Mt. Pilatus rises among the Swiss Alps, not far from the city of Lucerne. From ancient times, local people have believed this peak was an abode of dragons. Climbing it was forbidden, both for the dangerous climb and the fear of provoking an attack on the city below.
But one fall day, it is told, a young cooper* set out to collect wood for his trade. It was so beautiful on the slopes of Mr. Pilatus that he lost track of where he was. At dusk, he discovered to his dismay that he had climbed all the way to the summit! He turned to hurry down, but his heavy load made him stumble. Down, down, down he fell, thinking each moment would be his last, until suddenly he plunged into darkness.
When he regained his senses, the cooper had a huge lump on his head but otherwise he was unhurt. Alas, that was the extent of his good news. He had fallen into a deep cavern. Only a small patch of sky showed high above him. He was trapped!
Worse, he heard strange noises behind him. The cooper was horrified to find two great, scaly dragons sharing his prison. With fiery eyes and snorting sparks, they approached. Once again the cooper thought he must be doomed, but the dragons merely sniffed him over and turned away. Farther back, the cooper spied a vein of moonmilk** oozing from the cracks. The dragons lapped at it hungrily. Once they had eaten their fill, the cooper tried it himself. The moonmilk was soft, like cream cheese, and he ate to his heart’s content.
Days turned into weeks, and winter snows covered the cavern entrance. The cooper snuggled up with his tolerant dragon friends and passed a warm, comfortable winter. Eventually, spring sun melted the snows and bird songs echoed down into the dragons’ lair. The great beasts stirred and stretched their wings. One of them took off, soaring easily through the exit far above.
Then the cooper was afraid, for he still could not escape. But the second dragon nudged him and offered its tail. The cooper held on for dear life as the dragon carried him out of his prison. He whooped and laughed as they soared through the sky, until at last the dragon glided into a meadow of flowers. The cooper dropped off and the dragon flew on its way.
After he spent some time rolling in the grass and smelling the flowers, the cooper returned to the city of Lucerne. His family and friends were overjoyed, since he had been thought dead. Over and over, the cooper told the tale of his miraculous rescue by the dragons on Mt. Pilatus. Now the people knew the dragons were kindly rather than fierce. Seeing one became a mark of good luck. However, they still stayed off the mountain out of respect for their good deeds.
*A cooper is a barrel-maker.
**Moonmilk is a real thing found in caves. Since it’s mostly calcium, it probably wouldn’t be a nutritious food, but this is a folk story.
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