and the glossy white-painted deck. It must have been a product of sophisticated engineering and long months of toil.
The men who rode the boat did not resemble the Utopians, either. Their skin was fairer, their hair yellow, their clothing more intricate. For the first few days of the encounter the two crews couldn’t communicate, as the stranger’s tongue didn’t sound at all like Utopian. But the language of the body was universal and the desperate men speedily learnt to tell the sad story of their bountiful land and its suffering inhabitants.
The dragon terrified the strangers as much as the Utopians but they had encountered it before or at least heard of it. They shared with the Utopian crew the creature’s name, the dragon, and told them it was a she, a female monster that decimated human and animal populations throughout the world.
One of the sailors was particularly drawn to the story of the dragon. He listened, asked questions and pondered. Finally, he offered to save Utopia. As he was young, the Utopians weren’t convinced by his offer, but since no other alternative presented itself to them and the young one appeared to be well respected by his people – he was their captain’s son and was thought of being gifted with magic, they led the way to their home. On the big boat, with the small vessel attached to it with a rope, the voyage took no time at all.
As soon as the strangers put their foot on the land of Utopia and the introductions to the elders had been made, the young man asked the Utopians to bring him closer to the dragon’s den. The elders begged him to keep his distance but it seemed the stranger knew no fear.
He shouted at the dragon. The creature turned towards him and, as was her habit, stared as if awaiting something.
The young man then uttered a spell. Well, not exactly a spell. A poem, so beautifully crafted, so true, so passionate, and so sorrowful that the innocent Utopians, though by no means able to comprehend all that the man said, wept. But the rhyming words moved the dragon as well. The poem told the creature where to find her home. Not on this world as she had mistakenly thought since she got lost centuries ago. Elsewhere. Far. The poem showed her the way. She stretched her wings, glanced briefly at the young man. He would tell the others later that he read gratitude in the turquoise eyes. The dragon then took off, her path unmistakably through the highest skies, towards one of the freckles that escaped god Suntaour‘s face.
The people of Utopia cheered the young man’s wit and offered him cara to drink.
‘It’s called coffee where I come from,’ he said, smiling at the familiar taste, and licked his lips with pleasure.
‘What can we offer you to show our gratitude?’ one of the elders asked. ‘Just name it. Whatever you wish will be yours.’
The young man glanced around and his eyes rested on a young woman. Her perfect figure, her dark curly hair and the smile that bore a promise of eternal love thwarted his breathing. He took several minutes to calm himself, before he could speak again.
‘What is your name, lady?’ he asked, bewitched.
‘I am Cara, or Coffee in your language. I am the princess of Utopia,’ she answered proudly. ‘But I am your servant from now on till my death, in thanks for what you did for my people today.’ She bowed.
The young man then winked at the elders:
‘Coffee for poetry is a fair trade, isn’t it?’