This is a story I wrote quite a while back – it’s about a place near where I live called Flag Fen where they found an ancient causeway that used to link parts of the fens.
Long long ago, when people still believed in magic and so of course it worked, Flag Fen (like most places) was home to a dragon.
The dragon from Flag Fen was different to most of the other dragons, because while he was still an awesome and impressive beast, he was also quite friendly with people. There are stories told of how he helped them learn to work with metal and taught them to transform simple rocks into sharp swords and fine jewellery and his wisdom and protection had kept the people safe for many a year. He was a good friend to the local people and many a feast was held in his honour.
Unfortunately for Flag Fen’s dragon, there were other dragons who did not feel that it was ‘proper’ for their kind to associate with humans. He was often talked about when dragons got together and there would be lots of tutting and shaking of heads and suggestions that ‘something had to be done’ about this unfortunate state of affairs.
The loudest voice in all this gossip belonged to a black dragon, he was a vile and nasty beast, fuelled by jealousy and hatred and the need to feel that he was the most important of all the dragons. He’d had encounters with people, but while Flag Fen’s dragon impressed them with his knowledge, kindness and wisdom, the black dragon scared them with his sharp teeth, fiery breath and vicious claws.
He decided that it was not right that people thought that Flag Fen’s dragon was an important beast, it was not right that Flag Fen’s dragon had such a wonderful home, it was not right that Flag Fen’s dragon enjoyed a comfortable life, especially when HE always had to fight and hunt and work. The black dragon decided that he should have all the things that Flag Fen’s dragon had – and that since the Gods hadn’t seen fit to grant them to him, he would go and take them for himself.
He knew that the other dragons wouldn’t approve of his plan so he decided a sneaky approach was the way to go. Rather than charging in, he started hanging round the borders of Flag Fen attacking anyone who strayed close, burning down a house here or there, scaring the animals, ruining the crops and generally making people’s lives a misery.
He kept right to the edge of the Fen and so it took quite a while for Flag Fen’s dragon to hear about what was going on. You see, even then the human world and the world that dragon’s live in weren’t quite the same. Not everyone could see dragons unless they were trying to be seen, only those with second sight, a gift for magic or who had learned to walk between the worlds. In the same way, dragons didn’t always see into our realm.
Even though most people couldn’t see the dragon they soon realised that something was wrong. They were used to being safe and happy in the protection of their dragon and they hadn’t hard to deal with this sort of hardship for a long time.
Meanwhile the horrible black dragon was growing bolder and bolder. Instead of just scaring the animals he started gobbling them down for breakfast. Families who’d had a few sheep and a couple of pigs soon found they had just a pile of chewed and charred bones and an otherwise empty field.
People grow concerned, and then worried, and then scared and finally completely terrified. They knew that they couldn’t survive like this for very long at all. After another couple of days the black dragon grew bolder still and instead of snatching one of the last few cows from the fields he snatched one of the shepherds, and then a couple of children who were out gathering fire wood. The people began to wonder if something awful had happened to their dragon. After a day or so of fretting and worrying, they called a meeting to decide what should be done.
“Maybe the dragon is angry with us” they suggested “Maybe he’s gone away”. “Maybe he’s sick” no-one could remember seeing him for a quite a time. They decided that a volunteer was needed who could talk to the dragon for them and find out what was wrong.
Strangely enough, no-one seemed to want to volunteer, even the people who had seen the dragon dozens of times – or at least who’d said they had, had an excuse why they shouldn’t be the one to do it. Maybe they were scared that the dragon really was angry with them, maybe they’d never actually seen him at all, maybe they just didn’t want a job so important – whatever the reason they all thought one of the others deserved the honour of being the official messenger.
At last a small voice piped up with, “I’ll do it”. Everyone turned to look at where the words had come from and saw Duncan, one of the boys from the village pushing his way through the crowd. He was just ten and without a doubt the child most likely to be in the centre of any mischief, but he could also be kind and helpful and clever when it mattered. “I’ve been talking to the dragon for as long as I can remember” he told them. “He’s usually out by the water when we go for our evening walk, I’ll ask him tonight!” And with that settled the meeting broke up and people went cautiously back to their homes.
Duncan was a good as his word and that night he found the dragon and told it everything that had happened. “What have we done wrong, Steve?” he asked (he called the dragon Steve because dragon’s names are impossible for humans to pronounce and Steve was as close as he could get.)
Well, the dragon had no idea what was going on, but he was not at all happy about whatever it was, so he set off to find out as quickly as possible. He soon realised that the evil black dragon (who’s name was also totally unpronounceable so we’ll call him Pete for now) was up to no good. He also saw that the evil black dragon was much bigger than he was, much fiercer than he was and definitely much nastier than he was. There was no way he could fight the other dragon off… so what was to be done?
The Flag Fen dragon thought long and hard, but try as he might he just couldn’t come up with a solution. It seemed hopeless, but maybe if he explained to the people of Flag Fen what was going on they could work something out together.
The next day, almost as soon as Duncan woke up, Steve was waiting for him. “We need to call a meeting” Steve told him. “Get everyone together as quickly as possible.”
Duncan ran around knocking at the houses, shouting to all the people to come quickly and gathering together everyone he could find. The people he called, called to other people and before long everyone was heading to the green for the meeting (there weren’t any buildings big enough for the dragon to fit even his head inside).
At first people were pretty fed up at being called away from their important work by a child, but when Duncan explained that the dragon wanted to talk to them all, they stopped complaining. “Ok Steve” he said “Everyone is ready for you”.
It was suddenly deathly silent as everyone turned and tried to look where Duncan was looking. All they could see was empty air. Was the dragon really there? Was he angry with them? A low rumbly growl filled the air, followed by a deep resonant cough. The air sort of shimmered and sparkled and the shadows twisted and turned and gradually it became obvious that not only was the dragon there now, but he had been there all the time. “Hello” said the dragon. One of the girls screamed, lots of others turned white and if you’d listened closely you’d probably have heard knees knocking together and teeth chattering in fear throughout the green. “Thank you all for coming, I’m really not at all sure what we can do but maybe together we can come up with a plan..” and he went on to explain all about the evil black dragon that was terrorising the fen.
It was a huge worry. If their dragon couldn’t fight the intruder what hope did the people have? They were much smaller and weaker than he was, they had no fire and no claws, most of the metal they had was used for farm tools and even adding those to the few swords and spears they had wouldn’t even scratch the hefty scales that form a dragons hide. Even if all of them stabbed at once the best they could do was to be a bit irritating, like a nasty rash. It seemed hopeless.
The wise men and druids were equally flummoxed – none of them were powerful enough to take on a dragon. The druid of Northey Island was known for his power and wisdom, but he knew that the dragon was too much for him. The witch of Fengate said the same – she wanted to help, but the dragon was just too big and too strong. He was more than she could manage. They talked about working together, but their magic came from the earth and was enhanced by the spirits that they lived and worked with, if they weren’t in their own homes they wouldn’t be as strong, they lived a thousand metres apart and most of the space in between was water. There was nowhere for them to meet…it just didn’t seem possible.
“You know” said Steve “That black dragon is awfully big. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he could stretch all the way from Northey Island to Fengate”
“Well” said the Witch “If he sets even one foot in my home I’ll turn all the power I have against him”
“And if he sets a foot in my home, I’ll have the spirits of the earth and the air join me in the fight” said the Druid.
“Then between us, it might just be enough” said the Dragon. And together they planned exactly how they would make it work.
The next morning, as the sun rose in the sky everyone was in their position. Three of the prettiest girls from the village walked out to the edge of the Fen past Northey Island, they were nervous as could be, but they chatted away, gossiping about the boys from the village and what to wear at the fair next month. They were a bit jumpy perhaps and kept looking around for reassurance, but they kept walking and talking and twirling their hair in their fingers and even managed the occasional nervous giggle…
The black dragon couldn’t resist. As soon as they were far enough away from the village he reared up of the shadows, opened his jaws in an almighty roar and descended upon them. The girls screamed and turned and began racing back towards the village as fast as they could. He snapped at their heels, savouring their terror, his long body and tail whipped back and forth through the rushes leaving a trail of destruction in his wake.
As soon as the girls reached Northey Island the Flag Fen dragon lept out and grabbed at the back of the evil black dragon. He was much smaller, but even so he latched firmly onto the other dragon’s tail and pinned it to the floor. The black dragon howled with rage and turned back to lash out at his attacker, but just at that moment a small crowd of villagers darted out from the bushes and jeered at him, they threw spears and pots and anything they could lay their hands on at him.
The black dragon was furious. He forgot all about the other dragon clinging to his tail and turned to the people snapping and snarling and blowing out smoke and fire, but they had already melted back into the undergrowth. The dragon roared in fury and at just that moment a second group of villagers appeared off on his other side and they too shouted and jeered and threw knives and rocks at him. Again the dragon turned to lash out at them and again they disappeared back into the bushes just as another group appeared further ahead and on the other side.
The dragon was become more and more crazed. How dare these pathetic people insult him. How dare they throw things at him like he was a pet they were shooing away. He would show them! He roared and howled and billowed out flames that stripped away trees and bushes leaving just blackened earth and smoking embers. But it didn’t matter how enraged he got, there were always more villagers just out of reach, jeering at him, throwing things at him and luring him further and further across the Fen. Some of them weren’t quite as fast as the others and had their clothes burnt off their backs or their hair singed, but they all got clear and there was always plenty of cool water from the dykes and meres to soothe the burns.
Step by step the dragon was being lured closer and closer to Fengate. His tail was still held firm by the Flag Fen dragon and instead of snaking side to side through the Fen he was becoming long and straight and the villagers were having to venture closer and closer, even sending little boats out into the mere to tempt him forward. He was so angry that nothing would make him give up, he snapped and snarled and hissed and roared and kept on stretching further and further across the fen.
Eventually the last group of villagers stood in front of him, just a few metres away from Fengate. After throwing their pots and spears and even a sword or two they turned and ran past the witches hut and the dragon followed hot on their heels. He was at full stretch by now and couldn’t bite at them but he reached out his long front leg and clawed through the air, slashing past their backs as they dived into cover. As soon as his claw reached the ground the closest villager started to chant, and within a fraction of a second so did the next and the next and the next until the sound carried from one side of the fen to the next as all the villagers joined in the spell.
The witch and the druid called on the powers of earth and air and fire and water and harnessed the spirit of all the people who were joining the chant. Together they weaved a magic more powerful than anything ever seen. The dragon found himself unable to move. His scream drowned out the sound of the chanting, but it was already too late. His bones become like the wood of the trees, his blood became like the water of the mere, his flesh became like the peat of the earth and before the echoes of his scream had faded away he sank dead to the ground.
Flag Fen was safe! The people were overjoyed and they threw an enormous feast to celebrate with songs and stories and dancing and the very best foods and drinks. The feast continued for nine days and nine nights because every day more people came to find out for themselves what had happened and to see the remains of the dragon. Eventually though people had to go back to work, the fields had to be tended, the animals had to be looked after, the houses had to be cleaned, the corn had to be ground… slowly things settled back to normal, except that there was now the remains of a dragon stretching across the Fen.
After a while people found a use for it, they covered it with planks and used it as a pathway over the water for those passing from Northey Island to Fengate. They even built a great feasting area in the centre so that every year they could hold another feast and share the stories of the great battle against the dragon. Many of the people who heard the stories wished they had been there to join the fight, every year some of the men would throw their own spears and knives at the remains of the dragon, pretending it was still real so they could test how brave they were. The women would throw makeup pots and loom weights and remind the men that it had taken all of them to win.
Eventually though the feasts stopped happening, the people moved away into towns and cities, magic was ignored and the dragons were forgotten. The Fen swallowed up the remains of the village, and the remains of the dragon and it disappeared into the peat where it was almost forgotten. It would probably have disappeared forever, except that one day an archaeologist came to Flag Fen and dug deep into the peat and found the remains. If you go there today you can see what they have found, of course they’ll tell you it’s boards of oak, but I know, and now you know too, that what they’ve really found is that old black dragon.