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The Seven Champions Of Christendom by W. H. G. Kingston


Even the Enchantress wondered at the progress in the arts and sciences her captive was making; but, as she knew that he was destined to become a great man, she was aware that she could not hope to stop his progress. All she could do was to keep him shut up till fate set him free. One day the friendly fairy addressed the Prince: -- |Know,| she said, |the Enchantress sleeps once, and once only, for one week every hundred years. Her magic art depends on her silver wand, which on that occasion she hides away so carefully that it is scarcely possible to discover it. Still, we will search. For that opportunity I have long been waiting. If we can possess ourselves of it, she will be completely in our power, and we can work our will within the magic cavern. Know also that I am an English fairy, Sabrina by name. I love you because you are kind to me, and because you come of an honest English stock. If we can overcome the Enchantress, I will enable you to commence that career of glory for which I know that your heart is even now thirsting.| The young Prince's heart beat high with joy and hope on hearing these words.

Anxiously they watched the Enchantress, to try and discover where she would place her silver wand. Day after day they followed her through all the vast interminable recesses of her magic cavern. Every day she grew more drowsy and less inclined to speak; which is not surprising, considering how long she had been awake, and how sleepy she must have become.

In spite of all this vigilance, however, at last she appeared without her silver wand; and soon after they saw her sink down on a couch of rose-leaves she had prepared for herself in a sumptuous apartment, where, had it not been for her hideous countenance, where all the malignant passions were portrayed, she would have looked like a sovereign resting on her bed of state. The Prince was eager instantly to set off to look for the silver wand.

|Stay,| whispered the Fairy Sabrina, |she yet deeps with one eye open, like a weasel; wait till she closes both, and snores.| Accordingly they waited till both Kalyb's eyes were closed, and loud snores echoed along the vaulted roof. Then off they set.

|Nothing worth having can be gained without toil and trouble,| observed the Dwarf, as he parted from the Prince. All the other attendants of the Enchantress had taken the opportunity to go to sleep likewise; so silence profound reigned throughout the cavern, broken only by her snores. The Prince searched and searched in every direction, under heaps of costly jewels and glittering robes, piles of gold and silver, and rich armour; but they had now no charms for him: the silver wand which was to set him free to commence his noble career was all he sought for -- that wand, the type of knowledge, which can only be obtained by study and perseverance. Day after day he sought for it; but at the end of each day all he could say was that he believed he could tell where it was not. The Dwarf came back equally unsuccessful; but still numberless heaps had been turned over, intricate passages explored, profound depths dived into, and unthought of recesses in the cavern discovered.

Five days had thus passed away; the Prince knew more about the cavern than he had ever known before; the sixth day came, and that, too, ended. He had added to his knowledge, but the silver wand had not been found. He became anxious, as well he might. On the seventh the Enchantress would awake and resume her power.

More diligently than ever he searched about; the Dwarf seconded his efforts. Before him appeared, as he wandered on, a golden door. After many a hearty shove he forced it open. A steep flight of rugged stone steps led winding upwards he knew not where. Boldly he entered, and climbed on, on, on. Though rough and steep were the steps he did not weary or hesitate. Sometimes the stair was spiral, and he went round and round, and sometimes it led him directly upwards. Scarcely a glimmer of light enabled him to find his way; but the Dwarf was at his heels, encouraging him, and he recollected the silver wand of which he was in search, and persevered. Strong and healthy as he was he began to draw his breath quickly, when the full light of the glorious sun burst on him, and he found himself in a magnificent temple of alabaster, on the summit of a lofty mountain.

From the windows of the temple he could behold the whole surrounding country to a vast distance, far, far beyond the forest which grew round the base of the mountain. There were cities and palaces, and silvery streams, and rich fields, and glowing orchards, and meadows full of cattle, and grassy downs covered with sheep -- such a scene as he had not beheld since his boyhood, when Kalyb first got possession of him. He stood contemplating it with delight. How long he might have stood it is impossible to say, when the sound of a distant church-bell was wafted up to his ears. It reminded him that the hour was approaching when the dreadful Kalyb would awake.

He thought to make his escape out of the temple, but that he found was impossible; the walls of the tower in which he stood were a hundred feet high, with pointed iron spikes below, to catch any who might fall on them. Again must he sink into the power of the cruel Kalyb? His brave heart rebelled at the thought; he would dare and do anything to avoid it.

He spoke aloud. |You are right,| said the Dwarf; |but look! what is that?| He turned his head, and beheld before him, on a velvet cushion, which covered a marble table, the silver wand of which he had been so long in search. He grasped it eagerly.

|Follow me,| said the Dwarf, hastening onward, |no time is to be lost.| Down the steps they sped. |No time is to be lost,| cried the Dwarf again. Faster, faster went the Prince's feet. On he rattled -- on -- on -- often several steps at a time. Nothing stopped him. The bottom was reached; the massive door was closed; in vain he pushed against it. He touched it with his silver wand; open it flew. Along the vaulted passages of the cavern he sped. Many a hideous monster started up, but a wave of the silver wand put them to flight.

The Prince and his attendant reached the chamber of the Enchantress. Her snoring had ceased. She had begun to rub her eyes and move uneasily, with many a grunt and snort. She was about to awake. Who could have told what mischief one glance of her evil eye would have effected. |Strike! strike!| said the Fairy. The Prince struck the bed. Instantly loud shrieks and groans, and cries most terrific, were heard filling the air, and shouts most horrible of mocking laughter, and bellowings, and roarings, and hissings, and the walls of the chamber began to rock, and the bed began to sink, and flames burst forth, and stenches most overwhelming arose. The horrible noises increased till dense lurid vapours concealed the spot where the Enchantress's chamber had been, though her helpless cries were heard far, far down in the depths of the earth; and the Prince found himself standing in the wild cavern, but, in the place of the Dwarf, there stood a beautiful Fairy by his side. |I prepared you for a change,| said the Fairy, with a smile; |but come, we are not the only ones to be set free. Let us not forget our companions in misfortune any more than those in our prosperity.|

The Prince made the politest of bows, and said he was completely under the Lady Sabrina's directions. |Then come with me,| she said, and led the way till they reached a vast castle of brass, with battlements and towers glittering in the sun. |Within this castle lie imprisoned six valiant knights, worthy champions of Christendom, bemoaning their hard fate, and longing to be free. Had the vile Kalyb retained her power, you would have been shut up there likewise. But know, brave Prince, as by your perseverance, valour, and judgment you have overcome her and her enchantments, it is destined that you shall become the seventh and most renowned of all, and so I hail you as `Saint George of Merrie England.' Thus you shall be called for ages yet to come, wherever England's might and England's deeds throughout the world are known.| The roseate hue of modesty suffused the cheek of the young knight as he heard these words, and he vowed that he would ever strive to prove worthy of the honourable title he had received.

Then thrice he struck the gates of the brazen castle. The portals flew open, and he and the Fairy entering, found the six knights sitting lonely and sad in separate chambers, not knowing what had happened. They started as they heard the voice of Sabrina mentioning their names.

|The first is Saint Denis of France,| said she. With many a bow he rapidly sprang forward and saluted Saint George. The second, Saint James of Spain, slowly stalked on, and lifting his casque bowed haughtily. The third, Saint Anthony of Italy, advanced more rapidly, and, with a flourish of his helmet, gave him an embrace. Saint Andrew of Scotland, the fourth, rising from his couch, inquired whence he had come, and whither he was going, and thanked him for the valour he had displayed; while Saint Patrick, the fifth, almost wrung off his hand, as he expressed his delight in meeting so gallant a knight; and the sixth, Saint David of Wales, vowed that no pleasure could surpass what he felt at being thus set free by a knight second only to himself in all knightly accomplishments.

Besides the knights, six faithful squires, who had followed their fortunes for many years, lay imprisoned in a separate dungeon. These also Saint George had the great satisfaction of setting free; when once more they rejoined their beloved masters, and assisted, as was their wont, in preparing them for their journey.

Then Saint George and all the knights, following Sabrina, led the way to the stables of the castle, where stood, ready caparisoned, seven of the most superb steeds mortal eye ever beheld. |Six of them are for those brave knights,| she said; |the seventh, Bayard by name, is reserved for you; while six other most excellent horses are for their six faithful squires.|

The knights, eager to be gone, mounted their steeds, as did their squires theirs, while Sabrina conducted Saint George back to the castle, where, in a chamber, hung numberless suits of the most magnificent armour. Choosing out the strongest corselet, Sabrina buckled it on his breast; she laced on his helmet, and completely clothed him in glittering steel. Then bringing forth a mighty falchion, she placed it in his hand, and said: -- |No monarch was ever clothed in richer armour. Of such strength and invincible power is your steed, that while you are on his back no knight shall be able to conquer you. Your armour is of steel so pure that no battle-axe can bruise, no weapon pierce it. Your sword, which is called Ascalon, was made by the Cyclops. It will hew asunder the hardest flint, or cut the strongest steel, and in its pummel such magic virtue lies, that neither treason nor witchcraft can prevail against you, or any violence be offered as long as you wear it.|

The good fairy thus having spoken, Saint George, fully caparisoned, went forth from the castle, and mounting Bayard, prepared with the other champions to leave the Black Forest -- Sabrina, in her own chariot, drawn by ten peacocks, leading the way. Just then a stranger appeared in sight, sad and sorrowful, travelling on.

|De Fistycuff!| exclaimed Saint George, in a cheerful voice, |my honest parent's faithful squire.| De Fistycuff started, as well he might, and rushed forward. He knew the voice, but whence it had come he could not tell. Saint George tore off his corselet, and exposed to view the green dragon on his bosom. Thus De Fistycuff knew who it was, and, embracing him, burst into tears. Having recovered himself, and once more buckled on his young master's armour, De Fistycuff mounted his steed.

Then the whole party set forward, and travelled on till they reached the coast. Then they took shipping, and, at Saint George's particular request, proceeded to his paternal castle, near the beautiful city of Coventry. There having dwelt for the space of nine months, and erected a sumptuous monument over the grave of the hapless princess, Saint George's mother, they expressed their desire to set forth once more in search of those noble adventures to which they had devoted their lives. Saint George, nothing loath, promised to accompany them, and the faithful De Fistycuff entreated that he might not be left behind; so, all accoutred, and lavishly supplied with everything they required, they set forth with their faithful squires, and travelled on till the time arrived for their separating in different directions. What then befell them, and what wondrous deeds they performed, shall in course of time be told.

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