Disclaimer: I do not own Firefly or the movie Serenity, and I make no money from playing with Joss Whedon's characters.
Author's Note and Semi-Apology: Once the idea of telling the story of River and Jayne in the form of a fable (partly based on a research project I did in graduate school many years ago for a course in 'Women in Buddhist Traditions') entered my head, I couldn't get it out.
And who better than "Auntie Inara" to become the Scheherazade of bedtime stories on the good ship Serenity, putting an elegant and semi-educational spin on the old genre of "Back when Pa was courtin' Ma" tales, in order to keep a passel of hyper-intelligent and hyper-tactile (and probably just plain hyper) rugrats from working their loving, lethal parents' last good nerve at bedtime?
This was intended to be a one-shot, but . . . we'll see.
"Jayne and the Dragon Princess: A Bedtime Story" by Inara Serra*
*As Told to RevDorothyL
Once upon a time (so says the Lotus Sutra) there was a princess of the dragon people, the Naga, who was very gifted. She was the daughter of Sagara, king of the sea, and even though she was only eight years old, she was so wise, so intelligent, so compassionate and understanding that she immediately comprehended whatever was taught to her - even the preaching of Manjusri, disciple of the Buddha.
Legend says that the Naga princess carried a priceless jewel on her head, a single jewel worth more than all the wealth of many worlds, and she freely offered her jewel as a gift to the Buddha, as a sign of her commitment to the way of Enlightenment. After the Buddha gladly accepted her gift, in an instant she became a Bodhisattva and traveled to a spotless world, where this Bodhisattva preached the law to many living beings.
Uncounted centuries later, on a far distant world, a new dragon princess was born to a family of ordinary humans – a princess named for the River of Life, from which all dragons descend. Like the original Naga princess, the princess River was gifted in all ways, excelling in grace and wisdom from a very young age. River was also born with a precious jewel, but her jewel was hidden inside her head, rather than carried outwardly for all to see. Even though her jewel was hidden from sight, her older brother could see its radiance shining in her eyes, and he knew that she was a blessing and a gift in herself. He swore that he would protect his dragon sister, no matter what the cost.
Others, however – demons in disguise – began to suspect the existence of River's hidden jewel, and they were willing to go to any lengths, commit any number of unspeakable crimes, in order to secure that jewel (worth more than the wealth of many worlds, in their eyes) for their own use. When River was fourteen years old, these evil beings found a way to steal her away from her home, with no one but her brother Simon to suspect that the princess was in peril.
For years the princess was tormented in the underworld, as the demons drilled and cut and dug their claws into her brain, again and again, trying to find and control the precious jewel that was supposed to be her gift to enlighten all worlds. Finally, when the princess thought she could bear it no longer and began to hope for death to release her – when she had almost entirely forgotten what it meant to be a dragon princess, had almost forgotten her own name, even – her steadfast brother found a way to sneak into the demon palace and steal her away.
Together, the dragon princess and her brave human brother found shelter in the world-traveling cave of Mal, a warrior chieftain among the Browncoat People. Though the chieftain Mal often seemed gruff and ill-tempered, and though his cave wasn't much to look at (especially compared to the palaces in which the princess and her brother had been raised), the two fugitives gradually came to realize that they had found their true home, at last.
Along with Mal, who (in time) became like an irascible but protective step-father to the two, there were many other wondrous creatures who traveled the worlds within that cave. Second to Mal was Zoe the Fierce, a minor warrior-mother goddess and guardian of life in her own right. Zoe's consort was the Wizard Wash, who moved the cave from world to world, finding a path through the darkness where no-one else could. Next, there was the beautiful Kaylee, another magical princess in disguise, who possessed the power to mend broken machines as well as broken spirits, even as the gentle Simon could mend broken bodies. Also living and traveling in the cave were the Ambassador Inara, Mal's favorite person to argue with, and the Venerable Book, a teacher of wisdom and compassion.
And finally, there was Jayne the Savage, a skilled hunter and fighter, whose job it was to protect the cave and its residents from all the monsters who roam in the darkness.
At first, Jayne only saw River and her brother as a threat to his home and his people, and he tried in many ways to get them to leave. Jayne was especially worried about River, who – even in her battered, confused state – knew that Jayne had a great secret, a secret buried so deep that he didn't even know it himself. Unbeknownst to everyone except River, Jayne was actually a fellow Naga, a dragon warrior in disguise.
Though for many months River was so wounded and lost that she often seemed not to know her own name, let alone be able to reclaim her dragon power, she yet knew that there was something different about Jayne - something important - and so she poked and prodded at him, trying to get him to show himself in his true form. Once, she even went so far as to cut into his skin, thinking that perhaps he was like a dragon egg whose shell was too hard and required help in order to allow the young dragonet inside to burst forth. But nothing she tried worked.
At last the day came when the demons who had tried to steal River's jewel found a way to reach her across a vast distance. They tracked Mal's traveling cave and sent wave after wave of monsters to attack every place that might give him refuge. The Venerable Book died fighting to protect the innocent people of Haven, and the Wizard Wash was cruelly slain after bringing his people safely through a gauntlet of death that no other wizard could have managed. Even the mighty Zoe and Jayne were brought low for a time by the overwhelming numbers sent against them. But in their hour of sorrow and need, the Naga Princess River found the way to tap into the power of her hidden jewel. She summoned up all the power of her dragon nature and became death incarnate to the monsters who sought to slay her family and all the demon minions sent against her.
From that day forth, Jayne the Savage began to look with a kindlier eye upon the Dragon Princess River. Having caught a glimpse of the jewel hidden within her, as she whirled and slashed and decimated her opponents, Jayne's own draconic nature came to the surface, and he vowed to do whatever it took to be worthy of the gift of such a jewel.
But how he went about it, the battles he fought and the labors he performed . . . well, that's a tale for another night. Right now, it's time for sleep!
Diana Y. Paul, Women in Buddhism (London: University of California Press, 1985).
Sallie Tisdale, Women of the Way (New York: HarperCollins, 2006).
The Lotus Sutra (see www . sacred-texts . com / bud / lotus / lot11 . htm – remove all the blank spaces and scroll down to the bottom of the page).