I started “1001 nights” blog section some years ago, intending to write brief stories now and then. Last one was 23rd April 2016. Saint George’s Day. The “great day” for all Catalan people. This year, after an awesome adventure in Uganda, I decided to write an adaptation of our ancient legend. Because I’m pretty sure that Saint George also visited Uganda, and he probably met a black princess there. As I usually do, I’ll use a picture and a song to get inspired. This is, by the way, my first story in English, so let me apologise in advance for all the mistakes made.
Once upon a time, there was a young knight who used to ride Old Europe, looking for people to help, problems to solve, treasures to gain and to be shared with the poorest people in each country. He was, actually, a sort of lone rider.
He had many virtues, and many people loved him and counted on him when they had any concern. And he was happy to be always there, riding his gorgeous white horse, facing the wind through the misty fields and dusty roads. Maybe he was not the kind of “hero” that contemporary people can bear on their mind: he was not too tall, not too pretty, not too brave neither, not too anything in fact. He was just a good folk. A very nice one. His name, according to the tradition, was George.
He was quite a happy man. But sometimes, deep inside, when the night got darker, he felt somehow strange. He felt he was missing something, something called him from far, very far away. Beyond the sea and the tall mountains.
He retired for fourteen days to pray at a small chapel in the middle of an Italian field, when an old monk approached him and, with any specific intention, asked him: “Folk, have you ever been in Africa?”. George opened his eyes; it was clear enough. It was the signal he was waiting for. And the next one? It’d come at the right moment. There was no time to be wasted now.
George took some supplies and rode his horse for more than fifty weeks, from the Italian fields, surrounding the shores of Mediterranean sea until Egypt and all across the African continent. It looked like the horse knew exactly where he was going, and George trusted him blindly. It was quite an Odyssey: some days he slept on the ground, but it wasn’t a problem for him: he was sure to be on the right place. There were terribly sunny days, but also rain and a powerful, strong storm. Actually, it was during that storm when George had to look for shelter in a wild forest. He spent there two days, sat down under a huge tree, staring at the sky, waiting for the moment when to leave.
And the moment came. And he was about to go ahead on his ride, when a small kid, around 10 years old, stopped him.
“Sir, we need your help. Our kingdom is being attacked“.
“Your kingdom?”, answered George.
The kid ran away, and George felt he had to follow him. After many minutes, they reached an old, huge door, surrounded by a Medieval wall. “It’s strange to find this kind of architecture in the very middle of Africa”, thought George. But he decided to follow the kid. And thanks be to God he did.
Inside those walls, George found a small village, near an enormous lake (which looked almost like a sea). He saw dozens of black people… And he observed that they all looked clearly concerned. The atmosphere was absolutely heartbreaking. No one even noticed George’s presence.
George walked through some narrow streets until he found something similar to a village assembly, with a few people (men, women and children) sit down around the one who looked like the Leader. They all were terrified. As if they were about to receive some bad news.
After a few minutes of uproar, the Leader stood up.
“Alright, my friends…”. He couldn’t even talk. “So… We can’t continue like this. Our farming is already over, our animals are gone, we have food for just a couple of days, no more…”.
People stared to one another. Some of them cried hardly but silently.
“Therefore… We don’t have where to go. We must remain here, and time has come to take a difficult decision. Because, otherwise, we’ll never get rid of this… Of this terrible… Dragon“.
George’s eyes opened widely. A dragon? He was so naive that it sounded interesting to him. He was probably the only excited man on the place when listening to that word. Might it be a signal?
The Leader added: “Kisinsi’s kingdom can no longer afford having that cruel dragon around. And… Since we don’t have any more food or animals to offer him… We must look for… Well… We should choose a human sacrifice“.
That was not that funny. Not at all. Even George was scared now. That was unbelievable.
One of the guards joined the Leader, bringing a sort of giant saucepan, with many paper pieces inside. The Leader extended his hand and took one of the papers. The silence couldn’t be more tense than that. The wind stopped sounding for a bunch of seconds.
The Leader looked at the paper. And he started sweating. His hands, trembling. He didn’t want to believe that. The guard approached, read the paper and shouted.
That scream echoed among the whole village, whereas everybody remained in silence. Suddenly, she appeared. A svelte woman. A black lady. She wore a wonderful white dress, which looked really nice on her due to the colour contrast. She was sweating a lot, so her skin shined with the sun rays.
Some of the participants started whispering. “The princess?”, “Yes, I heard that she decided to be a candidate, as any other on the village”. “Oh my God… That’s insane. Why would she do that?”, “Poor girl, if her parents were here…”.
George looked at the princess thoroughly. There was a special brightness on her eyes… Maybe he was not the most clever man in Europe, but he promptly realized that she had something different than any other lady he had met before, in any other part of the world.
The Princess walked slowly towards the Leader. He was not even able to look at her face. Some time ago, he was able even to make the rain stop with just a simple spell. Now, he felt he couldn’t stop that upcoming tragedy in any way.
“My Lady… Why? Why is your name among ours? We’ll take another one, I’m very sorry, but I can’t let this happen”.
“No, you’re not doing that”, answered the black princess. “Perhaps it’s my destiny to go there and let the good Lord decide what happens”.
Everyone on the assembly looked at her sadly. No one wanted to believe that; everybody loved the Princess. Actually, every single man on the village desired her, for she was a very beautiful lady, a lovely one. But she never let anyone be with her, not even touch her. And now, the Princess was resolute to do that recklessness on behalf of her people.
“I’ll get my horse right now”.
No one moved. The Black Princess whistled, and her black horse turned up, running. She got on and galloped towards the door. And she disappeared.
People started crying. Old women, sobbing bitterly. The Leader was out of his mind. He had desired the Princess for a long time too, and now he felt as a coward for letting her go. Everyone looked confused. George was stunned as well. But he was not thinking about the dragon. Not at all. Because, for one moment, he had seen the most precious lady he’d ever seen. And now, she was gone. And he’d probably never see her again.
He stayed shocked for a few minutes. Suddenly, the young kid turned up again and hugged him, crying. “Please, Sir… Help us“.
Those words awaked George again. He ran till he reached his white horse. He got on and urged on the animal, decided to follow the path the princess rode.
After a few miles, he found he had to climb a very precipitous wall. At the end, there was a dark cave. The horse had to make some efforts to climb it. When they reached the top, he saw the Black Princess waiting right in front of the dark cave. She looked determined to be there.
“Madame! Come with me, rush!”. The Black Princess turned around and saw George.
She ignored him.
“Why on the hell are you here? Do you want to get killed? Come on, we have to find a solution”. “There’s no other solution”, answered the princess. “The Dragon has been threatening my people for many weeks now, we can’t be under this risk anymore”. “But why you, why must it be you?”.
The Princess was about to answer, when a deafening roar sounded from inside the cave. Both, George and the Princess, looked inside. Smoke and flames could be distinguished in the dark. The Dragon was close.
“Come on, I won’t leave you here”, stated George. Then, he tried to grab the Princess, to take her away by force. “You don’t understand, Sir. I have to do this“, said her, getting rid of him.
Another terrible roar from inside…
“My parents. They… They gave their life for me. Many years ago, when I was a child. They saved my life and all the villager’s as well. I… I owe them this sacrifice. I have… I have to save my people. They need me. I’m the only one who can do this… The dragon will go away if I offer myself in exchange, I am sure… If my name was there is because this is my destiny… I am sure…”. The Princess struggled not to cry.
George, unconsciously, hugged her. He hugged her strongly, and he wished that moment never ended. Because, on that same moment, he understood what he saw earlier through the Princess’ eyes. She had a reason to fight for, she was marked by love, suffering and sacrifice, and thus she treated everybody in a different way. She was a brave and valuable warrior, a pure diamond laid on her heart. While he hugged her, George wished he’d never let her go. He’d do as efforts as needed to marry her and stay with her for the rest of his days. He’d do that if he got out of there alive…
“It’s alright… You’ll be safe. I promise“, he said.
At that moment, the Dragon appeared. George was absolutely astonished. The animal was about ten meters tall. It was disgustingly green and several flames came out from its mouth, as well as dirty smoke.
“Now you better go. Please, go now”, begged the Princess. Instead, George drawed his sword. He held it aiming to the dragon. Then, he glided aside and tried to hit the Dragon. He didn’t succeed, and one of the flames reached his arm. He screamed with pain. The sword fell, and he did as well. The Dragon approached him.
The beast was about to attack him. George couldn’t cope with so much pain, and the Dragon opened his mouth. He was about to kill George, but, suddenly, a black arrow, fast as thunder, reached the monster. The Black Princess was holding a bow. It distracted the Dragon, who faced the princess now. The beast hit the princess’ ankle. The black lady screamed with pain and fell down to the ground.
“Sir, now go and tell my people they’ll be safe. Tell them danger is over. Please, leave me here and go…” begged the Princess. The Dragon was roaring, about to kill her. She closed her eyes, as if she were praying… She didn’t look scared; she had accepted her fate.
Suddenly, the knight ran, took the sword and went back towards her. He stood between the princess and the animal. The Dragon attacked him, with his enormous mouth open, but then, in a magnificent and almost supernatural movement, George hammered his sword inside the Dragon’s mouth.
Lots and lots of thick blood came out from the Dragon’s neck, covering George’s body. The animal roared very loud, it sounded terrifyingly scary. The Dragon staggered to both sides, and finally fell to the ground. And so did George.
The Black Princess approached him, making efforts to walk due to her ankle wound.
“Do you think the Dragon is dead?”, asked George, trying to hide his pain.
“Yes… It looks like. But… My goodness, your wrist is wounded! Let me…”. The Princess covered George’s wrist with a blue bandage. “This will avoid the infection, Sir”.
Then, George’s eyes focused on another spot. Because, among the Dragon’s blood, something extraordinary was happening. A plant was emerging, as if it were magic. A big, precious red rose grew slowly up from the blood. That was the most beautiful flower they’d ever seen.
George, still in pain, took the red rose. It was riveting. He gave the rose to the princess.
“I think this should be yours…”. George took the Princess’ hand. He held it for a while, trying to understand what was he exactly feeling at that moment. As many other men around the world, George wasn’t very clever when it came to understand his own feelings.
“Well, let’s go back to the village. You need to get cured”, she said finally.
They rode slowly to the village. During the brief journey, they didn’t exchange a single word. It was actually strange.
They reached the village entrance; no one was there. Apparently, everybody thought the princess wouldn’t be back.
“Alright, Sir, let’s go inside to the nursery”.
But George wasn’t listening. He was staring at the rose, and then he looked at the Black Princess. And suddenly, everything made sense. Everything was clear now. He had that intuition again…
“No… I can’t go with you. I must go back home”.
The Princess looked surprised. “But… So soon? Why must you go now?”
George didn’t dare to answer. But the truth is that he felt he could not stay with the Black Princess. Not for a day, and let alone forever. That lady was exactly like the wonderful red rose. She was lovely, but she couldn’t be taken by anyone. No one on Earth deserved to stay with that woman, not even George (who some years later would be declared ‘saint’). She had a priceless treasure inside which must be kept away from anyone else. She was almost an angel -a black one, though-, whereas George… Well, he was no more than a mere human.
Besides, George was sure he was still needed in Europe. There were many people to be helped there. If he stayed in the far Africa, it’d be selfish. He’d be ignoring his own people. He felt the journey was already over; he’d discovered lots of things about himself and the fate God had thought for him.
George started stepping away, struggling against his pain. Not especially against his physical pain, but against his heart’s. Because… He might find the way to heal his wounds -in Europe medicine was already quite good, indeed-, but he had serious doubts about a healing for the loss he was about to suffer.
“Sir… “. George stopped, very tense. “When… When will I see you again?”. For the first time, the princess looked confused. Almost shocked.
George sighed. He knew the answer, he knew it perfectly (he was quite realistic, in the end), but he didn’t want to mention it. So he turned his head slightly towards her. For one brief instant, their eyes met each other’s.
“Fare thee well, my princess. Fare thee well…”
And he rode away, with a firm promise on his mind; he’d never stop praying for her, begging the Lord to take care of her as long as he wouldn’t be able to. He realized there was no better way to love that lady. It hurt, but it was terribly true. She’d always be his Black Princess, even if, as eventually happened, they never met again. But it didn’t matter at all, because he’d never forget how Goodness and Beauty met together within that lady, he’d never forget the great privilege of meeting the Black Princess and share some time with her.
He was thinking about all of this and, despite his temperance, he couldn’t help burst into tears. He cried a lot while he rode away, far, far away, towards the sunset, leaving behind the love of his life, who remained there forever, keeping a beautiful red rose that never, never got withered. It had to be like that.
It was their Destiny.
The facts that happened that very day were always remembered as the most true and inspiring legend from East to West Africa, and in the whole Europe as well. And that’s why, still today in Catalonia, men give their beloved women a meaningful red rose for Saint George’s Day, on April 23rd.