Friday, 1 November 2013

Saint George - 18. Single combat

Suddenly, a great sigh went up from the crowd, a sigh of dismay. For, at a brisk trot, there approached a Roman horseman in full armour.
For all but an instant the dragon could have owed the consternation to the royal blood, once it picked up the sound of hooves, not any longer.
That it was akin to scorpions was now plainly to be seen, for as fast as these can curve their body to inflict a deadly sting with their tail, in a flash, the monster swung its bulk around to take the spoilsport head-on.
And now, to their great delight, the people were treated to a duel between the armour-plated rider and the panzer-scaled dragon.
Once more suspense reigned supreme. This was quite a different victim than that pathetic wench at the pole - about his ending up a victim the people had no doubt whatsoever, a foregone conclusion. Now, at the least there would be resistance. His helmet was an officer’s and in the Roman armies the only way to become one was by gallantry.
At first, there was exploratory skirmishing, seeking out the opponent’s weaknesses. It gave the impression of a mock battle but it was well understood: this was a fight to the death.
The armour of both was equally heavy, never to be penetrated by either claw or sword. The beast’s sole vulnerable spot was its beak. Therefore, biting was precluded, its fangs being no match for steel.
The beast was evidently stronger than the man and his horse but the Arab was nimbler. It was going to be a battle of force against speed.
Soon it became a matter of pricking and teasing, prying between plates or scales, trying to wriggle or tear them loose, preferably at a joint. Now and then, they made a scratch, drawing some blood. This only enhanced their fierceness.
The people were watching breathlessly, as were the princess and her family.

The end came by surprise.
During a breathing-spell, the monster curved its body scorpion-fashion and treacherously, with the end of its tail, knocked the other from the saddle and to the ground where he was left for dead. Dazedly, the horse remained at his side.
The beast had triumphed and as a sign thereof, it raised its head heavenward, gaped its beak wide open and filled the air with its house-shattering laughter.

English translation by Ronald Langereis © 2013
from the Dutch, "Sint Joris" by Belcampo, 1983

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