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The Seven Champions of Christendom by  F. J. Harvey Darton
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ST. ANDREW OF SCOTLAND

I
THE VALLEY OF EVIL SPIRITS

[155]

S
T. ANDREW'S road led him through England to a seaport, where he took ship and sailed to Europe. When his wanderings on land continued, he found himself at length upon a very lonely path that grew narrower and more winding at every step. It took him through what seemed to be the greenest of meadows, going zigzag across the long, rich grass without, as it appeared, rhyme or reason. But the reason was made clear when St. Andrew left the path in order to take a shorter way across a bend in the track. The moment he was off the path he sank in the ground almost up to his waist, and only by throwing his head and shoulders violently backward and clinging to the track he had left did he reach dry ground safely. The [156] whole green meadow was a treacherous quaking bog, with only this one way through it.

Presently the meadow sloped away to one side, the path running along the upper edge of it. Soon there was no marshland left by the path at all. The grass ceased, the way became dry and barren, with a gaunt, wind-swept, leafless hedge on one side, and rocky slopes on the other. Hardly a living plant or flower grew in that place. The green things were thin and wan, of a sickly yellow hue, as though no cheerful sunlight ever fell on them. Such flowers as there were had blooms of a dull threatening purple, and livid pale berries, and ragged thorny leaves, as if they were meant to offend and not to delight the eyes of mankind. The air grew colder, and a fine white mist seemed to be approaching at a little distance.

Again the path sloped, now very steeply. St. Andrew found himself in the mist. It was of a strange thinness, and hardly shut out the prospect from his eyes, but only served to make it unreal and ghostly. And, indeed, that was a ghostly place, for it was a haunted valley, full of evil spirits. The hedge had ceased. In its place were a few gnarled roots with little hold upon the ground. There were deep, dark holes in the grey soil, like [157] foxes' earths, but larger. Stones and great boulders bestrewed the way.

A hand plucked St. Andrew by the arm. He turned quickly. There was no one near him. "It was but fancy," he said to himself; but in his heart he knew that it was no fancy. He went on boldly. Suddenly there was a whispering in his ear of strange words in a tongue which he could not understand. The words seemed evil, for they sounded full of anger and threatenings. But there was no being in sight who could have spoken them.

St. Andrew perceived that there was some spell at work in the valley which he could not understand. He feared lest he should fall under its power. But he kept a stout heart, and rode on, drawing his sword and holding it in readiness.

The moment he had drawn the sword the spirits seemed to take it as a challenge. On every side unseen hands caught at him. One would seize his reins and try to draw them from his hand; others struck him lightly in the face, or pulled his foot out of the stirrup, or strove to clutch his throat. All round him he heard whisperings and faint, shrill cries. He waved his sword fiercely in every direction, but it met with no resistance. He grew [158] confused, and his good horse snorted and whinnied in fear.

St. Andrew murmured a prayer and made the sign of the Cross, and immediately the mist disappeared and the spirits became visible to him. They were upon every side, multitudes of them—in the air, roaming upon the ground, some even wriggling out of the holes by the wayside with new malice in their dreadful eyes. They were of all manner of shapes, horrible to behold. Some had long skinny arms and bony claw-like fingers, some were squat and gross; here was one whose eyes flamed; there one with long pointed ears that moved like a horse's; there one whose body trailed away as if it were but a wisp of smoke; and some, most terrible of all, perpetually changed from one loathsome shape to another.

Yet they were powerless to do harm to a Christian knight if he never lost heart. And St. Andrew took new courage from his prayer. He spurred his horse, and struck at the spirits fiercely with his sword. The blade passed clean through them, and he felt as if it had met with nothing at all. Rage against these evil creatures seized him, and took away his prudence. He set his horse at those upon his right hand, and rode hither and thither [159] furiously, cutting and slashing at them with his sword. Even if the sword seemed to do them no harm, they shrank from it, and fled before him; and he, in triumph, rode and struck the more savagely, not seeing in his anger that he was going farther and farther from the path, until suddenly all the spirits vanished, and he was alone.

He looked for the track; it was nowhere to be seen. All around were rocks and stones and inhospitable earth, with no sign of a path. The light was beginning to fade, and soon was gone altogether. St. Andrew was in a sorry plight.

Once more the spirits began to attack him. They pulled and pushed on every side, and the air was full of their indistinct sounds. It was useless to strike at them, now that they could no longer be seen, and in which direction the true path lay St. Andrew could not guess. Once again he murmured a prayer, and immediately an answer came. In front of him there suddenly glowed a small clear light, sparkling and dancing in the air as if inviting him to follow. He urged his steed towards the spark, but he got no nearer to it, for as he advanced it moved also, keeping always at a little distance in front.

St. Andrew had heard of will-o'-the-wisps, [160] which lead men on till they fall into a bog, or over a precipice, or into some awful death. He did not know whether this might not be some such deadly thing. But he had faith in it, and followed it, nevertheless; and soon he was glad that he did so, for the valley seemed to grow smoother under his horse's feet, and the evil spirits grew less in number, and at last, after one great effort to drag him from his saddle, died away altogether and left him. In a little while St. Andrew felt that he was going uphill again. Stones no longer rang under his horse's hoofs, which, indeed, rustled at every tread, as if they were walking on good turf. Upwards he went, the bright light still flickering and leaping in front of him.

At last the ground grew level again. On one side he saw a growing glow in the sky; it was the moon rising. Soon she was above the horizon, lighting up the way for him. He could see that he was on a broad, clear expanse of hill, and the road gleamed white and straight in front of him. He looked for the friendly light which had led him thither; in watching the moon rise he had forgotten it. But it had vanished; its work was done.

St. Andrew rode on a little way, and came to a little clump of trees. Here he dis- [161] mounted, and rested for the night. On the next day he went on with his journey, but he met no other adventure till he came to the borders of the kingdom of Thrace. Though he did not know it, he was close to the castle of Blanderon, to which, at that very time, the King of Thrace and his knights were travelling after hearing the news brought by St. Anthony and Princess Rosalind.


II
THE FIGHT WITH THE ENCHANTER

St. Andrew came in sight of Blanderon's castle about the middle of a fine morning. Like St. Anthony, he thought that in so great a castle might lie the cause of some worthy adventure, and he made haste to approach it. But when he was in an open space a mile or more from it, he saw, proceeding towards it from another direction, a great band of knights and ladies. They were, in truth, though he did not know it, the King of Thrace and his followers.

He turned out of his direct path to the castle, and made towards the new-comers. They, in their turn, had seen him, and halted and awaited him.

[162] "Who are you that ride armed towards the castle of Blanderon?" cried a Thracian knight to him, when he was within hearing.

"I am a Christian knight in search of warlike adventure," answered St. Andrew.

"A Christian! One of our enemies!" said the King of Thrace, on hearing this. "And he seeks warlike adventure. He shall have it. He shall fight my knights, one after the other, with all due ceremony. He shall have the death of an honourable enemy. Let a herald go to him, and let my marshals draw up the lists for a tourney. Here is a fair open space that will well suit it."

A herald was instructed, and rode out to meet St. Andrew. "Sir Knight," he said, "the King of Thrace sends me to you to say that all Christians are his enemies, and you must therefore die. But the King is just and honourable, and he will grant you a knightly death. The lists shall be set, and you shall do battle with his champions. The laws of chivalry will be observed, and the King will appoint squires to attend upon you."

St. Andrew thought for a moment. He could not decline the combat, and, indeed, he was eager to uphold the Christian faith in arms; but he knew that it might be his death, for no man could fight foe after foe and not [163] in the end be conquered. "I accept your King's offer," he said at length. "Let him send whomsoever he pleases against me; I will uphold my faith against them all."

"Spoken like a gallant knight," said the herald. "Let me lead you to the lists."

He escorted St. Andrew to the place where already a great space was being barred off, and pavilions erected for the King, and for the knights at either end of the course. The champion was presented to the King, and then he was led to his pavilion, and food and drink was given him. Three squires waited upon him, and, when he had been refreshed, attended to his armour, and brought him spare weapons.

Soon the trumpets sounded. A squire told St. Andrew that it was time for him to go forth. The hangings of the pavilion were parted, and he rode out into the sunlight of the lists, his armour gleaming, a golden pennon on a small lance fluttering gaily. On the pennon were embroidered in silver letters the words: "To-day a martyr or a conqueror."

He rode to the King's pavilion, and made obeisance; then he went back to his corner of the lists, and took up his great tilting-lance, and waited while a herald proclaimed his name.

[164] "Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!" cried the herald, after blowing three blasts on a silver trumpet. "The gallant knight, Sir Andrew of Scotland, is ready to do battle on behalf of the Christian faith against all who come."

Three blasts sounded from the other end of the lists. From the pavilion at that end came a knight clad all in silver armour upon a white horse. The marshal of the lists, standing near the King's pavilion, cried in a loud voice: "Set on!" And from either end the two knights thundered together. Crash! They had met. But the silver knight had not touched St. Andrew with his lance. The sound came from St. Andrew's lance, which struck his enemy full on the upper part of the helmet. His head was wrenched violently, and he fell backwards off his horse, his armour rattling about him. His horse galloped wildly on, and was secured by an attendant. But the knight lay where he had fallen. His neck was broken, and he was dead.

St. Andrew retired slowly to his pavilion. His squires made sure that his armour and weapons were still sound. The trumpets blared again, and he rode into the lists.

This time there awaited him a knight clad in golden armour. The marshal gave the word, and they rushed together. St. Andrew [165] was struck by the knight's lance, but only lightly, for as they met his own lance smote his enemy in the shoulder, and turned the blow aside. The knight was unhorsed by the stroke, but not greatly injured. He drew his sword, and St. Andrew drew his in turn, and leapt from his horse to fight on equal terms. But this part of the combat did not last long, for St. Andrew with one great back-handed sweep of his sword broke through the golden knight's defence, and clove his neck deep, so that he died. There were murmurs of wonder and of anger from the onlookers, who did not like to see their champions so easily defeated.

Then again St. Andrew was tended by his squires, and again he left his pavilion at the sound of the trumpet. By now he was feeling some weariness, and he was eager to see if his new opponent would be more skilled than the other two.

The pavilion curtains at the far end of the lists were drawn apart, and through them came a knight in coal-black armour, riding a black horse. From his helmet flew a plume black as a raven's wing, and his squire held up as his banner a lance with a dull black pennon.

"Who is this knight?" asked the King of Thrace of one of his courtiers. "I do not [166] know his armour, and he seems to be a stranger."

"I do not know, Sire."

But a page came to the King with a message that a knight who wished to be called the Unknown, and not to proclaim his name, was anxious to do battle with the Christian knight. He had a hatred of all Christians, he said, and he sought to serve the King of Thrace by fighting thus. He had but that moment arrived, and had come straight to the lists.

The King gave leave readily enough. It was no concern of his to limit the number of those who encountered St. Andrew, and the strange knight looked like one who could hold his own. Very huge and sinister did he seem as he towered upright on the black charger.

"Set on!" cried the marshal of the lists once more.

The knights dashed across the lists. They met with a clang and a shivering, rending noise. Each staggered a little in his saddle, but remained unhurt, and then it was seen that both their lances had been broken to atoms in the shock.

They galloped to their pavilions, and obtained fresh lances. Then they came together again. The black knight was borne clean off his horse's back, over the crupper, the horse [167] rearing high in the air at the blow. St. Andrew, likewise, was struck full and fair, and he leant back in his saddle till he was too far gone to stay upright, and he, too, slipped off his horse. Squires ran up and seized the horses, and quickly gave shields to each knight.

St. Andrew drew his sword; already the black knight had his out of its scabbard. They rushed at one another, and blade rang on blade as fast as the strokes of a hammer on an anvil. So fiercely did his enemy assail him that St. Andrew had to yield ground, and retreat a little. A roar of cheering came from the onlookers when they saw him hard pressed. But he was not defeated. As he gave way he watched his enemy warily. The black knight grew more eager, and came on more hastily. He aimed a tremendous blow at St. Andrew's head, striking a little wildly in his fury. St. Andrew sprang swiftly far to one side, and before the knight could recover his balance he had driven his sword down, down, clean through the black plume and the black helmet, through skull and neck to the very shoulders.

It was a wondrous stroke, and the crowd of knights and followers looking on gasped at the sight. Then they came to their senses, and knew that their third champion had been [168] defeated. They lost their tempers, and no longer could the marshal of the lists and his men keep them behind the barriers. They swarmed over them, and rushed at St. Andrew with cries of hatred and anger. "Down with the Christian! Kill him!" they shouted. "He has bewitched our knights. Kill him!"

St. Andrew knew that he was in dire peril. He could see no hope of his life, but he resolved to sell it as dearly as he could. A great anger filled him at this treacherous onset, and instead of defending himself, he became in a moment the attacker. Whirling his sword aloft, he sprang forward with a cry of battle, and threw himself like a madman upon the mob.

Well it was for him that his armour was stout and his blade sharp; not all the courage in the world could else have saved his life, for the Thracians were all armed. But so fierce was his fury that in a few minutes he had slain many of the crowd, and was driving the rest before him like sheep. Then he turned and strode across to the King's pavilion, aflame with wrath.

"Sir King," he cried in a great voice, "is this the way you uphold the laws of chivalry? Your herald talked to me of honour. Is this your honour? How do——"

[171] "Sire, Sire, a wonder!" a voice broke in. A squire came running across the lists, with his face full of horror. "The black knight—" he cried breathlessly. "I pray you come and look."

The crowd had become silent. Strange news had come to their ears. They whispered to one another in fear, and drew back beyond the barriers, as the King and St. Andrew and certain courtiers walked to where the black knight lay.

"This was no knight," said a squire who was by the body. "It was some evil spirit in the shape of a man. Look!"

He drew back the vizor of the broken helmet, and they looked at the face of the dead man. Here were no features of a brave and powerful knight. The face was not that of a man capable of bearing arms, but of an old, old creature, wizened and shrunken. There was no hair upon the head, the eyes were sunken and full of evil (for they had remained open in death), and the teeth protruded like a dog's. Assuredly it was the face of one to whom all evil was known, and who had lived evilly all his days.

"It must have been some wizard," said St. Andrew, when he had lost his first horror, and could think more clearly. "When I [172] fought him, he was veritably a man in the prime of life, and full of strength. If he was a wizard, he could take the shape of a young knight; but when I slew him his power would vanish, and he would become as he really was, the evil thing that you see."

"By my faith, Sir Knight," said the King of Thrace, "I think that is the truth of it. Do you know why I and my knights have come hither? When we encountered you we were riding to yonder castle to see if we could discover a certain magician. It may be that this is he himself whom you have slain. If it be so, I owe you a debt that I cannot pay even with my life."

And he told him the story that the Princess Rosalind had brought to him from Blanderon's castle.

"Forgive me, good sir," he ended, "if in my zeal against Christians I used you ill: I would have treated you honourably, with all the customs of chivalry, but my knights forgot their knightly courtesy when they saw this third champion slain. You are indeed a man of might, Sir Andrew. Now I pray that you will come with us to Blanderon's castle, and we will see whether the death of this enchanter has given us help in our search. If you have delivered my six daughters from [173] the spell cast upon them, there is no reward that you cannot ask of me."

Attendants remained behind to break up the lists, while the King and St. Andrew and all the knights and ladies went to the castle. They came to the great gates, and opened them with the keys which St. Anthony had given the King. No sooner were they within the courtyard than there ran to meet them a host of prisoners set free from spells, and foremost among them the King's daughters, once more restored to human form, and very lovely to look upon. For what St. Andrew and the King had guessed was indeed true. The black knight was no other than the terrible enchanter, the friend of Blanderon, who had bewitched the Princesses and many other persons, and given them into the giant's charge. He had heard of Blanderon's death, and by his magic arts he knew that St. Andrew was coming thither also; and he feared that these Christian knights, by their strong faith, might prevail over his spells. He took, therefore, the shape of a knight, and tried to slay St. Andrew in the tournament. But the might of the Christian champion was too strong for him, and now he was dead, and all his enchantments void and broken.

[174] "What shall I do to reward you, friend?" asked the King of Thrace, when all these things had become clear to him. "How can I make amends also for my treatment of you?"

"You did not use me ill, Sire," answered St. Andrew gently. "You hated Christians, and you knew that I was one. It will be enough reward for me if henceforth you do not hate knights of my faith."

"Hate!" cried the King. "I have seen Sir Anthony, and you, Sir Andrew, and I know now that there is no better faith in the world. I will become a Christian myself, if you will instruct me in the way."

They talked long and earnestly about the Christian faith, and the end of it was that the King of Thrace became a Christian, and with him many of his court. Then they set out to go back to the chief city, for the Princesses were eager to see their home and their sister Rosalind again, and Sir Andrew longed to meet Sir Anthony, his comrade, once more.

As for the castle of Blanderon, the King gave orders that it should be razed to the ground and utterly destroyed; and if you search for it now in Thrace you will not find so much as a single stone left, and no man knows where it once stood.

[173] They came presently to the chief city. The news of their coming spread before them, and all the people assembled to welcome them, strewing flowers in the path of St. Andrew and the six Princesses, who so honoured their deliverer that they wished to be with him always.

But there was a disappointment in store for them, for they found that St. Anthony and his wife, the Princess Rosalind, hearing of the great tournament which was to be held at the court of the King of Greece, had already set out thither. St. Andrew was filled with sorrow at this news, and it was not many days before he decided to go to Greece himself also to seek his brother-in-arms and to take part in the tournament. In order not to seem discourteous and impatient, and to prevent the Princesses from trying to dissuade him, he left the King's palace secretly, only leaving word whither he had gone. After a journey of some days he came to the chief city of Greece, Athens, and there he found St. Anthony and his Princess. Right glad were they to see one another again, and many a plan for adventure in the coming tournament did they make.

But the two champions were not the only friends who were united at Athens. When [176] they discovered St. Andrew's flight, the six Princesses of Thrace were plunged into grief. So deep was their sorrow that nothing would content them but to go secretly to Greece themselves, without thinking of their father's misery if he found them gone. They set out privately one night. But their attendants, from chance sayings and other signs, guessed whither they had gone, and told the King, who, when he first heard of their absence, had thought that another enchanter must have carried them off. But when he heard that it was only love for St. Andrew that had driven them, as it seemed to him, out of their senses, he determined that he, too, would go to Greece, and off he set in their train.


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