You all know the story of noble Albion, the Black Dragon who gave his teeth and scales, his tail and his blood and his heart to the rightful king of the Land Beyond The Black Forest. The king gained his throne, and Albion, the black dragon, died, because even though a dragon might be able to live without tail, teeth and scales, he cannot live without a heart.
Years passed. The old king died, as old kings do, and his son followed him on the throne. His son now, was a spoiled brat, as princes sometimes are, and thought little of the burden of the crown and the price that had been paid for it, and a lot of power and money and the fine things both could buy him. So he dressed himself in the softest velvets and silks, drank only the sweetest wine and passed his time with the most beautiful ladies in all of the land. He was popular with his court, because he was generous and well-versed in the courtly arts. He was less popular with his advisors, to whom fell the burden of reigning the land, and even less popular with his people whose work paid for his silk and wine and fine ladies.
Eventually his advisors advised him to marry, and because he already owned more beauty than he could wish for, his bride was not beautiful but wealthy, the daughter of a powerful and ambitious king. She also was proud and headstrong, but that he didn't discover until the wedding night.
The wedding was an event that people talked about for years to come, there was free food for everyone and the fountains in the king's capital flowed with wine, red as blood and golden as spring.
It is less well known that Albion had a son, too. The young dragon never knew his father, since Albion died the winter before his son hatched, and with no father to name him the young dragon remained nameless.
The young dragon grew up in the vast woods of the black forest where men seldom came. He flew high with the eagles and dug down in the caves with the gnomes, he found treasure and cherished it little. He learned the language of the birds and from them he heard the tales about Albion, his father, and he pondered them long and hard, trying to find a meaning in them.
Who was my father, he asked the proud falcon, and the falcon said, he was a noble creature who served the rightful king, though it cost him his life.
Who was my father, he asked the lowly sparrow, and the sparrow said, he was a noble creature who never preyed on the weak.
Who was my father, he asked the witty mockingbird, and the mockingbird said, he was a noble fool who died for a human's glory.
Who was my father, he asked the old raven, the wisest of the birds, and the raven said, he was a dragon and he did however it damn well pleased him.
And the young dragon thought long and deep.
Sometimes, he ate a deer, and he grew tall and strong with the passing of the years, with a coat of the finest black scales, shining ivory teeth, a tail that would have made a cat proud and a heart fiery enough to melt the snow around him in the bitter winters of the black forest.
The passing years were less kind to the king than to the dragon. At thirty, he was already past his prime. His wife had borne him three daughters, but no son, and ruled the castle and the treasury with an iron hand. His courtiers had left, sons and daughters of nobles now ruling their own estates and worrying about harvests and taxes, and his neighbors, never slow to take advantage of a weak king, hovered at the borders. War threatened, and the king was afraid - not for his kingdom, but for himself, for in those times it was thus that a king led his fighters into battle.
He spent many a sleepless night, and finally he knew: He needed a miracle. He needed - a dragon.
And so one day at the end of winter, the king rode into the Black Forest, accompanied only by his two most trusted knights and a servant. They searched a whole day, but they never found the dragon, only a falcon watching them from high above. One of the knights shot an arrow at it but missed. The made camp when the night fell. The servant prepared a meal and they all ate meat pies and drank wine they had brought with them.
On the second day, they saw a sparrow watching them from beneath a bush, and the servant threw a stone at it, but the sparrow flew away. They made camp as they had the night before, ate bread and cheese and drank wine.
On the third day, they saw a mockingbird watching them from a beech tree, and the other knight threw a stick at it, but the mockingbird hid behind a branch and sang a shrill note as they rode by. In the evening they made camp again. Their bread had gone stale and there was no wine left.
They went hunting on the forth day and lost each other in the hills and thickets, so that the king found himself alone all of a sudden. He called for his knights but got no answer. After some riding he came to a clearing and there the dragon waited for him.
The birds had told the dragon of the king's search, but the dragon had thought it unwise to go into the reach of the knights' lances. But he was curious, and seeing the king alone he had decided to meet him.
The king rode up to the dragon. "Are you the black dragon?" he asked.
The dragon considered the question. "I am a black dragon," he said. "And who are you?"
"I am the rightful king of the land beyond the black forest," the king said "and I want to talk to you. You can address me as 'your majesty'."
"You can adress me as 'dragon'," said the dragon. "What do you want to talk about?"
The king looked around for eavesdroppers, but they were alone save for a large raven sitting in one of the oak trees around the clearing. "I need your help," he said.
"And why should I help you?" the dragon asked.
"Because everyone knows that black dragons are generous and pure at heart," the king said after a while, reciting a bard's words. "There's a black dragon in the coat of arms of my familiy, in memory of noble Albion, who helped my father gain his throne and his kingdom!"
The dragon sat down. He folded his front paws and put his large dragon head upon them, then he curled his long tail around himself. "I see," he said. "What do you need my help for?"
"Ah - " the king said. "There's a war coming up at my borders, you know... and I need a macigal armor so that no blow will harm me."
The dragon thought about that. "There's a gnomish smith in the east near the great river," he said. "He's good. I can tell you how to find him."
This doesn't go well, the king thought. "I heard of this smith," he said, "and of his outrageous fees. It won't do. Besides, I also need a sword to win the war, a mighty blade so that no foe can stand against me."
The dragon thought about that. "I heard that there's a glass mountain far in the west on the shores of the great sea, where one of the magical swords of old is hidden, protected by a fierce guardian. It would be a quest worthy of any knight or king to travel there and win the sword from the guardian."
Is this dragon stupid? the king thought. "I can't stay away for so long!" he said. "I am the king! I could get killed on that fool's errand!"
"If you regard life that high," the dragon proposed, "how about not going to war at all?"
"To avoid that," the king said, "I'd have to be known as a fighter not to mess with. I would need to gain glory on the tourney field, but my duties never allowed me the time to gain proficiency in fighting tournaments. To win, I would need a magical lance to throw down all my opponents."
"A lance," the dragon murmered. "Now, that is going to be more difficult... But there are legends of a magical ash grove in the south beyond the mountains. Were someone to go there and make a lance out of their wood with his own hands he would hold a weapon that none could stand against on the tourney field."
The king started to get really annoyed with the dragon. Didn't this stupid beast understand what was demanded of it? Wasn't it, too, a subject of the crown and wasn't it its duty to serve him, the king?
"Are you out of your mind?" the king said. "I am a king, not a carpenter or lance-maker! How can you expect me to work wood? I am the king, and you are my subject, and you'd better remember that!"
The dragon started to get annoyed, too, but dragons are patient beasts, so he summoned his patience and said: "If you will not help yourself, than perhaps you should look for allies. I heard that your father-in-law, the king of the north, is powerful and rich. If his daughter, your wife, asks him to, he would surely help you."
"My wife is a shrew," the king said, "and her father is plotting to take over my kingdom."
The dragon regarded him thoughtfully. "You're in trouble," he said.
"You could say that," the king agreed.
"I'm afraid there's only one solution for your problems."
Finally we're getting somewhere, the king said to himself. "Yeah," he said aloud.
"I really don't want to do this..." the dragon said.
"Yeah?" said the king hopeful.
"And I don't, normally... but I see no other way."
And the dragon ate him.
And they all lived happily ever after - except the king, of course.
Copyright 1998 by Ingeborg Denner. You may tell or re-tell this story as you see fit. If you want to publish it in printed or electronic form (i.e., on a webpage or in a newsletter), please ask!
This tale was written for the SCA (= Society for Creative Anachronism), more specific, for the Kingdom of Drachenwald. The Black Dragon is in the device of the kingdom, and Albion's Tale (the original) is sometimes told at official Drachenwald occasions (e.g. coronations or the like). It is the tale of a dragon too noble for his own good. That irked me, and I decided to even the score.