Now it happened that the great Emperor of the East held a grand tournament at Constantinople, to which all the knights and nobles of Christendom were invited, to do honour to his nuptials with a princess he was about to wed. Thither came the Seven Champions, not knowing each other after their long separation, but each believing the others in some distant quarter of the globe. The Emperor had, however, pitched seven tents of seven different colours, wherein the Seven Champions might remain till the sound of the silver trumpets summoned them to appear. Seven days the tournament was to last, and each day a different Knight was to be Champion of the field.
The first day, Saint Denis of France, under the title of the Golden Knight, was the Champion. His tent was of the colour of the celandine, and on the summit flamed a sun of wondrous brilliancy.
His horse, an iron grey, was graced with a plume of gold-bespangled feathers. Before him rode the faithful Le Crapeau, bearing his banner, on which was designed the golden fleur-de-lys. Numberless were the foreign knights with whom he tilted, every one of whom he overthrew.
Next day, Saint James of Spain, habited in silver armour, rode forth as the Champion; his Squire, the faithful Pedrillo, bearing aloft four banners, on each of which were inscribed his names and titles, and those of his ancestors, so that not a spot of silk remained uncovered. Well he behaved himself, to the admiration of all beholders.
Clad in blue steel, and called the Azure Knight, on the third day, Saint Anthony of Italy rode forth as the chief Champion, attended by the faithful Niccolo, bearing his standard, an eagle on a field of blue. Above his tent was a smaller pavilion in the shape of a watch-tower, in which was seated, as spectatress of the fights, the Georgian Princess, the strong-minded Rosalinde, who had, by praiseworthy perseverance, and allowing no trifles to stand in her way, completely won the heart of Saint Anthony, and had become his bride. Well, also, did he, the Italian Champion, acquit himself, and many valiant knights were by his spear unhorsed.
On the fourth day, Saint Andrew of Scotland was the chief Challenger for the tournament. His tent was framed in the manner of a ship swimming on the waves of the sea, environed about with dolphins, tritons, and many strangely-contrived mermaids; on the top stood a figure of Neptune, the god of the sea, bearing in his hand a streamer, whereon, in one corner, was wrought a cross in crimson silk. He was called the Red Knight, for a blood-red cloth completely covered his charger. His worthy achievements obtained such favour in the Emperor's eyes, that he threw him his silver gauntlet, which was prized at a thousand portagues, and the which Murdoch McAlpine, lifting it from the ground, bore with no little satisfaction to his master's tent; where the Champion also retired, and after his noble encounters enjoyed a sweet repose.
The fifth day, Saint Patrick of Ireland, as chief Champion, entered the lists, mounted on an Irish hobby, covered with a green veil. He was attended by the faithful Terence O'Grady, in sylvan habit, bearing on his shoulder a blooming tree, his motto, virtus semper viret. His tent resembled a summer bower, formed chiefly of the shamrock, and beautified with wreaths of roses. He was named the Green Knight; but he was green only in name, for no Knight proved himself more accomplished, or performed nobler deeds.
Upon the sixth day, the famed Champion of Wales entered the lists, mounted on a Tartar steed, which was covered with a black cloth, to signify, as Owen ap Rice made known, that a black and tragical day was this for all Knights of every nation who durst approve his fortitude. On his shield was portrayed a silver griffin rampant, and upon a golden helmet, the ancient arms of Britain. His tent was in the form of a castle, the battlements guarded by numerous sturdy men-at-arms. His princely achievements not only obtained due commendations at the Emperor's hands, but all the fair and high-born dames present (so the faithful Owen ever afterwards averred) applauded him as the most noble Knight that ever shivered lance, and the most fortunate Champion that ever appeared at the Court of the Eastern Emperor.
Upon the seventh and last day, Saint George of England entered the lists as chief Challenger, mounted on a sable-coloured steed, betrapped with bars of burnished gold, and whose forehead was beautiful with a gorgeous plume of purple feathers, from whence hung many pendants of gold. The Knight's armour was of the purest steel inlaid with silver; his helmet was richly adorned with pearls and many precious stones; and on his banner, borne before him by the faithful De Fistycuff, was pictured, on a blood-red field, a lion rampant, bearing three crowns upon his head. His tent, white as the feathers of the swan, was supported by figures of four elephants of purest brass. Before it stood an ivory chariot, guarded by twelve coal-black negroes, and in it sat his lovely bride, the Princess Sabra, spectatress of the tournament. All eyes turned towards the English Champion, to gaze and admire. His steed bore him right nobly, and never gave encounter to any knight but both man and horse were speedily hurled helpless to the ground. That day the tournament lasted from the sun's up-rising till the evening star appeared, during which time he conquered five hundred of the hardiest knights of Asia, and shivered a thousand lances, to the admiration of all beholders.
The tournament being over, the Emperor sent to Saint George's tent a golden tree with seven branches, to be divided equally among the seven foreign Champions. There they all assembled; and what was their astonishment, when they removed their casques, to discover that they were the long parted and ancient comrades! Warmly they grasped each other's hands, and talked and laughed right pleasantly. High revelry, also, did they hold that evening in Saint George's tent, and told each other of their adventures, exploits, and achievements. Jovially they quaffed full golden beakers of rosy in wine, and many a jovial song they sang, and many a tale they told. All inquired who the lady could be who had been seen on the summit of Saint Anthony's tent; when he confessed that the strong-minded Princess Rosalinde of Georgia had won his heart and hand.
|She, then, is sister of the six lovely Princesses I had the happiness of being instrumental in turning from swans into young ladies. Your bride will be glad to hear that they appeared none the worse for their transformation!| exclaimed Saint Andrew.
|Ah! you do not know, then, what happened after you left the country, my cousin of Scotland!| cried Saint Patrick. |Ha! ha! ha! They all set off to follow you, unknown to their father. I met them in a wood with their six maidens, wandering alone, and had the satisfaction of rescuing them from the power of some unpleasant enemies, among whom they had fallen. I thought they would have found you out before now.|
|No, indeed, I have escaped them hitherto,| answered Saint Andrew, rubbing his hands. |One of them might have persuaded me to marry her, and that would not at all have suited me. I intend to remain a bachelor for many a year to come.|
|I wonder you did not offer to marry one of them, at least, my brave Irish friend,| observed Saint Anthony; |it would have been but in accordance with the acknowledged gallantry of your countrymen. I, too, should have been glad to have hailed you as a brother-in-law.|
|Faith! so I would have married one or all of them, if it hadn't been from the difficulty of making a selection, and hurting the feelings of the rest; for a more amiable collection of young ladies I never set eyes on; so I gave them a little chariot I had got, drawn by a few alligators and hippopotami, and advised them to go quietly back to their father's court, instead of gadding about the world as they were then doing. Whether or not they took my advice I cannot say, for when they went north I turned my horse's head, and, with my faithful Squire, rode away south.|
Many other similar adventures to these were told by the old comrades, of which there is no space to tell.
But if the Knights were merry, much more so were their Squires. Joyfully they discovered each other, and agreed to meet together in the tent of the faithful De Fistycuff. Right jovial was the meeting, and huge the amount of the viands they consumed, and innumerable the beakers of Samian and Falernian wine they quaffed. Merry the stories they told of their numberless adventures, and facetious the songs they sang. Each Squire boasted loudly of the deeds of his master, and of the country to which he belonged; but no one boasted louder than did the faithful Owen ap Rice, of Saint David especially, and of his own loved country, Wales. Terence O'Grady was not much behind him in that respect; while Murdoch McAlpine declared that Saint Andrew was one of the best of masters, and that if Scotland was not the finest and the largest country in the world, it was, at all events, the one he loved the best, just because it was Scotland and his native land.
|Your hand, old comrade,| exclaimed De Fistycuff, springing up, |that's the very reason why I like Merrie England. She has her faults, I'll allow; but though I've wandered nearly all the world around, there's no country in my mind to be compared to her, and with all her faults I love her still.|
|Bah!| exclaimed Le Crapeau, |she is not equal to la belle France, at all events.|
|Inferior to Italy, without doubt. Look, what noble people the ancient Romans were!| observed Niccolo, swallowing a handful of macaroni.
|The idea of comparing a little island to a magnificent territory like Spain!| cried Pedrillo. |Why, we were civilised, and a province of Rome, while the British were painted barbarians, unknown to all the rest of the world.|
Thus they disputed, but all in good humour, and many a joke was bartered on the subject. All things terrestrial must come to an end, and so did, at length, the Knights' banquet and the Squires' jovial supper.
The next day, scarcely had the Champions arisen from their downy couches, whereon they had rested their weary limbs, after the fatigues of the numberless combats in which they had been engaged, when it was announced that six foreign Princesses, of great beauty, had arrived in the capital, and had been witnesses of the tournament, in disguise. Some said they had come in one way, some in another; and among other descriptions of the mode in which they travelled, it was asserted that they came in a chariot, drawn by twelve tame alligators and as many hippopotami.
|The Georgian Princesses, a crown against a baubee!| exclaimed Saint Andrew, starting up from his couch. |Murdoch, go and find out, with all speed, and if it is the case, get ready our steeds and baggage without delay, or one of these strong-minded young ladies will be insisting on accompanying me to my ancestral halls in bonnie Scotland.|
|They've run their game to earth; there's no doubt about it,| cried Saint Patrick, who had been fond of sporting in his youth, when he heard the news. |They deserve our brushes for their pains; and one thing must be said in their favour, that they are very pretty young women, and not at all afflicted with the ordinary prejudices and bashfulness which stands in the way of so many young ladies in finding themselves comfortable establishments. What say you, Terence? Don't you think that I might go further and fare worse?|
|Ah! faith! noble Master, that you might, unless, mark me, you get back to old Ireland; and there it isn't much difficulty I'd have in finding many a score of sweet creatures, to whom, it's my belief, these Georgian Princesses couldn't hold a candle.|
The mention of his fair countrywomen (of whom Saint Patrick was a warm admirer, and who is not who knows them?) artfully thrown in by his Squire, turned the Knight from the intention he began to entertain of making one of the Princesses his bride.
When the Seven Champions met at breakfast, they talked the matter over with due gravity. They recollected that there were six ladies and only five bachelor knights, two only being benedicts.
|But suppose we five were to marry five of the Princesses, one still would be like puss in the corner -- she must be left out,| observed Saint Andrew, who was evidently the least inclined of any of the party to wed, and had arranged to start away directly after breakfast.
|Oh! one must become a nun,| observed Saint Patrick. |It's a mighty pleasant sort of life to those who don't like work, and are fond of being utterly useless.|
Scarcely was the breakfast over than the Champions were summoned into the presence of the Emperor; and there, seated around him, were the six Princesses of Georgia, radiant in beauty, and looking bewitching and killing in the extreme.
|Fair ladies, and right noble strong-minded Princesses, here are the Seven Champions of Christendom. It has come to our imperial knowledge that you have left the Court of my brother of Georgia, your royal father, for the purpose of wedding one, if not more, of these right valorous Champions, for in that matter there seems to be some little difficulty. Make your choice, therefore, most strong-minded Princesses; whom will you wed? For, from the observations I have made of these Knights' gallantry, I can pledge my imperial word that they will not refuse your moderate and modest requests.|
Now, the six Princesses, on hearing these words, looked unutterable things, and a roseate hue rushed into their lily-like cheeks; but their eyes did not wander up and down the hall among the Knights, for, with a constancy worthy of all admiration and imitation, they fixed them on Saint Andrew.
|He is the Knight who changed us from swans into maidens, he is the Knight, for love of whom we left our father's home, and in search of whom we wandered, all forlorn, the world up and down, and with him alone do any of us wish to wed.|
|Well spoken, fair Princesses,| observed the Emperor. |That much circumscribes the question, and decreases the difficulty. Which of you desires to wed with the gallant Christian Knight? For, remember, that only one wife can he have, whatever may be the custom in Asia.|
Saint Andrew, who had never feared mortal foe or foes, giants, wild beasts, or evil spirits, began at these words to tremble in his shoes, and to regret that he had not recommenced his travels by daybreak.
The strong-minded Princesses all sat looking at him.
|I'm the one to marry him,| cried the eldest.
The Champion's heart began to sink within him.
|I'm the one to marry him,| cried the second.
|But I'm the one to marry him,| cried the third.
|But I say that I'm the one to marry him,| cried the fourth.
|But I declare that I'm the one to marry him,| cried the fifth.
|You are all wrong!| exclaimed the sixth. |From the very first I am sure that it was understood clearly that I was to be his wife.|
|Stay, sweet Princesses,| observed the Emperor, calmly, |I see clearly that there has been some slight misunderstanding among you about this matter, and I am sure Saint Andrew is too gallant a Knight to desire to make any five of you unhappy, or jealous of the sixth. I, therefore, purpose to send you all back, under a proper escort, to your father's court, and I hope that you will there speedily find six noble knights to lead you to the altar of Hymen.|
The six strong-minded Princesses made very long faces at the decision of the Emperor; but, as his decisions were always final, they could make no reply; though, when they once more turned their eyes towards the Scottish Knight, the spectators could not but remark that their expression was very much changed, and Saint Andrew evidently thought it wise to keep at a respectful distance from their fingers.
|Certes, Master,| whispered Murdoch to Saint Andrew, |you are, to my belief, very well out of it.|
|It's a mighty easy way of settling the matter,| said Terence O'Grady, |but I wonder what the six serving maids are to do!|
History reports, however, that they went back to Georgia, married six stalwart knights, and lived very happily afterwards, as did their six fair attendants, who, in like manner, married six faithful squires, who all in time became knights and great lords of the realm.
After the tournament and all the festivities were over, the Seven Champions prepared to depart, each for his own country; but, ere they commenced their journey, news arrived that all the great Pagan Powers had banded together to overthrow the Christian Emperor of the East, who, therefore, sent to entreat all the aid they and their followers could afford. With one accord they promised to raise an army, and to hurry back to his assistance.
Saint George, leaving his youthful bride, the lovely Princess Sabra, in his castle near Coventry, soon levied a powerful army; and, setting sail, no longer as a knight-errant, but as a renowned general, he arrived with his forces on the coast of Portugal, where he was joined by the other six Champions, who each brought troops in proportion to the size of his country. So enchanted were the Portuguese with Saint George, that, having no Champion of their own, they entreated him to become theirs, and have ever since retained him among their most honoured saints and heroes. Here Saint George was chosen generalissimo of all the Christian forces, and, once more setting sail, he entered the Mediterranean. Then, landing on the coast of Morocco, he bethought him of punishing Almidor, the black King of that country, who was about to join the Pagan armies.
The Moors in vain endeavoured to prevent the landing of the Christian Champions. The battle was hot and furious. Almidor rushed to the van, where quickly he was singled out by Saint George. Terrific was the combat, and never before was the Moorish Monarch so hotly pressed.
Now he had prepared, in full expectation of victory, a vast cauldron of boiling metal, in which he purposed, with fell intent, to cast the Christian Champions and their followers; but when at length, unable any longer to withstand the far-famed sword of Saint George, he fled in despair, to cast himself headlong in, and his example being followed by his generals and chief officers, the furious battle was brought to a speedy end, and the Princess Sabra was well avenged for the cruelties the black Almidor had inflicted on her.
Scarcely had this satisfactory event been brought about than Saint George received the unwelcome news that the Earl of Coventry was besieging his castle in England, for the purpose of carrying off the Lady Sabra, his bride, and now the mother of three blooming boys, -- the wicked Earl having spread a report that the great Champion of England, whom no other foe could conquer, had yielded to the inevitable hand of death.
The brave Knight hastened back with the speed of lightning, when sad was the sight which met his eyes. His castle was burnt to the ground, and his lady had been carried off by the wicked Earl, and, as she had refused all his offers of marriage, had been accused of witchcraft, and lay in prison, condemned to be burned alive. What had become of his three blooming boys he could not tell.
Putting spurs to his horse, the Knight and De Fistycuff galloped into Coventry. There he met the Earl going out hunting; and there, in mortal combat, he laid him low.
Scarcely had the Earl breathed his last, acknowledging with his dying breath the lady's innocence, than the Princess Sabra was led forth to execution. Quickly her guards were put to flight, and mounting her on his horse, he bore her off to a neighbouring forest, where he might defy pursuit.
There, as they wandered up and down, one day they espied three beauteous boys, sleeping on a bed of roses, beneath a shady bower. The parents' hearts told them that the children were their own. They flew towards them, when they saw, seated at the further end of the bower a beautiful lady. Instantly Saint George knew her as the kind Fairy who so often before befriended him, and who had now saved his children from the burning castle. Again and again he thanked the Fairy, who, smiling sweetly, vanished from his sight.
Leaving his children under the care of those wise tutors, named Industry, Attention, and Teachableness, taking his wife, he once more set out to rejoin the army engaged in the war with the Pagans.