The Tale of King Henry and the Dragon

[Things had quieted down at the castle. The days of the coughing sickness were passed; but not before losing five people, two of them children. As the days got longer, the residents of the castle turned their eyes towards summer, for with summer came picnics and outdoor fun. However, spring had not yet loosed its grasp on the weather, and so one quite soggy afternoon, their planned outing cancelled, the children of the castle sought out their storyteller. They found him in his herbarium, preparing medications for the soon-to-be expected summer complaints.

"Roger," asked the boldest; "would you please stop that and tell us more of the Good King Henry stories?"

"If I stop this, you will have no ointment when your nose gets sunburned, like it did last summer," mentioned the monk; "but if you give me leave to finish this one batch, I'll tell you all a tale in about one half hour, in the kitchen workroom. The kitchen fires will do my old bones as well as a tonic."

The children all laughed as they ran to the Kitchen, they all knew that their monk was thinking more of the cook and her cookies than just warming his feet; but knew better then that to say so aloud.

The monk finally arrived, finding a plate of cookies and his mug filled with cider, all put carefully on a tray and positioned next to his favorite chair. He smiled at the children and gave loud thanks to the Chief cook. "A story of the Good King, hmmm . . . Have I told you all about the day Good King Henry fought a dragon?"

The assembled children all nodded their heads in a clear negative. "Well, then," said the old monk, "that shall be remedied forthwith. . . "]

In the early days of Good King Henry's reign, high up in the northern mountains of the kingdom there lived a poor woodsman and his family. Life in the mountains was difficult, and although there was adequate food to eat, and plenty of clear water to drink, the woodsman's children had few toys to play with, and fewer friends to share them with. Now for the boys, this was no problem, for they could hunt and fish to their hearts content, but the woodsman's one daughter Sara was not thrilled with the rough play her brothers enjoyed. She did her chores and helped her mother in the cottage, but even cleaning the house could only use up so much time.

One day, after helping her mother hang up all the washing, the little girl's mother said, "Why not take a walk, and note all the different birds you can find?"

Taking a lunch wrapped up in a piece of cloth, Sara set out on her nature walk. She knew the local forest very well, and decided to go higher on the mountain, rather than lower. She made note of the beautiful flowers and how sweetly the birds sang in the trees. She took care to mark her path, for she did not want to get lost.

After about an hour or so, she came to a large cave. She knew bears spent the winter in caves, but this was summer, and all the bears were out in the forest. Therefore, she ventured into the cave, and soon came to a large, green pile of leather. However, no sooner had she touched the leather but it began to move, and very quickly she was faced with a large dragon's head, with a dragon's body firmly attached.

"Hello," said the dragon; "Can I help you? Are you lost?"

["I didn't know dragon's could talk!" stammered one little boy.

"Every dragon I know can," replied Roger; "how many have you known?"

All the children admitted that they had yet to meet their first dragon, and so they all took the monk's word that Dragons could speak quite well.

"Better than some adults I know! Now going back to Sara . . ."]

Sara was not quite sure what to say; she had never talked to a dragon before But her parents had taught her proper manners so she politely replied, "No, thank you, I am not lost, I'm merely exploring. Is this cave your home?"

"Yes, indeed, would you like to see the rest of it?" responded the dragon; "I do not get many visitors, and it gets mighty lonely here all by myself."

Sara knew what it was like to be lonely, and so she agreed to the tour. As she and the dragon walked through the cave, they continued their conversation.

"Have you lived here a long time? asked the little girl; "I don't remember you flying near here."

"I only hunt and fly at night," replied Cecil, for that was the dragon's name; "I must be careful that the people nearby do not see me, for they would surely send for a Knight, and he would soon skewer me with his lance."

"Why would anyone want to hurt you?"

"Well, you see," said the dragon, "some of my brothers and sisters and cousins have not been good dragons, and have made a mess of our reputation. Why, would you believe it, some of them actually EAT people!"

["The dragon's not going to eat her? "asked one of the children, in a worried voice.

"Don't worry; children NEVER get eaten in my stories. Now please do not interrupt me again! As I was saying . . ."]

"You're not going to eat me?" asked the child.

"Oh, no, I never would do that! You are a friend, and friends do not eat friends. Besides, if I ate you, who would come back to visit me? You ARE going to come back and visit me, aren't you?"

The little girl agreed to come back soon, and she kept her promise. She found that the dragon was a fine playmate, and loved to let Sara ride on his back. The dragon had a large collection of storybooks, and he and Sara would sit and he would read to her. Sara was not a very good reader, but with Cecil's help, she soon was reading much better. Soon she was reading Cecil's storybooks all by herself. Some of the storybooks had dragons in them, and Cecil liked those especially, except when the dragon was hurt or killed.

"Why do Knight always like to hunt poor dragons?" whined Cecil; "We never go hunting them!"

"I think the stories are about the bad dragons, which eat little girls," replied Sara; "I'm sure no respectable Knight would harm a good dragon like you."

Satisfied with that answer, the little girl and the dragon resumed playing; Sara was busy polishing some of the dragon's scales that were in hard to reach spots.

Now Sara's mother was glad Sara was no longer moping around the cottage, but soon began to wonder where she went every afternoon. Sara did not tell her family about the dragon, as Cecil had asked her not to; they might not understand. So one day Sara's mother sent one of her sons to follow his sister, and see where she went. The answer was not long in coming.

"She is in a Dragon's Cave!" said the son to his mother; "it looks like the dragon was going to eat her!"

The little boy was not quite accurate, even though you can understand his confusion; Sara was cleaning the dragon's back teeth, and was resting on his long tongue while she worked.

Sara's mother quickly ran and told her husband, who put on his best jerkin and went to the local Baron. The Baron was a brave man, but he was not a knight, and knew his limitations, so he sent word to the King about the blight that infested his lands.

Good King Henry was concerned, for he had never heard of a dragon infesting his kingdom before. "I thought that they were all killed ages ago," he mused; "I know not of anyone even seeing one since before my Great-Grandfather's day! I will have to go to the dragon, and entice him to leave; if he won't, I must kill him."

The King set out for the Northern Mountains with a large party of Knights and men-at-arms. He also brought learned men with their books, to research dragons and find out how to defeat them. In a week's time, they made their way to the mountain where Sara's family lived, and bade the woodsman to show him the cave of the monster.

"Monster?" thought Sara; "I wonder if they mean my Cecil?" She took off for the dragon's cave, and reached it before the King and his party. Quickly she told Cecil what she had heard, and that the King was on his way to defeat the poor dragon.

"What shall I do?" cried the dragon; "I'm too young to be killed!"

Sara thought for a bit, and then smiled. "I have a plan!" she said; "this is what we need to do!" The little girl and the dragon talked over Sara's idea, and waited for the King.

They did not have long to wait. "Come out, Dragon!" yelled Good King Henry; "Let the little girl go, and come out!"

Sara appeared at the entrance to the cave. "He says for you to come in, alone. He says do not bring your sword. He's promised not to eat me if you do what he asks."

"Don't trust him!" said one of the King's Knights; "Let me go in and vanquish the vile worm!"

"No," responded the King, "He has given his word, and my scholars tell me that dragons never lie." The King unbelted his sword, and marched to the cave.

"Why are you threatening my subject?" asked the King, "are there not enough animals in the forest for you to feed on?"

"Why are you threatening my dragon?" responded Sara; "have you no wars to fight, or things to do that Kings do?"

"Now Sara, that was not nice," lectured Cecil; "The King IS doing what he should do, he's protecting you!"

"I don't need protecting, you protect me!" This was true, one day not long ago a bear crawled into the cave, and set his eyes on Sara as a tasty snack. Cecil tried to convince the bear that little girls were not good for bears. Unfortunately, the bear was in no mood to listen to the dragon, and Cecil had to gobble him up quickly to save his friend.

"Still," said the dragon; "it is rude for little girls to talk that way to their King. I think you need to apologize to the King."

"I'm sorry," said Sara, "But it is true, he does protect me!"

"I see," said the King; "so you are the girl's protector?"

"She is my friend, your Majesty, and I am hers. She keeps me company, and I am helping her learn her letters. Her reading is much better now than when she first came to call on me."

A dragon who was a teacher was something new to the King. "Do you like teaching her?" asked Henry; "would you be willing to teach others?" The northern mountainous part of the kingdom had few places of learning, and the King was always looking for people to teach the young their numbers and letters.

"I could handle maybe a dozen children, but my cave is not big enough for more than that."

"Do not worry, twelve children would be plenty, "said his Majesty; "when could you start?"

"Before you answer that, Cecil, what are you going to do about all the people outside?" asked Sara; "They are expecting you to vanquish poor Cecil!"

"I have an Idea!" said the Good King; "Cecil, you wait a bit, and then meet me outside. Blow a little fire near me, and then I will come close with my sword, and pretend to strike you. We will put on a show that they'll talk about for years!"

And that is just what they did. The King went and got his sword and shield; the dragon came out and roared, everyone was impressed. Then the King came close to the dragon, and started hitting him on the scales with the flat of his sword. They both had a grand time, making noise, and shouting at each other lustily. Finally, Cecil called a halt.

"Great King, I am your servant, what must I do for you to spare me?" said the dragon in a deep voice.

"I need a teacher for the children in this area, can you read and cipher?" asked his Majesty; "Let us go into your cave, and we shall talk more about it." And the King put down his sword and shield, and walked back to the cave with the dragon, leaving a very satisfied but slightly confused crowd.

The King and Cecil talked for hours, hammering out their plans for a new school for the children of the area. The King would send the dragon books, paper, and pens, and would have the poor woodsman make tables and chairs for the new students. The woodsman would become the official schoolmaster, and deal with all the things that a dragon was poorly equipped to do.

And so the new King's school was started, and if there were boys and girls in other schools who fidgeted and fooled around in class, there were none in Cecil's class; no one wanted to anger a teacher who could breathe fire twenty feet! The school was small, but the students studied hard, and their parents were well pleased with their progress.

Sara got to visit with her friend often, and as the years went by their friendship blossomed into a lifelong admiration. Sara grew up and eventually was married; although she still occasionally went to Cecil's cave and passed the time with her friend. However, her visits grew fewer and fewer as the years went on, and seemed to end after one long cold winter. Then one day Cecil had an unexpected but welcome visitor to his cave.

"Cecil, I want you to meet someone," said Sara, holding a little bundle in her arms; "this is Cecilia, and she is my daughter. I named her after my best friend!"

The dragon smiled, for he knew that in a few years he would have a new child to teach, and a new friend to take riding on his back.

"I have a gift for her," spoke the dragon, "it is one of my scales. Some say a dragon's scale gives the owner wisdom!"

And as the Mother and her daughter walked back down the path to their home, Cecil was glad that years ago a little girl had the courage to enter a dragon's cave.

["And that is why children to this day call their teacher an 'old dragon.' They are remembering Cecil, who was the best teacher the kingdom ever had," finished the monk, then added, "but it is thought wise for children not to tell that to their teacher - at least, not to their face!"

The children all thanked the monk for his wonderful story, and the monk went back to his tasks in the Herbarium. As he worked, he occasionally looked at the green wrinkled object on the wall of his workplace, and smiled, remembering the stories told by his grandfather, who got the object from his great-grandfather, who got the object from his grandmother, who got the object, well, from its maker.

"I will have to find a new owner for it soon," thought the monk; "it is too valuable to merely throw away when I'm gone." And Roger William Cecil Jacobson returned to his tasks, and wondered who would want an old dragon's scale. "Perhaps a cousin . . ."]

Roger of Belden Abbey
Copyright © 2005, Daniel A. Thompson, Jr.

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