This is a story told in black discarded scales, fallen on hard earth and pale grass . . .
The warmth of the sun still gave a little glow to the flint walls of the Lone Chapel, the evening that the Pilgrim Woman told this tale.
Child Rowena to the Dark Tower came. Her squire followed her to the ruins. Through the fog they rode. Beneath a line of nine polars, each spattered with silent, watching crows. Past walls sprouting ferns edged in ice. Below rowantrees heavy with frozen berries, their clusters hanging heavy as jewels.
She led him past hounds who flung themselves against iron gates, calmed him when he flinched. She did not falter when three blackbirds spinked a warning and the wren cocked her tail in alarm.
Despite the murk, the creature lurking below the bridge had to be found. It must no longer hide in the marsh that had once been a moat. Its lair amongst the neat and ancient masonry needed a cleanse.
And so she had brought her squire to the brow of the hill, to the lonely stone walls that circled the Dark Tower. Across the blood-soaked fields of half-forgotten battle, still pocked with cannon balls and shattered bone, a chill breath rolled.
A figure loomed out of the thick haze. Purple-and-turquoise coated in outlandish fashion, with wild hair of silver and eyes of hazel-green, the strange woman bowed to the knight and her squire.
‘Beware,’ she said. ‘Do not trample on the grass. Break one spike of the hoarfrost and the beast will track you and slay you. He set it as a trap.’
The squire looked puzzled.
‘Not all dragons have fire in their guts. Some spread fog and frost, leave trails of black ice that set wheels and hooves to sliding and death. This is such a one.’
The warrior nodded her thanks and took the frostless path the seeress showed to her. In time she braved the half-rotted bridge and found the cruel beast curled up in a frozen well. With sweet words and a play of being merely a pink-hatted girl, she drew it out. Up it crawled, its icicle-bearded jaws opened wide to swallow her – and it leapt.
The squire yelled in alarm.
But at that very moment, the sun came from behind the Dark Tower and burnt the mist to nothing. The dragon crumbled into scree.
The seeress clapped her fur-gloved hands.
‘Not all dragons breathe fire – and not all warriors need armour.’
Photograph of Sandal Castle taken by the author.
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