The last but not the least of all the Seven Champions to be mentioned famed for heroic courage and gallantry is that most noble and renowned Knight, Saint David of Wales. After he had quitted the brazen pillar, followed by his faithful attendant, Owen ap Rice, he proceeded towards the up-rising of the sun, visiting many of the courts of the first monarchs of Europe, attending many tournaments, engaging in many desperate battles, and performing innumerable heroic deeds; which his faithful Squire took very great care to recount, nor did he allow his histories to lose anything in the telling. Wonderful indeed were the numbers of foes his master's sword had slain; huge were the giants he had overthrown; savage were the wild beasts he had slaughtered; terrific were the monsters he had put to flight; powerful were the magicians whose guiles he had circumvented; and horrible were the spirits, and ghosts, and goblins amid whom he had fought his onward way; indeed few could hear the faithful Owen recount his master's deeds, and eke his own, without being impressed with the belief that more heroic Knight did not exist, nor more brave and trusty Squire.
Thus they journeyed on till Europe was left behind; and entering the ancient continent of Asia, they arrived at the court of the far-famed Emperor of Tartary. Here Saint David's fame had preceded him, and they were received with all that courtesy which to so valiant a Knight was due.
On the day of their arrival a sumptuous entertainment was prepared, at which all the chief lords and nobles of the realm were present, when huge beakers of rosy wine were quaffed; nor could anyone compete with Saint David in the quantity of the generous liquor he imbibed. For the following day a grand tournament was arranged, when it was expected that the noblest feats of arms ever beheld in the empire would be performed.
From far and near came valiant knights from all the neighbouring provinces, habited in every conceivable style of richest armour; yet none surpassed Saint David in the sumptuousness of his plume and burgonet, the trappings of his steed, the richness of his scarf, the splendour of his shield and breastplate, or of his whole armour, which, from his lofty helm to his knightly spurs, shone with resplendent beauty. Numerous champions entered the lists, and many desperate encounters took place. At length Saint David rode in, followed by the faithful Owen carrying his spear. The trumpets sounded, Saint David took his spear, and shaking it aloft prepared for the encounter. A Knight, one of the chief nobles of Tartary, was his first opponent. Of blue steel was his casque, and armour, and mighty shield, while a blue scarf floated from his shoulders. Bravely the Tartar Knight bore himself, and bravely he withstood the terrible shock of Saint David's lance. A second time the two Knights charged, when Saint David, mustering all his powers, struck the Tartar a blow so terrible that he sent him reeling from his saddle, and with a hollow groan he fell senseless on the ground; but time will not permit an account of each separate combat of that far-famed tournament.
Six valiant Knights did Saint David meet, each of whom was vanquished by his arm. At length, the only son and heir of the Emperor, seeing that no more worthy antagonist could be found, and willing to retrieve the disgrace he conceived his countrymen had received, entered the lists, and bravely challenged the Champion of Wales. The heart of the gallant Saint David bounded at the thought of engaging in so noble a contest as that with the Emperor's son, and he declared himself ready to commence the course whenever it was the pleasure of the noble prince to meet his lance.
|No time like the present, Sir Knight,| replied the gallant Tartar, who was arrayed in armour of rare and curious workmanship, studded all over with gold and precious gems.
|It were a pity to slay so brave a prince,| thought Saint David; |yet for the honour of my country, than which no nobler exists, as also for my own, than whom no...| (what Saint David thought need not be repeated). |If he presses me it must be done.|
The trumpets sounded, the steeds sprang forward, the ground trembled beneath their feet, clouds of dust arose in the air; terrific was the shock, but both Knights kept their seats, though both were sorely pressed. Again they charged, with a like result. A third time they met, and Saint David felt that he was reeling in his saddle; but recovering himself by a mighty effort, he prepared for another and more desperate encounter. Little wotted the proud son of the great Emperor of all the Tartars with what a doughty Champion he had to contend; little thought he of the gallant heroes that far-distant land of Cambria was able to produce. Shaking his spear, he shouted loudly to Saint David to prepare himself for an overthrow. The Welsh Knight only grasped his own spear the tighter in consequence, and pressed his knees the firmer against his charger's sides.
|And the Prince expects that he is going to throw my master, does he?| observed the faithful Owen. |Let him beware of Saint David; I may tell him he has borne down to the ground twelve as good men as he is, with one thrust of his lance, before now.|
The trumpets sounded, and the Tartar Prince and the Champion of Wales met in the middle of the lists. Terrific was the encounter; the spear of the Tartar Prince was shivered into a thousand fragments; but the Welsh Knight, with true gallantry, let his fall by his side, and grasped his battle-axe, that they might light on equal terms. Already, however, had the spear inflicted a desperate wound on the Prince's side; but his pride would not let him yield. Now sparks of fire flew thickly around them from the extraordinary rapidity of their strokes, so that they appeared to be fighting in the midst of a furnace (so Owen the faithful Squire ever afterwards averred), till at length Saint David's axe descended with force so terrific on the helm of the Tartar Prince that he clove it in two, nor did the cruel weapon stop till it had pierced the brain of the hapless heir to the throne of the great Emperor of Tartary.
When the spectators beheld what had occurred, loud cries of grief, anger, and dismay rent the air; the great Emperor and all his courtiers, from the highest to the lowest, crying louder than anyone else. The lists were immediately broken up, and the Emperor, ordering the Welsh Knight to be brought before him, retired into his palace. The obsequies of that precious jewel of Tartary, now dimmed by death, being concluded, the Emperor, having ceased his woeful lamentations and sad sighs, thus addressed the Welsh Champion: --
|Know that there dwells on the borders of Tartary a mighty Magician, Ormandine by name who holds an enchanted castle and garden, within the magic walls of which whoever enters never again returns. Now truly, although thou deservest death for what thou hast done, yet if thou wilt adventure into the Magician's domains, and bring hither his head, I grant thee not only life, but therewithal the crown of Tartary after my death.|
This strange adventure highly pleased the noble Champion of Wales, and he expressed himself ready forthwith to depart about it. On which the Emperor bound him by his oath of knighthood, and by the love he bore his native country, never to follow any other adventure till he had performed the promise he now had given.
In three days he and the faithful Owen, having made all preparation, were ready to set out.
Travelling eastward for many a weary day, though conversing pleasantly to beguile the way, they at length reached the confines of a dreadful forest, the trees twisting and twining in every direction, and briars and creepers of all sorts, with long thorns and hooks, hanging from all the branches. Mysterious flames seemed to be bursting forth, wavering and flickering in the dark recesses of the forest, while amid the boughs flew birds of evil omen, night-owls, and ravens, and bats, and other winged things of hideous form, with harsh and croaking voices. Within this forest, so Saint David had learned, stood the castle of the Magician Ormandine.
|My faithful Owen,| he exclaimed, |by my honour and my oath of knighthood, I am bound to enter and to traverse this strange and woeful wood; but do you wait my return without, and if I never do return, go to my kinsmen, in our native land, and tell them all about my sad and melancholy end.|
The faithful Owen, on hearing these words, burst into tears, and replied: |My long-loved honoured Master, if there were ten thousand forests, and if in each thrice ten thousand ill-doing necromancers lived, and if through each you had to fight your way, I would remain steadfast by your side, and fight as long as arm, and hand, and sword could do their work.|
|Then onward into this dreadful forest, my faithful Owen, let us go!| exclaimed Saint David, drawing his sword, and beginning to hew away at the creepers and briars which impeded their progress. In this labour he was ably seconded by the faithful Owen; and thus, by slow degrees, they worked their onward way. As they proceeded, the shouts and shrieks increased, the sky overhead was filled with lurid meteors, and hideous and ill-omened birds flew thickly around their heads, screeching their terrific notes into the ears of the adventurous strangers.
|Few things worth having can be obtained without difficulty and perseverance,| exclaimed Saint David, as he went on cutting and cutting away at the creepers. |As to all the hooting, and the screeching, and crying which assail our ears, it cannot hurt us if we take no heed to it. Few noble enterprises have ever been undertaken without numbers of people, like those hideous night-owls, endeavouring to hoot them down.|
Thus manfully cutting and hewing away, they at length came in sight of the dark and frowning, damp, and moss-overgrown walls of an ancient castle. Near it was a huge rock, still more damp and moss-covered than the castle-walls. In this rock, by magic art, was enclosed a sword, the hilt being the only part which could be seen. It was of steel work, engraven curiously, and set with jaspers, sapphires, and other precious gems. Around the pommel was engraven, in golden letters, the following words: --
|By magic spells remain most firmly bound,
The world's strange wonder unknown by anyone,
Till that a knight within the north be found
To pull the sword from out this rock of stone:
Then end my charms, my magic arts and all,
By whose strong hand sage Ormandine must fall.|
|A northern knight! -- that must mean me,| exclaimed Saint David. |Undoubtedly, I am destined to pull the magic sword from out of that rock. See how I'll do it!| On this, dismounting from his steed, he grasped hold of the hilt, and began to pull and pull away right manfully; but in vain he pulled, and tugged, and hauled; not a hundredth part of an inch had he drawn forth of the sword, but, still persevering, he would not let go. At length, the faithful Owen entreated that he might be allowed to come and help. Then Knight and Squire tugged and tugged away, but still the sword would not move. Next, putting both their hands to the huge hilt, and their feet against the rock, they bethought them most surely that they would move it. Scarcely, however, had they in that guise begun to pull, than there arose around them fearful shouts of mocking laughter, and, the gates of the castle opening wide, twelve hideous dwarfs, with faces black as coal, and bodies horribly deformed, issued forth, and bearing in their hands some iron chains, which clanged as they moved, approached, with grinning mouths and threatening gestures, the Knight and his Squire.
Saint David and the faithful Owen would fain have let go the richly gemmed hilt of the magic sword, but when they strove to do so they found their hands clinched firmly to it. Now they struggled as much to free their hands as before they had to draw out the sword. But in vain was all their tugging and struggling.
The dwarfs stood round awhile to enjoy their dismay, and then throwing the iron chains around them, they bound them in fetters which no earthly power could undo, and carried them away, helpless as infants in their nurses' arms, to the magic castle. There, in the centre of an iron hall of vast dimensions and sombre hue -- the only light emitted from a lurid torch burning at the further end -- on iron beds, of which a countless number appeared ranged around, lay writhing the victims which the fell Magician's cruelty had left bound. There, for many years, till the full term of seven was accomplished, we, too, will leave them, daily visited by the Enchanter Ormandine, who came to mock at, and gloat over their misery.
|Ah! ah!| he exclaimed, with a voice croaking like ten thousand frogs, and loud as thunder, |you came to cut off my head, and carry the gory trophy to the Emperor; but now you find, my friends, you've caught a Tartar.|
Notwithstanding, however, this conduct of the Enchanter, his chief captive was not so miserable as he supposed. A kind fairy all the time watched over him; and as Saint David lay on his couch she sent four of her attendant spirits, in the form of damsels, of no mean beauty, who tended him with the gentlest care, and brought him fruits and other luxuries, which they offered whenever he awoke, and then sang him to sleep again with their sweet voices, so that his time passed far more agreeably than would certainly otherwise have been the case, or the Enchanter had any idea of.