"Draw your broad-sword, mon, and follow me," cried Saint Andrew, shaking his spear.
The Squire, tucking up his plaid carefully, that it might not be torn or soiled, with loud shouts obeyed, and soon both were dashing and slashing away among the infuriated brutes. The heads of numbers rolled upon the snow, which for miles round was ensanguined with their blood.
"Few creatures are more difficult to get rid of than bears," observed the Knight, charging again. "On, Murdoch, on, we'll do it if it is to be done, for what men dare they can do!"
Thus shouting and slaying, the Knight and his Squire fought on for many hours, till the survivors of the bears, discovering that they were likely to get the worst of it in the end, took to flight, and stopped not till they reached the North Pole, where they stopped only because they could go no further, and where Saint Andrew agreed that it was not worth while following them.
His next encounter was with a nation of people with heads like foxes, from whose cunning arts and guiles he had the greatest difficulty in escaping. Although conquered by the power of his arms, they still appeared with fresh tricks to entrap him. When, at length, he had fought his way out from among them, he found himself in a dismal vale, the air still dark as Erebus, where he heard the blowing of unseen furnaces, the boiling of cauldrons, the rattling or armour, the trampling of horses, the jingling of chains, the roaring of wild beasts, the hissing of serpents, and the cries of unearthly spirits, and such like dreadful sounds, which would have made any other hearts than those of Saint Andrew of Scotland, and of his faithful squire, Murdoch McAlpine of that ilk, quake and tremble with fear; but passing calmly amid them, and undergoing hardships incredible, under which knights and squires, born in more southern climes, would have sunk exhausted, they arrived in the kingdom of Georgia, nor rested till they reached the foot of the mountain on which stood the castle within whose iron walls the six fair daughters of the King were still held in durance, in the shape of swans, with golden crowns upon their heads.
When the valiant Champion of Scotland beheld the lofty situation of the castle, and the invincible strength it seemed to be of, he suspected some strange adventure to befall him; so, buckling close his armour, which, on account of the heat he had loosened, and drawing his sword, he climbed the mountain, when he espied, on a craggy rock, the headless body of the Giant, on which the ravens and other birds of prey were feeding. Then he approached the castle gate, when, what was his astonishment to see a long procession of mourners come forth, with the King of Georgia at their head; and, on inquiry, was told that the old man mourned for his six daughters, whom he could by no means get changed back into their natural shapes.
Saint Andrew, on hearing this strange tale, expressed his firm belief, in language somewhat strong, that such things could not be.
Whereon the King and all his courtiers were highly indignant, and numberless knights stepped forth, and challenged the stranger to mortal combat. The lists were quickly prepared. Then the valiant Champion of Christendom entered the arena, when the King, in company with many Georgian lords, was present to behold the contest. Thrice had Saint Andrew traced his war-steed up and down the lists, flourishing his lance, at the top whereof hung a pendant of gold, on which, in silver letters, was traced, "This day a martyr or a conqueror!" Whereon there entered a knight in exceeding bright armour, mounted on a courser as white as snow, whose caparison was the colour of the elements.
A fierce encounter followed; but the Georgian was defeated, and retired in disgrace from the lists.
Then entered a knight in green armour, his steed an iron grey. Loud rang their spears against their shields, fierce clashed their swords, and clanged their battle-axes, till the Georgian warrior fairly took to flight.
The third knight who entered wore a black corselet, and his huge war-horse was covered with a veil of sable silk. In his hand he bore a baton of mighty weight, and bound round with iron; but no sooner did the champions meet than their lances shivered in pieces from the furious shock, and flew high up into the air, when, alighting from their steeds, they resumed the combat with their keen-edged falchions, the sparks flying from their helmets as from a blacksmith's anvil.
The faithful Murdoch meantime looked on with anxious gaze, when he was accosted by a little old woman of mean aspect, who had in vain tried to obtain information from the other bystanders.
"Why is it you want to know, Mother?" he asked, careful not to give a hurried answer, though he bowed politely.
The old woman, who was in reality a good fairy, replied, "Because I have come here to do some good; but while a scene of mortal strife is taking place I cannot employ my power."
Then Murdoch told her all he knew about the matter; whereon she advised him to hurry to his master when the present combat should be over, and to bid him declare his belief that the account was true, and to offer to bring the Princesses forth in their proper shapes.
Meantime the combat between the Scottish Champion and the Black Knight continued with unabated fury. Any advantage gained by one was foiled by the other, till at length Saint Andrew, uttering his battle-cry, struck so mighty a blow with his battle-axe, that he clave the Georgian's burgonet, and his head beneath, from his crown to his shoulders, and his body fell lifeless on the ground.
This so enraged the King that he would have ordered the Scottish Knight to have been slain, when Murdoch rushed forward and gave the fairy's message.
The Champion spoke as she had directed, when the King, who was of a placable disposition, though somewhat hasty, consented to his request.
"Swear, most noble King, upon my sword, that you will not attempt any foul treachery to me or my follower, on account of the Champion I have slain, until I have accomplished the task I have now undertaken."
On this the old King, descending from his throne, bent over the gallant Saint Andrew's sword, and swore as he desired.
The Knight entered the castle, and repaired to the garden, when, instead of finding an ugly old woman, he beheld a lady of radiant beauty, for such was indeed the Fairy.
"You see yonder six swans," said she; "as they approach strike boldly with your sword six strokes, nor fear the consequences."
The Knight stood by the side of the crystal lake, and as he stood, his glittering falchion in his hand, the six swans swam gracefully up. Six times he struck, and each time the head of one of the swans flew up; but in its stead appeared, wonderful to relate, a beautiful maiden, whom the Knight handed with true courtesy off her liquid pedestal on to dry land. Thus, in a few minutes, the Champion was surrounded by six of the most lovely damsels the world ever saw, habited in green hunting-suits, each almost equal to Diana herself, going forth armed for the chase.
"You have done well, noble Champion," said the Fairy. "You did not despise me, or my words, when I appeared old and ugly, and from henceforth you will find me ever ready to aid and protect you, as you travel on in search of those heroic adventures after which your heart pants. I bid you farewell; though, remember, that I will come when you summon me;" saying this the Fairy mounted a golden chariot drawn by peacocks, and, rapidly gliding through the air, disappeared amid the clouds which floated round the sides of that lofty mountain. Scarcely had she gone, and the six ladies were pouring forth their thanks to the noble Knight who had delivered them from their cruel bondage, when the King of Georgia, followed by all his knights and courtiers, entered the garden of the castle to ascertain what had become of the strange Knight.
Nothing could exceed his astonishment, and delight, and gratitude, when Saint Andrew presented to him his six daughters in their proper forms.
"You deserve them all," exclaimed the Monarch, in the warmth of his emotion. To which the Scottish Knight, with true modesty, replied, that he considered one far more than he deserved, and that as yet he felt inclined to remain a bachelor.
The next day, after a sumptuous banquet which the King's cooks prepared in the Giant's castle, the whole party marched back to the palace of the Georgian Monarch with banners streaming, cymbals clashing, and drums and trumpets sounding joyful melody. When, however, sad to relate, the King inquired for his eldest daughter, he found that she had fled away with the Champion of Italy.
This event, so grievous to the heart of the King, made him defer all the triumphant arrangements which were forming to do honour to the Scottish Knight and to his six fair daughters.
When, also, Saint Andrew heard that one of his noble comrades was so near at hand, calling Murdoch to his side, he bade him prepare for their departure. Wishing to avoid the pain of parting with the six Princesses, and, lest their honoured sire might renew his generous offer, Saint Andrew, without bidding farewell to the King of Georgia, or to his chief councillors and ministers of state, and other great lords of the realm, set off from the capital in pursuit of Saint Anthony of Italy and the fair Rosalinde.
The next day, when the six Princesses heard of the departure of the Knight they so much admired, providing themselves with sufficient treasure and habiliments suited for travelling, they left by stealth their father's palace, mounted on six white palfreys, and attended by six maidens on asses, intending to find out the victorious and renowned Champion of Scotland, or to end their lives in single blessedness in some pious retirement in a foreign land.
No sooner did the news of his daughters' flight reach the King of Georgia, than attiring himself in homely russet, like a pilgrim, with an ebony staff in his hand, tipped with silver, he took his departure, all alone, from his palace, resolved to recover his beloved children, or to lay his bones to rest in some unknown spot, where, forgotten, he might rest at peace.
When his councillors, ministers of state, and other great lords heard of his sudden and secret departure, grief intolerable struck their hearts, the palace gates were covered with sable cloth, all pleasures were at an end, and ladies and courtly dames sat sighing in their chambers; where, for the present, we will leave them to speak of other themes.