This tale of The Lady of Langho (a.k.a. The Daughter of Hippocrates) is a really interesting exercise in distinguishing fact from fiction — if that could apply in the case of a mythical beast like dragons. The tale comes from a 14th-Century book, The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, which itself has uncertain origins. Allegedly it details the adventures of an English knight, Sir John Mandeville, who traveled through exotic lands like India and China.

However, records show there never was a Sir John Mandeville. In some ways, the book resembles Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, which is also a collection of stories framed as a travelogue. It seems that The Travels was widely distributed and translated, since copies have been preserved through the centuries in a number of languages.

One fun part of this origin is to pick out some of the anachronisms that “Sir John” wrote into it. Hippocrates lived in the 4th Century B.C.E., after all. There’s no way there were knights running around in that era. The Knights of the Hospital, referred to in the tale, wouldn’t even be founded until the 12th Century. You could as well expect pirates yelling “Arrr” or gangsters with tommy guns.

The Lady of Langho legend could be viewed as a proto-horror story, in which a hapless young woman is transformed against her will and everyone who might help runs from the sight of her. Some, however, have interpreted the story in a more sophisticated way. The Hospitaller attempts a rescue on his own but is killed due to lack of preparation. The common sailor who impersonates a knight shows his true colors when he flees from the lady in her cursed form.

It’s suggested that perhaps the Lady of Langho was better off in the shape of a dragon than if she had bound her fate to either of these two.

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The Lady of Langho

Long ago, in ancient Greece, the physician Hippocrates (originator of the Hippocratic Oath), had a daughter who was so lovely that she rivaled the denizens of Olympus itself. The goddess Diana became jealous and transformed the daughter into a terrible dragon. The girl’s curse could only be lifted if she found a knight who was brave enough to kiss her in her horrifying state. Even then, it was foretold that she would live only a short time longer.

Shunned by all, the unfortunate young lady retreated to the island of Langho. There she was regarded as a sovereign ruler, but languished alone and hopeless. An old castle was her dwelling. She could reclaim her human form just three days each year, and as a dragon never harmed anyone who didn’t attack her first.

As word of the lady’s condition got out, a few knights turned up hoping to save her and become lord of Langho. First was a Knight of the Hospital from nearby Rhodes. Alas, before this knight had a chance to approach, his horse caught sight of the dragon. It bolted in panic and carried him right over a cliff.

The second to attempt wasn’t a knight at all, but a sailor whose ship had stopped to get supplies on Langho. While on shore leave, he wandered into the lady’s castle and was struck by the sight of her in her dressing room, surrounded by a hoard of treasure. Not knowing of the legend, he for some reason assumed she was a prostitute and, um… asked to be her lover.

Remembering the terms of her curse, the lady demanded to know if he was a knight. He admitted that he wasn’t, so she told him he must go and be knighted before he could kiss her. Returning to his ship, the sailor persuaded his captain to “knight” him and came back the next day. Alas, the lady’s one day as a human was over. When the sailor saw her true form, he fled from her. Wailing in despair, the lady pursued him, but he reached his ship and sailed away, leaving her forlorn.

So, we are told, the Lady of Langho remains trapped in her bestial form until this very day. If only a true and noble knight would be brave enough to kiss a dragon, she might be freed from eternal torment.

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Blue Ben

Legend tells that a dragon named Blue Ben once lived in the county of Somerset, on the west coast of England. He dwelt in shale caves near the sea, so if his fiery breath over-heated him he could dip into the waves and refresh himself.

Blue Ben was huge, as all dragons are. Due to his great size, he sometimes got stuck in the mud flats along the Somerset coast. The legend says that, in order to save himself, the dragon built a limestone causeway so he could reach solid ground without becoming trapped.

Ben seems to have been a mild-mannered dragon. There’s little mention of him ravaging the countryside or devouring livestock. Alas, being a good neighbor did not spare the mighty beast. The Devil himself happened to spy the dragon frolicking in the waves. He cast a spell that chained Blue Ben’s will. Poor Ben became the Devil’s steed for a wild ride all through the fires of Hell.

No one knows how long this went on. The dragon ultimately freed himself and escaped back to Somerset. Desperately hot and tired, he flung himself into the water to cool off as he usually did. Alas, he had chosen a spot far from his causeway. As he emerged from the sea, Blue Ben became stuck in the mire. No matter how he struggled, he couldn’t get free. In the end, he succumbed to his exhaustion and was entombed in the mud. A sad end for such a magnificent creature.

True fact #1: Blue Ben’s “causeway” is a naturally occurring limestone formation that resembles a paved road. Several sections can be seen along the coast, near the town of Kilve.

True fact #2: In the 19th Century, a shale quarry outside Kilve yielded the fossil skull of an ichthyosaur. The local people immediately proclaimed that this was the skull of Blue Ben. The fossil can still be seen in a Somerset museum.

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Baby Dragons

In line with Fairy Dragons, which I mentioned last week, there is a whole sub-genre of books that feature baby dragons. Some of these are juvenile novels where a youth protagonist cares for one or more baby dragons. The emphasis here is on compassionate kids taking care of beasts that their parents regard as dangerous and terrifying.

One example is Susan Fletcher’s Dragon Chronicles series: Dragon’s Milk (1989), Flight of the Dragon Kyn (1993), Flight of the Dove (1996) and Ancient, Strange and Lovely (2010). A did a series review a while back. A more recent series is Dragon Slippers, by Jessica Day George: Dragon Slippers (2006), Dragon Flight (2008), and Dragon Spear (2009). Here’s my review.

Sometimes the main character is a young dragon, as with the graphic novel series, Dragonbreath (started in 2009) by Ursula Vernon.

And how could I forget Cornelia Funke’s Dragon Rider series? I really need to get to those books some day.

There’s also a category of picture books featuring dragon characters. Sometimes there is an actual baby dragon, but more often a child character is coping with draconic behavior. Some that I’ve reviewed are Dragons Love Tacos (2012) by Adam Rubin, and Dragon Was Terrible (2016) by Kelly DiPucchio.

I’d suspect these are intended for fantasy-loving parents who want to introduce the genre to their young children. So if you have kids or grandkids, by all means go on a “dragon hunt” in your local bookstore or library. You never know what you’ll find!

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Baby Dragon Video

Here’s a teasing video from YouTube. “Do you believe this baby dragon is real?” the videographer asks.

I believe it is a real resin casting with lovely paint, and I wish he’d said where you can buy these!

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Fairy Dragons

Fairy dragons are a relatively modern iteration of the legendary dragon. The difference between fairy dragons and traditional dragons are obvious. Instead of being huge and dangerous, these dragons are little and cute. Fairy dragons are small enough to ride on wrists and shoulders. Rather than menacing people, they prefer to cuddle.

Miniature dragons first appeared in SF and fantasy fiction during the early 1970s. For example, Anne McCaffrey created “fire lizards” in her second Pern novel, Dragonquest, published in 1971. Alan Dean Foster introduced his “mini-dragon” Flinx, half of the Pip and Flinx duo, in 1972’s The Tar-Aiym Krang. 

Smaller dragons began to appear in wider circles. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons included “faerie dragons” in a 1982 issue of Dragon Magazine. By now these small dragons are part of many games, including World of Warcraft, and have become a perennial subject in fantasy art.

Most versions of a fairy dragons do have some powers. Flinx carries a deadly poison, while faerie dragons have the power to charm and confuse. This makes them more useful pets and companions than your typical dogs and cats. Still, I have to admit, something in me balks at turning the magnificent dragon into a mere plaything.

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I have my first response on The Gellboar! Jerome D. said by e-mail, “The Gellboar is a thrilling short story by a fantasy writer at the top of her genre.  By turns chilling, titillating and heart-warming, it is heartily recommended for fans of dystopian magical cosplay with surprise twists.” Thanks, Jerome!

If you’re enjoying the story, please consider buying the e-book. Just $.99 on Amazon or Draft2Digital. Get it now!

Part 7

Christine abruptly set down her glass. “Hey! Talk to me, pal.”

He shook his head. “It’s my business. My family. I’ll deal with it.”

“How can you say that?” She reached across the table, closing hard fingers over his clasped hands. “That thing is going to kill you. You have to get rid of it.”

“No.” He jerked away, putting his hands on his knees, where he didn’t have to look at the mark. “I’ll be fine.”

“Yeah, right.” She leaned back, folding her arms across her chest. “You’ll be fine right up until you keel over.” Then her harsh voice softened. “What’s going to happen to Grace when you die?”

“I’m not going to die.” He had to believe that. If he thought for a moment the Gellboard would win, he would borrow Christine’s gun and shoot himself. At least that way he could deprive the monster of his psais.

The woman propped her chin in her hand and added a bit more liquor to her glass. “So where’s your family? Or your wife’s family?”

“They’re out of town.”

Like Dan, Marilyn had been a runaway. She said her parents were in Yabble, but she wouldn’t even discuss contacting them and she wouldn’t say why. Of course, there were a few things Dan had never told Marilyn, either.

“Out of town, where?” Christine’s gentle tone unnerved him more than her abruptness had.

“Ettloes, in my case.”

She raised her brows. “That’s practically the Holy Mother’s backyard, isn’t it?”

“That’s why I had to leave.”

Her eyes suddenly took on a calculating expression. “That’s farmland, isn’t it? Ever worked with cattle?”

The sudden change of moods made him wary. “Dairy cattle,” he admitted.

“Can you buck hay bales?”

“Ladies don’t buck hay bales,” Dan laughed. To further his feminine persona, he strictly avoided any activity that might build muscle mass.

“Silly of me to forget.” But she was smiling. Dan just watched her, passively feeling with his psais for her motives. She wouldn’t be asking without a reason.

Christine took a sip of her drink, and then said, “If you don’t want to break the spell, maybe I can make you a better offer.”

“Like what?”

“Well, my brother runs cattle on a couple thousand acres in Ishe. He might be able to use a hand, especially if you can ride a horse.”

“I can’t ride a horse. Why doesn’t he find someone a little closer to home?”

She shrugged. “The local boys, they don’t want to stick around. It’s too quiet, and they don’t make enough money. So they leave for Yabble or Kroi, the bigger towns. There’s always work for someone who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. And the locals, they love to see new kids in the area.”

Dan thought about that. It wasn’t like he wanted to stay in Chantain. The city was big and busy, but it drained your life while you weren’t looking. Still, that didn’t mean farming was what he wanted instead.

Christine went on, “My folks own the place, but my brother’s running it. I could call and ask him.”

“You hardly know me,” he pointed out. It was her turn to laugh.

“Pal, I know more about you than you’d like! What do you have to stay here for?”

“I couldn’t have left,” he answered evenly. “Grace’s doctors are here.”

That was only half the truth, of course. All his contacts were in Chantain. He would have to completely re-establish his career in a new place.

“What about my magic?” Dan asked. “I don’t plan to give it up.”

She sat back, sipped her drink. “Technically, it’s illegal, but there aren’t any neighbors close enough to snoop. Anyway, folks mind their own business, out there. Besides, Mike might be able to use another magician. I do the enchanting when I’m there, but I travel a lot, too. It would be good to have some backup.”

It might also give him something more satisfying to do. Dan hadn’t chosen stage magic because he enjoyed performing. Cheap illusions in cheap clubs — what was that worth? It had just been a convenient way to have magic without all the questions asked.

Of course, he could also go south, toward Chull, where the power of the Mother-God was weakest. The bog-witches were famous for their curses. That might be just the sort of thing he needed. But there would be a price for such power. Dan wasn’t even done with the Gelboar yet. He didn’t want to get tangled up in something else that might be just as nasty.

Christine lifted her cup again, waiting while he thought things out.

“It sounds good,” Dan admitted. Too good to be true, his mind amended.

“Smart boy,” she said, and there was a gleam of triumph in her eye. “I’ll call him tomorrow.”

A suspicion blossomed in his mind. “You just want to keep an eye on me,” he accused.

She didn’t deny it. “Someone’s got to. What if you can’t get rid of the life link when you want to?”

Dan glared at her, his earlier jealousy returning in a venomous rush. It was all so easy for her. Christine Cooper had never had to lie to protect herself. She had never held a loved one, so wasted she seemed nothing but bones and air, while her breath grew fainter, fainter. The Gellboar had to pay for what she’d done to Marilyn. Come to that, Dan didn’t know if Grace was really all right.

Still, he did have to think of the future. He’d had enough of his furtive existence, living hand to mouth and moment to moment. There was nothing wrong with moving on, especially if it meant securing shelter for Grace. If Christine was going to insist on interfering, he might as well use her. Dan had learned all about using people, these last few years.

Stiffly, he admitted, “The fresh air might do Grace some good.”

Christine set down her empty cup and smiled broadly. “Now you’re thinking.”

“I can go as soon as we’re done at The Cauldron. I’ll need cash for the road.” Dan forced a smile. “It’ll be just us girls.”

“An all-girl road trip!” Christine threw back her head and laughed, a response out of proportion to the weak joke. Relieved to end the confrontation, maybe. Or just thinking she had won. Like the Gellboar thought she had won.

Dan’s stomach tightened again, a bitter knot of guilt and rage. It wasn’t over between them. That filthy female was going to pay for hurting Marilyn and Grace. No one was going to get in the way of that. Not even the real Christine Cooper.

That’s it! The story you’ve waded through… uh, savored and told all your friends about. Check back next time for a return to my usual dragony goodness.

I hope you enjoyed my dark fantasy novelette. Comments and reviews would be much appreciated.

Meantime, I’m still running a subscription drive. Sign up for my newsletter and win a free E-book, The Weight of Their Souls. Just to go my Facebook page, AuthorDebyFredericks, and click the link on the left that says “Join my mailing list.” Easy, right?