Ms. Grace has a lovely post and an excerpt to share with all of us, Dear Readers. I invite to sit back and enjoy!
Elizabeth tells dragon stories: Laidy worm
I’m utterly tickled to announce that the Pride and Prejudice arc of my Jane Austen’s Dragons series is complete with the release of Netherfield: Rogue Dragon. Now wait, I can see you rolling your eyes and hear you muttering, “Dragons? Really? Seriously—dragons? Why—just why?”
But believe it or not, I really do have an excellent answer. You’re rolling your eyes at me again, but give me a chance and hear me out. If you take a glance at English mythology, it is full of dragons: the Lambton Worm, the Dragon of Mordiford, the Dragon of Unsworth, the Dragon of Wantly, the Dragon of Longwitton, the Dragon of Loschy Hill, the Bisterne Dragon just to name a few. Even the father of fabled King Arthur has a dragon connection. King Uther Pendragon was said to have seen a dragon shaped comet that inspired the dragons that graced the standards he carried. Oh, and there’s Beowulf of course, and the tale of St. George and the Dragon…
Jane Austen herself could easily have been familiar with many of these dragon legends. So maybe, just a few of these mythological denizens actually belonged in Regency England.
One of the fascinating—and crazy making—aspects of mythology is the number of different accounts of the same story. Since, until the early modern era, tales relied on oral tradition for transmission, each teller would craft a slightly different version of the story, making finding the ‘real’ story nearly impossible. While there were moments that made me want to beat my head against the wall, it did provide an interesting line of thinking: What if…. (A word of caution, when a writer says “what if”, it might be a good time to politely excuse yourself…)
So, what if Uther Pendragon saw a real dragon, not a comet as most stories suggested? Would not others have seen it, too? Wait, no—what if the dragons had a way of hiding in plain sight that only a select few people could see through and Uther was one of those…
Suddenly, I saw a world, hundreds of years removed from medieval England, where mankind and dragonkind could coexist, governed by the Blue Order, an organization founded by Uther Pendragon himself, on human and dragon partnership, dedicated to protecting the safety and interests of both species while keeping the dragons secret from the very large segment of the human population with hearing insufficient to detect dragon voices.
Similarly, the myths of the Lambton Worm and the Dragon of Mordiford influenced the development of Darcy’s and Elizabeth’s characters. So it seems only fitting, that somewhere along the way, our dear heroine should find herself relating one of those dragon myths that Austen herself might have known.
‘The Laidly Worm of Spindleston Heughs’, sometimes known as the ‘The Laidly Worm of Banborough’ or ‘Bamburgh’ was preserved from folklore in a ballad first published in 1771, something that was certainly accessible to Jane Austen during her lifetime. (Laidly is a Scottish expression meaning ‘loathsome’.) In this excerpt from Longbourn: Dragon Entail, the second book of the series, Elizabeth finds herself telling this tale to while away the time during a long carriage ride:
Mr. Wickham escorted her to the Forsters’ house, where she paid a quarter of an hour’s call on Mrs. Forster. Then, he ushered her out the back door, and into the mews where the carriage, sans driver, awaited. He handed her into the carriage where her bag waited.
It was newer and better maintained than Papa’s. Probably refitted in honor of Colonel Forster’s wedding. The leather still smelt fresh and new, and the side glass was sparkling clean.
Had Mr. Wickham arranged for this, for there to be no witnesses to her escape? He was a far better friend to her than Mr. Collins would ever be, able to see the distress of another soul and work to do something to alleviate it. What more noble act could there be?
The coach rocked as the driver and a groomsman climbed aboard. Mr. Wickham opened the door and handed a very groggy maid inside. She staggered to her seat, half sitting on Elizabeth in the process.
“Pray forgive me, Miss. I get powerful sick in a coach. The mistress give me a cordial to help.” She giggled and settled into her seat. “I feel so very boosey and flustered.”
Mr. Wickham pulled the door closed behind them and took the opposite seat. “A strong cordial will have that effect. There is no need for concern. You might sleep as we drive, and you will feel better when we arrive in London.”
The girl yawned and leaned into the corner. She was softly snoring before they reached the outskirts of Meryton.
“She truly cannot tolerate the carriage. It is best for her to sleep.” Mr. Wickham leaned back and extended his legs just a little. “I have done as I promised, perhaps even a wee bit more. So now I shall make a demand upon you. But just a small one.” He winked.
April, in her typical fairy dragon way, voiced her protest, chittering and hunkering down in her grumpiest posture. It might have been intimidating from a larger dragon, but from a fluffle-bit who fit in the palm of one’s hand, it was more endearing than daunting.
“And what might that be?” She drew her cloak over her chest.
“It is three hours to London. I require some form of entertainment. I know you to be a fine storyteller. Why do you not tell me your favorite myth? But not one from a far-off place. I wish to hear a myth from our own fair countryside.” He leaned into the squabs.
“I fear that Hertfordshire does not have many stories attached to it.”
“Then what of your favorite myth of England? Surely there is something for you to choose from in all our shores.”
From the way he looked at April, surely he was asking for a children’s teaching story about dragons.
But April would not tolerate it. Best not to agitate her.
Still though, there were stories that would reveal nothing about the current state of dragons or the Blue Order.
“That seems little enough to ask. Have you ever heard of the Laidly Wyrm of Spindleston Heugh?”
April harrumphed, but did not twitter.
A broad smile lit his face. “No I have not, but I look forward to doing so now.” He balanced one boot atop the other and laid his hands over his stomach. “In the words of your young cousins, tell me a story Miss Elizabeth.”
She smoothed her skirt over her lap. “Many centuries ago, in the Kingdom of Northumbria, Northumberland to us now, of course, the good king who lived in Bamburgh Castle lost his beloved wife to a most tragic death. She left behind a son, the prince Childe Wynd, and a daughter, the princess Margaret. Childe Wynd was his father’s son with a brave heart and a lust for adventure that drove him to rove farther and farther from home. After his mother’s death, his jaunts became journeys, and the journeys became longer and longer until he crossed the sea. In fear that he would never see his son again, the king took comfort from his daughter. Margaret was the image of her mother, beautiful as no other woman in Northumbria and gentle and kind in equal measure to her beauty.”
“A handsome prince, a beautiful princess, what more does a fairy story need?” Mr. Wickham laced his hands behind his head.
“Dragons. It seems he wants to hear of nothing but us,” April grumbled against her neck.
Elizabeth stroked her ruffled feather-scales smooth. “An evil witch sir. What kind of story would there be without one?”
“So then tell me of this witch.”
“After years without his wife, the castle was cold and lonely. The king’s judgement had been addled by too much wine. He called for eligible women to be brought to him. A beautiful, but cruel witch caught his eye and soon became his wife. Poor Margaret, she was bereft. She saw the witch for what she was, but the King would not believe her.”
Mr. Wickham leaned forward a bit. “Ah, now it gets interesting.”
“The witch cast an enchantment over the poor princess.” Elizabeth hunched over her lap and worried her hands together, cackling. “I weird ye to be a Laidly wyrm, and borrowed shall ye never be, until Childe Wynd, the King's own son come to the Heugh and thrice kiss thee. Until the world comes to an end, borrowed shall ye never be.”
“The princess became a dragon?”
“Indeed she did. By the witch’s spell, she became a dragon.”
“The myth calls it a wyrm, but I think she must still have been beautiful even in the transformation. I have always considered she became an amphithere. They are more beautiful than even the loveliest of wyrms.”
Though some might not agree, there were some very pretty wyrms.
“What do they look like?”
“Of course, they are not real, but according to myth, they are not wyrms, but enormous snakes the color of jade. Unlike any serpent, they have great feathered wings with iridescent feathers, glistening in every color. Their wings are powerful enough for flight, although they only do so under great duress. Sometimes they are depicted with powerful forepaws as well. Their heads are as serpents, but well-feathered, and their eyes, penetrating.”
“Frightful or fascinating?”
“Both, I would imagine. It is said they are creatures of exquisite beauty.”
“So then, very fitting for a lovely princess.”
“Indeed. I suppose in that, the witch was merciful.”
“Or limited, perhaps. Her magic might not have been strong enough to completely transform a woman of such beauty.” His brows flashed up in a playful challenge.
“That is indeed an interesting interpretation. It sounds as though you have spent a great deal of time considering fairy tales, sir.”
“It had been a pleasant pastime during some of my darker times. I have always found the character of a prince removed from his inheritance rather compelling.”
April shook her head and snorted. Perhaps she was right. That was a bit much.
Wickham chuckled. Perhaps he did not take himself as seriously as April did. “Do not leave me hanging. You must finish your story.”
“Of course. The Laidly Wyrm, the princess, left the castle, banished to be a rogue dragon, without a territory to call her own, facing death if she trespassed on the territory of another, scourge to man and beast alike, stealing what she could to preserve life and limb. Finally she made her way to Spindleston Heugh on the Great Whin Sill escarpment. It is said that the stone can still be found in the parish of Easington, Northumberland, you know.”
“I should very much like to see it one day.”
Should she mention that Papa had taken her there? April probably would not approve. She probably should not have mentioned the specific location at all.
Botheration, it was very easy to talk to him.
“Perhaps I would see the Laidly wyrm there, if I were very lucky.” He stroked his chin.
“Even if you were very lucky, the Laidly Wyrm is naught but myth. Even if she were not, you would not find her, for you have not heard the end of her tale.”
“Do not keep me in suspense! I do not see how you ever get children to sleep if you constantly keep a story so provoking.”
“You are being quite vexing yourself. Naughty children who interrupt do not get to hear the end of a story.”
“Pray tell me what must I do to hear the end?” He smiled beatifically.
April huffed and tucked her head under her wing.
“I suppose that will do. In any case, after ten years the prince returned. He expected to find his sister a grown woman, maybe even married. But instead, her chambers were empty. The witch told him that his sister had been eaten by the Laidly Wyrm and if he wanted to honor her memory, he would avenge her life and bring back the head and wings of the wyrm.”
“A witch in all ways. Horrid woman.”
“Indeed she was. She even gave the prince a dragon-slayer sword with which to perform the deed.”
April shuddered. She had seen the one Mr. Darcy had carried and it had given her nightmares for weeks.
“Childe Wynd rode off in search of the Laidly Wyrm. When he reached the spindlestone, he called out a challenge to the dragon.”
“In the fashion of heroes everywhere, I imagine.”
“They are rather a predictable lot, are they not? Princess Margaret recognized his voice and hurried down to see him. Naturally he did not recognize her in dragon form and brandished the sword at her.”
“I should say he is lucky that he did not get himself immediately crisped by fiery breath.”
“Do not be silly. Amphitheres do not breathe fire. That is a myth about the myth.” She laughed.
There, April should be satisfied that he really did not know anything about real dragons. No feathered dragons breathed fire.
“Princess Margaret restrained her draconic instincts. She extended her wings and hovered over Childe Wynd’s head, singing a song they had made up as children, one none other knew. Her voice was sweet and high, unmistakable in his ears. ‘Margaret?’ he cried. She told him of the witch’s curse and that her only hope was her brother’s kiss.”
“And of course, he simply believed her, never once considering it was the sort of trap a clever dragon might set for him? That is the way soldiers get killed.” He snorted and folded his arms over his chest.
“I suppose you are correct, taking an unfamiliar dragon at its word is not a mark of wisdom, but this is a fairy story, remember. And in this story, he embraces his sister and kisses her. She transforms before his eyes, all scales and feathers falling away. Once again, she is a young woman, even more beautiful for her trials than she had been before.”
“And they lived happily ever after.” He rolled his eyes.
What had he been hoping for, bloodshed and tragedy?
“Not yet. They gathered the scales for Margaret’s dowry, enough to fill several chests, and secreted them in a crag under the spindlestone. The feathers they bundled up to bring to the witch, proof the dragon was no more.”
He sat up a little straighter.
“Treasure would catch his attention,” April muttered.
“The feathers carried a powerful enchantment upon them, the same form that the witch had cast upon the princess. When Childe Wynd presented them to the witch, she picked one up and was immediately transformed herself.”
“Into a dragon?”
“No, each feather contained only a small measure of transformation magic, not enough to accomplish so large a transformation. She was instead turned into a toad.”
Wickham snorted. “A toad? A fitting fate, I should say.”
“Childe Wynd became king and assisted his sister in marrying a very suitable man. And now we have come to our happy ending.”
Mr. Wickham yawned. “Just in time I suppose. Your voice is quite soothing.”
“I am glad you approve, sir.”
“You should not have told him that tale.” April nipped her ear.
Nothing would please her. Poor little dear was so unsettled. Who could blame her?
But still, the story was quite safe. Who could believe that a princess might be turned into a dragon? That was impossible. The truth—that Margaret was turned out by a cruel stepmother and taken in to live among a mated pair of amphitheres who were incubating a clutch—was hardly like the story at all.
Still, the real Lady Margaret had always been her heroine. She had been instrumental in bringing an understanding of the amphitheres to the Blue Order. For her efforts, she had been made the first woman to hold office in the Order.
Perhaps, if the Gardiners did not take her in, she could find help among some sympathetic dragons.
The outskirts of London rose up on the horizon. It would not be long now before she would know if she would have to resort to that.
But why would Elizabeth have been riding in a carriage with Wickham, much less telling him stories? Check out Jane Austen’s Dragons to find out.
If you’re not totally hooked by now, here’s a preview of Pemberley: Mr. Darcy’s Dragon, to give you a taste of this world: http://randombitsoffascination.com/2016/10/03/pemberley-mr-darcys-dragon-ch-1/
What do you think about dragons and Jane Austen? Leave me a comment below for a chance to win your choice of e-books from this series. The giveaway will end at 11:59 P.M. on the 26th of May. Good luck to all! Thank you Maria Grace for including a giveaway for my readers.
About the Author
Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again. After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate in Educational Psychology. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.
She has one husband and one grandson, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, is has blogged six years on Random Bits of Fascination, has built seven websites, attended eight English country dance balls, sewn nine Regency era costumes, and shared her life with ten cats.
She can be contacted at:
England is overrun by dragons of all shapes and sizes. Most people are blissfully unaware of them and the Pendragon Treaty that keeps the peace between human and dragon kind. Only those born with preternatural hearing, like Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet are able to hear and converse with dragonkind.
When the first firedrake egg laid in a century is stolen from Pemberley, the fragile dragon peace teeters on collapse. Darcy has no choice but to chase down the thief, a journey that leads him to quaint market town of Meryton and fellow Dragon Keeper, Elizabeth Bennet.
Elizabeth shares a unique bond with dragons, stronger than anything Darcy has ever experienced. More than that, her vast experience and knowledge of dragon lore may be the key to uncovering the lost egg. But Elizabeth can’t stand Darcy’s arrogance and doesn’t trust him to care properly for a precious baby firedrake. After all, he already lost the egg once. What’s to prevent it from happening again?
Her father and the family estate dragon insist she marry the last man in the world whom she could ever be prevailed on to wed. Will the help of her minor dragon friends be enough for her to she escape the fate of the dragon entail?
Darcy thought his problems were over when Pemberley hatched and successfully imprinted on humans. But baby dragons prove far more difficult than any dragon lore prepared him for. Only Elizabeth Bennet's notes offer him any help. When his imperious Aunt Catherine takes matters into her own hands, things take a turn for the worse and Pemberley’s life hangs in the balance. He desperately needs more of Elizabeth’s help, but she ignores all of his requests.
Elizabeth, though, has problems of her own. After the Bennet family dragon sent Pemberley away, life at Longbourn was supposed to return to normal and Elizabeth get on with the all-important business of marrying the heir to her father’s estate. Except that he is the last man in the world whom she could ever be prevailed on to marry—a bumbling, addle-pated dragon-hater who demands she gives up the dragons she lives for.
Can she, with the help of her dragon friends, find her way back to Pemberley before they both suffer their fate from the Dragon Entail?
Elizabeth Bennet thought she was prepared to do anything to make the Dragon Conclave accept her beloved young dragon, Pemberley, into the Blue Order, but she had not anticipated it would leave her banished from her ancestral home and betrothed to none other than Mr. Darcy. But before Elizabeth and Darcy wed, they must find a dangerous rogue dragon before it provokes a war amongst the dragons and brings the fragile peace between dragons and mankind to a catastrophic end.
Nothing written in the annals of dragon lore has prepared Elizabeth to manage a dragon not governed by the Blue Order. Dragons have always loved her, but this one finds her arrogant, selfish and insensitive to others. With only her instincts to guide her, she must convince the rogue of her good intentions before the Blue Order loses patience and decides on more drastic measures.
Called away to the other side of the kingdom, trying to settle the dragons' unrest, Darcy learns the nature of the force poisoning the rogue dragon against Elizabeth. One nearer and dearer than they could have imagined.
Can Elizabeth and Darcy convince with rogue dragon to cooperate before darker forces turn it against them, without destroying the fragile bonds uniting the couple?
Universal Buy Links:
Pemberley: Mr. Darcy’s Dragon https://books2read.com/Pemberley-Mr-Darcys-Dragon
Longbourn: Dragon Entail https://books2read.com/Longbourn-Dragon-Entail
Netherfield: Rogue Dragon https://books2read.com/Netherfield-Rogue-Dragon
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