Copyright (c) 2018 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.
By R. Peterson
King Henry Wellington of Nodnol and his lovely wife Elisabeth became proud parents on April 19th, 419 AD. The king’s astrological advisors insisted that a great tragedy was to come because of the birth year four nineteen and also because the girl was born on the nineteenth day of the fourth month of that same unlucky year. Hank and Beth shooed everyone out of the royal birthing chamber; they had no time for such nonsense. Both of them were filled with fairylike joy the first time Loraine opened her eyes and they were completely enchanted when she first smiled … and with everything she did ever after … that is … until the beautiful, talented and charming girl turned sixteen.
The king held an enormous week-long birthday party for Loraine, complete with hundreds of entertainers and thousands of guests. Rumors of the girl’s legendary beauty had spread throughout the kingdom and hundreds of eligible suitors also attended … each one certain that he must be the one to win her hand.
King Henry was miserable. He knew his subjects expected his daughter to marry, but he’d grown so fond of her he couldn’t bear the thought of her living with anyone else. She had eyes the color of the ocean at midmorning in summer. Her voice was like the tittering of doves courting under moonlight. Bountiful hair, golden as a spending wheat harvest, fell to her slim waist and he and his wife loved her with a passion that couldn’t be measured.
In desperation, he called all his councilors together and asked them what he should do. They all hemmed and hawed; a few tossed coins … one even asked a parrot that he insisted was brilliant. “Hide her away!” the bird squawked.
The king frowned. He was thinking he needed better guidance.
“Have a contest!” Master Glib, one of his oldest and wisest subjects finally advised.
“What good would that do?” the king sneered. “Some strong armed knight would still carry her away!”
“Not if the contest depended on the victor delivering to you the horns of a living dragon!” Glib smiled. “You see there aren’t any dragons in this kingdom, or in any kingdom, anymore. The chance of any knight, no matter how bold, winning your lovely daughter’s hand is less than zero!”
“Less than zero? Is that possible?” The king was astounded.
“In this case, yes!” Glib laughed. “Sire, I believe your troubles are over!”
The king was delighted. He called all the party revelers together and made an announcement. “Whomsoever shall bring me the horns of a living dragon, will win my daughter’s hand in marriage!”
The crowd went wild with excitement and the king was very pleased. One young miller’s apprentice who was not a knight and hardly even knew what one was … caught the king’s attention. “Is the contest open to anyone?” Jack Swiftletter asked, as he gazed with longing at the king’s beautiful daughter.
The king was feeling magnanimous. “Of course,” he declared not even seeing the scruffy lad who was asking. “The contest is open to any unmarried male subject in the realm!”
Jack was smiling all the way home to his father’s mill. “Now all I have to do is find and slay one of these vile creatures,” he told himself. He only hoped he could find suitable weapons lying around his house.
Bright and early the next morning, Jack, armed with his mother’s rolling pin and a broken trumpet (that his father had sat on in a pub one far away night, and so had to buy from the enraged owner) set off in search of a dragon. Unfortunately he wasn’t alone. The drunken neighbor’s bothersome goat had one again chewed through his tether rope and was trotting along behind. A bell jingled from a sticky pink ribbon tied around its neck that attracted everything the goat ate … bits of tin, rocks and broken glass. “Go home, Grawlix!” Jack shouted throwing a stone.
The goat just stared stupidly and bleated. “Why should I?” Jack couldn’t think of a suitable answer … so they went on. Later it started to rain and Jack felt miserable. After a few hours the rain stopped and the sun came out … so did some people.
A little farther down the road, Jack noticed an old woman hanging clothes on a clothes line. After blowing on the trumpet, he walked over and asked her if she knew where any dragons were hiding. “Dragons?” the old woman laughed when she saw his rolling pin. “If there are any of those fire-breathing beasts left in the world, they’ll be rolling on the floor when they see what you’ve come armed with!” She told Jack to wait. She thought her husband had an old military knife hidden in the barn that he could borrow. When she came back she screamed. Grawlix had pulled all of her clean clothes off the line and into a big mud puddle. He was chewing on a pair of her knickers. She chased Jack and the goat out of her yard. “If I ever see that hoofed monster again it will be in the bottom of my stew pot!” she promised.
Jack tried his best to outrun the troublesome goat, but he was too slow. Later in the afternoon Jack spied a farmer with a rope hoisting large baskets filled with apples into the branches of a tree. “There’s a herd of hungry wild pigs roaming these orchards,” the man explained. “A snake scared my horse and he ran away with my cart. If you two will watch these until I get my wagon back I’ll give you both an apple.” Jack told the man they would be happy to guard his goods. The man secured the rope to the trunk of the tree and then left. It was late afternoon and Jack was feeling sleepy. He sat down and rested his back against the tree … he would only close his eyes for a moment … soon he was asleep!
There was yelling, cursing and excited squealing. Jack woke up to see the farmer had returned. Smashed baskets of apples lay everywhere on the ground, and the apples were being eaten by a large herd of hungry pigs. The rope the baskets were lifted with looked like it had been chewed through. “#%$^%!!!” the farmer thundered. He chased Jack down the road with a pitchfork. Later on Grawlix joined Jack down the road. His belly was so full of apples he could hardly walk. Once again Jack tried to lose his bad luck … but the goat followed right behind.
Once again clouds formed in the sky and it looked like it might rain. An old woman offered Jack a warm bed to sleep in in her barn and breakfast if he would chop some wood. Jack finished chopping the wood just as it began to rain. He made sure that Grawlix was left bleating outside in the cold and wet and then he settled down onto a nice straw-filled mattress. Jack woke in the early morning with water pouring on his head. He looked up and Grawlix had chewed a hole in the barn roof. Jack didn’t wait around for breakfast … he ran away as fast as he could. This time the goat didn’t follow.
Jack asked everyone he met if they knew where any dragons lived. He blew the old dented horn but none came. Most people laughed but one old man looked thoughtful. “Dragons live forever,” he said. “Unless they get shot with a silver arrow with a diamond tip. There was a dragon years ago who lived in a cave in the high places!” He pointed toward a dark and forbidding mountain. “Nobody around here has any silver arrows and a diamond point is out of the question. I imagine the old beast is still up there … must be a few hundred years old by now!”
Jack thanked the man and followed the trail the man showed him into the mountains. He hiked the trails all night and early in the morning he came to a place where the trail ended near a big dark cave. He could hear loud beastly snoring and knew the creature must be asleep. Jack crept carefully up to the cave entrance … Any mistake could cost him his life! If he could get just one good blow on the sleeping creature’s head with the rolling pin!”
Suddenly there was a loud bleating and the tinkling of a bell. Grawlix bounded up and jumped on Jack, happy that he had found his friend!
“Get away you’re going to wake the dragon,” Jack whispered. The goat somehow got his mouth around the horn and let go with a huge blast.
“It’s too late for that!” a low voice rumbled. A blast of evil smelling flames erupted out of the cave … followed by coughing. “If you don’t leave now I’m going to eat you both!” Jack was terrified and was turning to leave when the goat instead pranced into the cave.
“Oh dear me,” a low voice moaned. “Now everyone knows my secret.” Jack was as scared as a person could be but his curiosity got the best of him. He picked up a branch burning from a fire the dragon had caused and slowly entered the cave. Grawlix was perched triumphantly atop the oldest, most hairless monster Jack had ever seen. Most of its scales were missing … and both horns were gone. “Go ahead kill me now,” the dragon said. “I’m not much use to anyone anymore. Just then the terrible lizard let go another blast but Jack discovered the roaring flames and the fire-and–brimstone-smell was coming from the creature’s rear-end and not the front. “It’s the berries down the trail,” the dragon said sheepishly. “They give me gas and most of the fire-making scales I have left … are under my tail.”
“I’m not going to kill you,” Jack told him holding his nose. He looked at the old hornless head. “Sadly, you don’t have what I need.”
“Well then wake me up in another hundred years,” the dragon said. “If you’re still around.” Then he fell asleep and began to snore.
Grawlix was poking around in some rubbish at the back of the cave and Jack decided to be rid of the pest once and for all. Jack ran all out down the trail, took several detours and then hid in some bushes until he was sure that this time he’d lost the troublesome goat for good.
A very happy King Henry assembled all of the citizens of Nodnol to let them know that the contest was over and that there were no winners. Jack stood in the crowd and hung his head if only that blasted dragon had been a bit younger! Suddenly there came the tinkling sound of a bell and Grawlix bounded up on the stage where the King, the Queen and the princess all sat. His tail was spinning like a propeller. Everyone in the crowd gasped. Two broken dragon horns were caught in the goat’s pink neck-ribbon.
“These can’t be real!” the king shouted as the horns fell at his feet, but his advisors after close examination assured him they were authentic. “But the dragon who sported these must surely be dead!” the king insisted. The advisors told him what everyone in the kingdom knew … that dragons live forever and that his daughter was born on a strange day and month and in a strange year … 419! These things must be expected!
Quickly the contest officials made a decision. “As far as we know this goat is unmarried and has delivered the horns of a living dragon … and thus wins the king’s daughter’s hand in marriage!” There was singing and dancing in the streets! Everyone was happy except Master Glib. He was afraid of the king’s anger and left for parts unknown.
Loraine was delighted! The princess ran to the prancing goat and threw her arms around him. She had always loved animals. After an elaborate wedding, King Henry was no longer so upset. Grawlix and his new bride lived in a meadow within sight of the castle and the king could see his lovely daughter frolicking about nearly every day, and hear her singing and the tinkling of the goat’s bell as they played together.
The citizens of Nodnol decided that this story had better be over … and all the would-be suitors returned home. And Jack Swiftletter? Well Jack took to cursing and became very good at it … why today whenever a brilliant bit of vulgarity is written down for nice people to read as in (#%^$@%) … they call it a Grawlix!