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


The adventures of the great Saint Anthony of Italy, after he parted from his friends at the brazen pillar, are now to be described. Taking ship, like Father Aeneas of old, he and his attendant Squire traversed the Mediterranean Sea, only he sailed eastward, while the pious Aeneas sailed westward, over it. Numberless were the adventures he encountered.

Now his ship was tossed by storms, now pursued by a huge sea monster, with jaws so wide that the affrighted mariners believed that it was about to swallow up bodily both them and their ship; but Saint Anthony, putting on his armour, and standing on the poop, brandished his spear so manfully in the monster's face that he effectually kept him at bay. His faithful Squire shouted also with such good effect, that the monster was fain to turn tail and to leave the ship and its honoured freight to proceed unmolested.

At length Asia's ancient shores were reached, and travelling on, performing every day unheard-of wonders, combating with terrible monsters, and destroying wild beasts innumerable, he and Niccolo arrived at the far-famed kingdom of Georgia.

They wandered on till they began to ascend, amid narrow defiles and dark gorges, the rugged ranges of the mighty Caucasus, high above which Elborus towers with gigantic splendour. As they climbed upwards, higher and higher, there appeared before them a marble castle with gates of brass, which they guessed, from inquiries they had made, belonged to the giant Blanderon. Over the principal gate were these verses: --

|Within this castle lives the scourge of kings;
A furious giant, whose unconquer'd power
The Georgian monarch in subjection brings,
And keeps his daughters prisoners in his tower:
Seven damsels fair this monstrous giant keeps,
That sing him music while he nightly sleeps.

|His sword of steel a thousand knights have felt,
Who for these maidens' sakes have lost their lives; Yet, though on many knights he hath death dealt,
This most inhuman giant still survives.
Let simple passengers take heed in time,
When up this mountain height they thoughtless climb.

|But knights of worth, and men of noble mind,
If any chance to travel by this tower,
That for these maidens' sake will be so kind
To try their strength against the giant's power,
Shall have a maiden's prayer, both day and night,
To prosper them with good successful fight.|

These lines were placed there by the power of the good fairy of Asia, and were unseen by the Giant, or he would not, it is presumed, have allowed them to remain. They so encouraged the valiant Knight, that, resolving to liberate the ladies, he struck so mighty a blow on the gate of the castle, with the pommel of his sword, that it sounded like a clap of the loudest thunder.

On hearing it, Blanderon, who had been asleep, started up, and came forth to the gate with a huge oak-tree in his hand, which he flourished about his head as if it had been a light battle-axe, in a loud voice comparing the Knight's spear to a bulrush, and threatening to hurl him and his Squire down the side of the mountain.

|Words without deeds are mere empty things,| retorted the Knight. |Try what you can do.|

And giving his steed to his Squire to hold, he drew his trusty falchion, and stood ready to receive the onslaught of his huge antagonist. Blanderon, however, flourished his oak so furiously that Saint Anthony had to jump here and there with the greatest activity to avoid his strokes.

Now the very earth seemed to shake; now the castle-walls resounded with the blows. The Knight relaxed not a moment in his efforts, for he saw that the Giant was stout; and as the sun's heat was very great, he panted more and more till the moisture from his brows ran down into his eyes, and almost blinded him. Observing this, the Knight plied him with his battle-axe more vigorously than before, till he was compelled to seek for safety within his castle-walls; but ere he reached them he let fall from his grasp his huge oak-tree; on which Saint Anthony, redoubling his efforts, smote him so fiercely, that he sunk down on his knees, unable to fly further. Still undaunted, the Giant drew a dagger twice the size of any ordinary two-handed sword. With this he struck right and left so rapidly that the Knight had hard work indeed to escape its blows, and still greater to discover a spot in his huge body in which he might plant a deadly one in return.

At length, however, the Giant grew weary, and Saint Anthony, springing forward, with one stroke clove his hideous head almost in twain. Then, with another blow he cut it off, and handed it to Niccolo, to be carried before him as a trophy of his prowess. So violent, however, had been the efforts of the Knight that he also sank fainting on the ground, when his faithful Squire, believing him to be dead, knelt by his side, and, weeping, mourned bitterly his loss.

Now, it happened that the lovely Rosalinde, one of the daughters of the King of Georgia, who had been taken captive by the Giant, looked over the battlements, and seeing his headless trunk guessed that he had been slain by some gallant knight, and that the end of her servitude had arrived.

Descending to the gate, she beheld the seeming lifeless body of the Champion, and, kneeling opposite to Niccolo, joined her salt tears with his in mourning the fate of so brave a Knight. Then, remembering that there were some precious balms within the castle, she went and fetched them; and having applied them to the limbs of the Champion, their effect was so great that he instantly revived, and sitting up gazed at her with admiration, and inquired who she was. They entreated him to wait till he had been fed and rested within the castle.

While the faithful Niccolo watched by his master's couch, as he slept, the lady Rosalinde was preparing delicates for his repast.

He at length awoke, restored to health and strength; and then, by the lady's advice, he ordered Niccolo to drag the Giant's carcass down upon a craggy rock, to be devoured by hungry ravens; which being done, the Georgian maiden exhibited to him the wonders of the castle. First she conducted him to a brazen tower where were a hundred corselets and other martial furniture of the knights slain by the Giant. Then she conducted him to the stables, where were a hundred steeds, thin and jaded, which they had once bestrode. There was also the Giant's bed of iron, with a covering of carved brass, and with curtains of leaves of gold. After this she pointed out to him a pond of crystal water, on which swam six milk-white swans, with crowns of gold upon their heads.

|Know, brave Champion, that these six swans are my sisters,| she observed. |We all seven are the daughters of the King of Georgia. As we were out hunting one day the Giant from the battlements of his castle espied us, and, rushing down, bore us off under his arms before anyone could come to our rescue. My sisters, by the power of a kind fairy who had attended at their birth, were transformed into swans, that they might escape the tyranny of the Giant, though she was unable to release them altogether. I, the eldest, retained my natural form; for, from my skill in music, I could always quell his anger and tame him into subjection. Though I might perchance have escaped, I remained, in hope some day of liberating my sisters. Now, if the good fairy can be found, we may tell her of the Giant's death, and bring her hither to restore them to their natural shapes.|

|Most lovely lady, we will fly at once to your father's capital, and send the fairy hither to perform her grateful task,| exclaimed the Knight, placing the hand of the Princess in his own. So, taking the keys of the castle, which were of wonderous weight, they locked up the gates, and mounting their steeds, followed by Niccolo with the Giant's gory head, they proceeded to the Georgian Court.

On reaching the gate of the city they heard a peal of bells solemnly tolling forth a funeral knell. On inquiring the cause of this, the aged porter replied: --

|The bells toll for the King's seven daughters. There are seven bells, each one called after the name of a Princess, which never have ceased this doleful melody since the loss of the unhappy ladies, nor ever will till they return.|

|Then their tasks are finished,| answered the noble-minded Rosalinde. |We bring you tidings of the Princesses.|

Whereat the aged porter, ravished with joy, ran to the steeple and stopped the bells. Hearing the bells cease their wonted mournful melody, up started the King of Georgia, and hastened to the gate to inquire the cause. There, to his joy, he beheld his long-lost daughter in company with a strange knight and attendant squire. Hearing the wonderful tale, he commanded all his courtiers to put on the lugubrious weeds of mourning, and to accompany him to the castle of the Giant, that there perchance he might discover some means of releasing his six other daughters, while the noble-minded Rosalinde and Saint Anthony were left to take care of the city till his return.

When the King of Georgia, after long delay, did not return, the Italian Knight declared, in impassioned words, that he must proceed in search of those adventures for the sake of which he had left his native land. To this the noble-minded Rosalinde replied: --

|Oh! most princely-minded Champion of Italy! It is not Georgia can harbour me when thou art absent. The sky shall be no sky, the sea no sea, the earth no earth, if thou do prove inconstant; but if you will not take me with you, these tender hands of mine shall hang upon your horse's bridle, till my body, like Theseus's son, be dashed against the hard flint stones; yet, hard as they are, not harder than I shall deem your heart.|

One only reply to this appeal could the princely-minded Champion make. It was to tell her that he would bear her away forthwith as his own true bride. And they thus both being agreed, habited as a page in green sarcenet, her buskins of the smoothest kid-skin, and her rapier of Lydian steel, secured over her shoulder by an orange-coloured scarf, and mounted on a gentle palfrey, she quitted the land of Georgia; one of her maidens, habited also in page's guise, attending, whom Niccolo took under his especial care. Thus they travelled; he the bravest, boldest knight that ever wandered by the way, and she the loveliest lady that ever mortal eye beheld.

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