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The Laidly Worm of Spindleston Heugh

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Bamburgh Castle stands on a huge crag, high above the land around it. The present castle was built by the Normans in the 12th century, but the history of the site goes back much further, to a dark age of wars, magic, enchantment and danger.

At this time, there lived in the castle an Anglo-Saxon King, Ida. His wife had died leaving him with two children. His son, Childe Wynd, had left to seek adventure abroad but his 18 year old daughter, Margaret, stayed. She was a good and beautiful maid, well loved by the people and courtiers.

One day, the King was away hunting in the dark lands of the west, when he met a stunning woman named Behoc, whom he married. What the king did not know was, his new wife was a lady of dark magic - a sorceress.

He sent word home that he was going to bring his new queen to Bamburgh Castle and a great feast was planned for her homecoming. As the procession drew near, Margaret ran to meet them at the gate. She welcomed the Queen warmly. The new Queen greeted her with a kiss and a smiling face, but inside she was filled with jealousy of Margaret's beauty and decided to get rid of the lovely girl.

One day, the Queen invited Margaret to come and see some jewels in the deep cave where she did her magic. Here she cast Margaret under a spell and, from that day on, nobody saw the princess again. The King grieved deeply for his beloved daughter.

More bad news was to come; for a large and terrifying worm (dragon) had curled itself around the Heugh, or rock, of the Spindleston, a nearby hill. There it lay, basking, with its terrible snout in the air. It soon became known as the Laidly (loathsome) Worm and became the terror of the kingdom.

From its lair, up in a cave on the crags, it roamed the countryside, blasting everything with its terrible breath and devouring the flocks for miles around. To calm the monster, the villagers brought food to the foot of the Spindleston Heugh.

The tale spread far and wide, until, one day, far over the sea, the news reached 'Childe Wynd', the young heir of Bamburgh. He realized that some evil must be the root of such events. He set to work with his men and built a long ship, with a keel made of the rowan tree (a sure protection against dark magic).

Once the ship was ready, they set off for home. As they neared the coast, the Queen saw the ship from her watch tower and summoned her imps. She told them to start a mighty storm, so that the ship would not make land. Eagerly, they headed out to sea but they could do no harm, for the keel of rowan kept the ship safe.

As the ship drew near, the Laidly Worm stood raging on the cliffs and its terrible breath drove them out once more to sea. Finding no way to land, they headed for Budle Bay and the crew safely came ashore.

Childe Wynd left his men and followed the dragon: he overtook it among the Crags of Spindleston and lifted the sword to strike it dead when, suddenly, he saw tears flowing from its eyes. He was touched with pity, as he had never seen a dragon cry. He sheathed his sword and listened in amazement as, in a rumbling voice the ugly creature said, "Strike me not, for I am your sister!"

The voice went on to tell how the Queen had turned her into a hideous worm. The dragon traits had been too strong for the bewitched princess's goodness and she had become the terror of her father's kingdom. The Queen, she said, had enchanted her thus:

I weird ye to be a Laidly Worm,
And *borrowed shall ye never be,
Until Childe Wynd, the King's own son
Come to the Heugh and thrice kiss thee;
Until the world comes to an end,
Borrowed shall ye never be.

So the enchantment, she said, could only be broken if her brother kissed her scaly face three times. And, she said, this had to be done before the sun set.

(*Borrowed = disenchanted)

Now, this was no mean task for the worm was hideously ugly with deadly breath; it smelt, as all dragons do, disgusting, and its scaly skin was slimy to the touch.

Bravely Childe Wynd went up to the Laidly Worm, who held its breath, while he kissed it once. No change came over the worm. He kissed it again but still no change came over the hideous creature. He backed away feeling quite ill.

Although a brave man, the idea of kissing the creature for a third time proved a little too much for a while. Then, he noticed the sun had begun to set in the sky. Closing his eyes and gathering up all his courage, he kissed the loathsome thing for a third time.

With a sudden hiss and roar, Laidly Worm reared up. The scales fell from its skin and the creature melted away before his eyes. There, standing where the worm had been, was his lovely sister, Margaret. He wrapped her in his cloak and together they went back to the castle.

When he reached the keep, he found the Queen in her watchtower and touched her with a twig of the rowan tree. Almost immediately her skin became warty and she shrunk in size until she became a huge Laidly Toad. With a croak and a hiss she hopped away down the castle steps to her dark cave, deep below.

The King and his son and daughter lived long and prosperous lives. As for the Queen, well according to one local legend, she still squats in a cavern below Bamburgh Castle. However, the enchantment could be still lifted. For once every seven years, on Christmas Eve, the portal of the cave opens, in case any man is willing and brave enough to kiss the toad, and free the dark woman of the west from her magical prison. As far as we know, there have been no volunteers!

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