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Saints of Italy by  Ella Noyes
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THE THREE PRINCES

[38]

I
T came to pass that the people of the country round about that city, wherein San Niccolo dwelt, rebelled against the Emperor, who sent forth three great princes, with a large host, to subdue them. Now, the heart of Niccolo was sorrowful because of the rebels, for they were poor and ignorant folk, and he feared their chastisement would be heavy. Seeing far off, from his window, the three captains pricking across the plain on their chargers, at the head of a great procession of horsemen and foot-soldiers, with banners floating and trumpets sounding, he sent messengers to bid them to come and eat meat in his house, for he hoped to persuade them to deal mercifully with their enemy. The princes consented gladly, having heard men speak of the wonders which were done by the good bishop, and desiring greatly to see him. And they ascended to the city, and entered into his house. It happened that the judge of the city, a harsh and unjust man, had secretly condemned three innocent young noblemen to be beheaded that very evening, pretending that they were traitors, in league with the rebels. [39] Now, as Niccolo was sitting at meat with the princes, there came one running with dishevelled hair and marks of frantic haste, and falling down before the good bishop, told him of the execution, which was even then taking place, and implored him to come and deliver the innocent. Niccolo, filled with righteous indignation, rose up without delay, and praying his guests to go with him, hastened to the market-place. There, in the midst of a multitude of people, who had run together to witness the woeful spectacle, they beheld the three victims, kneeling down, with their eyes bound and hands tied behind their backs, and the executioner, a horrid, squint-eyed fellow, in the very act of lifting his axe to smite the neck of the eldest. Niccolo, crying loudly, "Hold!" fell upon the executioner, and snatching the weapon from his hand, threw it far away over the heads of the bystanders. Then he tenderly loosed the captives each in turn, and led them away unhurt, amid the joyful applause of the multitude, whilst the soldiers, who had been sent to guard against the escape of the prisoners, looked on astounded, and dared not hinder him. Afterward Niccolo went to the palace of the judge and rebuked him with great severity in the presence of the princes. The miserable man, filled with shame, knew not how to excuse himself, and at length fell on his knees, and shedding abundant tears of repentance, besought pardon for his sin, which the saint deigned to grant. Now, all these things were observed [40] with no small wonder by the princes, and they kept them in their hearts. Having taken leave of the good bishop, they went forth with their army, and reduced the rebellious people to submission without shedding blood, and afterwards returned to the Emperor, who gave them much praise and honour.

When a long time had passed, these three princes fell into disgrace, being falsely accused of high treason by some wicked men, who coveted their possessions. The Emperor, in a great rage, caused them to be thrown into a dreadful dungeon, and commanded that they should be put to death in the night. The captives learned their condemnation from the gaoler, and became very sorrowful, not knowing how they might be saved. At length they called to remembrance Niccolo, and how they had seen him deliver the innocent men, and they knelt down and invoked the succour of the good bishop. In that same hour of the night, when all was dark and silent in the great palace, a man stood beside the Emperor in a vision, and said to him, "Wherefore art thou provoked to anger against the princes, and hast condemned them to death, who have done no evil against thee? Arise, and command that they be set free, else shalt thou perish beneath the sword of thine enemies and be eaten of wild beasts." The Emperor asked, saying, "Who are thou, that darest to enter in here in the night and speak so boldly to me?" The saint answered, "I am the Bishop Niccolo." Then the Emperor [43] awoke, and calling his guards, sent for the prisoners; and when they were come he asked them, saying, "What magic do you use, that you have caused me to dream so strange a dream?" They answered that they were not magicians, and were innocent of all offence against him. Then he said, "Know you a man called Niccolo?" When they heard this name, they raised their hands to heaven and prayed aloud to the Lord to succour them by the help of the saint. Then the Emperor bade them tell him all things concerning Niccolo, and, having listened attentively, said, "Behold, I set you free. Go in peace, and give thanks to God, who hath given you your lives in answer to the prayers of His servant."


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