Legend has it, that in the deep waters of the river Rhône, near it crosses the ancient town of Beaucaire, lived the Drac, a powerful water dragon cunning in the ways of sorcery. This dragon, also referred as the Invisible Demon, would walk unseen among the townsfolk in the middle of the day searching for prey. Using dark arts, he would lure any children who wander away from their mother and snatch them for food. For centuries, children vanished from the Beaucaire and no one knew why or how, no one but the Drac.
On occasion, the Drac would also lure adults, not for food, for he detested the toughness of their meat, but to do his bidding. The tale of his most infamous kidnapping varies, depending of who is telling it, but it always involves a young nursing woman, a submarine cave, and the Drac's progeny.
One day, the Drac captured a young woman. The woman had gone down to the river to wash clothes when a glimmer in the water caught her eye. Some say that she saw a golden ring, others that is was a golden chalice, but whatever she saw, it wasn’t real, just an illusion conjured by the Drac, and as soon as she reached out to take her prize she toppled over into the water.
In the water, she was easy prey, and the Drac dragged her to his lair, a cave deep beneath the river. In the cave, she screamed, but so deep they were that no one heard. Then the Drac cast a spell that made her forget her life, her child, her husband, and home.
The Drac had brought her to his cave not for food but because she was a nursing mother and the Drac had seven hatchlings in need of milk. Without memories, the woman soon accepted that feeding and caring for the Drac’s hatchlings was her only duty in life, and everyday she will feed the hatchling from her breast and rub clay from the bottom of the river into the young dragons’ eyes. The clay have been brought by the Drac himself, and having magical properties, it allow the hatchlings to see their father, who was invisible to everyone else, even the woman. One time, accidentally she rubbed her eye afterwards and got some clay into it. Surprised, she discovered that she could see the Drac with that eye.
For seven years she stayed in the cave. Finally, when the young dragons didn’t need her anymore, the Drac carried the woman back to the surface. Cunning as he was, before letting her go, the Drac reversed the memory spell. Now the woman had no memory of the last seven years, in her mind she had just fallen into the River then swam back out.
She remained sitting in the mud, feeling the warmth of the sun for the first time in seven years, until she noticed that her child wasn’t there, then she panicked and ran home, where she found a bearded man and a grown boy, none other than her husband and son both of whom thought she had been swept away and drowned years ago.
For a moment they didn’t recognized her, for seven years in a den caring for a brood of dragons had taken a toll on her. She was no longer young, her hair was white and her skin was pail and frail. But before long, the man embraced his confused wife and they began to ask her what had happened. She had no answers to give, and after few days the husband resigned to not knowing, happy to have his wife back.
All seem normal —the woman was happy looking after her son, cooking, and working in the lavender fields— until one day when walking in the market place she saw the Drac. He was towering above the people, watching the children with and evil grin. Suddenly the memories of her seven years in the cave came flooding back and she screamed.
The Drac turned his head towards her and strode across the market.
“Can you see me?” He hissed.
“Yes,” she said and tried to run, but before she could escape the Drac slashed her right eye.
It was only in her right eye that she had rubbed the magic ointment, so without that eye she could not see the Drac anymore. She could not see him, but she remembered now, and for the rest of her life she walked the streets of Beaucaire half blinded and babbling about invisible dragons who snatch children for food and maidens for milk, but the people ignored her, believing her crazy, and the children continued to vanish until the Drac died of old age or decided to change his diet.
In the past, the area where the Rhône reaches the Mediterranean Sea was well-known for being dragons' territory. The Tarasconus, an infamous beast that killed many and gave its name to the town of Tarascon, is said to had been one of Drac’s hatchlings, as evil as her father but without his sorcery abilities. Others, however, indicate that this dragon was Dracs mate, not part of his progeny.
During the thirteenth century, the Drac was attributed the killing of over three thousand knights and villagers, making him one of the most dangerous —and successful— French dragons. The majority of his killings took place outside Beaucaire, but on occasion, when the town had but few children to offer, he would search for victims outside of the usual range.
Whole armies were allegedly sent against the Drac, but all failed. The beast is thus assumed either to have died of old age, or to be still living at the bottom of the Rhône, however, if still alive he must have changed his diet from young children to fish, in order to remain safe.
-Sierra, J., 1996. Storytellers' Research Guide: Folktales, Myths, and Legends. Folkprint.
-Gutch, M. 1952. Saint Martha and the Dragon. Folklore, 63(4), pp.193-203.
-Holman, F., Valen, N., 1975. The Drac: French Tales of Dragons and Demons. Scribner.