Tales of Old Lusitania/The Great Hero

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THE GREAT HERO.




In former days there lived a man who, though he had been married many years, had no children. This was a great sorrow to him; and to divert his mind from the sad subject he took to the occupation of fishing, which he plied daily.

One day as he was thus employed he was surprised to find only one large fish in his net, but greater was his astonishment when, on laying hold of it, he heard the fish say to him: "Oh, man, do not kill me."

The good man took pity upon the fish, and restored it to its native element. The next day, however, the same thing happened to him, and again the man allowed the monster to swim back to sea at its own request. After three days the same fish appeared once more in the fisherman's net; but this time it said: "Now kill me, and cut me into six slices. Give two of them to your wife to eat and two to your mare; but the two last slices you must bury behind your kitchen garden gate."

The man did as the sea monster had commanded him, and in due time his wife gave birth to two beautiful boys, whilst the mare had two splendid colts; and a short time after this he saw two spears spring up from the ground behind the garden gate, where he had buried the two pieces of fish, by which the man understood that the boys were destined to become great warriors.

When the boys had attained the age when they were likely to be drawn for the army, the father one day called them to him, and said: "You must now go and serve the king and your country, defending them both like valiant warriors. Here you have two horses, and two spears which you must never allow your enemy to split."

The two boys took leave of their parents and left home, but when on the high road, the eldest, who was named George, said to his younger brother: "I propose that we should now separate, and each take a different road, but we must try to meet again in a year's time, to relate to each other how we have fared, and our different exploits during the time. Take this branch of basil: if you see it wither it will be a sign that I am in danger, or that some misfortune has befallen me, then you must at once seek me and come to my aid."

The younger brother promised compliance, and they separated, each taking a different route, George to enlist as a soldier, and his brother to wander through foreign countries, seeking for adventures.

On arriving at the capital city, George found that great agitation and terror prevailed, not only in the capital itself, but in the surrounding country, on account of a great dragon which infested the neighbourhood, committing many ravages and killing many persons, and it was feared that the brute would endeavour to effect an entrance into the palace, and thus endanger the precious lives of the king and the royal family.

He also found that such was the fear and consternation of the people, that the bravest among them were afraid to encounter the dragon to destroy it, though the king, as an inducement, had announced that whoever should be fearless enough to kill the dangerous monster and bring one of its many heads to the palace should marry his daughter.

George, however, who was brave and fearless, trained to every manly sport, and possessing a fine fiery horse ready and willing to second his master in any adventure, determined, with the help of God, single-handed to encounter and destroy the dragon. He leaped upon his horse, seized his spear, and went forth to meet the dragon, his face illumined with a holy fire and angry defiance—a worthy knight to meet such an enemy. George waited impatiently for the dragon at the entrance of the bush, where, among its caves and thickets, the monster had its stronghold. He had not long to wait; he saw the dragon, with its seven fearful-looking heads and flashing eyes, approach him as if confident of its prey. A terrible fight ensued, which was witnessed by crowds of people, who stood at a distance gazing at the contest, trembling with fear and amazement at the rash daring, as they supposed, of the warrior. The dragon several times tore open the knight's flesh, and lashed its tail, inflicting dreadful blows on both knight and horse, but, by the help of God, they both stood their ground. A moment later the horse trampled upon the dragon, while George, with his spear touching a vulnerable part, gave the animal its death blow, and that once dangerous monster fell at his feet a hideous lifeless heap!

The rumour of this daring deed reached the king before George had time to return to the city bearing one of the dragon's heads; and, as he entered the capital, messengers met him summoning him to appear before the king, who had then sent to announce to him that he would make him the commander-in-chief of his army, and would give him his daughter in marriage.

Meanwhile George's brother, who was still wandering through different lands, as we have said before, seeking adventures, suddenly noticed that the branch of basil was withering, so, taking down his spear, he mounted his horse and started to the capital, seeking his brother George, as he feared some danger had befallen him.

On arriving at the capital he met George, who was waiting for him at the gates, and who related to him what had taken place, and that the king wished to reward him by giving him the command of the whole army and his daughter in marriage. Then he further said to his brother: "You know that I cannot marry the princess on account of the vow of celibacy that I made long ago. Go you then to the king and take the dragon's head that I cut off, and present it to the king. As you are so like me the king will not perceive the difference, and will believe that you are the knight who killed the dragon, and he will give you his daughter in marriage. After you have concluded this affair, ask the king to make me his commander-in-chief, as I wish to make a name for myself in the pursuit of arms."

It all happened as George desired, and he performed such glorious deeds for the good of his country and king, and was always so pious and virtuous that, after a saintly death, he earned the honour of being canonized by the church.

Coimbra.