A wild young man was the heir of Lambton, the great land by the side of the river Wear. He did not go to church, he liked going fishing instead. And if he did not catch anything, his curses could be heard by all the people who went to Brugeford church.
One Sunday morning he was fishing as usual and he did not catch a fish.
At last the young Lambton caught something. "At last," said he, "a fish worth having!" And he pulled and he pulled, until an ugly head with nine holes on each side of its mouth appeared. But he still pulled until he got the thing to land. It turned out to be a worm. Now he cursed twice more than usual.
"What annoys you, my son?" said a voice by his side, "and what have you caught, that you curse so much?"
Looking round, the young Lambton saw a strange old man standing by him.
"I think I have caught the devil himself. Look and see if you know him," said the young Lambton.
But the stranger shook his head, and said, "It isn't good to you or anyone else to bring such a monster to shore. Yet do not throw it back into the Wear. You have caught it and you must keep it," and with that he turned away and disappeared.
The young heir of Lambton took up the terrible thing, and threw it into a well close by, and from that day that well was named the Worm Well.
For some time nobody saw or heard the Worm, until one day it was so big that it could not live in the well anymore. So it came out of the well and went to live in the Wear. And all day long it lay coiled round a rock in the middle of the stream, and at night it came out of the river and bothered the country. It sucked the cows' milk, ate the lambs, worried the cattle, and frightened all the women and girls of the district, and then it went to sleep in the hill, still called the Worm Hill, on the north side of the Wear, about a mile and a half from Lambton Palace.
The young Lambton departed for the Holy Land to fight, and the Worm started to go further from the Wear until one day it came to Lambton Palace where the young Lambton's father lived all alone. What to do? The Worm was coming closer and closer, women were shrieking, men were gathering weapons, dogs were barking and horses neighing with terror. At last the lord called out to the dairy maids, "Bring all your milk here," and when they did so, he poured all the milk into the long stone trough in front of the palace.
The Worm was coming nearer and nearer, until at last it came up to the trough. When it sniffed the milk, it held the trough up and swallowed all the milk up, and then slowly turned round and went back to the river Wear.
From this day the Worm crossed the river every day, and if there was not enough milk in the trough, the Worm hissed and damaged the houses in the palace. It went on for seven years. Many brave princes tried to destroy the Worm, but all failed, and many knights lost their lives in fighting with the monster.
At last the young Lambton came home to his father's palace. He found his people sad and desperate: the land was untilled, the farms deserted, houses damaged.
The young Lambton went to see his father, and begged his forgiveness:
"Father, I have brought this curse on our land. Please, forgive me."
"Your sin is pardoned," said his father; "but go to the Wise Woman of Brugeford, and find out what can free us from this monster."
The young Lambton went to the Wise Woman and asked her advice.
"It is your fault, young Lambton," she said. "You must make things right."
"I would give my life," said the young Lambton.
"Maybe you will," said she. "But listen to me very well. You, and you alone, can kill the Worm. But you must go to the smith and ask him to put some spikes onto your armour. Then go to the Worm's Rock in the Wear and wait there. Then, when the Worm comes to the Rock in the morning, try your luck."
"This I will do," said the young Lambton.
"But one more thing," said the Wise Woman, going back to her cell. "If you slay the Worm, swear that you will kill the first thing that meets you after you cross the threshhold of Lambton Palace. Do this, and all will be well with you. If you don't do it, none of the Lambtons for nine generations will die in his bed. Swear."
The young Lambton swore as the Wise Woman wanted and went to the smith. There he put spikes onto his armour. Then he came to the Worm's Rock in the River Wear to wait for the Worm.
In the morning, the Worm came to its rock in the river. When it saw the young Lambton waiting for it, it lashed the water in its fury, coiled round the young Lambton and then tried to crush him to death. But the more it pressed, the deeper dug the spikes into its sides. Soon the water around was red with its blood. Then the Worm uncoiled and the young Lambton took up his sword. He cut the Worm in two. One half fell into the river and the other half attacked the young Lambton once more. But the spikes did their work and the Worm rolled into the river where it disappeared.
The young Lambton swam ashore and sounded his bugle three times. This was the signal to the palace, where the servants and the old lord were waiting and praying for the young Lambton's success. When they heard the sound of the bugle they were so happy that they forgot that they were supposed to release Boris, the young Lambton's favourite dog. When the young Lambton came to the threshold of the palace his old father rushed out to meet him.
"No! No!" cried out the young Lambton and sounded his bugle again. This time the servants remembered and released Boris, who came to his young master. The young Lambton raised his shining sword and killed his faithful dog.
But the vow was broken and for nine generations none of the Lambtons died in his bed. The last of the Lambtons died in his carriage as he was crossing Brugeford Bridge, one hundred and thirty years ago.
Adapted from "MORE ENGLISH FAIRY TALES Collected and Edited by JOSEPH JACOBS"
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