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Archive for June, 2014

Previously: Young Maud had brought a baby wyvern home to be her pet. Knowing the fearsome beast this helpless hatchling would grow into, her parents ordered her to return it to the forest.

Sadly, with lagging steps, Maud took her new friend back to the forest. But then she had an idea. As soon as she was out of her watchful parents’s sight, she hurried away to a secluded glade where she often played. This became the secret home of her pet wyvern.

Maud’s parents believed she roamed in the woods as before. But now her hours were spent with her best friend, and most of the food she took with her went to feed it. Under Maud’s loving care, the wyvern thrived. The soft green scales became hard emerald plates. The frail wings grew mighty, and its paws were tipped with ebony claws sharp as razors. And it grew from the size of a cucumber until its shoulders brushed the treetops.

Despite all this, Maud never had any fear of her great companion. The wyvern was gentle in her presence, letting her sit on its back and weave flower crowns for both of them. She gazed into its blazing eyes without fear. Such is the power of loving kindness.

What the innocent girl didn’t know was that her meager offerings of milk and bread were no longer enough to satisfy her dear friend’s appetite. The wyvern craved red meat. It hunted in her absence. First it caught woodland creatures, but soon the farmers began to complain that their sheep and cattle had been taken. A few of them set out to track the predator. They were never seen again, but the wyvern discovered a delicious new treat… human flesh.

Even a sweet child like Maud could understand what was happening. She ran to the glade, where the wyvern met her mildly as ever. Maud begged the wyvern to stop hunting livestock and farmers. She asked for its promise. The wyvern was sad to have upset her, but its eyes blazed with a true dragon’s fire. For the first time it shook out its mighty wings and launched into the sky.

Weeping, Maud went home. She thought she would never see her dear friend again. Her parents thought she was grieving for the dead, but it was her own innocence that had been lost.

Check back on Tuesday for the conclusion of Maud and the Wyvern!

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Wyverns are a sub-class of dragons known from Medieval European lore. Wyverns have two legs, wings, and long scaly tails. This was an important distinction in Medieval heraldry, where its two legs vs. the four legs of an ordinary dragon would allow or disallow a heraldic figure.

In legends, wyverns were associated with plagues, jealousy, warfare, or as guises of the Devil.

In some arms the wyvern is shown having forelegs, wings, and the long tail. In others, it has wings, back legs, and a shorter tail. The latter typically were used when wyverns supported a crest in some painting or sculpture. There even were sea-wyverns with fish tails instead of serpentine ones.

Probably the most famous wyvern story is the tale of Maud and the Wyvern.

Long ago, in England, there was a girl named Maud. She was an only child who roamed the woods and was familiar with all its creatures, but she was lonely without any playmates. Maud begged her parents to let her have a pet. They agreed, assuming her choice would be a dog or cat.

Little did they know! Maud went roaming as usual and encountered a surprising creature: a tiny baby wyvern fluttering helplessly in a grove. It was the size of a cucumber and bright green, with glittering scales and translucent wings too fragile to lift it into the air. Maud felt sorry for the little creature, which was obviously lost and hungry. She took it home to be her pet.

Maud’s parents were horrified when they saw her choice. For though it was tiny now, they knew it would grow into a dangerous monster. They knew they should kill it, but they didn’t have the heart. Instead, they ordered Maud to return the creature to the forest. If it died, then that was nature’s way.

Come back on Saturday for the next chapter!

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A few weeks ago, I mentioned Tale of Dragons, an online game where you adopt dragon eggs and feed them by clicking. I’ve been playing steadily and now I’m back to report.

As I suspected, Tale of Dragons is not extremely exciting. But, it isn’t necessarily as slow moving as I had thought it would be. For one thing, my daughter Cora, who is 16, came into the room and saw my lair. That was it, she had to play, too. So she and I have been comparing dragons and strategies during summer break. That adds something special for me.

Thanks to Cora, I’ve discovered that some of the limitations in the rules I had read were incorrect. You aren’t bound to just 5 dragons per lair; I currently have 9 with no in-game notices telling me to expand my quarters. Cora must have 20 by now.

However, the rule that each dragon can only level up once per day seems firm. This must be intended to keep players from rushing through too fast. It hasn’t bothered me, but it could frustrate some players.

Of course, the more dragons you get, the longer it takes to feed and level them up. I suppose if you have too many dragons you could abandon some, or if they turn out to be a type that you didn’t want, you likewise can give them away. Cora has done this a few times, as she has certain themes going on. I haven’t abandoned one yet.

As with many online games, there are exclusive items (gold scales) that you have to buy with real money. Unlike most online games, they don’t flaunt the exclusive items or send spam e-mails urging you to buy more scales.

In sum, Tale of Dragons is low pressure and the baby dragons are cute. I’ll keep going a while longer.

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Zahhak, the three-headed dragon, is a fascinating character that really is in a class all his own. Not just because Arab and Iranian legends are so little known here in the US.

When you hear the words “three-headed dragon,” don’t you picture a beast with three dragon heads? But Zahhak actually has two dragon heads and one human. That’s a pretty unique combination.

He also falls into that rare group of dragons who start out life as human, but become dragons because of their own evil. The legends relate that Zahhak, as a prince, was clever but weak-willed. He allowed the evil spirit Ahriman to lure him from the path of righteousness. In fact, it was Ahriman himself who “rewarded” Zahhak’s cooperation by giving him the two dragon heads.

This isn’t the same as Maleficent, who in the 1959 movie Sleeping Beauty turned into a dragon to battle Prince Phillip. Zahhak makes decisions that there’s no coming back from. The only other dragon I can think of who’s like this is Fafnir, of Germanic myth. Fafnir, a dwarf, was so overcome by lust for gold that he killed his own father. He, too, transformed into a dragon and never regained his original shape.

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The evil spirit Ahriman found his perfect puppet in the person of Zahhak, a prince he connived and deceived into becoming king — then cursed with a dragon’s head growing from either shoulder. And these dragon heads could only be placated by one food: human brains.

Whatever goodness may once have been inside Zahhak, he now gave himself completely to evil. His greatest fear was that the two dragons might turn and devour his brain someday. Using a network of spies, he began to arrest anyone who spoke against his rule. And there must have been plenty of protest — no matter how great or small the crime, two prisoners each day were sacrificed and their brains served to Zahhak.

Ahriman must have settled in to enjoy the reign of terror. Zahhak did not rest easily, however. After some time, he had a terrible dream that a rebellion arose. The leader struck him down with a mighty club, then dragged him off toward a high mountain. Upon awakening, Zahhak summoned all his wise men and advisors to interpret this dream. They hemmed and hawed, none wishing to present bad news when their brains might be at stake. The king demanded answers! Finally one admitted that the dream foretold the end of Zahhak’s bloody rule. He even named the man who would bring about Zahhak’s doom. His name was Fereydun.

Nobody knew anything about this person, but Zahhak at once sent his spies to find out. After long searching, the spies discovered that Fereydun was a young boy who lived hidden in the mountains and fed on the milk of a magical cow. Somehow Fereydun must have learned that the spies were coming, for he fled before they reached him. They killed the cow and returned to Zahhak.

While the hunt went on, a pair of dissidents managed to work their way into the kitchens of Zahhak’s palace. There they worked out a plan where they served sheep’s brains instead of human and allowed some of the prisoners to escape. The dragon heads didn’t seem to notice a difference, but Fereydun’s army grew steadily.

Meanwhile, Zahhak embarked on a political campaign to head off the rebellion. He drew up a document that testified to his righteousness, thinking that this would remove the justification for a revolt. Then he summoned leaders from every part of the land and commanded them to sign it. Fearing death, most of them complied. However, a blacksmith named Kava stood up and protested that all of his sons had been arrested and only one was still alive. Seeking to appear merciful, Zahhak agreed to release Kava’s son. Once his son was freed, Kava tore up the document and fled.

He raised his blacksmith’s apron as a banner and gathered many followers. Soon they joined Fereydun’s cause. As the boy had now grown into a man, Kava made for him a mighty mace shaped like an ox’s head. They marched forth to war. The tyrant fled with his army in retreat, and Fereydun soon took the capital city. The surviving prisoners were freed.

Zahhak’s government officials swore to serve the rebel leader. However, the treasurer, Kondrow, snuck off with information on where Fereydun’s forces were arrayed. Zahhak snuck back in, thinking to catch his enemy unawares. But it all happened even as he had dreamed. Fereydun struck him down with the ox-headed mace and dragged him to Mount Damavand, a volcanic peak in modern-day Iran. There the bloodthirsty tyrant was imprisoned for all time, with his own dragon heads gnawing at his skull.

Wow. There’s just nothing like a true dragon legend, is there!

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Long ago in Arabia, a king named Merdas had only one son. Prince Zahhak was clever and handsome, but his character was weak. He found it easier to go along with what the courtiers and advisers said than to think for himself. This was observed by Ahriman, an evil spirit rather like Satan of Jewish and Biblical tradition. Like Satan, Ahriman aspired to cover the earth with his evil rule, and Zahhak seemed like a perfect tool toward this goal.

Ahriman wormed his way into King Merdas’s court and became close to Prince Zahhak. Over time, he persuaded Zahhak to murder his father and assume the throne. The means was to dig a deep pit in a place where the king often walked, and conceal it with brush. This was done; the king fell into the pit and was killed, leaving his son a bloody throne.

Perhaps the new king repented at this, for his former friend was banished from the court. But this was no impediment to Ahriman. He changed his form and returned in the guise of a chef whose food was so wonderful that after some weeks King Zahhak promised him any reward he wanted. The “humble” chef asked to kiss the king on both shoulders. This was agreed. But when the chef had kissed the king’s shoulders, he suddenly disappeared.

In that same moment, two black serpents grew from the king’s shoulders. The horrified king commanded that they be cut off, but as soon as that happened, two more dragon heads grew. Days passed by, and no one could find a way to remove the dragons. In fact, the hungry beasts bit and snapped at everyone, so that no one dared approach.

Except for Ahriman, who now wore the shape of a wise physician. Ahriman told King Zahhak that the dragons couldn’t be removed, but they could be temporarily sated. The only food they would accept? Human brains.

…Oh, didn’t I mention this is a zombie dragon story? Check back on Saturday for the next chapter.

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As a quick follow-up to my earlier post on the Liebster Award, I have been nominated a second time by YA author Shannon A Thompson. If you missed the Liebster blog post or want to see it again, go ahead and click on the link up above.

Shannon has an amazing blog and currently is touching on the snobbery of a particular self-appointed “expert” toward YA Lit. Her blog is always interesting, so feel free to take a look. And thanks to Shannon for the nomination.

Now about that movie! I had read reviews on Maleficent that indicated excellent acting and FX but the screenplay is a dog. Particularly, one critic alleged a marked anti-male bias in the script. I don’t agree. Just because the principal villain is male does not make this a man-bashing movie. The script switches around a well known tale in which the very evil antagonist was female. So if the formerly-villain Maleficent becomes the hero in this latest movie, who were you thinking the new antagonist was going to be? (Hint: Not Aurora!)

Certainly, other characters are less developed than Maleficent. If King Stephen is something of a stock character, so are the three fairies, who continue the unfortunate tradition of fairy-ridicule from Sleeping Beauty. Both Aurora and Phillip have almost nothing to do in this script. In addition, Stephen’s evil is more than balanced by the crow, Diablo, a positive male figure in this film.

That’s enough of breaking it down by sexes, I think. I was surprised to enjoy Angelina Jolie’s performance in the title role since she hasn’t impressed me before. Her wardrobe here is excellent and restrained and she brings gravitas to the role. Possibly she’s decided it’s time to play more mature parts rather than just being a hot chick. And, after her well-publicized surgeries, she may have felt revealing attire would have the audience focused on looking for scars rather than watching her performance.

As for the dragons, there are three different varieties during the show. One is an fearsome earth beast made of roots and vines. The second is light and airy, with fluttering, diaphanous fins. Technically these both are Lindworms — long and snaky, without paws or wings. And the third, of course, is the big black dragon breathing fire. I can’t tell you more about this without spoiling one of the surprises.

Should you go see Maleficent? You should. There’s a little warfare but not in a gory way, and brief kissing but no sex scenes, so even young kids won’t be dismayed. Is this the deepest pool in the river? No, but it’s nowhere near as shallow as you may have heard.

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