Welcome to Here be Dragons.
Today I am looking at one of the lesser forms of dragons. The Wyvern.
The Wyvern differs from a true dragon in that it has only one set of legs and is usually said to be unable to breathe fire or converse with humans. It has a scaled body, a pair of wings, savage claws on its feet, and is sometimes known as the green dragon. On rare occasions individual Wyverns have the ability to breath fire, this then changes them to a Fire Drake and I’ll write about them later.
A sea living version of the Wyvern is said to have a fish tail instead of legs.
Some towns in the UK use a heraldic Wyvern on their civic crests. There is also more than one town that has a legend associated with this mythic creature.
There are several tales from various parts of the UK where locals suffered when a Wyvern took up residence. My favourite is this version of The tale of Maud and the Mordiford dragon.
A young girl named Maud, one from a wealthy and indulgent family, strolled though the woods one day and came upon a small and fascinating creature. The little green beast gambolled and played around her enchanting her with its cheery ways. Maud enjoyed the tiny creature so much she took it home, certain that her parents would accept it.
Both Maud’s parents knew what Maud’s pet was. An infant Wyvern. They forbid their daughter to keep it and insisted she took it back to where she’d found it. But like many young girls Maud thought she knew better. She hid the little creature in a place only she visited. Every day she brought her pet a large dish of finest cream milk and the animal thrived.
Time passed and though Maud’s pet remained gentle with her the milk no longer stilled his hunger. He stole out from his hiding place when Maud had gone, and developed a taste for the local hens. Not long after, his appetite turned to sheep. This high protien diet sped his growth and soon he was ready for his first taste of cattle. He liked them and killed many.
The Wyvern reached maturity and Maud’s hiding place no longer offered him shelter and so he took what is still known as the Serpent Path and made his lair at Hauge Wood. Maud still visited and the Wyvern was always friendly to her. But to other humans he showed a different side. He ate them.
There are several versions of this story’s ending which makes me wonder if more than one story has been combined. Most of the endings are rather sad, but there is one ending with a happier note.
A local man, a man under sentence of death for an undisclosed crime, was offered his freedom if he succeed in killing the Wyvern. Desperate for his chance to live, the man agreed. He was given some armour and weapons in readiness to be sent out of the town to complete his oath sworn task. This hero was a canny sort and demanded an empty barrel as well as the weapons. This was supplied and he used it to float in the confluence of the rivers Wye and Lugg, where the Wyvern visited daily to drink.
The hero, a good shot with a bow, waited patiently for the beast to arrive. When it did and bent its head to drink, he loosed an arrow that took the Wyvern’s life. Making his way to shore in the barrel, the hero cut out the Wyvern’s tongue as proof he’d killed it and returned to the town of Mordiford. He was hailed a hero by the whole town, granted his freedom as promised and given coin for his skill.
In this version there is no mention of Maud in the later stages of the story, but being a romantic I can’t help but wonder if the hero was a good guy really, the kind of man Maud might find attractive and end up wedding. My apologies to all traditionalists who like their legends unsullied by romance. I just can’t help it.
Tomorrow there will be no dragon post as I will be posting my usual Sunday Snippets. You’l find more dragon tales here on Monday.
Thanks for reading.