The Dragon that Menaced a Kingdom

Once upon a time, in a far distant land, there was a small kingdom, on the edge of the mountains. This kingdom was ruled by an old, but wise and just king, named King Leopold. And this king had a beautiful daughter, named Princess Selene. She was well-named, for her beauty was like that of the moon. All who saw her agreed that one day she would marry a handsome prince, and the kingdom would be the better for it.

But in those days, there were dragons, and it happened that one of them came down from his mountain eyrie, and ravaged the land, taking sheep and cows, and occasionally, careless farmers. The king was wroth with anger, and ordered his knight—all brave men and true—to dress in their shiniest, strongest, armor, and ride out on their destriers, and give the dragon what-for. The knights, who had grown tired of playing chess and reading poetry—for the kingdom had long been at peace—quickly prepared themselves for combat, and rode out into the field, to join in battle with the dragon.

Now, this dragon was no fool. He was sitting in the middle of a field when the knights came, eating a particularly fat and juicy cow, and when he saw them, he took to the air. The knights began to taunt him, and to hurl spears and shoot arrows at him, and the dragon was greatly displeased. So, being a dragon, he swooped in low, and devastated half the knights with one fiery blast. The other knights, seeing this, grew fearful, and hastily turned and charged back to the castle in disarray. The dragon finished his meal, and flew home.

Many a king would have been infuriated at the cowardice of the knights, but not this king. He realized that the knights had simply been overmatched, and while he was disappointed that the dragon was not slain, he simply devised another plan.

"We will have a scout follow it," the king said, "all the way to its lair. Then, you knights will wait in ambush, and when it flies home, slay it in its den." All the knights agreed that this was a fine plan, and fast scouts were arranged on fast horses throughout the kingdom, so that they might follow it home. Thus, the next time the dragon appeared and took a herd of sheep as tribute, it was shadowed all the way to its lair, high on a forlorn peak.

The knights rode out, and set up their pavilions down at the base of the mountain, and when the dragon flew out once more, they rode up the mountain. It was a terrible, difficult journey, but they made it with time to spare, and had secreted themselves deep within the dragon's lair.

Many a knight looked at the fine treasures piled high in the cave, each of them thinking how happy the king would be to not only have the dragon's head as proof of its demise, but to also have the jewels and gold added to the treasury. Each of them measured out how much of the trove they could carry, but each was still sobered by the thought that they would have to kill the dragon first. They took encouragement from each other, and had reached a great state of psychological preparation for the coming battle. Thus, when the dragon landed on the small spit of rock outside its cave, the knights were all prepared to do battle, and the dragon was not.

When it entered the cave, the knights gave a loud war-cry as one, and charged the dragon, swords flashing and spears outthrust. They met the dragon at the entrance—

—and were quickly turned to a crisp by the dragon's hot breath. The dragon, only slightly perturbed by this disturbance, added their red-hot armor and shiny weapons to his pile of treasure, and was soon asleep, smiling smugly.

The scout who had led the knights to the dragon's lair rode back slowly to tell the king what had happened. The king was not pleased. However, he was a realistic man, and knew that the kingdom could not endure such attacks, so he swallowed his pride, and sent emisinaries to other kingdoms, to see if any of them had experienced dragon slayers.

Weeks passed, as the responses trickled in. Most of the responses began: "What, are you crazy?" with "Do we look like idiots?" coming in a close second. One king, besieged by a dragon himself, suggested that perhaps one of the dragons was female, and the other male, and perhaps if the two were to come together, they might fall in love . . . or, if both were male, might fight each other to the death. The King did not dignify this letter with a response.

So it was that the king issued a proclamation throughout the land: any one who could rid the kingdom of the dragon—either by killing it outright or luring it away—could have the princess as his wife.

Now it happened that there was a poor peasant who had three sons and one daughter. Two of them were very strong and agile, and had practiced fighting with each other until both were quite proficient. Naturally, being the sons of a peasant, they could not become knights, but they did possess the skills. And he had a third son, the youngest, who was very clever, although not much use in the field. Still, he had managed to increase crop yields while decreasing labor, and had cross-bred the sheep and cows into strange mutant animals that gave gallons of milk and tons of wool. So the farmer wasn't actually all that poor, but he did live in a crude hut, and just sort of had the 'poor peasant' role for this particular fairy tale. And he had a daughter, too, but she mostly stayed inside and helped her mother with the housework, or else went out in the forest and gathered nuts, berries, and herbs.

The eldest son said, "Father, I wish to go to the palace, and tell the king that I can slay the dragon."

And his father said, "Go ask your mother." So he did.

And his mother said, "Are you an idiot?"

So the eldest son was saddened, but he finally decided that he would go anyways, and that night he left for the castle, riding one of the coeep. And when he got to the castle, the guards let him in, although they made him leave his coeep outside, because they were kind of afraid of it. And he told the king what he meant to do, and the king wished him luck, and gave him a sharp sword, and a good bow, and an quiver full of arrows, and a strong shield, and a pretty good suit of armor, and a cheese sandwich for the ride, and he went off on his coeep to kill the dragon.

Boldly, he charged at the dragon, and it ate him.

So after a while, the middle son said, "Father, I wish to go to the palace and tell the king that I can slay the dragon."

And his father said, "Go ask your mother."

And his mother said, "What makes you think that you will do any better than your strong, brave, stupid brother?" But the middle son did not like this answer, so one night he, too, rode to the castle, and he, too, was asked to leave his coeep outside the gate, and he, too, was given a sharp sword, and a good bow, and a quiver full of arrows, and a fairly good suit of armor, and a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich for the ride, and he went to the dragon's lair and he shot the dragon from ambush.

But the dragon was only mildly annoyed, and ate him. And the second son was no more.

After a while, the third sun said, "Father, I would like to ride to the palace and tell the king that I can slay the dragon."

And his father said, "Go ask your mother."

And his mother said, "What kind of a fool are you? What makes you think you'll do any better than your strong, brave, stupid brothers?"

And he said, "Everyone who has fought the dragon has ridden right up to it, and tried to attack it directly, and each one of them has failed. I plan to make a trap, which will allow me to catch the dragon without ever being in danger from it."

And his mother said, "That sounds like a pretty good idea, but the dragon is far smarter then you, and will think of a way past your trap, and it just isn't a good idea at all."

But the youngest son was headstrong, and so, one night, like his brothers had done, he rode to the palace, and he was asked to leave his coeep outside, and he did, and then he went and told the king his plan, and the king hoped that it would work, and gave him a pair of oven mitts and a really big net, and a shovel, and sixty-six feet of black nylon rope, and a few sharp, pointy sticks, and some other stuff. And the third son dug a pit, and lined it with sharp, pointy sticks, and he rigged up a net and a snare, and put his coeep in the center as bait, and before too long, the dragon soared majestically down and promptly fell in the pit, and the net flipped over it, and it was trapped.

It ate the coeep anyway, and thought it was pretty tasty, then, with a nice full stomach, the dragon looked up at the net and realized that it was trapped. Meanwhile, the third son sneaked through a secret passage and began to tie up the dragon's feet with the nylon rope. And the dragon tilted its head back and burned up the net, then leaned down and ate the third son, then flew back to its lair.

So it seemed as if there was no way to get rid of the dragon.

The one day, the daughter said, "Father, I would like to go to the woods and gather some herbs."

And he said, "Go ask your mother."

And she said, "Ok. Bring back some thyme, if you can find it."

And the daughter did, and more besides. She had a grocery bag full of thyme, and was pushing a wheelbarrow full of other herbs.

Then, the next day, the daughter said, "Father, I would like to wash the coeep, 'cause they smell really bad, and I made a big batch of soap."

And he said, "Ask your mother."

And she said, "Yes, they do smell really bad. Go ahead." So she led them to the base of the mountain, where there was a nice pond, and lured them all into the water, and lathered them with soap and washed them and when she was done they smelled a lot nicer.

But the dragon saw them down there, and he remembered just how tasty they were, so he flew down to eat one. When she saw him coming, the daughter, no fool, shrieked and ran into the woods, hiding under a convenient tree. And the coeep—which were just as stupid as one would expect a crossbreed between cows and sheep to be—stood there, looking dumbly at the dragon as he ate one of them. Then he flew off to his lair.

The daughter was now very angry, for she liked the coeep, dumb as they were. So, she herded them home, and told her father what had happened, and he was upset, but hey, what're you gonna do?

The next day, she went out to the woods again, and she picked more herbs, along with a pail full of raspberries, and while they were eating the raspberries, she said, "Father, I wish to coat the coeep with a dragon repellent."

And he said, "Ask your mother."

And she said, "That sounds like a good idea, why don't you make enough for yourself and your mother and me?"

So she did.

And the next day, the dragon flew down, because he had seen where the coeep lived, and he ate one. Then, he flew about ten feet into the air, dropped like a stone, and fell on his side, dead.

And her father said, "What did you put on the coeep?"

And the daughter said, "Belladonna."

And they cut the dragon open, and low and behold, there were the three sons, somewhat the worse for the wear, but still happy to be rescued, and soon word of the daughter's dragon repellent had gone throughout the kingdom, and the king himself came to the poor farmer's farm.

And the king said, "Now, I promised my daughter's hand in marriage, and here she is."

And the eldest son said, "I cannot take credit, for I did not slay the dragon, so I do not deserve her."

And the middle son said, "I cannot take credit, for I did not slay the dragon, so I do not deserve her."

And the youngest son said, "I cannot take credit, for I did not trap the dragon, so I do not deserve her."

And the daughter said, "I have no interest in the princess. Now, if you had a marriageable son, perhaps. . . ."

The king sighed. "I do not. I would give you fine jewels, and a barrel of gold, and a wagon full of very fine clothing, if you but ask."

The daughter said, "That sounds like a pretty good deal."

Her father said, "Ask your mother."

And she said, "Where would we keep it?"

And the whole family then agreed that there simply wasn't enough space in their simple little hut for those treasures.

"I feel that I must reward you," said the king. "For you have ridded the kingdom of a great menace."

"We are but poor peasants," the mother said, "Eking out a living from the sweat of our brows, and the toil of our hands. What use have we for fancy things? No, there are only two things that would really make us happy."

"What are they?" asked the king eagerly.

"First, we would like an exemption from taxes," she said. "Then we would work harder, knowing that we could keep the money that we earn from our efforts."

"And you shall have it," said the king.

"Since we will surely be working much harder, we could also use a little more land," she said. "Say, a piece of the forest, over there, leading down to a clear pond where we could wash our coeep when they start to smell bad, and maybe even that mountain, so we could climb it and look at our lands when we feel like it."

"Done," said the king, marveling that he had gotten off so cheaply. So, he gave them what they had asked for, and the princess was eventually married to a handsome prince, and he held the poor peasant family in high regard.

Even after he learned that they had given up farming and built a large manor with some of the treasure in the dragon's lair in the cave on the mountain he had given them.

Moral: always listen to your mother.