Sunday, 30 August 2009

Saint George - 9. The Event

The goal of the enterprise had been definitely achieved. The whole left wing as well, went home in the belief: 'against this monster there's no avail.' On all sides, its body and limbs were shielded by scales as if by steel armour and these, in their turn, were protected by a system of blades and spikes. And those tremendous nostrils, who knows what deadly venom might belch from them when it mattered. Its movements in general were sluggish but, if necessary, it could swipe with lightning speed. A sudden jump by the poor little sheep had revealed as much.
'We'd better learn to live with it,' was the unanimous conclusion. There followed an overall reconciliation and thereby unity was restored. In line with the junior councillor's opinion, to many of them this seemed what mattered most.

Now, at all ease, the second part of the plan could be implemented, to gradually remove the offering place back to the pond's vicinity. Unexpectedly, this met with strong resistance of the population. Were the lookout facilities, constructed with so much effort and at such cost, just to be demolished forthwith?
This argument was proffered foremost but behind it some deeper motives emerged. There were such as to frankly confess that they simply loved the horrors. Artists considered the beast highly inspiring. Painters, going a step further, declared it to be of exceptional beauty, a knight amongst animals. Never had they observed reflections of light thus enticing. To the Surrealists among them it was nothing short of 'gefundenes Fressen', a godsend.
Scientists joined in the protest as well. They wished to have a closer look into this phenomenon, as they preferred to call the beast. The ethically inclined couldn't stop pointing at the beneficial consequences of its first contemplation and considered it quite possible the effects might be lasting.
In short, resistance became so overwhelming that the council decided to leave things as they actually were and thus, the offering just under Silene's wall became a weekly event.
Not during deliberations, nor at the final decision was any word breathed on the perpetual agony of the sheep.

English translation by Ronald Langereis © 2009
from the Dutch, "Sint Joris" by Belcampo, 1983

Friday, 28 August 2009

Saint George - 8. Revelation

Fortunately, the leaders of the factions didn't cling to their convictions yet as rigidly as to miss the appeal to reason in this speech and so the proposition was passed unanimously. And chances of success looked promising, for over the next few weeks the ever shifted victim was promptly devoured. Utter care, as had been recommended, was observed in the arrangements. No suspicion should be aroused in the beast, none whatsoever.
In consequence, it was strictly forbidden to anyone to be on the ramparts or walls during the feeding. Just one man - and the scheme's promoter was a natural choice - was allowed to follow the course of the experiment from a hidden observation post and only when its goal of 'right under the wall' was achieved, the people would be given permission to fill the walls, roofs and towers in due silence to be confronted at once with the solution in all its clarity. If granted prematurely, chances were the old feud would flare anew by lack of substantial evidence. Also for this reason our observer wrapped himself in deep silence on what he had seen.
At last, after months, the proper day arrived. Word came that on the next Saturday every one would see from close by the creature that for so long had engrossed their thoughts, and that it would reveal itself in its entirety and in one of its essential acts.
It would be a day of revelation.
In this same week, a long gallery was built on top of the section of the town wall that offered a view of the sensational action. Moreover, protruding balconies and upper windows, roofs and even towers were reshaped to such a fashion that spectators could watch the arrival and proceedings of the monster without being seen by it themselves. Every one claimed his share in the sighting.
Thus, on that Saturday morning, the whole of Silene had mounted their posts, camouflaged so well that someone unfamiliar with the town wouldn't have noticed anything special on its outside. There was nobody but had rested his gaze for a while on the little sheep below. On its tether is was grazing peacefully. That it never showed a sign of foreboding was what gave people a special thrill.
The mandatory silence was not observed, emotions were too highly strung for that. Silence did fall, however, at the appearance of the terrible beast from the distance and persisted as long as it remained within view. Even during the calm and ruthless quelling of the desperate struggle and the deliberate shattering of the prey no groan, no cough was heard, not even a sigh. Only when the monster with bulging belly had disappeared from the scene, people drew breath again. Its frightening appearance had pre-empted the bid for silence.

English translation by Ronald Langereis © 2009
from the Dutch, "Sint Joris" by Belcampo, 1983

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Saint George - 7. The Scheme

Brothers, let us be reasonable. Instead of making life a burden to each other, we'd better scrutinize calmly the bone of contention that is dividing our nation. On the point at issue we are of one mind, the sheer looks of our pond-squatter. Here lies no cause for drawing knives. It is not this that's driving us apart. But if not this, what then?
One faction
- and on this he turned to the right wing of the council - implicitly believes what the guards told us about the monster's appearance. In consequence, let us call them 'Believers'. The other faction - and now he turned to the left wing - refuses to accept the reports on good faith, yea, deems it not overly improbable that they don't answer to reality. Therefore, let them be baptized 'Disbelievers', or rather 'Unbelievers', and rightly so.
Now, my fellow councillors, you will agree with me, that pounding each other's skulls for the sheer image of a creature that one faction saw only in part and the other faction not at all, would be utter foolishness. And, if even possible, the more foolish, indeed, because the solution is so obvious. We should examine the truth of the matter, we should arrange for the beast to be observed. To see for yourself, indeed, compares to nothing.
So, let us consider how we can make this happen.
It will not be easy. The Believers are still terror-stricken. They're constantly living in fear. And the Unbelievers, they too, dare not venture out of town at the hour of offering. Maybe, they fear to be counted as sheep?"
he added with a mischievous smile.
"Well, brothers,"
he went on, "I have reflected on this question beforehand, and I'm here to propound to you my plan.
We should move the place where the victim is offered in the direction of our town, gradually. When we do so with care, without giving him the impression it's done on purpose, so that the beast may come to suspect us of luring him into a trap, we may succeed in bringing him under our walls close enough for us to watch him in action safely and at ease.
Forthwith, it will be clear which of both factions is in the right and thereby harmony will be restored to our people. What is more, we shall know at once how to behave toward it, whether we'll be able to rid ourselves of it, or - when its looks prove so dreadful as to deny our human powers any chance of success - whether we'd better get used to it living in our presence. In case of the latter we can remove the offering back to its present place as to spare us the weekly fright of so ghastly a spectacle.
But whatever the result of this investigation, the perilous discord from which we at present are suffering will be healed. And that, in my opinion, is the most important of all."
English translation by Ronald Langereis © 2009
from the Dutch, "Sint Joris" by Belcampo, 1983

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Saint George - 6. The Rift

And now the improbable happened. This nation, where peace and love had reigned supreme since time immemorial, split up into two fiercely warring factions; those who believed the official reports unconditionally and their opponents who, indeed, derided those ever more. The anxiety for the monster they considered all but hype and found it nothing short of ridiculous therefore to part with a precious sheep once every week.
A community that has never experienced a disturbance of its harmony and is completely unprepared for it, feels utterly inconvenienced and powerless when it, nevertheless, occurs. There were clashes. Some blood was spilled. Already, all kinds of material were gathered in sundry places for raising barricades, if push came to shove.
For the first time ever there were people who used the general confusion as a cover for mischief. Chaos is always the well-head to crime. As yet, the Silenians hadn't come so far as to be blind to the difference between a factious row and a crime, and though they failed to restore their former unity, evil-doers were run in and locked up, just as was known to be the case in other towns.
What was indeed remarkable of this whole tumult was that it never raised the question as to the nature of the beast at all. It was all and only about its appearance. Whether it possessed a spirit benevolent or evil, nobody seemed to care about, nor did anyone feel so much as concern.
Subject to the rules of polarization and escalation, the contrary opinions diverged ever wider and their partisans attacked each other ever more fiercely and brutally. A mutual crippling of trade was looming and society teetered on the brink of civil war.
Who saw this most clearly, and therefore deplored the state of affairs the more deeply, was the junior councillor, and just like he had warded off the earlier menace, so, by his words, he brought deliverance from this perilous plight.
At the council - where dissension ran rampant to such a degree that, aside from crime equally hated by all, decision-making had come to a complete standstill - his reasoning went as follows.

English translation by Ronald Langereis © 2009
from the Dutch, "Sint Joris" by Belcampo, 1983

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Saint George - 5. Rumblings of discord

The junior councillor seemed to have been spot-on, for further developments complied to his very words. The following Saturday scouts found the remnants of a newly-eaten sheep. A fixed spot was chosen, not far from the pond, where henceforth the victim would be tethered firmly to a pole. This marked the beginning of new circumstances to which they accustomed themselves rather quickly and in which they acquiesced. The more so as there was no sign of the monster for the rest of the week, as had been predicted. So, everything seemed much the same as before and everyone carried on his usual activities. Each time the sheep's value was made good on its owner from the common means.
Whether they had entered upon an era of greater happiness, for the present, there was no sign of this. What did happen, however, was a faint anxiety and awe entering their minds, and above all, curiosity. Although nobody, after that first encounter, had ever seen it again, the mysterious pond-dweller still took part of people's thoughts. Its appearance was greatly embellished. The trail from the pond to the sacrificial spot, standing out ever starker, inspired them with a certain respect that kept them from crossing it. Everyone was giving a wide berth to the offering place.
Whereas nobody could muster the courage to spy on its feasting, yet a desire just to see the monster was ever gaining in strength, especially amongst youngsters. For as the day of the first fright was receding into the past, so doubts were mounting about the particulars of its appearance. Voices were heard saying that the beast probably would underwhelm expectations, that its description had been a product rather of shock and imagination than of observation - some even hinting at mass suggestion and mass hysteria - and that this beast to which the whole community was rendering honours all but divine, after all might be anything but a plain and simple crocodile. For the first time in the history of this society graffiti showed on its walls as the bearers of what still was deemed unfit for uttering openly.
The former sentries, those who at the time had manned the guarding posts, the eye-witnesses and reporters, together with their constituencies felt deeply disgraced by these slurs and defended themselves vigorously.
"As you are so much bolder than we are, go and look for yourself," they retorted.
But nobody dared.

English translation by Ronald Langereis © 2009
from the Dutch, "Sint Joris" by Belcampo, 1983

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Saint George - 4. The Councillor

The most eloquent of the guardsmen acted as their spokesman and from his words the entire council turned an ever whiter shade of pale. In the ensuing spell of total bewilderment a turmoil erupted of disorderly and tumultuous discussions, which the king as the council's chair attempted to stem in vain. Until, eventually, the junior councillor, a bright mind who had been admitted to the council for his strong level-headedness, raised his voice and succeeded in dampening the raging feelings by the following address.
Brothers, let us be reasonable. We all must eat, and so must every animal. Being alive, not one escapes the need of having to eat. That the beast observed by our guardsmen was getting hungry after it gradually had disposed of all the fish in the pond, and that it looked out for an alternative, in this it obeyed the Law of Nature. We can't cast this in its teeth.
If we are to believe the description of it rendered to us, it appears to be a beast that may do us great harm, yea, that can turn our entire community destitute. But, as yet, it hasn't done anything of the kind at all. It never did as much as crook a hair of anybody, let alone pull one. By all means, it may as well be a benignant creature whose horrific appearance and dreadful voice are but defensive expedients. Such are the ways of the animal world. Well, even amongst men there are those who hide a too tender heart behind stern looks and a gruff attitude.
If this be our starting-point - and indeed, why shall we, at once, suppose anything more evil - we may reason along the following lines.
Over the last period, the beast apparently felt a need for stepping ashore at three consecutive Saturdays. In between it was lying low. From this, we may infer that one sheep can appease its appetite for a whole week. When we offer it a sheep at every Saturday we will not be bothered by it.
Fifty-two sheep in a year, it's something, together, we can afford easily. There are many nations having deities to whom they are obliged to sacrifice quite a lot more animals to propitiate them.
Let's see it this way. One sheep a week for disaster to be averted. We may fare even better. Suppose, in this way, the mysterious creature is won over and becomes a boon to the whole of our community. It may even be a god assuming an ever so horrible shape only to try our mettle. Who knows, by his doing an era of unprecedented happiness may dawn upon us.
Therefore, beware, lest we make him loathe us by grudging him his food or by panicking.
This speech had the intended effect. The council decided to abstain from immediate action and to prudently reconnoitre the pond's surroundings on the following morning.

English translation by Ronald Langereis © 2009
from the Dutch, "Sint Joris" by Belcampo, 1983

Monday, 10 August 2009

Saint George - 3. The Siege

Exactly one week after it had plucked a first sheep from the flock, another fell a victim, also during the night, and judging from the remains, mauled in the selfsame manner as the first. So, though this be a monster, there was method in it.
In consequence, a decision was taken to lay a full-scale siege to the pond. Never again this brute should be given a chance to put a paw ashore. Around the pond a ring of guard posts was set up to be manned night and day by armed bands of the strongest and bravest men.
For a full week nothing happened. The guardsmen were growing weary. Already some of them, in the rash supposition that their mere presence sufficed to scare the beast, brought dice to their post.
Until, on the morning of the seventh day, the beast raised its head above the water. And some head it was!
A head that was all jaws. When they opened wide - as the beast was doing - they showed double rows of fangs in both the upper and lower part, so horrific that whoever saw them, presently realized that whatever was caught between them would be successively crushed, shattered and pulverized.
The palate resembled red plush. The eyes were placed in the upper lip, as were the nostrils. From the latter spurted two jets of brown smoke. Evidently, the beast could aim them, for now they spouted straight up and then they skimmed the water. All there was to be seen of the body was covered in scales shining like armour-plates with high, razor-edged crests in between.
In dead silence, the men stood gaping at the apparition while it too kept silent. But once it made its sound roll across the water, the whole body took to flight. That sound lacked anything human or animal, neither shrieking nor roaring; it rang like the laughing of a collapsing house.
No man, not even the bravest, remained behind, dared to wait for the beast - if it would approach the bank - to raise more of itself from the water. Its head alone had nipped any thought of resistance in the bud. Panic was raging, a unanimous save-who-can behind the walls of their town. Here their excited stories were causing a major alarm. Drums were rolled and the council was summoned with all speed.

English translation by Ronald Langereis © 2009
from the Dutch, "Sint Joris" by Belcampo, 1983

Monday, 3 August 2009

Saint George - 2. The Pond

It began when the catch of fish from the big pond started to decline, on the cause of which nobody was any the wiser. Mortality it couldn't be, for dead fish were nowhere afloat. Climate and water level had remained the very same and to the appearance or taste of the fish caught there wasn't anything of note either.
People were left completely in the dark and the worse part of it was, the decline didn't halt. After some time the catch had dropped to half its former size and later on to only a quarter.
Now, there were fishermen who thought they noticed, at times, strange whirlings in the water, stirring the surface from below. Musing on its unfathomable depth, some fancied their pond might have become connected to wide, underground water areas; that the mighty currents in them could sometimes be seen at the upper side, and that by these same currents the greater part of their fish had been sucked into the subterranean.
Until one day, at just such a whirling, a couple of fishermen saw a crest of giant fins rising from the water. This, at once, explained the enigma. There lived in the pond a formidable fish that was devouring all the other fish, fattening itself more and more by this action.
All efforts to catch the 'Convivant', as before long it was commonly called, proved useless.
It must have been lying low or hiding in a cave and it appeared to be very watchful, for every time the men went after it, the pond was still as death. Eventually, their catch of normal fish ran down to such a trifle, that the fishermen might as well stay home to attend to different chores, to mind the sheep, for instance. Having fish for dinner grew into a memory, even in the royal family.
This plight, to which they had somewhat resigned themselves, suddenly changed as another sensational event befell them.
One day a few shepherds, setting out for their flocks early in the morning, happened on the remnants of a freshly devoured sheep. Slivers of bone, bloody tufts of wool, and the extremities: ears, tail, and hooflets were found scattered on the turf, testifying both silently and eloquently of the accomplished fact. From that frightful spot led a peculiar track, a furrow in the turf, as if a heavy sack had been dragged along the ground, and on either side of it the regular imprint of a huge, crooked claw.
After swift deliberation the shepherds decided to follow the trail and how amazed they were and how alarmed when they saw it headed straight for the pond and disappeared into it.
In hot haste they returned to the town, reported their findings, and great was the consternation they engendered by their tale.
The voracious dweller of the pond had never been a mere fish, but rather a beast that could move on land as well and by all means nimbly enough to grab a sheep. Now that, apparently, no more fish was left to satisfy it, they should live in dread for their sheep. A vital common interest was at stake.
New efforts to catch the monster, executed with ampler means and manpower, again proved futile. The pond stayed stock-still. In its unreachable refuge the creature, obviously, lay digesting its prize.

English translation by Ronald Langereis © 2009
from the Dutch, "Sint Joris" by Belcampo, 1983