Defeating Dylan the Dragon
a tot of Penderyn whiskey
‘Bryn, I think it’s time you knew about Dylan the Dragon,’ my father said, after sitting me down on a stool by the fire. I must have been about seven at the time.
‘I know there’s supposed to be a giant dragon living in a cavern on the east side of Black Mountain,’ I said, pointing to the large shape which towered above the village.
‘That’s right. Most of the time, Dylan sleeps all day and only ventures out at night; in fact no one has actually seen him. He doesn’t cause any trouble. However, it’s said that once every hundred years, Dylan transforms into an angry, blood-thirsty monster breathing fire, destroying people and property.’
‘You don’t believe dragons are real, do you, Dad?’
Years later, I remembered that conversation. It became clear that my father did indeed believe the local legend.
‘You do know what year it is, don’t you, son? I’m dreading it. It’s a hundred years since Dylan last went on the rampage,’ he'd said to me, only the day before.
‘Da-a-ad. If there really is a dragon, he’s been quiet for so long and there’s no one still alive to tell us what happened a hundred years ago. You know how things get exaggerated.’
‘You mark my words, son…’ Dad had muttered and had gone back into the farmhouse.
The setting sun cast an eerie orange glow along the horizon and I felt uneasy; something wasn’t right. It was a cold evening even for January and I was exhausted as I made my way home after looking after our sheep on the mountain. In the valley below, there was an unfamiliar stillness and darkness. Normally at this time people would be hurrying home from work, lights would be glowing in the shop windows and street lamps would mark the curves and bends in the lanes and avenues, gilding each and every landmark in the village. Our farm had been in the family for generations and lay on the outskirts of the village. For about a week, now, everyone had been living in fear.
‘I wonder…’ I whispered to myself.
A cold shiver travelled the whole length of my spine. What I first thought was the sunset was actually a huge fire. Flames of scarlet and orange intensity were engulfing the buildings of the next village a few miles away. As I opened our gate, my father ran out and grabbed my arm.
‘Quick, Bryn. Get inside. Old Dylan’s gone mad as we knew he would. He’s destroyed most of Llanbadarn and we’re next.’
‘I saw the fire as I came down the mountain but how do you know it’s him?’
‘There was a message from him posted on the village notice board this morning. That’s why we’ve plunged the place into darkness but he’ll soon find his way here. He’ll just breathe that fire fury again. But Bryn, it’s even worse than that!’ Dad said, stammering in panic.
I tried to keep calm and asked what the message had said. My father repeated it, word for word.
‘THE VILLAGE OF NEWBRIDGE IS NEXT. ON THE SIXTH DAY OF EVERY MONTH THROUGHOUT THIS YEAR, EIGHTEEN HUNDRED AND SIXTY SIX, I SHALL DEVOUR SIX YOUTHS, AT THE PRIME OF THEIR LIVES. IF YOU DO NOT AGREE TO MY DEMANDS, I SHALL BREATHE ENOUGH FIRE TO BURN YOU ALL AND RAZE YOUR VILLAGE TO THE GROUND.’
I went cold. It was the third of January the next day. I knew then I’d been wrong to scoff at my father for believing the legend about Dylan the Dragon. I could be one of those to be sacrificed. No wonder my father was in such a state. I summoned up the calmest voice I could.
‘Dad, I think we should call a meeting tonight. All the youths about my age. We haven’t got much time.’
‘I agree. Three days, that’s all. Let’s get everyone here to the farm to see what we can do. There’s no way Dylan will destroy us without a fight.’
By seven o’clock that evening, eighteen young men with their parents had turned up at our farm. They talked and talked about how they could prevent the tragedy.
‘Let’s put explosives in the cave,’ said one.
‘Why not meet fire with fire and burn the east side of the mountain?’ said another.
‘Look, we’re not dealing with a normal animal here,’ said a Mrs Davies who had three sons. ‘Dylan has such special powers so we need a special plan. I think it will need a very brave person to out-think and out-smart him.’
‘I hope you’re not looking at one of us, Mam!’ said Dai, her eldest.
After more discussion, all agreed with my father that every young man between sixteen and twenty-one should draw a ticket to see which one of them would venture up to Dylan’s cave in the daytime when he slept. Squares of paper – one for each of us - were hurriedly cut, folded and placed in a biscuit tin. Mrs Davies made sure that one ‘ticket’ had a cross written clearly on it. Whoever picked that ticket would be the one to make the journey up to the cavern and try to conquer the dragon. One of us would save Newbridge from a disaster.
The room fell silent, full of tension and foreboding, as we each picked. My hands were shaking when I chose my folded piece of paper. Please don’t let it be me, I thought.
‘Unfold your tickets, now,’ demanded Mrs Davies who seemed to have taken charge of the proceedings.
One by one, there were sighs of ‘Whew’ and relief all round. My parents’ faces were tight with worry. I carefully unfolded my ticket and as the cross revealed itself, I could feel the colour draining from my face. I held my ticket open to face to my mam and dad.
‘Oh no,’ screamed Mam. Dad just left the room.
‘I’ll think of something,’ I said, trying to reassure my mam. The villagers were starting to leave. ‘I’ll have to.’
That night, I thought of nothing but the journey ahead. I’d always hated violence of any kind so how could I defeat Dylan the Dragon? Dylan was at his most terrifying at the moment. What was I to do?
‘Nana,’ I said out loud. She’s always told me that if I’m ever in any trouble, I must go to her. I don’t care if all my friends think she’s strange. If anyone can help, it will be her.
I woke up very early and made my way down the lane to Nana’s cottage.
‘Hello, Bryn. What brings you here so early, then?’ Nana said. ‘Why the worried face?’
‘Haven’t you heard? I’m the one. I’m the one who’s got to save Newbridge from Dylan the Dragon.’
‘You can’t do that on your own, bach. I think you need something with special powers to help you.’
‘What do you mean ‘special powers’?
She went over to the sideboard and rummaged in the gold lustre pot that always took pride of place there.
‘Here. This was given to me by my great-grandmother when she found out I had inherited her gift for magic.’ She held up a gold and ruby ring which glowed when it caught the sunlight which was pouring into the room.
‘How can a ring help me, Nan? I’ll need more than that to defeat Dylan.’
‘Just you see, bach. If you are in trouble, you can use the special powers of this magic ring to help you – but you can only ever use it three times before the magic disappears.’
This has got to be one of those three times, if ever there was one, I thought. I’ll use the ring to get close to the dragon in the cavern but what I’ll do then who knows? Would I be able to slay the dragon? Certainly, I’d save all the youths from an inevitable death not just now but for future generations too. But, could there possibly be another way?
I was ready. I went back to the farm and set off on the journey of my life – literally. It was hard to say good-bye to Mam and Dad.
‘Promise me, you’ll stay safe, Bryn. Nana’s ring will keep you from harm, I know it will,’ my mother said, her voice wobbly with tears. My father was too upset to say anything at all.
In my pocket, I felt Nana’s magic ring, hard and cold, a talisman of whether I would live or die. I knew that the three times I rubbed the ring for help had to be chosen very wisely. Walking briskly along the narrow road which circled Black Mountain, I wasn’t really sure where Dylan’s cavern was but legend had it that it was about three quarters of the way up the mountain. The road rose steeply and after a few miles, I spotted a wooden gate barring a stony lane leading to a flat rock face. Both the gate and the surrounding grass showed evidence of scorching so I guessed this had something to do with Dylan. I decided to rub the ring gently between my thumb and forefinger.
‘Take me safely to Dylan’s cave, oh ring.’
And sure enough, my feet began to move in the direction of the gate, climbing each of the five bars and then walking to the left of the stony lane. I could feel the grass was spongy under my feet and I had no control over my footsteps. As I got close to the rocks, I could make out the shadow of a large cave which had to be Dylan the Dragon’s permanent home. Apparently, the dragon had lived here for ever and it seemed amazing to me that with all that had happened over the years this cavern had never changed.
I crept to the entrance of the cave, my heart pounding. Could it really be true that Dylan slept all day? Would it be safe to enter the shadowy darkness? My eyes grew accustomed to the dark and as I moved further into the cave, I heard a rhythmic breathing, almost like a loud purring from a gigantic cat. But this is no cat, it’s the dreaded Dylan, I thought. In the corner, I could just about make out a huge sleeping creature, covered in glossy red scales with elegant folded wings along his back and his long spiked tail tucked under his legs. His enormous head was gently resting on a flat smooth rock. It was at that very moment that I knew I couldn’t become a dragon slayer. I would rub the ring to help me deal with the dragon in a kinder way. Dylan stirred violently with a start but then snored back to his slumber. I knew I hadn’t much time so I rubbed the ring for a second time.
‘Give me some magic power to make Dylan a perpetual, gentle dragon who will never destroy people or places again, oh ring!’ I said, in a whisper. No sooner had I finished my plea when a small bag appeared in my hand. The label read MAGIC CALMING POWDER, especially for violent dragons. Directions: Sprinkle five pinches of powder into each ear of a sleeping dragon. Wait for the beast to wake and make a true friendship pact. WARNING: Do this before nightfall or the powder will not work due to dragons waking naturally at that time.
I suddenly felt confident that I could save the village and my friends. I opened the bag and sidled up to the sleeping dragon. I reached up onto tiptoe and sprinkled the powder, one pinch at a time, into each of Dylan’s ears. Dylan didn’t flinch so I sat about three feet away from him and waited. It was the longest wait of my life. What if the magic didn’t work? What if Dylan woke up in a rage? There’d be no friendship pact then – far from it. It didn’t bear thinking about.
After an endless ten minutes, one of Dylan’s eyes flickered and once he caught sight of me, he gently pulled himself up onto his haunches.
‘Who are you, boy?’ he said in a drawl.
‘I’m Bryn Jenkins, a local shepherd from Newbridge down there in the valley.’
‘Oh I know – I posted a notice there yesterday. Now what did I ask for?’ said Dylan.
I hoped that the magic calming powder had worked. I couldn’t believe that this dragon was the one who had been wreaking so much havoc. I decided to test his idea.
‘I’m sixteen years of age, a youth, at the prime of my life really,’ I said. Not a flicker of recognition. Dylan had obviously forgotten all about his terrible threats.
‘Look, Dylan. I know you are a friendly gentle dragon but some of the villagers in Newbridge are scared of you. Do you think we can draw up a True Friendship pact for me to take back with me?’
‘Of course,’ said Dylan. ‘I’m actually quite lonely so I shall be glad to have some friends at last.’
And so the two of us drew up a pact whereby Dylan the Dragon could live happily in his cavern on Black Mountain not bothering anyone. Every March 1st, on St David’s Day, he would come down to Newbridge and visit all the children to show that the red Welsh dragon is real. Meanwhile, he and I could meet at any time as true friends do.
I knew I had to get back as everyone in the village was waiting for news. I practically ran down the mountainside and noticed that the main street into Newbridge was lined with well-wishers. I was back safe and sound. I was no longer Bryn Jenkins, quiet local shepherd boy. I was Bryn Jenkins, brave hero, or that’s what everyone was chanting as I walked through the crowds. My parents were waiting for me to tell them how I’d defeated Dylan the Dragon but there was one person who would have every detail of my brave journey first, Nana. And I still had her ring to use one more time.
About the Author
A writer living in Cardiff, Jan Baynham joined a writers' group three years ago and began writing for her own enjoyment. It wasn’t until she joined a university writing class taught by a published author that she began to submit stories for publication. She is currently writing her first novel.