John sighed as he carefully adjusted his shield and sword. Old Jess had told him they would not be necessary. But good warrior that he was, the young heir to the estates of Lambton did not feel comfortable going into battle without them. Particularly knowing what he would be facing in a very short time.
In a way, John was glad he was alone. Even though the armor had been carefully created according to old Jess’ instructions, John still felt a bit ridiculous as he walked along the road. He couldn’t ride, because no horse could carry him now and survive. Not while he was wearing armor that bristled with 4,004 spikes.
Against any other foe, the armor would have been useless. It was paper-thin, and the spikes made movement difficult. Practically every inch of his body was protected by the spikes — even his helmet. The only portions not covered were the palms of his hands and the soles of his feet.
Looking like a giant hedgehog, John continued his trek toward the River Wear, the place it had begun. Old Jess had also been very specific, he must meet it in combat where he had first met it many years ago.
The sun had just peeked over the horizon, and in the new morning light, John could see the mist rising from the ground.
At first, it seemed harmless. But then, John spotted the green tinge, indicating its deadly nature. An acidic smell assaulted his nostrils, and John knew his foe must be close – very close.
Removing his hunting horn, John blew a blast which would have done Gabriel proud on Judgement Day.
“All right, you miserable spawn from Hell, show yourself!” John called out. “I know you are nearby, so let’s get this over quick, so I can go home and have my breakfast.”
For a few moments, there was only silence. John began to think he would have to search for it, when suddenly, there was a movement on the ground nearby. Up it rose – a terrible head on a long round body as thick as an ancient sturdy oak. It’s green scales glinted in the morning light, and it’s long needle-like teeth flashed wickedly in an awful parody of a smile.
But the worst was its eyes. Pupil-less, they stared manevolently down at John twenty feet above the ground – black ellipses, each as big as a serving platter.
Although he had been provided with descriptions, John was still taken aback by the sheer size of the monster. It didn’t seem possible that an army could destroy it, let alone a single man, protected only by armor covered in metal spikes.
The creature swayed for a few months, then John heard a soft hiss. At first, John thought the creature was going to attack. But to his amazement, he heard words emerge from the monster’s mouth.
“Well,” it said. “After all these years, we finally meet again. Am I now worthy of your attention?”
“I will admit, you have grown considerably since I last saw you,” John replied.
Part I — The meeting
The situation began quietly enough, over seven years ago.
It was Sunday, and although young John, then just 18 years of age, was suppose to be at Mass, he had given into the temptation offered by a fine late spring day. The lure of the River Wear and the possibility of catching a nice fat trout for supper was just too strong, so he walked with his pole toward his favorite fishing hole.
At his side was Duke, his faithful companion of many years. Although the large collie was technically his father’s hunting dog, the two had bonded five years ago when Duke was just a puppy. It was rare sight that John was seen without him, for they had bonded as only a boy and his dog could.
John heard the tolling of the church bells in the distance, but again chose to ignore the call. Instead, he pushed eagerly onward to the river bank and dropped his line in. But hardly had the hook hit the water, when he suddenly noticed a figure in black tattered robes approaching from the road.
“Well, young Lambton, it’s a fine day indeed to be fishing. But shouldn’t you be at church, allowing the priest to hear your confession?”
“Off with you, woman,” John said, annoyed.
He recognized her. There wasn’t a person in the town who didn’t know old Jess, although she did not move freely among the populace. Many said she was mad, and more than a few thought she was a witch.
“Take care, young Lambert,” Jess said, leaning upon her staff. “It matters not that you have taken the Vow of the Cross. It is still important that you remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.”
The reminder irritated John even further. It was true, he was to debark for the Holy Land on the morrow to help free it from the Saracens. He would not return home for many years, and he believed that such a sacrifice entitled him to a little consideration, under the circumstances. John also felt the old woman was being a bit high-handed, given her questionable background.
For his answer, John picked up a clod of earth and heaved it at Jess. His aim was true, and it struck her across the face.
“I said be off with you, now,” John snapped. “If you choose to tarry here, I’ll have Duke chase you to the gates of Hell.”
Sensing what his master wanted, the dog immediately arched its back, baring its fangs in the process. A low warning growl escaped from his mouth. A single word, and he would spring at Jess, ready to take her down.
The blow had not injured the old woman, which was what John intended. She carefully wiped the dirt from her face, then shifted her grip on her cane.
“Very well, young Lambert. I will leave you to your fishing. But before I leave, heed my words. There will be a reckoning because of this. Of that you can be sure.”
She turned abruptly and walked down the road. Not even bothering to give her another thought, John turned back to his pole, eagerly awaiting any indication that a fish was attempting to take the bait.
But his efforts were not to be rewarded. An hour passed. And then another. It was now way past the time for worship, and John began to think it might have been better to spend the time listening to the priest’s sermon. That would have at least avoided the reproving look he would get from his father when he finally returned home.
More time passed, but the river might have been barren of fish, for all his luck. But just as he was about to give up, young John felt an abrupt tug on his line.
There was no need to play it. His pole suddenly bent low, and John began to pull on it, hoping the fish would quickly break to the surface.
But it was not to be. No matter how much John strained, pulled, and played the line, whatever he had hooked refused to emerge from the water.
Muttering a few curses under his breath, John continued to play the line. Experience taught him not to pull too hard at this point, least the line break. From the weight he felt and the resistance, young John guess this would probably be the biggest fish caught in Lampton in living memory. He was eager to bring it home and show it off to his father and the towns’ people — for it would make a fine trophy that people would talk about for years while he was off fighting to free Jerusalem.
Suddenly, the line went slack. A cold feeling went through him, because at first, John thought he had lost it.
But when he tested the line, John could feel the weight of something on the end. Believing the fish had finally tired itself out, he pulled the line out of the water.
When the hook broke water, what greeted his eyes caused John to utter an involuntary sound of disgust. For there, clinging to the end, was the ugliest creature John had ever seen.
It was about three inches long, roughly the size of his thumb. But even as small as that, John could not help but feel revulsion at the sight of the beast. It had green scales, making it appear as if it was perpetually covered in slime.
But that was not the worst. Its eyes, brown and pupil-less seem to glow with an intense hatred as it started at John. It hissed, and despite is small size, the shrill sound hurt John’s ears.
“What the devil are you,” John said, for he had never seen anything like it before. “I spend hours fishing, I think I have caught the biggest fish ever caught in Lampton, and all I get is you? By Our Lady, why couldn’t you have been at least something significant? But perhaps I can use you as bait.”
John reached out and removed the creature from his line. He quickly learned that this was a mistake, for it possessed one other horrible feature — a set of needle-like teeth. It used them now, and John screamed in agony as his thumb was pieced to the bone.
Using his free hand, the heir to Lambton gripped the eel-like creature and squeezed hard. But the scales of the beast proved tough, shielding it against John’s best efforts. He sank to his knees in pain, but picked up a rock, not caring if he smashed his hand, only wanting to make the beast let go.
Suddenly, the creature withdrew its teeth, and John cursed as blood spurted from his thumb. He was still holding it, and tossed the little monster into his creel. He ripped a piece of cloth from his shirt, using it to bandage his thumb. Then he turned his attention back to his attacker.
“You little hell-spawn,” he snarled as the creature continued to stare up at him.
Even through the pain, John felt a gloating sense of triumph coming from the creature. This increase his fury, and he uttered a series of oath, which, if the village priest had heard them, would have caused John to be doing penance for several years.
Instead, John cast about and his eyes fell upon the old well located near the riverbank. The well had been abandoned for several years. Seeing it provided the youth with what proved to be a rash inspiration.
“You miserable little cur,” John snarled. “You hide in the water, pretending to be something greater than what you really are. Then you dare attack me, even though you are only worthy for fish bait. Remain in here until you become more worthy of my attention.”
With more frightful oaths, John tossed the creature into the dark brackish water, far underground. To make certain of the job, he placed the lid on the well, securing it with heavy stones, confident that no one would bother to remove them.
And unfortunately, he was right.
The incident occurred so quickly Duke had not had time to react. He whined in sympathy to John as they turned to go back to town.
“It’s all right, boy,” John said, giving his dog a reassuring pat on the head. “You couldn’t have done anything anyway.”
The next day, John departed by ship which took him and other Crusaders to Palestine. All during the trip, he was strangely ill, which the ship’s doctor put down as seasickness. By the time they reached the Holy Land, John’s illness had passed, so he believed the doctor’s diagnosis, even though it was wrong.
Because fighting the Saracens occupied most of his time, John quickly put the incident at the river from his mind. But for the people of his homeland, their ordeal with the creature was about to begin.
Part II – The Escape
For about a year after young Lambton’s departure things remained quiet throughout the land. To be sure, those who tarried in the area too long noticed a distinctly unpleasant odor coming from the well. But this was put down to brackish water, a fate shared by all abandoned wells.
Then one day, two village peasants were passing by. It was a hot day, and the well’s stench was now almost unbearable.
“Whew, you’d think somebody would fix that carrion pit,” said the first peasant, whose name was Mudge.
“Aye, but who?” said Herman, the second peasant.
“Whoever owns it,” Mudge replied. “I swear thing gets worse each time you pass it by.”
“There’s talk at the tavern that someone did try to clean it out about a year ago,” Herman said.
“Didn’t do a very good job,” Mudge noted sourly.
“Didn’t do any job at all, from what I heard,” Herman said. “According to the gossip, the fellow went to the well, then a short time later ran away from it as if the devil himself was at his heals. Refused to return it. Only thing he would say is he heard a roar that could shake the dead from their graves.
“Ah, he’d probably been drinking too much ale. Decided the job was too dirty and smelly, so he made up some story…”
At that moment a low moaning sound erupted from the well.
The well began to vibrate, with bits of stone flying in all directions. The ancient mortar cracked and crumbled to dust as the ground vibrated underneath.
“Run,” Mudge yelled.
Too late. With a roar, the well’s top split andl burst apart. Herman and Mudge were miraculously unhurt, but the worst was yet to come. Smashing through the rubble came a terrible head, it’s black lidless eyes casting about, searching for prey.
“Run,” Mudge screamed again.
He needn’t have bothered, because Herman had already taken to his heels. What saved them was the monster had not yet completely emerged from its prison. Had they been foolish enough to remain, the two men would have seen an awful body, more than 60 feet long, pull itself from the well and start to slither along, wrecking everything in its path.
When Herman and Mudge told their tale to the men of Lamberton, they were jeered at and accused of being drunk. But only for a short time. Stories quickly arrived about the monster, and the terrible destruction it left in its wake.
Part III – The attack begins
For many generations, the Bowen family had farmed the land of Lamberton for many generations.
In that time period, the Bowens dealt with droughts, wars, pestilence, and just about everything else that plagues those who work the land.
Through it, Hugh Bowen and his relatives had stoically dealt with each challenge as they came along. Hugh thought he seen just about everything that could threaten a farmer and his crops.
He was wrong.
On that morning, Hugh was heading to the barn, intending to milk the cows. It was a daily chore which permitted no delay, and for Hugh, the best thing to do was get it over with as quickly as possible.
Heading for the barn, the farmer suddenly became aware of a distinctly unpleasant stench assaulting his nostrils.
“Damnation,” he muttered, thinking that one of his cows had probably died the night before. That would mean having the cost of having the carcass removed and destroyed, plus the loss of income because one less cow would be producing milk.
As he approached the barn, Hugh noticed the odor was getting stronger. Then a frightened lowing abruptly erupted from within, and Hugh wondered if a wolf was inside, attacking the herd.
The answer came a few seconds later.
Hugh saw the enormous head slowly raise itself above his barn. The farmer stood awestruck, as it barred its terrible needle-like teeth.
Abruptly, the worm brought its thick body down hard upon the roof, causing it to splinter into pieces. The lowing changed to bellows, as the cows within tried vainly to break out of the structure.
The wyrm simply smashed through the walls, and began a terrible feast of the still living animals.
Hugh’s nerve broke at that point, and he ran as fast as he could from his ruined barn and his doomed herd. In a small, sane portion of his mind, the farmer was certain he could rebuild as his family had done many times before him.
He would, but it would be many years before he could do so.
Part IV – The commission
James, the Fifth Earl of Lamberton, listened grimly to report after report of the havoc the wyrm was wrecking throughout the county.
“And so, your lordship, most of the farms throughout the area or been destroyed by this demon,” said Robert Houghton, his man-at-arms. Barns have been destroyed, houses smashed, the countryside ravaged. People have been coming here to the town and refusing to leave because it is the only area surrounded by a stone wall.”
“Yes, yes, I know,” the earl said. “People have been petitioning me, pleading that something be done. The problem is, most of our fighting men are off in the Holy Land, so we only have a small force to send against the wyrm.”
“It will be enough, your lordship,” Houghton said. “Just give the word, and I will lead a contingent of men to slay the beast.”
“I appreciate your confidence, Robert,” the earl said. “Still, I cannot help but want to move cautiously on this. According to all who have seen it, the wyrm is enormous, with enough power to destroy an army.”
“Exaggerations, my lord,” the man-at-arms assured. “Me and men with this hellspawn back where it came. I promise you, when I return, it’s menace will be ended.”
The earl gave the word, and Robert assembled his contingent, made up of the finest fighting men remaining in Lamberton.
It wasn’t enough.
One of the few survivors who returned provided the evil tidings. When they found the wyrm, Robert bravely led the charge against it. But even before they could strike a single blow, the entire contingent of men was sent reeling back.
From the survivors, the earl and others deduced that the wyrm exuded a green poisonous mist which also made breathing nearly impossible.
Robert was a brave warrior who was dedicated to the people of Lamberton. He ordered his men to stand their ground and had bowmen attempt to kill the monster from a distance. But it was hopeless. What few arrows reached the wyrm barely pricked its skin. Enraged, the monster attacked in earnest. The knights and archers did not have a chance, with the arms master one of the first to fall. All but a few, and now Lamberton had little defense against the monster.
James sent several missives to London, begging the king for aid. However, news of the wyrm’s destructive power was quickly known, and the government refused to send assistance, on the grounds the fighting men would be killed needlessly.
Grimly, the earl sought a solution to the problem, which was becoming disastrous for the entire countryside. Worse, it was evident the wyrm was moving toward the town, intending to attack and possibly destroy it as well.
Part V – The Defense
The day came when the demon’s head was spotted in the distance. Terror gripped the entire community, and only the old earl’s bravely refusing to leave the compound kept the situation from becoming a roat.
“We’ve got to do something,” said Friar Thomas, the village priest.
“I agree, Father, and am open to suggestions,” the earl said, as he watched the wyrm coming ever closer.
“Do we have any siege weapons?”
“None, they have never been needed,” the earl said.
“Excuse me, your lordship, I think I might have a way of fighting this thing” said Hugh Bowen, who, along with his family, and taken refuge in the town.
“Well, out with it man,” the earl said. “We can’t just let that thing smash its way in here and destroy the town.”
“I understand, your lordship,” Hugh said. “I did not mention it before, because this is something I have only heard in passing from my grandmother. But still, since nothing else works, it may be worth a try.”
Hugh made his suggestion to the earl, who listen incredulously when he heard the information. But because no one else could suggest anything else, it was decided to give it a try.
About an hour later, the wyrm, hissing and baring its teeth, approached the outer gate of the town. Many became ill when they got a whiff of the green mist. But they waited fearfully, wondering if the plan would work.
As the monster approached the trough used to water the horse, it suddenly stopped and sniffed its contents.
For instead of water, the tough was filled with fresh milk, still warm from the cows which had been brought inside the compound. Plunging its great maw into the trough, the wyrm began to greedily drink up the contents.
Hugh’s grandmother had known something of dragon lore – that one thing they cannot resist is fresh milk. On the earl’s orders, the villages had frantically milked their cows, then filled the trough.
The wyrm drained the trough’s contents, then lifted its head, swaying for many seconds. The earl and the villagers waited, none daring to move as the monster seemed to be making a decision.
Finally, with what sounded like a sigh, the monster turned and headed out of the area. All breathed with relief as it disappeared over a hill.
“We are safe,” Friar Thomas announced.
“For now,” the earl reminded. “It will return.”
And so it did. Day after day, the wyrm returned to the town gates, drinking deep from the trough. Villagers reported that it fell asleep after it’s daily repasts, until it returned.
The wyrm did little damage to the countryside after that, and the people of Lamberton settled down into a routine which allowed them to survive, but not thrive.
Day after day they appeased the monster with fresh milk. It was a miracle that they were able to till the fields to produce enough to feed their cattle, as well as themselves. Many thought that the wyrm possessed enough intelligence that it knew it could not molest the countryside without cutting off its source of milk.
For seven years the people of Lamberton had to deal with the wyrm, which was now a parasite instead of a predator. The countryside still continued suffer though, because no one dared venture into the countryside for an extended period.
The earl offered several rewards to those who could ride the countryside of the terrible curse. A few came forward, but none lived to claim it. Many emigrated from the area, and it seemed as if Lamperton was destined to become an empty, fallow land, with the wyrm as its only occupant.
Part VI — The knight
For the next six years, those remaining in County Durham held on grimly, hoping for a miracle to free them from the wyrm’s curse.
Occasionally, the monster would destroy a barn or other structure. Most of the fields lay fallow, because people knew the wyrm would eventually ravage the crops before they could be harvested.
Visitors were now scarce in Lampton, so when a lone armored knight on horse was spotted traveling on the main road, it excited a little attention.
But although the residents stared and whispered, none bothered to approach the knight when he rode past. Unhurried, he eventually came to one of the few taverns still operating in the area.
“Innkeeper, a flagon of ale please,” the knight called as he entered the establishment.
“Got no ale,” the innkeeper, whose name was Joseph replied.
The knight, noting the surly look on the man’s face, neglected to remove his helmet, opting instead to simply lift his visor.
“Beer then?” he inquired.
“Aye, got beer. Not very good brew though.”
The knight nodded and tossed a coin on the bar. Joseph produced a stein, which the knight took and drank from.
“You’re right, it’s not very good,” he said, making a face.
“What did you expect,” Joseph replied. “With the way things have been going, nobody can get decent hops for beer. Let alone ale.
“What’s the problem, bad year for crops,” the stranger inquired.
“You are funny, sire,” the innkeeper replied, not caring that he was probably addressing a noble. “Perhaps you should go to London. I hear the king is in need of jesters.
“Pax, fellow,” the knight replied. “I meant no disrespect. I was just wondering why things seemed so poor across the county.
“Stranger here, are you? I thought our plight was known throughout all of England.
The knight made no reply, so Joseph continued.
“You saw the name of my tavern when you came in?” Joseph inquired.
“The Curse of the Wyrm? Yes I saw it. Odd name for an inn, I thought.”
“Not so odd, if you know the story,” Joseph said.
The innkeeper then told the story of the Wyrm and how all of County Durham remained in the grip of its tyranny.
“Hasn’t anyone tried to kill the monster,” the knight asked.
“Several,” Joseph grunted. “All dead. The wyrm is poisonous. None can get near it. A curse on John Lampton for bringing that demon from Hell.
“The young earl? How do you know he’s responsible?”
“Old Jess told us. A local witch who lives in the parts. Says young Lampton caught the wyrm when it was small and could have destroyed it then. Instead, threw it in a well where it grew and grew and grew. Now, nobody can destroy it.”
The knight tossed another coin on the bar, then got up and left the establishment. Joseph picked it up, then gazed at it in wonder. The coin was gold, and was worth more than the innkeeper usually made in a month.
Part VII – The price
The knight went straight to Lampton. Upon entering the gates, he was challenged by the town watch.
“What business have you here, sirrah?”
For some reason, this apparently amused the knight, who declined to raise his visor or otherwise identify himself.
“I hear you have need of a champion,” came a muffled reply from beneath his helmet. Please tell your lord a champion his come to rid the countryside of the wyrm.”
This caused a considerable stir from those within hearing distance. Wondering if the knight was a fool or simply mad, the watch decided to send word to the earl about the situation.
“You want to conquer the wyrm, eh?” he said. “Do you know what you are up against.”
“I have not yet seen it,” the knight admitted. “But I have heard tales of it.”
“Tales which probably don’t give half the horror,” the watch said. “If you think to make an easy bounty…”
At that moment the earl arrived, followed by one of his dogs.
“I’m told sir knight, that you wish to slay the wyrm which has plagued us these many years. As my watch has been telling you, better that you seek adventure elsewhere. Others have tried, but have failed to slay the monster, much to their sorrow and ours.”
“I appreciate the warning, your lordship,” the knight replied. “But I am determined to rid the land of this curse.”
“But why should you, a stranger, be so determined to help us,” asked the earl.
At that moment the dog which had been lying next to the earl, suddenly got to its feet, sniffing the air frantically.
“Duke, what’s the matter with you boy,” the earl asked.
Duke suddenly bounded forward and placed his front paws on one of the knight’s armored legs, barking joyfully.
“Duke you old scallywag, I guess I couldn’t fool you,” the knight said, removing his helmet.
“John, it’s you,” the earl said, “My God, you must have grown six inches.”
“Fighting in the Holy Land agreed with me,” John said. “Although I admit I have few scars from fighting the infidels.”
“But why all the secrecy, lad. How long have you been home?”
“Not long, Father,” John said. “As to the secrecy, I heard stories about Lampton in London, and decided it would be best to return as quietly as I could.”
“I’m afraid the stories are true. In fact, you probably haven’t heard the worst of them,” the earl said grimly.
“Father, after I crossed the border, I heard that I am the one responsible for unleashing the wyrm. So I must be the one to destroy it.”
“No, John, I tell you it’s not possible. The monster is enormous, and its poison has destroyed the bravest of warriors. Even without its poison, the wyrm is so enormous a single man won’t have a chance against it.
“Oh but he does,” came another voice from the compound.
Up walked Old Jess, who had apparently been listening unnoticed.
“What do you want here, witch,” the earl said sternly. “I told you before you’re not welcome here, after lies you’ve been spreading about my son.
“Lies? Ask him if they’re lies, your lordship,” Old Jess demanded.
“I’m afraid it’s true, Father,” John said. “I caught the wyrm when it was tiny and insignificant. I tossed it into a well, and cursed it, saying it should come to me when it was more worthy. I guess that it is indeed more worthy now.”
“Heh, heh, indeed it is,” Jess replied. “So worthy that you, and only you alone can kill it.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, young Lambton, that you have the power to defeat the wyrm. But only if you do exactly as I say,” she cackled.
“So what do I have to do,” he said after a few moments.
“John, don’t listen to her,” the earl said. “Her madness has gotten even worse over the years, and will only lead to your ruin.
“Madness it is?” Jess replied. “Then keep the wyrm, which cannot otherwise die, and to Hades with you all.”
“Wait. I am listening, and will do as you say, if it makes sense,” John said. “How can we defeat the wyrm?”
“I will tell you, but first you must agree to the price,” she said. “The price you must pay for the affront you did me all those years ago when I tried to warn you about the wyrm.”
All right, woman, what is the price?
“It is a simple price, Jess explained. “Very simple. You must slay the first living thing you meet after the wyrm is dead.”
“That’s it? That’s all?”
“That is all,” Jess continued. “But be warned, young Lampton. Things are not always as simple as they seem. For, if you fail to pay the price, then a curse shall be on the House of Lampton, for nine generations.
“And that would be?”
“For nine generations, no Earl of Lampton shall die peacefully in his bed. That will be the curse that you place on your House if the price is not met,” she warned.
Part VII – The armor
Through the smoke and flame, John Lampton watched as the village blacksmiths worked to create the armor.
Pounding and shaping the the red hot metal, each carefully performed his assigned task.
All the smithies were highly skilled – but none had worked on the type of armor now being created which Old Jess insisted was necessary to destroy the wyrm.
“Attach four thousand and four four spikes to it,” the old witch instructed. “Not one more, not one less. Fail, and all will be lost.”
As a result, John took it upon himself to see that each spike was properly distributed. From a box which held them, John carefully counted, keeping a running tally every time one was used.
“Make certain each spike is razor sharp,” Jess insisted. “Not only must they puncture the wyrm’s hide, they must tear and rend if flesh as well.”
And so it was done. Smiths and masons had works lathes, honing each spike until a man could have shaved with them.
Because the spikes had to be affixed to the armor, it had to be extremely thin. Jess had warned that if it was too thick, the spikes could not be properly placed.
Slowly, the armor took shape. At first the townspeople had been reluctant to cooperate. However, when the earl pointed out that this was probably their only chance at being rid of the monster, they gained some enthusiasm for the project.
Finally, it was done. Despite Jess’ assurance that all was well, John examined it several times for the tiniest possible flaw.
Before the battle, John spent the night praying in the chapel.
“Oh Lord,” he said. “I know I committed a sin by fishing in the Wear that day instead of going to Mass. But why, Lord, did you choose to punish the people of Lampton instead of me? I beseech you, oh Holy Father, take my life if you must, but grant me the courage and skill to slay this hell demon, and free the countryside from its curse.”
In the dying morning twilight, John donned the spike encrusted armor, and made last minute preparations.
“May God go with you John,” the earl said, appearing through the gloom.
“Let’s hope so, Father. Old Jess hasn’t explained exactly why alone can defeat the wyrm, nor how this armor will protect me from its poisonous essence,” he replied. “But it now seems to be the only chance we have.”
“Indeed. I would insist that I go in your place, but the old witch insists it would do no good,” the earl said.
“Remember Father, if I am victorious I will blow my hunting horn three times. When you hear the third blast, let Duke out so he will be the first thing that I meet.”
“Are you certain you want to do this to Duke?”
“No Father. In fact it is going to break my heart. But I must slay the first living thing I meet to prevent the curse. Better it be Duke than a person.”
“I suppose you’re right. I will do as you say. But take care, my son. You’re the only thing of worth that I have left in this world.”
John was sorry then he had put the armor on before talking to his father. The two men desperately wanted to embrace each other. Instead, John extended his hand forward, and the earl touched one of the few areas not covered by those terrible spikes.
Then, he turned and left the town, heading down the road to meet his terrible adversary.
Part VIII – The battle
And now John faced the wyrm, whose head swayed above him, waiting, waiting, waiting…
“Well you’re not going to win this battle just by trying stare me down,” John said.
“Impudence,” the wyrm hissed. “You seem hardly worth my notice.”
“We will see. I intend to cut you into pieces and use you for fish bait.”
“Fish bait! Why you pup, meet the fate of the other fools who tried to kill me.”
With that, the wyrm drew back and breathed a blast of its terrible vapors on John. The young knight braced himself for the worst, but to his amazement the poisonous breath brought not a cough for sneeze.
“What is this?” the wyrm demanded.
Young Lambton couldn’t provide an answer, at least not at the moment. In later years John realized that it must have been having been bitten by the wyrm when it was small. The venom had poisoned John, making him ill, but it was not enough to kill him. His body had built up an immunity to the poison, and it was this immunity that now saved his life.
“So, it seems my breath has no meaning to you,” the wyrm said. “No matter, there are other ways of crushing you.
John then noticed the wyrm’s coils were now behind him, cutting off escape. Shifting his grip on his weapons, he prepared for the worst.
With a roar, the wyrm again attacked, this time encircling young Lampton’s body like a giant python. John felt the pressure of those terrible coils, but then heard a scream of pain from the wyrm as it suddenly released its grip.
From his vantage point, John saw that the monster was now bleeding from four thousand and four fresh wounds. But he knew the battle was far from over – the wyrm still had the strength of a lion, strength now fueled by its rage.
Again the wyrm screamed its challenge. This time, it attempted to engulf John within its terrible jaws, intending to piece his body with its needle-like teeth.
But instead, the wyrm suffered the fate it intended for John. From its mouth fresh blood erupted – the razor spikes having done their work.
Again and again the wyrm launched attacks, only to be forced back each time by the armor-spiked armor. Each attack brought fresh wounds, but also fresh rage, as it tried desperately to strike a killing blow.
“Fish bait, that’s all you’re good for is fish bait,” John sneered, continuing to taunt and goad the wyrm to attack.
Several times, the wyrm attempted to trip him, hoping to knock him on his back. Only by moving as quickly as possible was John able to prevent it.
Several times, the wyrm’s head came close enough to touch. Using shield and sword, John cut, slashed and smashed, dealing the monster even more wounds.
Although only a quarter-hour had passed, to John it was an eternity. He was tiring rapidly, and wondered if the wyrm would ultimately win by sheer stamina alone.
But finally – body drenched in blood and flesh in ribbons – the wyrm raised itself up to its full height.
“You win,” it said, towering over John. “But I will take you back to hell with me.”
With a terrific groan, the wyrm fell, like some enormous tree. John suddenly realized what the demon intended, and ran from the spot as quickly as his feet could carry him.
For several awful seconds, John did not think he was going to make it. The collapsing body crushed and smashed everything in its path. But at the last second, he managed to leap to just out of reach, the head landing at his feet. The wyrm, still alive, fixed its terrible glare on him.
“Fishbait,” John said once more, as he drove the point of his sword through the wyrm brain.
The entire body gave one last enormous shudder and was finally still.
Chapter IX – The aftermath
Still soaked in the monster’s blood, John stripped off the armor and took a quick plunge into the River Wear. Then he picked up his hunting horn, blew three sharp blasts, and waited.
“Forgive me, Duke, forgive me.” John whispered.
The minutes passed. Rather than wait, he decided to make his way back to Lampton, certain he would not meet anyone on the road. The wyrm’s death had not yet been reported, so fear of it would keep people away.
John continued to scan the road ahead fearfully, dreading the task that lay ahead. He would have gladly faced the wyrm again, rather than slay his beloved dog. But the price of failing to do so was so great he had no choice.
Suddenly, from a bend in the road appeared a figure.
“Father no,” John cried when he saw who it was.
“Oh my boy, I couldn’t be more proud,” the earl said, embracing his son.
“Father, what have you done?” John said. “Why didn’t you let Duke out?”
“Oh, I didn’t…I mean. Forgive me, John. I was so happy when I heard the heard the horn, I rushed out to greet you. I wanted to be sure you were all right, and forgot.”
“Well, Father, I guess we Lamptons will have to pay Old Jess price then,” John said. “I can’t possibly slay you, even if it would mean sparing the family from a terrible curse.”
“Perhaps it is for the best. After all I don’t know how you could have possibly lived with the knowledge that you killed Duke.”
When the two returned and reported the wyrm was dead, the people of Lampton and the rest of County Durhan forgave John for the curse he had inflicted upon them. As the years passed, no one worked more tirelessly than he to restore the land, allowing it to prosper once more.
Chapter X – The curse
But as Old Jess had predicted, the Lampton family would carry a curse that would afflict it for nine generations.
The first person would be the old earl himself. One morning, a few years later, the servants entered the earl’s library, and found that he has quietly passed away while sitting in a chair.
For 20 years afterward, John would serve as the Earl of Lampton, until he drowned in the Wear while trying to save a family during a flood. His son in turn would go off war several years later, and never return.
And so it went. Some of the Lampton earls died on the block, others were hung. Sir William Lambton, a Colonel of Foot, was killed at the Battle of Marston Moor. Another earl was killed in battle at Wakefield.
Finally, the ninth earl, Henry Lampton, died in his carriage as it was crossing Lampton Bridge, on June 26, 1761.
His brother, the 10th earl, kept a horsewhip by his bedside to ward off violent assaults. But he needn’t have worried, for he died peacefully in his bed at age 98, showing the curse was finally broken.
Today, John Lampton’s legacy is still celebrated in Durham County in England The story of his victory over the wyrm was turned into a ballad, a ballad which had kept the story in people’s minds from generation to generation. A hill that the wyrm is said to have frequently wrapped itself around while it plagued the land is known as Worm Hill.