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The Cerberus (youngsters:fairy tales, 3283 words)
Author: Ian HobsonAdded: Jan 24 2007Views/Reads: 5957/1994Story vote: 0.00 (0 votes)
The porcupine's name was Echinops and he was getting old and rather deaf; too deaf to hear the warnings of the magpie that had flown overhead and squawked, 'Don't go into the woods today. There's danger!'

Click here to read the first 75 lines of the story

Callistephus looked up to see a tall, skinny boy with long dark hair. 
'It's alright,' he said to the stranger.  'My friend's caught in trap 
and I'm trying to set him free.' 

The boy, of course, was Dryas.  'Just leave it,' he said.  'I decide
what gets freed from my snares, not you.' 

Callistephus stood up and faced Dryas.  The two boys were of a similar
age and both were sun-tanned from time spent out of doors, but Dryas, 
though leaner, was at least a head taller and he looked menacingly at 
Callistephus.  'Very well,' said Callistephus, speaking loudly and 
starting to walk away.  'You decide, then.  Goodbye, Echinops.' 

'Where are you going?'  Echinops was not at all happy with this turn of
events and not happy with this tall stranger.  So he did what came 
natural: he released some of his deadly spines, aiming them straight at 

'Ouch! Ow!'  Dryas backed away as the spines came at him, but he tripped
on a tree root and fell over backwards, and soon he was covered in 
spines, mostly in his clothing, but two had stuck in his arm as he 
lifted his hands to protect his face and three more had become embedded 
in his bare feet.  'Ow! Tell it to stop!' he shouted. 

'That's enough, Echinops,' said Callistephus as he returned.  He looked
at Dryas.  'If you want your snare back you better help me to free my 

Dryas pulled the spines first from his arm and then from the soles of
his feet, gritting his teeth as he did so.  'You have strange friends,' 
he said angrily as he removed the rest of the spines from his clothes.  
He got to his feet and stood with his weight first on one sore foot and 
then on the other, glaring at Callistephus. 

Callistephus glanced at the sky and then, deciding that the boy was
perhaps not as tough as he looked, he walked up to him and faced him 
squarely.  'Are you going to help me or not?' he said.  'If not, I have 
other friends in these woods.' 

'What friends?' said Dryas. 

'Well,' replied Callistephus, 'there's Phalaris.'  He looked up into the
sky above the treetops to where a huge eagle was circling, and as he 
waved to the eagle it tilted its wings as though waving back.  'Well?' 
said Callistephus.  'Shall I ask Phalaris to come and help?' 

Dryas looked up at the huge bird and then at Callistephus. 'That eagle's
not your friend,' he said, stubbornly.  But as Callistephus raised his 
hand as if to beckon the eagle, Dryas had a sudden change of heart. 
'Very well,' he said as he cautiously approached Echinops and knelt 
down beside him.  'But your prickly friend better not fire at me again, 
or I'll skin him and eat him for breakfast.' 

'Eaten my breakfast?' said Echinops.  'Of course I haven't eaten my
breakfast; I've been caught in this trap since dawn.' 

'I think your friend must be deaf,' said Dryas with a smirk.  'Tell him
to keep still and not to struggle.' 

With a little encouragement from Callistephus, Echinops allowed Dryas to
loosen the snare's grip on his leg, but as soon as he was free he sped 
off into the undergrowth and was gone.  The two boys stood up and 
looked at each other.  'What's you name?' Callistephus asked. 

'What's yours?' replied Dryas. 

'Callistephus,' said Callistephus, 'but I asked first.' 

'I'm Dryas,' said Dryas, looking up into the sky.  The eagle was much
higher now.  'Is that eagle really your friend?' 

'More a friend of a friend really,' Callistephus replied.  'But he
helped me once, a long time ago.'  The two boys continued to watch the 
sky, catching glimpses of the eagle through the gaps in the treetops as 
he soared higher and higher and disappeared. 

Dryas suddenly wished that he had a friend, but then he remembered the
young witch who had helped him escape from Dictamnus, the hunter.  'I 
have a friend,' he said, 'and my friend's a witch.' 

'Really?' said Callistephus, though he was only half listening to Dryas.
 The woods had become very still and strangely quiet, because the birds 
had stopped singing.  'What's your friend's name?' he asked.  But 
before Dryas could reply the silence was shattered by a terrible noise 
that came from somewhere deeper in the woods: it was the howl of a 
beast, in fact it sounded like several beasts.  Callistephus and Dryas 
stared at each other, wondering what they could be.  Both boys had 
encountered many wild animals over the years but neither could 
immediately identify the beasts that made this noise. 

'Could be wolves,' suggested Dryas. 

'No, not wolves.'  Callistephus shook his head.  He knew too well what a
wolf howl was like.  There was silence for a moment, and then another 
howl, immediately followed by another, and another.  'Perhaps it's just 
one animal,' he said. 

'My trap!' exclaimed Dryas as he realised what direction the howls were
coming from.  'Something has been eating the rabbits that I catch in my 
snares... so I set a trap to catch it.'  And with that he raced off 
towards where he had set the trap, with Callistephus following on 
behind and thinking that the morning was turning out to be really quite 


Dryas, being taller, ran faster than Callistephus.  But Callistephus,
guided by the howls of the wild animal, soon took a different route 
over some higher ground and down a steep slope, for he had lived in the 
area all his life and knew the woods better than anyone.  And so both 
boys arrived at exactly the same time, and though one came from the 
north and the other from the east, both came face to face with a 
terrible beast. 

Yes, it was a cerberus, and his name was Sibirica, and his left hind leg
was caught in the trap that Dryas had set just the day before. The trap 
had once belonged to the trapper that Dryas had lived with.  It was a 
clever, if cruel, device with iron jaws that would snap shut on any 
unsuspecting foot or paw that stepped on it, and it was firmly attached 
by a few links of chain to a long wooden stake that Dryas had hammered 
firmly into the ground.  And though it was old and rusty, the trap had 
worked well, for Dryas had disguised it with twigs and leaves, having 
placed it on a track that he had correctly guessed was being used by 
his quarry. 

At first, as Sibirica the cerberus heard the sounds, and caught the
cents, of the two boys approaching, he stopped howling and froze in 
terror; for though he was a fearsome and almost fearless beast, afraid 
of no other animal in Astrantia, he had learned to be afraid of men.  
Because although he loved to catch and eat their children, it was men 
who had hunted him, and fought him, with spears and blades of iron, and 
worst of all with fire. 

And so, as the two boys stopped in their tracks at the edge of the small
clearing where the animal trap had been carefully set, one of 
Sibirica's scarred and snarling heads faced Dryas and another faced 
Callistephus, while his third head gnawed at the terrible man-thing 
that was gripping his leg so painfully. 

Dryas began to laugh.  'Look what I've caught!' he said.  'A hound with
two heads!'  Because from where he was standing he could not see the 
hound's third head.  As Dryas spoke, the head that was facing him 
snarled and barked at him, while the middle head did the same at 
Callistephus and the third head gnawed at the wooden stake that secured 
the trap to the ground. 

Now Callistephus could see the third head, though at first he did not
understand, thinking that the animal was chewing at his own tail.  But 
as he realised that the hound had scratched at the earth around the 
wooden stake to which the trap was fastened and was gnawing his way 
through it, he called out to Dryas.  'Run!' he shouted.  'Run!  He's 
almost free!' 

But Dryas took no notice.  He had every faith in the trap he had set and
picked up a stick and, holding it like a spear, he taunted the 
cerberus, making him even more angry.  'Whoever heard of a two-headed 
dog?' he shouted.  Sibirica growled at Dryas and, now with two heads, 
he barked and snapped at him.  This delighted Dryas, who was at times a 
cruel boy, having known nothing but cruelty for most of his young life, 
but as he danced carelessly around the beast, taunting him again with 
the stick, he came to where he could see the third head, and finally 
realised the danger.  But too late, for it was then that Sibirica's 
third head swung round to join his other two and, with all three jaws 
open wide, he leapt forward with such a force that he snapped what was 
left of the wooden stake and, trailing the iron trap, he pounced on 
Dryas and pinned him the ground. 

'You dare to challenge us?' snarled the middle head of the cerberus as
its spittle dribbled into the boy's face.  'You dare to leave your 
man-thing,' snarled another head. 'To trap and hurt us, Sibirica, the 
cerberus?' snarled the third head.  'Now it is your turn to be hurt, 
for we are going to eat your hands and then your arms and then your 
feet and then your legs, and then one of us will bite off your head and 
spit out the bone.' 

'Leave him!' Callistephus shouted, as though ordering a domestic dog to
behave.  He had climbed up the nearest tree and was looking down at the 
cerberus and poor Dryas trapped beneath his great paws. 

Two of the heads looked up at Callistephus.  'You will be next,' snarled
the middle head.  'We saw you climb that tree, but you can't stay up 
there for ever.' 

'That's true,' Callistephus agreed.  'But if you eat us, then who will
remove the trap from your leg?' 

One of Sibirica's heads  the one that had chewed through the wooden
stake - turned to look at the dreadful man-thing that still clung to 
his left hind leg.  It was biting so hard that the leg was bleeding.  
The cerberus tried to shake it free but that just made it grip tighter 
and the pain more difficult to bare.  'Very well,' said the middle 
head.  'You can go free if you come down from the tree and remove this 
thing from our leg.  There is more than enough meat on this boy to fill 
us.'  All three of Sibirica's heads turned their attention back to 
Dryas who could hardly breathe with Sibirica's great weight on top of 

'But only my friend can remove the trap,' replied Callistephus.  'I know
nothing of such things, so you must let my friend go, so that he can 
help you. 

Each of Sibirica's heads snarled, not liking this suggestion at all. 
But man-thing was hurting his leg, and his paw was becoming numb from 
the pain.  'Do it,' said the head that had chewed through the wooden 
stake as the hound moved sideways releasing Dryas.  'Do it and be gone 
before I change my mind.' 

Dryas got shakily to his feet, amazed to be still alive.  His first
instinct was to run but he knew that if he tried to escape the 
three-headed hound would be on him again.  So he knelt beside Sibirica 
and took hold of the trap with both hands.  'When I open it,' he said, 
'you must remove your leg quickly before it springs back again.' Then 
carefully and with all the strength he could muster, he prised open the 
trap and held it open long enough for Sibirica to withdraw his bleeding 
leg.  Dryas let go of the trap and it sprang closed again, and then as 
one of Sibirica's heads turned to lick the wounded leg, Dryas slowly 
began to move away. 

'Not so fast,' growled Sibirica's middle head.  'I never agreed to let
you go.'  The cerberus sprang at Dryas and pinned him to the earth 
again with two huge paws. 

'But you promised to let him go!' exclaimed Callistephus. 

'Not I,' said the middle head.  If a hound could laugh, then each of
Sibirica's heads would have done so, but instead they looked 
threateningly at Callistephus and then wetted their appetite by licking 
Dryas's face with their long wet tongues. 

'But if you hurt my friend,' Callistephus threatened, 'then I will hurt
you.'  And not waiting for a reply, he climbed a little higher into the 
tree to where a bees' nest hung from a branch and, ignoring the bees 
that buzzed in and out of it, he snatched it from the branch and hurled 
it at the cerberus.  The bees' nest flew through the air and landed 
squarely on Sibirica's back, splitting open and spilling out bees and 
sticky honey. 

The bees, of course, believing themselves to be under attack from some
creature intent on stealing their honey, immediately became very angry 
and looked for something to sting; and the nearest target for their 
anger was Sibirica, whose three heads, with gaping jaws, had turned to 
look over his shoulders.  And as the bees flew into his three mouths 
and into his three pairs of ears and clustered around his three soft 
wet noses, stinging him severely, he howled and leapt into the air and 
then, violently shaking his three heads, he ran off into the woods 
still howling as he went. 

Most of the bees followed after the cerberus but some stayed with the
nest that had fallen to the ground, and some, of course, went after 
Dryas.  'Run!' Callistephus shouted as he slid down from the tree.  
'Run, this way!'  So Dryas scrambled to his feet and, with his arms 
flailing about his head as the bees tried to sting him, he ran after 


The two boys sat beside the river, drying out after their swim. 
Callistephus had led Dryas there and, still chased by a handful of 
bees, they had dived under the water until the bees had lost interest 
and buzzed away.  'What did that beast say he was?' Dryas asked. 

'A cerberus,' replied Callistephus.  'I remember my father telling me a
story about a cerberus, and I remember a song he used to sing to me at 
bedtime.'  Callistephus thought for a moment and then began to sing the 

Don't frighten the children lying in their beds With tales of a hound
that has three heads A cerberus that prowls on silent paws Then pounces 
and bites with three sets of jaws 

Don't frighten the children to send them to sleep Don't frighten the
children, for if they should weep The cerberus may come, and as 
everyone knows He'll bite off their fingers, and bite off their toes 

'My father used to sneak his hands under the bedclothes and then grab my
toes as he sang the last line,' said Callistephus with a smile; he had 
not thought of his father for a long time. 

Dryas was still thinking of their encounter with the cerberus.  'You
saved my life today,' he said.  'And you called me your friend...  Can 
I always be your friend?' 

'Of course,' said Callistephus.  'I'm always glad to have one more.' 


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