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St George Of Merrie England

from English Fairy Tales





In the darksome depths of a thick forest lived Kalyb the fell
enchantress. Terrible were her deeds, and few there were who had the
hardihood to sound the brazen trumpet which hung over the iron gate that
barred the way to the Abode of Witchcraft. Terrible were the deeds of
Kalyb; but above all things she delighted in carrying off innocent
new-born babes, and putting them to death.

And this, doubtless, she meant to be the fate of the infant son of the
Earl of Coventry, who long long years ago was Lord High Steward of
England. Certain it is that the babe's father being absent, and his
mother dying at his birth, the wicked Kalyb, with spells and charms,
managed to steal the child from his careless nurses.

But the babe was marked from the first for doughty deeds; for on his
breast was pictured the living image of a dragon, on his right hand was
a blood-red cross, and on his left leg showed the golden garter.

And these signs so affected Kalyb, the fell enchantress, that she stayed
her hand; and the child growing daily in beauty and stature, he became
to her as the apple of her eye. Now, when twice seven years had passed
the boy began to thirst for honourable adventures, though the wicked
enchantress wished to keep him as her own.

But he, seeking glory, utterly disdained so wicked a creature; thus she
sought to bribe him. And one day, taking him by the hand, she led him to
a brazen castle and showed him six brave knights, prisoners therein.
Then said she:

"Lo! These be the six champions of Christendom. Thou shalt be the
seventh and thy name shall be St. George of Merrie England if thou wilt
stay with me."

But he would not.

Then she led him into a magnificent stable where stood seven of the most
beautiful steeds ever seen. "Six of these," said she, "belong to the six
Champions. The seventh and the best, the swiftest and the most powerful
in the world, whose name is Bayard, will I bestow on thee, if thou wilt
stay with me."

But he would not.

Then she took him to the armoury, and with her own hand buckled on a
corselet of purest steel, and laced on a helmet inlaid with gold. Then,
taking a mighty falchion, she gave it into his hand, and said: "This
armour which none can pierce, this sword called Ascalon, which will hew
in sunder all it touches, are thine; surely now thou wilt stop with me?"

But he would not.

Then she bribed him with her own magic wand, thus giving him power over
all things in that enchanted land, saying:

"Surely now wilt thou remain here?"

But he, taking the wand, struck with it a mighty rock that stood by; and
lo! it opened, and laid in view a wide cave garnished by the bodies of a
vast number of innocent new-born infants whom the wicked enchantress had
murdered.

Thus, using her power, he bade the sorceress lead the way into the place
of horror, and when she had entered, he raised the magic wand yet again,
and smote the rock; and lo! it closed for ever, and the sorceress was
left to bellow forth her lamentable complaints to senseless stones.

Thus was St. George freed from the enchanted land, and taking with him
the six other champions of Christendom on their steeds, he mounted
Bayard and rode to the city of Coventry.

Here for nine months they abode, exercising themselves in all feats of
arms. So when spring returned they set forth, as knights errant, to seek
for foreign adventure.

And for thirty days and thirty nights they rode on, until, at the
beginning of a new month, they came to a great wide plain. Now in the
centre of this plain, where seven several ways met, there stood a great
brazen pillar, and here, with high heart and courage, they bade each
other farewell, and each took a separate road.

Hence, St. George, on his charger Bayard, rode till he reached the
seashore where lay a good ship bound for the land of Egypt. Taking
passage in her, after long journeying he arrived in that land when the
silent wings of night were outspread, and darkness brooded on all
things. Here, coming to a poor hermitage, he begged a night's lodging,
on which the hermit replied:

"Sir Knight of Merrie England--for I see her arms graven on thy
breastplate--thou hast come hither in an ill time, when those alive are
scarcely able to bury the dead by reason of the cruel destruction waged
by a terrible dragon, who ranges up and down the country by day and by
night. If he have not an innocent maiden to devour each day, he sends a
mortal plague amongst the people. And this has not ceased for twenty and
four years, so that there is left throughout the land but one maiden,
the beautiful Sabia, daughter to the King. And to-morrow must she die,
unless some brave knight will slay the monster. To such will the King
give his daughter in marriage, and the crown of Egypt in due time."

"For crowns I care not," said St. George boldly, "but the beauteous
maiden shall not die. I will slay the monster."

So, rising at dawn of day, he buckled on his armour, laced his helmet,
and with the falchion Ascalon in his hand, bestrode Bayard, and rode
into the Valley of the Dragon. Now on the way he met a procession of old
women weeping and wailing, and in their midst the most beauteous damsel
he had ever seen. Moved by compassion he dismounted, and bowing low
before the lady entreated her to return to her father's palace, since he
was about to kill the dreaded dragon. Whereupon the beautiful Sabia,
thanking him with smiles and tears, did as he requested, and he,
re-mounting, rode on his emprise.

Now, no sooner did the dragon catch sight of the brave Knight than its
leathern throat sent out a sound more terrible than thunder, and
weltering from its hideous den, it spread its burning wings and prepared
to assail its foe.

Its size and appearance might well have made the stoutest heart tremble.
From shoulder to tail ran full forty feet, its body was covered with
silver scales, its belly was as gold, and through its flaming wings the
blood ran thick and red.

So fierce was its onset, that at the very first encounter the Knight was
nigh felled to the ground; but recovering himself he gave the dragon
such a thrust with his spear that the latter shivered to a thousand
pieces; whereupon the furious monster smote him so violently with its
tail that both horse and rider were overthrown.

Now, by great good chance, St. George was flung under the shade of a
flowering orange tree, whose fragrance hath this virtue in it, that no
poisonous beast dare come within the compass of its branches. So there
the valiant knight had time to recover his senses, until with eager
courage he rose, and rushing to the combat, smote the burning dragon on
his burnished belly with his trusty sword Ascalon; and thereinafter
spouted out such black venom, as, falling on the armour of the Knight,
burst it in twain. And ill might it have fared with St. George of Merrie
England but for the orange tree, which once again gave him shelter under
its branches, where, seeing the issue of the fight was in the Hands of
the Most High, he knelt and prayed that such strength of body should be
given him as would enable him to prevail. Then with a bold and
courageous heart, he advanced again, and smote the fiery dragon under
one of his flaming wings, so that the weapon pierced the heart, and all
the grass around turned crimson with the blood that flowed from the
dying monster. So St. George of England cut off the dreadful head, and
hanging it on a truncheon made of the spear which at the beginning of
the combat had shivered against the beast's scaly back, he mounted his
steed Bayard, and proceeded to the palace of the King.

Now the King's name was Ptolemy, and when he saw that the dreaded dragon
was indeed slain, he gave orders for the city to be decorated. And he
sent a golden chariot with wheels of ebony and cushions of silk to bring
St. George to the palace, and commanded a hundred nobles dressed in
crimson velvet, and mounted on milk-white steeds richly caparisoned, to
escort him thither with all honour, while musicians walked before and
after, filling the air with sweetest sounds.

Now the beautiful Sabia herself washed and dressed the weary Knight's
wounds, and gave him in sign of betrothal a diamond ring of purest
water. Then, after he had been invested by the King with the golden
spurs of knighthood and had been magnificently feasted, he retired to
rest his weariness, while the beautiful Sabia from her balcony lulled
him to sleep with her golden lute.

So all seemed happiness; but alas! dark misfortune was at hand.

Almidor, the black King of Morocco, who had long wooed the Princess
Sabia in vain, without having the courage to defend her, seeing that the
maiden had given her whole heart to her champion, resolved to compass
his destruction.

So, going to King Ptolemy, he told him--what was perchance true--namely,
that the beauteous Sabia had promised St. George to become Christian,
and follow him to England. Now the thought of this so enraged the King
that, forgetting his debt of honour, he determined on an act of basest
treachery.

Telling St. George that his love and loyalty needed further trial, he
entrusted him with a message to the King of Persia, and forbade him
either to take with him his horse Bayard or his sword Ascalon; nor would
he even allow him to say farewell to his beloved Sabia.

St. George then set forth sorrowfully, and surmounting many dangers,
reached the Court of the King of Persia in safety; but what was his
anger to find that the secret missive he bore contained nothing but an
earnest request to put the bearer of it to death. But he was helpless,
and when sentence had been passed upon him, he was thrown into a loathly
dungeon, clothed in base and servile weeds, and his arms strongly
fettered up to iron bolts, while the roars of the two hungry lions who
were to devour him ere long, deafened his ears. Now his rage and fury at
this black treachery was such that it gave him strength, and with mighty
effort he drew the staples that held his fetters; so being part free he
tore his long locks of amber-coloured hair from his head and wound them
round his arms instead of gauntlets. So prepared he rushed on the lions
when they were let loose upon him, and thrusting his arms down their
throats choked them, and thereinafter tearing out their very hearts,
held them up in triumph to the gaolers who stood by trembling with fear.

After this the King of Persia gave up the hopes of putting St. George to
death, and, doubling the bars of the dungeon, left him to languish
therein. And there the unhappy Knight remained for seven long years, his
thoughts full of his lost Princess; his only companions rats and mice
and creeping worms, his only food and drink bread made of the coarsest
bran and dirty water.

At last one day, in a dark corner of his dungeon, he found one of the
iron staples he had drawn in his rage and fury. It was half consumed
with rust, yet it was sufficient in his hands to open a passage through
the walls of his cell into the King's garden. It was the time of night
when all things are silent; but St. George, listening, heard the voices
of grooms in the stables; which, entering, he found two grooms
furnishing forth a horse against some business. Whereupon, taking the
staple with which he had redeemed himself from prison, he slew the
grooms, and mounting the palfrey rode boldly to the city gates, where he
told the watchman at the Bronze Tower that St. George having escaped
from the dungeon, he was in hot pursuit of him. Whereupon the gates were
thrown open, and St. George, clapping spurs to his horse, found himself
safe from pursuit before the first red beams of the sun shot up into the
sky.

Now, ere long, being most famished with hunger, he saw a tower set on a
high cliff, and riding thitherward determined to ask for food. But as he
neared the castle he saw a beauteous damsel in a blue and gold robe
seated disconsolate at a window. Whereupon, dismounting, he called aloud
to her:

"Lady! If thou hast sorrow of thine own, succour one also in distress,
and give me, a Christian Knight, now almost famished, one meal's meat."
To which she replied quickly:

"Sir Knight! Fly quickly as thou canst, for my lord is a mighty giant, a
follower of Mahomed, who hath sworn to destroy all Christians."

Hearing this St. George laughed loud and long. "Go tell him then, fair
dame," he cried, "that a Christian Knight waits at his door, and will
either satisfy his wants within his castle or slay the owner thereof."

Now the giant no sooner heard this valiant challenge than he rushed
forth to the combat, armed with a hugeous crowbar of iron. He was a
monstrous giant, deformed, with a huge head, bristled like any boar's,
with hot, glaring eyes and a mouth equalling a tiger's. At first sight
of him St. George gave himself up for lost, not so much for fear, but
for hunger and faintness of body. Still, commending himself to the Most
High, he also rushed to the combat with such poor arms as he had, and
with many a regret for the loss of his magic sword Ascalon. So they
fought till noon, when, just as the champion's strength was nigh
finished, the giant stumbled on the root of a tree, and St. George,
taking his chance, ran him through the mid-rib, so that he gasped and
died.

After which St. George entered the tower; whereat the beautiful lady,
freed from her terrible lord, set before him all manner of delicacies
and pure wine with which he sufficed his hunger, rested his weary body,
and refreshed his horse.

So, leaving the tower in the hands of the grateful lady, he went on his
way, coming ere long to the Enchanted Garden of the necromancer
Ormadine, where, embedded in the living rock, he saw a magic sword, the
like of which for beauty he had never seen, the belt being beset with
jaspers and sapphire stones, while the pommel was a globe of the purest
silver chased in gold with these verses:

My magic will remain most firmly bound
Till that a knight from the far north be found
To pull this sword from out its bed of stone.
Lo! when he comes wise Ormadine must fall.
Farewell, my magic power, my spell, my all.

Seeing this St. George put his hand to the hilt, thinking to essay
pulling it out by strength; but lo! he drew it out with as much ease as
though it had hung by a thread of untwisted silk. And immediately every
door in the enchanted garden flew open, and the magician Ormadine
appeared, his hair standing on end; and he, after kissing the hand of
the champion, led him to a cave where a young man wrapped in a sheet of
gold lay sleeping, lulled by the songs of four beautiful maidens.

"The Knight whom thou seest here!" said the necromancer in a hollow
voice, "is none other than thy brother-in-arms, the Christian Champion
St. David of Wales. He also attempted to draw my sword but failed. Him
hast thou delivered from my enchantments since they come to an end."

Now, as he spoke, came such a rattling of the skies, such a lumbering of
the earth as never was, and in the twinkling of an eye the Enchanted
Garden and all in it vanished from view, leaving the Champion of Wales,
roused from his seven years' sleep, giving thanks to St. George, who
greeted his ancient comrade heartily.

After this St. George of Merrie England travelled far and travelled
fast, with many adventures by the way, to Egypt where he had left his
beloved Princess Sabia. But, learning to his great grief and horror from
the same hermit he had met on first landing, that, despite her denials,
her father, King Ptolemy, had consented to Almidor the black King of
Morocco carrying her off as one of his many wives, he turned his steps
towards Tripoli, the capital of Morocco; for he was determined at all
costs to gain a sight of the dear Princess from whom he had been so
cruelly rent.

To this end he borrowed an old cloak of the hermit, and, disguised as a
beggar, gained admittance to the gate of the Women's Palace, where were
gathered together on their knees many others, poor, frail, infirm.

And when he asked them wherefore they knelt, they answered:

"Because good Queen Sabia succours us that we may pray for the safety of
St. George of England, to whom she gave her heart."

Now when St. George heard this his own heart was like to break for very
joy, and he could scarce keep on his knees when, lovely as ever, but
with her face pale and sad and wan from long distress, the Princess
Sabia appeared clothed in deep mourning.

In silence she handed an alms to each beggar in turn; but when she came
to St. George she started and laid her hand on her heart. Then she said
softly:

"Rise up, Sir Beggar! Thou art too like one who rescued me from death,
for it to be meet for thee to kneel before me!"

Then St. George rising, and bowing low, said quietly: "Peerless lady!
Lo! I am that very knight to whom thou did'st condescend to give this."

And with this he slipped the diamond ring she had given him on her
finger. But she looked not at it, but at him, with love in her eyes.

Then he told her of her father's base treachery and Almidor's part in
it, so that her anger grew hot and she cried:

"Waste no more time in talk. I remain no longer in this detested place.
Ere Almidor returns from hunting we shall have escaped."

[Illustration: When she came to St. George she started and laid her
hand on her heart]

So she led St. George to the armoury, where he found his trusty sword
Ascalon, and to the stable, where his swift steed Bayard stood ready
caparisoned.

Then, when her brave Knight had mounted, and she, putting her foot on
his, had leapt like a bird behind him, St. George touched the proud
beast lightly with his spurs, and, like an arrow from a bow, Bayard
carried them together over city and plain, through woods and forests,
across rivers, and mountains, and valleys, until they reached the Land
of Greece.

And here they found the whole country in festivity over the marriage of
the King. Now amongst other entertainments was a grand tournament, the
news of which had spread through the world. And to it had come all the
other Six Champions of Christendom; so St. George arriving made the
Seventh. And many of the champions had with them the fair lady they had
rescued. St. Denys of France brought beautiful Eglantine, St. James of
Spain sweet Celestine, while noble Rosalind accompanied St. Anthony of
Italy. St. David of Wales, after his seven years' sleep, came full of
eager desire for adventure. St. Patrick of Ireland, ever courteous,
brought all the six Swan-princesses who, in gratitude, had been seeking
their deliverer St. Andrew of Scotland; since he, leaving all worldly
things, had chosen to fight for the faith.

So all these brave knights and fair ladies joined in the joyful
jousting, and each of the Seven Champions was in turn Chief Challenger
for a day.

Now in the midst of all the merriment appeared a hundred heralds from a
hundred different parts of the Paynim world, declaring war to the death
against all Christians.

Whereupon the Seven Champions agreed that each should return to his
native land to place his dearest lady in safety, and gather together an
army, and that six months later they should meet, and, joining as one
legion, go forth to fight for Christendom.

And this was done. So, having chosen St. George as Chief General, they
marched on Tripoli with the cry:

"For Christendom we fight,
For Christendom we die."

Here the wicked Almidor fell in single combat with St. George, to the
great delight of his subjects, who begged the Champion to be King in his
stead. To this he consented, and, after he was crowned, the Christian
host went on towards Egypt where King Ptolemy, in despair of vanquishing
such stalwart knights, threw himself down from the battlements of the
palace and was killed. Whereupon, in recognition of the chivalry and
courtesy of the Christian Champions, the nobles offered the Crown to one
of their number, and they with acclaim chose St. George of Merrie
England.

Thence the Christian host journeyed to Persia, where a fearsome battle
raged for seven days, during which two hundred thousand pagans were
slain, beside many who were drowned in attempting to escape. Thus they
were compelled to yield, the Emperor himself happening into the hands of
St. George, and six other viceroys into the hands of the six other
Champions.

And these were most mercifully and honourably entreated after they had
promised to govern Persia after Christian rules. Now the Emperor, having
a heart fraught with despite and tyranny, conspired against them, and
engaged a wicked wizard named Osmond to so beguile six of the Champions
that they gave up fighting, and lived an easy slothful life. But St.
George would not be beguiled; neither would he consent to the
enchantment of his brothers; and he so roused them that they never
sheathed their swords nor unlocked their armour till the wicked Emperor
and his viceroys were thrown into that very dungeon in which St. George
had languished for seven long years.

Whereupon St. George took upon himself the government of Persia, and
gave the six other Champions the six viceroyalties.

So, attired in a beautiful green robe, richly embroidered, over which
was flung a scarlet mantle bordered with white fur and decorated with
ornaments of pure gold, he took his seat on the throne which was
supported by elephants of translucent alabaster. And the Heralds at
arms, amid the shouting of the people, cried:

"Long live St. George of Merrie England, Emperor of Morocco, King of
Egypt, and Sultan of Persia!"

Now, after that he had established good and just laws to such effect
that innumerable companies of pagans flocked to become Christians, St.
George, leaving the Government in the hands of his trusted counsellors,
took truce with the world and returned to England, where, at Coventry,
he lived for many years with the Egyptian Princess Sabia, who bore him
three stalwart sons. So here endeth the tale of St. George of Merrie
England, first and greatest of the Seven Champions.





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