A long time ago in the far north lands a terrible monster crawled out of a crack in the earth. It was an ancient creature the size of a mountain, covered with scales like boulders. The beast had two orange eyes which glowed with a hellish light. Should any living creature look into those eyes, it would become enchanted, and walk to the beast to be eaten. The monster had a terrible hunger deep within its belly, and immediately set to devour the nearest villages and forests.
Nothing was capable of stopping the monster. Armies tried to drive it back underground, but they were always drawn to look at its eyes, and quickly fell under the beast’s spell. Ever hungry, it crawled slowly across deserts, mountains, and plains, devouring everything in its path. Many feared that everyone and everything would be consumed.
The only hope of defeating the beast was the ancient signet-ring of King Solomon. The ring had been missing for centuries, and many believed it no longer existed. Many desperate people searched for the ring, hoping it had fallen into a dark cave, was lost in a river, or was misplaced in an ancient library.
One young man named Reyner considered their plight carefully. “The wisdom of humans has lost the ring,” he thought. “Perhaps the wisdom of the animals can help us reclaim it.” With that in mind Reyner set off to learn the language of the animals. He walked for many years, until he met with an ancient mage who had come from across the seas.
The mage told him that of all the languages, Reyner should learn the languages of the birds. “They travel far and wide,” the mage said “and see the world from a distance. They know far more than any narrow-minded terrestrial beast. But be warned, it may cost you your life to learn their language. The only way for a human to learn is to take a dangerous potion full of poison.
“If you survive, you will wake knowing the language of the birds. As old as I am, I knew that I would never survive the ordeal. You however are young and healthy, and may live through it. If you are willing to take this risk, I will make the potion.”
Reyner agreed, and the mage created the brew. The young man drank the potion and fell to the ground in intense pain. Spasms wracked his body as he struggled to breathe, and he fell in and out of consciousness. Finally, he woke nine days later to the sound of the birds chattering in the trees. He could understand every word they said. With the language of the birds in his possession, Reyner took leave of the mage and set off to learn where King Solomon’s lost ring was hidden.
Listening to the birds Reyner heard news from all around the world. The birds spoke of great storms in the seas, distant cities crumbled to dust, and beautiful gardens. One morning he overheard a mother bird speaking to her children.
“Now remember children,” she twittered “far to the north is the terrible dragon. We cannot go there until it has been defeated by the ancient spells of King Solomon. They were written on King Solomon’s signet ring many years ago.”
“Mother,” one little bird asked, “Where is that ring now?”
“It is rumored that Amalia has it,” she replied.
Another bird called over, “Oh yes, Amalia has it. She keeps it safe and hidden from the world.”
“Who is Amalia?” the little bird asked.
“She is a witch who lives in the mountains” the mother bird replied. “She spends her days weaving tapestries which record the story of the world. Once a month she visits the spring in this forest, and washes her fabric in the light of the full moon.”
At this news Reyner was overcome with relief and joy. He finally knew how he was to find the lost signet ring, destroy the monster, and save his home. After days of searching he found the spring in the forest and stayed nearby to wait for the witch Amalia.
On the night of the full moon Reyner sat perfectly still, hidden in a bush near the spring. As the moon rose, a young woman with a bundle stepped out of the forest and kneeled by the spring. In the cold light she got to work washing her magical tapestries. Reyner watched her for a minute, and then stood up and called to her, “Lady, I do not wish to disturb you, but I am lost. You are the first person I have found in many days.”
The woman was startled, as she did not know that Reyner was watching her. Seeing that he was filthy and ragged from his journey, her look softened and she gave him a small smile. “My name is Amalia,” she replied. “I do not know where you come from, so I cannot direct you back. However, you can come home with me and spend the night. With a good sleep and a full belly, in the morning I will try to help you return home.”
After she finished her washing, Amalia led Reyner through the darkness to her cottage in the mountains. She fed him a small meal of bread and cheese, and he curled next to the fireplace on a soft blanket and fell soundly asleep.
When he woke Amalia was already working on a tapestry. Its colors were the most vivid he had ever seen, and the figures seemed to move about in the soft light. She was weaving an image of the dragon. Reyner could see its orange eyes glowing from the tapestry, luring people and beasts to their doom.
“Amalia,” Reyner asked, “What do you know of the dragon?”
“I know that it is an ancient creature,” she replied. “The people on the land became too numerous, and it smelled us from its cavern in the depth of the earth. It came to devour us, and will return once its belly is full. It brings great destruction, but it is like a great storm which shall soon pass. Our children’s children will only remember it as a mythical beast of stories.”
“Amalia,” Reyner asked again, “Is there any way to defeat the monster?”
“Yes,” she replied, “But the cost will be great. There are ways to kill the creature, but it will bring about a terror even more horrible. It is frightening for us, but any magical interference will only cause more destruction.”
Reyner let the matter drop as he did not want Amalia to guess his real purpose. He told her that he wished to stay with her, and she agreed that he could stay as her guest for as long as he wished. He made himself useful in Amalia’s house, and helped with the cleaning and cooking. He worked hard to win her confidence. He feared that if she knew he had come for the ring she would disappear with it and would never be seen again.
Weeks passed, and it was clear to Reyner that Amalia thought kindly of him. She would smile when he entered the room, and thanked him for his labors in the house. They spoke often and shared many stories and secrets. Reyner knew that he was falling in love with her, but he kept those thoughts buried deep inside himself.
One morning Amalia was hard at work weaving another section of tapestry. She wove an image of the beast crushing a village with its heavy body, the citizens walking toward the dragon’s fiery mouth. His heart trembled, as he knew that his village could be next, if it was not already destroyed. He feared for his friends and family, and finally decided to ask Amalia about the ring of Solomon.
“I once heard a legend about a ring that can defeat the creature. Do you know anything of it?” he asked innocently.
She solemnly nodded her head. “Yes,” she whispered to him, “the ring is real. It is a dangerous weapon. It was a gift from the angels to King Solomon, many centuries ago. My family has served as its guardian since his death. Only he knew its full powers, but from the little we remember it is clear it must be kept secret.”
As she spoke she pulled at the chain she wore around her neck. Reyner could now see that a small ring was threaded on it, sparkling by the firelight. It was brass and iron, with strange writing carved into it.
“This is the ring I guard,” she murmured. “If you place it on the little finger of your left hand, you are transformed into a bird. If you place it on your third finger, you are invisible. If you place it on your middle finger, you cannot be harmed by fire, weapons, or drowning. If you wear it on your forefinger you can control the thoughts of others. Finally, if you wear it on your thumb, your hand becomes so strong it can even destroy mountains.
“In the hands of an evil person it can do great damage, but its obscured powers are even more terrible.
If the ring is worn, it quickly poisons your heart. It makes you see deceit in the eyes of your closest friends, and treachery where none exists. The ring could be used to destroy the dragon, but the wearer would quickly lose their soul to it, and become a powerful and deadly tyrant. This is why no one else can ever know of it. I would destroy it if I knew of a way to do so.”
Reyner gazed at her with solemn eyes, working to conceal his excitement. He now knew where the ring was hidden, and needed to bide his time until he could safely take the ring and bring it home.
The next full moon, Amalia left as usual to wash her fabric in the spring in the forest. This time, Reyner offered to carry her bundles. While Amalia was in the water and focused on her tapestries, he stood next to her, pretending to help. He carefully cut the chain of the necklace and pulled the ring off. He slipped the ring onto the third finger of his left hand and became invisible. He quietly backed away from Amalia, and then slipped the finger on the little finger of his left hand. He turned into a bird and flew away into the night sky.
Amalia heard the rushing of his wings, and looked up to see a dark bird fly away into the darkness. Amalia was immediately filled with dread as she realized that Reyner had stolen King Solomon’s ring. She was ashamed of her trust in him, and fearful about what he would do.
Reyner flew fast and hard until he landed in his own village. In is long absence the people had become desperate. The creature destroyed much of the land around them, and was crawling closer. Their king promised his daughter and half of his land to anyone who would defeat it.
With haste Reyer set off to the king, and was immediately granted an audience. He showed him King Solomon’s ring, and demanded the strongest horse in the land, and a great iron spear. Once he had these two items Reyner placed the ring on his middle finger, which gave him the ability to survive the fire of the monster’s mouth. He then asked to be blindfolded, and his horse led near the creature. He knew that once the horse saw the monster’s eyes, it would be lured straight to its mouth. The blindfold was to prevent him from seeing the eyes and becoming enchanted as well.
As he had planned, the horse quickly saw the beast and trotted straight for its fiery maw. Reyner cautiously rode the horse, careful that the blindfold remained in place. The horse soon entered the monster’s mouth, stepped into the fire, and died. As the beast tried to swallow them Reyner rammed the spear into the roof of the monster’s mouth, piercing its brain. The beast instantly died and its jaws clamped shut. Reyner then placed the ring on his thumb, and lifted the great jaws up, and crawled out of the mouth.
Reyner was received in the king’s city with much rejoicing. Immediately a grand wedding took place, and Reyner and the king’s daughter were married.
Reyner should have been happy. After all, he had saved his village, he now had half the kingdom, a lovely wife, and he was a hero in all the land. Instead his thoughts were dark and bitter. As Amalia had warned him, he became suspicious of those around him. He feared that his wife would betray him, and began to follow her about the castle while invisible. He would place the ring on his forefinger, and force the courtiers to turn on each other with violence. He stopped sleeping and barely ate, and all his thoughts were of a dark madness. In this state, he decided that he would never be safe until he was king.
One dark night he slipped the ring onto his left hand’s third finger. While invisible he crept forth with a dagger, and plunged it into the king’s chest while the man slept. The king was laid to rest with a grand funeral, and as planned, Reyner was crowned the king.
Many leagues away, the witch Amalia heard of Reyner’s coronation. She climbed to the top of a mountain, and in the cold air she tied ribbons to her arms and called out ancient spells. She turned into a bird, and flew to Reyner’s kingdom to retrieve her ring.
Once in full power, Reyner imprisoned or killed anyone on the court who had displeased him, no matter how slight the trespass. Cruel and petty, his reign of terror was worse than the monster’s. Reyner soon decided that the neighboring kings were plotting against him. He conscripted all of the villagers, leaving only tiny babies and the frailest elderly, and sent them to war against his neighbors. The people were farmers, not soldiers, and were slaughtered in combat.
Lacking soldiers, Reyner placed the ring on the forefinger of his left hand, and incited rebellion in the land of his neighbors. During one of the riots, Reyner placed the ring on the little finger of his left hand. As a bird, he flew high above, watching the carnage.
Amalia saw this as her chance, and as a bird herself dove hard at his chest. The power of her speed forced the ring from Reyner, and Amalia grabbed it as they tumbled to the earth in human form. They landed hard, and Amalia quickly pulled out a dagger and held it to the man’s throat.
“Reyner,” she said, “I regret the day I met you. I treated you as a guest in my home, and you repaid me with theft and treachery. I warned you of the dangers of the ring, and instead of heeding me you became a monster yourself. I should kill you, but I still love you in the depth of my heart, and hope that you can recover. I will keep you alive in the hope that you can be redeemed.”
She then put the ring on her left thumb, lifted Reyner with one hand, and walked away with him. She took him to a deep cave, buried far into the earth. She chained his hands and feet to the wall and left him to sit in the darkness. Amalia then walked to her cottage, and threw the ring into a deep well nearby.
Reyner sat for many months in the darkness, his day only broken when Amalia brought him food. His first weeks he spent in a dark madness. His body was wracked with fits of pain, and all his thoughts were on destroying Amalia and reclaiming the ring. Over time the poison slowly faded from him and he began to regain his sanity.
Meanwhile the queen, Reyner’s wife, governed in his stead. The old mage who had helped Reyner learn the language of the birds came to the castle to pay his respects to his young friend. The queen told him that Reyner was missing, and none knew where to find him.
That night the mage set out, and through ancient magic determined where Reyner was imprisoned. He followed the paths in the cave down, deep into the earth and found Reyner chained to the wall. The mage freed the young man, and dragged him back up to the surface.
The long imprisonment purged the poison from Reyner’s heart, and he returned to his kingdom a benevolent ruler. The witch Amalia spent her life guarding the ring’s hiding place, as did her children’s, and down through her bloodline to this very day. Because of their perseverance, the ring has never been seen again.
Inspired by The Dragon of the North, an Estonian folktale. For a full-text version found in Lang’s Yellow Fairy Book: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/640/640-h/640-h.htm#link2H_4_0005