“I am indeed bound to vengeance,” murmured Cedric; “Saint Withold knows my heart.”
Front-de-Boeuf, in the meanwhile, led the way to a postern, where, passing the moat on a single plank, they reached a small barbican, or exterior defence, which communicated with the open field by a well-fortified sallyport.
“Begone, then; and if thou wilt do mine errand, and if thou return hither when it is done, thou shalt see Saxon flesh cheap as ever was hog’s in the shambles of Sheffield. And, hark thee, thou seemest to be a jolly confessor—come hither after the onslaught, and thou shalt have as much Malvoisie as would drench thy whole convent.”
“Assuredly we shall meet again,” answered Cedric.
“Something in hand the whilst,” continued the Norman; and, as they parted at the postern door, he thrust into Cedric’s reluctant hand a gold byzant, adding, “Remember, I will fly off both cowl and skin, if thou failest in thy purpose.”
“And full leave will I give thee to do both,” answered Cedric, leaving the postern, and striding forth over the free field with a joyful step, “if, when we meet next, I deserve not better at thine hand.”—Turning then back towards the castle, he threw the piece of gold towards the donor, exclaiming at the same time, “False Norman, thy money perish with thee!”
Front-de-Boeuf heard the words imperfectly, but the action was suspicious—“Archers,” he called to the warders on the outward battlements, “send me an arrow through yon monk’s frock!—yet stay,” he said, as his retainers were bending their bows, “it avails not—we must thus far trust him since we have no better shift. I think he dares not betray me—at the worst I can but treat with these Saxon dogs whom I have safe in kennel.—Ho! Giles jailor, let them bring Cedric of Rotherwood before me, and the other churl, his companion—him I mean of Coningsburgh—Athelstane there, or what call they him? Their very names are an encumbrance to a Norman knight’s mouth, and have, as it were, a flavour of bacon—Give me a stoup of wine, as jolly Prince John said, that I may wash away the relish—place it in the armoury, and thither lead the prisoners.”
His commands were obeyed; and, upon entering that Gothic apartment, hung with many spoils won by his own valour and that of his father, he found a flagon of wine on the massive oaken table, and the two Saxon captives under the guard of four of his dependants. Front-de-Boeuf took a long drought of wine, and then addressed his prisoners;—for the manner in which Wamba drew the cap over his face, the change of dress, the gloomy and broken light, and the Baron’s imperfect acquaintance with the features of Cedric, (who avoided his Norman neighbours, and seldom stirred beyond his own domains,) prevented him from discovering that the most important of his captives had made his escape.
“Gallants of England,” said Front-de-Boeuf, “how relish ye your entertainment at Torquilstone?—Are ye yet aware what your ‘surquedy’ and ‘outrecuidance’ 31 merit, for scoffing at the entertainment of a prince of the House of Anjou?—Have ye forgotten how ye requited the unmerited hospitality of the royal John? By God and St Dennis, an ye pay not the richer ransom, I will hang ye up by the feet from the iron bars of these windows, till the kites and hooded crows have made skeletons of you!—Speak out, ye Saxon dogs—what bid ye for your worthless lives?—How say you, you of Rotherwood?”
31.“Surquedy” and “outrecuidance”—insolence and presumption
“Not a doit I,” answered poor Wamba—“and for hanging up by the feet, my brain has been topsy-turvy, they say, ever since the biggin was bound first round my head; so turning me upside down may peradventure restore it again.”
“Saint Genevieve!” said Front-de-Boeuf, “what have we got here?”
And with the back of his hand he struck Cedric’s cap from the head of the Jester, and throwing open his collar, discovered the fatal badge of servitude, the silver collar round his neck.
“Giles—Clement—dogs and varlets!” exclaimed the furious Norman, “what have you brought me here?”
“I think I can tell you,” said De Bracy, who just entered the apartment. “This is Cedric’s clown, who fought so manful a skirmish with Isaac of York about a question of precedence.”
“I shall settle it for them both,” replied Front-de-Boeuf; “they shall hang on the same gallows, unless his master and this boar of Coningsburgh will pay well for their lives. Their wealth is the least they can surrender; they must also carry off with them the swarms that are besetting the castle, subscribe a surrender of their pretended immunities, and live under us as serfs and vassals; too happy if, in the new world that is about to begin, we leave them the breath of their nostrils.—Go,” said he to two of his attendants, “fetch me the right Cedric hither, and I pardon your error for once; the rather that you but mistook a fool for a Saxon franklin.”
“Ay, but,” said Wamba, “your chivalrous excellency will find there are more fools than franklins among us.”
“What means the knave?” said Front-de-Boeuf, looking towards his followers, who, lingering and loath, faltered forth their belief, that if this were not Cedric who was there in presence, they knew not what was become of him.
“Saints of Heaven!” exclaimed De Bracy, “he must have escaped in the monk’s garments!”
“Fiends of hell!” echoed Front-de-Boeuf, “it was then the boar of Rotherwood whom I ushered to the postern, and dismissed with my own hands!—And thou,” he said to Wamba, “whose folly could overreach the wisdom of idiots yet more gross than thyself—I will give thee holy orders—I will shave thy crown for thee!—Here, let them tear the scalp from his head, and then pitch him headlong from the battlements—Thy trade is to jest, canst thou jest now?”
“You deal with me better than your word, noble knight,” whimpered forth poor Wamba, whose habits of buffoonery were not to be overcome even by the immediate prospect of death; “if you give me the red cap you propose, out of a simple monk you will make a cardinal.”
“The poor wretch,” said De Bracy, “is resolved to die in his vocation.—Front-de-Boeuf, you shall not slay him. Give him to me to make sport for my Free Companions.—How sayst thou, knave? Wilt thou take heart of grace, and go to the wars with me?”
“Ay, with my master’s leave,” said Wamba; “for, look you, I must not slip collar” (and he touched that which he wore) “without his permission.”
“Oh, a Norman saw will soon cut a Saxon collar.” said De Bracy.
“Ay, noble sir,” said Wamba, “and thence goes the proverb—
‘Norman saw on English oak,
On English neck a Norman yoke;
Norman spoon in English dish,
And England ruled as Normans wish;
Blithe world to England never will be more,
Till England’s rid of all the four.’”
“Thou dost well, De Bracy,” said Front-de-Boeuf, “to stand there listening to a fool’s jargon, when destruction is gaping for us! Seest thou not we are overreached, and that our proposed mode of communicating with our friends without has been disconcerted by this same motley gentleman thou art so fond to brother? What views have we to expect but instant storm?”
“To the battlements then,” said De Bracy; “when didst thou ever see me the graver for the thoughts of battle? Call the Templar yonder, and let him fight but half so well for his life as he has done for his Order—Make thou to the walls thyself with thy huge body—Let me do my poor endeavour in my own way, and I tell thee the Saxon outlaws may as well attempt to scale the clouds, as the castle of Torquilstone; or, if you will treat with the banditti, why not employ the mediation of this worthy franklin, who seems in such deep contemplation of the wine-flagon?—Here, Saxon,” he continued, addressing Athelstane, and handing the cup to him, “rinse thy throat with that noble liquor, and rouse up thy soul to say what thou wilt do for thy liberty.”
“What a man of mould may,” answered Athelstane, “providing it be what a man of manhood ought.—Dismiss me free, with my companions, and I will pay a ransom of a thousand marks.”
“And wilt moreover assure us the retreat of that scum of mankind who are swarming around the castle, contrary to God’s peace and the king’s?” said Front-de-Boeuf.
“In so far as I can,” answered Athelstane, “I will withdraw them; and I fear not but that my father Cedric will do his best to assist me.”
“We are agreed then,” said Front-de-Boeuf—“thou and they are to be set at freedom, and peace is to be on both sides, for payment of a thousand marks. It is a trifling ransom, Saxon, and thou wilt owe gratitude to the moderation which accepts of it in exchange of your persons. But mark, this extends not to the Jew Isaac.”
“Nor to the Jew Isaac’s daughter,” said the Templar, who had now joined them.
“Neither,” said Front-de-Boeuf, “belong to this Saxon’s company.”
“I were unworthy to be called Christian, if they did,” replied Athelstane: “deal with the unbelievers as ye list.”
“Neither does the ransom include the Lady Rowena,” said De Bracy. “It shall never be said I was scared out of a fair prize without striking a blow for it.”
“Neither,” said Front-de-Boeuf, “does our treaty refer to this wretched Jester, whom I retain, that I may make him an example to every knave who turns jest into earnest.”
“The Lady Rowena,” answered Athelstane, with the most steady countenance, “is my affianced bride. I will be drawn by wild horses before I consent to part with her. The slave Wamba has this day saved the life of my father Cedric—I will lose mine ere a hair of his head be injured.”
“Thy affianced bride?—The Lady Rowena the affianced bride of a vassal like thee?” said De Bracy; “Saxon, thou dreamest that the days of thy seven kingdoms are returned again. I tell thee, the Princes of the House of Anjou confer not their wards on men of such lineage as thine.”
“My lineage, proud Norman,” replied Athelstane, “is drawn from a source more pure and ancient than that of a beggarly Frenchman, whose living is won by selling the blood of the thieves whom he assembles under his paltry standard. Kings were my ancestors, strong in war and wise in council, who every day feasted in their hall more hundreds than thou canst number individual followers; whose names have been sung by minstrels, and their laws recorded by Wittenagemotes; whose bones were interred amid the prayers of saints, and over whose tombs minsters have been builded.”
“Thou hast it, De Bracy,” said Front-de-Boeuf, well pleased with the rebuff which his companion had received; “the Saxon hath hit thee fairly.”
“As fairly as a captive can strike,” said De Bracy, with apparent carelessness; “for he whose hands are tied should have his tongue at freedom.—But thy glibness of reply, comrade,” rejoined he, speaking to Athelstane, “will not win the freedom of the Lady Rowena.”
To this Athelstane, who had already made a longer speech than was his custom to do on any topic, however interesting, returned no answer. The conversation was interrupted by the arrival of a menial, who announced that a monk demanded admittance at the postern gate.
“In the name of Saint Bennet, the prince of these bull-beggars,” said Front-de-Boeuf, “have we a real monk this time, or another impostor? Search him, slaves—for an ye suffer a second impostor to be palmed upon you, I will have your eyes torn out, and hot coals put into the sockets.”
“Let me endure the extremity of your anger, my lord,” said Giles, “if this be not a real shaveling. Your squire Jocelyn knows him well, and will vouch him to be brother Ambrose, a monk in attendance upon the Prior of Jorvaulx.”
“Admit him,” said Front-de-Boeuf; “most likely he brings us news from his jovial master. Surely the devil keeps holiday, and the priests are relieved from duty, that they are strolling thus wildly through the country. Remove these prisoners; and, Saxon, think on what thou hast heard.”
“I claim,” said Athelstane, “an honourable imprisonment, with due care of my board and of my couch, as becomes my rank, and as is due to one who is in treaty for ransom. Moreover, I hold him that deems himself the best of you, bound to answer to me with his body for this aggression on my freedom. This defiance hath already been sent to thee by thy sewer; thou underliest it, and art bound to answer me—There lies my glove.”
“I answer not the challenge of my prisoner,” said Front-de-Boeuf; “nor shalt thou, Maurice de Bracy.—Giles,” he continued, “hang the franklin’s glove upon the tine of yonder branched antlers: there shall it remain until he is a free man. Should he then presume to demand it, or to affirm he was unlawfully made my prisoner, by the belt of Saint Christopher, he will speak to one who hath never refused to meet a foe on foot or on horseback, alone or with his vassals at his back!”
The Saxon prisoners were accordingly removed, just as they introduced the monk Ambrose, who appeared to be in great perturbation.
“This is the real ‘Deus vobiscum’,” said Wamba, as he passed the reverend brother; “the others were but counterfeits.”
“Holy Mother,” said the monk, as he addressed the assembled knights, “I am at last safe and in Christian keeping!”
“Safe thou art,” replied De Bracy; “and for Christianity, here is the stout Baron Reginald Front-de-Boeuf, whose utter abomination is a Jew; and the good Knight Templar, Brian de Bois-Guilbert, whose trade is to slay Saracens—If these are not good marks of Christianity, I know no other which they bear about them.”
“Ye are friends and allies of our reverend father in God, Aymer, Prior of Jorvaulx,” said the monk, without noticing the tone of De Bracy’s reply; “ye owe him aid both by knightly faith and holy charity; for what saith the blessed Saint Augustin, in his treatise ‘De Civitate Dei’—-”
“What saith the devil!” interrupted Front-de-Boeuf; “or rather what dost thou say, Sir Priest? We have little time to hear texts from the holy fathers.”
“’Sancta Maria!’” ejaculated Father Ambrose, “how prompt to ire are these unhallowed laymen!—But be it known to you, brave knights, that certain murderous caitiffs, casting behind them fear of God, and reverence of his church, and not regarding the bull of the holy see, ‘Si quis, suadende Diabolo’—-”
“Brother priest,” said the Templar, “all this we know or guess at—tell us plainly, is thy master, the Prior, made prisoner, and to whom?”
“Surely,” said Ambrose, “he is in the hands of the men of Belial, infesters of these woods, and contemners of the holy text, ‘Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets naught of evil.’”
“Here is a new argument for our swords, sirs,” said Front-de-Boeuf, turning to his companions; “and so, instead of reaching us any assistance, the Prior of Jorvaulx requests aid at our hands? a man is well helped of these lazy churchmen when he hath most to do!—But speak out, priest, and say at once, what doth thy master expect from us?”
“So please you,” said Ambrose, “violent hands having been imposed on my reverend superior, contrary to the holy ordinance which I did already quote, and the men of Belial having rifled his mails and budgets, and stripped him of two hundred marks of pure refined gold, they do yet demand of him a large sum beside, ere they will suffer him to depart from their uncircumcised hands. Wherefore the reverend father in God prays you, as his dear friends, to rescue him, either by paying down the ransom at which they hold him, or by force of arms, at your best discretion.”
“The foul fiend quell the Prior!” said Front-de-Boeuf; “his morning’s drought has been a deep one. When did thy master hear of a Norman baron unbuckling his purse to relieve a churchman, whose bags are ten times as weighty as ours?—And how can we do aught by valour to free him, that are cooped up here by ten times our number, and expect an assault every moment?”
“And that was what I was about to tell you,” said the monk, “had your hastiness allowed me time. But, God help me, I am old, and these foul onslaughts distract an aged man’s brain. Nevertheless, it is of verity that they assemble a camp, and raise a bank against the walls of this castle.”
“To the battlements!” cried De Bracy, “and let us mark what these knaves do without;” and so saying, he opened a latticed window which led to a sort of bartisan or projecting balcony, and immediately called from thence to those in the apartment—“Saint Dennis, but the old monk hath brought true tidings!—They bring forward mantelets and pavisses, 32 and the archers muster on the skirts of the wood like a dark cloud before a hailstorm.”
32.Mantelets were temporary and movable defences formed of planks, under cover of which the assailants advanced to the attack of fortified places of old. Pavisses were a species of large shields covering the whole person, employed on the same occasions.
Reginald Front-de-Boeuf also looked out upon the field, and immediately snatched his bugle; and, after winding a long and loud blast, commanded his men to their posts on the walls.
“De Bracy, look to the eastern side, where the walls are lowest—Noble Bois-Guilbert, thy trade hath well taught thee how to attack and defend, look thou to the western side—I myself will take post at the barbican. Yet, do not confine your exertions to any one spot, noble friends!—we must this day be everywhere, and multiply ourselves, were it possible, so as to carry by our presence succour and relief wherever the attack is hottest. Our numbers are few, but activity and courage may supply that defect, since we have only to do with rascal clowns.”
“But, noble knights,” exclaimed Father Ambrose, amidst the bustle and confusion occasioned by the preparations for defence, “will none of ye hear the message of the reverend father in God Aymer, Prior of Jorvaulx?—I beseech thee to hear me, noble Sir Reginald!”
“Go patter thy petitions to heaven,” said the fierce Norman, “for we on earth have no time to listen to them.—Ho! there, Anselm I see that seething pitch and oil are ready to pour on the heads of these audacious traitors—Look that the cross-bowmen lack not bolts. 33—Fling abroad my banner with the old bull’s head—the knaves shall soon find with whom they have to do this day!”
33.The bolt was the arrow peculiarly fitted to the cross-bow, as that of the long-bow was called a shaft. Hence the English proverb—“I will either make a shaft or bolt of it,” signifying a determination to make one use or other of the thing spoken of.
“But, noble sir,” continued the monk, persevering in his endeavours to draw attention, “consider my vow of obedience, and let me discharge myself of my Superior’s errand.”
“Away with this prating dotard,” said Front-de Boeuf, “lock him up in the chapel, to tell his beads till the broil be over. It will be a new thing to the saints in Torquilstone to hear aves and paters; they have not been so honoured, I trow, since they were cut out of stone.”
“Blaspheme not the holy saints, Sir Reginald,” said De Bracy, “we shall have need of their aid to-day before yon rascal rout disband.”
“I expect little aid from their hand,” said Front-de-Boeuf, “unless we were to hurl them from the battlements on the heads of the villains. There is a huge lumbering Saint Christopher yonder, sufficient to bear a whole company to the earth.”
The Templar had in the meantime been looking out on the proceedings of the besiegers, with rather more attention than the brutal Front-de-Boeuf or his giddy companion.
“By the faith of mine order,” he said, “these men approach with more touch of discipline than could have been judged, however they come by it. See ye how dexterously they avail themselves of every cover which a tree or bush affords, and shun exposing themselves to the shot of our cross-bows? I spy neither banner nor pennon among them, and yet will I gage my golden chain, that they are led on by some noble knight or gentleman, skilful in the practice of wars.”
“I espy him,” said De Bracy; “I see the waving of a knight’s crest, and the gleam of his armour. See yon tall man in the black mail, who is busied marshalling the farther troop of the rascaille yeomen—by Saint Dennis, I hold him to be the same whom we called ‘Le Noir Faineant’, who overthrew thee, Front-de-Boeuf, in the lists at Ashby.”
“So much the better,” said Front-de-Boeuf, “that he comes here to give me my revenge. Some hilding fellow he must be, who dared not stay to assert his claim to the tourney prize which chance had assigned him. I should in vain have sought for him where knights and nobles seek their foes, and right glad am I he hath here shown himself among yon villain yeomanry.”
The demonstrations of the enemy’s immediate approach cut off all farther discourse. Each knight repaired to his post, and at the head of the few followers whom they were able to muster, and who were in numbers inadequate to defend the whole extent of the walls, they awaited with calm determination the threatened assault.