Legend tells us that, long before invading armies reached the shores of England, a fearful event was known to occur on the night of Beltane, which affected the whole country.
Each year, a noise used to echo across the land – a noise so terrible that all who heard it trembled in their locked houses; crops would wither, and cows milk soured.
The people would look to the sky with fear, but saw nothing but whisps and hints of movement and rarely anything more. Yet, unbeknown to them, the beasts responsible for the terrible sounds were equally unaware of the plight of the people below.
As the years passed a good and wise king took the throne. His name is sometimes known as Lludd. This king was well aware of the fear his people felt as Beltane approached. He turned to his even wiser brother, who was adept in magic. Lludd’s brother told him that the noise was made by two dragons, and there was a way to silence them.
The following Beltane’s Eve, Lludd followed his brothers advice and, standing in the centre of his kingdom in the Midlands, he asked his men to place a large cauldron, filled with mead, by his side. Over the mouth of the cauldron was laid a silken cloth, and by the side of it was placed a huge chest . When all was ready they settled down to wait.
After a while the people became aware of a noise, distant at first, but growing in strength. As they strained their eyes towards the sky, they could see the movement of what seemed like two huge birds of prey as they came into view. Suddenly their shapes shifted and blurred into what looked like bears, then into other beasts, until, for no more than a moment, two magnificent dragons were seen rolling and writhing in the sky – one red and one white – moving around each other in a ritual dance.
Then, in a flash, they became two small swine as they began to fall to earth. They landed on the cauldron of mead, which they drank, and immediately fell into a stupor. And so it was that the two beasts were tied in the silken cloth and sealed into the chest. King Lludd then buried the chest high on a flat outcrop on the side of Mount Snowdon.
Peace returned to the realm and years passed in relative calm, until the wars of man forced a later king to build a lofty refuge. He chose a high plateau on the side of Snowdon to build his fortress. However, each time the walls were erected, they tumbled down. Frustrated in his attempts the king turned to his advisors, one of which had heard of a boy gifted in matters of nature and magical insight. The boy’s name was Merlin. He told the king that the ground was unstable due to the large amount of water in a pit below the plateau. He also saw the chest and its contents.
The king ordered that the water be drained, and the chest retrieved. A channel was dug and the acrid water flowed away. The chest was hauled out and the lock broken. Inside lay two tiny sleeping dragons. As the daylight touched their motionless forms, they began to stir. They stretched their wings and took to the air, growing in size and bulk as they rose.
Again they started to twist and turn about each other in the air, until the white dragon broke away and flew to the peak of Snowdon, becoming completely invisible against the snow. The red dragon followed its companion but, as it paused on the slopes of the mountain to stand and blow a plume of flames skyward, its image was clearly seen against the icy peaks.
The people watching the spectacle stared in awe at the magnificant creature, and so strong was the impact, that the red dragon eventually became the magical image on what we now know to be the Welsh Flag.
It is often said that the dragons were engaged in a fierce battle, but bearing in mind the date that the events took place, the dragons could just as easily have been engaged in a courtship ritual. But we shall never know, for both dragons, now aware of the affect their cries had on the people below, left and were never seen nor heard of again.
By Claire Russell