When I was a child, my mother used to tell me about the traveling circus and their elephants. I used to ask how they managed to keep such beasts in the circus, and she replied, “They chain them.” Now, I grew up thinking elephants were dumb. How could I not? I saw these massive creatures being held back by a collar on one of their front legs and a thin chain. How could the elephants not free themselves?
It wasn’t until I was older that I realized the circus workers chain the elephants since birth. The young spend every ounce of effort trying to get free. But they can’t free themselves that early. Even as fully grown adults, they believe that thin chain won’t break, so they don’t even try. It’s conditioning.
Today, I’ve learned the elephants are rather intelligent beasts. A tribe of colorful nomads were kind enough to give me a lift as I traveled to a neighboring kingdom for information regarding their new mounts for knights. The tribe rode on the backs of elephants to get around.
My mount was a grand female named Tu’kash’i. The nomads won’t tell me what it means. They fear it will disrespect the elephants if they reveal name meanings. I decided that Tu’kash’i meant “clever soul” because she was, indeed, intelligent. She took great care with me, and the wisdom in her dark eyes astounded me.
At last, we arrived at the kingdom, and I bid the nomads farewell. The king received me eagerly. Nearly jumping off his throne at my approach. I swept low in a bow. “I come from the north to observe–”
“Yes, yes,” the king exclaimed. He clapped me on the back. “I have been expecting you. What I have to show you is marvelous. My brother–your king–should be most impressed.”
I was hurried away before properly introducing myself. Led by the king out the back to a private courtyard. How could I protest? But what I found left me speechless.
Multiple dragons rested on the ground. Every single one of them chained.
The king laughed at my face. “Do not fret! They cannot hurt you. They are as hostile as a mouse.” He proceeded to approach the nearest one and smack it on its flank.
I must say I was rather shocked the ginormous beast didn’t eat him on the spot. But I studied the dragons harder. I had seen dragons in the wild before. Magnificent creatures that could have serious attitude problems.
The dragons I had seen before were solitary, territorial. They were might and eager to display how fierce they were. Their scales shimmered. Their wings glowed. And their eyes reflected the fire within their bellies.
These dragons…these dragons were lackluster, their colors dull and faded. They appeared sickly. Not anything like the robust, wild dragons. They were chained five feet from each other and didn’t pay one another heed. Their wings were limp and useless. Not a single one seemed interested in what was going on.
Needless to say, I was extremely horrified. “A-are these the mounts?”
“Nonsense! These are my pets.” The king broke into laughter. “I have a new breed of horse for the mounts. Sturdy, fast, and full of endurance. They are perfect for knights.”
I couldn’t take my eyes off the tamed beasts. No. The conditioned beasts. It was so sad to see them this way.
The king returned to my side. “I see you are more curious about them for the time being. Well, allow me to tell you a story. When I was but a wee lad, my parents would let me watch the traveling shows that frequented our kingdom. My favorites were the elephants. Do you like elephants?”
“Yes,” was my absent response.
“Well, I learned the masters would chain the young until the young gave up on freeing themselves. Then I learned that the adults were traumatized enough to know not to fight the chains. I thought to myself. If such a strategy works on intelligent enough beasts as elephants, why not try dragons?”
He clapped me on the back again. “Obviously, it worked. I have three generations so far that are this tame. Maybe I should start my own traveling show, eh?”
I didn’t answer. I couldn’t answer. What would I say? Other than I felt like vomiting.