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Here there be dragons: The Lambton Worm

In Germanic countries, and in England (because the English just took everything from everywhere), there was a kind of dragon called a ‘worm’ or ‘wurm.’

On Easter Sunday, 1420, John Lambton, the degenerate heir of Lambton Castle, skipped church to go fishing in the River Weir. He didn’t catch anything for a long time, so just to add to his wickedness, he started to swear.

Now, at this point, some versions of the legend include an old man passing by warning John he’d better watch himself. This seems unlikely, since any old man who could warn John without being a bit of a hypocrite would be in church himself. It’s a good addition to the legend, though, since it forms a nice parallel with the witch that comes later.

After spewing some good curses, he felt a tug on the line. Not a fish. The slimy black thing, three feet long, had nine sets of gills, huge eyes, and the face of a devil. Suddenly not so hungry for seafood, Lambton threw it down the nearest well. And off he went to the crusades, some say to make up for his rebellious youth.

A few years later, the locals started to notice their chickens going missing. Then their pigs. Then their cattle. Then, one day, some observant fellow said, “Hey, what’s that big black thing wrapped around that hill over there?” (The hill was either Penshaw Hill or the more aptly named Worm Hill.)

Well, as it turns out, the worm had grown, Jörmungandr-like, big enough to wrap around the hill seven times.

Some brave local youths try their luck at slaying the thing, but the worm is luckier. The only thing the locals can do to save their sheep is offer the worm a troughful of milk every morning in the courtyard of Lambton Castle.

When John Lambton gets back from the crusades, he recognizes the leech he pulled out of the river. Horrified, he also recognizes his responsibility. His sin created it. He’s got to deal with it. But before he does, he consults the local wise woman (See how he’s grown as a person? Before he ignored the old man, now he seeks out aged advice.). She tells him if he has to win, he must wear a suit of spiky armor and confront the worm while standing in the river.

If he does succeed, she tells him, he’s got to kill the first living thing he encounters after the fight or his family will be cursed for nine generations.

After a truly epic battle, John kills the worm. But instead of heading out to the nearest field and slaughtering the first bull that walks up to him, like a sensible person would have done, the moron heads home. His own father comes running out to meet him.

Now soft-hearted John can’t kill his own dad, so he puts the family dog to death hoping it’ll be a good substitute.

Of course this didn’t work. The next nine generations of Lambtons die tragic deaths. Thanks, Grandpa John!

But the Lambton family outlived the curse, and four hundred years later, John’s namesake John George (The name of another famous dragonslayer) Lambton became the first Governor of the Province of Canada. What’s really interesting is where they built the monument to the second John Lambton.

Penshaw Hill.

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About teresawilde

Author of Young Adult Paranormals, Paranormal Romance, Historical Paranormal Romance, tragical- comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, and poem unlimited.

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