by Roy Barton
illustration by John Woodward
The Mediterranean-looking chap was busy looking around the olde English town and happened to chance finding a bar. The aroma of ale and mead was too much to ignore and he stepped into the establishment and walked up to the bar. The barman looked at him with instant suspicion as he stepped up to him and ordered a drink.
Got any money. He demanded.
The stranger took a few coins out of a bag and placed them on the bar.
What kind of money do you call this ? bellowed the barman.
That is our local currency. Explained the stranger.
Not here it aint. It hasnt even got the Kings head on it. Not that the barman knew the ruler of the country from one day to the next, what with all the tribal warfare and kingdom-taking going on in these parts. He just didnt feel like serving this person who was obviously a foreigner, and therefore to be treated with the utmost disdain.
But Ive been travelling for weeks and I desperately need a drink. He implored.
The barman snorted, then he had an idea. He stepped out of the bar and yelled to all his fellow stall-holders to come into the inn. They all did as they were bade and thus the first Chamber of Commerce was born (or should that be borne ?)
They formed into a huddle away from the foreigner and chatted for what seem like ages before splitting up. The barman, who had clearly been made spokesman, probably because of his intimidating manner, formed the front of the committee.
Right then. If you want a drink youll have to earn it. He stated.
What would you like me to do ? enquired the traveller.
I was hoping youd ask that. The barman grinned, a devious glint in his eye. Up on the biggest hill outside there lives a dragon. Some years back he took and burnt a princess. You see, what with all the wars and that, weve had no-one to destroy it. Dead easy job though, mind. All you have to do is cut off its head and bring it back. Then you can have as much as you can drink. Theyll probably make you a saint or something as well.
The foreigner, who also happened to be something of a knight accepted this challenge heartily. Dead simple. The barman had said, he reminded himself as he walked out of the inn and walked up the hill.
Now as a knight you have to wear a certain amount of armour and, unless you watched Excaliber, you probably are not aware that any amount of energy used renders the knight knackered. So when he finally approached the dragons lair, he was practically dragging himself up the hill. Thirty yards from the cave entrance he collapsed and fell asleep.
When he awoke he was aware that it was still daylight but he couldnt see any thing. He slowly looked up and saw the immense green shape of a fully-formed adult dragon.
Gordon Bennett ! he proclaimed.
Hello, Gordon. The dragon said in a deep, welcoming voice. You know, there are more comfortable places to sleep.
The knight got to his feet and pulled all of his remaining thoughts together. Dragon, You have slain a princess and Im here to kill you. He unsheathed his sword to back up the threat.
The dragon sighed. It was always the same. No-one ever came up and enquired about his health, only to try to make sure he wasnt in the best of it. It was a complete accident. I cant believe Im going to be persecuted throughout my entire life because of a flaming princess.
Actually, interceded the knight, I think youll find that youll be persecuted throughout your entire life because of flaming a princess.
Oh yes, very droll. Remind me to book you for a variety show next season. The dragon leant his head on one of his six arms and sighed. It was a complete accident. Besides how are you going to kill me ?
Im going to chop your head off, of course. The guy in the village said it was dead easy.
The dragon snorted, and let out a puff of smoke in the process.
He also said if it wasnt for all the wars you would have been dead long ago. The knight couldnt help but feel that everything the barman had told him a little while ago all sounded a bit flat now. I might even get a sainthood. Now it definitely sounded flat.
The dragon moved from supporting his head to crossing both his front arms as he listened to the knight, who, by now, had realised that he was probably on a bit of a fools errand.
Right, said the dragon, who had heard enough. How many dragons have you killed ?
The knight said nothing.
Precisely. As soon as you try cutting my head off youll be covered by my heavily acidic blood and you will die instantly. Furthermore, assuming you do cut my head off, Ill just grow another one.
The knight gulped. For some strange reason, even though the dragons sentence about chopping of his head and instantly growing another one sounded implausible, it didnt sound half as far-fetched as what the barman had said.
Secondly, if it was that dead easy dont you think somebody from the town would have done it by now ? Not a chance. He answered himself, before the knight could. If I was that easy to kill, a group of them would have come up here one night and done it then. And if I was that much of a threat, they would have sent whole armies up against me. Let me warn you, youre not going to do it on your own.
The knight looked crestfallen. So what about the sainthood ? he implored.
Some people will promise the world, wont they. He was only a barman, not the Pope, what would he know about making saints ! Where did you say you came from ?
The knight explained where he had travelled from and what his name was.
Bit of a mouthful for a saints name. The dragon said. A foreign name that unpronounceable would never do. Tell you what, Im going to call you George ! he proclaimed, quite delighted with his choice.
George !!! the knight grimaced.
Trust me - youll thank me for it later on. Dismissed the dragon. He didnt want to admit that George was his favourite uncles name.
George looked a little crestfallen.
Whats the matter now ? asked the dragon.
None of this matters if I dont kill you. He answered.
The dragon sighed. Look, you cant just wipe out animals to get your sainthood. I mean, I know it worked for St. Patrick, but that was a one off.
But I cant go back without your head.
Yes you can. Argued the dragon. Although he could grow another head he was particularly attached to this one and the next one might not be so good. If you go back with a dragons head youll ruin everything. It would destroy the theory of evolution for a start.
Do what ? George was very puzzled.
Well, you know that dragons eyes let you see into the future ? the dragon started to explain.
George didnt but nodded anyway.
I have sixteen of them, so I can see well into the future. The Beatles are going to be number one in the music charts, for instance.
Crumbs, theyre still only pushing heaps of dung around. That is good evolution.
The dragon felt he was losing it. Dont say another word about evolution. They wont know about it for several hundred years yet. What Im trying to say is there will be no sign that dragons ever existed in the future. We dont die - we evolve differently to everything else.
George was beginning to grasp the concept. So youll be something else later on.
The dragon nodded. Of course. It wasnt as simple as all that, but it would have to do.
But what can I do now ? the knight pressed for an answer to the problem.
Easy. When I accidentally fried the princess they started coming up with treasure as a bribe so I didnt wipe any more of them out. To be honest, its all getting in the way. The cave isnt that big and its all taking up precious space. Take it back to them. Theyll believe that you killed me and stole my gold. Just say that I burnt up when you struck me through with your sword. Thatll get them off my back as well. Theyll stop sending foreigners up then. If it carries on theyll progress to pushing students after me. Much as they wouldnt be much of a loss, burning students uses a lot of energy and the alehouses would soon be empty as well.
That sounds like a good idea. George agreed.
The dragon rubbed a fist against his chest, modestly. If I scorch the top off this mountain they will believe that there was a massive fight. Then if I seal the cave after me and emerge after a couple of hundred years, everything will be sorted. No problem. As for the sainthood - when I come back out I shall submit the plans to whoever the Pope is at the time. He will naturally agree and you will be a saint. To show you what a decent bloke I think you are, I shall even make you patron saint of England. Its going to cause hell with Edmund and Alban, and Augustus probably wont be too happy either. Hell feel hes been looked over enough anyway, and then theres Thomas. The less said about that the better. Ill just have to create a new honour of martyr saints - that should keep a few of them happy. There - thats sorted as well. The dragon beamed.
George was very pleased with this solution. He didnt really want to kill the dragon anymore, and so he nodded his agreement to the plan.
The dragon clasped his two front hands together in pleasure. George was quite a nice bloke really, and he didnt really want to fry him. Besides, it was a royal pain to prise open the can that knights were put in.
The dragon pulled all of the treasure out of the cave in a couple of massive sacks and handed them to George, who was a little perplexed at how he would manage to pull all the gold and silver down the hill.
After several hours struggle he had pulled the treasure a full one hundred yards and was starting to descend the hill and lose sight of the dragon. He waved back for about the fortieth time and pulled his haul down the slope.
As he disappeared from view he felt a fierce blast of heat nigh on melt his armour to his back. As he considered his first-degree burns he looked behind him again to see just scorched earth. The dragon had been as good as his word.
Down in the village he gave the treasure over to the town council, who made him wait for two days while they were filling in the forms that had to be processed and then, tired, burnt, and downright thirsty, he finally went for his drink at the bar. Only to see the sign "no foreigners" pinned to the door.
He sighed sadly at the gratitude that he had shown him and left the town with celebrations still going on behind him.
He settled down in London eventually. He had kept enough gold to open his own inn which he called predictably enough "The Cow and Badger". He changed it fairly quickly after the Countrylife Society marched on his premises on grounds of bad taste. The name then changed to "The Slug and Pellets". He thought it was a rubbish name for the place but it brought the customers in. Even though most of them didnt shave and fell over drunk on top of their books after one glass.
The dragon woke up four hundred years later, cursed himself for over-sleeping then unsealed himself and set off for an appointment with the Pope.
St. George and his epic battle with a fierce dragon was about to pass into legend.
George And The Dragon (The True Story) first appeared in In Front Magazine in November 1999
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