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There be Dragons - 18/01/19

Many people have seen ancient maps which have large areas left blank with the words “Here Be Dragons” scrolled across the void.


If one looks back into the dim and distant past, many references can be found with regard to this beast. Viking longships sported a dragon’s head at the bow, red dragons became the emblem of the land of Wales. The Chinese revered the dragons highly, prizing its teeth for magic potions. Even a group or wandering minstrels sang of “Puff the Magic Dragon”, and to this day a certain species of female are referred to as “old dragons”.


To leave this lasting impression in the minds of men, it appears that in the mists of time these beasts must have existed, so what happened to them? Where did they go? Did some ecological disaster take place? Did a disease take its toll or were they hunted to extinction?


After many years of research in the recesses of the Natural History Museum, at last we found a few battered and dusty manuscripts dealing with the dragon, particularly with the dragons of the Wye Valley.


Many of the following facts were gleaned from these books :-

A Tale of a Wye Valley Dragon Hunter by H Gibbertus

Wye Valley Dragons by Arthur Huntus

Our Dragon Hunting Diary also by Arthur Huntus.


Back in the grey dawn of time, nobody knew where the dragons came from. They arrived out of the fogs and mists of winter and early spring following the river valleys. Large dragons arrived first followed by smaller ones in summer and autumn.


Large spring dragons, 20 tons plus in weight with bright shiny scales in huge numbers known as “Burn Ups” ambled slowly along the valleys stopping and resting in dragon dells, where they indicated their presence by puffs of smoke and flames.


Smaller summer dragons of three to ten tons rushed along valley pathways, making short stops in the dragon dells to catch up with their larger spring cousins for winter mating.


Arriving in the high mountain valleys, the females would gouge a deep trench with their tail in the moorland peat. After mating they would deposit large numbers of eggs in the trench and with a side to side motion of the tail, cover them with the excavated peat.


With the mating over, the exhausted and battered dragons began a journey back down the valleys to the mysterious place from whence they came. During this process, the depleted dragons, known as embers, were easily recognised by their loss of weight dull scales and diluted nostrils emitting just the occasional puff of smoke. The trip took its toll with many dying of starvation and disease.


The millions of eggs left in the clean moorland peat began after a month to hatch into dragonettes. These small creatures dug their way to the surface, there to hide beneath the heather, ling and cotton grass.


For up to two years they fed on small birds and animals slowly growing until one day in late spring a change came over them. Their dark body scales became bright silver and puffs of smoke and sparks issued from their nostrils starting small fires among the heather.


In huge burn ups, the dragonettes, now known as sparkers, gambolled along the valley tracks following the path of their parents passing on their way the next generations of adults returning to the ancient mating grounds.


When the sparkers reached the flat coastal plains, they disappeared to be lost in the mist.


For eons, the dragons continued their annual migration until one day, a small innocuous looking biped found that the flesh of the dragon, a beautiful pink was marvellous food.


Along the Wye Valley, huge burn ups of massive spring dragon made their way into the high mountain mating grounds. They caused very little trouble to the natives of the area, though the occasional sheep was scorched by their fiery breath, a few cornfields were set on fire and some of the male dragons cast a lustful eye at the rare sighting of a village virgin.


Along the pathways, men set dragon traps, huge structures made from woven elm trees into which the dragon ambled and could not reverse out, there to be killed with club and spear.


A few of the dragon trappers began to hunt the animal for sport. Over the years the mighty English dragon spear and the fearsome English dragon longbow evolved. The early spear, carved from the native elm tree, were some fifteen to twenty feet long tipped with an iron barbed blade. The dragon bow, carved from the wood of the yew tree, stood over six feet tall and fired an arrow over three feet in length tipped with a barbed metal point. These fearsome weapons were used with deadly effect against the large spring dragons. For the smaller summer dragons, a shorter lighter spear and less powerful bow were utilised.


The dragon hunters would keep watch on known dragon dells or caves until a dragon indicated his presence by a puff of smoke of an occasional snort. The intrepid hunter would then creep close to the resting dragon and “cast” his spear or fire his arrow. Some mighty hunters could cast their spears over sixty yards. If the dragon was resting in a difficult position for an overhead throw, they developed in Scotland a new method for launching the spear known as the Spey Cast, named after another famous dragon valley.


Up and down the Wye Valley, the slaughter of dragons continued for years, tens of thousands being taken in dragon traps until the day dawned when the dragon trappers could no longer make a living by trapping the small numbers left.


The dragon hunters, who did it mainly for sport, banded together and formed “The Wye Dragon Hunters Association”

This small group of sporting dragon hunters adopted strict laws to protect the dragon. They persuaded other hunters to take down their traps while continuing to hunt with bow and spear until even they began to realise that something must be done to preserve the dwindling numbers.


One of their number was sent to a far and distant land, where mighty dragons still ambled plentifully up the valley. He returned after collecting large numbers of dragon eggs, these were taken and buried in the peat in the high Wye Valley.


Years later, this attempt to reintroduce the dragon to its former glory began to bear fruit. Huge spring dragons were found in their old haunts.


The hunters began to employ some of the redundant trappers to guide them to these haunts of the dragon. These men, full of knowledge of the dragon’s ways and habits became known as the Dragon Masters.


It came to pass that a few Wye Valley dragon hunters became famous throughout the land. There was Sir Robert Catchley of Walford, who during one dragon season accounted for over five hundred dragons, many of his large spring dragons being taken with a light summer spear and bow. There was Arthur Huntus of Hampton Bishop, who not only accounted for large numbers of spring dragons, but also wrote of their habits and methods of pursuing them.


For many years, great sport was had in the pursuit and hunting of the dragon, and many dragon masters were employed along the valley.


In villages and hamlets, people began to manufacture dragon bows, lances and spears for sale to the many hunters. Two of the most famous were Hardycus from the village of Alnwick, and Sharpefus from the hamlet of Aberdeen. They became famous throughout the land for their finely crafted weapons, Hardycus for their steel centred spear and Sharpefus for their fine spliced lances and spears.


It was even rumoured by scribes and minstrels that a famous hunter of dragons had his spears and lances made by Hardycus, a man that in years to come would become known as St. George of England.


A great trade was established in clothing suitable for dragon hunting; clothing to protect against damp cold weather, and to protect against the fiery breath of an enraged dragon. The most famous manufacturer was a tailor named Barbourus from a small settlement in the North Country.


Throughout the lands of the dragon large stone houses were constructed with fine views of the neighbouring valleys, many in sight of famous dragon dells. To these formidable structures (proof even against the most enraged dragon), many visiting sportsmen come to lodge during the hunting season. Years later these huge dwellings become key points in the defence of the realm.


But all was not well; a strange disease affected the dragons. Their scales fell out and huge sores covered their bodies, the fire and smoke went from their nostrils and many died. Great droughts ravaged the damp misty valleys. Across the distant seas, another race of people had found the haunts of the maturing dragons, and had discovered new and effective ways of hunting them.


Along the dragon’s migration route, only a bow shot from the hamlet of Monmouth in a labyrinth known as “Thiefsham”, a race of people evolved who did no work. Who like badgers slept during the day and woke at night; under the cover of darkness scuttled and crept out to set huge nets woven from strong creepers across the traditional pathways used by the dragons.


The ensnared dragons were then bludgeoned to death and their flesh sold, the monies gained squandered in ale houses, betting on unicorn races, and on magical mushrooms.


Sadly, there came a time in the land when many people did no work and turned to strange forms of sport to fill the days. Throughout the dragon valleys, the sport of chariot racing became very popular. The burn ups of migrating dragons left well used tracks through the valleys, ideal for the new pastime. There were small one man chariots through to large chariots pulled by a team of unicorns. These wandering hordes, shouting and yelling created a great disturbance with resting dragons and many fled their fells in fear.


There grew many famous great dragon hunting scribes who wrote manuscripts on the lives and of hunting the dragons. Several were published monthly, one being the Dragon Basilisk and Gryfin in which the aged scribe, Richard, wrote monthly reports on Wye Valley dragons.


It came to pass that many warlords, knight, prophets, soothsayers, magicians and wizards banded together and became the National Dragon Authority and passed many laws and edicts to protect the dragon numbers. The employed men known as Dragon Wardens to enforce the laws, but the night-time dragon netters scoffed and continued to take their deadly toll of the diminishing numbers.


If caught at their evil work (the time before hanging, drawing and quartering became popular) the court of the day sentenced them to a few hours communal hymn singing at the local monastery.


Still worse was to come, great clouds drifted across the land, on the high moorland the rain fell, but this was no ordinary rain. Where it fell on the land it left thick foam and covered the trenches of the dragon eggs. It killed the food of the dragonettes, smothered the sparkers and dampened the fire and flame of the adult dragons.


The National Dragon Authority sent the Chief Druids to investigate this latest threat to the dragons. They cast their bones, peered into chicken entrails and crystal balls, sacrificed the odd goat, waved their wands but could find no answer to the problem apart from giving the substance the name of Extinguishing Foam.


Around the coast, there multiplied a great grey slug-like animal that waited at the mouth of the dragon valleys killing and eating thousands of sparkers and adult dragons.


Huge pterodactyl-like birds flew along the valleys preying on the dragonettes and sparkers. Because of ancient laws passed by the “Save Our Docile Slug” group and the “Flying Animal Research Trust”, no mans hand could be turned against them. It mattered not how much the Wye Valley Dragon Hunters Association, the Dragon Masters and dragon hunters complained. For tapping a sea slug over the head, a person could be transferred to a huge open prison far, far away where strange animals jumped in huge bounds instead of walking. For disturbing the nest of a flying animal, the miscreant could be sentenced to fourteen years hard labour with the construction company of Sir Alfred McPennine, erecting a large stone circle on Salisbury Plain.


For many years, the dragons continued to decline in the Wye Valley, many protests by the Wye Valley Dragon Hunters Association were lodged with the National Dragon Authority, but they were told there was no problem, just a slight hiccup in the life cycle of the dragon. Yet in many northern dragon valleys where dragon eggs were taken, hatched, reared and released into the upland valleys, fine dragons continued to give great sport to bow and spear.


Finally in the Wye Valley the National Dragon Authority passed sweeping laws, banning the use of the mighty dragon spear. For most of the hunting season, only the light dragon could be used, the arrow to weigh no more than five grams with no metal barb fitted. Even this bow could only be used on Friday and only if was a full moon.


Many dragon hunters decided to hang up their spears and bows, some travelled to distant shores. The Great Dragon Master who tended the dragon dells and valleys could no longer find employment. The skulking people of the night and the chariot racers had free reign along the valley.


Many protests from the Wye Valley Dragon Hunters Association were sent to the leaders of the land, with regard to the wholesale slaughter of the dragons in the distant maturing grounds. But the great chiefs who met in a large thatched hut in the village of London were too busy discussing the closure of the charcoal kilns and the digging of an undersea tunnel to the land of Gaul.


The aged barons and warlords who met in a smaller room within the hut and helped to govern the land were suffering from too many years of blows to the head in battle received in foreign wars to do little but mutter, grunt and fall back asleep.


A few years after passing of the sweeping laws came into force, the few remaining dragon hunters and the dragon masters assembled along the Wye Valley for the opening day of the hunting season. With eager eyes they searched the haunts and dragon dells for the first signs of spring dragons. Late winter arrived, which turned into spring, and spring into summer and autumn with no sign of the returning dragons.


The National Dragon Authority sent their Chief Druids to the Valley, again to waive their hands and cast their spells, but all to no avail. Of the mighty dragons which had once teemed in their millions throughout the valley, there was no sign.


During that fateful season, one small solitary dragon was killed by a two man chariot, and on this spot was erected a large effigy of a dragon carved in stone, and inscribed with the words On this spot was killed the last of the mighty Wye Valley dragons.


After countless years, even this huge stone weathered away, helped by the Extinguishing Foam. So it came to pass, of the dragons nothing remained, just the dim and distant memories in the minds of men.


Could this all be an unpleasant dream or in place of dragons should we read salmon?