An ancient folktale from Orkney retold by Abbie Simmonds.
First published in EcoKids Planet magazine November 2015
You might think magic has left this world, but magic remains in in the Isles of Orkney. There, on dark nights, you can still hear the songs of the faery folk and find their footprints in the morning dew. On those islands of rock and grass and sand, you will find the finger-bones of giants and the rock swords of great warriors. This is the tale of how the islands came to be.
Many moons ago a boy lived in the far north, in a grim farmhouse on a grim farm with his
grim father and grim brothers. But he was not born to be a farmer. He spent day and nights lying by the fire, dreaming dreams whispered by flame spirits.
“I dreamt I killed a great monster and saved a Princess from its jaws,” he said.
His brothers laughed at him. “You live in the fireplace! You are a weak dreamer. Ha! You couldn’t defeat a fly! Cinderbiter!”
But then one day, everything changed.
The Stoor Wyrm came from the sea. It was an enormous snake with silver-blue scales, sharp spikes and eyes full of hate. As its great body rose from the angry oceans, the world grew dark. Its voice made the earth shiver and shake.
“I want your Princess. You have three days to give her to me or I will eat every man, woman and child of Scotland!”
The brave Princess loved her people and didn’t want any of them to be killed. She dressed herself in a beautiful gown of green and tied silver ribbons into her red hair. She was about to go to the beach and let the Wyrm take her away, but her father the King would not let her go. He sent messengers to every corner of the land begging for heroes, warriors and strong men to defeat the monster and save his daughter. And the heroes and warriors and strong men drew their swords and sharpened their spears and rushed to the sea to kill the beast.
And - snip-snap-snickle - every single one was eaten by the Stoor Wyrm!
As all this was going on, Cinderbiter lay sleeping and dreaming by the fire. He awoke to the sharp clatter of horse’s hooves.
“The Wyrm is here. The beast will eat the Princess if he is not defeated!”
Suddenly Cinderbiter realised that he knew what to do! His dreams had shown him how this Wyrm could be beaten.
At midnight, Cinderbiter put a burning coal from the fire into a tin box, jumped on the back of his father’s horse and galloped down to the beach. The Wyrm was in the water, its huge head resting on the sand. Cinderbiter waited in the moonlight, feeling his heart beating hard in his chest. All was quiet. And then the beast began to yawn. It mouth opened to show hundreds of sharp, white teeth and a blood red forked tongue. Cinderbiter saw his chance - he ran as fast as he could straight into the mouth of the monster!
The Stoor Wyrm swallowed and Cinderbiter found himself falling down, down, down. He landed with a bump in the belly of the beast. It was dark, dripping and wet inside the serpent and smelled terrible! Cinderbiter held his breath, opened the tin box and thrust the hot coal into the nearest bit of Wyrm. The coal spluttered, stuttered, spat… and flames into life.
On the cliffs, people watched as clouds of thick smoke flowed from the nose, ears and mouth of the Wyrm. The sky became so full of smoke that the moon and stars were hidden and everything grew very, very dark.
“The world is coming to an end!” they cried.
Then the Wyrm opened its jaws wide and let out a great, firey burp! Cinderbiter came flying out of the creature’s mouth and landed - FLUMP - on the beach. He was singed and scorched but unharmed. His family ran to his side; his brothers hugged him as tight as they could.
“You crazy dreamer!” they sobbed. “You could have been killed!”
The Stoor Wyrm rose straight up out of the foaming waters. Fire poured from its mouth and sizzled on the stormy ocean waves. It roared a booming roar, fell and SPLASHED into the sea. Its huge teeth tumbled from its mouth. They sunk to the bottom of the sea, but they were so big that the tops of those teeth poked out of the water.
Then everything was quiet once more.
The King, Princess and the people of Scotland rushed onto the beach. They lifted Cinderbiter onto their shoulders.
“Hero! Dreamer! Hero! Dreamer!” rose the shout. A great feast was held that lasted for many days and many nights.
Years passed. Over time, the monster’s teeth turned green and grey and became the magical and mysterious Isles of Orkney. Cinderbiter, the great hero, married the brave Princess. They built their home on those beautiful islands and ruled them with wisdom and kindness till the end of their days.
The storytellers of Orkney still tell tales of the great wyrm and remember how important it is to sit by the fire and listen to the stories it has to tell.