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Once upon a time, there was a farmer with three sons. Their mother had died years ago, but he was a good man and he raised his sons the best way he could.

The first son was strong and industrious, and when he came of age his father embraced him, told him how proud he was of him, and gave him one third of his lands to work as he would.

The eldest son took the plough in his own hands and worked the fields himself. The crops he planted, in time, grew higher than a man’s head, and the family prospered.

The second son was clever and studious, and when he came of age his father embraced him, told him how proud he was of him, and gave him one third of his lands to work as he would.

The second son went into his library and consulted his books, then hired some men stronger than he to work the fields for him. He told them to plant a different crop in each field, and to leave one fallow for the year, and to change the fields each year by turn. In time, the crops in his fields grew even higher than his brother’s, and the family prospered.

But the third son was neither strong nor clever; neither industrious nor studious. He liked to spend his days lying in the sunshine, and his nights dancing in the village halls, and although he was said to be the best dancer for many miles around this was not a talent that his father thought worthy.

When he came of age, his father did not embrace him.

“Jack,” he said, “I am disappointed in you. I wish with all my heart that you were strong or clever like your brothers, but you are simply lazy. Still, I promised your mother that you would have one third of my lands when you came of age, and so it must be. I hope that you will not ruin us.”

Now Jack, although not studious, was not altogether stupid, so he thanked his father kindly and went straight to his studious brother.

“You know better than me how to manage land,” he said to his brother, “And you’re so clever that it will hardly be any strain to take on more. Why don’t you manage my share as well, so that our father won’t need to worry?”

The studious brother thought about it, and agreed; it was not much more work for him, and would be a great rest to to their father’s mind. But he would not spare any coin from his share to hire workers for Jack’s land.

So Jack went to his eldest brother. “You’re so strong and industrious,” he said, “That you work your land with time enough to spare. Why don’t you work my land too, so that you don’t need to sit idle and our father won’t need to worry about it?”

The industrious brother thought about it, and agreed; he did have time enough to work two shares of the land, it was better than sitting idle, and it would be a great rest to their father’s mind.

While his brothers managed and worked his share of the land, Jack returned to his nightly dances and his daily rest in the sunshine.

So it was that one morning, after a long night dancing in the village halls, Jack made his way to the sunniest part of the fields and lay down to sleep in the sunshine, his dancing shoes still upon his feet.

A dragon flying overhead caught sight of the fields; the crops glittered like gold in the sunshine and the hungry dragon was deceived.

“What’s this,” said he, “An entire field of gold?”

His belly grumbled like thunder, and he swooped low to devour the field, swallowing great swathes of the shining crop – and the sleeping Jack too.

He tumbled helplessly down the dragon’s throat, and awoke as he landed with a thump upon a giant pile of gold coins and precious gems, with the crops raining down upon his head. Three beautiful young maidens stood before him, looking at him with concern.

He sat up and rubbed his head. “Where am I?”

The eldest maiden, a beautiful girl with eyes like sapphires and a dress of precious copper, answered him.

“You are in the belly of a giant dragon,” she said. “A hungry and most terrible beast who swallowed you whole, just as he swallowed me and my sisters.”

Jack turned to the second sister, an even more beautiful maiden with eyes like emeralds and a dress of sparkling silver.

“Where are you from,” asked he, “And where did all this gold come from?”

“The dragon eats gold and precious gems,” she told him. “We are princesses from a faraway land, given to the dragon to appease his hunger, and the gold came from our father’s vaults.”

Jack turned to the third sister, the youngest and most beautiful maiden with eyes like diamonds and a dress of finest gold.

“If I were to save you from this dragon, what thanks would I receive?”

“We would be eternally in your debt,” she told him. “You could choose any one of us as your wife, and take as much of this gold as you wished.”

Jack stroked his chin in thought, and tapped his feet on the ground as he tried to think of a way out.

If he were as strong as his brother, he thought, he would no doubt be able to strike his hand straight through the heart of the dragon, killing it and saving the princesses. But he was not strong.

If he were as clever as his other brother, he thought, he would no doubt know the inner weaknesses of dragons, and would be able to turn them to his advantage to kill the dragon and save the princesses. But he was not clever.

The dragon’s belly grumbled suddenly, shaking all around them and nearly knocking Jack and the princesses off their feet.

“Of course,” Jack cried. He regained his balance and danced a little jig while the princesses stared at him in confusion. The dragon’s belly grumbled and shook again.

“My lady,” Jack said, holding his hand out to the youngest princess. “Will you do me the honour of a dance?”

Confused but flattered, the princess took his hand and they began to dance together. He whirled her up and down, her delicate feet barely keeping pace with his as he hopped and skipped about.

The dragon’s belly grumbled and shook even harder, and they fell on top of the pile of gold.

Jack filled his pockets with gold, stood up and held his hand out to the princess once more. This time, as he began to dance with the princess in gold, her elder sisters joined hands and danced around after them.

“With a hey, and a ho, and a diddle-i-do, we’ll dance the whole night through!”

Jack sang loudly as they danced, kicked and jumped around the dragon’s belly, keeping time as it shook and grumbled around them. The sound was louder than any thunder, and but for his cheerful song the princesses would have dropped to their knees and quaked with fear.

“With a ho and a hey, and a diddle-i-dey, we’ll dance until it’s day!”

The grumbling grew and grew, and the dragon’s belly shook so much that the gold coins danced out of their piles. Finally, with one sharp kick, Jack made the dragon’s belly give a giant shake and he and the princesses flew up, up, and out, out of the dragon’s throat and into the sky, to land with a thump in the middle of Jack’s favourite sunny field, gold and precious gems raining down around them.

Above them the dragon circled in the sky, looking down at the gold and at the princesses’ precious gowns and preparing to come down and swallow them all up again.

“Below the ear, my brother, strike there!”

Jack looked around to see his clever brother standing nearby, holding a book and pointing to a spot on the dragon’s head where its scales did not quite meet.

“I see it, my brother,” came a shout, and Jack looked around to see his strong brother heaving a large hammer above his head. He swung it around once, twice, thrice, then let it fly as sure as an arrow to strike the dragon below the ear. The dragon let out a mighty bellow, then fell to the ground, stone dead.

“Well,” Jack said to the sisters. “I danced you out of the dragon, my brother found how to kill it and my brother struck it dead. Are we not all deserving of a reward?”

The princesses smiled and nodded their assent, and they were all married on the very next day.

The gold spat out by the dragon proved to be more than Jack’s fields could have earned in a whole lifetime, and so the family prospered, and if they’re not dead, why, they’re prospering still.

© Kari Fay

(Author’s Note: A bit on the longer side this week, this is a story I wrote for a prop used in a recent weekend horror event.)

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