Here on the 1st of March, the snow that had fallen a few days previously had turned to ice. It was two or three inches deep in the garden, a shroud covering the poor plants that had been tricked by untimely warmth in January to bring forth leaves prematurely. Two of the clumps of snowdrops that usually appeared in March had bloomed in January. Despite that, a small group of snowdrops nestled beneath our ash tree had appeared for Martisor, half-concealed by the hardened snow, but valiant in their flowering.
In honour of those tiny blossoms, here is an old legend of the Martisor. It contains many of the classical elements of darkness and light found in old folktales throughout the world. The Dragon in this tale is the enemy of the Sun rather than being another fire element.
The Legend of the Martisor
In ancient times, the Sun took the form of a young man in order to be able to walk among the people and share in their celebrations. Lonely in his chariot in the sky, he would see the bonfires of the festivals and would long for the company of others. Taking human form, he learned to dance and to leap over the village fires, those small brave flames lit in homage to his great power of light in heaven.
Although his very being was light and flame, he was drawn to the warmth of human hearts and he rejoiced when he could join the people in their celebrations. He learned to laugh and sing and dance, and when he returned to his chariot in the sky, he would watch the earth below each day thereafter for the sign of another bonfire. For him, that was a message that the people were celebrating another festival.
In the far North, there was a powerful Dragon who lived in a great castle made of ice. His realm was darkness, and he hated the Sun and its power to melt the snow. When he discovered that the Sun was walking among the people in human form, he realised that he had a chance to best his enemy.
Coming down from the North, he waylaid the Sun as he traveled and took him prisoner, locking him in a dungeon far beneath the Earth.
Without the bright warmth and light of the Sun, the Earth languished. No bird sang, and no flower blossomed. The people looked in vain for the Chariot of fire in the heavens, and their hearts grieved for the one who had danced at their festivals but who came no more to their fires.
News came from the North of the victory of the Dragon over the power of Light, and the people shivered beneath a dark sky and lamented. Terrified of the Dragon, no one knew what to do, but as the Earth continued to wither under the cold hand of eternal Night, a young man realised that some one had to save the Sun or every one on Earth would die.
He stood before the people and declared his intention to find the castle of the Dragon and liberate the Sun from captivity. The people cheered, and hope was kindled in their hearts. They sang heroic songs for the brave young man and some even accompanied him on the journey north.
It was in Summer when the brave young hero began his journey north, but it was a cold Summer devoid of light. Summer passed into Autumn and yet nothing changed. The darkness remained constant, and the ground was cold and lifeless beneath his feet and those of his companions.
Throughout Winter, he continued his journey north, through snow and ice and bitter winds. Finally, the castle loomed before him, conceived in shadow and created of ice. The sight of that impregnable fortress was enough to cast the bravest heart into despair, but the young hero thought of the soft light of dawn, of the warm breezes of summer caressing fields of golden grain, and his heart was strengthened by the memories.
'It is for this that I have come,' he thought. 'It is to save the earth from darkness and despair, and if I cannot do it, then never shall the Earth see Light again.'
The Dragon roared his defiance, spitting ice shards and black soot. The ice of his breath was black, and froze all it touched. He leapt forth from the Castle gates to defeat the young hero.
The hero thought of the light and met his foe without faltering. For three days and nights they fought under the dark sky. At last, the hero had used all his strength and could not stand longer. He fell to one knee and the Dragon, seeing his chance, leapt for the kill.
The handsome young hero with his very last energy grasped his blade with both hands and thrust upwards. The dragon fell upon him, but lay still, its heartsblood forming a dark lake on the ice.
The companions of the young hero struggled to shift the weight of the dead beast from the fallen warrior. When finally they achieved their goal, they were delighted to see that he lived, although bleeding from many wounds.
He refused to allow them to tend to him, however, declaring that the Sun had to be rescued first. He drew his sword from the fatal wound in the dragon's chest and cut the chain that held the castle gates fast.
Deep into the castle he went, leaving a trail of blood behind him. Finally, he reached the deepest dungeon and found the Sun there.
The Sun's light had been dimmed through the long months of captivity. He could not transform himself back into his shining heavenly form but had to lean on his rescuer as they struggled to return through the corridors of the castle.
When at last the Sun reached the fresh air, his energy slowly grew, until with a great burst of light, he was reborn in splendour and rose upwards into the heavens to regain his golden chariot. His rescuer, meanwhile, his task accomplished, collapsed on the ice. His blood glistened red against the white snow, bringing forth snowdrops, the first flowers of Spring. The young hero turned his face once towards the warmth of the light of the reborn Sun and died, his heart at peace, knowing that the Earth had been saved from eternal night.
His companions returned to their homeland, bringing with them the memory of the young man's courage and determination. Each year thereafter, when the first snowdrops bloom, red and white tassels are braided, symbolising the purity and bravery of the young hero who saved the Sun from the Dragon. Red as the colour of life and blood, the colour of the hero's sacrifice; white as the colour of snow and of the snowdrop, the flower that braves the cold of winter's to appear each year as the herald of Spring.