The Legend of Ulenspiegel by Charles de Coster Book III Chapter 13

Ulenspiegel and Riesencraft having taken seconds, the latter said that the two soldiers were to fight on foot to the death, if the conqueror wished, for such were Riesencraft’s conditions.

The scene of the conflict was a little heath.

Early in the morning, Riesencraft donned his archer’s array. He put on his salade with the throat piece, without visor, and a mail shirt with no sleeves. His other shirt being fallen into pieces, he put it in his salade to make lint of it if need was. He armed himself with an arbalest of good Ardennes wood, a sheaf of thirty quarrels, with a long dagger, but not with a two-handed sword, which is the archer’s sword. And he came to the field of battle mounted upon his charger, carrying his war saddle and the plumed chamfron, and all barded with iron.

Ulenspiegel made up for himself an armament for a nobleman; his charger was a donkey; his saddle was the petticoat of a gay wench, his plumed chamfron was of osier, adorned above with goodly fluttering shavings. His barde was bacon, for, said he, iron costs too much, steel is beyond price, and as for brass in these later days, they have made so many cannon out of it that there is not enough left to arm a rabbit for battle. He donned for headgear a fine salade that had not yet been devoured by the snails; this salade was surmounted by a swan’s feather, to make him sing if he was killed.

His sword, stiff and light, was a good long, stout cudgel of pinewood, at the end of which there was a besom of branches of the same tree. On the left hand of his saddle hung his knife, which was of wood likewise; on the right swung his good mace, which was of elderwood, surmounted with a turnip. His cuirass was all holes and flaws.

When he arrived in this array, at the field of the duel, Riesencraft’s seconds burst out laughing, but he himself remained unbending from his sour face.

Ulenspiegel’s seconds then demanded of Riesencraft’s that the German should lay aside his armour of mail and iron, seeing that Ulenspiegel was armed only in rags and pieces. To which Riesencraft gave consent. Riesencraft’s seconds then asked Ulenspiegel’s how it came that Ulenspiegel was armed with a besom.

“You granted me the stick, but you did not forbid me to enliven it with foliage.”

“Do as you think fit,” said the four seconds.

Riesencraft said never a word and cropped down with little strokes of his sword the thin stalks of the heather.

The seconds requested him to replace his sword with a besom, the same as Ulenspiegel.

He replied:

“If this rascal of his own accord chose a weapon so out of the way, it is because he imagines he can defend his life with it.”

Ulenspiegel saying again that he would use his besom, the four seconds agreed that everything was in order.

They were set facing each other, Riesencraft on his horse barded with iron, Ulenspiegel on his donkey barded with bacon.

Ulenspiegel came forward into the middle of the field of combat. There, holding his besom like a lance:

“I deem,” said he, “fouler and more stinking than plague, leprosy, and death, this vermin brood of ill fellows who, in a camp of old soldiers and boon companions, have no other thought than to carry round everywhere their scowling faces and their mouths foaming with anger. Wherever they may be, laughter dares not show itself, and songs are silent. They must be forever growling and fighting, introducing thus alongside of legitimate combat for the fatherland single combat which is the ruin of an army and the delight of the enemy. Riesencraft here present hath slain for mere innocent words one and twenty men, without ever performing in battle or skirmish any act of distinguished bravery or deserved the least reward by his courage. Now it is my pleasure to-day to brush the bare hide of this crabbed dog the wrong way.”

Riesencraft replied:

“This drunkard has had tall dreams of the abuse of single combats: it will be my pleasure to-day to split his head, to show everybody that he has nothing but hay in his brain-box.”

The seconds made them get down from their mounts. In so doing Ulenspiegel dropped from his head the salad which the ass ate quietly and slyly; but the donkey was interrupted in this job by a kick from one of the seconds to make him get out of the duelling enclosure. The same treatment fell to the lot of the horse. And they went off elsewhere to graze in company.

Then the seconds, carrying broom – these were Ulenspiegel’s pair, and the others, carrying sword – they were Riesencraft’s, gave the signal for the fray with a whistle.

And Riesencraft and Ulenspiegel fell to fighting furiously, Riesencraft smiting with his sword, Ulenspiegel parrying with his besom; Riesencraft swearing by all devils, Ulenspiegel fleeing before him, wandering through the heather obliquely and circling, zigzagging, thrusting out his tongue, making a thousand other faces at Riesencraft, who was losing his breath and beating the air with his sword like a mad trooper. Ulenspiegel felt him close, turned sharp and sudden, and gave him a great whack under the nose with his besom. Riesencraft fell down with arms and legs stretched out like a dying frog.

Ulenspiegel flung himself upon him, besomed his face up and down and every way, pitilessly, saying:

“Cry for mercy or I make you swallow my besom!”

And he rubbed and scrubbed him without ceasing, to the great pleasure and joy of the spectators, and still said:

“Cry for mercy or I make you eat it!”

But Riesencraft could not cry, for he was dead of black rage.

“God have thy soul, poor madman!” said Ulenspiegel.

And he went away, plunged in melancholy.