Note: I wrote this tall tale for my children in the 90’s when they were obsessed with all things having to do with castles and knights. Since it was a fairy tale, I used one of my favorite storytelling techniques–the ensemble cast where each member has a strength that contributes (however awkwardly) to the overall success of the story. I didn’t think of it at the time, but looking back on the story I was probably influenced by The Five Chinese Brothers, which I remember a teacher reading when I was little. I also shamelessly added some “Mr. Miyagi”-type work ethic and downplayed the violence implied by the weapons. This is the first of three “Five Brave Knights” stories.
The Dragon Who was Afraid to Fight
Once upon a time there was a dragon who was afraid to fight. Though he was large, he knew how to hide in massive thickets, behind rows of bushes, and in the tops of strong trees so that questing knights would not see him. When he was not roaming the countryside in search of food, he stayed safely hidden inside his remote cave.
The cave was protected by a tangle of thorns and weeds that grew up around it. Surrounding the thorns was a forest so thick that no horse could get through. The cave entrance itself was far off the ground in the side of a steep, sheer cliff.
Although traps and ambushes had been set to slay the dragon whenever he left or returned from his inaccessible den, he was too fast and too clever to be caught. If a knight or his warhorse did succeed in finding the dragon, the dragon’s fiery breath would push them back and give the dragon time to get away.
This dragon caused great problems among the farmers in the region. With one blast of dragon fire, he would pop all the corn in a cornfield to feast on his favorite snack. Then he would boil a farm pond to make dragon tea, upsetting the wildlife.
The farmers were angry at the dragon and even angrier at the knights who, one by one, came back from chasing the dragon without success. Things were so bad that the dragon eventually ate up all the popcorn in England. The English people didn’t have popcorn again until hundreds of years later when colonists discovered corn in America.
In the same land lived five brave knights who guarded the lord of a castle. Unfortunately, this lord had come upon hard times and did not have enough money for all the servants he needed to take care of his castle and grounds. Nevertheless, the five brave knights who guarded the castle were not too proud to help out in this time of difficulty.
Each knight chose a chore that suited his abilities, so that castle could still run smoothly with fewer servants. This solution pleased everyone.
The first knight, whose specialty was swordsmanship, strengthened his arms and his fighting techniques by using his sharp sword to cut the grass of the castle lawns. This was much harder than using a scythe, like the servants would do. But after a few months of this work, the first knight developed powerful arm muscles swinging his sword and became one of the strongest sword fighters in the land.
The second knight’s specialty was the bow and arrow. He decided to use his ability to help harvest the fruit from the lord’s orchards. He would aim at the twigs or stems on which the ripe fruit hung and shoot them off the tree to fall into a basket held by his squire. This was long, hard, slow work, and it took a lot of practice. At first, he often smashed the ripe fruit into gooey bits that splattered all over the squire. Eventually, after much practice, he became very proficient at hitting even the thin stem of a ripe apple, to the great relief of the squire. Thus, he became one of the best archers in the land.
The third knight’s specialty was the war axe. Can you guess what job he did for the castle? Why, of course, he cut the wood for the 40 stone fireplaces in the castle.
The fourth knight’s specialty was the mace and chain, and he often worked together with the third knight. The two of them would cut down old trees by first pretending the trees were enemy soldiers. They would ride their horses back and forth past the trees, hacking or pulling down branches and dodging the limbs as they fell. Sometimes they would trade weapons, for they each thought that having more than one specialty was good.
The fifth knight never did quite figure out how to use his lance properly to do work around the castle in a jousting sort of way. He did think it was important to help, so he decided to use his lance to carry buckets of water from the reservoir to the castle. It would have been easier for him at first if he had just carried the buckets like a common servant. Instead, the fifth knight hung two buckets on the ends of his lance and carried the lance across his shoulders, like a yoke on an ox. Water is very heavy, but his muscles became stronger with practice. Eventually he was strong enough to carry four, then six, then eight, and finally ten buckets at a time. In that way, he could finish his water-carrying chores early and have time for real jousting practice.
Now it happened that word of the dragon who was afraid to fight eventually came to these five knights. The stories of the farmers’ despair and of how scores of knights had tried and failed to capture or slay the beast also came to their ears. The stories only excited the knights into action. “The perfect job for us!” the knights exclaimed as they rode gallantly forth toward the dragon’s den with their armor gleaming and their weapons sharpened and polished like new.
First they came to the dark dense forest. The stories they had heard about it were not exaggerations. Barely could a cat squeeze between the tree trunks. But that was not a problem for you-know-who!
The third and fourth knights rode forward with war axe and mace and chain swinging into action. The sound of branches falling and trunks splitting filled the air from morning to afternoon. The forest was deep and dense, but the third and fourth knights were strong and used to this kind of work. When the last tree fell forming a path to the dragon’s den, the third and fourth knights were not even tired.
As they reached the end of the forest, the thorns and weeds they had heard about came into view. The thorns and weeds were larger than anything they had ever seen and encircled the cliff, ending in a kind of curtain growing up the cliff face below the dragon’s cave.
No matter how large, thorns and weeds were still no problem for you-know-who. The first knight confidently dismounted from his horse, took his sword in hand, and slashed furiously at the weeds. The stems were ten times as thick as the grass s he was used to cutting, but long hours of practice made him ready for this challenge. By late afternoon the clearing was empty of weeds except for a large pile off to one side. The first knight wasn’t even breathing heavy.
“Now what?” they thought as they gazed up at the cave, whose opening was thirty feet above their heads.
“I’m ready for this!” spoke up the second knight as he raised his bow. The second knight shot up a large arrow attached to a very large net containing a variety of fruit as dragon bait. With lightning speed and laser like precision (though it was long before lasers were invented) the second knight shot a ring of arrows catching the edges of the net and fastening it around the cave opening.
Then the knights waited, weapons ready.
It was early evening as the dragon awakened from his daily rest. The great beast smelled the fruit and flew out of his cave to investigate, immediately becoming entangled in the net. For a moment, he looked like the world’s biggest fly caught in the world’s biggest spider web.
The dragon roared and twisted and turned. The arrows came loose from around the cave door and the dragon, net and all, fell thirty feet to land with a resounding BOOM in front of the five knights. The dragon was so firmly tangled in the net that he couldn’t unfurl his wings to fly, but his tail slashed dangerously close to the knights.
Then the angry dragon opened his mouth, preparing to blow a stream of fire hot enough to melt armor.
“It’s my turn!” The fifth knight with the lance yelled, jumping into action before anyone else could move. The fifth knight poured the contents of ten buckets of water into the dragon’s open mouth and over his head, one by one, until the dragon was spluttering and coughing and unable to blow more than a few steam puffs.
The knights began to cheer and rejoice when all of a sudden they realized that the dragon was crying. “All I ever wanted was to be left alone and to live my life in peace,” the dragon said between sobs. “Now what is to become of me?”
At first, the knights had no pity. “If you didn’t spend so much time destroying other people’s crops and ponds, they wouldn’t be so angry with you!” they said. “ You could easily have spent your days alone without being bothered by the likes of us if you hadn’t been so greedy for other people’s things.”
The dragon kept on crying and the knights and the dragon talked all night. Dragons can be deceptive creatures, but by morning the knights realized that this dragon was not like other dragons. He had never burnt down a farm nor eaten people or livestock. In fact, he was really a nice fellow under his scaly skin and was truly sorry for all the trouble he caused.
The knights wondered, was there a place in their world for a good dragon? Ever since hardship had come to the lord of their castle, the five knights had much experience solving difficult problems, so they soon found a solution to this one.
They introduced the dragon to some friends of theirs who made clay pottery. Together they started a thriving pottery business with the dragon supplying the heat for the kiln. The business was successful enough for the owners to give the dragon a large salary, paid in food and water, which kept the dragon from wandering the countryside in search of farm fields to devour.
The five brave and wise knights then rode back to their castle as heroes, ready to continue their service to the lord and await their next adventure.
The next five knights story can be found at Short Fiction for Children: The Loch Belle Monster