Stories for Another Day

Dharab the Dragon-slayer

Dharab killed his first dragon when he was four years old, but then it was a very small dragon, hardly bigger than a lizard. When he was ten years old he killed his first fully-grown dragon, by luring it into a closed valley and levering a heavy rock onto it. It was then that he was taken into his first apprenticeship. By the time he was fifteen, he had far out-stripped all his masters, at an age when most young men were just beginning to flex their muscles and begin their apprenticeships.

From then on, in a few short years he became known as the greatest dragon-slayer in all the seven kingdoms, and even beyond, possibly the greatest dragon-slayer of all time.

The townspeople of the village where he lived when he was not travelling the length and breadth of the seven kingdoms plying his trade, were very proud of him, and they built him a large house in the centre of the village. The master sign-painter made a sign that said, ‘Dharab the Great, Dragon-Slayer’, and hung it above the door of his house.

Dharab owned very little, only his weapons and his helmet and shield, but he had a great heart. He took no pleasure in slaying dragons, except the pride of a craftsman in a job well done, and the happiness of seeing a town freed from an evil menace. His needs were few. Half his time he spent polishing his shield and helmet and sharpening his weapons, because the sharpness of a dragon-slayer’s sword can mean the hairsbreadth between life and death. The other half of his time he spent daydreaming outside the house of a beautiful girl named Lainie.

Lainie had flaming red hair that flowed in waves down her back, and deep green eyes in a perfect, heart-shaped face, and she played the harp. Hour after hour Dharab would stand in the dark, in the street outside Lainie’s house, listening to her playing the harp, and sighing.

One day, when he was visiting the healer to have a cut from a dragon’s claw attended to, he asked, “How can someone like me ever find a girl who would marry him?”

The healer, Eva, sewed up the cut carefully, stitch by stitch, before she answered, “You’re a fool, Dharab,” and sent him away with a jar of ointment. “Put this on the cut every day, and the scar will be no worse than any of your others.”

Dharab thought about Lainie as he polished his shield and he sighed. What could he say to a girl like Lainie? What did he have to offer her? And then one evening, as he stood outside her house, listening spellbound as the notes of the harp died away, the door opened and she invited him in. Further down the street, Eva, who had been standing in the shadows watching Dharab, slipped away.

The wedding between Dharab and Lainie was celebrated in great style. Dharab spent all his savings to pay for the magnificent wedding that Lainie wanted, with musicians and fine clothes and a great feast. His heart was overflowing with joy when he led her to his house, with the flowers still in her hair.

She looked around his house, with its plain table and plain chairs, a cooking fire and a few simple bowls and cups, and she said. “But where is everything? Where is all your wealth, the gold and silver?”

Dharab said, “What do you mean? This is all I have, my home and the tools of my trade.”

“But the dragons’ hoards,” Lainie said. “Everyone knows that dragons heap up gold and jewels of every kind, gold cups, coins, crowns, necklaces…” Her eyes shone at the very thought.

Dharab shook his head. “Very few,” he said. “Most dragons are interested only blood, in killing and slaughtering cattle and children and anything they can catch. The few who do steal gold or silver, I return that to the villagers that the dragon stole it from, for it is rightfully theirs.”

“You what?” Lainie spat. “But the rewards! Townsfolk must give you great rewards for ridding them of their dragons?”

“They pay me what is just,” Dharab answered. He did not say that sometimes their grateful thanks was all that a poor village could afford to give him. “It is enough to live on.”

“But you are the greatest dragon-slayer in all the seven kingdoms! You could demand any fee you like!” Lainie said.

Dharab said nothing, but shrugged hopelessly. He knew then that Eva was right, he was a fool.

From then on there was no peace in Dharab’s house. Lainie jeered at him and taunted him constantly. When he made food for her, she threw it down in disgust, and when he tried to speak to her, she turned away coldly, or else she screamed at him in anger.

Dharab began to spend more and more time away, taking four days to reach a village and dispatch its dragon, when before he would have taken two. On one such trip he came home empty-handed, because the villagers were so poor they had nothing to give him.

Lainie screamed at him, and in her anger she caught up a pot and threw it at him. It shattered, and left a long cut down the side of his face. Dharab looked at her in sorrow, and she picked up a second pot to throw at him. He backed out of the house quickly and she slammed the door between them.

With blood trickling down his face, Dharab made his way to the healer’s house once more. Eva came down the stairs in her white nightgown, with her long dark hair hanging down over her shoulder. “This cut was not made by a dragon’s claw or teeth,” Eva said, wiping his cheek.

Dharab said nothing. Eva shook her head and said, “You are a great fool, Dharab.” Dharab looked at her bare feet and her deft hands and and he knew she was right.

That same evening he left for a quiet place, taking only his spear with him. He was gone for a week.

When he came back, everyone saw that his face was set, and his hand was steady on his spear. He went to his house and found Lainie there, brushing her hair by the fire.

“It is over between us” he said. “There is nothing here for either of us.”

Lainie said, “I will not go back to my father’s house with nothing. I will have this house.”

“Very well,” Dharab said. Taking only his shield and his helmet and his weapons, he left, with no other word of farewell. He built himself a grass hut on the edge of the village and lived there in peace and contentment. In a short time, Lainie married again, a wealthy silk merchant, who gave her all the riches she desired. They filled Dharab’s house with soft carpets and golden cups and plates. They took down the sign that hung at the front of the house and threw it into the gutter.

Some time later, Dharab saw Eva gathering herbs at the edge of the village, and he called to her. They stood talking for a few moments, then Dharab said, “I asked you once how I could ever find a woman to marry me. It is even harder now that I have nothing to offer except the tools of my trade and a house with dirt floors and a grass roof.”

“You are forgetting all the wealth of your heart,” Eva said.

Dharab’s heart caught in his mouth. He said, “Do you think…”

Eva said, “You are such a fool, Dharab,” and she took him into her arms.

They were married, and no home in all the seven kingdoms knew more joy or passion than theirs. In time they built a strong, sturdy house, with a garden full of herbs, and in time they were blessed with two extraordinary children, Garth and Shanama, but that’s a story for another day.

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