English Fairy Tales

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Here for nine months they abode, exercising themselves in all feats of arms. So when spring returned they set forth, as knights errant, to seek for foreign adventure.

And for thirty days and thirty nights they rode on, until, at the beginning of a new month, they came to a great wide plain. Now in the centre of this plain, where seven several ways met, there stood a great brazen pillar, and here, with high heart and courage, they bade each other farewell, and each took a separate road.

Hence, St. George, on his charger Bayard, rode till he reached the seashore where lay a good ship bound for the land of Egypt. Taking passage in her, after long journeying he arrived in that land when the silent wings of night were outspread, and darkness brooded on all things. Here, coming to a poor hermitage, he begged a night's lodging, on which the hermit replied:

"Sir Knight of Merrie England--for I see her arms graven on thy breastplate--thou hast come hither in an ill time, when those alive are scarcely able to bury the dead by reason of the cruel destruction waged by a terrible dragon, who ranges up and down the country by day and by night. If he have not an innocent maiden to devour each day, he sends a mortal plague amongst the people. And this has not ceased for twenty and four years, so that there is left throughout the land but one maiden, the beautiful Sabia, daughter to the King. And to-morrow must she die, unless some brave knight will slay the monster. To such will the King give his daughter in marriage, and the crown of Egypt in due time."

"For crowns I care not," said St. George boldly, "but the beauteous maiden shall not die. I will slay the monster."

So, rising at dawn of day, he buckled on his armour, laced his helmet, and with the falchion Ascalon in his hand, bestrode Bayard, and rode into the Valley of the Dragon. Now on the way he met a procession of old women weeping and wailing, and in their midst the most beauteous damsel he had ever seen. Moved by compassion he dismounted, and bowing low before the lady entreated her to return to her father's palace, since he was about to kill the dreaded dragon. Whereupon the beautiful Sabia, thanking him with smiles and tears, did as he requested, and he, re-mounting, rode on his emprise.

Now, no sooner did the dragon catch sight of the brave Knight than its leathern throat sent out a sound more terrible than thunder, and weltering from its hideous den, it spread its burning wings and prepared to assail its foe.

Its size and appearance might well have made the stoutest heart tremble. From shoulder to tail ran full forty feet, its body was covered with silver scales, its belly was as gold, and through its flaming wings the blood ran thick and red.

So fierce was its onset, that at the very first encounter the Knight was nigh felled to the ground; but recovering himself he gave the dragon such a thrust with his spear that the latter shivered to a thousand pieces; whereupon the furious monster smote him so violently with its tail that both horse and rider were overthrown.

Now, by great good chance, St. George was flung under the shade of a flowering orange tree, whose fragrance hath this virtue in it, that no poisonous beast dare come within the compass of its branches. So there the valiant knight had time to recover his senses, until with eager courage he rose, and rushing to the combat, smote the burning dragon on his burnished belly with his trusty sword Ascalon; and thereinafter spouted out such black venom, as, falling on the armour of the Knight, burst it in twain. And ill might it have fared with St. George of Merrie England but for the orange tree, which once again gave him shelter under its branches, where, seeing the issue of the fight was in the Hands of the Most High, he knelt and prayed that such strength of body should be given him as would enable him to prevail. Then with a bold and courageous heart, he advanced again, and smote the fiery dragon under one of his flaming wings, so that the weapon pierced the heart, and all the grass around turned crimson with the blood that flowed from the dying monster. So St. George of England cut off the dreadful head, and hanging it on a truncheon made of the spear which at the beginning of the combat had shivered against the beast's scaly back, he mounted his steed Bayard, and proceeded to the palace of the King.

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