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red dragon, yellow dragon

a story about adherence for kids 

It's bad enough if you're an adult on combination therapy, remembering to take your pills every time, with their side effects and all, and understanding why you have to, and what may happen if you stop. How are you supposed to explain the complications of HIV resistance to children? By telling them a story, that's how. So here is a seasonal tale of dragons, knights and wizards who stay in bed too long.


Now listen up, and listen here, and listen now! Once upon a time, or maybe only the other day, there was a beautiful country called the Kingdom of Yoo.

Well, it was a long way from anywhere, was Yoo - a hundred miles over the rainbow and second left at indigo, in fact. High mountains guarded it and very few strangers had ever been there, though you can feel what it was like by closing your eyes just before you fall asleep in bed at night - it was a safe, warm, happy place.

White cows grazed in the meadows, whose milk made cheese so wonderful you only had to eat a speck at a time, in case you fainted from the pleasure of eating it. Handsome red fish swam through the streams, and tall silver trees shaded the houses from the hot sun.

It was ruled from a magnificent castle on a hill by wise King Plondike, short but strong, with eyes that blazed blue when he knew he was right. And kind Queen Fasmateria, tall and kind. And then there were their three children, swift Prince Linford, dark Princess Naomi of the beautiful shoes and the magic box through which she talked to princesses everywhere, and little Naseem who wasn't scared of anyone.

But it wasn't perfect, because what is? The Kingdom had one problem: dragons. Big green dragons. They lived in caves in the mountains. No one knew where they had come from. Some said they had been there as long as the kingdom. They called themselves Virus, though no one knew why.

At times you would not know they were there. But some nights, when the moon was green and the wind was sighing in the trees, they would fly out in great herds. The grass of the meadows crisped and charred beneath them, and the streams steamed and boiled as they flew over. They roasted the cows with the green flame from their mouths, swept them up in their great claws, and munched them. And ahead of them, you could hear the cruel song they always sang, in their voice like a million whispers:

          We are Virus, we have come.

          We are many, we are one.

          We pour fire down from on high.

          But, most of all, we multiply!

And multiply they did: for though the brave villagers shot them with their arrows, more and more seemed to appear. For every dragon that fell to the earth, two more would suddenly pop into existence.

But the king had a secret weapon: his Conquer Dragons Force, or CD4s for short: an army of brave knights commanded by his son, swift Prince Linford. Every day they would ride out in their silver suits of armour on their white horses, with Linford resplendent at the head. They would journey into the mountains, and slaughter the dragons with special magic spears while they slept. A sleeping dragon can't multiply. As they rode, they sang:

          - We are the knights of CD4

          You are many, but we are more -

Many knights died, when a dragon woke up before they could spear it. And there was nothing, nothing more delicious to a dragon than the taste of lightly singed knight. But the kingdom was precious; and there was never any shortage of brave young men, and women, to don the silver armour and ride out every day. And so, but for the farmers' roast cows and cooked fish, the kingdom stayed lush and healthy.

But listen here, and listen now, and listen good! Ten years went by. And one night, Prince Linford and his brave CD4 knights did not return. Queen Fasmateria paced the castle battlements all night, looking for a glimpse of moonlight on silver armour, but there was no sign on the horizon. Nor the next day. The following night, a gale sprang up. The clouds scudded across the green moon, and the trees moaned and howled in the wind.

"You must come down and get some sleep, my dear," said Plondike, looking at the tears welling in the Queen's eyes. "He will be back, I'm sure. He always is."

But just then, wafted to them in a gust of wind, Plondike thought he heard:

          …we have come

"What was that?" said Fasmateria, fearfully.

"Nothing, dear, just the wind," said Plondike. But as he spoke, he saw a dull flash of moonlight reflected off something just the other side of the castle moat. And, again, on the wind, he heard, distinctly this time, but in a voice so weak it chilled his blood:

-          "…help me…"

-          Plondike's eyes blazed blue. "Down to the gate! Now!" he yelled at his Captain of the Guard.

-          It was Linford, Linford with his armour dented and scratched, Linford clawed by great dragon claws, his red blood mixing with the green dragon slime. The king's heart sank as the Captain helped him across the drawbridge.

-          "My son, what has happened?"

-          "They have grown too strong for us, father, and there are just too many. All my CD4s gone! Eaten up! We ended up in a high mountain pass, and discovered the biggest dragon-lair yet. And they crawled out and whispered into our minds with their horrible voices. And they said

-                    …the more you send against us, the stronger we get, for if one of us eats just one tasty knight, he can multiply into a thousand dragons…

-          At that point my men lost heart and ran, and the dragons chased them over hill and down dale till they had caught and eaten every one. I only just got away, though they ate my poor horse too. And now thousands of them are coming! Listen!"

-          And Plondike heard, carried on the wind, the dragon-song:

-                    We are Virus, we have come.

-                    We are many, but we are one.

-                    We have fed, now we must fly..

-                    But mostly, we must multiply!

-          And the whole of the northern horizon suddenly blazed with green fire as a horde, an ocean of dragons swept towards them on the wind…

-          "Quick! Get inside! Ring the bells and get the villagers inside! Lock all windows! Fill buckets with water!" yelled Plondike, as he and the Captain helped Linford up the stairs to the Throne Room.

-          The throne room crowded with all the villagers and the palace staff. From the great bay window, which commanded a view of almost the entire kingdom, Plondike and Fasmateria watched as the dragons torched the fields, as the streams boiled away, as the village burst into flames. The villagers who had made it watched helplessly as their livelihoods shriveled. Then the dragons advanced on the castle.

-          "Oh Plondike, what can we do?" gasped Fasmateria.

-          "I'll get 'em! Just let me at 'em! I'll box their ears!"

-          That was little Naseem, who had to be restrained by the Captain from going out on the battlements and firing his toy arrows at them.

-          "No Naseem, that's not the way the stories go," said Plondike, having to shout above the dragon-din - the roaring of the flame as it blasted against the castle walls, the swoosh of their wings as they swept by, and their eerie song. "Youngest sons don't defend the kingdom. As is well known, they Go on Quests for a Year and a Day. If we ever survive this night, you will go on a Quest for the ultimate dragon-quelling magic."

-          But he doubted if they would survive. The window frames were already charring, and the walls were glowing with heat.

-          Then, suddenly, as if a glass jar had dropped over them, everything went quiet. There was a sound of tinkling bells, a smell of roses and birthday cake, and a pretty pink ball of light glided into the room. It faded, and, standing there in a vast pink frilly frock, wearing a tiara and waving a tinselly wand, was what could only be a Fairy Godmother.

-          "Who are you?" said Plondike, astonished.

-          "Welcome. Ha ha ha! tinkle tinkle tinkle", said the apparition.

-          "And welcome to you too, madam. But who are you?"

-          "My name is Welcome. I am the Good Witch Welcome, and it looks as if I've arrived just in the nick of time! Ha ha ha tinkle tinkle tinkle!"

-          "I hope that means, madam, that you have expertise with dragons," said Plondike, hoping the lady wasn't as daft as she looked, and shaking his head because the silvery bells in her laugh made his ears itch.

-           "Oh, yes, just tons - they roll over like big softies if you say the right spell. Ha ha ha tinkle tinkle tinkle!"

-           "Well, dear Mistress Welcome," said Fasmateria, hastily - Plondike was starting to look annoyed - "We would be very grateful if you would just say that very spell."

-           "Certainly, dear lady. Now, if you'll allow me…"

-           With a most un-fairylike burst of strength, and to Plondike's horror, Welcome wrenched open the burning window. A great green dragon was flying directly towards them, its mouth agape. Everyone in the Throne Room ran and hid under the tables.

-           Welcome's expression changed. The corners of her mouth turned down, her nose grew sharp, her eyes narrowed, she aimed her wand straight at the dragon and in a loud, scary voice quite unlike her previous giggle, she intoned:

-                     "ABOLISH!

-                     ZAP!

-                     THWART!"

-           The king suddenly felt tired and sick. Everyone grew pale, as if their blood had drained away. A ball of blue light shot out of the end of Welcome's wand, hovered in the air, and then engulfed the dragon. It uttered a dreadful, tortured bellow, and vanished. "Hah! Nuked!!" cried Welcome.

-           Plondike rushed to the window. Everywhere, the dragons were vanishing, popping into nothingness like so many soap bubbles. Eerie blue balls of light were pursuing them through the night air and swallowing then up. The only two left turned tail and fled back to the mountains.

-           Everyone in the room burst into applause, except for Plondike, who wasn't a wise king for no reason. He bowed.

-           "We are eternally grateful, madam. I expect, now, you will want to be on your way. How much do we owe you?"

-           "Oh now, don't be a silly!" said Welcome, tapping him lightly on the head with her wand. "You can't get rid of dragons that easily! Ha ha ha tinkle! They multiply, remember. No, I'm going to have to stay here and see the job through. That means saying Abolish-Zap-Thwart every morning and every night. I'm sure I'll be happy with just a nice little turret room - perhaps that one there," she said, pointing her wand at Princess Naomi's bedchamber.

-           "But surely, with only two left…"

-           No, if I don't say it twice a day they will start multiplying again, and you know what that means."

-           "We'll get burnt again?" said Linford, who was leaning shakily against the wall.

-           "Not only that. It means a Yellow Dragon could appear."

-           Plondike didn't like the way Welcome said Yellow Dragons.

-           "So what are they like, these yellow ones?"

-           "Well, if you let the Virus dragons multiply again, once in a while, when the moon is blue and the trees bark, a yellow dragon pops into existence. And Abolish-Zap-Thwart has no effect on them. Worse, because it still works with the green ones, soon you have nothing but yellow dragons flying around, and they are twice as hot and twice as cruel. But with me around, you won't have to worry! Ha ha ha tinkle…"

-           "Yes, well, we'll get the room ready," interrupted Plondike, thinking his itching ears were a small price to pay for saving his kingdom.

-           So  Welcome installed herself in the turret room, much to Princess Naomi's disgust, and twice a day, at breakfast and tea, she strode out on to the battlements and, aiming her wand at the far mountains, shrieked: "Abolish! Zap! Thwart!"

-           But Plondike wasn't a wise king for nothing, and on Naseem's 18th birthday, he sent the young prince out on his strong little pony, to Quest for a great wizard who might abolish the dragons forever. And who wouldn't laugh quite so much.

-           So for a year and a day, the kingdom prospered again. The grass grew back and the streams ran clear. Sometimes they forgot to wake Welcome up to do her breakfast spell. Anyway, the spells made some people feel all sick and giddy, and the cows grew up stunted. But there were no dragons to be seen, so it seemed to be working.

-           But one evening, Linford, who had recovered from his injuries and recruited a new band of CD4 knights, returned with bad news. The dragons seemed to be on the increase again, and there were reports from the mountain people that yellow ones, twice as fierce, had been seen cruising through the clouds.

-           Plondike shivered. He went out on the battlements. The moon, he could see, was quite blue. And in the still, muggy night, he could hear the trees barking like chained guard dogs.

-           Naomi was furious. "First that silly old witch steals my bedroom. Then she won't even get up in the morning and say her rotten spell! And now look what's happened. We're all going to get burned in our beds!" she clomped up the turret steps in her big shoes, with her mother panting behind, and hammered on the door. "Now what are you gonna do about it, Mistress Unwelcome?"

-           Welcome emerged, with a big book of spells under her arm. "Well, let me see," she said, putting on a pair of glasses and leafing nervously through. "There are quite a few other spells. There's the '3Times Crusher'. There's 'Dragons 4 Toast'. There's "Aback! Afear!" but that's very strong, and can make people feel quite ill. My favourite is "Destroy Dragons Instantly". But the trouble is, you need more than spells of my type to destroy a yellow dragon. It takes several kinds of magic."

-           Looks like I was wise to send Naseem Questing, thought Plondike. I wonder where he is now?

-           Naseem, at that moment, was desperately spurring his little horse down the icy slopes of the last mountain pass before the plain of Yoo. Ahead of him, on a magnificent black charger, a cloaked figure also raced towards the castle.

-           And only a mile behind, and getting ever closer, flew three huge yellow dragons with burning golden eyes. Their breath melted the rocks of the very mountains. Whole pine forests burst into flame beneath them. Naseem had already speared more than he could count, but they just seemed to appear from nowhere.

-           Plondike, on the battlements, saw the yellow glow rising over the horizon and moving ever closer. Then he saw the magnificent golden beasts in the glow's heart. Only as his nerve failed, and he dived back into the castle, did he see the two tiny figures running before them.

-           Then, bang! Suddenly the dragons were there, and the fields went up in flames. They circled round the castle, wings whining in the wind, melting the very slates off the roof. And they sang:

-                     "We are Virus, we have come.

-                     We are many, and we are one.

-                     We will blast and you will fry.

-                     But most of all, we multiply!"

-           But then there was a thunderous knocking at the door, and in two minutes Prince Naseem was standing in the throne room, wild-eyed and panting, with his black hair singed. And behind him was a tall figure in a magnificent robe embroidered with magic symbols, its arms crossed, its eyes shaded under a huge pointy hat.

-           Plondike had an odd feeling this had all happened before. "Welcome, dear sir," he said, getting his Welcome in first. "Of whom do we have the honour?"

-           The figure bowed theatrically and swept off its hat, to reveal a hawk-nosed old man with long white hair.


-           Plondike was getting a headache already, and wished that magic people had more normal ways of talking. But then Smorgasbord suddenly jumped and wriggled, as if tickled. A part of his robe had acquired a life of its own. A lump moved up his chest and then, wriggling out from beneath his collar, there appeared a large, but extremely scruffy, rat.

-           "Hi mate. An' I'm Rat-a-twee, innit?" it said.

-           "He's my familiar," continued Smorgasbord, in a more normal voice. "And I'm afraid he can be rather too familiar."

-           "Cwor, lovely melons!" said Rat-a-twee, leaping off the wizard's shoulder on to the dining table, and burying his head in the remains of the Queen's dessert. "You thee," he continued through a mouthful of fruit, "'E may put on 'is airs and graces, but he's helpless wivout me, innit? We work In Combination."

-           Well, please work right now," said Plondike. "The glass is melting in the windows."

-           "O WELCOME!" roared Smorgasbord. "WHERE ARE YOU? YOU ARE REQUIRED!"

-           A flustered Welcome appeared, Fasmateria and Naomi trailing behind her. "I believe I have to say mine first," she said, in a small voice.

-           She didn't need to open the windows this time, because suddenly the glass shattered into a million pieces, and a hot jet of dragon-breath roared into the room. The tapestries on the walls burst into flame. Welcome pointed her wand.

-                     "Destroy

-                     Dragons

-                     Immediately!"

-           she yelled. A pink cloud hung in the air, and it started raining warm snowflakes. Plondike's stomach turned, but, though the dragons withdrew, they still hovered hungrily in the air a few hundred yards away.

-           "RIGHT." said Smorgasbord. "HERE GOES. I ADVISE YOU TO COVER YOUR EARS." Then, in a voice that threatened to crack the very stones of the castle, he yelled:

-                     "AND-DO-NO-FEAR!"

-           There was a hideous, bitter taste in Plondike's mouth, a throbbing pain in his side, and his skin felt dry and papery. A grey cloud joined the red one under the roof beams.

-           The dragons, however, seemed unimpressed. In fact, they started rolling around in the air and thrashing their tails. A horrible snickering sound filled Plondike's head. The dragons were laughing! Laughing at the spell!

-           "Hmm, not strong enough," muttered Smorgasbord. "We'll have to do the double formulation." Once more, he roared:

-                     "RETURN-THE-FEAR!

-                     AND DO NO FEAR!"

-           Plondike's guts seemed to turn to water. An orange cloud joined the grey and pink ones, and started raining a sticky, evil-smelling substance on them. The cloud crept sluggishly out of the window, and tentacles reached toward the dragons. Where it touched them, they vanished with loud explosions. But many were too fast for the cloud, and cruised aerobatically over the battlements, still laughing.

-           "Where is that dratted rat?" said Smorgasord. "Honestly, you can't get decent help these days."

-           "Oh it's dratted, is it?" said Rat-a-twee, emerging from a succulent mango. "Well, if it's dratted, then I guess you won' be needin' me, innit?"

-           Smorgasbord sighed. "Say it, please, for goodness sake just say it."

-           "Oh, alright. Wot-ever." said Rat-a-twee. Then he added in a small, sulky voice:

-                     "if-a-fear-ends."

-           There was an eerie silence. The room seemed to twist sideways. Everyone felt dizzy and sick. Then, emerging from the stones of the floor, a yellow mist started rising. Plondike heard bells toll and chains rattle somewhere in the depths of his mind, and the mist formed itself into monsters, devils, creatures from nightmares he hoped he'd forgotten, all dripping fangs and tentacles. They loomed and leered at the King and the courtiers. Something had obviously gone dreadfully wrong. Plondike prepared to die.

-           But Rat-a-twee was unfazed. "Go on then," he said to the translucent, sneering nightmare beasts. "Go and do your stuff."  There was a hideous sucking sound, and the apparitions streamed out on the window. The yellow mist and the pink, grey and orange clouds twisted and squirmed round the dragons, seeming to strangle them in their coils. And, with a simultaneous bellow of despair, the great yellow beasts vanished. "Hah!" said Rat-a-Twee. "Non-nuked!"

-           The courtiers seemed too stunned to applause. Plondike's ears rang in the sudden silence. He sighed silently to himself.

-           "I guess you'll be needing to stay," he said.

-           And stay they did. It was bad enough with Welcome being tinkly, Smorgasbord being grand, and Rat-a-Twee being familiar, but the daily spell routine was almost unbearable. Welcome's spell made everyone feel haggard and old, and as for Rat-a-Twee's nightmare creatures… And Smorgasbord insisted on saying his twice a day at mealtimes, and spoiled everyone's appetite.

-           "If we do not continue," he said importantly to the king, "if we do not say the spells each and every day, the night will come when the Grand Red Dragon appears. The Grand Red Dragon who is born when the moon is mauve and the fish fly. The dragon that laughs at all spells. And then your kingdom will die, and you with it."

-           Still, there were no more dragons of any colour, and the kingdom prospered for years. The days of the charred fields and the boiling streams seemed a distant memory. And, if Smorgasbord sometimes drank too much wine at dinner and did not wake up for breakfast, or if Rat-a-Twee disappeared for a day or two, to be found snoring in the larder with a fat stomach, what of it? The spells worked. Nothing could possibly go wrong now.

-           But then there came a time when Prince Linford, who once again was patrolling the borders, did not return. Not just for a day or two, this time. A whole month went by. Fasmateria stood by the great window every night, hoping to see him. But in her heart, she was filled with dread. For, as the month progressed, the moon became more and more purple. And then, one night, the air was suddenly full of flying fish, flopping on to the balconies.

-           Plondike looked out to the North and saw what seemed like a great fire or a bloody sunset where there should not be one. And slowly, slowly, sailed out of the distance the largest dragon he had ever seen. It was red as blood, and its eyes blazed like coals. As it passed, the earth split asunder, and the streams exploded into steam, and the rocks ran molten. And, in his head, Plondike heard the dragon-song:

-                     We are Virus, we have come.

-                     We are many and we are one.

-                     We must kill, and you must die.

-                     For that is how we multiply.

-           It cruised straight up to the window. Its head was twenty feet across. It fixed Plondike with its glowing eye, and spoke again in his head, with its voice like a thousand whispers:

-           Let me in, great king. Let me in, or I will melt your palace to a puddle.

-           Plondike nodded to the courtiers, and they opened the window. The great beast squeezed its way in and stood in the middle of the throne room, almost filling the hall. It smelt of blood and fire. It steamed. It bowed its huge head and looked the king straight in the eye. 

-           It had something in its mouth, which it dropped on the floor with a clang.

-           It was a suit of silver armour.

-           Your son was very tasty, O king, but I am in the mood for a juicy monarch. Bow your head now and prepare to die. I have won. I have prevailed.

-           "What shall I call you, great dragon?" said the king, wanting to know the name of his killer.

-           I have changed, but I am still Virus, like all the rest. We are one, but we are many.

-           And on the word 'many', thousands of red dragons popped into existence behind the window, covering the sky, hovering over the earth like silent, menacing space ships. And Plondike saw, in the glow from their eyes, that the fields had turned to ashes. His kingdom was dead. It was the end.

-           "No! You can't let him!" That was Naomi, seemingly the only person there not to be paralysed by fear. "There must be another spell. There must be! I'm going to talk to my friends." And, while the others stood and waited for the dragon to kill the king, she strode down the hall, talking into her magic box, which connected her with princesses all over the world. "Yah? There is? How do I speak to him? What do you mean, he doesn't talk? Can he listen?"

-           There are no spells left, king, said the dragon. But your daughter is brave, so I shall eat her last.

-           But Naomi was still talking to someone. "I don't care if he's meditating! Just get him!"

-           Very, very slowly, the air directly under the dragon's chin thickened, as if a piece of night had become detached from the outside. There was a smell of incense and high mountains, and the sound of bells and gongs. The dark air took on a shape. And soon Plondike found he was looking at a figure, whose face he could not see, draped in a black cloak.

-           "Oh, my goodness me," breathed Welcome. "It's the Abbot." "Stone the crows," added Rat-a-Twee in a small voice.

-           "Who is the Abbot?" asked Plondike.

-           "Only the master of all spells, that's who," said Naomi. "He lives in a monastery at the other end of the world, and he never leaves. He was in the middle of a thirty-year meditation. And if it hadn't been for me, we wouldn't have got him here."

-           The figure swept back its hood, to reveal a tiny, wizened man, seemingly as old as the castle stones. With a flourish, he produced pen and paper from the depths of his robe.

-           I AM NOT HERE, YET I AM HERE, he wrote.

-           "Don't worry. All Abbots say things like that," said Welcome. But the Abbot was continuing to write feverishly.


-           "How do you get a dragon to abolish itself?" said Plondike, his momentary hope dashed.

-           WHAT MUST DRAGONS DO? wrote the Abbot.

-           "Well, they must eat kings and knights, and destroy kingdoms, and burn and melt and wreck," said Plondike, bitterly.


-           "They must multiply. Really, where is this getting us?"

-           The Abbot was writing again. But this time, he showed the paper to the dragon. Plondike peered over his shoulder.


-           The dragon writhed, and howled, and swelled, and looked as if it was going to burst. A jet of flame erupted from its nose, narrowly missing Plondike. No! Don't make me say it! its voice spoke. But the Abbot just stood there, with his written-down sum staring it in the eye.

-           A huge rumbling started from deep within the great beast, and Plondike and the other courtiers dived for cover. It grew louder and louder. At last, with a noise like five trains crashing into three volcanoes, the dragon spoke. Really spoke.

-           "THREE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-EIGHT!" it shrieked in despair. And exploded. Bits of red-hot dragon-flesh, glowing like coals, rained down from the ceiling. Luckily there were enough tables to shelter under. And, as if someone was taking a gigantic paintbrush and wiping the sky clean, the other dragons vanished slowly away, leaving a peaceful, warm night, with a silver moon riding in the dark sky. And, as the dragons vanished so, as if someone else was painting them back in, the green fields reappeared, with the cows grazing, the streams running between them, and the villagers running out of their houses and scratching their heads, as if they couldn't understand what had just happened.

-           And Prince Linford, wearing only his pants, was suddenly picking himself up from the middle of the heap of rubble and slag that had once been the destroyer of kingdoms.

-           I'M GLAD IT WASN'T SPELL NUMBER 379, wrote the Abbot, and vanished.

-           "Well, let that be a lesson to us all," said welcome. "We must never, ever forget to say the spells again. And we'll have to change them all now, or the red dragons will reappear. So here goes: Dragons 4 Toast!"

-           "378!" roared Smorgasbord, knowing a good spell when he heard one. "Fear-immune!" squeaked Rat-a-Twee.

-          The King's skin itched, his blood seemed to grow thick and his belly puffed out, and his face went all thin and old. But it was better than being eaten by a dragon, any day.

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