The Runcorn Dragon
In 1821, the writer Heinrich Heine stated: “Where they burn books, they will end in burning human beings." Just over a century afterwards, the Nazis did exactly that. Going centuries back in time, the Apostle Paul supervised the burning of all the ‘strange books’ on the occult at Ephesus, and earlier than this, in 47 BC, we have the most famous general in history, Julius Caesar, burning scrolls of ancient knowledge at the Great Library of Alexandria. In the long history of human stupidity mountains of books and papyrus scrolls containing information on the lost secret wisdom of the ancients have been burned in orgies of insanity, fanaticism and religious fervour. All that remains of some of these incinerated manuscripts of old are legends, transmitted by the spoken word, and the following tale is derived from such folklore.
After the Roman withdrawal from Britain in the 5th Century, there were many invasions. Norsemen, Danes and Saxons arrived in waves on our shores, and in those times of bloodshed and troubles, King Vortigern of Britain fled to Wales during the battles and was later murdered. In the wars that followed, a man named Arthur arose to lead the Britons in battle against the marauding Saxons, Picts and other invaders, and he later became the Over King of Britain. The rest of course, is history. The rise and fall of Camelot, the tragic disbandment of the 150 Knights of the Round Table, and the banishment of Merlin at Alderley Edge in Cheshire. The ‘Once and Future King’ died around 537 AD, and was taken by boat from the Wirral peninsula to the Isle of Man, known to the ancient Celts as Avalon. Wirral at that time was largely a forest, and parts of it were owned by Arthur’s nephew, Sir Gawain.
When the boat returned from Avalon, one of the pallbearers, a mystical Mercian knight named Jareen was summoned to a village close to where modern Runcorn now exists. Some accounts say it was the village of Cuerdley. A dragon known as the Morgawr (pronounced "Morgwah") was terrorising the villagers and carrying off sheep and cattle to a cave on the banks of the Mersey.
Sir Jareen and his faithful muscular Great Dane Brennos – who wore spiked armour - arrived at the village he found a farmstead ablaze and the blackened charred corpses of soldiers who had tried to fight Morgawr scattered about. Sir Jareen got farmers to dig a hole in a field near to the village, and close to the pit, five sheep were tethered to a post. The rest of the cattle and sheep of the village were hidden in a nearby wood. The hole was covered with a lattice of wooden slats and canvas, and Sir Jareen hid beneath it in his full battle armour and double-edged sword at the ready.
As the sun was setting, an ominous silhouette appeared in the sky, and although it was some distance away, the flapping of its wings was evident. It was the Morgawr, and within the minute it was circling the village, uttering dreadful cries and blasting the air with foul-smelling gouts of methane flame. People barricaded themselves indoors. The dragon spied the drove of sheep and dived through the air to seize them. Jareen felt the ground shake, and he pulled away the canvas and saw he was beneath the belly of the beast. He rammed the sword repeatedly into the Morgawr and its groans were deafening. Thick blood filled the pit and Jareen was almost drowned, but he managed to squeeze past the scaly underside of the dragon. His armoured Great Dane, Brennos, was savaging the head of the dragon, while torrents of flame narrowly missed the surviving sheep and incinerated trees. Sir Jareen thrust his sword between the Morgawr’s eyes and the flames ceased and the creature died. A cheer went up from the villagers, and Sir Jareen and Brennos were soon on the road again, in search of other adventures.
©Tom Slemen 2006. First published in the Liverpool Echo 11 February 2006.