Heads & Tales 2021: HUM 243


The Tale of Nimsay
The Hungry Man and Squirrel
A Tale of Just Desserts
Earthly Tallies
The Ocean and the Cliffside
Amanita and Sunti
Philipan Stag and the Hunter
Between Two Kingdoms
Globe Light
The Dawn of our Sun
The Secret of Silencing
The Tale of Clyfar and Graddfa Tan
Three Hairs
Serenade for the Little Butterfly
The Demon’s Trials


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The Tale of Clyfar and Graddfa Tan

Veronica Deloga, CivE’23

Art by Madelin Almonte, A’22

Once upon a time, there was a kingdom called Dinas Draig, ruled by a benevolent king. King Caredan, who, while kindhearted, was quite an ineffectual leader, not having the creative mind to solve many of the problems that plagued his land and subjects.

The biggest problem was the dragon that settled into a large cave near the kingdom’s borders, one that the local people had taken to calling Graddfa Tan. He stood as tall as three houses stacked on top of each other, and was covered in tough, unbreakable black scales. He had a particular penchant for sheep and cows, and would unpredictably fly over the kingdom, snatching up livestock and burning anything in his way with his fiery breath. The kingdom was quickly running out of food, the people were starving, and a great many of them were left homeless. Homes were being burned faster than they could be built.

Many attempts were made to kill Graddfa, or drive him away. The king sent his soldiers to the cave to scare the dragon into leaving. None returned. In an even more desperate attempt, the citizens were ordered to hide the livestock in an unassuming barn behind the castle. He sniffed them out and ate very well that night. The kingdom lost almost all of its cattle, putting it in an even more precarious situation. The king called his herald: “Spread word across the land: anybody who can destroy the dragon will become my advisor and will always have a place at the castle and anything they desire!”

The king had not been expecting a fast reply, or any at all if he were being honest, since word of the dragon and its devastation stretched to the other five kingdoms, and nobody wanted to undertake the task of killing it. However, three men appeared in his throne room not one week after his announcement.

The first man to enter was a knight. He wore polished silver armor, a sword at his side, a helmet tucked underneath his arm, and a haughty expression. An awed whisper sailed through the room as all of the lords and ladies immediately recognized the bravest and strongest knight in all six kingdoms. He consistently bested every challenger with his superior strength and swordsmanship. Other kings previously petitioned him for help with some troublesome creatures, including a particular incident involving an ogre tormenting a neighboring kingdom. This he defeated by jumping on its back and using his muscular arms to choke it to death. Some time later, at the behest of another king, he slew a chimera by taking its jaws in his hands and ripping them apart. His successes meant that he could not back away from a challenge, and he was certainly not going to pass up a chance to be the one to defeat the mighty dragon and claim glory.

The second man to enter was unfamiliar to the people of the court, and was dressed strikingly in long, black robes, with a red and gold necklace hanging down his chest. He looked around the room with cold piercing eyes before his gaze landed on the king sitting on his throne. He waved a hand, extinguishing all the lanterns in the room, and turned them back on with a satisfied smirk after several cries of surprise rang out.

The last man to enter was quite short, with a youthful face and a nervous expression. He wore simple cotton clothes covered in streaks of ash and oil, marking him as a blacksmith, or a blacksmith’s apprentice. He walked towards the throne with the air of one used to being invisible but who now had all eyes on him.

The king looked at the three. “Have you come to answer my call? Have you come to defeat the pest that plagues my land?”

The knight answered first, with apparent enthusiasm, “Great king, I accept the challenge that you have put forth, and I will not fail! I am the strongest man in all the six kingdoms; I have vanquished the ogre and the chimera, and I will now vanquish the dragon.”

The king appraised the knight and smiled; this definitely looked like a man who could get the job done.

The man in black threw a supercilious glance in the knight’s direction, then turned to the king with an unsettling smile. “Sir, I am of the northern tribes in the lands beyond the kingdoms. I am among the few born with magic, instead of those who must learn and practice. My art will be more than powerful enough to kill the dragon; in return, I do not want an advisor position, but rather part of your realm to form my own.”

The king was uneasy about the sorcerer’s demand to sever part of his kingdom and subject some of his people to the rule of this disconcerting and seemingly power-hungry man. However, he reasoned that at least they would be safe from the dragon’s attacks, and acquiesced.

He then turned to the last man; he was a boy really, and couldn’t be older than about seventeen. He looked him up and down, noting his short and scrawny frame and wondered how this boy thought he'd be able to defeat a dragon. The boy looked back at him, then dropped into a deep bow. “My name is Clyfar, Your Majesty. I’m from a poor family. My father’s a blacksmith, and my mother takes care of four children. Graddfa destroyed our home during his last attack. I want a chance to kill him. I don’t want the advisor position, but a new home for my family if I return.”

The king, although doubtful of the boy’s chances, felt moved that he first and foremost thought of his family, and granted his request provided he be victorious.

The three left the hall to prepare for their task. The knight decided to go to the cave that night, under the cover of darkness to surprise the dragon. However, as he self-assuredly approached the cave, he carelessly began stepping on branches and kicking small stones. In his excitement at his imminent success, thinking about the welcome from adoring crowds, he did not notice Graddfa’s slow and heavy breathing stop. The knight contemplated climbing the cave walls using the jutting stones as hand and foot holds, and once on top, jumping down to sever the creature’s neck. After glancing around the cave and thinking of no better idea, he decided to do just that. However, as he jumped, brandishing his sword, Graddfa opened his eyes and, quick as a flash, caught the knight in one sharply taloned foot. “Did you really think that would work? I could hear your big clumsy paws traipsing up ages before you arrived, and I could practically hear your idiotic, fantastical ideas about defeating me,” the dragon said triumphantly. The knight could not do or say anything, except stare at the dragon with a terrified expression. Graddfa looked at him with disappointed boredom, “Hm it seems he really sent another simpleton, didn’t he? Ah well...” and tore the knight limb from limb.

Upon realizing that the knight did not return to the kingdom the day after, or even the day after that, the people were forced to accept that he had failed. The king had hoped, and really believed, that the knight would be the one to succeed, in order to prevent the sorcerer’s success or the ruin of the young runt.

The sorcerer was delighted that the knight did not return. Without preparing or hatching a plan, he walked up to the cave in the middle of the day and confidently stepped inside. He was met with a pair of huge yellow eyes, appraising him. “Well you certainly look quite different from all those shiny, armor-clad so-called soldiers that keep coming here. Who are you, then?” asked the dragon. The sorcerer, although initially recoiling when he saw the size of the dragon and his knife-like claws, gathered himself and spoke confidently, “I am a sorcerer, and I have come to prevail over you, for even your obvious strength and might will be no match for my magic.” This said, he shot rounds of spells at Graddfa, one by one, all of them bouncing right off the impenetrable scales and only serving to further annoy the dragon. Each ineffective spell sucked more and more certainty out of the sorcerer, until he realized that he would not win. Graddfa, finally having enough of this nuisance, sent a stream of fire straight at the sorcerer, engulfing him in searing flames and burning the flesh right off him.

The dragon flew to the kingdom the next day. Not to attack, as everyone initially assumed, rather to deliver the sorcerer’s skeleton on the palace grounds and depart as suddenly as he had come. The king stared at the sight in horrified hopelessness, then reluctantly summoned the third to the challenge.

Clyfar had also witnessed the remains of the last man who confronted Graddfa, and felt quite discouraged, although he resolved to find a way. He knew he wasn’t strong, and he did not have any particular skills, unless being a blacksmith was of note. He returned to his father’s small shop, still thinking, running through several scenarios and ideas. He knew the beast ate mostly livestock as opposed to people, and tried to think of a way to work with that. A few days later, he sat down, watched his father work, watched him throw coal into the fire, watched the sparks fly from the furnace. Suddenly he had an idea.

Clyfar gathered some charcoal, then went out to buy sulfur and some other ingredients for his craft. When he returned to the shop, he assembled the ingredients, then borrowed some needles and old skins from his mother and some wood from his father. He stayed up all night cutting, sewing, painting, and perfecting his plan. The dragon had not attacked in many days, so it must soon feed. The boy went to the king, explained his idea, and asked for several of the cows to be put to pasture in the large field next to the palace.

Graddfa came to dine later that very day, hungry. He immediately saw the animals grazing and thought, “Oh my, that old fool must be finally yielding to me.” The cows scattered when the dragon landed, all except one. He was amazed at the seemingly unafraid cow, and delighted at the prospect of an easy meal, so he snatched up the cow in one gulp, swallowing it whole. Before his dinner could settle, he felt an ache and started coughing and heaving to expel it. With small bouts of fire bursting from his jaws, his distended stomach began to heat up unbearably, and the monster exploded into pieces.

The people rejoiced. Clyfar was called into the throne room and praised by the king for the clever conception. His family was given quarters in the castle, and his father was commissioned as the royal smith, making weapons for the king’s guard.

As for the boy himself, despite vehemently refusing the advisor position, he was awarded it anyway at the king’s insistence.