Do you remember the days when the red-feathered dragon moved into the forest near Penllyn Castle? After the dragon’s short reign of terror, the people quickly established a peaceful outer obedience to the beast’s demands for local livestock. As long as each farmer in turn gave of the best of his flock, the dragon left the people and their children alone, except, of course, when it needed admiration. Every Friday at sunset, the dragon freewheeled in flight, coasting at a just-so angle, reflecting the last rays of the red sun. The dragon shimmered, and the people dutifully pointed and exclaimed and then hightailed it back to their cottages before darkness overcame them.
Years later, a new High Sheriff, appointed by the English throne, entered the dragon’s realm. Wealthy men followed the sheriff, building houses that encroached upon the dragon’s territory. As men felled trees for their homes, the dragon retreated into the depth of the forest, farther and farther, to avoid these new men and their weapons. In retaliation for the loss of its domain, the dragon returned to its secretive and predatory ways, snatching livestock at will and refusing the offerings of the people. No longer did it freewheel on Friday evenings, expecting the awe of the peasants and farmers. Worse still, an occasional child vanished, which set tongues to wagging because the High Sheriff seemed to have no concern for their missing children. The people were superstitious, the Sheriff claimed. There was no dragon–only evil men. And the vilest of all men were the ones who resided in the monasteries, now in the process of dissolution. The High Sheriff was a busy man.
There was a poor shepherd boy called Gwyn who lived in the region; he was a member of all search parties involving missing children, due to his tracking abilities. Daily, though, it was his duty to protect his father’s sheep from the clutches of the dragon, or any other threats. Although Gwyn’s father had long given the best of his flock to the dragon when his lot was called, now that the beast threatened to ravage any or all of the flock at unexpected moments, he and Gwyn built a strong sheepfold which had a roof for blocking the flock from aerial view. When Gwyn took the flock to grazing land, he also took with him two well-trained dogs that gave advance warning of the stealthy, flying creature.
Gwyn had good reason to protect what little wealth he and his family possessed. Gwyn was in love and wanted to marry, but the woman of his choice–the beautiful miller’s daughter, Elen–had a heart only for wealth and security. Her head had been turned, as had many of the local girls’ heads, by the wily compliments of a wealthy gent, who was a friend to the new High Sheriff. In consequence of his friendship, the wily man was appointed officer of the law and, whilst the local women favored him when he rode into the village, tall and stately on his horse, the local men despised him. They were known to shout insults at the man because this officer of the law barely understood the local tongue. So they hurled their best, with smiles on their faces, lest they incur the wrath of the officer’s sword. Their friendly smiles encouraged the officer, who responded by puffing his chest and straightening his back and forcing his horse to prance in a disgusting manner.
One evening, after his father’s sheep were in the fold, and Gwyn had imbibed plenty of ale at the local inn, he and the village men watched the officer step up to the town platform and unroll a scroll–some kind of edict for capturing a wanted man, no doubt. Well, they would never give up their own, not for the greatest reward in heaven.
“He’s every bit the dragon,” Gwyn said. “Look at the way he takes our best and puffs his chest.”
An old friend jabbed Gwyn in the ribs. “Fight him, then. Take the best back, if you catch my meaning.”
Gwyn grasped the full intent of his friend’s meaning, but he didn’t know how he–a shepherd–could win the miller’s daughter from a man who wore a sword and had money to spare. Perhaps, though–perhaps, he could win the award, after all, turn in one of his own to marry the woman he desired. What did criminals know of loyalty, anyway? He, therefore, listened intently to the officer’s proclamation.
“I hereby announce the offering of a hefty reward by edict of the High Sheriff for the man who captures the awful wyvere in the forest and rescues the High Sheriff’s son who went missing two nights past!” That was the gist of the message; however, the officer, not knowing well the common language, stumbled over it and had to read it three times in a row before the men understood him and stopped their laughing.
“Ah, he just wants the dragon’s gold!” one man shouted.
Another said, “Does he expect us to rescue his son, when he has no care for ours?”
Meanwhile, they plastered smiles on their faces before dispersing to their homes, because they knew that actions always mean more than words.
“And what does the High Sheriff want with dragon gold?” Gwyn spoke aloud, believing he was alone.
Mysteriously, a voice whispered in his ear, “If you seek the dragon and find no gold, you’ll still have your reward.”
When he turned around, he beheld Elen, the beautiful miller’s daughter, whose golden hair appeared silver under the moonlight. “Shouldn’t you be home?” he asked her.
“Yes, I should be. My father awaits me. You could slay the dragon, Gwyn. You could take a portion of the gold for yourself.”
“And then what? Will I win your heart?”
“Yes. I’ve never desired to marry a fool.”
“Only a fool would slay a dragon for monetary gain.”
Elen touched his cheek. “Only a fool would let the award go to another man.”
Elen’s words haunted him for days. They haunted him as he watched his father’s sheep and as he ate his supper and warmed himself by the evening hearth. Finally, he came to a decision. He would allow the dragon to steal one of his flock. For the reward of Elen’s hand, one lamb was meaningless. Then he would track the dragon to its cave and see for himself whether a hoard of treasure waited inside…or, perhaps a treasure of small boys, the chiefest of which, deserved a heavy ransom.