Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The Christmas Eve Snap-Dragons

Welcome to a Victorian tale for your Dragon-y Christmas.
Snap-Dragons was written by Juliana Horatia Ewing in 1870 and published in the Christmas edition of The Monthly Packet. You may find the anachronisms of Victorian times rather quaint and some seem outright silly in retrospect but you may also conclude that they do have their own charm.
For ease of reading you can pronounce the main characters' Family Name "Skratdj" as "Scratch".

Now, on to the story:

Snap-Dragons - A Tale of Christmas Eve

Juliana Horatia Ewing


Once upon a time there lived a certain family of the name of Skratdj. (It has a Russian or Polish look, and yet they most certainly lived in England.) They were remarkable for the following peculiarity. They seldom seriously quarrelled, but they never agreed about anything. It is hard to say whether it were more painful for their friends to hear them constantly contradicting each other, or gratifying to discover that it "meant nothing,” and was "only their way."

It began with the father and mother. They were a worthy couple, and really attached to each other. But they had a habit of contradicting each other’s statements, and opposing each other’s opinions, which, though mutually understood and allowed for in private, was most trying to the by-standers in public. If one related an anecdote, the other would break in with half-a-dozen corrections of trivial details of no interest or importance to anyone, the speakers included. For instance: Suppose the two dining in a strange house, and Mrs. Skratdj seated by the host, and contributing to the small-talk of the dinner-table. Thus:—
"Oh, yes. Very changeable weather indeed. It looked quite promising yesterday morning in the town, but it began to rain at noon.”
"A quarter past eleven, my dear,” Mr. Skratdj’s voice would be heard to say from several chairs down, in the corrective tones of a husband and father; "and really, my dear, so far from being a promising morning, I must say it looked about as threatening as it well could. Your memory is not always accurate in small matters, my love.”
But Mrs. Skratdj had not been a wife and a mother for fifteen years, to be snuffed out at one snap of the marital snuffers. As Mr. Skratdj leaned forward in his chair, she leaned forward in hers, and defended herself across the intervening couples.
”Why, my dear Mr. Skratdj, you said yourself the weather had not been so promising for a week."
”What I said, my dear, pardon me, was that the barometer was higher than it had been for a week. But, as you might have observed if these details were in your line, my love, which they are not, the rise was extraordinarily rapid, and there is no surer sign of unsettled Weather. But Mrs. Skratdj is apt to forget these unimportant trifles,” he added, with a comprehensive smile round the dinner-table; ”her thoughts are very properly absorbed by the more important domestic questions of the nursery."

"Now I think that's rather unfair on Mr. Skratdj’s part,” Mrs. Skratdj would chirp, with a smile quite as affable and as general as her husband’s. ”I’m sure he's quite as forgetful and inaccurate as Iam. And I don't think my memory is at all a bad one.”
"You forgot the dinner hour when we were going out to dine last week, nevertheless,” said Mr. Skratdj.
"And you couldn't help me when I asked you," was the sprightly retort. "And I’m sure it’s not like you to forget anything about dinner, my dear.”
"The letter was addressed to you,” said Mr. Skratdj.
”I sent it to you by Jemima,” said Mrs. Skratdj.
”I didn't read it,” said Mr. Skratdj.
”Well, you burnt it,” said Mrs. Skratdj; ”and, as I always say, there’s nothing more foolish than burning a letter of invitation before the day, for one is certain to forget.”
”I’ve no doubt you always do say it,” Mr. Skratdj remarked, with a smile, "but I certainly never remember to have heard the observation from your lips, my love.”
"Whose memory’s in fault there?” asked Mrs. Skratdj triumphantly; and as at this point the ladies rose, Mrs. Skratdj had the last word.
Indeed, as may be gathered from this conversation, Mrs. Skratdj was quite able to defend herself. When she was yet a bride, and young and timid, she used to collapse when Mr. Skratdj
contradicted her statements, and set her stories straight in public. Then she hardly ever opened her lips without disappearing under the domestic extinguisher. But in the course of fifteen years she had learned that Mr. Skratdj’s bark was a great deal worse than his bite. (If, indeed, he had a bite at all.) Thus snubs that made other people's ears tingle, had no effect whatever on the lady to whom they were addressed, for she knew exactly what they were worth, and had by this time become fairly adept at snapping in return.

In the days when she succumbed she was occasionally unhappy, but now she and her husband understood each other, and, having agreed to differ, they unfortunately agreed also to differ in public. Indeed, it was the by-standers who had the worst of it on these occasions. To the worthy couple themselves the habit had become second nature, and in no way affected the friendly tenor of their domestic relations. They would interfere with each other’s conversation, contradicting assertions, and disputing conclusions for a whole evening; and then, when all the world and his wife thought that these ceaseless sparks of bickering must blaze up into a flaming quarrel as soon as they were alone, they would bowl amicably home in a cab, criticizing the friends who were commenting upon them, and as little agreed about the events of the evening as about the details of any other events whatever.
Yes; the by-standers certainly had the worst of it. Those who were near wished themselves anywhere else, especially when appealed to. Those who were at a distance did not mind so much. A domestic squabble at a certain distance is interesting, like an engagement viewed from a point beyond the range of guns. In such a position one may someday be placed oneself! Moreover, it gives a touch of excitement to a dull evening to be able to say sotto voce to one’s neighbor, "Do listen! The Skratdjs are at it again!”
Their unmarried friends thought a terrible abyss of tyranny and aggravation must lie beneath it all, and blessed their stars that they were still single and able to tell a tale their own way. The married ones had more idea of how it really was, and wished in the name of common sense and good taste that Skratdj and his wife would not make fools of themselves. So it went on, however; and so, I suppose, it goes on still, for not many bad habits are cured in middle age.
On certain questions of comparative speaking their views were never identical. Such as the temperature being hot or cold, things being light or dark, the apple-tarts being sweet or sour. So one day Mr. Skratdj came into the room, rubbing his hands, and planting himself at the fire with ”Bitterly cold it is to-day, to be sure."
"Why, my dear William," said Mrs. Skratdj, "I'm sure you must have got a cold; I feel a fire quite oppressive myself.”
”You were wishing you’d a seal-skin jacket yesterday, when it wasn’t half as cold as it is to-day,” said Mr. Skratdj.
”My dear William! Why, the children were shivering the whole day, and the wind was in the north.”
”Due east, Mrs. Skratdj."
”I know by the smoke,” said Mrs. Skratdj, softly, but decidedly.
”I fancy I can tell an east wind when I feel it," said Mr. Skratdj, jocosely, to the company.
"I told Jemima to look at the weathercock,” murmured Mrs. Skratdj.
”I don’t care a fig for Jemima,” said her husband.
On another occasion Mrs. Skratdj and a lady friend were conversing. . . ”We met him at the Smith’s—a gentlemanlike agreeable man, about forty," said Mrs. Skratdj, in reference to some matter interesting to both ladies.
”Not a day over thirty-five,” said Mr. Skratdj, from behind his
”Why, my dear William, his hair’s grey,” said Mrs. Skratdj.
"Plenty of men are grey at thirty,” said Mr. Skratdj. "I knew a man who was grey at twenty-five.”
”Well, forty or thirty-five, it doesn't much matter,” said Mrs. Skratdj, about to resume her narration.
"Five years matters a good deal to most people at thirty-five,” said Mr. Skratdj, as he walked towards the door. "They would make a remarkable difference to me, I know; ” and with a jocular air Mr. Skratdj departed, and Mrs. Skratdj had the rest of the anecdote her own way.


The Spirit of Contradiction finds a place in most nurseries, though to a very varying degree in different ones. Children snap and snarl by nature, like young puppies; and most of us can remember taking part in some such spirited dialogues as the following:

"I will.”
 "You daren't.”
”You can’t.”
 ”I dare.”
”You shall.”
 ”I’ll tell Mamma.”
"I won’t."
 "I don’t care if you do.”
It is the part of wise parents to repress these squibs and crackers of juvenile contention, and to enforce that slowly-learned lesson, that in this world one must often ”pass over” and ”put up with” things in other people, being oneself by no means perfect. Also that it is a kindness, and almost a duty, to let people think and say and do things in their own way occasionally.
But even if Mr. and Mrs. Skratdj had ever thought of teaching all this to their children, it must be confessed that the lesson would not have come with a good grace from either of them, since they snapped and snarled between themselves as much or more than their children in the nursery. The two elders were the leaders in the nursery squabbles. Between these, a boy and a girl, a ceaseless war of words was waged from morning to night. And as neither of them lacked ready wit, and both were in constant practice, the art of snapping was cultivated by them to the highest pitch.
It began at breakfast, if not sooner.
"You’ve taken my chair.”
”It’s not your chair.”
”You know it’s the one I like, and it was in my place.”
”How do you know it was in your place?"
"Never mind, I do know.”
”No, you don’t.”
"Yes, I do.”
"Suppose I say it was in my place.”
"You can't, for it wasn't.”
”I can, if I like.”
"Well, was it?”
”I shan’t tell you.”
"Ah! That shows it wasn't.”
”No, it doesn't.”
"Yes, it does.”
Etc., etc., etc.
The direction of their daily walks was a fruitful subject of difference of opinion.
”Let’s go on the Common to-day, Nurse.”
”Oh, don’t let’s go there; we’re always going on the Common."
"I'm sure we're not. We’ve not been there for ever so long.”
"Oh, what a story! We were there on Wednesday. Let's go down Gipsey Lane. We never go down Gipsey Lane.”
"Why, we're always going down Gipsey Lane. And there’s nothing to see there.”
”I don’t care. I won’t go on the Common, and I shall go and get Papa to say we're to go down Gipsey Lane. I can run faster than you.”
”That’s very sneaking; but I don’t care.”
"Papa! Papa! Polly’s called me a sneak.”
”No, I didn’t, Papa.”
"You did.”
”No, I didn’t. I only said it was sneaking of you to say you'd run faster than me, and get Papa to say we were to go down Gipsey Lane.”
"Then you did call him sneaking,” said Mr. Skratdj. "And you're a very naughty, ill-mannered little girl. You're getting very troublesome, Polly, and I shall have to send you to school, where you’ll be kept in order. Go where your brother wishes at once.”

For Polly and her brother had reached an age when it was convenient, if possible, to throw the blame of all nursery differences on Polly. In families where domestic discipline is rather fractious than firm, there comes a stage when the girls almost invariably go to the wall, because they will stand snubbing, and the boys will not. Domestic authority, like some other powers, is apt to be magnified on the weaker class. But Mr. Skratdj would not always listen even to Harry.

"If you don’t give it me back directly, I'll tell about your eating the two magnum-bonums in the kitchen garden on Sunday,” said Master Harry, on one occasion.
”Tell-tale tit! Your tongue shall be slit, And every dog in the town shall have a little bit,” quoted his sister.
"Ah! You've called me a tell-tale. Now I'll go and tell Papa. You got into a fine scrape for calling me names the other day.”
"Go, then! I don't care."
"You wouldn't like me to go, I know.”
"You daren’t. That's what it is."
"I dare.”
"Then why don't you?"
"Oh, I am going; but you'll see what will be the end of it."

Polly, however, had her own reasons for remaining stolid, and Harry started. But when he reached the landing he paused. Mr. Skratdj had especially announced that morning that he did not wish to be disturbed, and though he was a favourite, Harry had no desire to invade the dining-room at this crisis. So he returned to the nursery, and said, with a magnanimous air, ”I don't want to get you into a scrape, Polly. If you'll beg my pardon I won't go."
"I'm sure I shan’t," said Polly, who was equally well informed as to the position of affairs at head-quarters. "Go, if you dare.”
"I won't if you want me not, " said Harry, discreetly waiving the question of apologies.
”But I’d rather you went,” said the obdurate Polly. ”You’re always telling tales. Go and tell now, if you're not afraid.”
So Harry went. But at the bottom of the stairs he lingered again, and was meditating how to return with most credit to his dignity, when Polly’s face appeared through the banisters, and Polly's sharp tongue goaded him on.
"Ah! I see you. You're stopping. You daren’t go.”
”I dare,” said Harry; and at last he went.
As he turned the handle of the door, Mr. Skratdj turned round.
"Please, Papa—” Harry began.
"Get away with you!” cried Mr. Skratdj. ”Didn’t I tell you I was not to be disturbed this morning? What an extraor—”
But Harry had shut the door, and withdrawn precipitately.
Once outside, he returned to the nursery with dignified steps, and an air of apparent satisfaction, saying:
”You’re to give me the bricks, please.”
"Who says so?”
"Why, who should say so? Where have I been, pray?”
”I don't know, and I don't care.”
”I’ve been to Papa. There!”
"Did he say I was to give up the bricks?”
”I’ve told you.”
"No, you've not.”
"I shan’t tell you anymore.”
"Then I'll go to Papa and ask.”
”Go by all means.”
"I won’t if you'll tell me truly.”
”I shan’t tell you anything. Go and ask, if you dare,” said Harry, only too glad to have the tables turned.
Polly’s expedition met with the same fate, and she attempted to cover her retreat in a similar manner.
"Ah! you didn’t tell.”
”I don't believe you asked Papa.”
”Don’t you? Very well!”
"Well, did you?”
"Never mind."
Etc., etc., etc.

Meanwhile Mr. Skratdj scolded Mrs. Skratdj for not keeping the children in better order. And Mrs. Skratdj said it was quite impossible to do so, when Mr. Skratdj spoilt Harry as he did, and weakened her (Mrs. Skratdj’s) authority by constant interference. Difference of sex gave point to many of these nursery squabbles, as it so often does to domestic broils.
”Boys never will do what they're asked," Polly would complain.
"Girls ask such unreasonable things,” was Harry's retort.
”Not half so unreasonable as the things you ask."
"Ah! That’s a different thing! Women have got to do what men tell them, whether it’s reasonable or not."
”No, they’ve not!” said Polly. ”At least, that's only husbands and wives.”
”All women are inferior animals,” said Harry.
"Try ordering Mamma to do what you want and see!" said Polly.
"Men have got to give orders, and women have to obey," said Harry, falling back on the general principle. ”And when I get a wife, I'll take care I make her do what I tell her. But you'll have to obey your husband when you get one.”
"I won’t have a husband, and then I can do as I like."
"Oh, won’t you? You’ll try to get one, I know. Girls always want to be married.”
”I’m sure I don’t know why," said Polly; "they must have had enough of men if they have brothers."
And so they went on, ad infinitum, with ceaseless arguments that proved nothing and convinced nobody, and a continual stream of contradiction that just fell short of downright quarrelling.
Indeed, there was a kind of snapping even less near to a dispute than in the cases just mentioned. The little Skratdjs, like some other children, were under the unfortunate delusion that it sounds clever to hear little boys and girls snap each other up with smart sayings, and old and rather vulgar play upon words, such as:
”I’ll give you a Christmas box. Which ear will you have it on?”
"I won't stand it.” "Pray take a chair.”
"You shall have it to-morrow." ”To-morrow never comes.”
And so if a visitor kindly began to talk to one of the children, another was sure to draw near and "take up” all the first child’s answers, with smart comments and catches that sounded as silly as they were tiresome and impertinent.
And ill-mannered as this was, Mr. and Mrs. Skratdj never put a stop to it. Indeed, it was only a caricature of what they did themselves. But they often said ”We can't think how it is the children are always squabbling!"


It is wonderful how the state of mind of a whole household is influenced by the heads of it. Mr. Skratdj was a very kind master, and Mrs. Skratdj was a very kind mistress, and yet their servants lived in a perpetual fever of irritability that fell just short of discontent. They jostled each other on the back stairs, said sharp things in the pantry, and kept up a perennial warfare on the subject of the duty of the sexes with the general man-servant. They gave warning on the slightest provocation.

The very dog was infected by the snapping mania. He was not a brave dog, he was not a vicious dog, and no high-breeding sanctioned his pretensions to arrogance. But like his owners, he had contracted a bad habit, a trick, which made him the pest of all timid visitors, and indeed of all visitors whatsoever.
The moment anyone approached the house, on certain occasions when he was spoken to, and often in no traceable connection with any cause at all, Snap the mongrel would rush out, and bark in his little sharp voice—”Yap! yap! yap!” If the visitor made a stand, he would bound away sideways on his four little legs; but the moment the visitor went on his way again, Snap was at his heels—”Yap! yap! yap!” He barked at the milkman, the butcher's boy, and the baker, though he saw them every day. He never got used to the Washerwoman, and she never got used to him. She said he ”put her in mind of that there black dog in the Pilgrim’s Progress.” He sat at the gate in summer, and yapped at every vehicle and
every pedestrian who ventured to pass on the high road. He never but once had the chance of barking at burglars; and then, though he barked long and loud, nobody got up, for they said, "It’s only Snap’s way.” The Skratdj s lost a silver teapot, a Stilton cheese, and two electro christening mugs, on this occasion; and Mr. and Mrs. Skratdj dispute who it was who discouraged reliance on Snap's warning to the present day.

One Christmas time, a certain hot—tempered gentleman came to visit the Skratdjs; a tall, sandy, energetic young man who carried his own bag from the railway. The bag had been crammed rather than packed, after the wont of bachelors; and you could see where the heel of a boot distended the leather, and where the bottle of shaving-cream lay. As he came up to the house, out came Snap as usual—”Yap! yap! yap!”
Now the gentleman was very fond of dogs, and had borne this greeting some dozens of times from Snap, who for his part knew the visitor quite as well as the washerwoman, and rather better than the butcher's boy. The gentleman had good, sensible, well-behaved dogs of his own, and was greatly disgusted with Snap’s conduct. Nevertheless he spoke friendly to him; and Snap, who had had many a bit from his plate, could not help stopping for a minute to lick his hand. But no sooner did the gentleman proceed on his way, than Snap flew at his heels in the usual fashion-
”Yap! Yap! Yap!”

On which the gentleman—being hot-tempered, and one of those people with whom it is (as they say) a word and a blow, and the blow first—made a dash at Snap, and Snap taking to his heels, the gentleman flung his carpet-bag after him. The bottle of shaving-cream hit upon a stone and was smashed. The heel of the boot caught Snap on the back and sent him squealing to the kitchen. And he never barked at that gentleman again.
 If the gentleman disapproved of Snap’s conduct, he still less liked the continual snapping of the Skratdj family themselves. He was an old friend of Mr, and Mrs. Skratdj, however, and knew that they were really happy together, and that it was only a bad habit which made them constantly contradict each other. It was in allusion to their real affection for each other, and their perpetual disputing, that he called them the ‘Snapping Turtles’.

When the war of words waxed hottest at the dinner-table between his host and hostess, he would drive his hands through his shock of sandy hair, and say, with a comical glance out of his umber eyes: ”Don’t flirt, my friends. It makes a bachelor feel awkward.”
And neither Mr. nor Mrs. Skratdj could help laughing.
With the little Skratdjs his measures were more vigorous. He was very fond of children, and a good friend to them. He grudged no time or trouble to help them in their games and projects, but he would not tolerate their snapping up each other’s Words in his presence. He was much more truly kind than many visitors, who think it polite to smile at the sauciness and forwardness which ignorant vanity leads children so often to "shew off” before strangers. These civil acquaintances only abuse both children and parents behind their backs, for the very bad habits which they help to encourage.
The hot-tempered gentleman's treatment of his young friends was very different. One day he was talking to Polly, and making some kind inquiries about her lessons, to which she was replying in a quiet and sensible fashion, when up came Master Harry, and began to display his wit by comments on the conversation, and by snapping at and contradicting his sister’s remarks, to which she retorted; and the usual snap-dialogue went on as usual.
”Then you like music?” said the hot-tempered gentleman.
"Yes, I like it very much,” said Polly.
"Oh, do you?” Harry broke in. "Then what are you always crying over it for?”
”I’m not always crying over it.”
"Yes, you are.”
”No, I’m not. I only cry sometimes, when I stick fast.”
"Your music must be very sticky, for you're always stuck fast.”
"Hold your tongue!” said the hot-tempered gentleman.

With what he imagined to be a very waggish air, Harry put out his tongue, and held it with his finger and thumb. It was unfortunate that he had not time to draw it in again before the hot-tempered gentleman gave him a stinging box on the ear, which brought his teeth rather sharply together on the tip of his tongue, which was bitten in consequence.
"It’s no use speaking,” said the hot-tempered gentleman, driving his hands through his hair. Children are like dogs: they are very good judges of their real friends.
Harry did not like the hot-tempered gentleman a bit the less because he was obliged to respect and obey him; and all the children welcomed him boisterously when he arrived that Christmas which we have spoken of in connection with his attack on Snap.
It was on the morning of Christmas Eve that the china punch bowl was broken. Mr. Skratdj had a warm dispute with Mrs. Skratdj as to whether it had been kept in a safe place; after which both had a brisk encounter with the housemaid, who did not know how it happened; and she, flouncing down the back passage, kicked Snap; who forthwith flew at the gardener as he was bringing in the horse-radish for the beef; who stepping backwards trode upon the cat; who spit and swore, and went up the pump with her tail as big as a fox’s brush.

To avoid this domestic scene, the hot-tempered gentleman withdrew to the breakfast-room and took up a newspaper. By-and-by, Harry and Polly came in, and they were soon snapping comfortably over their own affairs in a corner.
The hot-tempered gentleman's umber eyes had been looking over the top of his newspaper at them for some time, before he called, "Harry, my boy!”
And Harry came up to him.
”Show me your tongue, Harry,” said he.
"What for?” said Harry; "you're not a doctor.”
”Do as I tell you,” said the hot-tempered gentleman; and as Harry saw his hand moving, he put his tongue out with all possible haste. The hot- tempered gentleman sighed. ”Ah!” he said in depressed tones; "I thought so!—Polly, come and let me look at yours.”
Polly, who had crept up during this process, now put out hers. But the hot-tempered gentleman looked gloomier still, and shook his head.
"What is it?” cried both the children, "What do you mean?” And they seized the tips of their tongues in their fingers, to feel for themselves.
But the hot-tempered gentleman went slowly out of the room without answering; passing his hands through his hair, and saying, "Ah! Hum!” and nodding with an air of grave foreboding.
Just as he crossed the threshold, he turned back, and put his head into the room. ”Have you ever noticed that your tongues are growing pointed?" he asked.
”No!” cried the children with alarm. ”Are they?"
"If ever you find them becoming forked,” said the gentleman in solemn tones, ”let me know.” with which he departed, gravely shaking his head.
In the afternoon the children attacked him again.
”Do tell us what's the matter with our tongues.”
"You were snapping and squabbling just as usual this morning,” said the hot-tempered gentleman.
"Well, we forgot,” said Polly. ”We don't mean anything, you know. But never mind that now, please. Tell us about our tongues. What is going to happen to them?”
”I’m very much afraid,” said the hot-tempered gentleman, in solemn, measured tones, "that you are both of you—fast—going—to—the—"

"Dogs?" suggested Harry, who was learned in cant expressions.
"Dogs!" said the hot-tempered gentleman, driving his hands through his hair. "Bless your life, no! Nothing half so pleasant! (That is, unless all dogs were like Snap, Which mercifully they are not.) No, my sad fear is that you are, both of you, rapidly going to the Snap-Dragons!” And not another Word would the hot-tempered gentleman say on the subject.


In the course of a few hours Mr. and Mrs. Skratdj recovered their equanimity. The punch was brewed in a jug, and tasted quite as good as usual. The evening was very lively. There were a Christmas tree, Yule cakes, log, and candles, furmety, and snap-dragon after supper. When the company were tired of the tree, and had gained an appetite by the hard exercise of stretching to high branches, blowing out "dangerous" tapers, and cutting ribbon and pack-thread in all directions, supper came, with its welcome cakes, and furmety, and punch.
And when furmety somewhat palled upon the taste (and it must be admitted to boast more sentiment than flavour as a Christmas dish), the Yule candles were blown out and both the spirits and the palates of the party were stimulated by the mysterious and pungent pleasures of snap-dragon.
Then, as the hot-tempered gentleman warmed his coat-tails at the Yule log, a grim smile stole over his features as he listened to the sounds in the room. In the darkness the blue flames leaped and danced, the raisins were snapped and snatched from hand to hand, scattering fragments of flame hither and thither. The children shouted as the fiery sweetmeats burnt away the mawkish taste of the furmety. Mr. Skratdj cried that they were spoiling the carpet; Mrs. Skratdj complained that he had spilled some brandy on her dress. Mr. Skratdj retorted that she should not wear dresses so susceptible of damage in the family circle. Mrs. Skratdj recalled an old speech of Mr. Skratdj on the subject of wearing one’s nice things for the benefit of one’s family and not reserving them for visitors. Mr. Skratdj remembered that Mrs. Skratdj’s excuse for buying that particular dress when she did not need it, was her intention of keeping it for the next year. The children disputed as to the credit for courage and the amount of raisins due to each. Snap barked furiously the flames; and the maids hustled each other for good places in the doorway, and would not have allowed the man-servant to see at all, but he looked over their heads.

”St! St! At it! At it!" chuckled the hot-tempered gentleman in undertones. And when he said that it seemed as if the voices of Mr. and Mrs. Skratdj rose higher in matrimonial repartee and the children's squabbles became louder, and the dog yelped as if he were mad, and the maids’ contest was sharper; whilst the snap-dragon flames leaped up and up, and blue fire flew about the room like foam.
At last the raisins were finished, the flames were all but out, and the company withdrew to the drawing-room. Only Harry lingered.
"Come along, Harry,” said the hot-tempered gentleman.
”Wait a minute,” said Harry.
"You had better come,” said the gentleman.
"Why?" said Harry.
"There's nothing to stop for. The raisins are eaten; the brandy is burnt out—”
”No, it's not,” said Harry.
"Well, almost. It would be better if it were quite out. Now come. It's dangerous for a boy like you to be alone with the Snap-Dragons to- night."
”Fiddle-sticks!" said Harry.
"Go your own way, then!" said the hot-tempered gentleman; and he bounced out of the room, and Harry was left alone.


He crept up to the table, where one little pale blue flame flickered in the snap-dragon dish.
"What a pity it should go out!” said Harry. At this moment the brandy bottle on the side-board caught his eye.
"Just a little more,” murmured Harry to himself; and he uncorked the bottle, and poured a little brandy on to the flame.

Now, of course, as soon as the brandy touched the fire, all the brandy in the bottle blazed up at once, and the bottle split to pieces; and it was very fortunate for Harry that he did not get seriously hurt. A little of the hot brandy did get into his eyes, and made them smart, so that he had to shut them for a few seconds. But when he opened them again; what a sight! The blue flames leaped and danced as they had leaped and danced in the soup-plate with the raisins. And Harry saw that each successive flame was the fold in the long body of a bright blue Dragon, which moved like the body of a snake. And the room was full of these Dragons. In the face they were like the dragons one sees made of very old blue and white china; and they had forked tongues, like the tongues of serpents. They were most beautiful in colour, being sky-blue. Lobsters that have just changed their coats are very handsome, but the violet and indigo of a lobster’s coat is nothing to the brilliant sky-blue of a Snap-Dragon.
How they leaped about! They were forever leaping over each other, like seals at play. But if it was ‘play’ at all with them, it was of a very rough kind; for as they jumped, they snapped and barked at each other, and their barking was like that of the barking Gnu in the Zoological Gardens; and from time to time they tore the hair out of each other’s heads with their claws, and scattered it about the floor. And as it dropped it was like the flecks of flame people shake from their fingers when they are eating snap-dragon raisins.
Harry stood aghast.
"What fun!” said a voice close by him; and he saw that one of the Dragons was lying near, and not joining in the game. He had lost one of the forks of his tongue by accident, and could not bark for awhile.
”I’m glad you think it funny,” said Harry; "I don’t.”
”Yes, those creatures. And if I hadn't lost my bark, I’d be the first to lead you off,” said the Dragon. ”Oh, the game will exactly suit you.”

”What is it, please?” Harry asked.
"You’d better not say ’please’ to the others," said the Dragon, "if you don’t want to have all your hair pulled out. The game is this. You have always to be jumping over somebody else, and you must either talk or bark. If anybody speaks to you, you must snap in return. I need not explain what snapping is. You know. If anyone by accident gives a civil answer, a clawful of hair is torn out of his head to stimulate his brain. Nothing can be funnier."
”I dare say it suits you capitally,” said Harry; "but I'm sure we shouldn't like it. I mean men and women and children. It wouldn’t do for us at all.
”Wouldn’t it?” said the Dragon. ”You don’t know how many human beings dance with dragons on Christmas Eve. If we are kept going in a house till after midnight, we can pull people out of their beds, and take them to dance in Vesuvius."
"Vesuvius!" cried Harry.
"Yes, Vesuvius. We come from Italy originally, you know. Our skins are the colour of the Bay of Naples. We live on dried grapes and ardent spirits. We have glorious fun in the mountain sometimes. Oh! What snapping, and scratching, and tearing! Delicious! There are times when the squabbling becomes too great, and Mother Mountain won’t stand it, and spits us all out, and throws cinders after us. But this is only at times. We had a charming meeting last year. So many human beings, and how they can snap! It was a choice party. So very select. We always have plenty of saucy children, and servants. Husbands and wives too, and quite as many of the former as the latter, if not more. But besides these, we had two vestry-men, a country postmaster, who devoted his talents to insulting the public instead of to learning the postal regulations, three cabmen and two "fares," two young shop-girls from a Berlin wool shop in a town where there was no competition, four commercial travellers, six landladies, six Old Bailey lawyers, several widows from almshouses, seven single gentlemen and nine cats, who swore at everything; a dozen sulphur-coloured screaming cockatoos; a lot of street children from a town; a pack of mongrel curs from the colonies, who snapped at the human beings’ heels, and five elderly ladies in their Sunday bonnets with Prayer-books, who had been fighting for good seats in church."

"Dear me!” said Harry.
"If you can find nothing sharper to say than ’Dear me!” said the Dragon, ”you will fare badly, I can tell you. Why, I thought you’d a sharp tongue, but it's not forked yet, I see. Here they are, however. Off with you! And if you value your curls—Snap!”
And before Harry could reply, the Snap-Dragons came in on their third round, and as they passed they swept Harry with them.
He shuddered as he looked at his companions. They were as transparent as shrimps, but of this lovely cerulean blue. And as they leaped they barked—”Howf! Howf‘?”—like barking Gnus; and when they leaped Harry had to leap with them. Besides barking, they snapped and wrangled with each other; and in this Harry must join also.
"Pleasant, isn't it?” said one of the blue Dragons.
"Not at all,” snapped Harry.
"That's your bad taste," snapped the blue Dragon.
 "No, it's not!” snapped Harry.
"Then it’s pride and perverseness. You want your hair combing.”
"Oh, please don't!” shrieked Harry, forgetting himself. On which the Dragon clawed a handful of hair out of his head, and Harry screamed, and the blue Dragons barked and danced.
"That made your hair curl, didn't it?” asked another Dragon, leaping over Harry.
”That's no business of yours,” Harry snapped, as well as he could for crying.
”It’s more my pleasure than business,” retorted the Dragon.
”Keep it to yourself, then,” snapped Harry.
"I mean to share it with you, when I get hold of your hair,” snapped the Dragon.
"Wait till you get the chance," Harry snapped, with desperate presence of mind.

"Do you know whom you're talking to?” roared the Dragon; and he opened his mouth from ear to ear, and shot out his forked tongue in Harry's face; and the boy was so frightened that he forgot to snap, and cried piteously:
”Oh, I beg your pardon, please don't! On which the blue Dragon clawed another handful of hair out of his head, and all the Dragons barked as before.
How long the dreadful game went on Harry never exactly knew. Well practised as he was in snapping in the nursery, he often failed to think of a retort, and paid for his unreadiness by the loss of his hair. Oh, how foolish and wearisome all this rudeness and snapping now seemed to him! But on he had to go, wondering all the time how near it was to twelve o'clock, and whether the Snap-Dragons would stay till midnight and take him with them to Vesuvius.
At last, to his joy, it became evident that the brandy was coming to an end. The Dragons moved slower, they could not leap so high, and at last one after another they began to go out.
”Oh, if they only all of them get away before twelve!” thought poor Harry.
At last there was only one. He and Harry jumped about and snapped and barked, and Harry was thinking with joy that he was the last, when the clock in the hall gave that whirring sound which some clocks do before they strike, as if it were clearing its throat.
"Oh, please go!” screamed Harry, in despair.

The blue Dragon leaped up, and took such a clawful of hair out of the boy’s head, that it seemed as if part of the skin went, too. But that leap was his last. He went out at once, vanishing before the first stroke of twelve. And Harry was left on his face on the floor in the darkness.


When his friends found him there was blood on his forehead. Harry thought it was where the Dragon had clawed him, but they said it was a cut from a fragment of the broken brandy bottle. The Dragons had disappeared as completely as the brandy.
Harry was cured of snapping. He had had quite enough of it for a lifetime, and the catch-contradictions of the household now made him shudder. Polly had not had the benefit of his experiences, and yet she improved also.
In the first place, snapping, like other kinds of quarrelling, requires two parties to it, and Harry would never be a party to snapping any more. And when he gave civil and kind answers to Polly’s smart speeches, she felt ashamed of herself, and did not repeat them. In the second place, she heard about the Snap-Dragons. Harry told all about it to her and to the hot-tempered gentleman.
”Now do you think it's true?” Polly asked the hot—tempered gentleman.
"Hum! Ha!” said he, driving his hands through his hair. "You know I warned you, you were going to the Snap-Dragons.”

Harry and Polly snubbed ‘the little ones’ when they snapped, and utterly discountenanced snapping in the nursery. The example and admonitions of elder children are a powerful instrument of nursery discipline, and before long there was not a ”sharp tongue” amongst all the little Skratdjs.
But I doubt if the parents ever were cured. I don’t know if they heard the story. Besides, bad habits are not easily cured when one is old.
I fear Mr. and Mrs. Skratdj have yet got to dance with the Dragons.


Good night, everyone and a Merry Christmas to all.

Make Your Own Snap-Dragon Dessert:


Mound a cluster of seeded Malaga raisins on a large silver platter and put it in the center of the holiday table.
Pour 1 cup heated Cognac over the raisins and ignite the spirit.
Keep ladling the burning Cognac over the raisins to keep it aflame.
The guests quickly put their fingers through the flame and pull out one raisin at a time.

This exclusive recipe is pulled directly from Gourmet's archive. It has not been re-tested by our food editors since it was published in the magazine, but it's a pretty good indication of the kinds of things we once cooked—and ate—with great pleasure.

Friday, 7 November 2014

The Prince and the Dragon

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. 

Prince Joren

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.

Prince Joren

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.

Prince Joren

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. 

Prince Joren

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

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. 

Prince Kezi

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. 

Prince Stezor

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. 

Prince Stezor

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. 

Prince Stezor

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. 

Prince 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. 

Prince Stezor

“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. 

Prince Stezor

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.

The End