Do you want to write your own stories, but you don’t know where to start? Do you want to practise speaking in a relaxed environment? Do you want an English class that doesn’t feel like a class?
Well, how about a class with ME, Ariel Goodbody? In my online italki classes I write stories with students, chat, laugh and get very, very silly. I have taught over 100 students online, and I would love for you to be one of them.
Some of the stories on the show were even written with my students! Go to EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Paper to listen to The Paper Man, a beautiful story I wrote with my student, Lina.
The classes are one-to-one and happen on Skype, Zoom or italki classroom—whichever you prefer. I will change how fast I speak and what words I use so that you can understand me easily, and I will make sure to challenge you with lots of new vocabulary.
But most importantly, the classes are fun! I seriously believe that when we’re laughing, we’re learning.
I also teach an IELTS writing class, Esperanto classes and Spanish classes. You can find all the details about my classes at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Classes, or you can just go to EasyStoriesInEnglish.com and click ‘CLASSES’ at the top.
So what are you waiting for? Go and book a class with me today! I can’t wait to teach you.
OK, let’s start the episode.
Welcome to Easy Stories in English, the podcast that will take your English from OK to Good, and from Good to Great.
I am Ariel Goodbody, your host for this show. Today’s story is for advanced learners. The name of the story is To Be a Hero. This is chapter three of three. You can find a transcript of the episode at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Hero3. That’s EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Hero3. This contains the full story, as well as my conversation before it.
It’s too darn hot, it’s too darn hot. Damn, it’s hot!
Right now, in the UK, it is about 30 degrees, at least where I live. In London, it’s more like 37 degrees. Now, I know for a lot of you in India or Saudi Arabia or Vietnam, 30 degrees is not that much. You have it regularly. But here it is a big deal because we really usually only get this kind of weather…
We used to not even get it once a year. We maybe got it every few years. Now with climate change, it’s becoming more common. But we don’t really know how to handle this weather very well. One, because most houses in the UK don’t have air conditioning. And two, because people here just, we don’t drink enough water, we don’t put on enough sun cream. We’re not used to dealing with this kind of hot weather. And I’m realising as I say this, I think I probably had exactly the same conversation in an episode last year, so I don’t want to ramble on about the same topic forever. But rest assured, it’s, um, difficult, especially in our house, where I live.
When the sun shines in the window it gets so hot. There’s something about the way the house is built that means it takes in a lot of heat, and my room has two big windows that look out directly into the sun, so it gets really hot. So I have to open the windows, but if I open the windows, I get a lot of noise from the road, and I didn’t wanna record the podcast with all of that noise in the background. I like it to sound good, as good as possible.
Normally, I would record the episode in the morning, before the sun rises. However, today I did not manage to do that because I was having a relaxed Sunday morning, because it’s a Sunday as I record this, which of course is great, but now it’s, like, 3pm and I’m recording this, and I have closed the windows and I’ve also closed the curtains, because if I block out the light then it’s not too bad. But it means I’m sitting in the dark, in the afternoon, and it is, um, let’s just say it’s warm inside. It’s, it’s pretty warm. According to the thermometer I have on my desk, it’s 31 degrees. I don’t know if that’s accurate. But, yeah. I suffer for all of you!
Now, I do have a fan here beside me. If it gets too hot during the episode, I might switch the fan on, so if you start hearing a brrrrrrr in the background, that’s what it is.
Anyway, today we have the final chapter of this story and I’m really excited about it! I was feeling, mmm, not so confident with it as I went through the first and second chapters, but that’s a process that always happens when writing long stories, and as usually happens, it all kind of came together in the end, and I’m satisfied with the end. But some of you have left some really nice comments about the story, anyway, which gave me more hope and motivation to finish it off.
Anyway, so I’m really interested in hearing your thoughts on the whole story now that it’s finished, so do go leave a comment at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Hero3. I would love to know everything that you think, even if it’s negative! Well, maybe not if it’s negative. Give me compliments, damn it!
Anyway, in other news the Easy Stories in English Telegram group—yes, we have a group chat. It’s fantastic. People are chatting there all the time. And you can join it at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Chat.
In the group chat, we recently hit 500 members. Hey! That’s a lot of people. And people in the chat are just so lovely. There’s such a great atmosphere there, and some of the listeners even used a website to make a world map where you can put a pin where you live.
So you can see the whole world and you can see where all of the listeners of the podcast are, which is really great for me because I can see that, oh there’s lots of people in the north of Italy! Which is making me think maybe I’ll plan a live event in the north of Italy? Mmm, mmm? Obviously right now with coronavirus that’s not a possibility, but perhaps next year? Easy Stories in English weekend in Milan? It could happen! I’m just saying, it could happen.
Anyway, if you wanna join the chat and put your pin on the map, go to EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Chat, or just go to the normal website and click ‘GROUP CHAT’ at the top.
I also want to give a little apology today because I have been so rubbish with emails recently! And when I say ‘recently’ I mean for like, weeks and weeks I did not check my emails and I had, like, 50 unread emails from Easy Stories in English listeners. Unfortunately, I couldn’t respond to them all because it would have taken hours and if I did that I would never answer my emails, so I decided to say, ‘OK, I’m going to check my emails every day from now on.’ Ten minutes a day. But a lot of the emails I didn’t respond to.
So if you sent me a lovely message within the last month and I didn’t respond, I’m really sorry, I did see it, and if you have something important you want to ask me, or tell me, or show me, don’t be afraid, send me another email, OK? I should be able to respond to it better this time.
I think I had that classic problem that most people have before, where I checked my emails too often, yeah? I used to check them whenever they came in. And then I went too far in the opposite direction and barely ever checked my emails. And now I’m trying to find a healthy balance, cause you know, checking it once a day? I think that’s enough, but it also allows me to actually respond to people on time.
OK, I’ll just explain some words that are in today’s story.
A claw is a long, sharp nail that animals have. So instead of nails, bears, tigers, cats and so on have claws. They can really hurt you!
Curl up means to move into a ball shape. Some people curl up into a ball while they sleep, although this is bad for your back. You might also curl on the sofa with a good book, or curl up on the floor when you are sad.
A fit of rage is a short, strong period of anger. A fit is basically when you have such a strong emotion that you can’t control yourself, and rage is a high level of anger.
Someone pathetic is someone so weak and helpless that you either feel sorry for them, or you feel sick when you look at them. For example, a dog with one leg would be very pathetic. You have to feel sorry for it! Dobby in Harry Potter and Gollum in Lord of the Rings are examples of pathetic characters.
A sneer is a smile that you make when you are making fun of someone. Usually, when you sneer, you raise one side of your upper lip and show your teeth, and you might move your head back as well. It’s very rude to sneer!
Reappropriate means to take something that is used for one thing and use it for another purpose. For example, you might take money that your dad spends on beer and use it to buy a new sofa for the house. You are reappropriating his money for a better purpose!
Sniff means to go sniff sniff. You sniff when you want to smell something, or when you have been crying.
A quest is a journey or mission that a hero undertakes. For example, in Harry Potter, Harry Potter’s quest is to defeat Lord Voldemort. In Lord of the Rings, Frodo’s quest is to throw the ring into Mount Doom.
A grin is a broad smile. If something is funny and unexpected, you might grin at it.
Overthrow means to remove a person or government from power with force, to do a coup d’état. For example, Napoleon Bonaparte overthrew the government of France in 1804. Voldemort and his death eaters overthrow the Ministry of Magic in the seventh Harry Potter book.
If you enjoy the podcast and want more, you can support us on Patreon. For just $2 a month you can get exercises with each episode, and for $5, you get Elevenses with Ariel, a daily conversational podcast for intermediate learners, as well as an extra story every month. You can support us at Patreon.com/EasyStoriesInEnglish. That’s Patreon.com/EasyStoriesInEnglish.
A big thank-you to our new patrons, as well as patrons who have increased their pledge: Darya 911, Azima Khamidova, Helena Duvall and Di Costanzo. Thank you so much. Your support really means a lot to us.
OK, so listen and enjoy!
To Be a Hero Chapter 3
When we last saw our heroes, and I do use that term lightly, they were hiding in the bushes, waiting outside the lair of the dragon, the ground covered in smelly snake guts designed to wake the monster’s rage.
They spent many long, tedious, hours waiting. Norm looked around and found some mushrooms, which Elric encouraged him to try, but Kvok was convinced they were deadly poisonous, and this lead into an endless debate which made Norm regret finding the mushrooms in the first place.
Eventually, though, just as Elric was explaining his detailed encounters with mushrooms during his “heroic journeys”, the dragon came out of the cave and Norm told them to shut up.
It was a fearsome creature, or at least, it would’ve been, if it was the correct size. It had skin as black as the night, razor-sharp claws and teeth, its wings spreading out like city walls, or at the very least, like very threatening bedsheets. But the dragon was small, far smaller than any of them had expected, and as it walked outside, yawning, Norm found it hard to believe that this little thing had threatened any town.
As soon as the dragon saw the snakes it gave a cry and jumped backwards, its eyes wide at the sight before it. It started shaking, its hands curling up by its sides.
‘Yes, here it comes!’ said Elric. ‘Get ready, boy!’
Quietly, Norm started to climb onto Kvok. But the dragon did not burst into a fit of rage, breathe fire or scream into the sky.
The sound was loud and sharp like a knife, forcing Norm to cover his ears. It made the acid in his stomach shake like a drum, but there was nothing frightening about the dragon’s reaction. Big fat tears rolled down its cheeks as it made an expression of complete misery and bit at its claws.
‘W-w-w-w-who would do this?!’
The dragon fell to the ground and curled up into a ball. It seemed he was trying to squeeze every last bit of water from his body, and just when they thought he had finished, he opened his eyes again, saw the snakes, and began crying once more.
‘This is the fearsome dragon that is attacking the people of Orfever?!’ said Elric, alarmed. ‘I’ve fought kittens more threatening!’
Norm stared at the dragon, frozen by the scene. Kvok pushed him with his nose.
‘Go on, boy. Now’s our chance.’
Norm shook his head. ‘No.’
He dropped his sword to the ground and walked through the bushes.
The dragon didn’t hear him, so loud was his crying.
‘I said hey!’
The dragon rolled around on the ground, a pool of water forming beneath him, but he still did not hear Norm.
‘HEY!’ screamed the boy.
The dragon stopped, opened his eyes red with tears, and looked up.
‘W-what do you want? Do you know who did this?’
Norm sighed heavily. He was about to take a risk. As pathetic as this dragon was, he was probably still dangerous. But he couldn’t hide the truth from him.
Reluctantly, Elric and Kvok approached from the bushes. The dragon had sat up now, sniffing and rubbing his face dry.
‘We were trying to be heroes,’ said Norm quietly. ‘We heard you were stealing from the city and, well…’
‘I don’t understand,’ said the dragon, shaking his head. ‘Why didn’t you come and attack me like all the others?’
‘You have defeated others?’ said Kvok, practically sneering.
‘Not myself, no. They walk into my traps and then I tie them up, fly them somewhere else, and leave them there. Sometimes the same ones come back several times, but they never get through.’
Elric snorted. ‘It’s like someone throwing a spider out of their home. Personally, I always crush them.’
‘You what?!’ said the dragon, shocked. ‘You kill poor innocent spiders?’
The dragon looked like he might burst into tears again just at the thought of it.
‘We wanted to launch a psychological attack,’ said Norm, staring at the ground. ‘Clearly it was a mistake.’
‘If you care this much about killing me…’ The dragon rolled over, revealing his stomach. ‘Then do it, human.’ The sad, pathetic creature was gone, replaced by a cold determination. ‘Spill out my guts onto the ground. If you’ll kill others in my name, then I’d rather you ended me directly. I’ll just ask one thing of you: look me in the eyes while you do it.’
‘Uh…’ said Norm, suddenly feeling very uncomfortable, ‘I’ve decided that we don’t want to kill you anymore.’
‘Hmph!’ said Elric, folding his arms. ‘It would be shameful to kill such a strange thing.’
‘There’s no joy in fighting an enemy who doesn’t strike back,’ muttered Kvok. ‘Secretly, I was hoping you would give the boy a serious injury and he would end up bleeding to death in a manner truly appropriate of a hero.’
Elric and Norm stared at the pegasus.
‘What? I was joking. Obviously.’
The dragon rolled back onto his feet. ‘Well, if you’re not going to kill me, then move aside. I’ve got work to do.’
Apparently, he had gotten over his emotional reaction rather quickly.
‘Where are you going?’ said Elric. ‘To steal?’
‘ “Steal” is an ugly word. I prefer… “reappropriate”.’
‘Taking gold to your lair isn’t reappropriation,’ said Kvok, sneering.
‘Who said I was taking it to my lair? Have you seen the west side of Orfever? They don’t like to show it to visitors. It’s where all the poor live: the homeless, the children without parents, the diseased. I bring the gold to them. I’m just… redistributing the city’s wealth. I could murder those people and the mayor wouldn’t care, but because I’m helping them, I’m public enemy number one.’ The dragon spread his wings and prepared to take flight. ‘I’m Sniveli, by the way. If you cross me again, I will tear out your guts like you did to those poor snakes.’
Norm gulped. Sniveli was unpredictable, but there was no doubt that he was dangerous.
‘If you don’t want to kill me, the least you could do is clean up the mess you made, and hold a funeral for each of them.’
And with that, Sniveli flew away, to do his work as Robin Hood.
Norm scratched his head. ‘You know, I’m starting to think this hero business isn’t all that great. Come on, let’s clean this up.’
‘What about the funerals?’ said Elric. ‘It would take weeks to do them all!’
‘We’ll just hold one big one,’ said Norm, hoping that that wouldn’t anger the dragon.
Kvok sneered. ‘I should’ve stayed in my cave and read more books. I wouldn’t have to bury snakes and give them funerals there.’
They got to work, digging a hole in the forest and dumping the snake bodies inside. Elric held the funeral, as he claimed he had attended the deaths of many brave heroes, but it soon became apparent that he was just making things up.
‘And, uh, I am sure that these snakes were very, very loved. If only cruel fate had not taken them away so soon! They could be going sssssss and shedding their skin and doing… whatever else it is that snakes do.’
Of the three of them, Norm was the most sorry for their actions. Elric couldn’t take things seriously, but he did at least regret what they did. Kvok was quiet and grumpy, but Norm was sure he would understand eventually.
Later that evening, Sniveli returned to his cave and, seeing the clean ground, smiled broadly.
‘I didn’t think you’d actually do it,’ he said, sniffing and wiping his cheek. ‘Sorry, I’ve been crying again. One of the kids showed me his drawing, and it was so impressive! He drew a perfect little spider… or maybe it was a kangaroo. I’m not sure. Would you like to come in for a cup of tea?’
With nowhere else to go, they happily agreed. Sniveli lead them through a complicated series of tunnels, undoing his traps to let them past, until they arrived in a cosy little home, complete with a well-stocked kitchen.
They sat down and got to chatting, telling the dragon all about their adventures so far. Or at least, Norm and Sniveli chatted, while Kvok and Elric exchanged dark looks and whispered to each other.
‘… And what’s the point of being king if you’re not even going to use your magical pear? He let it go rotten! … stupid man, really. I mean, what king abuses his own horse? It made me feel sick … And don’t get me started on that mayor. He made you sound so awful! If I see him again …’
‘… Oh, I completely agree! Why do you think I started this in the first place? … Mmm, mmm. You would make a great dragon, you know … You’re so right! I should eat him just for that …’
Eventually, Elric and Kvok’s whispers got too much for Norm, and he turned around and said, ‘What? You two have been whispering all evening. What are you talking about?’
‘We were just discussing your quest, my boy,’ said Elric. ‘Or rather, the lack of it.’
‘Norm,’ said Kvok, slapping a hoof on the table. ‘Do you actually want to be a hero?’
Norm’s lip shook. ‘Of course I do! How could you ask such a thing?’
‘It’s only that… Well, I did tell you that heroes don’t really exist anymore. But you convinced me for a while that they did, with that endless enthusiasm you have. But heroes don’t go around helping ghosts, freeing pegasi and making friends with dragons, and they certainly don’t speak badly of the kings they serve.’
‘Are you calling me a bad hero?’ said Norm, going red. ‘You know it’s my dream!’
‘No,’ said Sniveli, putting his claw on the boy’s hand. ‘What they’re saying is that you’re far too good to waste your time trying to become some idea of a fairytale hero. You can just be you.’
Norm looked between the three of them. They all seemed to know him so well, far better than he’d ever known himself. He couldn’t understand it.
‘But if I can’t be a hero… what will I do? And what will you two do?’
Sniveli grinned, wrapping his wings around the three of them. ‘You can come live here! There’s plenty of space, and it’s completely safe. Maybe then the people of Orfever will start to see that I’m not all bad, and overthrow their mayor or something revolutionary like that.’
‘Hmph!’ said Kvok, raising his nose proudly. ‘I’ll consider it.’
‘I suppose it’s better than living in that dusty old tower,’ Elric muttered. ‘And I wouldn’t be having to save Norm’s life every five minutes. What do you say, boy? Shall we settle down here?’
Norm stared into his tea, and then said, ‘It’s a wonderful idea. But first, I have something I have to do. Alone.’
The next day, Norm set off for his stepmother’s house. He took some of Sniveli’s ‘reappropriated’ wealth and bought a set of warm clothes from Orfever, as well as a magic log that burned forever. She had always complained about being cold, but with good clothes and a neverending fire, she would be more than warm enough.
When Norm finally arrived, however, he did not find the house loud with his stepmother’s complaints. He found the vegetables in the garden dead, the roof collapsed, and the animals run away.
The place was empty, apart from his stepmother’s bones lying on her bed.
She had never been a good mother, or even very nice, and yet he found himself shedding tears for her. She didn’t deserve to die alone, abandoned by her only child. It made him think of his companions. If he hadn’t rescued Elric from the tower, would the ghost have gone mad with loneliness? If he hadn’t freed Kvok, would he have died under the hands of a cruel king? If he had fought Sniveli, would he have killed a kind soul, as well as the hope of all the poor in Orfever?
He had abandoned her, and she had already faced so much loss: her husband leaving her, and her daughter dying. She had been nasty, but not wicked. If it wasn’t for the stories she told him, he would have never left on his adventure in the first place.
‘I’m sorry, Mother,’ he said, touching her bones. ‘But there is one last thing I can do for you.’
He packed up her remains, got on his horse, and rode to Sniveli’s lair. He buried the bones outside it.
‘You’ll never be cold here. It’s warmed by dragon fire.’
From that day on, Norm, Elric and Kvok lived happily with Sniveli the dragon. They couldn’t have been more different, and yet, they somehow got along, although they still had plenty of arguments.
They all helped out with Sniveli’s missions into Orfever, and sure enough, with their help the abused masses of the city rose up and overthrew their mayor, founding an independent city state based on equality. Kvok got to brutally kill the mayor, which he greatly enjoyed, Elric taught the new generation of children to read, and Norm flew on Sniveli’s back to other cities and countries, to spread the word of the dragon, and to redistribute the happiness and wealth that the four friends owned.
Norm never dreamed of becoming a brave hero again, because in reality, he had been one all along.
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