The Prince and the Dragon
(This is BoSt rendition of an old legend, a popular Serbian fairy tale.)
In the far off land of Orownoz the enlightened and fair minded King Zonen was at his wits end; his once peaceful kingdom was plagued by a terrible curse. Every now and then a sheep, ox or peasant would go missing without a trace.
Occasional patches of scorched land appearing hither and yon fostered a fearful rumour, though none who had cast their eyes upon it had lived to tell, that a fire breathing dragon was the source of this bane.
In order to rid the land of this terrible scourge many brave warriors were dispatched to the four corners of the kingdom; but all attempts at finding the beast were in vain and the numbers of peasants, sheep and oxen continued to wane along with a corresponding number of brave warriors. The outcome was always the same: they all vanished without a trace, leaving only scorched earth to mark their passing.
King Zonen had three exceptional sons. The eldest son, Joren, was a mighty warrior and an accomplished swordsman and archer. On numerous occasions he had undertaken the dangerous task of ridding the kingdom of this dragon but had always returned empty handed and in dismay.
The latest foray had been a particularly close call, causing the King to forbid his favorite son from ever venturing out again on these dangerous excursions. Constrained from leaving the castle, Prince Joren when he retired to bed began seeing a strange dream. This recurring nightmare always followed the same sequence of events: he was hunting game when he saw a white hare and followed it, but was never able to catch it.
For three consecutive nights the dream returned, haunting Joren’s peace of mind all during the day. The strangeness of the vision, however, precluded his sharing it with anyone and not even his closest confident his younger brother Prince Kezi, was told of this irritant. Then on the fourth morning, unable to stand it any longer, Joren rose well before the first light of day. Armed with his favorite bow and, with a quiver of arrows slung over his shoulder, Prince Joren charged forth from the main gate.
The Prince rode as fast as his horse could gallop towards the thickly forested mountain that had its high peaks always hidden in the clouds. His dream sequence played out with uncanny accuracy when he chanced on the white hare and gave chase. The hare fled at lightning speed through the thick foliage, keeping just ahead of the Prince’s mount until the game path it was following abruptly ended in a thick cloud bank. Then, almost as if it did not want to escape the Prince’s pursuit, it slowed just enough, keeping in sight until they both had eventually passed through the unsettling miasma to emerge at a strange clearing. Hot on its heels, the Prince pursued the hare until it took refuge in a water-mill.
Dismounting, the prince followed it as it hopped up the stairs of the mill until it found a high window, inexplicably stopped and sat on the sill. By then the Prince was close enough to notch his bow and let fly the first arrow.
To his great consternation the arrow missed its mark, seemingly diverted from its path. As the Prince retrieved another arrow and was about to take aim the hare jumped out of the window then immediately began to grow in size then transform into a giant winged dragon that soared into the sky, disappearing into a thick mass of low clouds. When it manifested again it dove straight for Prince Joren who, with incredible prowess, let loose five consecutive arrows targeting the beast’s vital areas.
Unfortunately, though the metal tipped arrows did find their mark, they failed to penetrate the scales and fell harmlessly back to the ground. Before Prince Joren could string another arrow, he was scorched and then swiftly eaten by the mighty dragon and was no more.
When he failed to return and all traces of him had vanished from Earth, the King and Queen, surmising the worst, grieved endlessly for days for the terrible loss of their beloved son and heir.
The second Prince, Kezi, was an accomplished warrior excelling particularly in the skills of spear and dagger throwing and he never missed his mark. He always wore high boots specially designed to hold a set of daggers on the outer side. Unfortunately, growing under the shadow of popular Prince Joren, he’d always been seen as an underachiever.
Prince Kezi saw in this circumstance a golden opportunity to prove his prowess. And so at sunrise, accompanied by a small contingent of cavalry, the middle Prince passed through the gate vowing not to return till the scourge had been dealt with.
A week passed and, despite all expanded efforts, they could still not find any sign of this supposed Dragon. Yet the disappearances continued without letup. At dusk one day, after the campfire meal, while relieving himself at a secluded spot, Prince Kezi was lured away by the same white hare, only this time the rabbit turned into a strange apparition of a beautiful girl. He followed her willingly to a clearing beyond some tall, jagged rocks. When the apparition climbed to the top of the rocks, jumped off towards the Prince and, there and then, reverted to its true form as a fire breathing dragon. Next instant Prince Kezi’ was forced to cast aside his sword blazing to the hilt as it’d brushed with dragon fire. Then again being quick on his feet, in an instant he was able to retrieve his two daggers from his boots and, with lightening speed, hurled them at the beast. Unfortunately the fiery breath of the Dragon simply melted them in mid flight. Too bad his spear was not with him. He barely dodged the subsequent fire ball as he zigzagged as fast as he could towards safe ground. He was swift on his feet but before he could retreat to the safety of the crevices within those jagged rocks he, too, was scorched and devoured by the Dragon in the blink of an eye.
His absence was also grieved by the King and Queen but they saw no reason to take any precaution to prevent the third Prince, Stezor, from following suit. For, being the youngest and the favorite of the Queen, he’d been spoiled rotten and was spared the rigorous training of his siblings. Left pretty much to pursue his idle passions he’d often spend his days, to the dismay of the King, pursuing literary arts, and music or mind games.
But Prince Stezor did have a serious side which he, for whatever reason, chose to conceal. He had a deep understanding of warfare and strategy, as well as secret passion for attaining first-class competency in archery and swordsmanship. When a small meteor came into his possession, recognizing its true value at once, he had it covertly forged by the palace smith into a mighty sword.
The young Prince Stezor had also a great foresight, and from the moment of the disappearance of his elder brother Joren, he had rightly predicted the actions of the second sibling Kezi and his inevitable doom. Subsequently, in his determination to avenge them he’d made secret preparations and, one stormy day at dusk, snuck out of the main gate perfectly disguised as a peasant leading a horse drawn cart. As soon as he was out of range of the sentry at the castle gate, he removed the concealed bundle from the cart, unhitched his horse and then hid the cart under some foliage. Now with the meteor sword slung across his back under his cape and sporting a small dagger in his left boot, he saddled the steed and set on in a cantor over the soggy ground.
He reached the rocky point, where Prince Kezi’s contingent had reported him missing, all in good time. Prince Stezor’s intent of investigating the grounds however was forestalled by a sudden heavy cloudburst and subsequent deluge, forcing him to take refuge in a nearby crevice. Prince Stezor passed the night rather uncomfortably listening to the howling winds and relentless downpour. At first daylight the remaining clouds were herded away by moderate winds allowing the sun’s rays to checker the soggy grounds. Prince Stezor was chewing on a piece of dry meat for his morning breakfast when he spotted the white hare beside some bushes. An uncontrollable urge propelled him to jump into the saddle and give chase after the white hare, which suddenly turned into a white stag.
Stezor in a Fog|
The chase continued through an aberrant miasma that eventually led to a ravine that improbably existed in an anomaly in time and space. For one thing, midsummer seemed to be the prevailing season here. Heavily overgrown, the tall grass and strange flowers brushed against the horse’s withers as it chased after the white stag. Prince Stezor came to a quick realization just then how he’d utterly and hopelessly lost all tracks of time and place. Despite this disorientation and overwhelming exhaustion he relentlessly pressed on in pursuit. When the stag suddenly dove into the water-mill his keen survival instincts took hold and he dropped the chase. Maintaining his distance he cocked his head and his intent gaze surveyed the immediate perimeter. The grounds were thronging with thick foliage and strange bushes that seemed to harbour small game. Suddenly hunger pains gnawed at his stomach and he postponed the chase in favour of hunting the game.
When, by mid- afternoon, he retraced his path back to the mill he spotted an old woman sitting there. With a cautious approach and a congenial manner he soon engaged the old woman in a polite, and somewhat sincere, conversation. The old woman told him how she, herself, had once been a lovely girl, and had been spared by the dragon. He had taken an unusual liking to her and so had tolerated her existence, much like a pet. Allowed to live nearby in a small hut, she had no living relations so obliged the dragon with a visit now and then. Feigning a modest interest Prince Stezor cajoled the old woman with intriguing notions about where the dragon’s secret strength lay. “You needn’t be so powerless, “He prompted her. “Dragons are known to have many wondrous powers. He’s been miserly with you, keeping you confined to this harsh and deprived environment. You can have a more magnificent existence, might even regain your youth, since Dragons have such magical power. Hmmm. I wonder if the dragon would reveal this secret if you managed to lure it to the location where it hides its powers and kissed it.”
After this exchange, the third prince thanked her for her kindness, gave her some of his game and, bidding her farewell, departed; but he did not ventured far. When the dragon failed to manifest at the mill Prince Stezor covertly trailed the old woman back to her hut. He hid within the vicinity for the rest of the day, continuing to spy on her activities. At dusk the dragon manifested by the hut and, as soon as its feet touch earth, took on a human form and invited himself inside. Prince Stezor stealthily approached the hut and through the crack of the window spied on the events transpiring inside.
After her repast the old woman, feeling obliged, did ask the precise words Prince Stezor had persuaded her to say. When the Dragon told her the fireplace, she began to kiss it. The dragon was highly amused by this, then told her it was the tree at the back of the hut. Again when she proceeded to kiss that, the dragon hollered with laughter. Then continuing with his good mood, seeing no reason to keep it from her, confessed to her that a distant Kingdom Voltaren had a lake, which was the dragon’s other residence.
There, in his truer form, the dragon resided in the form of a large wild boar, within the form of the wild boar would be the form of the pigeon in which the heart and the strength of this dragon was hidden. When the dragon teasingly hinted at the real source, that his mythical existence might be the deep roots of the tree that grew adjacent to the mill, the Prince Stezor smiled, nodded and withdrew quietly to safe distance. Finding a secure spot to conceal both himself and his mount, he ate his fill then enjoyed a sound sleep, having acquired the means to defeat the Dragon.
Rising before dawn Prince Stezor set out at once to the Kingdom of Voltaren. Mixing with the common crowd at the marketplace there he first pawned the gold chain he’d worn since childhood and obtained two hounds and a falcon. Next, properly disguised, he entered the palace grounds and sought and obtained employment as a shepherd.
He was duly warned however not to go near the lake himself, though the sheep were permitted to venture there if they wanted. Eager to get started he set out at once with the sheep, two hounds, a falcon and the mighty sword slung across his back concealed under the cape. As instructed he allowed the sheep to venture near the lake. Staying at some distance, he hollered his challenge to the Dragon to face him if he dared. The same Red Dragon emerged from the foaming waves and shot to the sky, hovering in the air.
“Who dare be so brazen as to challenge me?” His thunderous voice shook the very ground where Prince Stezor stood. Steadying his footing he reached across his back and unsheathed his sword. Brandishing it he hollered back: “I’m Prince Stezor, the Third Prince of the kingdom of Orownoz. I’m here to avenge my brothers Prince Joren and Prince Kezi’s deaths.”
The mighty Dragon was highly amused at the audacity and the posturing of this puny human. At first he toyed with him as a source of fun, whizzing through the sky, shooting bolts of fire that made the prince dance. Prince Stezor’s agility and incredible stamina had impressed him at first but soon tiring of this lame sport, the Dragon, in earnest this time, dove in for the kill.
Once more Prince Stezor averted being roasted or swallowed whole with each subsequent skirmish and he even managed to strike back with his sword. Incredibly the blade even managed to cut through the scales, causing the Dragon unexpected pain.
The dragon, growing increasingly more wary of this contestant’s prowess, halted his onslaught and, hovering in mid air over the opponent’s head, demanded a temporary truce for the day. Refusing to forgo his advantage, Prince Stezor hollered his adamant refusal, “There will be no armistice till one of us is dead”. Furthermore he brazenly asserted that, even if the emperor’s daughter happened to be there to kiss him, he would still not relinquish the fight.
This long-drawn- out skirmish had seriously depleted the Dragon’s fire whereas Prince Stezor‘s deadly blade managed to find its mark few more times.
“Enough!” The infuriated Dragon reluctantly broke off from the combat and swiftly dove into the refuge of the lake’s depths.
Since the Prince could not follow suit and no amount of bellowed insults, hollered dares or challenges produced the desired outcome, Prince Stezor in the end reluctantly rounded up his flock and returned back to the palace stables. Early next morning, along with the sheep, hounds and falcon, he returned to the spot near the lake. Once more he contested with the dragon but failed to destroy the beast. The previous day, the King Seku of the Voltaren Kingdom to allay his suspicions had dispatched two grooms to spy on this unusual shepherd. They had returned with bated breath to relay all that they had witnessed. So on this second day, the King had sent his daughter to the lake, with directions to kiss the Sheppard if, or when, he made the same boast. When Prince Stezor uttered those same words during the fray the beautiful princess‘s sudden appearance on the scene and her exquisite beauty did sway the prince from his resolve.
The princess as a willing participant volunteered the kiss and charged Prince Stezor with unusual strength, stamina and zeal.
“What’s this? “
Prince Stezor was waiting for just such an opportunity, with his now invincible prowess and dexterous manoeuvring, just as the Dragon dove to devour him, the Prince somersaulted and shot through the air to successfully mount the beast’s tail. His fingers clung tightly onto the scales as the Dragon swooped then veered this way and that slicing through the air with powerful strokes of its wings. Despite the Dragon’s aerial acrobatics, brisk assents to the clouds followed by spiraling, dizzying dives, Prince Stezor had hung on tight and what’s more, completed his laborious climb towards Dragon’s neck and head. In a contest of will Prince Stezor would be the champion for, just as the exhausted Dragon had slowed his pace, Prince Stezor had positioned himself above the Dragon’s eyes, its most vulnerable point. The powerful plunge of the sword cut mercilessly through the scales causing the Dragon great pangs of agony as its blood poured in torrents out of the wound.
“Stop ... Stop it.” He growled and, with the most vigorous shake, managed to finally rid himself of this pest.
Prince Stezor, who was in fact worn out, broke the momentum of his fall with a timely roll and a dive into the lake to avoid by only a hairsbreadth the most serious of injuries. He was submerged for a long while under water but resurfaced gasping for breath and quickly taking hold of his senses swam to the safety of the shore before the Dragon returning from the clouds could dive into the lake.
Meanwhile the blinded and disoriented Dragon, with the blood running over his eyes, heard the Prince’s desperate cries, “Help, Help, I can’t swim!” he targeted the sound assuming it to be coming from the lake. But the Prince had climbed onto a rocky outcrop a good distance from the lake. As a result the diving Dragon missed its mark and plowed straight into the rocks.
The beast burst open the moment it hit the ground and a wild boar emerged from the rupture. The hounds set upon it at the Prince’s command and tore apart the wild boar. A white pigeon burst out of the carcass and immediately took flight but this time it was caught by the falcon.
A precise whistle brought the trained falcon to the Prince’s hand with its prey. The captive pigeon, now in dire straits, beseeched the Prince to spare his life and, to foster good faith, confessed to his holding prisoners behind the water mill which Prince Stezor was now at liberty to free.
“What about the adjacent tree?” Prince’s question invoked deep fear in the Pigeon’s eyes. This is the confirmation prince needed, so he did not press the issue any further.
“Now I’ve told you everything… Let me live and I shall go far away from here and never bother this realm or your family again. “The Pigeon once more implored the Prince.
“I would have ordinarily spared you,” the prince hemmed and hawed, “However, I cannot be sure you would not revert back to the form of a Dragon and spread your reign of terror over other unsuspecting kingdoms. Besides I am obliged to avenge my brothers you’ve so heartlessly devoured.” And with those words he wrung the pigeon’s neck and the Dragon was no more.
The victorious Prince on his return was given armed men by the King of Voltaren and with them he went back to the prison behind the windmill and freed all the dragon’s captives. Delighted, King Seku married his only daughter, the lovely Princess to this intrepid Prince Stezor. After the elaborate feast while many slept soundly , diligent Prince Stezor, bothered by a nagging loose end, snuck away from the matrimonial bed and without a word to anyone hopped back in his saddle and galloped back to the windmill. Dismounting, Prince then found the adjacent tree and uncovering the roots, he struck them so hard that his hands turned red. That same instant a sudden feeling of foreboding took hold of his heart.
With a perplexed look on his face and a heavy heart, in haste he galloped back to the kingdom. Sure enough his suspicions were warranted and his fears became the reality. The entire kingdom seemed utterly deserted. No one, not a single soul stirred. His searches led him to even the deepest parts of the dungeons where he discovered everyone, guards and prisoners alike in a state of lifeless stupor.
And when he touched one, they simply crumbled to dust. With a heavy heart he rushed back to his matrimonial chamber and gazed upon his beautiful bride but when he reached for a kiss, she too crumbled to dust in his arms.
Were they all the mystical creation of the Dragon’s imagination?
After shedding many tears, he rounded up the majority of the sheep and oxen. Prince Stezor then reluctantly mounted his steed and herding the animals through the strange miasma emerged safely back on the familiar lands of the Kingdom of Orownoz.
By then the Prince’s absence had come to light and a nationwide search was well underway. The Queen had fallen ill fearing the worst but now the delighted King and Queen listened with due patience and fervent zeal to their son’s account of his adventures. In the end the King shook his head in disbelief; not only of the bizarre set of events, but also regarding the discrepancy of the timing, for the Prince’s absence had only been two days and no more.