Scottish myths 28

Ash and the Sea-Dragon

Several hundred years ago, situated in a bonny glen in the north of Scotland, was a farm.
Taog Aodh was the youngest son of the farm's owner, Eochaidh Macdonald. His six brothers were quite hard working, but Taog was a dreamer. He loved lying in front of the fire, gazing into the embers and imagining that the glowing cavities were enormous, fabulous, but extremely dangerous tunnels leading to magic lands, and that he was the brave adventurer.

His brothers had no time for Taog because he preferred to dream instead of helping them with the farm work. And his parents would shake their heads in despair. They were fond of their youngest son, as they were fond of all their sons, but their scolding never seemed to make any impression on Taog. The rough treatment he received from his brothers had no effect either. They called him 'Ash', because the only thing he ever did was to rake up the ashes, and tend the fire.

Ash was in many ways a poet and a romantic. He imagined himself a hero, the slayer of dragons and rescuer of fair damsels in distress. He invented many yarns as he gazed into his fire, but he never told them to his parents or his brothers. He knew that if he did he would be scolded all the more for his idle daydreaming.

One day in late spring, the most enormous and terrible Sea-Dragon was seen near the bay, not too far from the inland farm of Eochaidh Macdonald.
It was a most evil monster that had already caused havoc in Asia. In fact the above illustration depicts the Sea-Dragon causing havoc in the South China Sea. It was so huge that it could bring about tsunamis. Not only could it eat humans as if they were mere grains of boiled rice, but it could gulp down whole ships as well.

The Sea-Dragon only needed to swim for a day or so with its huge webbed limbs to arrive on the other side of the world. For some reason it had chosen to sojourn just off the North West coast of Scotland. It was intent on destroying and swallowing the coastal villages and fishing boats, and nothing could be done to stop it. 

The king desperately sought advise. Eventually a hoary, old hermit who lived near Kylesku was summoned. He was convinced that the Sea-dragon could only be appeased by putting it on a regular diet of young maidens.

In fact after pondering on the subject long enough to benefit from a good meal of venison washed down with the king's best claret, he affirmed that a minimum of seven young maidens strung together like French sausages should be serve to the dragon every Saturday, at least as an hors d'œuvre. (French was fashionable in Scotland in those early days). 

The king was aghast at the idea, but as he felt he had no other choice, local maidens were selected on the shortest straw basis. They were strung together, then at noon each Saturday, they were left trembling near the water's edge in the bay favoured by the Sea-Dragon.

When Eochaidh and his sons heard of this atrocious arrangement, they rode to the bay. From a safe distance they were able to witness the horror of it all. The farmer Eochaidh was appalled and convinced that there would be no future if all the potential young wives and mothers of Scotland continue to be sacrificed. Ash, however, who had also joined them, simply gazed out to sea and softly said, 'I shall kill the Sea-Dragon'. But no one heard or even noticed him.

After a month of sacrificing Scottish maidens, the people had become very angry indeed because the Sea-Dragon was no calmer. Its violence had in fact increased as though it wasn't being fed enough.
The king summoned the hoary, old hermit once more. The hermit insisted that he could only effectively mull over such matters on a full stomach, and was rather partial to top sirloin served naturally with the king's best wine. As this requirement seemed to convince and thus comfort the king even more regarding the level of the hermit's intelligence, great attention was paid to his advice when he had finally finished his meal.

The hermit eased himself somewhat noisily, then wore a stern expression as he looked up into the eyes of the king. He gravely stressed that the only option left for the king was to sacrifice his own daughter. According to the hermit, there was no other solution. Princess Cathella, the king's unique, beloved daughter, must be sacrificed to the Sea-Dragon.

The King was stunned into silence, but the angry protest of his courtiers resounded around the walls of the castle's great hall. This was totally unacceptable. Yet the king knew that if he was to save his kingdom, and this was indeed the only solution, the most noble Cathella would be prepared to make this ultimate sacrifice.

The king stood grimly pondering before the great fire. Then suddenly he turned and ordered that a proclamation be first written and issued to invite the bravest of the Scottish knights to come forward and rid the land of the Sea-Dragon. The knight who succeeds would be rewarded by being granted Princess Cathella's hand in marriage. He would also be given half of the the King's realm as well as the king's magic sword, Bearach.

Many knights responded to the call, but as soon as they saw what they were up against, they suddenly remembered that they had other, far more important calls of duty elsewhere.
Finally it was the king himself who called for his armour, his magic sword, Bearach, his horse and a boat to be prepared and made ready for the morrow, in the very bay near to where the insatiable Sea-Dragon lurked. The armour and sword were to be hidden in the boat itself in order that the king could arm himself there and then, rather than weigh himself and his horse down needlessly in getting there.

Of course everyone was informed of the king's courageous intention, including farmer Eochaidh and his family.
The night before the king was to make his staunch stand, Ash had already made his own decision. As if unconsciously driven by some sort of mystical power, he took his father's fastest horse, Eacharn, and galloped off in the darkness towards the bay.

On arrival Ash looked down from the cliff tops, and in the dim light he saw the massive blue head of the horrific creature as it slept, its fetid breath causing huge whirlpools and dirty, brown bubbles. He also saw the King's boat well hidden behind some rocks. He then quietly rode inland until he came to a small stone dwelling. A thin wisp of smoke rose from its chimney. With a strong piece of wood, Ash managed to dislodge the wooden bar from its interior recess that blocked the back door. He then crept into the little house where an old woman snored in her sleep. There was also a grey cat that simply stared at him.
In the fire-place Ash found a small caldron into which, with a pair of tongs, he placed a clod of glowing peat from the fire, then he silently left, the grey cat following him.

Ash tethered Eacharn to a small pine tree on the cliff-top, then he climbed down to the bay with his smoking caldron.
Not far from the boat in a cliff-side cave were two of the king's guards. They had fallen fast asleep. Ash unloaded the boat of the kings heavy armour, leaving it on the beech as quietly as possible, but he kept the king's magic sword, Bearach. He then dragged the boat into the water and set a single sail just as the sun began to shed its first light.

Fearlessly he sailed straight towards the Sea-Dragon as fast as the fresh morning breeze could send the boat, so that the bow of the vessel would hit the monster sharply on the nose.
For the Sea-Dragon it was as though it was touched by a midge, but as it was already half awake and as hungry as ever, the little touch was enough to wake it completely. The Sea-Dragon therefore opened its eyes, crossed them on seeing the wee thing in front of its nose, opened its massive jaws then swallowed the boat as though it were a pea-pod.

The boat sailed on wildly riding the rapids down the immense gullet of the monster. Ash had covered his mouth and nose with a piece of plaid to help ward off the foul stench. As soon as the boat ran aground somewhere near the creature's enormous spleen, Ash disembarked and wended his way along a flesh coloured, strangely lit, pulpy tunnel toward's the creature's liver. It was the size of a mountain, but with the king's magic sword, Bearach, Ash managed to pierce it deeply enough to be able to poke the clod of ever glowing peat into the gaping hole. As the monster's liver was far more inflammable than a modest cod's liver, Ash knew that he had no time to lose. He dashed back to the boat as fast as he could.

When the guards awoke to see that the boat had been stolen, and only the king's armour had been left on the stoney beech, they were sorely afraid.
On the king's arrival when he was informed of the theft, he pretended to be extremely angry, but in fact he was most relieved. He now had an excellent pretext not to take on the impossible. Yet he was still worried about the fate of his daughter, the beautiful Princess Cathella.

As the king's men pretended to look for the boat, great distances from where the Sea-Dragon was then located, one of the more courageous guards humbly approached the king. 'Och, I pray ya to excuse me, Your Majesty, If I might be bold enough to encroach on your valuable time, and lang may yer bide the noo. The Sea-Dragon is belching forth black, peaty smoke. I dinna ken, or rather, to my limited knowledge, only flying dragons are able to exhale fire and the ilk. Ma dinna fash yersel Sire.'

The king, unversed in the Celtic vernacular, was understandably puzzled, but then he grew angry for not having first noticed this phenomenon himself.
True enough the Sea Dragon had acute indigestion with the burning sensation that often accompanies it. It was so sick that it finally reared up its colossal head to a towering height, then gave off a mighty belch that blackened the entire sky. It sent a mountainous wave of green bile mixed with what seemed to be volcanic gas and great piles of flaming liver lava into the atmosphere. The Sea-Dragon then emitted a second resounding, peaty burp before it plummeted down into the sea and died still smellily smoking.
Down it all came crashing, and last but not least came the king's boat, with Ash still safely aboard, wielding the magic sword heroically. A noxious, green tidal wave washed the boat far inland, viscously drenched the king a sick green, and similarly coloured most of the huge crowd assembled on the cliff top. Only the grey cat there had somehow avoided being hit. It still sat staring, totally unimpressed with the whole, incredible scene.

It's said that the teeth of the Sea Dragon became the Hebrides Islands, and that it's body formed Iceland. Naturally the volcanic activity there is directly caused by the Sea Dragon's liver that is inextinguishable, therefore a constant source of natural energy.

After the dramatic death of the Sea-Dragon, the King proved to be a man of his word, despite his greenish demeanour. He was also overjoyed, and so proud of Ash that he knighted him there and then on the insalubrious spot with the magic sword, Bearach, before presenting the young lad with it as promised. 'Ash the Sea-Dragon slayer' was granted half of the king's realm, also as promised, and although Princess Cathella was understandably put off by the ghastly appearance of Ash, as well as the disgusting smell than emanated from him, there was something poetic about him that eventually caught her fancy.

Eochaidh Macdonald, the father of Ash was peeved that his youngest son had taken his best horse, Eacharn, without his permission, but under the circumstances he was finally able to forgive him, thanks mostly to his wife's bickering. The brothers of Ash remained permanently green with envy. The experience had convinced them that it's far more profitable in life to be a poet than a farm labourer.

There was no doubt that Sir Taog Aodh (alias Ash) and Princess Cathella were made for each other. They lived very happily and had brave hearted children that were the pride and joy of Scotland.

Many legends have been written about Ash. This is the only one among them that's reasonably credible, historically feasible and fairly accurately illustrated regarding the Sea-Dragon. This, thanks to Celtic and ancient Latin descriptions of the loathsome creature inscribed on vellum and depicted on illuminated maps created by medieval monks.

  Scottish myths 29 
 Scottish myths 27

Image and retelling © Mirino (PW). Source- Assipattle and the Stoor Worm by Tom Muir, with grateful thanks.                            June, 2013

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