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St. George and the Dragon

St. George and the Dragon

Christianity has spun a few myths of its own over the centuries while attempting to destroy those of pagan peoples. The dragon has long been a Christian metaphor for evil – St John the Divine, St Margaret and St Michael, among others, have all been depictedin Christian imagery slaying dragons. The Reverend Thomas Percy included the myth of George and the Dragon in his book of ballads,Percy’s Reliques (1765), and kept to tradition in his treatment of the story.I could not quite bring myself to do the same.

The sun rose that morning no differently than it does most morningsand climbed slowly through the bright blue sky. There was going to be a monumental battle which only one of the duellists would survive. Neither of them was fully confident of victory and the hours leading up to their midday appointment could not go quickly enough. On the other hand, a dread of what might happen, and of much that was certain to happen, also nagged at both of them.

The dragon had woken early 

Which was not his habit. He lay abed awhile thinking on what the day held and how it had all come about. For the life of him he could not understand it. What did these humans expect? It wasn’t as if he was eating them, just their enslaved animals. In his time he had eaten people, of course – who had not? But it took too many of them, once boned, to make a meal and they were difficult to catch, always put up an embarrassing and unseemly struggle and they had to be cooked just right or they withered to dry crust.

With people killing all the wild game though, or scaring it off and putting their own exploited beasts everywhere, what else was a fellow to do but develop a taste for mutton and beef? Humans could hardy expect to be the only predators on the planet, could they? What, get rid of allthe big cats, the birds of prey, the wolves for heaven’s sake? Dragons were another thing, of course.

He well knew that his own kind were few, sensitive, solitary and reluctant to cohabit and breed. Being extremely long-lived, wise and self-absorbed, this insularity had not mattered before. But now, with man having seen off his cousins the Neanderthals, breeding like rabbits and covering the whole surface of the globe with his progeny, the competition for food was getting ridiculous.

“Perhaps I should go to China,” the dragon yawned, rising reluctantly to enter an alcove-like section of his cave. Here a small fissure miles deep into the earth and a spring babbling from the rock wall created for the fastidious creature a natural toilet and washroom. “At least there, the humans know how to appreciate a dragon. Why, they even consider us good luck.”

And now here was this rather bolder, or crazier, human down there in the valley who wanted to fight him, to rid the local people of their rival. They had told the fellow that he, the dragon, was downright evil, of course. The fool had believed it, too, believed he had been eating people on a daily basis, devouring them in order of class, starting with the sons and daughters of the commoners, and rising ultimately to, horror of horrors, a royal princess. This had been too much for a passing hero to bear.

Evil indeed 

The dragon snorted indignantly. The princess was pure bait, for him and the hero, a gutsy little so-and-so who knew exactly what she was doing. The dragon had learned all this by flying silently and slowly about on dark moonless nights and listening in at windows. As a snack the princess was hardly worth the bother of opening his mouth, though they thought he would not be able to resist her. It was the hero, of course, who could not resist her.

With a sigh the dragon knew he would have to show up that afternoon, and have a go at seeing off this champion. It might discourage the humans for a while if he won, though all they cared 

About was their prosperity

However, he had really no alternative but to starve to death. What else was a fellow to do? Lately there was nothing else but their livestock, though he was careful never to eat so many that he would bankrupt them. That would be as stupid as it would have been to have eaten all the wild animals in his own territory.

Evil, the dragon snorted again. Evil because he killed and ate what people were going to eat? Why, he even dispatched the poor creatures more swiftly and kindly than the humans did. No, to them, he and the lions were wicked and symbols of all that was bad in the world. Once dragons were considered the givers of life, of precious water, then the water became treasure they were said to hoard, and they had to be killed for people to get it off them. Humans never seemed to make up their minds about dragons. Until lately, the dragon thought sadly. Now we’ve become a certain evil that has to be overcome at every turn. And that, he knew, was what this was all about. It was a mere gesture, a show of righteousness.

The dragon knew the hero was going to try to prove himself to the others, mark himself out as different and more favoured by whatever strange forces or idols his brand of humans worshipped. The silly man had even succeeded in persuading, or coercing, a horse into carrying him not only to, but indeed in, the contest. This was a new innovation they had introduced in their wars in recent centuries. Formerly men had been drawn in wheeled chariots, the dragon recalled, but with the
stronger backed horses they had produced (by interfering with the  nimal’s natural breeding patterns), humans now rode right on the poor beasts’ backs.

Again the dragon sighed

He had seen a lot in his life and had watched humans with a weary and curious eye ever since he could remember. As the only other sentient and intelligent creatures around, they interested him. He had seen early on that one day they might pose a threat, and knew, of course, that dragons had been killed by them, though it had always seemed one of those things that might happen to somebody else. He had assumed, too, that the dragons involved were troublemakers, or particularly feeble in mind or body.

It had been something of a shock for him to discover himself in this predicament. Yet there was little to be gained from running off to China or anywhere else. He had these people trained well enough, did not tax them too badly, no matter what they told the hero, and he was not about to let them get away with such a ridiculous attempt to deprive him of his life and livelihood. He had lived in this valley since long before their arrival. Let them pack up and move to China.

The George in this story was not a martyr of any monotheistic faith or even of the Roman Empire in which he was later said to have served as a soldier. This George was not thinking of glory or spiritual salvation, not his own or that of the town. No, all that was on his mind, apart from the will to survive, was a desperate longing to win the beautiful princess.

It would be a very fine thing if everyone else thought he was a hero, he told himself that morning, but it was the princess that he really needed to impress. He had no thought of becoming sacred to some future religion or the patron saint of countries not yet dreamt of. He was a young man in the throes of love, and no end of perfectly straightforward lust. The princess was, after all, a knockout. One way or the other, George freely admitted to himself, he was absolutely gone on her.

If he could not have this girl, then let the dragon have him, for he would not care to live a day, an hour, a minute, longer. It hurt to think of her, and all his considerable athletic ability, his co-ordination, quick wits and keen balance left him when she was around. As a consequence none of the attributes that had first singled him out as the man to tangle with the dragon had been much on display since his arrival.

Still, everyone had faith in him, it seemed, especially the princess. She was so kind and gentle, he thought dreamily, and so needed to be saved from that terrible creature. For a moment George dwelt on the rightness of parents sending their children out to be eaten instead of putting up a fight and mobilizing everyone to swamp the dragon with numbers. Many might die that way, but if, as the townsfolk declared, he was eating his way through the whole population anyhow, such a loss would be worth it in the long run.

How could parents, he mused, particularly the parents of so wonderful a girl as the princess, send her out to be roasted alive and devoured, just to save their own hides and property? Then he pulled himself up. It isn’t right to second-guess royalty, he thought. The king and queen must know what they’re doing. But did he?

George had done prodigious deeds in battle. He had slain some pretty impressive beasts of the more ordinary sort, such as lions, tigers and bears. A dragon was quite another thing, though. If it really had been eating two sheep a day, then two or more people, it must be pretty big. Much bigger than him at any rate, and able to fly and breath fire. This adversary would be a very tough customer indeed.

With a shaky hand George drank a little wine and looked out the window at the slowly rising sun. It was ages yet and he had not slept a wink. Young men in love and about to fight dragons seldom do. With a sigh, he remembered all that had passed between him and the princess and knew there was no way in the world that he could have her if he did not fight the dragon. He also knew there was little chance of him having her, or even of living, if he did not win. Setting his jaw, he went to see to his horse and his weapons, not for the first time that night.

To give the princess her due, she was unaware that the dragon was indifferent to her as fodder. He liked his food well done and to leave so slender a morsel as she was over the flame for so much as a breath would have reduced her to a flavourless cinder. She did not know either that the other things she and her fellows put such store by were also of no interest to him. He was unimpressed with either physical beauty or royal titles.

When they staked her out that day at high-noon, she honestly thought her life would be forfeited if the hero did not win through. It was an act of sacrifice and faith on her part and she was ready to face any eventuality. If her father’s kingdom could be rid of the dragon and grow rich, then the risk would have been worth it.

A hero was not going to fight for the mere fun of it, after all, and a dragon was not going to venture out into the open to face one for just any sort of bait. They both demanded a prize and she was willing to play that role. Besides, she thought, that George is a beau-sabre, dream-boat and stud-muffin of the first rank. Wedding bells with that hunk or a luncheon date with a giant reptile, she thought with a toss of her head, oh how is a girl to decide?

With a brave smile she let them tie her hands to the stake she stood against and watched them run off to a safe distance. Over the next hill, she knew, George would be waiting, mounted and well armed and from somewhere else nearby, the dragon was bound to spot her, for his cave was known to overlook this gully. He would come for his offering and receive, she supposed, the surprise of his life. 

Reluctantly, begrudgedly the dragon sauntered down the hillside, eyeing the princess with what would have been recognized by another dragon as a bemused expression. To her he only looked hungry and illtempered.That he did not even deem to fly hardly registered with her. If anything, she thought he was coming slowly in order to prolong her torment.

His progress was so slow that the prearranged signal was not difficult to make before her life was directly in peril. The shrill scream emitted by the princess would have broken glass had any been around. As it was it made the dragon jump and left him with an uncomfortable sensation in his ears. George and his horse, or rather George on his horse, came racing around the hill that had been concealing them to find the dragon stopped in his tracks, recovering from the pain in his head.

Now, the dragon was not large but the hero was not either, and the pole-thing he carried may have been sharp, but it looked rather flimsy. It was the horse that really attracted the dragon’s attention. His fear of the hero was diminished now he actually confronted him. Yes, the fellow was armed and braver than the general run of humans, but human he was never the less. The horse on the other hand was good red meat and plenty of it. It was bigger than other horses he had seen or eaten before, bred up as a warhorse, he supposed, without thinking of what that might mean. As it was lunchtime, the one thing he did not want to happen was
for the horse to escape while he was dispatching the silly humans and teaching their brethren a much-needed lesson.


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