Warning: in the spirit of Halloween, this story is quite spooky.
On a tall and barren hill stood a very old, very deserted, and very gloomy knight’s castle. The forest that extended from its north side was eerie and full of dark secrets too.
Those that lived in the other part of the forest avoided the castle, making wide circles around that area and rarely speaking about it out loud.
The only creatures who ever knocked at the castle gate were passersby who needed directions or those who were hoping to meet a real knight inside.
Nobody knew what happened to those curious strangers, except that when they went into the gate, they did not come back out. Some said that they were frozen in fright or that they had gotten lost and were still wandering around the castle to this day.
The younger forest dwellers were fascinated by these stories about this mysterious castle and listened attentively to the tales told by the older animals.
Once a month, the young animals would gather around a small fire before sunset and gaze at the mighty knight’s castle from afar. The darker it became, the more sinister it seemed.
The oldest in this group was Carol the Owl. She had spent most of her life watching the knight’s castle from the highest branch of a very large fir tree. She always hoped she’d see something exciting that she could report back to the others. But even she did not dare fly over the castle after dark.
“Does anyone know what happened to the weasel that knocked on the gate last week?” a young badger named Scott asked the group.
“Oh, I saw him go in,” Carol began. “The curious little weasel knocked once, and then again. He was about to turn back when the drawbridge started to lower. I heard a deep and creepy voice say: ‘Come in! Who dares disturb me here?’ Then the bridge was raised again, blocking my view. After that, there was only silence.”
“You see!” squeaked Sally the Squirrel. “It must be a monster that lives in the castle!”
“Or a treacherous giant who crushes intruders with his bare hands,” cried Walter the Fox.
Marilyn the Deer, who was particularly timid, also had an opinion. “If you ask me, the ghost of King Leopold III lives there. That’s what my grandmother told me.”
Simon the Wolf, who was not afraid of anything or anyone, howled and said, “If a ghost really does live there, I would have definitely heard about it from my grandfather. He always warned me and my brothers not to get too close to the castle when we were playing.”
It had gotten darker in the clearing. The only light came from the fire and the young forest dwellers moved a little closer together.
“I feel nauseous,” groaned Logan the Rabbit. “I’m glad you’re all here!”
“It would be great if we could just find out once and for all who lives in the castle,” exclaimed Gabriel the Lynx. “Then we could just relax.”
The group agreed.
Simon courageously said, “All right, then! If the adults won’t dare, we’ll just have to find out ourselves and put an end to this whole thing!”
At that exact moment, two big black birds rose from inside the castle and flew towards the dark forest cawing loudly.
“Well, I don’t dare,” whispered Bruce the Bear.
“Maybe we should put it off for another time,” agreed Walter.
“I’ll do it!” cried Alice the Mouse who had been listening so quietly this whole time the others forgot she was there. “And, you can’t stop me!”
Before anyone could even say anything, Alice was already in front of the huge gate, knocking as loudly as she could with her little paw.
A light flickered in the highest tower of the castle and the bridge slowly began to move with a loud creak.
“We can’t let Alice do this alone!” said Simon and the whole group of animals took off towards the castle.
Even Carol summoned all of her courage and flew over with the others.
When the group had crossed over the drawbridge, they found themselves in a gloomy courtyard filled with shadows. Torches lit up around them so that they were able to find their way. In all their excitement, the animals forgot their fear as they moved towards the impressive castle.
They walked around a big tree and suddenly they were face-to-face with a mid-sized dragon. He was old and very tired looking. He told the animals that he was the last of his kind and lived in this abandoned castle along with the ravens and bats.
He went on to explain that he was just as afraid of them as they were of him. He worried they would chase him from the castle when they found out that he could no longer breathe fire and wasn’t so scary after all. That’s why he lived alone, but he was very lonely.
“But what happened to all those strangers and the little weasel who knocked on your door? They disappeared and were never heard from again!” said Marilyn. The others all nodded. They were close to finding out their answer.
“Ah yes,” said the dragon. “The strangers are always curious. They are hopeful that they will get to meet a knight here in the castle. When they don’t find any, they quickly get lost in the many winding hallways. There is one particularly dark and narrow path that leads them under the castle vault, through a labyrinth and out to the other side of the river behind the castle. They get pretty spooked and remember their adventure for a long time. They certainly don’t come visiting the knight’s castle anymore, nor do they suggest anyone else should either. It’s the most excitement and fun I ever get around here.”
“The weasel has known me for a long time,” he continued. “He visits me from time to time and has promised not to tell anyone so that I can stay here and live in peace.”
“But what about that eerie voice we hear when someone knocks on your gate?” asked Carol.
“Is it the ghosts of knights past?” Walter wondered.
The dragon was quiet for a while. Then he said in the same eerie voice, “That will remain a secret forever!”
Alice, who despite being only a little forest mouse had been the bravest of them all, said, “You know Carol, when you are very afraid of something, it seems much bigger and more powerful than it really is.”
All the animals nodded in agreement. They felt sorry for the dragon and wanted to protect him. They decided they would also keep his secret so that no one else would ever know what was hidden behind the castle walls as long as the dragon lived there.