Monday, 7 April 2008
The King of the Under-Mountain
It is said, by those who are old enough to know... that in some parts of Northern Europe there are still dwarves who mine for gold and silver and suchlike. We who are scientifically minded do not care for such nonsense, but then even science has its limits as do we.
An old, old tale was once told me in a tavern in the Black Forest region of Germany. The man who told me the tale may have thought me a tourist to be suckered, but when I sought out the area he mentioned - well all I will say is that I know what I saw and it was not the smoke of volcanic action. This gentleman was very old and had lived in the area all of his life. He was the great-great-great grandfather of someone I seem to recall. Here then is what he told me as near as I recall it.
It seems that when this gentleman's grandfather was a boy he used to love to wander in the forest and see the trees, the birds and such. He was a true friend of nature, for he did not care to hunt, only to experience nature and see it as it was. He was told however to be very careful of the mountains for there were things he would not understand there. Dark and terrible things. He pressed to know what these 'things' were, but he was only told, 'never you mind, it's not safe that's all you need to know'. Now we all know what happens when we are told not to do something. Even when we wish to obey, something inside of us cannot help but wonder why we should not. This passes to - well a little examination of the facts can't hurt, to I'm doing it so there!
So this boy could not help but wonder and before long felt that he had to go to the mountains even tho' before it had never occurred to him. He started out one morning and took with him a large loaf of bread, some cheese
and a flask of water. He went through the familiar trees with a light heart, for tho' it was cold it was sunny too and the sky - when he could see it through the canopy of leaves above him, was clear and very blue.
He soon reached the edge of the forest where the rocks of the mountains began. The trees seemed to become bushes and then scrubby grass before giving way altogether to the rocks. He began to walk between large boulders when he saw before him on the path a small and very old man.
"Good day sir. A fine day is it not?" he said cheerfully.
"Where do you go, young man?" the old man asked him.
Some might have thought this rude but the boy was not offended. He hoped that the old man might walk with him, for it is always genial to have company on a walk. So he answered politely that he was going to walk among the mountains. The old man frowned.
"Are you not afraid?" he asked the boy.
"What should I be afraid of, sir?" the boy asked him.
"There are dark and terrible things in the mountains. Didn't you know that?" the old man said, placing his hands on his hips.
"I've been told that sir, but I have not been told what they are. So I thought I'd find out for myself." the boy answered.
"Well as you wish my boy, only keep as polite to all you meet and you may do well." the old man said as if it meant nothing to him.
He went past the boy and suddenly disappeared as if the ground had swallowed him. The boy was amazed but continued. He was a little further up the slope when he thought that he might have lunch. He made himself comfortable on a broad rock and took out his bread and cheese with the flask of water. He was about to break bread when a little old man with a large beard, twinkling eyes, a red, blue and white jacket, and grey breeches appeared as if the earth had suddenly grown him like a plant. On his head, as if to give credence to this idea was a crown of living plants and stars.
"Will you share your dinner with me, young man?" he asked the boy.
"I'm afraid it's only poor fare sir, but I shall be glad to do so," the boy replied handing the old man half of his bread and half of the cheese.
They ate companionably and the old man asked him if he had heard of the King of the Under-Mountain or the Bronze Dragon. The boy answered politely as the first old man had told him to. He said that he had heard of neither but would be honoured to know them both. He had never travelled this way before, so was not acquainted with the folk of the mountains.
The old man ate then in silence but when they had eaten, he gave the boy a large rock and told him to give it to the Bronze Dragon if he should meet him.
"Shall I say it's from you sir?" the boy asked.
"Say that you hope he may like it and that it contains all he desires," the old man answered, "but don't tell him where you got it from or he may tear you into small pieces and eat you."
The boy said he would do as the old man suggested and the old man left him. Now the boy was not to know, not being a mountain village lad, but his dinner guest had been the King of the Under-Mountain. The King was of that race of mountain dwarves or dark-elves as the old Teutons used to call them. He had heard of the boy and finding him to be courteous and kind had decided to help him. Of course, our lad did not know that at all.
He trudged on up the mountain until he came to a small plateau near a large, deep cave. Here he decided to rest a while. After a few moments he got up and began to walk on feeling a little rested. Thinking about the Bronze Dragon, he felt a little nervous near a cave anyway. He continued until he came to a sort of small valley full of large boulders that leaned against each other. It was easier, he decided to go across them rather than go all the way around, so he began to walk over the boulders. No sooner was he but halfway across then a large cloud of black smoke puffed up from below the rocks and a low growl was heard. The boy reasoned that the growl was just the rocks groaning under his own weight and that the smoke was perhaps an old volcanic vent. He did not in his heart believe either explanation. He made another three steps and a soft hissing voice was heard,
"Who dares to walk over my home without my permission?"
The boy shivered and answered as politely as his terror would allow, "I apologise sir, I did not know you were here or that this was your home. If I have offended you I shall retrace my steps and go around the valley."
But a large clawed paw pushed between the rocks behind him and grabbed him fast. He could not move if he wanted to and he was too frightened to think. He was pulled slowly and carefully between the rocks to find himself facing a huge dragon who half lay upon a hoard of all kinds of expensive metals and precious stones. Indeed, some of the stones had wedged themselves in between the dragon's scales and some of the gold nearest his belly had melted from the heat of him and gilded him.
"If you wish to pass you must pay me something. If you don't, I shall tear you limb from limb," the dragon said with a sly frown.
"Well sir, I will gladly pay you but all I have is this rock which I hope you may like. Perhaps it contains something you'd like." the boy answered drawing the rock from his knapsack and offering it to the dragon.
The dragon eyed the rock and glowered at the boy.
"I suppose you want some of my hoard, little man." the dragon said crossly.
"Rather my life than all the wealth of the world, sir." the boy said honestly.
At this, the dragon laughed and still holding the boy in his paw he took the rock from the boy and huffed at it. A great jet of blue fire blasted from the dragon's mouth melting the rock down until it sparkled and glowed. It was a fabulous diamond. The dragon smiled and looked back at the boy.
"Gesundheit!" the boy said politely.
"I am the Bronze Dragon of the Under-Mountain and all must pay before they pass me by. Well, but you'd make scarcely a mouthful so I shall let you go. But if you dare to return and steal from my hoard I shall follow you and destroy you," the dragon told him.
The boy said that he understood and would never tell the whereabouts of the dragon's hoard. The dragon stared into his eyes for a moment deciding whether to let him go or not.
"Let him go and you will have more gold," a voice said echoing around the chamber.
The dragon thrust the boy up between the rocks again and the boy turned and ran back towards the forest. He ran through the forest and back to his village. It's said, so the old gentleman told me that the boy never went near the mountains again.