The Dragon And His Grandmother
An adaptation of the fairy tale by Andrew Lang
Once upon a time there was a great war. The king had many soldiers fighting for him, but he didn’t pay them very well. In fact, he paid them so little that it was not enough to live on!
Three of the soldiers sat around a fire one night and decided that they would leave the army.
“If we are caught,” said the first, “we’ll be hanged for desertion!”
“But if we stay, ” said the second, “We may die anyway!”
The third said: “Let us hide amongst the cornfield there. No one will see us amongst the long stalks. When the army moves on tomorrow morning, we can run off in the opposite direction.”
They all agreed that this was a good idea, and at midnight, when it was really dark, they put out their fire and snuck into the cornfield.
But in the morning, the army was still there. They had been told to remain at this place for another couple of days. The three men were already hungry and thirsty. They would never survive another couple of days! But they couldn’t sneak back into the army either as they were known to have run away.
They lay out on the cornfield floor as their weakness and hunger took hold.
“What was the point in running away, when we will die here anyway?” asked the first man.
Just then, a fiery dragon appeared amongst the clouds and hovered over them.
“Why are you here, hiding in the cornfield?”
“We were soldiers in that army over there, but we ran away and now we can’t leave the field.”
The dragon breathed a thin line of fire as he twisted himself through the air. Then he came to rest in the field, a sickly smile on his face.
“I will get you out of this field so that the army do not see you… on one condition. For seven years you will have all you can dream of; money, fine clothes, good food. After this time, you will return to me. If you fail the riddle I give you, you will become my servants. You will live with me and serve me for seven years.”
The men didn’t really know what to say. They didn’t want to become servants, but they didn’t want to die here either. So they agreed. The three men signed in the Dragon’s Book of Deals.
The dragon then thrust himself into the air. He did a full circle and then came straight at the men with his long claws. Grabbing them all in one foot, he carried them so high that they were up in the clouds. And when he took them back down, they could see the army a long way off.
“There!” said the dragon, carefully placing the men on a footpath, “Here is my whip. Use this whenever you wish and it will bring you wealth beyond your dreams. But remember the deal; in seven years, if you fail the riddle, I will collect you from this place and you will become my servants for the next seven years.”
Then the dragon flew away, off into the clouds.
The men were delighted. They were free from the army, and they had a magical whip. It gave them enough money to buy big houses, travel in carriages, wear fine clothes, eat good food and live very happily for seven years.
The time passed very quickly and, true to their word, the three men all gathered at the arranged place to meet the dragon. Two of them were terribly anxious; they were afraid of the years ahead and didn’t want to leave their luxuries behind. But the third man was calm. He told them not to worry as he was rather clever and was quite good a riddles. There was still some hope.
So they all sat against a tree and waited for the dragon. After a while, an old woman passed them and noticed the two very unhappy men. She asked them why they were sad.
“Why do you care?” retorted the first man.
“How can you help anyway?” said the second.
She shrugged her shoulders and said, “You never know. Just tell me what it is.”
The men all told her about the dragon and about the deal they had made.
“I may be able to help after all!” she said and she told them to go into the wood and find a tumbledown house of rocks. There they would find help.
The first and second man thought it was ridiculous. What help would they find in a tumble-down house of rocks? So they slumped back against the tree and sighed.
But the third man didn’t give up so easily and thought that there was a least some chance if he went. So he did. He found the house and went inside. There was a very old woman living there and she asked what he wanted.
“My friends and I made a promise to a dragon. We did so out of necessity, but now he wants us to serve him for seven years. We only remain free if we can solve his riddle.”
The old woman thought the man was good and kind. She felt sorry for the men and decided to help. She lifted up a large stone in the floor and told him to hide in the cellar.
“You will hear everything from there, but don’t make a sound.”
Before the man could ask how this would help, the stone was back in its place and the woman was getting dinner ready.
After a short time, the dragon came into the little house and sat himself down at the table. The old woman served dinner and joined him.
“Thank you, Grandmother,” he said.
Grandmother! The old lady was the dragon’s grandmother!
“How was your day, dear? Have you won many souls?”
“Not today, Grandmother, but I have three to collect in the morning,” he replied.
“Oh?” she said, “Are they already under your power?”
“Soon,” he replied, “they have only to fail the riddle and then they are mine. The riddle is so hard, they will never guess.”
“What riddle?” she asked, sipping her soup and trying not to look too interested.
“In the North Sea lies a dead sea-cat– that shall be their roast meat;
And the rib of a whale–that shall be their silver spoon;
And the hollow foot of a dead horse–that shall be their wineglass.”
“Oh yes, dear, very good!” she said, clearing away the bowls.
Once the Dragon had gone to bed, his grandmother pulled the stone away and let the man out.
“Did you hear everything?”she whispered.
“Yes,” he replied, “Thank you kindly, old woman,” he said. And he snuck out of the house and back to his friends.
Early in the morning, the dragon appeared high in the sky and he swooped down to earth with his dragon smile stretched over long sharp teeth.
“Here is my Book of Deals and here are your signatures,” he said; long black clouds billowing out of his nostrils. “Now for the riddle,” he continued. When we reach my underground lair, you shall have a meal. What is to be the roast meat?” he spat towards the first man.
“In the North Sea lies a dead sea-cat; that shall be the roast meat.”
The dragon was very annoyed; he roared a long, loud roar and stamped his foot.
“But what will be your spoon?” he hissed towards the second man.
“The rib of a whale shall be our silver spoon.” he replied.
This made the dragon even angrier and he flapped his wings in annoyance, lifting himself off the floor and landing again with a loud crash.
“But I’m sure you can’t tell me,” he continued “what shall be your wineglass.”
“An old horse’s hoof shall be our wineglass,” replied the third man with a smile.
A deafening shriek echoed around the kingdom and the dragon threw a fire ball at the tree, setting it ablaze. He then catapulted into the air with force and roared and roared until he flew out of sight.
The three men were overjoyed. They were free form the dragon’s power and, what is more, he had left them the magical whip. So they had as much money and as many fine things as they wanted.
And they all lived happily for the rest of their lives.