The Last Deeds of the Champions
"Rest after war; live here in charity;
Italy's saint shall be St. Anthony."
By that he knew that thenceforth his life was to be one of peace and good works. So, bidding a loving farewell to his comrades, he gave himself up to the service of God and mankind in that little chapel, which he caused to be restored and beautified. There he lived many years, doing deeds of holiness and charity daily; and when in the fulness of time he died, he was lamented by all Italy, and made the patron saint of his country.
The champions left Italy and journeyed on. St.James was the next to leave them, for he had to travel to his own land of Spain. But when he came thither, he found that a king reigned who was a pagan, and hostile to all Christians.St. James,however,caused a chapel to be built, and converted many of the inhabitants from their heathen faith. But the King of Spain had word brought to him of this, and sending an army, he caused the chapel to be surrounded while all the Christian folk were in it, and ordered that it should be bricked up, so that no food nor light nor air could enter it. St. James and his followers died of starvation; but in spite of their death, the chapel continued to give forth a miraculous light and a harmony of sweet sounds, as if it were lit up from within, and men were singing joyful hymns in it. Moreover, from the time when the Christians were thus martyred, the King of Spain began to pine away, and before long died; and the fame of St. James and his chapel spreading throughout the land, all the people became Christians, and St. James was made the patron saint of Spain.
St. Denis of France travelled with the champions from Britain and Ireland as far as Calais, where each was to take ship to his own country. There, with sad farewells and loving words, they parted. St. Denis went back inland to preach Christianity to his countrymen, for in the long absence of the Christian knights the people had fallen grievously from their faith. At a certain town the inhabitants, fiercer than elsewhere, set upon him and stoned him to death. But immediately those who stoned him were struck by lightning, and so great was the wonder and repentance of the people that they all became Christians, and made St. Denis their patron saint.
St. David of Wales took ship from Calais to the port which lies near Caerleon-upon-Usk. But when he landed at last in his own country, he found that pagans had conquered it, and were oppressing the people; and slowly and secretly he went the length and breadth of Wales, stirring up the country folk, and presently had raised an army. He led his bands against the pagan host, and, bidding the Welsh wear in their helmets a leek, to distinguish them, gave battle, and utterly routed the heathen, and set up the Christian faith in Wales once again. Not many years after this victory he died, and was made the patron saint of Wales, which also took the leek as its emblem.
St. Patrick of Ireland was the first of the champions to die. When he landed in his own country, he felt a weakness as of old age creeping upon him, and he resolved to live as a hermit thenceforth. He shut himself up in a stone house, and caused the door to be walled up, and left only a little hole at which food could be thrust through for him In that house he dug his own grave with his hands, and when he had done this, he passed the rest of his days by it in praying and fasting; and so, before long, died the patron saint of Ireland, and when he was buried in the grave he had dug, the stone house was pulled down, and a chapel built over the place where it had stood.
St. Andrew preached Christianity in Scotland until, so strong was paganism at that time, the King declared him a foreign spy,and slew him. But when a little time had passed the Scots learnt his true nature,and repented,and became Christians; wherefore St.Andrew is to this day patron saint of Scotland.
And so only St. George was left,with three sons to carry on his great name worthily.But before he died he had yet another famous adventure.
Many thoughts came to St. George as he sailed from Calais port with his three sons. The years had begun to be heavy upon him. It seemed to him long, long ago that he had tricked Kalyb into telling the secret of his birth. How many battles had he fought since then! What victories had he won against the forces of darkness! And he thought long of Sabra, and of the hardships by which he had won her. How dearly he had loved her, what high trust in his honour and might she had shown, how gentle and beloved she was!
And then he thought of how he had journeyed from Calais to England before, and of the strange prophecy of Wat the ship-man to him. He was to save England, the man had been told in that vision, which in other ways had come true so wondrously. The words were wild and strange; but it seemed that he was to save England from a dragon. Ah! how should he save England now? Many a dragon had he fought since that first monster whose death had won Sabra for him. But now he was growing old and weary; no longer could his sword strike invincibly; no longer could the swiftness of his limbs be certain of giving him the victory where strength was of no avail. Well, be the issue what it might, he would still take up with a stout heart any quest or cause that should be in his path down the highway of life.
The boat came safely to Dover. Not now were relays of horses waiting to carry the champion of England to Coventry without losing a moment. More slowly and steadily did he travel across England; with his three sons. Nearer and nearer did Coventry draw. It was a town of many memories for St. George.
They journeyed, as he had journeyed in that wild ride to save Sabra, by way of Oxford and Warwick, leaving Rugby on the right. It chanced that soon after they left Warwick St. George's horse fell lame.
"Dear sons," he said, "my horse can but hobble: I would not press the good creature unduly. Go you forward at a better pace, and acquaint the people of Coventry with my approach, and bring me a fresh horse to end my journey. I shall be safe alone; there are no enchantments in England, and no vile enemies to meet. Yet I doubt something is amiss with the people.We have met few folk; but those we have met have looked at us askance and fearfully. They fear something, I know not what. But I shall have news of this or of any other happening when I reach Coventry. Meanwhile ride on, my sons."
The three young knights rode on at his bidding. He went more slowly. But as at last he drew near to Coventry, Sir Guy came riding back to him at full speed.
"An adventure, sir!" he cried. "My brothers and I ask your leave to slay the dragon."
"The dragon!" said St. George, the old prophecy rushing at once into his mind. "What dragon? There are no dragons in England nowadays."
"A monstrous dragon lives on Dunsmore Heath, where it has made itself a cave. It ravages all the country round here. It was not of us that the common folk were afraid, but of it. They feared it might see us in its prowlings, and attack us, for it loves horses as well as men,they say.I pray you,let us go against it and kill it."
"Nay, my son, this adventure is for me," answered St. George. "Long ago was this foretold." And he recounted the prophecy of the shipman. "I am old now," he added, "yet I shall conquer in this fight, even if it is the last battle I am to enter upon. Do you and your brothers await the issue,and be prepared to defend my people of Coventry if any misfortune befall me."
Sir Guy pleaded with him, but St. George knew that he was the person appointed to kill this dragon; and his sons saw that it was in vain to seek to change his resolution. They rode into Coventry. St. George mounted a fresh horse and set out for Dunsmore Heath. His sons and the chief men of Coventry followed him at a little distance, and watched from afar the last fight of the champion of England.
He came to the great heath, a space covered with low bushes and heather. From a little hollow he saw smoke rising. The dragon, a peasant had brought word, had carried off an ox to its lair, and doubtless now was devouring it. St. George rode towards the smoke. But before he reached the hollow the dragon scented him, and rose, grim and terrible, from its prey. It was as large as the dragon of Egypt, but wingless. But it was more poisonous, for even its breath had venom in it, and would stupefy a man if it blew upon him for long, and deadly poison ran in its veins.
As it came on, fire and smoke poured out of its huge nostrils, and its bellowings shook the very earth. It ran in a kind of gallop, very swiftly. But St. George found that it could not turn swiftly, for he turned his horse aside dexterously as it was upon him, and it rushed past without touching him with its jaws or its huge talons. But its tail swung as it passed, and struck both the champion and his horse a grievous blow, so that the horse fell dead, and St. George, staggering away from the poor beast as it sank to the ground, felt as though he had been bruised by a battering ram.
He was fighting with his sword. He recovered himself quickly and ran at the dragon. It raised one great paw to strike,and he darted in and thrust swiftly at the under part of its body. The point pierced the thick hide, and poison, issuing from the wound, fell upon the champion, scorching him as if it had been liquid fire.Enraged by the pain,the monster reared up and slipped, falling on its side.In an instant St. George took advantage of the fall, and before it could regain its feet, dealt it three fierce blows, the last of them deep and mortal. Then he sprang back swiftly, but not in time to avoid the venom that came from the wounds,or the lashing of the dragon's tail as it met its death.
The champion was sorely wounded, but the dragon was slain. He cut off its head, and when his sons, seeing that the fight was over, came to him and gave him another horse,he mounted and rode it into Coventry.Word of his victory had reached the town before him, and a great crowd of people came forth to greet him joyously. Bearing the dragon's head on his sword point, he entered the town in their midst.But as he reached the market-place, where so long before he had saved Sabra, his wounds took effect on him. He reeled in his saddle and fell dead.
So died St. George, the greatest and bravest of all the Seven Champions of Christendom.
His eldest son, Sir Guy, became Earl of Warwick, and did many famous deeds of chivalry. Sir Alexander, when the time of mourning for St. George was ended, went back to Normandy and found his Princess, and brought her to England and married her. He was appointed Captain of all the King's guards. Sir David became the King's steward and cup-bearer. And all three lived in great happiness and honour till they died.