"They greatlie preserve their health (as Aristotle affirmeth) by eating of wild Lettice, for that they make them to vomit, and caste fooreth of theyr stomacke whatsoever meate offendeth them, and they are most speciallie offended by eating Apples, for theyr bodies are much subject to being filled with winde, and therefore they never eate Apples, but first they eate wild Lettice."
On Dragons - Edward Topsell, History of Foure-Footed Beastes
A warm breeze skittered playfully through a large garden at the edge of the Deepest Woods. Pale light poured from the full moon sailing overhead, illuminating neat rows of carrots and radishes. Its argent glow shone brightly on bushy tomato plants and tall corn stalks, and finally, best of all to the dreaming eyes of a hungry dragon sleeping in his cave, silvered the ruffled malachite leaves of nine huge heads of cabbage growing in the middle of the garden.
Clyde the Magnificent, aristocratic scion of the legendary dragon clan Cloudwalker, son of Mortimer the Ferocious and Sybilla the Sly, proud of bearing, large in spirit, noble of body, and last, but not least, firmly vegetarian of appetite, snored softly as he dreamt of dancing among the cabbages nestled in the center of the garden. The breeze once again fluttered through the garden, wafting its heady aromas into the moonbright night. Clyde shivered with ecstasy as the luscious scent of ripe cabbages tickled his nose.
What's this about a dragon dreaming of cabbages, you ask? To make a long story short -- Clyde, after one hideous attempt to eat a brigand when he was just a fledgling dragon (resulting in an attack of nausea that lasted a week), had become a strict vegetarian.
At the next family reunion, his mummy pointed out (at some length) that her darling baby had a most delicate stomach and therefore simply had to be a vegetarian. Remembering the messes on the floor from the brigand fiasco, the family heartily (if not thankfully) agreed. Cloudwalker Clan consensus was unanimous - no more humans for Clyde.
Now, you might think a vegetarian dragon would be an outcast amongst dragonkind. Not so. Dragons are the most tolerant of creatures. Of course, when you're thirty or forty feet long with claws like scythes and teeth like swords, you can afford to be. As the Great Dragon of All Dragons once said, many, many long years ago, "Just because most of us like to eat virgins or questing knights, it doesn't mean that we can't appreciate the fellow who goes for shoe salesmen or librarians. It's all in the taste buds. Pass the ketchup, please."
Therefore, while Clyde's preference for cabbages and petunias over virgins and librarians was considered slightly eccentric, most dragons didn't think it too terribly odd that Clyde went after the cottage gardens, rather the cattle byres and humans, when he raided a village. Clyde was terrorizing a village in acceptable dragon fashion, and that's what counted.
In fact, the villages near his cave would have preferred he take a virgin instead of half of their produce. After all, every village in Potsdawddle had more maidens than they knew what to do with. Produce, on the other hand, fetched a good price at market, and kept a roof on the cottage and food on the table.
"Look 'ere, dragon," the village headman would say when it came time to make the yearly offering to the dreadful dragon. "Why don't you take Agnes instead of 'alf my crop of broccoli?" He would then shove a beautiful maiden, nicely plump and shivering with terror, in front of Clyde.
As always, Clyde would sigh, shake his head and show the headman and the slightly offended virgin to the entrance of his cave. "No thanks," he would say. "Maidens give me acid reflux something awful." The maiden would glare, the headman would sigh, the rest of the village would roll up the carts filled with lovely vegetables, and life would go on as it always did in the lands of Potsdawddle.
Unfortunately for Clyde, this year's spring had been long in coming. Crops were few and sparse due to ill-timed storms and little sun. One day the village headman marched up to Clyde's cave and announced, "There'll be no tribute this year, dragon. Our 'arvest were bad and we can barely feed our own folk."
The headman folded his arms across his burly chest and glowered at the 40-foot long green dragon. "And if you're thinking 'bout eating a maiden, you can just forget it. Your silly talk 'bout that acid reflux stuff made the virgins so mad that they all went out and got boyfriends, and now we 'ave a bumper crop of babies to feed too."
"Oh dear," Clyde quavered piteously, trembling a little at the thought of having forage for food again. "Whatever shall I do, Bertie?"
Bertie's expression softened a bit as Clyde's rainbow-hued eyes filled with tears. "You've not been a bad sort for a dragon," Bertie conceded. "We 'aven't 'ad to worry about bandits and the like since you moved in."
Exasperated, Bertie threw his hands in the air. "What can we do? We can't afford to feed you and our families too!"
"It's all right," Clyde said in a small voice, dejectedly laying his head on his tail. "I understand completely. I guess I'll just have to find a new home."
Bertie staggered back two steps. "What? You can't do that! What 'bout them bandits over in the foothills? They'll rob us blind when they find you've gone!"
"Well, I can't stay here and starve," Clyde pointed out.
Bertie stroked his luxuriant mustaches for a moment, then gave Clyde a sly glance. "I don't 'spose you'd want to eat them bandits," Bertie coaxed. "I bet that band would fill you up for an entire year. Might even give you taste for virgins." The village headman looked hopefully at Clyde.
"Puh-leeze." Clyde shuddered. "Bandits are even worse than maidens! I'd have heartburn for months, and I hate to think what a whole band of greasy bandits would do to my bowels." Clyde shook his head. "Sorry, but I'll just have to find a village whose crops did better."
"I guess this is it then," Bertie mourned.
"I'm afraid so," Clyde replied. "Unless you can figure out some way to feed me."
Bertie held out his hand to Clyde. "I wish I could dragon," Bertie said, shaking Clyde's talon. "But the only garden I know what did well this year belongs to the Dread Witch on t'other side of the Deepest Woods." Bertie's shoulders slumped as he walked to the entrance of the cave. "They say 'er cabbages are as big as boulders."
A claw caught the hem of Bertie's tunic. "Tell me more about the Dread Witch," Clyde purred as he pulled the headman closer, his eyes glittering at the thought of cabbages as big as boulders.
Two nights later, after a discreet aerial reconnoiter of the area, Clyde landed in a small clearing, slowly creeping behind three rather small azalea bushes at the edge of the garden. It wasn't the best cover in the world, but the smell of all that food was nigh irresistible.
Clyde cautiously pushed his head between two of the azaleas. He gasped. From the raggedy scarecrow hanging from a pole by the corn to the dark green cabbages dead center in the plot, it was the garden of his dreams. Wiping drool from his chin, Clyde pondered the best way to commit grand theft cabbage without getting caught by the Dread Witch.
Making a supreme effort of will, Clyde forced himself to look away from the luscious cabbages and study the witch's small cottage squatting at one end of the gloriously beautiful garden. Its single window was dark, its wooden door was closed, and a clatter of loud snores drifting from the unshuttered window argued that the owner of the cottage was sound asleep. Clyde shivered. But was she really?
The first lesson every young dragon learned at his granddad's knee was that witches and warlocks were a tricksy lot. These awful magic users loved to put nasty spells and horrible enchanted snares all around their property for the sole purpose of enticing, then catching unwary dragons and making magical mincemeat of them. Baby dragons through the ages had been scared silly by tales of unlucky dragonlets who were caught by mean witches and chopped into chunks to be used as ingredients in philters, potions and the covers of exceedingly tacky dragonskin souvenir boxes.
Another breath of wind shivering through the air sent a whiff of intoxicating l'air de chou past Clyde's nose and drew his gaze back to the garden. Clyde quivered in anticipation. He had to have those cabbages now. But, hunger or no, his mother had taught him to be cautious. Lifting his head he reached out with his dragon senses.
Almost immediately his dragonsight picked up the faintest glimmer of magic outlining the garden. Sure enough, the Dread Witch had protective spells around her garden. Clyde extended his senses a little farther. Maybe he could find a spot that wasn't bespelled. He blinked in consternation. More and more glimmers began to appear, until soon the garden looked as if it were lying under a shimmering silver net.
"Well darn," Clyde groused. "Now what am I going to do?" His chin quivered as he stared yearningly at the enormous cabbages sitting so delectably and so untouchably in the middle of the magically protected garden.
"Ooooooh," he moaned. "I don't know if I can stand it. Why does her garden have to look so good?"
"It is a lovely garden, isn't it?" a friendly voice said.
"Just beautiful," Clyde salivated, his gaze locked on the objects of his desire. "Look at those cabbages. They're breaking my heart with their perfection."
"Oh yes, the cabbages are nice this year," the voice agreed. "I've spent ever so much time on them."
"I don't know what she did," Clyde said, his eyes sparking covetously as his gaze caressed the giant cabbages. "But it must be magic. I've never seen cabbages as big as those in my entire life."
"Yes, you might say it was magic," the voice said with a chuckle. An old woman stepped up next to Clyde and smiled at him. "Hi there. I'm the Dread Witch. And you are?"
For all their size and bulk, dragons can move incredibly fast. They can move even faster when they're scared silly. Clyde let out a shriek that was probably heard in the capital of Hughstown (200 hundred leagues west as the crow flies) and jumped into the nearest tree.
The tree groaned pitifully and bent double. Clyde closed his eyes as he waited to be enchanted and chopped into chutney. While anticipating the magical fireworks that would rend him from limb to limb, he wondered what the loud clacking noise echoing in his ears was. A few seconds later, he realized that it was his teeth chattering faster than a flamenco dancer's castanets.
"Gracious," the Dread Witch exclaimed. "Look at what you did on my azalea bushes!"
Clyde opened one eye and peered down. A large mound of dragon manure covered the azalea bushes. "Oh dear," Clyde moaned. "I'm ever so sorry. I'm afraid I have this problem with a delicate stomach, and we don't even want to discuss the state of my bowels." He sighed as there was another loud plop. "Well, maybe we will at that…"
"Come down from that tree before you snap it in half," the witch ordered. "The poor thing will probably take years to recover after having a dragon perch in it."
Clyde nodded miserably. He hopped off the tree, avoiding his indiscretions, and sank to his haunches in front of the witch. The tree whipped back and forth when the dragon's weight was gone, losing most of its leaves in the process.
Dragon and witch stared at each other in the bright moonlight. The dragon saw an old woman, dressed in a long black dress, one wizened hand clutching a cane. Silver hair hung over one thin shoulder in a thick braid and dark eyes gleamed like black opals in a wrinkled apple of a face.
The witch saw a frightened green dragon whose verdant color was drained to pale jade by the silvery light of the moon. His wings were tucked tight against his body, and he was clutching his tail to his chest as if it were a security blanket. After a moment the dragon spoke.
"I'll clean up my mess if you'll let me go," Clyde offered. He gave the witch a pleading look. "My mum will be so upset if I end up as the main ingredient in a love potion."
The Dread Witch raised an eyebrow. "Why should I let you go?" she asked. "After all, you were planning to steal my cabbages." She frowned. "Just what were you going to do with them?"
Clyde gulped at the frown on the witch's face. "Eat them?"
"Nonsense," the witch growled. "Dragons eat meat. Everyone knows that."
"I don't," Clyde told the witch. "I'm a vegetarian."
The witch laughed. "Right dragon," she chuckled. "I don't believe that story for a minute."
Clyde sighed as he played nervously with his tail. "As I told you when I was in the tree, I have a very delicate stomach."
The witch tilted her head as she studied the fidgety dragon. "Are you telling me the truth?" she demanded.
Clyde nodded in the direction of the azalea bushes. "The evidence is before you," he said bitterly.
The Dread Witch glanced at the bushes and gasped. "I'll be a pie-eyed troll!" she shouted. "Will you look at my azaleas!"
Clyde braced himself for the worst and slowly turned his head. His eyes widened. The dragon manure had disappeared and the bushes were visibly growing before the witch and dragon's stunned eyes.
Flowers budded and opened in glorious profusion, each blossom more than double their normal size. Leaves and branches covered in even more flowers and buds burst outwards in a frenzy of growth. In five minutes the bushes had doubled. In ten they had quadrupled. Finally, twenty minutes later, three azalea bushes each taller and wider than the witch's cottage and covered with pink and white blooms larger than dinner plates loomed at the edge of the forest.
"Gracious," Clyde exclaimed. "Did I do that?"
The Dread Witch spun on her heel and stared at the bent tree where the other pile of dragon waste had landed. The manure was gone and instead of a spindly bent pine, there was now a giant patriarch of the forest, fully 8 feet wide at the base of its trunk and still growing. The witch's mouth dropped open. She tottered to a grassy patch in front of the bushes and sank to the ground. With a loud sigh she put her head in her hands.
Scared though he was, Clyde had been raised to be polite. He edged a little closer to the witch. "Excuse me, ma'am" Clyde asked. "Are you all right?"
"I can't believe it," the witch muttered. "All the years I've spent trying to invent the perfect fertilizer, trying to grow the biggest and best vegetables…working my fingers to the bone mulching and weeding and watering when all I had to do was…" She shook her head and held out a trembling hand. There was a loud pop and a large wine bottle appeared.
The old woman lifted her head, pulled the cork from the bottle and took a long swig. "Damn," she sighed. "I needed that." The Dread Witch rose to her feet and held out the bottle. "Want a jolt?" she asked.
"Thanks," Clyde said gratefully. "I don't mind if I do."
While the dragon chugged the rest of the wine, the old woman walked to the edge of her garden. She waved a hand and the silvery net of magic disappeared, leaving only a lovely garden sleeping in the warm summer night. She lifted her wise old face to the touch of the gentle night breeze and smiled at the moon sailing in the starry sky above.
"Dragon," the witch called. "Would you come over here?"
Oh great, Clyde thought, tossing the wine bottle over his shoulder. She's ready to chop me up. I might as well meet my fate like a true dragon. He trudged forward and stood beside the witch.
The Dread Witch bent and plucked a tomato. "I have a proposition for you, dragon," she said, holding the tomato to her nose and breathing in its sweet, tangy scent. "How would you like all the cabbages you can eat?" She glanced sideways at Clyde. "For a price of course."
Clyde was stunned. "You're not going to chop me up and use me in your spells?" he exclaimed.
The witch snorted. "Of course not," she snapped. "Whatever gave you the idea that I would?"
"But…but…all witches use dragon parts in their potions." Clyde blinked in confusion at the old woman. "Don't they?"
The witch sighed. "Not me," she said. "I gave that up years ago. Casting spells plays hell with my sciatica. Now I just garden." She looked at the dragon and pointed a long finger at the cabbages. "Well? Do you want to hear my proposition or not?"
Clyde's mouth began to water as he looked at the luscious cabbages. "All right," he said, wiping away drool. "Tell me what you want."
A warm breeze skittered playfully through a large, a very large garden at the edge of the Deepest Woods. Pale light poured down from the full moon sailing overhead, illuminating enormous rows of foot-long carrots and radishes the size of pumpkins. Its argent glow shone brightly on gigantic bushy tomato plants and corn stalks ten feet tall, and finally, best of all to the eyes of a happy gardener also known as the Dread Witch, it glittered on the faint traces of dragon dung sinking into the ground throughout her garden.
She smiled as she looked at an empty place where nine huge heads of cabbage had once grown. No matter, the Dread Witch thought gleefully. I have a jar full of seeds in my cottage. I can always plant more. The witch smiled and waved as a sudden whoosh of air ruffled her skirts and fluttered the leaves in the garden. After all, I have to keep my partner in my new fertilizer business happy. Now what shall I call it? Maybe…Maisie's Magical Manure?
A shadow passed across the face of the moon. Large wings flapping hard, a contented green dragon, his arms loaded with cabbages, headed for home.
© Teri Smith 1999-2006