Gateway to the Classics: The Seven Champions of Christendom by F. J. Harvey Darton
The Seven Champions of Christendom by  F. J. Harvey Darton

The Last Deeds of the Champions

The Admiral of Babylon

S T. GEORGE could not find unbroken rest in the castle of Leoger. He had a spacious chamber for his bedroom, and a bed of the finest swansdown; but he tossed and tumbled upon it as if it had been a bed of stones. He was so restless and tormented in mind that at last he did not know for certain whether he was asleep or awake.

In the midst of his tumult of thought a vision appeared to him. He saw before him a woman of surpassing beauty, clad in Eastern dress. She spoke to him in a voice sweet and clear.

"Why does a Christian knight rest when evil is abroad?"she said."All the spells of Leoger are not broken. There remains one more powerful than all the others, which the champion of England alone can break; so it is fated. Rise, St. George, and follow me."

"Who are you,beauteous lady?" asked St. George,starting up in wonder. "What is this fresh evil you speak of?"

"No fresh evil: an ancient wrong," she answered. "But you alone can set it right. A king lies spellbound; moreover, he is in perpetual torment. So strong was this spell of the vile Leoger, that even he cannot unbind it. Only one knight in the whole world can loose it. He must be fearless and peerless, and must have suffered and escaped from Leoger's power. You are he."

"Can you not tell me more, lady?" asked St. George. "Tell me at least who it is who bids me rise and go on an unknown errand. It might you not be some enchantment of Leoger's?"

"You know that his power has gone with the flame of the seven lanterns," replied the vision. "As for me,I was once Angelica, daughter of the Admiral of Babylon. It is the Admiral himself,the Emir of that great dominion,whom you are to free from torture. More I cannot tell you now."

"I will come with you," said St. George,putting aside his doubts. He rose and put on a shirt of chainmail and other armour, and took his bright sword naked in his hand.

The figure went out,and down staircases and through doors in the castle, and at last into the open air outside it into the courtyard, and so across the moat into the woods outside. All the gates had flown open, and the drawbridge had fallen when the lanterns had been put out. Far into the woods she led him, until they came suddenly upon a great mausoleum or tomb. A high wall stood round it, with one door in it, which was open. Inside was a lofty dome set upon four strong pillars. In the midst, under the centre of the dome, lay what appeared to be a tomb; but in reality it was a grating of marble. Above it, upon supports of marble, was stretched the figure of an old man. Through the openings in the marble grating played flames, which neither burned the marble nor consumed the raiment or person of the old man, but yet caused him the most exquisite pain, as if they were the flames of a real fire. It was an enchantment of Leoger's.

"This is my sire, the Admiral of Babylon," said the beautiful vision. "Thus only can he be released. Take your sword and smite with it with all your force upon his breast three times. Do not heed him, or anything he says. Your good blade will do him no hurt: he is enchanted. Even if you were to wound him, would not a mortal wound be better than this torment?" St. George could not persuade himself to do such a deed, "I cannot strike a living man defenceless as he is," he said. "This may be some enchantment, so that I may slay an innocent person."

"Strike without fear,St. George," answered the lady. "Listen: you are guarded by Heaven. There are upon earth certain deeds which you must do and you only. You alone could slay the Egyptian dragon; you alone could draw from its magical sheath the sword at the garden of Ormandine. Who but you could have put all the hosts of heathendom to flight? And for you only is waiting yet one more great deed. Do you remember the prophecy that came to you by the mouth of Wat the shipman in Calais port? Not yet has that been wholly fulfilled. Do you remember that you must save England from a dragon? I was your guardian angel in that journey to Coventry. I bid you smite this captive as I have said."

St. George heard with wonder these sayings about his past deeds and what was to come. He could not but obey. He lifted his sword, and struck down upon the breast of the man stretched upon the unceasing flames. True and full did he strike, yet no blood came from the stroke, nor was any wound made. Again he struck, and again; and at the third blow the flames ceased, and the tomb itself dissolved into a little mound of dust, and the man himself stood upright, looking around him in bewilderment.

"Where am I?" cried the old man. "It is you who have delivered me," he added, catching sight of St. George with his drawn sword.

"Tell me first who you are," answered St. George, "that I may know this is no further device of that vile wizard Leoger."

"I am the Admiral of Babylon, as you Christians call me. Rightly my own folk call me Emir. My daughter, the Princess Angelica, was slain by a wicked wizard knight named Leoger. When I made war upon him for his wicked deed, he defeated my army by magic arts,and carried me away from Babylon by his enchantments, and put me into torment,as you found me. I warred upon him because Angelica was his wife, and he used her shamefully, and slew her, as I have said."

"Even so did he use other fair ladies shamefully," answered St. George.

"He speaks truly; this is my father," said the gracious vision. But her voice and herself were alike unrevealed to the Emir of Babylon,who marvelled that St. George seemed to be listening to some sound he could not hear.

"You shall be avenged," said St. George. His words were suited equally to the Emir, to whom he now turned. "There are knights here,sire,who will restore you to your kingdom,"he said."Leoger's spells have been destroyed. This enchantment that he put upon you is the last."

"Yet Leoger himself is not slain," said the figure of the Princess Angelica. "Let Rosana seek her father in the wilderness of Arabia, whither he has fled. He will come to repentance by her aid, and never again will he have traffic with the black art."

With that she suddenly vanished from their sight, leaving St. George alone with the Admiral of Babylon.

"I have been led to you, Lord Admiral," said St. George, "by a vision of your daughter. Certain things also she told me in respect of Leoger and Rosana. Now let me conduct you to my comrades."

He went with the Admiral to the castle, and laid before the champions and other Christian knights the vision he had seen and the fate of the Admiral, and immediately they resolved to recover his kingdom for him. But when St. George told Rosana what had been prophesied about her, she would not go to Babylon with them, but was for setting out at once for the desert of Arabia to seek Leoger.

So Rosana parted from the Christian knights,and they never saw her again; for the prophecy came true, and she found Leoger alone in the wilderness, and by her gentleness won him to repentance. Many years together did they live, dwelling like hermits in that lonely place; and when at last the time came for Leoger to die, Rosana did not survive him, but died of grief, and was buried beside him by the country folk of that region.

But the champions and the Admiral went to the great and famous city of Babylon, and found, when they came there, that no great warfare would be needed, as they had feared, to restore the sovereign to his throne; for when Leoger had carried him off, the great nobles of the kingdom had fallen a-quarrelling among themselves, and had waged civil war for so long that the people were heartily weary of such misrule, and overjoyed to welcome back their rightful monarch. And in a little while the Admiral was reigning happily, as though Leoger had never done him any hurt.

At Babylon itself a public holiday was decreed to celebrate the joyful event; and during the rejoicings a tournament was held, at which the champions and St. George's sons, now admitted fully to that wondrous brotherhood, maintained themselves undefeated;and then, enriched with the spoils of Leoger's castle, they set out to return each to their own land. They journeyed together at first. They went by way of Constantinople, where another tournament was held, and they covered themselves with fresh glory, and so, travelling ever westward from those eastern lands which they were never more to see, they came at last to Rome.

The End of the Brotherhood

At Rome the brotherhood of the champions began to be broken up. Never again was that peerless band of knights to take up together the battle of Christendom against the forces of evil, of right against wrong, of chivalry against heathendom. St. Anthony of Italy had come to his own land, where he was to end his days. The champions were entertained in Rome with feasts and joustings and hunting; and it chanced one day that as they rode through a forest upon a hunt, St. Anthony perceived a little disused chapel,which out of curiosity he entered. On a stone in the wall he found these words carved:

"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.

The Dragon of Dunsmore Heath

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.

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