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


Saint James, the Champion of Spain, on parting from his comrades at the brazen pillar, took ship, and was wrecked on the coast of Sicily.

Travelling through the island, followed by his Squire, Pedrillo, he reached the foot of Etna, then terrifically spouting forth vast masses of flame and boiling metal, and ashes, and smoke. Unappalled by the sight, he climbed the mountain's height, where, perched on a pinnacle of rock, appeared a mighty bird, with fiery pinions -- a winged phoenix. No sooner did the monster see him than, darting down, it attacked him with its red-hot beak, for having dared thus to enter its dominions.

Saint James drew his trusty falchion, and, whirling it round his head, kept the fearful beak from approaching his helmet, for well he knew that one thrust from its deadly point would pierce through steel and skull as easily as a lady's bodkin through her kerchief.

The fearful combat lasted for many hours, till the monster, hopeless of triumph, flew back to its nest within the crater's fiery bosom.

The following day the fight was renewed, while the faithful Pedrillo stood at a distance, counting his rosaries, and called loudly on all the saints to aid his master. At length the Knight and the monster, seeing that no profit or glory was to be acquired, retired, by mutual consent, from the combat.

Saint James then passed into Africa, where, passing through a region infested by monsters, he slew so many that the inhabitants wished to adopt him as their Sovereign.

Crossing the Red Sea, he was once more shipwrecked, when, had not a troop of mermaids carried him and his Squire, with their horses and furniture to the shore, they would all have been drowned.

At length he reached the beautiful city of Ispahan, the capital of Persia. As he stood gazing on her fortified walls, built of pure silver; on her towers of jasper and ebony; on her glittering spires of gold and precious stones; on her houses of marble and alabaster, the streets between which were paved with tin -- he heard the cheerful echoes of a thousand brazen trumpets, and saw issuing from the brazen gates a hundred armed knights, bearing blood-red streamers in their hands, and riding on as many coal-black coursers; then came the Shah, guarded by a hundred tawny Moors, with bows, and darts feathered with ravens' wings; and after them rode Celestine, the Shah's fair daughter, mounted on an unicorn, and guarded by a hundred Amazonian dames, clad in green silk. In her hand was a javelin of silver, while her fair bosom was shielded by a breastplate of gold, artificially wrought with the scales of a crocodile. A vast concourse of gentlemen and squires followed, some on horse-back and some on foot.

Thus Nebazaradan, the Shah of Persia, rode forth with his daughter to the chase.

The country had been terribly overrun with wild beasts, and the Knight heard it proclaimed that the Shah would give a corselet of finest steel, inlaid with gold, to whomsoever killed the first wild beast that day.

|Come,| cried Saint James, |let us after the savage beasts, and win the corselet!|

Away scoured the Knight and his Squire over the plain till they reached a forest, in the confines of which they beheld a monstrous wild boar, devouring the remains of some passengers he had slain. The eyes of the brute sparkled like a furnace; his tusks were sharper than spikes of steel; and the breath, as it issued from his nostrils, seemed like a whirlwind; his bristles looked like so many spear-heads, and his tail was like a wreath of serpents.

Saint James blew his silver horn, which hung by a green silk scarf to the pommel of his saddle. The blast aroused the boar, who made at him furiously. His spear shivered against its bristly hide into a hundred fragments, when, leaping from his steed, which he directed Pedrillo to hold, he drew his falchion of Toledo steel, and valiantly on foot assailed the monster. From side to side he sprung to avoid its fearful tusks; but in vain did the point of his weapon seek an entrance to its case-hardened flesh. At last, unslinging his battle-axe, he clove the head of the monster down to the mouth, and with a second blow cut it completely off; then placing it on the staff of his spear, he ordered Pedrillo to bear it behind him.

Thus, riding on, he met the Shah and his daughter. The Shah at first was highly pleased with his prowess; but when he heard that he was a Christian Knight, his admiration was turned to rage, and he informed him that he must either become a Pagan worshipper of the sun or quit the country.

The Knight proudly answered that no one should make him quit the country unless of his own free will.

On this the Shah's army surrounded him and Pedrillo, and, after a desperate resistance on their parts, bore them to the ground.

|Now, Sir Knight, what will you do?| sneered the Shah. |However, you have killed the greatest boar in the country, and, as your reward, you shall choose the manner in which you and your Squire will be put to death.|

The Champion, who was gallant on all occasions, replied that he would be shot to death by the fair damsels he had seen going forth to the chase. But when they were informed of this, none were found willing to undertake the cruel office.

This so enraged the Shah, that he ordained that they should cast lots to decide who should perform the task. The lot fell on Celestine and one of her maidens. She was to kill the Knight, and her maiden Pedrillo. Instead, however, of death's fatal instrument, a steel-tipped arrow, she shot a sigh -- true messenger of love -- as did her maiden; and then she hastened to her father to entreat him, with bitter, scalding tears, to liberate the strangers. At last he yielded, on condition that they should forthwith quit the country.

Already had Saint James commenced his homeward journey, when, looking back on the towers of Ispahan, so inflamed was his heart with the love of Celestine, that he resolved to return and win her. He and Pedrillo, therefore, staining their skins with the juice of some blackberries, and at the same time habiting themselves in the costume of Moors, pretending to be dumb, returned to the city.

Then Saint James presented himself as an Indian knight, and, entering the army of the Shah, won such renown by his heroic deeds, that he was soon raised to the highest posts of honour.

Now, there came from the far east two sovereigns, claiming the hand of the fair Celestine; but she, thinking only of Saint James, refused to entertain their proposals.

At a great tournament given in their honour, they both, clothed in glittering armour, entered the lists; so did the seeming Moorish knight. What was the surprise of the King and all his courtiers to behold him overthrow them both! Then he rode up beneath the pavilion of the Princess Celestine, and exhibited to her a ring which she had long before given him. By this she knew that he was her own true knight. He soon found means to tell her of his love, and all that had happened, while Pedrillo did not forget to put in a word in his own favour with her maiden.

They agreed that very night to fly to Spain. Pedrillo, who was cunning in devices, turned their horses' shoes backwards, and thus, when they were seeking safety in the west, it appeared as if they were flying towards the east. Thus evading pursuit, they galloped on, crossed the Red Sea, and, travelling through Africa, the whole party arrived safely in that wondrous town of Seville, in Spain, where Saint James was born, and which justly holds itself, in consequence, in the very highest estimation.

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