Once, long ago, a noble family named Lambton lived in a castle, near the River Wear in County Durham. They were very rich, and the heir to the estate was a spoilt young man, who showed scant regard for anyone.
One Sunday, the young Lambton fancied going fishing, and chose not to join his family in church.
Sadly, he caught nothing all day, and, losing his temper he cursed the river with venom.
Suddenly, he felt a powerful tug on his line. Thinking it was a large salmon, he used all his strength to reel it in, only to find it was not a fish at all, but a strange black worm, no bigger than a thumb. It was horrible and slimy, with nine holes on either side of its salamander like head, and its broad mouth held razor sharp teeth.
For some reason he decided to take it back to the castle and, on the way, he met a villager who asked what he had caught. He showed the worm to him saying,”Not a salmon, but the devil himself”. The villager gasped and went ashen white, shaking his head, before replying in somber tones, “It bodes no good ….”
These words chilled the young man to the bone. With increasing unease, he dropped the worm into the village well and, shuddering, went on his way, wondering why he seemed to see his own face in the eyes of the creature as he pulled it out the water.
Years passed, and the young heir, regretting his thoughtless life, decided to join the Crusades. He was gone for 7 years and, during this time, the worm grew and grew in the well.
Nobody noticed anything odd at first, but then rumours began to reach the castle that the village well had gone sour, with noxious vapours rising from it. They said the water was oily, and people who drank it complained of illness with burning in mouths and throats.
And then, one morning, the villagers found a strange, foul smelling, slime, glistening in a broad trail, leading from the well to the Wear. And there, on a huge rock amid the stream, lay a fully matured dragon, its vast coils gleaming in the morning sun. All who saw it fled in terror, and stayed huddled in their meagre cottages, fearing to go outside.
By day, the dragon rested on its rock, but by night it swam to the bank and coiled itself around a hill, so nobody felt safe. It produced a vile stench; its slime blighted the turf, and its appetite was such that it soon depleted the land of cattle. Strangely, however, it seemed to have a particular taste for milk.
One evening the dragon began to head towards the castle and, in an attempt to divert its attention, the warm milk from all the Lambton herds was hurriedly poured into a horse trough outside of the castle gates. The dragon drank this with relish and, thus it was that this ritual continued to take place every night, until the young Lambton returned from the Crusades.
To his horror he realised that the dragon was the same hideous worm he had thrown into the well, and, moved by the plight of his people, the young man sought the council of a wise woman, as to how he could rectify his mistake. He was told to make an armoured suit with blades protruding from it, and to summon the dragon by blowing his horn. The rest, he was told, would be easy, but the price he must pay was also to take the life of the first thing he saw once the dragon was dead. Failure to do this would result in a curse on himself and his family for 9 generations.
The armoured suit was made and, at sunrise, the young lord stood at the foot of the dragons hill, warning his family and villagers to stay well out of sight until the task was over. He blew on his horn, and the dragon, perceiving a threat to his territory, started to engulf him in its huge coils. As the dragon constricted around the young Lambton, the blades pierced deep into its hide, weakening it greatly. Lambton was thus able to cut off its head with his sword.
He then blew his horn again to announce the dragons death and, forgetting his son’s warning, old Lambton ran out to greet him in joy. Horrified, the young lord found he could not kill his own father, so he quickly killed one of his favourite hounds instead.
However, the curse was not averted, and for 3 times 3 generations, the Lambton Lords did not ‘die quietly in their beds’.
The Moral of this story is – don’t curse anything, and go to church on Sundays!
By Claire Russell