Once upon a time there lived a great and terrible dragon. He had scales as dark as coal and eyes that glowed like the sun itself. The fire in him was so hot that water boiled in his presence when he was mad. He had a roar like the thunder during the very wildest of summer storms. He roared a great deal, for any dragon his size comes with a great and terrible hunger - and nothing makes dragons so irritable as an empty stomach.
This dragon lived in a cave on a high hill above a prosperous kingdom. And every time he grew hungry he would roar so ferociously that they could hear him all the way to the borders on every side. He roared so loud that hens wouldn't lay eggs, cows wouldn't give milk, windows shattered and the very stones in the walls rattled.
The king announced that any cook to placate the beast would be paid thrice their weight in gold. A stream of cooks went to the hill to placate the dragon. But none could keep up with his demands, and soon enough he would gobble them up in anger and then roar for another as soon as his belly grew empty again. The best of cooks, the worst of cooks, male or female, young or old, rich or poor. All of them went into the dragon's belly. Even the king's own cook was killed eventually. And still the dragon roared.
Then the king appealed to his knights. Any knight who slayed the beast would receive the hand of his daughter in marriage. The princess was a great beauty with hair like gold and eyes like a summer sky and skin as pure as cream. Knights from all over the world came to face the dragon, but none succeeded.
When they got close enough to fight the dragon the sheer heat off of him caused their armor to melt away. And once they were free from their armor, like a nut from a shell, the dragon ate them. He ate the horses too, and used the spears, lances and swords as toothpicks. He wasn't very happy about the knights. But what could he do? It took tremendous energy to fly on a rampage and the dragon was far too hungry to make the trip. He roared, and the kingdom suffered. But no one could do a thing about it. The once prosperous kingdom fell into great despair.
Then one day a young witch saw the reward poster about the dragon. She heard the dragon roar and decided she could do something about it. She snapped her fingers. Gone was the famous and wealthy witch in silk and velvet. In her place stood a simple village girl with a threadbare rucksack. Thus disguised, she went to see the king and queen.
"Who are you?" He asked her.
"A cook," she told him.
"I've come to cook for the dragon milord," she said.
"And why should you succeed when all else have failed?" the king demanded.
"I grew up with seventeen hungry brothers milord. When I heard about the dragon I know that only I could feed such a beast. I have come to seek my fortune."
"Very well," the king said, "you may go to the hill and try to feed the dragon. If you succeed, you may have thrice your weight in gold."
"I'll do more than try, milord. I'll feed him so well he'll not bother you again! But I have no need for your gold."
"I thought you said you came to seek your fortune," the queen said.
"When I succeed, I'd like the reward you promised the knights: your daughter's hand in marriage."
"The reward for the knights!" the king exclaimed. He glared at her. Then he shrugged. Finally, he nodded, too desperate to turn away someone who might, might rid him of the beast. "If you prevent the dragon from bothering us, you may have the reward you ask for."
Thus assured, the witch walked right up the big hill in her disguise of a poor village girl, with a pack on her back.
"Who disturbs me at my rest?" The dragon roared. The rock beneath her feet shakes. Heat rolls off of him, scorching the stone around the entrance to his lair a sooty black.
"You're new cook, milord dragon," the witch said, and curtsied.
"Your cook," she agreed. The dragon peered at her, and his curiosity served to cool his fires.
"Very well. There are animals and a large garden on the other side of the hill. My dinner will be served promptly at six, and if there isn't enough to go around, I'll gobble you up!" He snapped at her.
"Yes, milord dragon," she said. She walked into the oven he called a lair and showed herself the way to the kitchen. A door made of iron separated it from the rest of the lair. The dragon slammed the door behind her, and locked her in. The only way out is a small door leading to the fenced in garden. But that didn't concern the witch at all. She opened up her pack and pulled out her most prized possession: her portable cauldron.
She filled her little cauldron up with water and hung it over the fire. As the water began to boil, she sprinkled in a bit of magic powder from her pack and spoke to it.
"Cauldron, Cauldron on the fire
Please grant me my heart's desire
Cook up some food to feed this beast
Make it a feast and a half a least!"
The cauldron began to boil and bubble even more fiercely than before. The water in it began to glow. Soon something emerged – a platter with roasted meat piled high and drizzled with a tangy sauce and parsley for garnish. The witch removed the platter and put it on a nearby trolley.
Over the next two hours the witch removed many things from the cauldron. All manners of meats, twelve trays in all, six rounds of cheese almost too big for her to carry, seventeen different loaves of bread, one giant bowl of stew and another of chili, sides of rice to go with both, two full barrels of beer and one of water for drinking, and so many cakes, trifles, puddings and pies that it was impossible to count them all. She loaded them all up on the trolley, stacking them as best she could without ruining any of the food. Promptly at six she wheeled it out to the dragon's dining room.
He was ready to roar at her, but his eyes fairly popped out of his head when he saw the trolley. Still, he was a very hungry dragon.
"This will only do for a first course," he bellowed. The witch curtsied.
"There is more, of course," she said. After unloading the trolley she went back into the kitchen and fetched out a giant salad, three tureens of soup, six omlettes, five dozen hard-boiled eggs, and ten bowls of different types of fruits. Then came the vegetables – steamed and roasted, boiled and blanched they came – every kind you've ever heard of and a few you haven't. She brought out all of those too, with another barrel of water to quench his thirst. Again he roared and sent her back for more.
The third time she came out with more deserts than the whole court could have eaten. She brought ice creams and candies, brownies and cookies, little tea cakes and candied nuts, sweetbreads with jam, cupcakes and a great bowl of pudding, along with a barrel full of coffee to drink with it.
All of this the dragon ate. He ate and ate and ate, never minding that he mixed up dinner with breakfast with desert with after dinner coffee. The dragon had never seen so much food in one place before! And through it all, the witch brought more and more, for her little cauldron could toil on indefinitely. The witch had gone into the kitchen for a sixth time when a loud bang reverberated around the caverns and rattled the dishes on the trolley. Once her ears stopped ringing, she went out to see what happened. But the dragon was nowhere to be found. The glutton had eaten so much that he popped like an overstuffed sausage!
She returned to the kitchen.
"Cauldron, Cauldron on the fire
You've given me my heart's desire
You have done what you do best,
Now give yourself a nice long rest!"
With one last plate of brownies, the water in the cauldron went still and dark. The witch emptied it in the garden, packed it in her back, and returned to the castle. The king, queen, prince and princess all greeted her on her return.
"The dragon is no more, milord," she said. "He has eaten himself to death. And I have come to claim my reward."
The king sputtered.
"Your reward!" he said. "Please reconsider, take the gold. My daughter is too delicate for life in a village. How could you provide for her?"
"What kind of king cannot be counted on to keep his royal word?" the witch asked, standing. The anger in her eyes burned almost as hotly as the dragon's fire. She snapped her fingers and her disguise melted away. The king quailed in front of her, for she was a famous witch. Now he recognized her, but it was too late. She began to chant a curse for the fickle king, until the princess stood.
"Please spare my father, gracious witch," the princess said, "for his only crime is caring too much for his children's happiness. Until this moment he has been a wise and generous king."
"A king who used you as a reward," the witch said, "and has broken a promise to me."
"I put myself up as a reward," the princess corrected. "It is my choice to make. And I will gladly go with you – to life in a village, or in a palace, or on the road – so long as you spare my father."
"Very well," the witch said, touched by the princess' devotion. She dismissed the spell she had been weaving. She held out her hand, and the princess took it. A split second, and the two had vanished.
Over time, as the king rebuilt his kingdom, he heard stories of two witches who traveled together, ridding curses, righting wrongs, and journeying to places where ordinary mortals feared to tread. And though he did not see his daughter often, he had it on good authority that she lived happily ever after.