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The World of Dragons: The Stone Dragon

“La Gargouille was a great dragon who settled in Rouen. He ate livestock and farmers alike, and when he flew, his wings caused gusts of wind so strong all the crops were flattened. To shed his scaled hide, he rubbed his body against a mighty church. Stone crumbled and the spire collapsed. When he lay in the Seine to bathe, he blocked the flow of water as readily as any dam, and the river overflowed and flooded the city.”

“La Gargouille was a great dragon who settled in Rouen. He ate livestock and farmers alike, and when he flew, his wings caused gusts of wind so strong all the crops were flattened. To shed his scaled hide, he rubbed his body against a mighty church. Stone crumbled and the spire collapsed. When he lay in the Seine to bathe, he blocked the flow of water as readily as any dam, and the river overflowed and flooded the city.”

—A History of Dragons: The Truth in Mythology by Ailuv Drah Gonz

Scientific name: Draco lapis.
Origin: France.
Diet: Carnivorous. Anything that breathes.
Life span: 150 years.
Size: Up to twenty metres wide and seventy metres long. Colour: Varying shades of grey.
Notable features: Pointed wings and five-fingered claws.

Stone dragons are large, winged beings with short snouts, clawed toes and curved wings that end in points. They are said to be the inspiration for the gargoyles that have adorned many buildings in Europe from the twelfth century.

The most well-known stone dragon is La Gargouille, who caused many difficulties for the French city Rouen. La Gargouille may have been forced to leave his pack after contesting leadership with another stone dragon, or in search for an area with more abundant resources. Looking for a place to stay, Rouen would have seemed attractive, with plentiful food and water.

It is often believed that La Gargouille was captured and killed by Romanus, the bishop of Rouen, with the help of an unknown man. However, a recently unearthed diary has revealed otherwise (extract translated from French by Ino Lang-Wijes).

“Night fell as we reached the farm. There was no sound of livestock; a shudder ran through me as I realised La Gargouille had probably eaten them all. I heard a growl, and clutched Romanus’s arm in fright. He pressed his fingers against mine. Though his features were concealed by darkness, I knew them from memory, and I could see his gentle, questioning gaze. Though we couldn’t speak for fear of attracting the attention of the beast, I could hear Romanus’ unspoken words. ‘You don’t have to come with me, if you’re afraid.’ But though I knew he wouldn’t blame me if I fled, I could never leave him to face something so terrifying alone.

The growl came again, and when Romanus crept towards it, I was by his side. La Gargouille stretched in front of us. He was bigger than any house I had ever seen, with each claw as large as a person. Warm breath from his nostrils rustled our clothes and hair. He inhaled with a rumble, and I realised La Gargouille wasn’t growling, but snoring. This was our opportunity.

We drew our swords and stepped towards the dragon. With a sharp crack, a twig snapped beneath my boot. Startled, La Gargouille swung his head to face us. Fear pierced my heart, and Romanus stepped in front of me, sword raised. Our figures were reflected in La Gargouille’s shining black eyes. I clutched my sword in my sweaty palm, waiting for the dragon to attack. He simply blinked at us. I grasped Romanus by the wrist, stilling his sword. La Gargouille was not attacking us because he had already eaten. He killed not for pleasure, but to survive. He had caused the people of Rouen much pain in the process, but I knew I could not murder a being who only wanted to live.”

This anonymous man described how he and Romanus led La Gargouille away from the city to an uninhabited mountain range. Knowing that many of the people would not settle for this solution, furious at the ruin the dragon had caused, they secretly hired a sculptor to carve a stone head the shape of La Gargouille’s. Dragging this back to Rouen, Romanus declared La Gargouille dead. The people were satisfied, and La Gargouille safe. Today, stone dragon packs can be found in the French Alps—perhaps descendants of La Gargouille.

It was believed for many years that this carved head was the true head of a stone dragon; some suggest this is how the species received their name. However, there is another possibility. Stone dragons hibernate over the winter months when food is less plentiful. Their hide is so thick, and their breathing so shallow, it seems they are not moving—almost as though they are made of stone.

 
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