Friday, March 5, 2021

The Reward Of The World

The Reward Of The World [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

The Reward Of The World [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

In days of old, when there were dragons in the land, a youthful knight was riding along the high road. It was a beautiful summer day, and the sun shone so warmly that the rider presently began to feel thirsty, so coming to a clear stream of water, he swung himself from the saddle and went to drink. As he parted the bushes to get to the water he heard a strange rumbling and roaring sound, and looking quickly in the direction from which it came he saw to his horror an immense dragon lying by the water-side pinned down by a huge mass of rock which had rolled down upon the creature as it came to drink.

The knight’s first impulse was to flee, for it is better not to meddle with dragons, even when accident has rendered them helpless, but before he could regain his horse the creature saw him, and cried, “Good knight, come and help  me, I pray you, to escape from my miserable position. This rock upon my back is slowly crushing me to death.”

The knight hesitated, and was in two minds what to do between his fear of the dragon and his pity for its unfortunate plight. Seeing this, the creature called out again, saying, “If you will only set me free I will repay you richly, for I will give you The Reward of the World .”

The Reward of the World ,” thought the knight, “that will indeed be worth having!” for he had often heard that dragons were the guardians of immense treasures. So, overcoming his fright, he went up to the creature, and at the cost of great exertion managed to roll away the stone that was pressing on its back.

“Poof! That’s better,” said the dragon, blowing a cloud of smoke out of its nostrils. “I had begun to think I was doomed to stay in that place for ever!” He rubbed his sore back reflectively with one scaly paw, and looked at the knight, who stood waiting.

“Well?” said he.

“You promised me The Reward of the World !” said the knight.

“Did I so?” asked the dragon, still tenderly stroking his back. “Well, you shall have it!” And suddenly he launched himself upon the knight, winding his horrible coils around his body, and almost crushing him to death. The unfortunate young man struggled feebly, but he was powerless in the grip of the monster.

“Your promise!” he gasped. “Is this my reward for having saved your life?”

“Certainly,” replied the dragon. “This is The Reward of the World . I am keeping my word!”

“I don’t believe you,” said the knight. “It is a trick to excuse your treachery. What a fool I was to trust a dragon’s word!”  

“It is just as I say,” the dragon replied. “But I confess I owe you something, and I should hate to eat you feeling that you had a grievance. I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll submit this question to the first three people we meet along the road, and if they decide in my favour you must accept the verdict. Is it agreed?”

The Reward Of The World [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

“Agreed,” said the knight, who was glad of any chance to escape from the dragon’s coils, so the creature released him, and the two set off together down the road.

The Reward Of The World [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

They had not gone far before they met the dog.

“Stay a moment, master dog,” said the knight. “What do you understand by The Reward of the World ?”

The dog replied, “When I was young I was a splendid watch-dog, and guarded my master’s house against all comers. In those days everybody made a fuss of me. I had plenty of good food to eat, and my own particular place before the fire. Now, alas! I am old. My sight is so weak and my powers so feeble that I can no longer work for my living, and in consequence everybody kicks me out of their way. I eat what I can get, which is not much. Even the children throw stones at me, knowing that my teeth are not sharp enough to bite, and wherever I go people say, ‘There is that beastly hound again! Chase him away with a stick!’ That is The Reward of the World .”  

There was little comfort for the knight in this, nevertheless he did not give up hope, but accosted the next creature they met, which happened to be a horse.

“What is The Reward of the World ?” the knight asked him.

“Listen,” said the horse bitterly, “and I will tell you. All my life I have laboured diligently for one master. Day in and day out I dragged his cart to market, working myself to skin and bone in his service. Now I am grown old and my strength begins to fail, so that I can no longer earn my keep. To-day I heard him say that he was going to send me to the knackers’ yard and sell my poor old carcass for a couple of crowns. That is The Reward of the World , young master, and may heaven preserve you from it!”

“You see!” said the dragon, as the two went on, “my words are already justified. Come, be sensible and let me eat you without further ado!”

“No,” said the knight, “we have still one person to ask. Here comes a fox. Let us see what he has to say about the matter. Reynard, what do you understand by The Reward of the World ?”

“How do you mean?” asked the fox. “What is the case in point?”

“Well, you see,” explained the knight, “I found this dragon in a  position of uncommon peril, and he promised, if I would rescue him, to give me The Reward of the World . The question now arises as to what The Reward of the World is.”

“I see,” said Reynard thoughtfully. “His life was in danger, you say? How was that?”

“A huge stone had fallen on to his back, pinning him down so that he could not move. I rolled the stone away, and set him free.”

The fox scratched his head and pondered. “If you don’t mind,” said he, “I’d rather like to have this matter made a little clearer. Where did all this happen?”

“A little farther back along the road, by the side of the stream.”

The Reward Of The World [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

“I’ll come and look at the place!”

So the knight led Reynard to the banks of the stream, where he stood gazing for a time at the big stone.

“I want to be quite sure I understand all the circumstances,” said he at last. “Does the dragon mind getting under the stone again for a moment, so that I can see exactly how he lay?”

“Not at all,” said the dragon politely, and he lay down on the bank, while the knight and the fox together rolled the stone on top of him.

“Splendid!” said Reynard, when the dragon was safely pinned down. “Now everything is as it was before!” Then turning to the knight, he added, “If you, knowing what you know now, care to release him again, you are at liberty to do so, but. …” And he winked slyly. There was no need to say more.

“I am really very much obliged to you,” said the knight, as he walked off down the road with Reynard, leaving the dragon still under the stone. “That was a capital idea of yours, and it certainly saved my life. I would like to show my gratitude in some way, and I shall be honoured if you will accept my hospitality for a few days.”

Reynard needed no pressing, but went home with the young man there and then, and thoroughly enjoyed the good fare with which he was provided. Since, however, a fox is always a fox, no matter what company he is in, Master Reynard could not forbear from stealing, and every night he crept into the hen-house and killed one or two chickens. When the knight discovered this he was very angry, and picking up a big stick he gave the fox a good thrashing and drove him forth.

“That is The Reward of the World ,” he said to himself, as he watched Reynard disappearing into the distance. But whether he was referring to the way the fox had treated him, or to his own treatment of the fox, I cannot say.

The Reward Of The World [Folk Tales Of Flanders]