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The Seven Champions of Christendom by  F. J. Harvey Darton
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THE PROPHECY

I
THE CAVE OF KALYB

[3]

L
ONG ago a certain knight of ancient lineage, akin to the royal line of Britain, lived at Coventry with his lady wife. He was High Steward of England, and his name was Albert. He had many men-at-arms and great possessions, and he ruled his lands well. He loved his lady truly, and she him. For many years they dwelt in honour and fame and happiness; but it was a sorrow to them that they had no son to inherit their wealth and power.

Now, one spring the lady began to be troubled with evil dreams. It seemed to her in these visions that terrible things befel her, and that from her came great woe (and also great good) to her husband and to England. Every night she dreamed thus, now one thing, now another, but always terrible and full of seeming truth. Her sleep was broken, and [4] she grew pale and timid, starting if anyone spoke to her, and seeing in any stranger or new thing some beginning of the unknown doom that she felt was to come upon her.

"Lady wife," said the Knight to her one day when they were alone, "what is amiss? Have you some secret sorrow? Tell me, that I may help you."

"It is nothing," she answered. "You cannot banish dreams."

"Dreams? They are nothing."

"They are real," she said sadly, "because they come unbidden, and make our minds a house for themselves, and we have no power over them. Soon they will have got possession of me altogether, and I shall have no thoughts of my own."

The Knight was sorely troubled. It seemed to him that something evil had laid hold of his wife. "We can conquer dreams," he said, to give her courage. "Look, if you sleep and dream, and I wake you, I drive the dreams away."

"Nevertheless, they come back," she replied. "They are signs of evil: they come in advance, so that I may be weakened and ready for what is to follow."

And she told him some of the terrors that she had seen in the night, when men and [5] women can no longer choose what they will think.

The Knight, when he heard these fearful visions, sent forthwith to his wisest counsellors, old men who had grown grey in the art of ruling men, and had long forgotten how to dream. All that they could tell him was that dreams should be disregarded, for they had no truth and no meaning; and that was of little service, for they could not tell him how to set about making light of thoughts that come silently at night. And then the Knight sent for physicians; and one bled the lady, and another bade her take a decoction of certain herbs, to be plucked under a new moon, and a third said that to wear always next the heart a powdered mouse wrapped in a bag of lizard's skin would keep away visions, good or ill. But none of these remedies were of avail.

And lastly the Knight sent for magicians and astrologers, of whom there were known to be some in his domain, though they practised secretly, magic being unlawful in that region. These also, being promised a free conduct to Coventry and back again, came and exercised their arts. One would look into a crystal ball and see that the dreams had no meaning. Another cast a horoscope [6] by means of the stars, and found that if under one planet the lady did this, and under another that, what was going to happen certainly would happen; but he could not say what it would be. Another one professed that he knew the secret word that is written on the Seal of Solomon the Wise; but all his knowledge did not cause the dreams to cease.

The Knight was in despair. By now he, too, had come to believe that great and terrible happenings were upon them. There was but one person left of whom he might seek aid with any hope of winning it, and that was the enchantress Kalyb. For long he dared not mention that terrible name to his wife; he kept it hidden in his mind, and spoke to no man of it. But every day his wife grew more afraid, and all her strength was wasted away. Kalyb might kill him by wizardry; she might turn him into a block of marble, to come to life again a thousand years thence in a strange world; she might strike him with a wand, so that he would become a pig or a dog; but whatever doom came upon him would be better than seeing his wife die before his eyes of terror and weakness.

For the truth is that Kalyb was an enchantress of grim power, prone to do evil upon [9] no known cause, and very ready to vent her spite upon innocent persons. She dwelt many leagues from Coventry, in the far west, beyond the Wilderness of Wirral, and the Valley of Stones. Her cave—for the few who had been to her dwelling reported that her home was a great cavern—lay in the uttermost depths of the Dark Forest, where was always the sound of a wind moaning among dead boughs, and the roaring of beasts, and the twittering of unseen shapes. No man might walk there and not meet with fear.

All this Sir Albert knew, and pondered long. For himself he cared nothing; he was as brave as any man might be. But he dreaded that a journey of such peril might seem to his lady a worse evil than her dreams.

At length he told her his thoughts. "I can die but once," he said, simply. "It is plain that if no way out of these visions can be found for you, death is near you too; and if by giving my life I can save yours, I am content. Nor is it certain that I must die if I visit Kalyb. She has killed many, and many also have perished in trying to reach her cave. But some have succeeded, and who knows but that these very dreams, so terrible to you, are not meant to warn [10] me that I should consult her magic? I will go."

It was long before he persuaded his wife that it was best for him to go. But at length she yielded, and he set out, taking with him but one attendant.

It was no great journey—but a day's ride—from Coventry to the edge of the Wilderness of Wirral. But that wilderness in those days was a place of danger. In part it was a huge stretch of heath-land, full of prickly bushes and thick, low-growing shrubs, which bore no fruit or flower to comfort men's sight or satisfy their hunger. In the shrubs lay hid serpents and venomous insects, and the soil, grey and stony, gave no grass to soften the road. And in part there was not even the growth of bushes, but stones only, and barren earth, and a few gnarled roots of trees that had died long ages before. Here not so much as a rabbit moved or had life, and the few ill-favoured birds that flew overhead seemed to pass the plain quickly, as if they, too, were afraid. For two days and a night the road ran thus.

Beyond that the land sloped upwards, till the Knight came to high down lands, where the green turf gave him ease, and the winds blew from every quarter with a fresh and [11] lively breath. It was evening when he reached the heights, and he lay down and fell into a deep sleep.

In the morning he saw that the Valley of Stones lay before him. And here he sent his servant back, for he did not know what might be in front of him, and he would not take another man, it might be to death. The servant was loth to go, for he loved the good Knight dearly; but his master bade him return and say that thus far his journey was safely accomplished.

The sun had risen behind him, but was still low in the heaven. Sir Albert cast a long shadow before him as he left the green grass on the top of the hills, and began to descend into the valley. In a little time, so sharply did the path fall, he had outstripped the sun, and came below the range of its beams. Now there were no shadows, and the green of the grass seemed less bright. The hills appeared to stretch up and up at either side till they left but a straight strip of blue sky above and the long slopes in front to be seen. The track grew more uneven, and full of small stones. Then the stones became larger and more scattered, till they were great rocks, grey, and covered with grey and yellow moss. The track curved a little, and the Knight [12] saw the whole valley open before him, now level for a long distance before it sloped upwards again. The rocks, still untouched by the sun, stood on either side of the path like cold ghosts. There was no sign of man in all that place; it seemed dead, and there was an utter loneliness and silence. Sometimes men fear because they can see terrible things, or hear them; sometimes they fear because there is nothing. In the Valley of Stones there was nothing; and chill and dread fell upon Sir Albert.

"My lady wife has feared greater terrors than this," he thought, and strode on up the hill. Presently, as he climbed, he came into the sunlight again. And now the stones seemed no longer dumb ghosts, but warm and sparkling; the turf shone, and he heard a lark rising with its song. In front the path mounted steadily upwards.

It was long past noon when at last he had crossed the whole valley, and came to its westernmost end, high up among endless hills. The path did not run right over the top, but cleaved a way in between two hillocks, their sides being cut away a little for it, so that the gleaming white chalk showed. In this pass the Knight stopped, and looked back at the long ghostly valley. "Thus far have [13] I come in safety," he thought, "and have passed two dangers—the barren wilderness and the dreadful silence. Now must I meet the third."

The sun had begun to sink. He looked onwards. The path seemed to vanish a few yards away. He went on, and saw that it curved round a mound of earth. Beyond the mound lay a deep ditch, and above it yet another mound. The Knight went across the ditch, and found that he was in a maze of trenches and walls and paths, all of green turf, one after another. He followed first one path, then another, keeping always in front of him the direction whence the light came; but he seemed to get no farther among these grassy windings. The sun fell lower in the sky, and the cold shadows filled up the hollows, and still the path led nowhere but round and round upon its own track. Then, as twilight slid over the earth, and the birds' songs began to die into silence, the Knight left the path, and climbed, with great pain and labour, up a steep bank to westward. Twice he slipped on the short turf, for the slope was well-nigh upright, and he rolled down into the trench again. But the third time he flung his arm over the top of the earth wall, and so scrambled on top.

[14] There in front was a great green space, ending, as far as his eyes could see in the distance, in deep woodlands of a terrible dark green. Behind lay the ridges where he had been wandering, like a range of little mountains, with shadowy valleys between.

Sir Albert walked wearily across the green turf, which now gradually began to slope downwards again. At first the grass was fresh and thick, cropped short and powdered with little purple scabious, like amethysts upon a green table. But as the slope deepened and he drew near the Dark Forest—for it was Kalyb's lair that he now approached—the green became dulled and brown, like the dry growth of a barren common where gorse has been burnt.

On the edge of the forest the Knight halted. It would not be well to seek out the Enchantress by night, he thought, when the weariness of his journey was still upon him. So he ate a little of his store of food, and lay down by a great oak just outside the forest, and tried to sleep. Indeed, he slept, but it was a fitful and restless slumber, broken by dreams and sudden awakenings to terror. It seemed to him in one vision that he was being kept violently back from his lady wife, and that she looked on him with eyes of un- [15] speakable sadness and longing as he strove in vain to move; some force appeared to chain his limbs. He woke trembling; and all around him he heard the noises of dreadful night, when evil enchantments have more power—whisperings and squeakings, and hoarse, low voices full of fury.

Day came at last, and Sir Albert rose and ate. He loosened his sword in its sheath, and spoke silently a prayer, and turned into the forest. As he left the light and came into the shade of the dark trees, it seemed to him that thunder sounded, and the solid earth shook. In a little while there was no sky to be seen; nothing but black tree-trunks and twisted roots, and above a thick-woven canopy of gloomy branches and brown leaves. It was as if those trees had never in their lives seen Spring come upon the earth, or renewed their youth with fresh young leaves, but had stood there, unshaken by the winds of the world, growing old and yet older, till the sap in their veins ran thin and poisonous. The very creatures that lived in that place seemed of evil omen: birds of rusty black, with sunken, dim eyes and bald heads and fierce crooked beaks; lizards that had no green or blue radiance, but only a cold, brown skin with no light in it; snakes all black with never [16] a bright diamond of other hue; worms that were pale and white and slow-moving. And there were noises also: now a howling as of beasts in pain; now a bellowing as of some great monster, not loud only but threatening and passionate; now a faint whimpering that was almost weeping. Bats squeaked shrilly, and brushed against the Knight with their cold, leathery wings; the evil birds croaked harshly at him. If ever fear walked abroad, surely the Dark Forest was the place of its marching.

Yet Sir Albert pressed on. The trees grew denser; brambles and undergrowth choked what faint semblance of a track he followed; often he had to cut them away with his sword. Hour after hour he struggled forward, until his eyes had become so used to the dim light that he no longer was desirous of the clear day. Once he rested a while, and ate, and went on refreshed. But it was not till late in the afternoon that he perceived that the darkness was growing a little less thick in front of him, and the ground beginning to slope a little upwards and to be more stony.

The change put new heart into him. He hurried forward, stumbling hastily over loose stones towards the light. And yet it was not bright light in front of him, but only a cold, [17] pale light like that before dawn, a lessening of darkness.

The trees ended suddenly in a little clearing of grass and a few gorse and bramble bushes. The other side of the clearing rose a great rocky cliff, sheer and stern. In the middle of it, with pillars rudely shaped in the rock on either side, was a huge iron door, opening in the middle, with immense hinges and knobs upon it. There was no keyhole nor latch, nor knocker, but from one of the pillars at the side hung a carved brazen trumpet chained to the rock by iron links.

Sir Albert paused. Here plainly was the home of the Enchantress. Should he summon her by blowing the trumpet? Or would that command, as it might seem, rouse her to anger? He looked at the great door. There was no sound or sign of life behind it. There was an utter silence in the clearing; all the noises of the forest were stilled.

He walked boldly to the pillar, drew his sword, and held it ready in his right hand, took the trumpet in his left, and blew a strong blast.

For a second there was silence; then the sound of the brazen trumpet beat against the rock and was thrown back to the woods behind with a thousand echoes, as if from all [18] quarters unseen beings were blowing signals of tumult and war.

The echoes died in a jangling chorus. Then before Sir Albert's eyes the rock shook to and fro, and the ground beneath him quaked. There was a low rumbling, which grew louder and louder until it was a roar of rolling thunder. The iron gates, without moving, clanged as if they had been shut violently. When all the sound had ceased, a hollow voice boomed from behind them these words:

"Return, Sir Knight, thy wife has borne a son;

But in that birth you both are quite undone.

Fierce as a dragon shall he be in fight,

Yet more than dragon's is St. George's might."

Sir Albert let the point of his sword sink to the ground, and his arm hung loosely, as he heard that strange saying. Every word was clear and distinct: yet he could find no meaning in them, except that his wife had borne a son and that he was bidden to return to her.

He stood in thought for a minute. Then he laid hold upon the trumpet again. And yet, as he seized it, he changed his mind, and let it fall. The voice had bidden him return. It may be that Kalyb herself had spoken. Here at least was certainly her lair. He had [21] come to question her; he had had his answer before he asked the question. Who knew but that some terrible doom might come upon him if he pressed her further?

He turned and walked towards the dark forest, slowly and heavily at first, then more quickly, and at last desperately when his purpose to return grew strong in him and he thought upon those other words,"You both are quite undone."


II
THE BIRTH OF ST. GEORGE

It was more than a week since he first set out when Sir Albert, weary, haggard, travel-stained, came again to his castle at Coventry. The gates on either side the drawbridge were open, as was customary, and a guard saluted him as he passed. But though the news of his coming had gone before him, there were no signs of joyful welcome, no blowing of trumpets and assembling of men-at-arms. The very guards looked askance, as though they had some secret that they feared to tell him.

He came into his great hall. His boar-hound rose and met him, licking his hand in [22] welcome, and scattering the rushes on the floor with his leapings and caperings of joy. But that was the only joyful thing to be seen. The pages and serving-men wore dark garments of woe, the maids were red-eyed with weeping. A little group of attendants—the squire, the bailiff, and the seneschal and clerks and other officers—waited timidly till he spoke.

"What, Seneschal?" said Sir Albert. "Have I gone on a journey of peril and returned safely to be welcomed like this?"

"My lord——" said the Seneschal, and stopped.

"Sir," said the Squire, "what answer did you get from the Enchantress?"

"We marvel that you have returned safely, my lord," added a clerk. "Doubtless you have a strange tale to tell. Our tale is strange, too, and sad also."

The Knight looked at him steadily, feeling the burden of some new sorrow close upon him. "I do not know what the Enchantress meant by her answer," he said: "her words were without meaning, as it seemed. But I think they were words of doom." And he told them the rhymes he had heard.

"My lord," said the Seneschal slowly, "I can explain Kalyb's saying; but I fear that it [23] has a sorrowful meaning. Let not your anger fall upon me for my story."

"You know that I am just, Sir Seneschal," answered Sir Albert. "Say on."

"Listen, then, my lord. Trouble has come upon you, close on the heels of joy, and all the heavier because of that joy. Two days after you had set out for the dark forest your wife bore a son; and at his birth she died."

He paused. Sir Albert could not speak. But he made a sign to the Seneschal to continue.

" 'Thy wife has borne a son,

But in that birth you both are quite undone,' "

said the Seneschal gently. "The Enchantress foresaw this, if, indeed, it is not of her contriving. There is worse to tell, my lord."

"Worse? What can be worse? Have I not lost my dearest wife?" said the Knight bitterly.

"That is not all you have lost, my lord. The babe was a fine boy, and on him there were curious signs which I do not doubt are marks that one day he shall be great and famous, as befits the High Steward of England's son. But perhaps we shall never know of his fame. My lord, four nurses were set [24] to guard and tend him. They were chosen well, and no fault can be found with them. All the castle was on watch and ward as is customary in your absence. But what is all the caution in the world against magic? Two days after the boy was born, my lord, as he slept in the afternoon, two nurses being with him, he was stolen by black arts. They did not neglect their watch: one was busied with her needle, the other rocked the cradle and did but look aside out of the window for a moment. In that moment the babe vanished, with no sound or sign of any person, no, nor even of any evil spirit. We have searched everywhere, my lord. There is no explanation but the craft of some wizard, who, it may be, has a grudge against you."

Sir Albert was long silent. Then he questioned the men strictly about the guard that was set, and summoned the nurses, and questioned them also. But he could learn no more. The child had vanished in open daylight, and no cause seen.

"You said there were marks upon him," said Sir Albert presently. "What were they?"

"These, my lord," answered the Seneschal. "On his breast, in red, was the image of a dragon. In the palm of his right hand was [25] a red cross. On his left leg was a band like a golden garter. Your lady wife, as she died, begged that he might be named George. I do not know——"

"Yes," said the Knight wonderingly. "It is as Kalyb prophesied, though I cannot tell how it will come true. She said he should be fierce as a dragon, and she spoke of St. George." And he fell into thought.

His servants and officers stood silent, with bowed heads. At last Sir Albert spoke. "It is plain to me," he said, "that my son has been stolen by magic arts; I do not know for what purpose. I do not know if the wicked Kalyb stole him, or if she had a hatred against me, who never wronged her in all my life. But she knew that great things were to come upon the boy; she knew of his birth before I came to her fortress. She bade me return; I have returned, to this sorrowful news. I think if she had desired me to ask her further, or to go back to the Dark Forest again, she would have said so. So I will not seek her again. But she said nothing of whether I should seek my son or not. And hear me now, my friends"—and he raised his voice till it rang through the hall—"I vow before you all that I will go forth from Coventry into every corner of the [26] whole wide world in search of my son, and I will not come back here till I have found him—no, not if I have to end my days in a foreign land."

He strode from them to his chamber. When he had removed from him the dust of travel, he went to look upon his wife for the last time. Even on that day they were to bury her, with all due ceremony.

Messengers were sent into all parts of England—aye, and farther, for news of the boy St. George (for by that name he was ever afterwards called). They went and came back; they brought no tidings. Sir Albert had search made in all places where the child might be hid. But he learnt nothing. So he begged of the King that he might be freed from his office of High Steward, and the King graciously gave him his freedom. And then, having made all needful preparations, he set forth from Coventry to wander over the world till he found his son.

Never more did he set eyes upon his castle of Coventry. Never did he so much as hear of the son he had not yet seen. For ten years he was a knight-errant, taking up such adventures as came in his path, fighting with all the usages of chivalry and knighthood, and everywhere asking and hoping for the news [27] he never received. In the tenth year, worn with travel and not far from despair, he came to the Holy Land of Palestine, and there joined in the wars against the pagan Saracens, and was slain, fighting fearlessly for Christendom.


III
ST. GEORGE AND THE ENCHANTRESS

The son whom Sir Albert lost without ever seeing him was destined to be the patron saint of England, the slayer of the dragon. The Enchantress Kalyb had indeed stolen him, that she might work out his destiny by giving him suitable arms and a chosen band of companions. But he was not to set eyes on other mortals for many a long year. The only being in human form he saw till he came almost to manhood was Kalyb herself; she appeared to him always in the guise of a lovely maiden, who had the gift of eternal youth and beauty. For the rest, St. George's comrades, or guardians, were none else than twelve satyrs, hideous creatures, half men, half goats, who waited on him, and taught him the use of arms and all knightly arts, but would not suffer him out of their sight for an instant.

So he dwelt in Kalyb's power for many a [28] long year, growing strong and wise and good to look upon, but ignorant of all that might be in the world of other men.

There came a day at length when Kalyb visited him, appearing more lovely than ever, and had serious speech with him.

"I will make you lord of all my magic realm," she said, looking longingly upon him, "if you will marry me and live with me for ever. By my power I will make you eternally young, even as I am. Am I not fair to look on?"

"Even so, Enchantress," said St. George courteously, for it was true." But I do not love you; I do not think well of your black arts. I think such powers are unlawful for men to use." For the champion, though he had never learnt anything of men's nature, had born in him, deep in his heart, a dread and hatred of all that was evil. "You are very fair, but you do wicked deeds."

"You do not know what wickedness is, poor youth," said Kalyb mockingly, "How should you? And you do not know what power is. Look at this wand"—and she showed him a golden wand, curiously powdered with silver stars and signs in the ancient language of Arabia—"look at this wand. With it you may have dominion over the [29] solid earth. Strike the hard rock, and it will fly open. Beat the ground with it, thus"—and she struck the earth thrice in a singular manner—"and the firm floor of the world shall rock." And indeed there was a terrible rumbling, and the earth quaked. "I can give you all the wealth that there is now in the whole globe; I can tell the secret places where rubies and topazes are found, and where diamonds hang on the trees. I can change men's visages so that they appear like beasts, or, again, transform the beasts into the likeness of upright-walking men. This wand and its spells are the least of my powers."

The young man was strongly moved by her promises. Yet he did not trust her. "These are great wonders, lady," he said simply. "But I have no liking for them. Why have you bred me thus, so that I know nothing of other men? I have been told by those ugly guards of mine that there is a world outside your dominion, and that there men strive for honour and justice, and live, and love, and die; but what do I know of it, save that I am well fitted for it, if their praise of my skill be true? What use should I make of your powers when I do not even know my own? Who am I? What is my lot? [30] What am I to do, I who am a man and no magician?"

"Aye, who are you?" laughed Kalyb bitterly, for by her magic arts she knew that St. George must one day leave her, and that soon; but she did not know the manner of his going, and she was eager to prevent it if it were possible. "Who are you? Who in this realm of mine are your parents? Why have you been trained as a knight? I could tell you. But that is mere human talk and knowledge; I can give you a better wisdom and a power far greater."

St. George pondered a moment. It came into his head that he would humour her, though what would be the issue of it, or how it would end, he could not guess. "Fair Enchantress," he said,"why should we not strike a bargain? These powers that you speak of are without doubt greatly to be desired. But I am a man, and I desire yet more ardently to know what man I am, and for what purpose you have brought me hither and trained me in the knightly customs of mankind. If you will tell me that, and reveal to me the state and names of my parents, I will marry you, and you shall teach me this magic that you are so set upon giving me."

Kalyb wondered a little at his request. [31] But she had fallen deeply in love with the splendour of his youth, and wished to defeat fate, and keep him always with her. But no enchantments can defeat the high purposes that rule the world for its good.

"Sir George," she answered, "it shall be a bargain. First I will tell you your lineage, and then I will show you certain marvels of my art, and then you shall marry me, and we will come into great happiness. Now, first, you are of the blood royal of England, the son of Sir Albert, High Steward, Lord of Coventry, and his lady wife. They have both left this life many years now. I can tell you afterwards the manner of their deaths. When you were born, I stole you by enchantments. Here in my kingdom you have been ever since."

"England!" said St. George. "That is a country of which my guards have told me much. Now reveal to me why I am here."

"Softly," said the Enchantress, for she knew that if she told him his destiny he would try to make it come true. "Let us first search out my other secrets, the wonders of my realm. They are things of the present; your fate is a matter for the future."

St. George made no bones about it. He felt, with this new knowledge, that he was [32] born for some great end which would come to pass in the due time.

"Come," said Kalyb, taking her wand. She waved it round and over his head and shoulders, and muttered some words that he did not understand; then she chanted other words:

"Hear, be awakened; see the unseen;

Learn the wonders that have been."

He seemed, as she spoke, to become more a man than before, less a prisoner in a strange and mysterious land. Then, though he thought he had wandered with his satyrs over all her kingdom, Kalyb led him into a region close at hand upon which he believed that he had never before set eyes. They went by a winding path among rocks, whereon grew wallflower and stonecrop, for all the world as if there was no evil influence in the place. They came anon to a castle of lime and stone, very well built, with many turrets, and upon each a different gay flag. It was set upon a hill, or great rock, so that any man approaching it could be easily seen from afar.

Kalyb struck the high portcullis with her wand, and it rose above them with never a sound of ropes or pulleys. Within were great chambers marvellously decorated with rich [33] tapestries, tall candles, and many-coloured glass. Beyond lay a garden full of sweet herbs and bushes cut into life-like shapes; here was a unicorn in yew, there a peacock in box, there a whole file of horsemen in close-growing laurel. The garden ended in a great cliff of grey rock, covered in many places with yellow lichen; from cracks in the stone grew red valerian, and lean cats walked to and fro beneath, waving their thin tails at the smell of that strange plant.

"Here is your destiny," said Kalyb bitterly. "But it is better not to know it. It will bring you into great sorrows and through many hardships; there will be in it more sadness and toil than joy. Better to abide here, young knight; I can give you ease, and sweetness, and youth for ever, and power. What is the good of toil without end?"

"Tell me my destiny," said St. George. "No man can be happy in ease that he has not earned; that much my manhood tells me."

Kalyb said no more. She made a pass with her wand. St. George was looking at the rock, and the red plant, and the cats. Suddenly he saw in their place, fast against the rock, motionless as if they too were rock, six comely knights fully armed. They appeared, [34] as it were, asleep, and yet in a greater stillness than sleep gives.

"They will not wake until an appointed time," said Kalyb grimly. "These are to be your companions if you choose that life of hardship. Here is St. Denis, who shall be reverenced by France; he shall have the form of a beast, and shall marry a tree. This is James of Spain; his deeds shall be to kill a pig and change his skin. This is Anthony of Italy, who shall kill a foolish giant. St. Andrew, the next, will do no more than slay a magician. St. Patrick here shall set upon certain satyrs—you know their prowess. And, last of all, St. David will get his arms from a stone."

So she spoke, making at once a mockery and a mystery of these knights who were to be the champions of Christendom.

"Do not answer," she said, as St. George made as if to ask her questions. "I have not shown you all yet. You must not choose your destiny till you have seen all." For she still hoped vainly that St. George would choose to marry her, and so put himself into her power, to treat as she had treated the other champions.

She led him back to the castle, to the stables, which they had not yet visited. [35] There were seven noble chargers, and by them all the trappings for the steeds of knights.

"These are for you and your comrades—if they are to be your comrades," she said. "This white horse is yours. He is named Bucephalus, after the horse of the great Alexander, who conquered all the world as far as Tartary. Now let us find armour for you."

They went to an armoury—a long chamber hung with swords and lances and shields. Here were gilt spurs, and steel morions, and surcoats blazoned with gold thread, halberds, sharp, thin daggers that would slit the life of a man out in a second, great two-handed swords, fine rapiers. There was not any weapon known to chivalry which was not in that gallery, each in order and bright for use.

Kalyb went to the end of the chamber, where hung by itself a great sword with a hilt in the shape of a cross. She took it down, and offered it to St. George. Here is a sword which shall be the most famous in the world. No man save you has handled it; it shall be the sword of St. George. With it you shall be invincible, the champion of right against wrong, of good against evil. The name of this sword is Ascalon."

St. George took the sword. It lay in his [36] hand as if it had been made to fit his grip; never had he held a weapon more easily.

Kalyb looked at him as he tested the sword. She felt that her power over him was slipping from her.

"Have I pleased you, dear knight?" she asked tenderly. "Have I armed you well?"

"It is a good sword. I thank you, Kalyb," replied St. George. He knew his parentage and his destiny now. It only remained to be free of the Enchantress. And in a little while, as she had promised, she would give him magic powers. "Take me to my comrades," he said. "Will you not bring them to life for me?"

"Bring to life the men who shall take you from me?" said Kalyb. "I shall not let you go so easily, Sir George. You shall see how I might have served you had I willed; then, perhaps, you will be grateful to me and love me. Come."

They went back towards the garden and the rocky cliff. When they came to the cliff, at the end of it, where it sloped away towards a dark wood, she gave him her wand.

"See, I give you my power," she cried. "All that I have is now yours. Strike this hard rock, and see how great is my gift, and believe that I love you."

[39] He struck the rock. With a rending crash it burst asunder, and a narrow, dark way opened through it. St. George peered within. Then he started back in horror. On either side, in the rock itself, were the bodies of little children.

"What is this, foul wizard?" he cried, in dismay and anger. "What have you done to these innocent children that I see here dead in this cruel rock?"

Kalyb laughed savagely. "I told you that I had spared you," she answered. "I stole all these babes from their parents, and slew them, and placed them there. Even so I might have slain you had I not looked on you with favour. Do you see now what a gift of love and power it is that I offer you?"

"Never will I marry you, detestable witch!" cried St. George furiously.

"You will break your word?" said the Enchantress with malice. "You, a knight, promised to marry me if I would tell you your name and parentage. Can a knight break his promise?"

St. George was silent. He saw into what a horrible issue his promise had led him. He knew now that he was marked out to be the champion of England and right, and yet he was pledged, by the promise that had won [40] that knowledge for him, to a wicked enchantress, whose every deed was hateful to him.

"Release me from my word, Kalyb," he said pitifully, at last.

"Never," she answered triumphantly. Then she saw how sorely he was stricken. "These were my enemies' children," she said more gently. "Come deep into the rock with me; bring the wand, and you shall see for yourself wonders that will give you pleasure, not sorrow."

She turned and entered the cleft in the rock. St. George made as if to follow her. But he saw that his opportunity had come. As she went forward into the darkness, he leapt lightly back, and struck the rock with the wand again. "Rock, be shut," he cried.

The rock clanged to with a noise as of beaten iron. There was a roaring in the cliff-side, and the wood at a little distance bent and swayed as if a storm suddenly swept it. From the rock came shrieks and groans, and a rushing noise filled all the air. The earth trembled. Then there was a great stillness, for she who had enchanted that place was dead, and a thousand spirits had torn her body in pieces. All things returned again to their natural uses, for Kalyb's power was broken and gone.

[41] St. George stood speechless and aghast. He felt as if he were waking from a terrible dream. Then he remembered the wand in his hand and the sword at his side. He broke the wand across his knee, and threw the fragments from him.

"Lie there, evil thing," he said, as he cast it away, "and be a sign that thus shall all wickedness be broken and cast aside. Now for my comrades and the way of the champions."

He went to the place where he had seen the six knights bound in an enchanted silence. He found them there, but no longer still and dumb. They were rubbing their eyes and stretching themselves like men roused from deep sleep, and asking one another questions in amazement at their sudden freedom. At the sound of St. George's step they turned to him in wonder.

"Friends," he said, before they could find words to speak, "I am here to set you free, that we may seek adventure in the world together. I have slain Kalyb, the wicked Enchantress." And he told them all that had just come to pass. "Now it is for us to go forth in arias and right wrongs," he ended. "There are arms and steeds for us all here, and we will fare forth to seek our fortunes as knights must.

[42] They went to the stable where the horses were, and took each his charger. Then they chose such arms as they desired from the armoury, and having feasted together in the palace, and made such store of food as they could with ease carry, they left the realm of Kalyb for ever.

They knew not wither they were going, nor upon what quest. "We are to become knights by all due rites in reward of knightly deeds," said St. George. "The Enchantress told me that we should be the champions of Christendom. Let us seek Christendom, and do whatever tasks may come in our way; let us uphold the Christian faith against pagans, and our honour and right against all evil-doers."

There seemed to be but one path away from Kalyb's castle. It was not that by which Sir Albert had come thither many years before, for that had been created by magic arts, and so soon as Kalyb's power was destroyed, her wiles and snares were destroyed too. The path the champions followed led out into the wide world by lonely ways; fear of the Enchantress had driven men far from her dwelling. They journeyed many miles and met never another soul. At length they came to a place where there were seven cross-roads, and no signs of whither they led.

[43] "Here let us part," said St. George, when they had debated in vain which way they should take. "Here are seven roads, all unknown to us even as the world itself is unknown. Let us each take our own road, and find upon it the hidden things that life is to reveal to us. We shall come together again, be sure of that; the brotherhood of champions shall not be broken, even though we be apart for years."

They agreed to this with no more words; and so, with loving farewells, they parted, each upon a different road.


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