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Koschei is a legendary character of Russian folklore who sometimes took the shape of a dragon. He seems to have originally been a man, in some versions related to the dreaded witch, Baba Yaga. With his magical might, Koschei could change his form to the dragon or a whirlwind. However, that was not his greatest power. Koschei was called Deathless because he had discovered the secret to immortality!

Perhaps it was more of a work-around for death. Koschei had learned how to separate his soul from his body. He kept his soul in a secret hiding place. As long as it remained inviolate, Koschei could never be killed.

Freed from the fear of death, Koschei embarked on a reign of terror. Nobody could resist his draconic power, and of course, no one could kill him. Only one brave prince stood against the tyrant. Koschei tried to force him into submission. He assumed his whirlwind form and swooped down upon the prince’s beloved wife. Screams trailed behind them as he snatched her away.

The prince faced a grim choice, to submit to a tyrant or lose his dear wife. But the princess was just as brave as her husband. She pretended to admire her captor. With flattery, she tried to find out the source of his immortality. First she found out that his soul was hidden away. Then she begged to know where it was hidden. Koschei enjoyed her attention, but he wasn’t completely taken in. He gave her a false answer. The princess got a message to her husband telling him of the hiding place. He rushed to the spot and destroyed the supposed vessel of Koschei’s soul.

When it became evident that Koschei was alive and as wicked as ever, the princess again pleaded to know where his soul was kept. Again, he lied. Again, she got word to her husband and again he tried to destroy Koschei’s soul. It did no good. A third time, the princess wheedled and teased. Koschei gave what seemed like a ridiculous answer: his soul was in a pebble, inside the yolk of an egg, inside a duck, inside a hare, inside a great rock, on an island.

After many trials, the brave prince managed to find the island, the rock, the hare, the duck, and the egg. Believe it or not, there was a pebble inside the egg! He took it back to confront Koschei, fully expecting that the dragon would kill him. But a slight blow from the tiny pebble restored the wizard’s soul. All the deaths that had been warded off suddenly fell upon him, and he was killed instantly! The prince and princess were reunited, and peace restored to the land.

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Through silver skies
The snow it flies —
And so do I!

To my in-laws’ house, that is. Happy holidays!

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Jack Frost is annoyed.
Naughty dragon making noise,
Scaring off his friends.

Never knew Haiku could be a storytelling form, did you?


Now for that news. I’m excited to tell you that I’ve got the cover art for my middle-grade book, Aunt Ursula’s Atlas. I’m working through Draft to Digital to get it done in e-book and print. There are the usual formatting issues, but I hope to get through them quickly and be able to announce a release date. Crossing my fingers, it will be before Christmas!

Aunt Ursula’s Atlas is a collection of short stories by my alter-ego, Lucy D. Ford. Some are from the fairy tale series that I podcast as The Dragon King in 2012. Others are more contemporary in style. If you recall a few weeks ago, I shared a story called The Dragon’s Ghost on this very blog. That will be part of this book.

So wish me luck as I set out on my self-publishing adventure, and come back Saturday for the next of my haiku sequence.

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Long ago, the English county of Hampshire was covered by thick woodlands called the New Forest. Near these woods was a tall hill known as Burley Beacon, and the den of a dragon was high upon it. The beast caused the usual trouble — devouring cattle and also any humans foolish enough to interfere with its predations.

The nearest manor was at Bisterne, where Sir Maurice Berkeley was visited by a delegation pleading for his help. The villagers had managed to reach a detente that involved them giving all their cows’ milk to the dragon each day. Sir Maurice decided to use this. He had his armor coated with glass, and then set up a hunter’s blind where the dragon came to get the milk. There he hid himself along with his two best hunting hounds.

The next day, the dragon came. Sir Maurice waited until the beast was occupied with its treat. He let his hounds out, and they instantly rushed at the dragon. A furious battle raged across the countryside. It was visible to villagers in Lyndhurst and Bisterne. At length, Sir Maurice managed to strike the dragon from behind. Dragon and dogs died together in a bath of poisoned blood. It’s said that the dragon’s body turned into a hill known as Bolton’s Bench.

The knight’s glass-coated armor shed the blood without harming him… or so it seemed. But Sir Maurice was never the same after the battle. The dragon’s breath was merely a slower poison. He lost his strength and his mind wandered in nightmares. After a month of torment, the doomed knight returned to Bolton’s Bench. He died, and his body changed into a yew tree, which was said to still exist in the 17th Century.

A green dragon became part of the Berkeley family arms. Nearby villages of Bisterne, Alderbury and Brook have all had Green Dragon Inns at various times. The New Forest is a nature reserve, one of Britain’s largest intact native forests. It’s mystique is such that it is frequently referred to in stories by British writers.

And the yew trees grow thick on Bolton’s Bench, even to this day.

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A few of my blogging buddies have inspired me by posting Halloween-type fiction. You might enjoy their stories, too. Check it out!

–>C. S. Boyack’s Macabre Maccaroni.

–>N. E. White’s Posession.

–>Charles Yallowitz’s The Raven’s Game.

So here’s a selection from my eternally-forthcoming collection, Aunt Ursula’s Atlas.
___

THE DRAGON’S GHOST
by Lucy D. Ford

A cold wind blew over the moor, carrying scents of damp earth and heather. Alysona straightened from digging weeds among her turnips. Clutching a woolen shawl around her shoulders, she squinted against the sunset’s glare.

“What do you think, Daisy? Will Brynn be home soon?”

A little orange cat sat atop the stone wall. Alysona, who was very short, reached up to stroke the soft fur. Daisy trilled softly and swished her feathery tail.

“Yes, that must be it,” Alysona agreed with wry humor.

Then she heard faint bleating and a light rumble of hooves. A cheery whistle rose beyond the wall. Hobbling on deformed legs, Alysona went to peer out the gate.

Brynn strode up the dell, whistling to guide their flock. The sheep flowed up the hill like a river of white. Alysona watched for a moment, admiring Brynn’s long legs and strong arms, so different from her own misshapen limbs. He grinned and waved when he saw her. Alysona waved back. How had she been so lucky, to find such a husband?

“Well, shall we see how the potage is doing?” Smiling, she turned toward the stone cottage with its roof thatched with heather. Daisy padded along the wall beside her. They went inside to set the table for supper.

* * *

Hours later, an eerie wail roused her from deep sleep. Her husband cursed in the dark. Rushes crackled as he threw back the warm quilt. The squalling came again.

“Is that Daisy?” Alysona barely recognized the cry of her timid little cat.

“It’s the middle of the night,” Brynn grumbled. Footsteps thudded to the door and he yanked it open. “Daisy — hey!”

Sudden quiet echoed with danger. Alysona sat up, blinking at the empty doorway. Where was Brynn? He’d just been there. Now the weird buzz of Daisy’s growl was the only sound.

A chill washed down her arms. She didn’t want to move, but knew that she must. Alysona padded down wooden steps on her side of the bed and crept forward, clutching the woolen shawl over her chemise. When she reached the door, her knees locked in terror.

“Brynn!”

Her husband floated a few feet away, eyes open and expression blank. Arms and legs drooped toward the floor boards. The guttering hearth fire gave just enough light to reveal three shadows clustered near the outside door.

The intruders were short, as children of ten years, in robes the color and texture of charcoal. Yet there was nothing childish in their haughty bearing. All had bare skulls and gaunt faces where pale eyes blazed with malefic fever. The tallest appeared masculine, the next was a woman, and the third was a youth not yet grown to manhood. All three fixed sinister smiles on her.

“Well met, Alysona,” said the woman.

“How nice to see you,” said the man.

Daisy wailed in terror. Alysona couldn’t see the cat, and assumed she was hidden under a chair. Like her pet, fear held her rooted.

This couldn’t be real. Scary-tales flashed through her mind — a rule of evil marked by incurable sicknesses, night creatures walking in daylight, tolls paid in blood rather than gold.

“Pa-palloe,” she stammered.

“Correct,” said the third one, smug.

“It is good that you recognize your own,” said the woman.

“I’m not!” Alysona gasped. “Just because I’m short doesn’t mean —”

The three awarded each other sly smirks.

“No need for alarm,” said the man, with what might have been meant as reassurance.

“We are merely your neighbors,” said the youth.

“We have watched for some time,” said the woman. “No harm has come to you yet, eh?”

Names were starting to come back to Alysona. Euryx Palloe was the woman, their unholy priestess. Her brother was Gevant, and Firice was the boy of uncertain birth. Knowing their identities gave Alysona a spark of hope, and anger.

“We have nothing here that you’d want. Be off!” Her command was shrill with fear.

“It isn’t what you have,” Firice told her.

“It is what you will do for us,” Gevant said.

“I’ll never help you!”

Her defiance amused them. Euryx Palloe said, “I believe you will.”

The Dwarven sorceress didn’t move, but Brynn drifted a little lower. Alysona couldn’t avoid his sightless stare. The night shirt hung in soft folds, and fine hairs glinted on his slack legs. Her heart twisted to see him so helpless.

“We invite you to our court at Venge Hill,” Gevant Palloe said.

“You know this place,” Firiss Palloe said, not asking if it was true.

Her chin jerked in a nod. Everyone in Witherow Town knew of the cursed keep that had been raised atop an ancient mine. Legend said wicked Dwarves from deep in the earth had built it as a favor to Euryx Palloe. Or that all the Palloe family were Dwarves passing as human.

Grasping for a shred of control, Alysona took up the tale. “The dragon Cazarluun threw down your towers and curled around the hill, to guard it forever.”

“How pleasant that you know our family history.” Euryx’s smile held the edge of a dagger.

“We’re not family!” Alysona cried, aghast.

“Aren’t we?” Gevant mocked.

“No!” Alysona denied any connection between her and these evil Dwarves.

“The dragon died, as all things must,” Firiss resumed.

“His bones are still there,” said Gevant.

And Euryx said, “We want a bone.”

“Why do you want it?” Alysona clung to her fury against the fear that threatened to choke her. She regretted it when all three focused on her with the keen interest of a vulture for a dying cow.

“If we were to tell you that, you would have to join our coven,” said Euryx.

“Is that your wish?” Gevant taunted.

“It’s been a long time since I had a playmate.” Firice leered at her.

Alysona glared at them, her face hot.

“Bring us a bone,” Gevant commanded. “Large or small, any bone will do.”

“Bring it to Venge Hill,” Firiss said.

Daisy squalled under the chair, but Euryx ignored her.

“Until we have a bone from Cazarluun’s skeleton, your dear Brynn will be visiting with us.”

“No!” Alysona wailed like the cat.

Too late, she found strength to move. She leapt, grabbing for her husband’s shoulder, but the three Palloes raised their hands. Instead of finding warm flesh, Alysona plunged into inky shadow. She crashed to the floor, overcome.

* * *

Sense returned, sluggish as molasses on a winter’s morn. Alysona lay numb, hardly feeling the braided rug beneath her cheek. The only warmth in a world of dread came from a furry ball pressed against her shoulder. Rhythmic shuddering steadied into Daisy’s near-silent purr.

Alysona wobbled to her feet, while her startled cat disappeared under a chair. Panic made her desperate to run, to escape — but where could she go? What could she do? She clung to a chair back and willed blurry eyes to work.

The stone cottage held no sign of a disturbance. All was as it had been: wooden furniture, cooking pots, two chairs at the fireside, one large and one small. Only the bedchamber door stood open, revealing the empty bed.

“Brynn!” Alysona whispered and slumped into the lower chair. Hot tears scalded her cheeks.

Soft fur rubbed back and forth against her knees. Then the orange cat, who never wanted to be held, sprang up to Alysona’s lap. On any other day, it would have been a miracle to relish. Now Alysona just sobbed into the furry armload.

How could she go on without Brynn? Bleak memories churned in her mind. Taunts and stones thrown at her, the freak with stunted arms and legs, who would never grow taller than a ten-year-old child. In Witherow Town, men made horns when they thought she couldn’t see. Women dragged her playmates away, scolding them for being near her. And the rumors about how her parents, both ordinary sized, had come to birth such an unnatural creature in their stone house on the moors.

They all thought she was touched by Palloe’s evil. Even the Palloes said so. Only Brynn paid no mind to gossip. He laughed at the sign of the horns and caught the stones as they flew. He had wed Alysona against his parents’s command, and when they rejected his bride, he’d come to live in her lonely little house on the moors.

Five years, she’d felt safe in the strength of Brynn’s love. He handled all their dealings in Witherow, so she didn’t have to be stared at. Brynn took Alysona’s yarn to market and brought extra food home. And if Brynn simply vanished? How folk would talk! They’d waste no time in branding her a witch, the wicked Dwarf who lured her husband to his ruin.

A shrill mew startled her. Alysona sat up, and Daisy sprang down from her lap.

“Did I squeeze too hard? I’m sorry, little sweet,” she sniffled.

Retreating to the far end of the hearth, the orange cat set about putting her rumpled coat back in order.

Moving slowly as an old woman, Alysona built up the fire and dressed as if this were an ordinary day. Sturdy wool skirt and bodice over her chemise, heavy boots for farm work, a scarf over her hair. She stirred a pot of groats until they boiled. Curse the Palloes and their blighted ways! Alysona shuddered at the memory of their naked skulls and the deadly confidence as Euryx Palloe delivered her threats. It sickened her to think of doing what they wanted.

After eating, she shuffled about the farm yard, gathering eggs and milking the cow. Silent little Daisy followed in every step. All the while, Euryx’s voice whispered in Alysona’s memory, “Your dear Brynn will be visiting with us.”

She drew up all her meager height to stare eastward. Crimson sunrise made her blink. A quiet mew came from down by her knees.

“I know.” Alysona swallowed against a tight knot in her throat. She couldn’t turn her back on Brynn.

Thistles poked up among her cabbages, and the sheep bleated to be let out, but all of that must wait. Once milk and eggs were tucked away in the cold cellar, she packed Brynn’s clothes into a hamper and closed up her little stone cottage.

As she trudged out the gate, a shrill mew came after her. Startled, Alysona looked back. The orange cat lingered in the gateway. Even though she was free to come and go, Daisy almost never went beyond the gate.

“You could let me carry you,” Alysona suggested. Not that a cat would be much help, but she wouldn’t feel so alone.

Daisy’s ears angled back and her tail lashed. Alysona felt abandoned, but she couldn’t let it stop her.

“I’ll be back soon,” she vowed, and plodded on her way. Moments later, to her relief, light steps pattered after her.

To be continued on October 31st!

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Years ago, I heard part of a legend about fossil skull being mistaken for that of a dragon. After doing some research, I’m happy to share the tale with you.

Klagenfurt, Austria, is a small city with a big story. It’s told that in Medieval times, this part of Austria was wilderness. People started to move in and settle near a lake with marshes all along the edges. Unfortunately, they soon learned that a lindworm lurked in those waters! Livestock and people fell prey to its terrible appetite, until a brave warrior managed to bring it down. Once the area was safe, the marshes were drained, and the historic city was built.

Generations passed down the legend of the lindworm. Then, sometime in the 1300s, the skull of a huge, mysterious creature was discovered near Klagenfurt. Nobody knew what it could be, so they decided it must be a last remnant of the fabled lindworm. This relic was displayed with honor in the town hall.

More centuries passed, and the latest batch of town fathers decided to install a large fountain commemorating the victory over the lindworm. The sculptor, Ulrich Vogelsang, borrowed the lindworm skull to use as a model. The impressive cast iron fountain, which looks about 30 feet long, was installed in 1590. Later, in 1636, a different sculptor added the figure of a heroic warrior confronting the lindworm.

Through various wars and disasters, the fountain and the supposed dragon skull both survived. As science advanced, scholars realized that the fossil skull was actually that of an Ice Age rhinoceros. Although the legend of the lindworm was not real, Ulrich Vogelsang is recognized as one of the first artists to try and represent any animal based on its fossil.

 

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One science writer attempts to answer this age-old question in the context of Game of Thrones.

Check the links at the bottom. There are quite a number of fun articles examining various real-world sciences in this popular show.

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