In the land north of the North Pole stands the Magical Pomegranate Tree.It's a tall and beautiful tree, with branches arching over a wide meadow.The leaves sparkle in the sunlight; and the branches of the tree glistenin the moonlight.
More than one traveler has been dazzled and entranced by the splendor ofthe Magical Pomegranate Tree -- and as he thus stood in the tree's spell,the Polar Dragon swooped down and cooked him to a crisp with his supremelyhot breath!
The Polar Dragon was always intensely jealous of the Magical PomegranateTree, and he guarded it constantly. For the tree bears fruit, one solitarypomegranate, only once every thousand years. And the dragon always wantedto be certain the fruit would be HIS!
But all this was before Santa Claus.
Many, many centuries ago, Santa learned of the Magical Pomegranate Tree.It was said that the fruit would make one warm -- one tiny seed from thepomegranate would make the eater warm for many years after.
Santa stroked his beard--and shivered under his coat-- when he heard tellof the tree. "My, my," he said to Mrs. Santa, "Imagine never being coldup here again!"
Mrs. Santa smiled sadly as she heated bricks to put under the foot of theirbed. "Don't even think it, Santa. It's only a dream."
But the idea of the Magical Pomegranate Tree preyed on Santa's mind, andevery time he had a moment free from designing or making gifts, he thoughtof the pomegranate that was supposed to make a person warm.
"It's supposed to bear fruit right in the middle of our millennium," hesaid idly to Mrs. Santa one night. That's next year......."
Mrs. Santa shook her head. "Don't worry your head about it, dear. If thetree does exist, then I'm sure the Polar Dragon does too. And I'm not realanxious for you to go tromping around where dragons fly!"
Santa wasn't listening. He was too busy rubbing his half-frozen toes.
Christmas came and went, and Santa caught a terrific cold making his rounds."It's the blasted wind-chill factor," he complained. "It gets me every year!"
The spring dawned. One morning Santa jumped out of bed and made anannouncement: "I'm going after the magical pomegranate." Mrs. Santa triedto talk him out of it, but it was no use. His mind was made up.
The journey to the land north of the North Pole wasn't far, but it washard. And with every step Santa took, he got colder and colder. He pulledhis hood close around his cheeks. He put gloves over his gloves. He putinsulated boots over his boots. And still he froze from the biting windand heartless ice of the land north of the Norh Pole.
One day Santa topped a rise and looked down into a broad valley. There,glistening brightly in the very center of the valley, was a tall tree withreddish bark. "The Magical Pomegranate Tree!" he whispered. He stumbleddown the hill and into the valley. "Warmth! Warmth!"
But just as he reached the valley floor he heard a tremendous roar abovehim. The sky darkened. The air crashed as with thunder. Santa put hishands on his ears and fell to the snowy ground. The Polar Dragon swoopeddown, claws outstretched--but at the last minute Santa rolled out of reach.The dragon growled deep in his throat, then smashed into the snow a fewfeet away. Then he turned and faced Santa. "Who are you that comes intomy valley?"
Santa started to stutter out an answer, but he couldn't think. All he wasaware of was those evil eyes, which held him in their spell. The dragonflicked out his long tongue, then growled again. "So you think you couldcome in here and steal my fruit, do you? I've been guarding it for 999years now--and, as you might imagine, I'm very hungry!"
The dragon took a step forward, still holding Santa in his gaze. "You'repretty small," the dragon said, "but small is better than no dinner at all.I haven't had dinner for six years now."
Santa stared, eyes wide. The dragon took another step. He breathed downinto Santa's face--and the stench of his breath broke the spell. Santatore his eyes away and looked at the ground. "I didn't come to steal yourfruit," Santa said. "I came to tell you of a great treasure I found.Not far from here."
The dragon stopped, interested. Everyone knows that dragons are fools fortreasures and jewels, and Santa knew too.
"Why would you tell me about it?" the dragon asked, his voice suddenly soft."Why not just keep it all for yourself--and not risk your life?":Santa sighed, pretending to be very tired. "I couldn't carry much of it.And your back is so broad, and your wings so strong. I thought I'd giveyou most of it, if you would help me carry mine home."
"Well, now," the dragon said. "Well, now." He stopped and stared intothe distance. "And where be this great treasure?"
Santa raised his head, and pointed to the south. "That way, where thesun meets the mountain. Under the stream tha falls. Between the twotallest trees."
The dragon chuckled slow and low. His belly rippled with the sound."Yesssss," he said, his tongue darting out and his eyes half-closing."Under the stream that falls. Well, we'll see about this." And with ajerk he was into the air and gone.
Santa stood and raced down the valley to where the tree stood. He knew hedidn't have much time. The mountains were far away -- but dragons can govery fast. Santa ran until his sides hurt. The breath pushed in and outof him with great heaving effort. Finally he reached the tree. It wastoo beautiful to touch. He stared at it, breathing hard, his eyes achingfrom the wonder of it all.
Then he remembered the dragon and quickley plucked the magical pomegranatefrom its stem on the tree. The tree seemed to stand up taller; its goldenleaves blazed brighter in the sun.
In the same instant, the sky grew dark, and Santa heard a hoarse roar abovehim. "Humannnn!" the voice said, biting down to the very core of Santa'sbeing. "Humannnnnn!"
Santa tucked the fruit inside his coat and began to run. He ran across thevalley and back up the hill. The dragon ran behind him, laughing, toyingwith him as a cat would with a mouse. "You tricked me, my pretty," thedragon laughed. "But no matter! I'll still have you -- AND the fruit!"
Santa ran as far as he could, then ran further. Finally, exhausted, hefell face-forward into the snow. THIS IS IT, he thought. I'VE LIVED SOLONG BUT NOW IT'S OVER. He lay still, waiting for the hot blast of flamethat would surely issue from the dragon's foul mouth.
But it didn't come. He waited some more -- and still it didn't come. Thenhe heard a quiet sobbing behind him. He sat up and turned around. ThePolar Dragon sat back on his haunches, great tears streaming from hiseyes. He looked down at Santa. "I tried to roast you," he said, hisvoice choking. "But you've stolen my magic. No fire would come out."Watch!" And he belched forth at Santa. Only smoke and stink came out.
Santa smiled grimly up at the dragon. "So you've done your last dirty deed,"he said. "Well, come along with me, and I'll take care of you. But nopomegranates! Then your fire will come back and I don't doubt for a minutethat you'd cook me for supper!" So Santa took he magical pomegranate fruithome with him, and the Polar Dragon followed behind.
"Give me your word of honor that you won't eat any seeds, and I'll let youguard the pomegranate," Santa said to the dragon. He knew that once adragon promises, he will always do what he says.
"I give my word of honor," the dragon said. But he didn't look very happyabout it. Still, he had agreed. Now the dragon guards the magicalpomegranate faithfully. And now Santa eats one seed of the fruit everyfifty years, and Mrs. Santa takes one too. It makes them feel wonderfulinside -- and they haven't been cold since!