Monday, September 20, 2010

A Dragon Tale for Michaelmas

Yorick and Sabra set out on their journey on a perfect day in the early autumn. They had been married in the early summer of that year and were now off to visit Sabra’s uncle, Gaspar, who lived in a large town on the other side of the mountains. They were mounted on beautiful white horses and had with them an ox pulling a cart full of fine clothes, jewelry, containers of oil and dried fruit and other fine things to give as gifts. They were deeply in love and excited about their trip.

On the second morning of their journey they followed the road down into a wooded hollow that, though it was on the road they had been told to take, was unfamiliar and dark.
“Are you not sure we should turn back and see if there is another road, Yorick?” Sabra asked as the shadows of the trees fell over them and sent a chill down her spine.
“Father said we should just follow the road and I don’t remember seeing a fork or a crossroads”, Yorick replied.
Just then they heard a terrible noise coming from the woods in front of them. It was the crunching of branches and the thudding and bellowing of something very large coming through the underbrush. The horses reared and both Yorick and Sabra lost their balance and fell to the ground. The horses dashed away and the ox tried to follow them but was too burdened by his cart to get very far. Just then they saw a terrible dragon crawl out of the forest and onto the road. It was larger than a cottage and various shades of brown along it’s lumpy, spiney back with a golden color on it’s belly. It’s ruby red eyes glared through the dark forest light and seemed to sparkle even more as it caught sight of the laden oxcart. It roared so loudly that leaves were shaken from near by trees. It filled the road ahead of the young people on the ground and they were terrified. The dragon lunged forward and grabbed the ox in its mouth the way a cat would carry a rabbit and dragged it, cart and all, back into the dark forest.
Yorick immediately jumped to his feet and yelling at the dragon to come back. Sabra stood up and grabbed his arm, “What are we going to do? Those were our presents for Uncle Gaspar. How are we going to get them back?”
“We’ll just have to go after it. We’ll corner it in its lair and get our cart back. We can find the horses and make them pull it.” He replied.
“Yes, of course” Sabra said, “Dragons are known to live in lairs full of gold. Perhaps we might even find more fine gold or jewels in the dragon’s den.”
Together they set off on foot easily following the tracks of the giant beast. Soon they reached the mouth of a cave littered with the bones of livestock and splintered wooden barrels, carts and even boats. They took each others hands and walked into the cave. Quickly the large cave opening narrowed into a smaller passageway that they had to stoop to go through.
“Odd, how could that giant dragon get through this small passageway?” Sabra asked. “I don’t know, but I can hear it breathing up ahead, we need to keep going,” Yorick replied.
The passage got smaller and smaller with more sharp rock pieces tearing at their clothes. Sabra’s fine scarlet cloak got caught as she slid down a steep section and she was forced to leave it behind. Yorick’s cap with it’s pheasant feathers as well as his short green mantle were both lost in another particularly narrow section. By the time they saw the light of the dragon’s inner den ahead they both thought grimly that they looked like paupers in only their riding trousers and undershirts.
The passageway opened up into a large chamber filled with gold, jewels, embroidered cloth and finely wrought armor of all kinds. On top of the pile lay the dragon, with Yorick and Sabra’s splintered cart at the bottom.
“Look, there’s our chest!” cried Sabra, “and the chain mail tunic you had made just for my cousin.”
At the sound of her voice the dragon awoke and roared loudly. It charged down its treasure mound right at the youth who dashed in opposite directions, grabbing for whatever they could find to hurl at the beast. Yorick’s first weapon, a large candlestick, gouged out one of the dragon’s eyes but was broken in half by the blow. Sabra tossed large gold bricks at the dragon to distract it while Yorick reached for a beautiful sword with a ruby set in the handle. The sword broke as soon as it hit the dragon’s skin, as did the silver and jade scimitar Sabra found.
They were feeling desperate, sure they could hold out no longer when Sabra spied two simple wooden spears propped up against the wall. She tossed one to Yorick,
“This can’t possibly help”, he bellowed, “you saw what the dragon’s skin did to the sword.”
“It’s our only hope!” Sabra cried.
Just then, the dragon reared up, ready to fall on Sabra with its powerful feet and jaws. She spotted a soft spot between two scales on the dragon’s belly and thrust her spear into it. The dragon bellowed, thrashing her with its claws but clearly wounded. Yorick rushed in and jammed his spear into another soft spot, killing the beast.
“Are you alright, Sabra, my love?” Yorick asked as he cradled her head.
“Yes, it only got my arm. It hurts, but I’ll be alright.”
“Let’s get out of here, quickly,” said Yorick.
“What about our treasure?” asked Sabra. “I don’t care about the gold or oil. I can’t carry it and help you and I’d much rather get you out,” he responded.
He ripped up a very fine tapestry to bandage her arm and together they made their way out of the cave. At the mouth of the cave they realized they had come out a different way than they had come in and they didn’t know where they were.
“Look, here’s a deer path through the forest. Let’s follow this until it comes to a field or road.” said Sabra.

They spent the night in a hollow stump, covering themselves with pine branches for warmth. The morning sun was a welcome sight and they set off along the path, sure they would find a road to take them home. Before the sun had gotten high in the noon day sky they saw a thinning of the trees ahead of them. Sure it would be a farmer’s field or a clearing along a high road they hurried forward. As they reached the edge of the trees they saw ahead of them not a friendly field but a large clearing with a deep, clear pool in the center. Disappointed, but fascinated at the beauty of the water, they walked forward together.
Yorick stepped to the edge of the pool first, kneeling down and cupping his hands to get a drink. Just as his hands touched the water a giant beast hurled its head out of the pool. It had a long neck and narrow head like a snake, small dark eyes and slimy blue grey scales like a carp. It screamed like a wildcat and as it fell back into the water it threw out a coil of its long body and pulled Yorick under the water with it.
“Nooo!” screamed Sabra as she ran up to the water’s edge. She could see the beast writhing around in the bottom of the crystal clear pool and could see Yorick still as death wrapped in its coils. She ran around the pool, desperately looking for some way to get to him or defeat the beast. She was truly terrified and could think of nothing but how much she loved Yorick and her fear that he was gone forever.
On the far side of the pool she saw a ledge under the water. On the ledge was what appeared to be a large gourd sunk into the pool, the type used to carry water and drink from. She had no idea how it would be useful, but she felt she needed to get it and it would help. She was scared, though. It was Yorick’s touching the pool that had caused the beast to rear up and capture him. Through her fear though, she knew what she had to do. She gathered all her courage and jumped into the pool, diving down to get the gourd.
The water dragon didn’t seem to notice that she was in the pool and as soon as she got back to the surface she started bailing water out of the pool with the gourd. A little voice in her head told her that what she was doing was silly - it was a very large pool and a rather small gourd to use to try to empty it. She didn’t stop though, bailing the water out of the pool with the gourd felt like the right thing to do. After a few moments of hauling water and tossing it behind her into the forest she looked up and noticed that the water level in the pool was visibly lower. She kept bailing and it seemed that each gourd full of water drew the water down significantly in the pool. Soon the dragon was no longer completely submerged and then it was hardly in the water at all. Sabra kept bailing and noticed that the parts of the dragon that were exposed to the air started to dry up like a dead snake that had been killed on the road and left in the sun. Just as she pulled what she thought must be the last gourd full of water out of the mud at the bottom of the pool she heard Yorick gasp.
She set the full gourd down and ran over to him, helping him untangle himself from the desiccated dragon coils. “Are you alright, my love?” she asked, holding him close.
“Yes, yes. I don’t remember anything after the dragon pulled me in, I must have been enchanted until just now when I woke up gasping for breath. How did you save me?”
“I found a gourd and drew water out of the pool, killing the dragon and lifting the enchantment” she explained.
“Thank goodness for that gourd. It is clearly magic and we should keep it with us.” he said.
They climbed the muddy bank of the now dry pool and Sabra picked up her magic gourd. She slung it over her shoulder by its carrying strap and they moved out of the clearing back into the forest. They soon found the high road they had been looking for and traveled along it until night fell. They slept that night in a ditch next to the road, covering themselves with fallen leaves for warmth.

In the morning they continued along the high road and it soon came out of the forest into a high, rocky land of short grass and gray skies. Ahead, on a high tor they saw a small castle with a tall tower. Many banners and flags flew from the tower and the surrounding walls flapping in the incessant wind.
“Whoever lives in that castle will be able to tell us how to find the road to Uncle Gaspar’s town.
“Quick, let’s hurry, I bet they’ll have warm food and beds to share as well!” Sabra exclaimed.
They hurried to the gate of the castle, only a little worried that they saw no signs of life around the castle except the flapping flags and a few crows on the rocks near the castle. As they got to the entrance to the castle they noticed the drawbridge was down, the portcullis was up with the gate was wide open. Sabra and Yorick took each other’s hands and walked into the castle.
As they entered the courtyard they heard a scream overhead like that of an eagle, only louder. A shadow passed over them and they looked up to see a giant dragon flying through the sky. It was pale yellow and sage green, silver blue and pearl pink with giant bat like wings and enormous spikes around its large head. Its long tail flashed in the sunlight as it circled around the castle. It swooped down and grabbed Sabra in its huge talons lifting her up into the air. It circled again and then landed on top of the castle keep, the large tower high above the courtyard Yorick was left standing in.
He ran into the main hall of the castle, intent on finding a way into the tower. As his eyes adjusted to the dark room he saw in the center of the room a low pedestal with a shaft of light falling down illuminating a creature sitting on it. She had the body of a lion, wings like a falcon and the head of a beautiful, dark skinned woman. Her eyes were closed, a deep purr came from her chest and her tail flicked around her body. Under her front paws lay a thin golden sword. Yorick approached the sphinx and she opened her eyes and looked at him. Her tail flicked again and she spoke, her voice warm, thick and deep, “What do you seek?”
“My wife,” Yorick replied. “The air dragon stole her away and took her to the top of the tower. I seek to save her and kill the dragon.”
“That will require great cunning and courage. Are you up to the task?”
“Yes, anything to get Sabra back.” said Yorick, feeling his chest fill with determination.
“Then I will help you,” purred the sphinx. “If you can answer my riddle then I will give to you this sword of discernment. It will help you cut away that which is unnecessary and find that which is true. If you fail this you will never succeed. Do you accept?”
“Yes”, Yorick repeated. “Anything to get Sabra back.”
“Then here is your riddle; what can fit in the pocket of your vest, costs pennies to buy or sell but when used can fill this whole hall.” She closed her eyes and purred a deep purr.
Yorick thought on this riddle. The earth dragon’s treasure filled a whole room, but it couldn’t fit in a pocket and certainly didn’t cost pennies. The leaves they slept under the night before fit in his pocket, in fact one was in there now, and it cost nothing at all but a single leaf couldn’t fill a whole room. Yorick looked around the hall, noticing the tapestries on the wall, his eyes following their geometric patterns up and down the wall. He watched the dust float in the shaft of light from a stained glass window and all of a sudden he knew the answer to the riddle.
“A match!” he cried. “A match is small enough to fit in my pocket, a whole box of them costs pennies but if I were to light a match in the dark it would fill the whole room with light. The answer is a match!”
“You are a clever young man. Use your wit well and you will defeat the air dragon. Here is the sword of discernment. The stairs to your left lead to the tower where you will find your wife and her captor.” The sphinx sat up and allowed Yorick to take the sword. She continued purring as Yorick ran for the door and up the stairs.
At the top of the tower he found a door that led out onto the platform roof of the tower. The wind buffeted him as he saw Sabra, perched on high part of the wall. As Yorick ran towards her the air dragon swooped down, knocking him back with its long tail. Yorick stood and slashed at the dragon as it came at him again. On the third pass Yorick’s sword made contact with the dragon and he severed one of the dragon’s talons. Yorick watched in awe as the limb vanished in a cloud of dust the moment it was separated from the dragon’s body. He lunged again as the dragon came back, confident in his ability now. He slashed again and took off the dragon’s other leg, then again taking off part of the tail. Each time the dragon screamed as a part of its body vanished into dust and was blown away by the wind. Again Yorick slashed and again part of the dragon’s wing, then its other wing, then the rest of its tail was severed. Finally Yorick severed the dragon’s head with one last might blow and the dragon’s body turned to golden dust, immediately swept away by the wind. All that was left was the jewel like head of the defeated dragon.
Sabra leapt down off the ramparts and into Yorick’s arms. “What brilliant sword work! You knew exactly what to do! Thank goodness for that sword and your skill in handling it.” They held each other for a moment and then looked around at the land below them.
“Look over there” cried Yorick, “that town on the river, that must be Uncle Gaspar’s town. See the three bridges crossing the river?”
“Oh yes!” agreed Sabra. “And look that road just a few miles off leads right over that mountain pass to the town. We just have to follow that road.”

The two set off at once for the main road and the town with three bridges crossing the river. The way was harder than it seemed from up on the tower, though, and the sun was setting before they reached the mountain pass they had seen. They continued walking for another few hours but when they saw snow on the ground around them along the road they found a small cave to huddle into until morning.
In the early hours of the morning, when the sky and ground were the same shade of flat grey Sabra woke from her cramped, cold sleep. She shook Yorick awake though he was so tired that he was in a very bad mood at being woken.
“Yorick, we should get up and start walking. We could be at Uncle Gaspar’s in time for lunch.” She whined.
“Leave me alone,” he mumbled, “I can sleep until the sun is up.”
At that Sabra got quite angry and insisted that he get up. He got angry in turn and soon they were yelling at each other. They had had a few very hard days and their tempers were short. After just a few minutes their argument was cut short by a very loud noise that started with a trumpet, had a squeal in the middle and ended with a hiss. Then the sky outside their small cave lit up and they smelled burning sulfur and smoking grass.
Their argument finished they jumped up to see what had made that terrible sound; a giant dragon that looked like it was all aflame. Its head and neck were fringed with orange scales and its body scales were red and black, like burning coals. It was larger than any of the dragons they had yet seen and it blew fire from its mouth with each trumpeting squeal. Its footprints melted the snow and singed the grass as the dragon came closer to Yorick and Sabra. It screamed at them one more time, shooting flames right at them. They quickly dove behind a large rock and watched the flames ricochet around them. The sleeve of Yorick’s tunic caught fire and without even thinking Sabra dumped some of the water from the magic water gourd she carried onto him. It immediately doused the flames, but her gourd was still full.
As the dragon moved around the rock toward them she threw water right into it’s face. The dragon threw its head up, hissing and smoking but could not seem to make more flames come out of its mouth. It lunged at them again and they ran back out into the road. The dragon followed them and Yorick turned, the sword he got from the sphinx in his hand. He slashed at the dragon and made contact with one of the fiery horns on its head. The horn was sliced off and disintegrated, just like the pieces of the air dragon, but immediately grew back. Yorick and Sabra were able to duck behind a large rock.
“What are we going to do?” Sabra asked as the dragon paced around the rock getting closer and closer.
“I don’t know,” replied Yorick. “The rock saved us, and the water from your magic gourd doused its flames. It backed off away from my sword for a bit but it’s coming closer. I don’t know if there is anything more we can do.”

Just then the morning sun burst above the horizon with blazes of gold and red. It illuminated the sky and the snow around them in shades of pink, rust and lemon yellow. Sabra and Yorick stared at it in awe and as the disk of the sun reached above the horizon they saw an amazing sight. Seeming to come out of the sun itself was a man, or an angel, or a warrior demon. He flew on giant golden eagle wings, his scarlet tunic and mantle flapping around him in the wind of his own making. In his right hand a flaming sword and in his left a shield with a red and gold cross on a white background. Around him, also seeming to come out of the sun itself flew flaming comets.
The comets hit first, one landing square in the dragon’s side causing it to stagger and bellow. As the angel got closer it engaged in a mighty battle with the dragon, flying around, slicing at it with his sword as the dragon ducked, lunged and snapped with its huge teeth. After what seemed like ages but also just a moment the angel thrust it’s sword into the dragon’s throat and the dragon fell heavily to the ground, pelted by the meteorites that continued to fall from the sky.
For a moment the angel stood atop the defeated dragon and smiled at Yorick and Sabra. He handed them each small bits of metal, the inner core of two comets that had burned out after hitting the dragon.
“You have fought well, my children, and you have won this battle. Take these pieces of heavenly iron as reminders of the dangers you have overcome. The memory of your battles and of my love for you will give you the courage to face whatever dangers the future holds. You are good, brave and strong. You will persevere and help others learn what you had to fight dragons to know.”
With that the angel flapped his wings and disappeared into the rising sun. Yorick and Sabra turned, their heavenly iron meteorites in one hand, their others around each others waists, and set off towards their Uncle’s home.

*** *** ***

The story is original and copyrighted, Alyss Broderick.

The images are from the Druid Animal Oracle by Stephanie and Philip Carr-Gomm. Please click on the images, or this link for more information.

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