Welcome to Day 4 of Here be Dragons.
Today I am looking at the one legend that convinces me dragons live or lived. This dragon isn’t like the mighty flying dragons and it doesn’t spit fire.
This is the Worm, pronounced ‘vurm’.
Legends and recent records tell of the worm. This creature lives in dark caves and has a taste for meat but not always the meat of humans. The worm plunders sheep.
You will recognise the worm as a long snake type creature with scales. It has no limbs or wings but don’t get to close because the worm breathes out a poisonous gas. If you inhale once the breath of the worm it will sweep you beyond the veil and leave your cooling corpse as worm bait.
There are several legends of greedy and wicked worms and each offers a hero his chance to shine. The Lambton worm was one such creature.
This is the tale of Lambton worm.
John Lambton, a young man of good family but with a rebellious nature decided he’d no longer go to Sunday Church. Instead he picked up his rods, tackle and nets and went off a fishing. All morning he cast bait and tried but caught nothing until the Church service was over. As soon as Sunday service was done the fish bit and John Lambton dragged forth a wriggling snake like creature with nine holes each side of its evil looking head.
Disgusted with his catch John Lambton thought better of his sinful ways and decided to prove his faith by going to join the crusaders. Careless of all else he dumped his catch in the nearest well and hurried off to pack his bags.
In the security of the soft water in the cool well the Lambton Worm grew to a prodigious size until it was large enough to poison the well. The villagers knew something was wrong and reports from shepherds confirm their fears. Sheep disappeared from the hillsides or were found gnawed to the bone. One family lost a fair child to the worm and that forced the local master’s hand.
John Lambton’s father attempted to master the wicked beast and offered it the rich cream milk from nine good cows. This offering sedated the worm but had to be repeated daily, a drain on all in the local community. Several courageous villagers attempted to slay the worm as it lay sated on milk. But each time a section was cut from the thick body of the worm it roused, ate the villager and reattached the missing chunk to its body.
Word was sent out for knightly assistance and several knights arrived. Each one was dispatched by the ever growing worm. After seven summers fed on milk the beast’s strength had grown fearsome. In its fury the worm ripped up trees and grasped them in a coil of its tail. The local fields, woods and lands were battered by the worm’s club.
For seven long years the worm held sway in Lambton. The village withered and few were left alive to eke out a miserable existence.
Just when it appeared another winter would see the end of the village and all its souls, the careless but now much learned John Lambton arrived home from the crusade. Guilt overwhelmed him for the destruction on the village lay at his door. Determined to rid his community of this evil John consulted a wise woman who warned him he must cover his armour with spearheads and fight the beast in its lair. The worm had now grown to such a size it spent its days lounging in the river Weir with its tale curled around a large rock.
It is said the witch gave John another warning. Once he had defeated the worm he must kill the first living thing he saw on his way home. If he failed to do this his family would be cursed for nine generations. Shaken by her warning John followed her instructions. He saw his armour covered in spearheads, arranged with his father that on the sound of his victorious horn the family dog would be sent out to greet him, and John went out to fight.
The battle took hours but even though the worm hissed and spat, and curled its mighty tail about John trying to crush him the knight could slash at it. Each slice he cut washed away in the river current so it could not reattach. Weakened, the worm finally succumbed.
Triumphant in his victory John sounded his hunting horn and headed for home, knowing the dog would come to meet him and save the family from the curse. But his father, joyful after so many years of sorrow forgot to let the dog free and ran himself to meet his son.
John greeted his father and could not bring himself to kill the old man. He sent him home to send out the dog. But it made no difference. The curse was set and nine following generations of the Lambton family did not die in their beds.
The tales of young men defeating dragons reverberate through the years and give us some of our best stories. I hope you enjoyed my rendition of this one.
Why do I find this legend so convincing of the existence of the Worm? If you look back on my dragon posts you will find reference to a situation in Wales, where the locals reported sheep missing, carcases found and the slime trail of a worm. I wonder if those stray chunks of the worm found their way into water courses, and many generations after the event they grew strong enough to be the worm once more.
What do you think?
Thanks for reading.