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Picture Book
The Little Dragon Slayer
A Story by Margo Fallis and illustrated by Murray Robertson

Rain poured down on granite stones of Thistle Castle. Thunder rolled across the cloudy sky, booming and roaring. Lightning flashed; itís electric fingers crackling and sizzling as it reached from one end of the horizon to the other. Inside the castle, young Jamie MacBrave lay on a sheepskin in front of a blazing fire. The dry wood popped and exploded, sending tiny orange sparks up the chimney. Embers, red and steamy, kept Jamieís feet and hands warm. His pale green eyes glimmered with reflected flames, the color of his hair. "Iím bored, Mum," he whined. "Thereís nothing to do. Itís raining and itís too cold to wander the castle."

His mum, sitting on a wooden chair and wrapped in a heavy woolen shawl, stood up and went to the window. Raindrops splattered against the glass. Lightning flashes lit the room. She sat back down, pulling her chair closer to the fire. "Would you like to hear a story, Jamie? Itís about your great great great great great grandfather Willie MacBrave."

Jamie rolled onto his side and looked at his mum. "Iíd love to hear a story!" His eyes opened wide with excitement.

"Listen carefully and Iíll tell you. Willie lived a long time ago, hundreds and hundreds of years ago, in fact. His father, Lord Bruce MacBrave was busy building this very castle, that is when he wasnít off fighting in battles of some kind. Men that lived on MacBrave lands, brought huge granite stones from far away and timbers from as far as the Black Forest. Willie loved watching the men as they worked and marveled at the castle going up stone by stone.

"One day Willie asked his father if he could help. Lord MacBrave, being a busy man, didnít have time or patience for his young son. ĎGo away, lad,í he said to Willie. ĎGo and hunt dragons or something. Iím too busy right now.í

"Willie wanted to help more than anything, but when his father told him to go and hunt dragons, well, what more could a young lad ask for. He asked him one more question, ĎCan I use a sword to kill the dragon?í

"His father, not really paying attention, as the men had just arrived with a load of logs and needed his help, told Willie, ĎAye, lad. Use a sword and kill me a dragon.í

"Thatís all Willie needed to hear. He ran into the cottage where he was living at that time and went down into the lower level. It was very dark and damp down there, and cold, and there were a lot of spider webs and rats, but Willie was too excited about slaying a dragon to mind. He quickly searched for a helmet and found one. It was much too big, but he slipped it on his head anyway. It covered his eyes and the only thing he could see was the ground right in front of his feet."

"Mum, how is he going to kill the dragon? He canít see it because of his helmet," Jamie asked. "How old is Willie? Was his father mean?"

His mum laughed, "Jamie, youíll have to wait and hear the story. Willie was about ten years old, I believe, and no, his father wasnít mean, he was just Lord of Thistle Castle and that was a big job. He was always busy and he was always in a hurry. May I finish the story?" she asked her son.

"Yes, Mum. Go on," Jamie urged.

"All right. Willie tried on the helmet and seeing it was too big, lay it down and decided to carry it until he actually had to fight the dragon. He found a tunic. It was supposed to be white but it was rather dirty, almost yellow looking. He slipped it on and tied it with some old rope. He looked around and saw a shield lying against the stone wall. It was very heavy, made of iron, with gold trim, and it had the MacBrave crest on it too."

"Mum, is that the MacBrave crest?" Jamie asked, pointing at the shield on the wall above the fireplace.

"Why yes, thatís it. In fact that is Willie MacBraveís shield. The very one he used toÖ..well, I donít want to give the story away," his mum smiled.

"Wow," Jamie said. Just then lightning flashed and thunder boomed right outside the window. "That was a close one," he said, moving closer to the fire.

"Yes it was. To continue, Willie grabbed the shield, though he could hardly carry it. He had one more thing to look for. Can you guess what it was?" his mum asked.

"A sword?" Jamie guessed.

"Thatís right. He had to find a sword. It had to be large, sharp, and have a good handle on it. He moved things around and after parting a big, sticky spider web with his bare hands, he noticed a sword. It was lying in the corner, against the moss-covered wall. He picked it up and yes, it was very heavy. He pulled it out and put it near the helmet. Now he had everything he needed to slay a dragon. He dragged the sword up the stone steps into the back of the cottage. He tied it with a piece of rope so he could drag it behind him as he went to search for the dragon. He carried his shield in one arm and the helmet in his other arm. He could hardly move. Everything was so heavy; much too heavy for such a young boy.

"Willie followed a dirt trail into the woods. He couldnít wait to slay a dragon. He wondered where a dragon might be. He remembered what his father had said one day. ĎDragons live in caves. Theyíre big and covered with scales, are black or green, and some breathe fire.í Willie didnít want to find one that breathed fire, nor one that was too big either, but he didnít care if it was green or black. He wanted to kill a dragon and make his father proud of him. Off he went, trudging through the woods. He had to rest a lot."

"Oh, mum, I hope the dragon doesnít breathe fire and burn him," Jamie said, very concerned.

"Listen carefully, Jamie, and youíll find out. Now, where was I? Oh yes, Willie walked down the trail that went into the forest. Tall pines and birches loomed into the sky. There wasnít much sunshine. The trees were thick and tall, but he could see enough. After a few hours he came to the edge of the forest. A small stream flowed through a grassy meadow. Willie reached down and cupped a drink of water with his hands. He was very thirsty and tired. He wondered if a dragon ever came to the stream to get a drink. He looked all around. ĎIím ready for you if you come,í he said to the dragon, if there was one around listening, which there wasnít.

"Willie crossed the stream and got his feet all wet. He nearly slipped and fell in but the sword stopped him from falling. After he got out of the stream he walked until he came to some large stones. They were everywhere. The land wasnít forested any longer. It was stones. There were some small bushes about. He clambered over the stones, his sword dragging on them, making a loud scraping sound that Willie didnít like.

"He stopped to rest and sat down. He laid the shield down and the helmet. After a little rest, Willie decided heíd just have to wear the helmet. He couldnít carry it any longer, so he slipped it on over his head. It fell down over his face, covering his green eyes, almost to his nose. He stood up, picked up the shield and walked on. As he was coming around some rocks, he heard a noise."

"What kind of a noise, Mum?" Jamie asked.

"He heard a snoring noise. It was loud and scratchy and scary."

"Was it a dragon snoring?" Jamie wondered.

"Yes, it was a dragon. Willie peeked around the stones and saw a large, dark cave. Sleeping inside, near the entrance, and curled up in a ball, was a big dragon. It was neither black nor green. It was brown. It had horns like a goat, but much bigger, scales like a slithering snake, and a big snout. Its tail was long and powerful and had a sharp point at the tip. Claws, that looked like they could slice a man in half, jutted out from its fat toes. Willie was terrified. He hid behind the rock and didnít know what to do. The dragon was much bigger than he had thought it would be. He wondered why his father had never told him about brown dragons. He didnít know if they were mean, or if they breathe fire? Willie wasnít sure what to do."

"I hope he jumped in and killed it. I hope he stabbed it with his sword and cut off its head and took it back to his father," Jamie said, excitedly.

"Jamie, he ended up doing just the opposite. Willie walked around the stones, carrying his shield in front of him. His sword was in his other hand and the helmet over his head. He walked right up to the sleeping dragon, intending on doing just as you wished he would. He was going to stab him with his sword, but then something happened. He tripped on the sword, which was much too big for him to carry, and fell face forward, landing inches away from the dragonís mouth."

"Oh no, Mum. Iíll bet the dragon breathed fire on him and roasted him alive," Jamie said, his eyes aglow with anticipation.

"Not actually, Jamie. The dragon opened his eyes when Willie fell. It stood up and looked at Willie, who was struggling to stand. ĎWhat have we here,í the dragon said, hissing and spitting. ĎThe knights are sending lads to do a manís work now, are they?í

Willie stood up and held his sword up to the dragon, who started laughing. ĎOh, youíre going to slay me, are you, lad? I donít think so. Drop that sword and shield and take off that ridiculous helmet,í the dragon ordered.

"Willie obeyed. His sword fell with a clank on a stone. His shield made a thud as it hit the grass. Willie slowly pulled the helmet off and dropped it next to his feet. ĎAre you going to roast me?í he asked the dragon.

" ĎNo, lad. Iím a brown dragon. We donít breathe fire, but we do eat wee lads.í The dragon sneered. Willie saw its teeth and started to shake. The dragon laughed and laughed. ĎLetís make a deal, lad. You leave me alone and go back to your castle. Donít tell anyone where you found me, and Iíll give you a few of my underbelly scales. They are black. You can tell your people that you slew a big black dragon. Is that a deal? All I want is to be left alone in my cave.í

"Willie was happy to hear this. He didnít want to fight the dragon. It wasnít hurting anyone and he saw no reason to kill it, even if he could. If he took the scales back, his father would think he did slay the dragon and heíd be proud of him. ĎAll right, dragon. Itís a deal!í

"The dragon reached underneath and pulled a few good-sized scales off his belly and handed them to the boy. ĎNow be off with you, lad. Leave me alone and donít come back, ever. Maybe next time I will be able to breathe fire. Off with you.í

"In his rush back to the cottage and half-built castle, Willie accidentally left the helmet and the sword at the dragonís cave. He had managed to pick up the shield and ran with it held tightly in his hands all the way back across the stones, the stream, through the forest until he reached home. ĎFather, Father,í Willie called out. He spotted him by a few large stones. ĎFather, I killed a dragon, just like you told me to,í Willie gasped, out of breath from all the running.

"His father stopped and turned when he heard his son. There he stood, dressed in a dingy tunic, carrying a shield and some black dragon scales. ĎFather, I killed a huge black dragon. It was in a cave and I cut these scales off it before it tried to roast me. Then I killed it.í

His father couldnít believe it. He took the scales from his son and examined them. ĎYou killed a dragon? These are dragon scales, no doubt. Willie, youíre my little dragon slayer. No, youíre not a lad any longer. Youíre a man now, Willie. Brave enough to kill a dragon? Aye, youíre a man now. Everyone! Everyone!í he called, ĎWillieís killed a dragon. Come see.í

"From that time on, Lord MacBrave allowed Willie to help him build the castle. He treated him with respect, like a young man. Never mind that Willie hadnít really killed the dragon. He was a man now in his fatherís eyes. The dragon, well, he stayed in his cave and nobody bothered him ever again."

"Mum, is that Willieís shield?" Jamie asked. Just then a lightning bolt flashed, the room lit up and both Jamie and his mum could see the shield as if the sun was shining right on it. It seemed Willie was reminding his descendants that he earned the name MacBrave.

"Yes, Jamie, itís his shield," his mum smiled. She pulled her shawl around her a little tighter.

"How did people find out the real story, that Willie didnít really kill a dragon?" Jamie asked.

"He told his grandchildren about it when he was older. He even took them for a walk to the cave. His helmet and sword were still lying there."

"Was the dragon?" Jamie asked, curious.

"No, the dragon wasnít there. Nobody knows what happened to it," she answered. Both she and Jamie stared at the shield for a while. Some say it still wanders the land. Looking out the window, she said, "Oh look, Jamie. Itís stopped raining. Letís go for a walk. Maybe we can find that cave," she laughed. "Maybe the dragon is still there," she said, winking at Jamie. The two of them headed for the front door of the castle.

Jamie looked back at the castle, noticing the stones and timbers. "Itís a wonderful castle, Mum, isnít it?" he asked.

"Yes, Jamie. Itís Thistle Castle," she said and the two of them headed into the woods.

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