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Title: The Branding Needle, or The Monastery of Charolles - A Tale of the First Communal Charter
Author: Sue, Eugène, 1804-1857
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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THE BRANDING NEEDLE


THE FULL SERIES OF

The Mysteries of the People

: : OR : :

History of a Proletarian Family Across the Ages

By EUGENE SUE

_Consisting of the Following Works:_

THE GOLD SICKLE; or, _Hena the Virgin of the Isle of Sen_.

THE BRASS BELL; or, _The Chariot of Death_.

THE IRON COLLAR; or, _Faustine and Syomara_.

THE SILVER CROSS; or, _The Carpenter of Nazareth_.

THE CASQUE'S LARK; or, _Victoria, the Mother of the Camps_.

THE PONIARD'S HILT; or, _Karadeucq and Ronan_.

THE BRANDING NEEDLE; or, _The Monastery of Charolles_.

THE ABBATIAL CROSIER; or, _Bonaik and Septimine_.

THE CARLOVINGIAN COINS; or, _The Daughters of Charlemagne_.

THE IRON ARROW-HEAD; or, _The Buckler Maiden_.

THE INFANT'S SKULL; or, _The End of the World_.

THE PILGRIM'S SHELL; or, _Fergan the Quarryman_.

THE IRON PINCERS; or, _Mylio and Karvel_.

THE IRON TREVET; or, _Jocelyn the Champion_.

THE EXECUTIONER'S KNIFE; or, _Joan of Arc_.

THE POCKET BIBLE; or, _Christian the Printer_.

THE BLACKSMITH'S HAMMER; or, _The Peasant Code_.

THE SWORD OF HONOR; or, _The Foundation of the French Republic_.

THE GALLEY SLAVE'S RING; or, _The Family Lebrenn_.

Published Uniform With This Volume By

THE NEW YORK LABOR NEWS CO.

28 CITY HALL PLACE NEW YORK CITY



THE BRANDING NEEDLE

:: :: OR :: ::

THE MONASTERY OF CHAROLLES

A Tale of the First Communal Charter

By EUGENE SUE

TRANSLATED FROM THE ORIGINAL FRENCH BY

DANIEL DE LEON

NEW YORK LABOR NEWS COMPANY, 1908

Copyright, 1908, by the
NEW YORK LABOR NEWS CO.



INDEX


PART I. THE VALLEY OF CHAROLLES.

CHAP. I. THE SIGNAL                            5

     II. THE ANNUAL CELEBRATION               15

    III. ON THE WATCH AT THE RIVER            24

     IV. FREDEGONDE AND BRUNHILD              27

      V. THE ASSAULT                          33


PART II. THE CASTLE OF BRUNHILD.

CHAP. I. THE TOWER-ROOM                       47

     II. QUEEN AND CONFIDANTE                 56

    III. THE ROYAL FAMILY                     66

     IV. QUEEN AND MAYOR OF THE PALACE        69

      V. LOYSIK AND BRUNHILD                  79


PART III. THE CAMP OF CLOTAIRE II.

CHAP. I. WEEDING KINGLETS                     93

     II. AT BAY                              101

    III. THE DEATH OF BRUNHILD               109

EPILOGUE                                     120



TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE


Semiramis, Brunhild, Catherine of Medicis constitute a trinity of
historic women unique in their greatness. Their ambition was boundless,
their intellectual powers matchless, the depths of their immorality
unfathomable. As such they were the scourges of their respective ages.
Queen Brunhild, a central figure in this superb story, may be said to be
the Sixth Century heiress of the Semiramis of over ten centuries
earlier, and the progenitor of the Catherine of nearly ten centuries
later, who figures later in the sixteenth story of this series of Eugene
Sue's of historic novels named by him _The Mysteries of the People; or,
History of a Proletarian Family Across the Ages_.

This story--_The Branding Needle; or The Monastery of Charolles_--is the
seventh of the series. Both in the tragic picture of Brunhild, and of
the rustic, industrial and peaceful picture of the settlement of
Charolles, the story constitutes a connecting link between the
turbulence of the previous story--_The Poniard's Hilt; or, Karadeucq and
Ronan_--and the renewed turbulence of the age depicted in the story that
follows--_The Abbatial Crosier; or, Bonaik and Septimine_.

With much color of truth does Eugene Sue look upon the settlement of
Charolles as the remote yet initial step to the Communes which, a few
centuries later, constituted a marked feature of the history of France,
and ultimately led to historic events of world-wide importance. The
circumstances under which the royal charter of Charolles was granted,
described with historic accuracy, its perils and its vicissitudes,
unfold a page of history of no slight value to the student of history,
and of fascinating interest to the lover of historic narratives.

DANIEL DE LEON.

New York, February, 1908.



PART I

THE VALLEY OF CHAROLLES



CHAPTER I.

THE SIGNAL.


About fifty years have elapsed since King Clotaire had his son Chram
burned alive together with the latter's wife and daughters. Let us
forget the spectacle of desolation that conquered Gaul continues to
present under the descendants of Clovis for the last fifty years, and
rest our eyes upon the Valley of Charolles.

Oh, the fathers of the happy inhabitants who people that corner of the
land did not bend their necks under the yoke of either Frankish
seigneurs or Gallic bishops. No, no--they proved the old Gallic blood
still flowed in their veins. The consequence is noticed in the picture
of dignified felicity that the valley offers. Behold on the slope of the
hill the cosy homes half shaded by vines, that carpet the walls and the
ripe maturity and luxuriant quality of which are attested by their
leaves and grapes that the autumn sun has reddened and gilt. Each of the
houses is surrounded by a garden of flowers with a clump of shade-giving
trees. Never did the eye of man dwell upon a more smiling village. A
village? No; it rather resembles a large borough. From at least six to
seven hundred houses are scattered on the slope of that hill, without
counting the vast thatched structures that are situated below on the
meadow, which is watered by a river that rises to the north of the
valley, crosses it and forms its boundary far away where the horizon
dips. Yonder the river parts in two arms; one flows eastward, the other
westward, after bathing in its course the feet of a forest of gigantic
chestnut trees from between the tops of which the roof of a tall stone
building is perceived, surmounted by a cross of iron.

No, never yet was promised land better calculated to reward industry
with abundance. Half way up the slope of the hill, the purple colored
vines; above the vineyards, the agricultural fields, on which the
stubble of rye and wheat left from the last harvest is here and there
seen burning. The fertile acreage stretches up to the skirts of the
forests that crown the surrounding eminences, within which the spacious
valley is locked. Below the vineyards are meadowlands watered by the
river. Numerous flocks of sheep and herds of horses browse and graze
upon the succulent pasture. The bells of the bulls and wethers are heard
tinkling their rural melody. Here and yonder carts drawn by oxen slowly
roll over the ground where the stubble was burned the day before, or
four-wheeled wagons slowly descend the slopes of the vineyards and wend
their way towards the common wine-presses, which, together with the
stables, the sheep-folds and the pig-sties, all alike common, are
located in the neighborhood of the river. Several workshops also lie
contiguous to the river; the wash and spinning houses, where the flax is
prepared and the wool washed preparatorily to being transformed into
warm clothing; there also are situated the tanneries, the forges, the
mills equipped with enormous grind-stones. Peace, security, contentment
and work are seen everywhere reflected in the valley. The sound of the
beetles of the washerwomen and the curriers, the clang of the
blacksmiths' hammers, the joyful cries of the men and women engaged at
the vintage, the rythmic chant of the husbandmen keeping time to the
even and slow gait of the draft-oxen, the rustic flute of the
shepherds,--all these sounds, including the hum of the swarming bees,
another set of indefatigable toilers, who are busily gathering the honey
from the last autumnal flowers,--all these different sounds, from the
furthest and vaguest to the nearest and loudest, mingle into one
harmony that is at once sweet and imposing; it is the voice of labor and
happiness rising heavenward as a continuous thanksgiving.

What is it that is going on in yonder house, which, although constructed
like all the others, nevertheless, being nearest to the crest of the
hill, seems to be the culminating point of the settlement, and commands
a full view of the valley? Dressed in festive garb, the dwellers of that
house are seen going in and out. They are seen heaping dry vine twigs in
a sort of pyre at a goodly distance from the door. Young girls and
children are seen and heard merrily bringing in their arms their
contributions of dry wood, and running off again for more combustibles.
A short old woman, with hair as white as silver, dainty, comely and
still quick despite her advanced age, superintends the preparation of
the pyre. As all old women are apt to do, she finds fault and
sermonizes--but not in anger, on the contrary. Listen to her:

"Oh, those young girls, those young girls! Always giddy-headed! Work
more and laugh less; the pyre is not yet high enough. What does it avail
that you rose at early dawn in order to finish your daily tasks before
your companions, if you now only frolic instead of hastening the work on
the pyre? I am quite sure that more than one impatient look is being
cast up here from the valley below, and that more than one voice is
saying: 'What may they be up to on the hill that they do not yet give us
the signal? Can they be asleep as in winter?' I am certain such are the
serious suspicions that you are exposing yourselves to, you eternal
gigglers! Such are the pranks of your age. I know it, I should not blame
you; but remember that the days are short at this season; before our
good men shall have had time to lead the cattle back from the fields,
stalled the draft-oxen and the wagons, and put on their holiday clothes,
the sun will be down. We shall not be able to reach the monastery until
after dark, and the community expects the signal from us before sunset."

"A few more armfuls of dry wood, dame Odille, and all that will be left
to do will be to set it on fire," answered a handsome lassie of sixteen
years with blue eyes and black hair; "I shall take charge of lighting
the pyre; you will see how bold I can be!"

"Oh, Fulvia, your grandmother, my old friend the Bishopess, is right,
indeed, when she says that you are a dare-devil."

"My good grandmother is like yourself, dame Odille; her scoldings are
but caresses; she loves all that is young and gay."

"And I presume you act so crazily merely in order to please her?"

"Yes, dame Odille; because you must know that it costs me a good deal,
it is awfully hard for me to be gay! Alas! Alas!"

And the lass punctuated each exclamation with such a hearty outburst of
laughter and droll action, that the good little old woman could not
refrain from following the example. Whereupon she said:

"As true as this is the fiftieth time that we celebrate the anniversary
of our settling in the Valley of Charolles, I never saw a girl of a more
unalterably happy disposition than yours, my lovely Fulvia."

"Fifty years! How awfully long that is, dame Odille. It seems to me I
could never live to see fifty years!"

"It looks that way at your charming age of sixteen; but to me, Fulvia,
these fifty years of peace and happiness have sped like a dream--except,
of course, the evil year when I saw Ronan's father die, and lost my
first-born son."

"Look, dame Odille! There are your consolations, now coming up from the
field!"

These "consolations" were her husband Ronan himself and his second son
Gregory, a man now of mature age who was, in turn, accompanied by his
two children, Guenek, a strapping lad of twenty, and Asilyk, a handsome
girl of eighteen. Despite his white hair and beard, and despite his
seventy-five years, Ronan the Vagre was still quick of motion, vigorous
and frolicsome as ever.

"Good evening," he called out to his wife as he embraced her; "good
evening, little Odille."

And after him it was the turn of Gregory and his children to embrace the
dame.

"Good evening, dear mother."

"Good evening, dear grandmother."

"Do you hear them?" put in Ronan's wife with that smile that sits so
charming on the lips of happy elderly people. "Do you hear them? To
these two I am 'grandmother,' and for this one here I am 'Little
Odille.'"

"Even when you will be a hundred years old, and you will surely reach
that age, by the faith of Ronan! I shall always call you 'Little Odille'
just as, my little Odille, I shall always call these two friends who are
approaching the 'Master of the Hounds' and the 'Bishopess.'"

Just then the Master of the Hounds and his wife joined the group where
Ronan stood; the heads of both the new arrivals had been whitened with
age, but their faces beamed with happiness.

"Ho! Ho! How fine you look, my old companion, with your new blouse and
embroidered cap! And you, beautiful Bishopess, you are no less
gorgeously arrayed!"

"Ronan, by the faith of an old Vagre!" said the Master of the Hounds, "I
love my Fulvia, in the matron's dress that she now wears, with her brown
robe and her coif as white as her hair, as much as I did when she wore
her orange skirt, blue sash, gold necklace and silver embroidered red
stockings. Do you remember, Ronan? Do you?"

"Odille, if my husband and yours begin to talk about olden days, we
shall not arrive at the monastery until to-morrow morning. But Loysik is
waiting for us. Let us start."

"Beautiful and wise Bishopess, we shall hearken unto you," merrily
replied Ronan. "Come, Gregory; come, my children; let us start, that
will take us all the quicker to my good brother Loysik."

A minute later, Fulvia, the grandchild of the Bishopess, came out of the
house with several of her girl friends, with a lighted brand in her
hand, wherewith she set the pyre on fire. The gladsome cries of the
girls and children greeted the bright and sparkling column of fire that
mounted heavenward. At the signal, the people down in the valley who
were still at work in the fields, started homeward, and an hour later
they marched in a body, men, women and children, the old and the young,
in festive groups to the monastery of Charolles.



CHAPTER II.

THE ANNUAL CELEBRATION.


The monastic establishment of Charolles was a large sized and solid
stone building, without any ornamentation whatever. Besides the cells of
the monks, it contained within its precincts a granary, a chapel, a
hospital for the male patients of the valley, and a school for young
children. During the fifty years of the existence of the settlement, the
monk laborers re-elected Loysik every year their superior, and, a
strange thing in these days, they all remained lay, Loysik having ever
warned them against rashly binding themselves by eternal vows and
confounding themselves with the clergy. The monks of the monastery of
Charolles lived under rules which they established for themselves and
rigorously observed. The discipline of the Order of St. Benoit, which
was adopted by a large number of the monasteries of Gaul, seemed to
Loysik, by reason of some of its statutes, to either annihilate or at
least, degrade human conscience, reason and dignity. If, for instance,
the superior ordered a monk to do a thing that was physically
impossible, then the monk, after having humbly informed his chief of the
impossibility of what was demanded of him, was in duty bound to bow
before the order. Another of the statutes provided literally: "It is not
allowed to a monk to have his own body and will under his own command."
Worst of all it was formally forbidden a monk "to either defend or
protect his fellow monk, even though they be united by the bonds of
consanguinity." Such a voluntary renunciation of the tenderest and
self-respecting impulses; such an abnegation of conscience and of human
reason, carried to the point of imbecility; such passive obedience,
which turns man into a soulless machine, a species of corpse, seemed
too absurd to Loysik, and he resisted the invasion of Charolles by the
rules of the Order of St. Benoit, however generally accepted they
otherwise were in Gaul.

Loysik presided over the labors of the monastery, and himself took part
in them until with old age his strength no longer permitted him to do
so. He tended the sick, and assisted by several other brothers he taught
the children of the inhabitants of the valley. In the evening, after the
hard work of the day, he gathered the brothers around him; in summer,
under the vault of the gallery that surrounded the inside yard of the
cloister; in winter, in the refectory. There, faithful to the traditions
of his family, he narrated to his brothers the glories of ancient Gaul,
and the deeds of the valiant heroes of olden times, thus keeping alive
in the hearts of all the sacred cult of the fatherland, and combating
the feeling of discouragement that often seized upon the firmest spirits
at the sight of the abject plight in which all the Gallic provinces
subject to Frankish rule found themselves.

The community had thus lived peacefully and industriously for many years
under the direction of Loysik. Rarely had he occasion to restore harmony
among the brothers. Nevertheless, a few ferments of fleeting dissension,
speedily, however, allayed by the ascendency of the aged monk laborer,
manifested themselves ever and anon. The following was the source of
these untoward events:

Although absolutely free and independent in all that concerned its
internal regulations, the election of its superior, the disposition of
the yield of the land which it cultivated, nevertheless the monastery of
Charolles was subject to the jurisdiction of the diocese of the bishop;
moreover, the prelate had the right to place at the monastery the
priests of his own choice to read mass, administer communion and the
other sacraments, and officiate in the chapel of the monastery which was
also the place of religious worship for the other inhabitants of the
Valley of Charolles. Loysik submitted to these requirements which the
times imposed, in order to insure the tranquility of his brothers and of
the other inhabitants of the Valley. But the priests, who thus entered
the bosom of the lay cloister, sought more than once to sow discord
among the monk laborers, saying to some that they devoted too little
time to prayer, urging others to enter the church and become
ecclesiastical monks, and thus share the power of the clergy. More than
once did these underhanded manoeuvres reach the ears of Loysik who would
then firmly address these concocters of dissension in these terms:

"Who labors prays. Jesus of Nazareth severely condemns the do-nothings
who will not move with one of their fingers the heavy burdens and
grievous to be borne which they lay on their brothers' shoulders and for
a pretence make long prayers. We want no idlers here. We are all
brothers, and the children of one God. Whether a monk be lay or
ecclesiastic they are all alike, provided they live Christian lives. If
any there be who, having done his full share in the work of the
cloister, chooses to employ in prayer the leisure that man needs after
work, he is free to do so--as free as are other members of our community
to employ their leisure in the cultivation of flowers, in reading, in
conversation with their friends, in fishing, in promenading, in singing,
in designing manuscripts, or in any other accomplishment, including the
exercise of arms, seeing that we live in days when it is often necessary
to repel force with force, and defend one's own life and the lives of
his family against violence. Accordingly, in my eyes, he who, after
work, seeks honest recreation, is as worthy as he who employs his
leisure in prayer. Only idlers are impious! We despise all those who
refuse to work."

Loysik was so universally venerated and the community was so happy and
thriving that the outside priests never succeeded in permanently
disturbing its quiet and harmony. Moreover, Loysik owned both the land
and the buildings of the monastery by virtue of an authentic charter
issued to him by King Clotaire. Accordingly, the prelates of Chalon
found themselves obliged to respect his rights, while they never
desisted from pursuing their ends through perfidious means.

On this day the colony and community of Charolles had a holiday. The
monk laborers strove to give the best possible reception to their
friends of the Valley, who, agreeable to a long established custom, came
to thank Loysik for the happy life that they owed him, these descendants
of Vagres, brave devils whom the monk's word had converted. Only once a
year was the freely adopted rule suspended that interdicted the
admittance of women to the cloister. The monks were setting up long
tables wherever any could be placed, in the refectory, in the halls
where they worked at several manual industries, under the open galleries
that ran around the inner courtyard, and even in the yard itself, which,
on such solemn and festive occasions, was over-roofed by sheets of linen
held fast with cords. In fact, there were tables even in the hall of
arms. What! An arsenal in a monastery? Yes. The arms of the Vagres, the
founders of the colony and the community, had all been deposited
there--a wise measure, advised by Loysik, and which the monk laborers
and colonists appreciated at the time when the troops of Chram attacked
the Valley. No similar occurrence had happened again since then, but the
arsenal was carefully kept and increased. Twice each month, both in the
village and the community, the men exercised themselves in the handling
of arms, an ever useful precaution in these days, Loysik would say, when
one might from one moment to another be called upon to repel some armed
band of the Frankish seigneurs.

The monk laborers were engaged setting up tables everywhere. On the
tables they placed with innocent pride the fruits of their labors--good
wheat bread made of wheat of their own harvesting, generous wine yielded
by their own vineyard, quarters of beef and mutton coming from their
own cattle yards, fruits and vegetables raised in their own gardens,
milk of their own cows, honey from their own hives. They owed this
abundance to their daily labor; they now enjoyed its sight and the
comfort it afforded both them and their friends. Nothing more
legitimate! Besides, the monks experienced profound satisfaction in
proving to their old friends of the Valley that they also were good
husbandmen, skilful vintners, experienced horticulturists and competent
shepherds.

Occasionally it would also befall--the devil ever is at his wicked
work--that at some of these anniversary celebrations, when the women and
maids were admitted to the otherwise forbidden precincts of the
monastery, some monk laborer discovered, by the impression produced upon
him by some pretty girl, that his fondness for the austere freedom of
celibacy was rather premature. On such occasions the swain would open
his heart to Loysik. The latter always insisted upon three months of
reflection on the part of the brother, and in the event of his
persisting in his conjugal vocation Loysik was speedily seen strolling
into the village leaning upon his cane. There he would converse with the
parents of the maid upon the advisability of the match; and it rarely
happened but that a few months later the colony numbered one more
household and the community one brother less, while Loysik would say:
"Here is one more evidence of my being right in not accepting eternal
vows from my monks."

The preparations for the reception had long been finished in the
interior of the monastery, and the sun was on the point of setting when
the laborer monks heard a loud noise outside. The whole colony was
arriving. At the head of the crowd marched Ronan and the Master of the
Hounds, Odille and the Bishopess. They were the four oldest inhabitants
of the Valley. A few old Vagres, but younger than these followed behind
them; then came the children, the grandchildren, the great-grandchildren
of that once so disorderly and so redoubted Vagrery.

Informed of the approach of his friends, Loysik stepped to the gate of
the monastery to receive them. Like all the other brothers of the
community, the venerable monk was clad in a robe of coarse brown wool,
held around his waist by a leather belt. His head was now completely
bald; his long snow-white beard fell upon his chest; his bearing was
still erect, his eyes clear, although he was beyond eighty; only his
venerable hands were slightly agitated by a tremor. The crowd halted;
Ronan approached, took his brother's hand, and addressed to him these
words:

"Loysik, it is to-day fifty-one years ago that a troop of determined
Vagres stood awaiting your arrival on the border of Burgundy. You came
to us; you spoke wise words to us; you preached to us the virile virtues
of labor and of the domestic hearth; and you thereupon put us in
condition to put those virtues into practice by offering to our troop
the free enjoyment of this valley. A year later, that is now fifty years
ago, our budding colony celebrated the first anniversary of its
foundation in this region; and to-day we come--we, our children and the
children of our children--once again to say to you through my mouth: 'We
are happy, thanks to you, brother; eternal gratitude and friendship to
Loysik!'"

"Yes, yes!" echoed the crowd. "Eternal acknowledgment to Loysik--respect
and gratitude for our friend, our good father!"

The old monk laborer was deeply moved; sweet tears rolled down from his
eyes; he made a sign that he wished to speak; and in the midst of
profound silence he uttered these words:

"Thanks to you, my friends, my brothers, to those of you who lived fifty
years ago, and to you others who have not known the frightful times that
we older ones have experienced, except from the accounts given to you by
your parents--thanks for the joy that you afford me this day. After
having made themselves feared by their valor, the founders of this
colony have made themselves beloved and respected by approving
themselves men and women who loved work, were peaceful and honored the
family. A happy accident willed it that, in the very midst of the
disasters of civil war that for so many years have been desolating our
country, Burgundy should be spared these misfortunes, the fruits of a
murderous conquest. Let us bless the name of God, who allows us to live
here in peace and freedom. But, alas! everywhere else in Gaul, even in
this province, our brothers continue under the yoke of slavery. Never
forget that. While awaiting the still distant day of the ultimate
enfranchisement of our brothers, your savings, together with the savings
of the community, have this year also enabled us to ransom a few slave
families. Here they are. Love them as we love one another. They also are
children of Gaul, disinherited, as we ourselves were fifty-one years
ago."

When Loysik finished saying these words, several families, consisting of
men, women, children, together with a few aged couples, issued from the
monastery weeping with joy. The colonists were emulous of one another as
to which of them should harbor the new arrivals until they could provide
for themselves. It required Loysik's intervention, always respected, in
order to calm the kind and zealous rivalry of the colonists in the
tender of their services. With his wonted wisdom he distributed the new
colonists among the older ones.

Every year and shortly before these annual celebrations, Loysik left the
colony with a sum more or less large, the fruit of the joint savings of
the colonists and the community set aside for the ransom of slaves. A
few resolute and well-armed monk laborers would then accompany Loysik to
Chalon-on-the-Saone, where, towards the beginning of the autumn, a large
market of human Gallic flesh was held under the presidency of the count
and the bishop of that city, the capital of Burgundy. From the market
place the splendid palace of Queen Brunhild could be seen. Loysik would
buy as many slaves as the money that he carried with him would permit,
but always regretting to find that the ecclesiastical slaves were too
high for his purse. The bishops always sold them at double the price of
any other. Occasionally, thanks to his persuasive eloquence, Loysik
would obtain from some Frankish and less barbarous seigneur than his
fellows the gift of a few slaves, and thus increased still more the
number of his new colonists, who, the moment they touched the soil of
the Valley of Charolles, received a hearty welcome, enjoyed the
opportunity to work together with the well-being that flows therefrom,
and, above all, regained their freedom.

After the newly enfranchised slaves were distributed among the
inhabitants of the Valley, monk laborers and colonists, men, women and
children went to table. What a banquet!

"Our feasts in Vagrery were nothing compared with this!" exclaimed
Ronan. "Not so, Master of the Hounds?"

"Do you remember, among others of our then sumptuous repasts, the famous
supper at our lair in the defile of Allange?"

"Where Bishop Cautin officiated as our cook?"

"Odille, do you remember that strange night when I saw you for the first
time, on the occasion of the burning down of the villa of my then
husband, the bishop?"

"Certainly, Fulvia, I do remember it; and also the open-handedness with
which the Vagres distributed the booty among the poor."

"Loysik, it was during that night that I first learned that you and I
were brothers."

"Ah, Ronan, how very brave was not our father Karadeucq! What courage
did he not display together with our friend the Master of the Hounds in
order to liberate us from the ergastula in the burg of Count Neroweg!"

"Do you remember? Do you all remember?"--once that subject was broached,
these questions flew inexhaustible from the lips of the old friends.
Thus Ronan, Loysik, the Master of the Hounds, Odille, the Bishopess, all
of whom sat together at a table, chatted merrily, while the younger
guests enjoyed chattering about the present. The joy was great and
general on that evening at the monastery of Charolles.

In the middle of the celebration one of the monk laborers said to a
companion:

"What has become of our two priests, Placidus and Felibien? Their
absence alarms me."

"Those pious men found, perhaps, the feast too profane. They offered the
two men on guard at the lodge where the punt lands to take their places
this evening, in order that our brothers might assist at the
celebration."

"Somehow, I mistrust that breed!"



CHAPTER III.

ON THE WATCH AT THE RIVER.


The river that rose in the Valley of Charolles crossed it in its full
length, then parted into two arms, and thus served both for boundary and
natural defense to the territory of the colony. As a matter of
precaution, Loysik ordered a punt that served as the only means of
communication with the opposite territory, belonging to the diocese of
Chalon, to be beached every evening and tied on the Charolles side of
the stream. A little lodge, where two brothers of the community always
were on guard, was constructed near the landing place of the punt.

The limpid waters of the stream, which was at its widest at that point,
reflected that night the mellow light of the moon at its fullest; the
two priests who fraternally offered to take the places of the monks and
mount guard in their stead walked uneasily up and down near the lodge.

"Placidus, do you see anything? Do you hear anything?" his companion
inquired.

"Nothing. I see and hear nothing."

"And yet the moon is high--it must be nearly midnight--and no one yet."

"Let us not lose hope, Felibien."

"It will be a great misfortune if they break their appointment. It will
be long before we have another such opportunity to install ourselves as
the watchmen of the punt."

"It is only on such a night that the monastery could be safely
attacked."

"And yet no one comes."

"Listen--listen--"

"Do you hear anything?"

"No, I was mistaken--it is the rippling of the water on the pebbles of
the river bank."

"Perhaps our bishop renounced his project of attacking the monastery."

"That is not likely, seeing that he obtained the consent of Queen
Brunhild."

"Listen--listen--this time I am not mistaken. Look yonder, on the
opposite bank--do you notice anything sparkling?"

"It is the reflection of the moon on the armor of the warriors."

"Now they are coming! Do you hear the three bugle blasts?"

"It is the signal agreed upon. Quick, now, quick! Let us unfasten the
punt and cross over to the other side."

The ropes were unfastened; pushed by Placidus and Felibien by means of
long poles the punt arrived at the opposite bank. Mounted on a mule a
man awaited them on the opposite shore. He was a Catholic priest. His
face was hard and imperious. At his side was a Frankish chief on
horseback and escorted by about a score of riders cased in iron. A wagon
filled with baggage, drawn by four oxen and followed by several slaves
on foot attended the Frankish chief.

"Reverend archdeacon," said Placidus to the man on horseback and in the
black robe, "we began to despair of your arrival; but you are still on
time. The whole colony--men, women, girls and children--is assembled at
the monastery, and only God knows the abominations that are taking place
there under the very eyes of Loysik, who incites these sacrilegious
excesses!"

"These scandals are about to come to an end and to receive condign
punishment, my sons. Can the horses of these riders and the wagon that
carries my baggage be risked in that punt?"

"Reverend archdeacon, the cavalry is too numerous for one trip; we shall
have to make three or four passages before they can all be transported
to the opposite bank."

"Gondowald," said the archdeacon to the Frankish chief, "how would it
be if we leave your horses and my mule and wagon temporarily on this
side of the river? We could march straight upon the monastery with your
horsemen following you on foot."

"Whether on foot or on horseback, they will be enough to execute the
orders of my glorious mistress, Queen Brunhild, and to dust with the
shafts of their lances the backs of those monks of Satan and of those
rustic plebs if they dare offer any resistance."

"Reverend archdeacon, we who know what the monks and people of the
Valley are capable of, we are of the opinion that, should they
rebelliously resist the orders of our holy bishop of Chalon, twenty
warriors will not suffice to overpower them."

Gondowald cast a disdainful look at the priest, and did not even consent
to make an answer.

"I do not share your fears, my dear sons; and I have good reasons for my
opinion," answered the archdeacon haughtily. "Here we are all in the
punt--push off!"

A short while later the archdeacon, Gondowald the chamberlain of Queen
Brunhild, and the Queen's twenty warriors landed on the Valley shore,
casqued, cuirassed and armed with lances and swords. From their
shoulders hung their gilt and painted bucklers.

"Is the distance long from here to the monastery?" inquired the
archdeacon as he set foot on land.

"No, father; it is at the most a half hour's walk if we move briskly."

"Lead the way, my dear sons--we will follow."

"Oh, father, the impious people of this community little dream at this
hour that the punishment of heaven is ready to descend upon their
heads!"

"Move quickly, my sons--justice will soon be done."

"Hermanfred," said the chief of the warriors turning to one of the men
in his troop, "have you with you the rope and iron manacles?"

"Yes, seigneur Gondowald."



CHAPTER IV.

BRUNHILD AND FREDEGONDE.


At the monastery the banquet was in full swing. Convivial cordiality
presided over the celebration. At the table where Loysik, Ronan, the
Master of the Hounds and their respective families were seated, the
conversation continued animated and lively. At this moment the subject
was the atrocities that took place in the gloomy palace of Queen
Brunhild. The happy inhabitants of the Valley listened to the horrible
account with the greedy, uneasy and shuddering curiosity that is often
felt at night when, seated by a peaceful hearth, one hears some
awe-inspiring history. Happy, humble and unknown, the listeners feel
certain they will never find themselves concerned in any adventure of
the frightful nature of the one that causes them to shudder; they fear
and yet they like to hear the end of the tale.

"In order to unravel the sanguinary tangle, and seeing that Brunhild,
the present ruler of Burgundy, is the theme, let us first sum up the
facts in a few words. Clotaire died not long after he had his son Chram,
together with the latter's wife and daughter, burned alive. That was
about fifty-three years ago. Is it not so?" Ronan was saying.

"Yes, father," answered Gregory; "we are now in the year 613."

"Clotaire left four sons--Charibert reigned in Paris, Gontran was King
of Orleans and Bourges, Sigebert was King of Austrasia and resided in
Metz, and Chilperic was left King of Neustria, occupying the royal
residence of Soissons, our conquerors, as you know, having given the
names of Neustria and Austrasia to the provinces of the north and the
east of Gaul."

"Did you say Chilperic, father?" asked Ronan's son. "Chilperic, the Nero
of Gaul, one of whose edicts closed with these words: 'Let whomsoever
refuses obedience to this law have his eyes put out!'"

"Yes, we were speaking of him and of his brother Sigebert. Let us leave
the other two aside, seeing that both Charibert and Gontran died
childless, the former in 566, the latter in 593. Although they both
showed themselves worthy descendants of Clovis, they need not now occupy
us."

"Father, the account that we wish to hear is that of Brunhild and
Fredegonde. These two names seem to be inseparable and are both steeped
in blood--"

"I am coming to the history of these two monsters and of their two
husbands, Chilperic and Sigebert--the two she-wolves have each her wolf,
and, what is still worse for Gaul, her whelps. Although married to
Andowere, Chilperic had among his numerous concubines a Frankish female
slave, a woman of dazzling beauty, and endowed, it is said, with an
irresistible power of seduction. Her name was Fredegonde. He became so
fascinated with her that, in order to enjoy the company of the slave
with utter freedom, he cast off his wife Andowere, who soon thereupon
died, in a convent. But Chilperic presently tired of Fredegonde also,
and, anxious to emulate his brother Sigebert, who married a princess of
royal blood named Brunhild, the daughter of Athanagild, a King of
Germanic stock like the Franks, and whose ancestors conquered Spain as
Clovis did Gaul, he asked and obtained the hand of Brunhild's sister,
Galeswinthe. It is said that nothing was comparable with the sweetness
of the face of this princess, while the goodness of her heart matched
the angelic qualities of her face. When she was about to leave Spain to
come to Gaul and marry Chilperic, the unhappy soul had sad presentiments
of a speedy death. Nor did her presentiments deceive her. Six years
after her marriage she was smothered to death in her bed by her own
husband."

"Like Wisigarde, the fourth wife of Neroweg, who was strangled to death
by that Frankish count, whose family still lives in Auvergne," remarked
Gregory. "The Frankish kings and seigneurs all follow the same custom."

"Poor Galeswinthe! But why did her husband Chilperic indulge such
ferocity toward her?"

"For the reason that the passion which once drew him to Fredegonde and
which had cooled for a time, resumed the upper hand with him more hotly
than before. He put his second wife out of the way in order to marry the
concubine. Thus Fredegonde was married to Chilperic after the murder of
Galeswinthe, and became one of the queens of Gaul. At times odd
contrasts are seen in the same family. Galeswinthe was an angel, her
sister Brunhild, married to Sigebert, was an infernal being. Of
exceptional beauty, gifted with an iron will, vindictive to the point of
ferocity, animated by an insatiable ambition, and endowed with an
intelligence of such high grade that it would have equalled genius had
she only not applied her extraordinary faculties to the blackest
deeds--Brunhild could not choose but create for herself a fame at which
the world grows pale. She first set her cap to revenge Galeswinthe, who
was strangled to death by Chilperic at the instigation of Fredegonde. A
frightful feud broke out, accordingly, between the two women who now
were mortal enemies, and each of whom reigned with her husband over a
part of Gaul: poison, the assassin's dagger, conflagrations, civil war,
wholesale butcheries, conflicts between fathers and sons, brothers and
brothers--such were the means that the two furies employed against each
other. The people of Gaul did not, of course, escape the devastating
storm. The provinces that were subject to Sigebert and Brunhild were
pitilessly ravaged by Chilperic, while the possessions of the latter
were in turn laid waste by Sigebert. Thus driven by the fury of their
wives, the two brothers fought each other until they were both
assassinated."

"Oh, if only Gallic blood did not have to flow in torrents, if only
these frightful disasters did not heap fresh ills upon our unhappy
country, I would be ready to see in the conflict between those two
women, who thus blasted the families that they joined, a positive
punishment sent down by heaven," observed Loysik. "But, alas, what ills,
what frightful sufferings do not these royal hatreds afflict our own
people with!"

"And did the two female monsters ever find ready tools for their
vengeance?"

"The murders that they did not themselves commit with the aid of poison,
they caused to be committed with the dagger. Fredegonde, whose depravity
surpassed Messalina's of old, surrounded herself with young pages; she
intoxicated them with unspeakable voluptuousness; she threw their
reasoning into disorder by means of philters that she herself concocted;
by means of these she rendered them frenetic, and then she would hurl
them against the appointed victims. It was by such means that she
contrived the assassination of King Sigebert, Brunhild's husband, and
that she succeeded in poisoning their son Childebert. It was by such
means that she caused a large number of her enemies to be despatched
with the dagger and, if the chronicles are to be trusted, her own
husband Chilperic was numbered among her victims."

"So, then, that veritable fury spewed out of hell--Fredegonde--spared
not even her own husband?"

"Some historians, at least, lay his murder to her door; others charge it
to Brunhild. Both theories may be correct; the one Queen, as well as the
other, had an interest in putting Chilperic out of the way--Brunhild in
order to avenge her sister Galeswinthe, Fredegonde in order to escape
the punishment that she feared for the depravity of her life."

"And did punishment finally overtake the abominable woman?"

"Queen Fredegonde died peaceably in her bed in the year 597 at the age
of fifty-five years. Her funeral was pompously celebrated by the
Catholic priests and she was buried in consecrated ground in the
basilica of St. Germain-des-Pres at Paris. In the language of the
panegyrists of our Kings, 'Fredegonde reigned long, happy and ably.' At
her death she left her kingdom intact to her son Clotaire the younger."

A shudder of horror passed over the hearers of this shocking history.
The royal abominations stood in such strong contrast to the morals of
the inhabitants of the Valley, that these good people imagined they had
heard the narrative of some frightful dream, the fabric of the delusion
of a fever.

Gregory was the first to break the silence that ensued:

"Accordingly, Clotaire the younger, son of Fredegonde and Chilperic, is
the grandson of Clotaire the elder, the slayer of his little nephews,
and is great-grandson to Clovis?"

"Yes--and how worthy of his stock he is proving himself you may judge,
my son, by the era of new crimes that follows. His mother Fredegonde
bequeathed to him the implacable hatred with which she was herself
animated against Brunhild. Accordingly, the mortal duel continued
unabated between the latter and the son of her enemy."

"Alas, fresh disasters will befall Gaul, with the renewal of the
sanguinary conflict!"

"Oh, indeed frightful disasters--frightful--because the crimes of
Fredegonde pale before those of Brunhild, our present Queen, the Queen
of the people of Burgundy."

"Father, can the crimes of Brunhild surpass Fredegonde's?"

"Ronan," said Odille carrying both her hands to her temples. "This mass
of murders, all committed in the same family, makes one's head reel with
dizziness. One's mind feels over-burdened and tires in the effort to
follow the bloody thread that alone can lead through the maze of such
unnamable crimes. Great God, in what times do we live! What sights may
yet be reserved for our children!"

"Unless the demons themselves step next out of hell, little Odille, our
children will see nothing that could surpass what is happening now. As I
said to you, the crimes of Fredegonde are as naught beside Brunhild's.
If you only knew what is going on at this very hour in the magnificent
castle of Chalon-on-the-Saone, where the old Queen--the daughter, wife
and mother of kings--holds her own great-grandchildren under her
tutelage--but no--I dare not--my lips refuse to narrate the shocking
incidents--"

"Ronan is right. Shocking things, that language is unable to render,
take place to-day in the castle of Queen Brunhild," replied Loysik with
a shudder; but turning to his brother he proceeded to say: "Ronan, out
of respect for these young families, out of respect for humanity at
large, break off your narrative at where you now are."

"You are right, Loysik; I am bound to stop before the impossibility of
narrating the misdeeds of Queen Brunhild, who, nevertheless, is one of
God's creatures, and belongs to the human species."

At that moment one of the monk laborers approached Loysik and notified
him that someone was knocking at the outer gate of the monastery, and
that a voice from without announced a message from the bishop of Chalon
and from Queen Brunhild.



CHAPTER V.

THE ASSAULT.


The name of the female fiend who then ruled Burgundy pronounced at that
moment, produced a profound sensation among the assembled colonists.
They were amazed, and a vague sense of apprehension ran over the
assembly.

"A message from the bishop and the Queen?" repeated Loysik rising and
proceeding to the outward gate. "That is strange. The punt is tied every
evening on this side of the river, and the watchers have imperative
orders not to cross the stream at night. The messenger must have taken a
boat at Noisan and rowed up the river."

With these thoughts running in his mind the superior of the community
approached the massive gate bolted from within. Several monks bearing
torches followed the venerable head of their establishment. Ronan, the
Master of the Hounds, and several other colonists also accompanied
Loysik. He made a sign. The heavy gate was unbolted and turned upon its
hinges. It exposed to view, brightly lighted by the moon, the archdeacon
and Gondowald, the Queen's chamberlain. Behind them the armed men stood
ranged in single file, casqued, cuirassed, their bucklers on their arms,
lances in hand, and swords by their sides.

"There is some treachery in this," said Loysik in a low voice to Ronan;
and turning to one of the monks he asked: "Who is keeping watch to-night
at the lodge of the punt?"

"The two priests--they volunteered to take the places of the two
brothers whose turn it was to mount guard to-night."

"I see it all," replied Loysik with bitterness, and stepping forward he
addressed the archdeacon, who had also stepped forward but stopped at
the threshold of the gate together with Gondowald, while their escort
of soldiers remained where they were posted.

"Who are you? What do you want?" he demanded.

"My name is Salvien, archdeacon of the church of Chalon and nephew of
the venerable Sidoine, bishop of this diocese. I am the bearer of orders
from your spiritual chief."

"And I, Gondowald, chamberlain of our glorious Queen Brunhild, am
commissioned by her to give the bishop's envoy my own and my men's
support."

"Here is a letter for you from my uncle," said the archdeacon handing a
parchment to Loysik. "I wish you to inform yourself of its contents."

"My years have made my eyes too weak to read; one of my brothers will
read the letter aloud to me."

"The letter may contain secret matters," observed the archdeacon; "I
recommend to you that you have it read in a low voice."

"We keep no secrets here from one another--read aloud, brother."

And Loysik passed the missive to one of the members of the community,
who proceeded to do as ordered by his superior.

The letter was to the effect that Sidoine, bishop of Chalon, instituted
his archdeacon Salvien as abbot of the monastery of Charolles, wishing
thereby to put an end to the scandals and enormities that for so many
years afflicted Christianity by the example of this community; the same
was thenceforth to be rigorously subject to the rules of St. Benoit, as
were almost all the other monasteries of Gaul. The lay monks who, by
their virtue and humble submission to the orders of their new abbot,
should merit the favor, the entirely Christian favor, would be allowed
to enter the clergy and become Roman monks. Furthermore, by virtue of
the seventh canon of the council of Orleans, held two years previous (in
the year 611), and which decreed that "the ownership of the domains,
lands, vineyards, slaves and cattle, that may be donated to a parish,
shall be vested in the bishop," all the goods of the monastery and of
the colony, which, properly speaking, constitute the parish of
Charolles, were thenceforth to be vested in the bishop of Chalon, who
commissioned his nephew, archdeacon Salvien, to administer said goods.
The prelate closed his missive with an order to his beloved son in
Christ, Loysik, to proceed upon the spot to the city of Chalon, and
there receive the reproof of his bishop and spiritual father, and humbly
undergo the punishment or penance that was to be inflicted upon him.
Finally, seeing that it might happen that brother Loysik, listening to
some diabolical suggestion, might commit the enormity of contemning the
orders of his spiritual father, the noble Gondowald, chamberlain of the
glorious Queen Brunhild, was commissioned by the illustrious princess to
cause the orders of the bishop of Chalon to be carried out, by force, if
need be, through the armed men that he would carry with him.

Hardly had the monk laborer finished reading the missive than Gondowald
added with a haughty and threatening air:

"I, the chamberlain of the glorious Queen Brunhild, our very excellent
and very redoubtable mistress, am commissioned by her to inform you that
if you and yours should have the audacity to disobey the orders of the
bishop, as may happen, judging from the insolent murmurs that I have
just heard, I shall have you and the most recalcitrant of your fellows
tied to the tails of the horses of my riders, and shall thus take you to
Chalon, quickening your steps with the shafts of our lances over your
backs."

In fact, the reading of the bishop's missive was several times
interrupted by the murmurs of the monk laborers and of the colonists,
and these murmurs swelled to such proportions that the intervention of
Loysik became necessary in order to hear the bishop's letter to the end.
But when the Frank Gondowald defiantly uttered his insolent threats, the
crowd answered with an explosion of furious cries intermixed with jeers
and sneers.

Ronan, the Master of the Hounds and several other old time Vagres were
not among the last to murmur against the usurpatory pretensions of the
Bishop of Chalon, who proposed to appropriate to himself the goods of
the monk laborers and the colonists, and trample down their every right.
Although age had whitened their heads and paled their faces, the Vagres
felt their old fighting blood boil in their veins. Ever a man of action,
Ronan quickly reverted to his early profession and whispered to the
Master of the Hounds:

"Pick out thirty resolute men, take them to the arsenal, arm yourselves
and run to the punt so as to cut off the retreat of the Franks. I shall
take charge of what is to be done here. By the faith of a Vagre, I feel
myself grown younger by fifty years!"

"And I, Ronan, while the insolent missive was being read, and especially
when the valet of that infamous Queen dared to threaten us, my hand
looked for a sword at my side."

Immediately the two old Vagres started to work among the crowd of
colonists and monks; they moved hither and thither, whispering in the
ears of the men whom they were choosing, and each of whom vanished
successively amidst the increasing uproar, that Loysik's firm and
sonorous voice was hardly able to dominate as he answered the
archdeacon:

"The Bishop of Chalon has no right to impose upon this community either
special rules or an abbot. We elect our chiefs ourselves and of our free
will, in the same manner that we adopt such rules as we are willing to
follow, provided they be Christian. Such was the former and original law
that presided at the foundation of all the cloisters of Gaul. The
bishops exercise over us only the spiritual jurisdiction that they
exercise upon all other lay members. We are here the masters of our
goods and of our persons, by virtue of a charter of the late King
Clotaire, which expressly forbids his dukes, counts and bishops to
incommode us. You speak of councils. One can find anything he wants in
those councils, good and evil, what is just and what is unjust. My
memory has not yet left me. This is what the council of 611 says upon
this very subject:

"'We have learned that certain bishops wrongfully establish their own
relatives or favorites as abbots in monasteries, and procure for them
iniquitous advantages, in order to acquire through violence all that can
be extracted from the monastery by the agent whom they have placed
there.'"

The archdeacon bit his lips, and a volley of hisses drowned his voice as
he attempted to make answer.

"That language, the language I have quoted to you as held by that
council of 611, is the language of justice," Loysik proceeded to say;
"and I recognize in no council, in no prelate, in no King, in no Pope
the right to dispossess honorable and industrious people of their goods,
their lands and their freedom, all of which they hold by virtue of their
natural rights, which are anterior and superior to all authority."

"I say that your monastery is a new Babylon, a modern Gomorrah!" cried
the archdeacon. "The Bishop of Chalon was so informed; I wished to
convince myself by personal observation. I see women and young girls in
this place which should be consecrated to austerity, to prayer and to
seclusion. I see all the evidences of an unclean orgy, which was
doubtlessly intended to be prolonged until morning--under your own eyes,
in this monastery!"

"Enough!" cried Loysik in turn and indignantly. "I, as the head of this
community, forbid you to soil the ears of these wives and young girls,
who are here assembled with their families in order peacefully to
celebrate the anniversary of our settlement upon this free soil!"

"Archdeacon, we have had a surfeit of words," put in Gondowald
haughtily. "To what purpose reason with these dogs--have you not my men
here, ready to enforce obedience?"

"I wish to make one last effort to open the eyes of these unhappy blind
people," answered the archdeacon. "This unworthy Loysik keeps them under
his infernal magic. All of you who hear my voice, tremble if you resist
the orders of our bishop!"

"Salvien," said Loysik, "these words are idle, your threats will be
unavailing before our firm resolution to uphold the justice of our
cause. We reject you as abbot of this monastery. These monk laborers and
the inhabitants of this colony owe no one an account of their goods.
This useless debate is wearisome; let us put an end to it. The door of
this monastery is open to those who present themselves as friends, but
it closes in the face of those who present themselves as enemies or
masters, in the name of iniquitous pretensions. Withdraw from these
premises!"

"Be gone, archdeacon of the devil!" yelled several voices. "Try not to
disturb our celebration! You might be sorry for it!"

"Rebellion! Threats!" cried the archdeacon, and stepping aside to make
room for the Frankish warriors to enter the courtyard, he added:
"Gondowald, carry out the Queen's orders!"

"But for your delays, her orders would long ago have been executed!
Forward, my soldiers; bind the old monk, and exterminate the plebs if it
offers resistance!"

"Forward, my boys! Down with these Franks, and long live old Gaul!"

Whose voice was that? It was the voice of old Ronan, close upon whose
heels followed about thirty monk laborers and colonists, all picked men,
resolute and strong, and fully armed with lances, axes and swords. These
doughty men had noiselessly passed out of the precincts of the monastery
through the yard of the stables and rounded the outside buildings till
they reached a corner of the wall that surrounded the main building.
There they halted, silent and in ambush, until the moment when
Gondowald summoned his soldiers. Ronan's men immediately and
unexpectedly fell thereupon on the Franks. At the same moment and
accompanied by an equally determined, strong and well armed body of men,
Gregory was seen issuing from the interior buildings of the monastery,
pushed his way through the crowd that now filled the courtyard and
advanced in good order upon the enemy. The archdeacon, Gondowald and the
twenty soldiers that constituted his escort, found themselves suddenly
surrounded by over sixty determined men, in justice to whom be it said
all of them were animated with evil intentions towards the Franks. The
latter were not long in perceiving the hopelessness of their situation
and the feelings entertained towards them. They offered no serious
resistance; after a few passes they surrendered. Despite, however, the
rapidity with which the manoeuvre was executed, Gondowald, who in his
first impulse of surprise and rage had raised his sword over Loysik's
head and wounded one of the monks who covered the aged superior with his
body--Gondowald, for all that he rejoiced in the office of chamberlain
to the glorious Queen Brunhild, was thrown to the ground and soundly
drubbed before his disarmed men. Thanks to Loysik's intervention, no
blood flowed in the rapid melee other than that of the monk who was
slightly wounded by Gondowald. As a matter of precaution, the noble
chamberlain was bound fast and handcuffed with the identical rope and
manacles that, with a foresight for which old Ronan felt duly grateful,
he had intended for Loysik.

"In the name of the Holy Roman and Apostolic Church, I excommunicate you
all!" cried the archdeacon livid with rage. "Anathema upon whosoever
should dare to lift a sacrilegious hand against a priest of the Church,
an anointed of the Lord!"

"Tempt me not, archdeacon of Satan! By the faith of a Vagre, old as I
am, I have a good mind to deserve your anathema by letting loose upon
your sacred back a shower of blows with the scabbard of my sword."

"Ronan, Ronan, no violence!" said Loysik. "These strangers came here as
enemies; they were the first to shed blood; you have disarmed them; that
was just--"

"And their arms will enrich our arsenal," Ronan broke in saying. "Come,
boys, gather in that goodly harvest of iron. By my faith, we shall now
be armed like royal warriors!"

"Take those soldiers and their chief into one of the halls of the
monastery," Loysik ordered. "They are to be kept locked up; armed monks
shall mount guard at the doors and windows. We shall later decide upon
what is to be done."

"To dare hold me a prisoner, me, an officer of Queen Brunhild's
household!" cried Gondowald grinding his teeth and struggling to free
himself from his bonds. "Oh, you will pay dearly for such audacity,
insolent monk! The Queen will take revenge for me upon your old hide!"

"Queen Brunhild has acted in defiance of law and justice by sending
hither armed men to support with force the message of the Bishop of
Chalon. She did wrong, even if his pretensions were as just as they are
iniquitous," Loysik answered Gondowald; and turning to his monks he
proceeded: "Take away those men; above all guard against any injury
being done to them; if they need food, let them be supplied. Let us
prove ourselves merciful."

The monks led away the Frankish soldiers and their chief, the latter of
whom had to be carried in their arms, seeing that he wrathfully refused
to walk. This being done, Loysik said to the archdeacon, who snarled out
of breath with rage like a fox caught in a trap:

"Salvien, before aught else I must insure the safety and tranquility of
this colony and community. I am, consequently, compelled to order you to
remain a prisoner in this monastery. Fear not; you will be treated with
consideration; your prison will be the precinct of the monastery. Within
three or four days at the latest--when I shall be back here--you will
be set free to return to Chalon."

After the archdeacon was removed from their presence, Ronan said to
Loysik:

"Brother, you spoke of your return; are you going away? Where to?"

"Yes; I depart this instant. I am going to Chalon, to speak with the
bishop and the Queen."

"What, Loysik!" cried Ronan with painful anxiety. "You leave us? You
propose to face Brunhild? Do you forget that that name spells
'Implacable Vengeance,' Loysik? You would be running to your perdition!
No--no! You shall not undertake such a journey!"

The monk laborers as well as the rest of the colonists shared the
apprehensions of Ronan, and began to ply Loysik with tender and pressing
entreaties, in order to draw him from his foolhardy project. The old
monk was not to be moved. While one of the brothers who was to accompany
him hastily made the preparations for the journey, he repaired to his
own cell in order to take the charter of King Clotaire, which he kept
there. Ronan and his family followed Loysik, still seeking to dissuade
him from his project. He answered them sadly:

"Our situation is beset with perils. Not the fate of the monastery alone
but of the whole colony is at stake. You could easily prevail over a
handful of soldiers; but we cannot think of resisting Brunhild by force.
To attempt any such thing would be to invite the utter ruin of the
Valley, the slaughter of its inhabitants and slavery for the survivors.
Clotaire's charter establishes our rights; but what is law or right to
Brunhild?"

"But that being so, what do you purpose to do at Chalon, in the very den
of the she-wolf?"

"To demand justice of her!"

"But you just said yourself 'What is law or justice to Brunhild!'"

"She sports with justice as she does with the lives of her men; and yet
I entertain some slight hope. I wish you to keep the archdeacon and his
soldiers prisoners--first, because in their fury they certainly would
have me waylaid and killed on the road; I cling to life in order to lead
to a successful issue the business that I now have in hand; secondly,
because, rather than have the archdeacon and the chamberlain precede me
in making the report of to-night's occurrence, I prefer myself to inform
the bishop and Brunhild of the resistance that we offered."

"But, brother, suppose justice is refused you; suppose the implacable
Queen orders you to be slain--as she has done with so many other victims
of her injustice!"

"In that event the iniquity will be accomplished. In that event, if
their purpose is not only to subject your goods and persons to the
tyranny and exactions of the Church, but also to despoil you forcibly of
the soil and the liberty that you have reconquered and which a royal
charter guarantees to you, in that event you will be forced to take a
supreme resolution. Call together a solemn council, as our fathers of
yore were in the habit of doing whenever the safety of the land was in
peril. Let the mothers and wives take part in that council, as was the
ancient custom of Gaul, because the fate of their husbands and children
is to be determined upon. You will then with calmness, wisdom and
firmness decide upon one of these three alternatives--the only ones,
alas! left to you: Whether to submit to the pretensions of the Bishop of
Chalon, and accept a disguised servitude that will soon transform our
free Valley into a domain of the Church, to be exploited for his
benefit; whether you will bow before the will of the Queen if she
tramples your rights under foot, tears up the charter of Clotaire, and
declares our Valley a domain of the royal fisc, which will mean to you
spoliation, misery, slavery and shame; or, finally, whether, strong in
your own right, but certain of being crushed by superior numbers, to
make protest against the royal or episcopal iniquity by a heroic
defense, and bury yourselves and your families under the ruins of your
homes. You will have to decide upon one of these three measures."

"All of us, without exception, men, women and children, will know how to
fight and die like our ancestors, Loysik! And perhaps it may happen that
the bloody lesson and example may shake the surrounding populations from
their torpor. But, brother--brother--to think of your starting alone,
and alone confronting a danger that I cannot share with you!"

"Come, Ronan, no weakness. See to it that all the fortified posts of the
Valley be occupied as was done fifty years ago at the time of the
invasion of Burgundy by Chram. The old military experience that you and
the Master of the Hounds have acquired will now be of great service. For
the rest, there will be no fear of any attack during the next four or
five days. It will take me two days to reach Chalon, and an equally long
time for the Queen's troops to reach the Valley, in the event of her
resolving upon violence. Until the moment of my arrival at Chalon, both
the bishop and Brunhild will be in the dark as to whether their orders
were enforced or not. They can receive no tidings seeing that the
archdeacon and the chamberlain, together with their troops, remain
prisoners in the Valley and under safe surveillance."

"And in case of need they will serve as hostages."

"It is the law of war. If the insane bishop, if the implacable Queen
wish war, we must also keep as prisoners the two priests, the infamous
hypocrites, who treacherously brought the archdeacon into the Valley."

"I overheard the monks argue upon the lesson that they should administer
to the two spies--they spoke of a strapping."

"I expressly forbid any act of violence towards the two priests!" said
Loysik in a tone of severe reproof, addressing two monk laborers who
happened to be at the time in the cell. "Those clerks are but the
creatures of the bishop; they merely obeyed his orders. I repeat it--no
violence, my children!"

"Good father Loysik, seeing you so order it, no harm shall be done
them."

Heartrending was the leave-taking between Loysik and both the
inhabitants of the colony and the members of the community. Many tears
flowed; many childish hands clung to the monk's robe. Vain were the
recurring entreaties not to depart on his errand. He took his leave,
accompanied as far as the punt by Ronan and his family. At the landing
of the punt they found the Master of the Hounds and his posse ready
posted to cut off the retreat of the Franks. As he took his post, the
Master of the Hounds noticed on the other side of the river a number of
slaves guarding the mounts of the warriors and the archdeacon's baggage.
The Master of the Hounds considered it prudent to seize both men and
animals. Leaving one-half of his companions at the lodge, he crossed the
river at the head of the rest. The slaves offered no resistance, and
three trips sufficed to transport the men, the animals and the wagons to
the opposite shore. Loysik approved the manoeuvre of the Master of the
Hounds. Seeing that neither the archdeacon nor Gondowald returned, the
slaves might have run back to Chalon and given the alarm. It was
important to the project upon which the monk was bent that the recent
occurrences at the monastery remained a secret. Considering his advanced
age and the long road that he had to travel, Loysik decided to use the
archdeacon's mule for the journey. The animal was re-embarked on the
punt, which Ronan and his son Gregory decided themselves to take to the
other shore, so as to remain a few minutes longer with Loysik. The craft
touched ground; the old monk laborer embraced Ronan and his son once
more, mounted his mule, and, accompanied by a young brother of the
community, who followed him on foot, took the road to Chalon-on-the-Saone,
the residence of the redoubted Queen Brunhild.



PART II.

THE CASTLE OF BRUNHILD



CHAPTER I.

IN THE TOWER-ROOM.


"Long live he who loves the Franks! May Christ uphold their empire! May
He enlighten their chiefs and fill them with grace! May He protect the
army, may He fortify the faith, may He grant peace and happiness to
those who govern them under the auspices of our Lord Jesus Christ!"

By the faith of a Vagre! That passage from the prelude to the Salic Law
always recurs to the mind when Frankish kings or queens are on the
tapis. Let us enter the lair of Brunhild--splendid lair! Not rustic is
this burg, like Neroweg's, the large burg that we old Vagres reduced to
ashes! No; this great Queen has a refined taste. One of her passions is
for architecture. The noble woman loves the ancient arts of Greece and
Italy. Aye, she loves art! Regale your sight with the magnificent castle
that she built at Chalon-on-the-Saone, the capital of Burgundy.
Magnificent as are all her other castles, none, not even that of
Bourcheresse, can compare with her royal residence, the superb gardens
of which stretch to the very banks of the Saone. It is a palace at once
gorgeous and martial. In these days of incessant feuds, kings and
seigneurs always turn their homes into fortifications. So also did
Brunhild. Her palace is girt by thick walls, flanked with massive
towers. One only entrance--a vaulted passage closed at its two
extremities by enormous iron-barred doors--leads within. Night and day
Brunhild's men-at-arms mount guard in the vault. In the inside
courtyards are numerous other lodges for horsemen and footmen. The halls
of the palace are vast; they are paved in marble or in mosaics, and are
ornamented with colonnades of jasper, porphyry and alabaster surmounted
with capitals of gilded bronze. These architectural wonders,
masterpieces of art, the spoils of the temples and palaces of Gaul, were
transported with the help of an immense number of relays of slaves and
beasts of burden from their original and distant sites to the palace of
the Queen. These vast and gorgeous halls, which are furthermore stored
with massive ivory, gold and silver furniture, with exquisitely wrought
pagan statues, with precious vases and tripods, are but vestibules to
the private chamber of Brunhild. The sun has just risen. The spacious
halls are filling with the Queen's domestic slaves, with officers of her
troops, with high dignitaries of her establishment--chamberlains,
equerries, stewards, constables--all coming to receive their mistress's
orders.

A circular apartment, contrived into one of the towers of the palace,
connects with the chamber that the Queen habitually inhabits. The walls
are pierced by three doors--one leads to the hall where the officers of
the palace are in waiting; another into Brunhild's bedroom; the third, a
simple bay closed by a curtain of gilded leather, opens upon a spiral
staircase that is built into the hollow of the wall itself. The Queen's
chamber is sumptuously furnished. Upon a table, covered with a richly
embroidered tapestry, lie rolls of white parchment beside a solid coffer
studded with precious stones. Around the table a number of chairs are
arranged, all of which are furnished with soft purple cushions. Here and
there the shafts of pillars serve as pedestals for vases of jasper, of
onyx, or of Corinthian bronze, a material more precious than gold or red
alabaster. Upon an antique green plinth rests a group exquisitely
wrought in Parisian marble and representing the pagan god of Love
caressing Venus. Not far from that group, two statues of bronze that age
has turned green represent the obscene figures of a fawn and a nymph.
Between these two masterpieces of pagan art, a picture painted upon wood
and brought at great expense from Byzantium, represents the infant
Christ and John the Baptist, the latter also as a child. This picture
of holiness indicates that Queen Brunhild is a fervent Catholic. Does
she not carry on a regular correspondence with the Pope of Rome, the
pious Gregory, who can not bestow too many blessings upon his holy
daughter in Christ? Further away, upon yonder ivory stand, is an
elaborately carved case in which large Roman and Gallic medals of silver
and gold are displayed. Among these medals is one of bronze, the only
one of that metal in the collection. What does it represent?

What! Here! In a place like this! That august, that venerated face! O,
profanation!

Oh, never was the place or time more opportune for a miracle than here
and now, in order to terrify evildoers! That bronze effigy should
shudder with horror at the place in which it finds itself.

An elderly and richly clad woman, of stony, cynic and wily countenance,
steps from Brunhild's bedroom and enters the apartment in the tower. The
woman, of noble Frankish extraction and Chrotechilde by name, has long
been the confidante in all the Queen's crimes and debaucheries. She
steps to a bell, rings it and waits. Shortly after, another old woman
appears at the door that opens upon the spiral staircase in the wall.
Her extremely simple costume announces that she is of inferior rank.

"I heard you ring, noble dame Chrotechilde, at your orders."

"Did Samuel, the slave merchant, come as ordered?"

"He has been waiting below for over an hour with two young girls, and
also an old man with a long white beard."

"Who is that old man?"

"A slave, I suppose, that the Jew is to take somewhere else, after his
business is done here."

"Order Samuel to bring up the two young girls, immediately."

The old woman bowed and vanished behind the curtain. Almost at the same
moment Brunhild stepped out of her bedroom.

The Queen was sixty-seven years of age; the lines on her face still
preserved the traces of exceptional beauty. Her wan and wrinkled face
was illumined by the somber brilliancy of her two large but sunken eyes,
which were surrounded with deep, dark circles. They were black, like her
long eyelashes; only her hair was white. A front of brass, cruel lips,
penetrating eyes, a head haughtily poised, proud and lofty carriage,
seeing that she had preserved a straight and supple waist--such was
Brunhild. She had hardly stepped into the apartment, when she stopped,
listened and said to Chrotechilde:

"Who is coming up the little stairs?"

"The slave merchant; he has two young girls with him."

"Let him in--let him in!"

"Madam, whom do you intend to present with the two slave girls that he
brings?"

"I shall tell you later. But I am in a hurry to examine the two
creatures. The choice is important."

"Madam, here is Samuel."

The dealer in Gallic flesh, a Jew by extraction like most of the men who
devoted themselves to such traffic, entered, followed by the two slaves
whom he brought with him. They were wrapped in long white veils, that
were transparent enough to enable them to walk unassisted.

"Illustrious Queen," said the Jew dropping on one knee and bowing so low
that his forehead almost touched the floor, "I am here obedient to your
orders; here are two young female slaves; they are veritable treasures
of beauty, of sweetness, of gracefulness, of gentleness and above all of
maidenliness. Your excellency knows that old Samuel has but one
quality--that of being an honest trader."

"Rise--rise!" commanded Brunhild, addressing the two girls, who, at the
sight of the redoubted Queen, had fallen on their knees at the
threshold of the door near the merchant. "Let the girls rise, and remove
their veils."

The two slaves hastened to obey the Queen. They rose. To the end of
enhancing the value of his merchandise, the Jew had clad the two young
girls in short-sleeved tunics, the skirt of which hardly reached their
knees, while the cut of their corsage left their bosoms and shoulders
half exposed. One of the two slaves, a tall and lithesome girl, wore a
white tunic; her eyes were blue; a strand of corals wound itself in the
braids of her black hair; eighteen or twenty years was the utmost age
that she could be taken for. The girl's face, touchingly beautiful and
open, was bathed in tears. Steeped in sorrow and shame, and trembling at
every limb, she dared not raise her tear-dimmed eyes out of fear to
encounter Brunhild's. After long and attentively contemplating the girl,
whom she ordered to turn around in order to have a view of her from all
sides, the old Queen exchanged a look of approval with Chrotechilde, who
had been no less attentively examining the slave. Addressing the latter
she asked:

"Of what country are you?"

"I am from the city of Toul," answered the girl in a tremulous voice.

"Aurelie! Aurelie!" cried Samuel stamping on the ground with his foot.
"Is that the way you remember my lessons? You should answer: 'Glorious
Queen, I am from the city of Toul.'" And turning towards Brunhild,
"Kindly pardon her, madam, but she is so childish, so simple--"

Brunhild cut off the Jew's flow of words and proceeded with her
interrogatory:

"Where were you taken?"

"At Toul, madam, when the city was sacked by the King of Burgundy."

"Were you free or slave?"

"I was free--my father was a master armorer."

"Can you read and write? Have you pleasing accomplishments? Can you sing
and play?"

"I can read and write, and my mother taught me to play upon the archlute
and to sing."

When she said that she could sing, the unhappy girl was unable to
repress the sobs that suffocated her. She must have thought of her
mother.

"Weep, and weep again!" Samuel cried, angrily scolding the girl. "You
can do that better than anything else. But, as you know, great Queen,
one has a certain supply of tears, after the supply has run out the bag
is empty."

"Do you really believe so, Jew? Fortunately you are merely slandering
the human race," observed the Queen with a cruel smile, and proceeded to
interrogate the young girl:

"Have you ever been a slave before now?"

"By the faith of Samuel, illustrious Queen, she is as new to slavery as
a child in the womb of its mother!" cried the Jew as he saw the young
Gallic slave breaking out anew into sobs, and unable to make answer. "I
bought Aurelie on the very day of the battle of Toul, and since then my
wife Rebecca and I have watched over the girl as if she were our own
child, hoping that we might realize a fair price for her. We guarantee
that she is a maiden."

After another look over the girl, who now hid her face in her hands,
Brunhild said to Samuel:

"Return her veil to her; let her stop whimpering; bring forth the other
one."

Aurelie received her veil from the hands of the Jew like an act of
kindness, and hastened to wrap herself up in its folds in order to
conceal her grief, her shame and her tears. At the Queen's order, the
other slave hastened to step forward. Dainty and fresh as a Hebe, she
might be sixteen years of age. A string of pearls wound itself in the
stout braids of her bright blonde hair; her large hazel eyes sparkled
with mischief and fire; her thin and slightly upturned nose, her rosy
and palpitating nostrils, her ruby but rather fleshy lips, her little
enamel teeth, her dimpled cheeks and chin, imparted to this girl the
liveliest, gayest and most impudent look imaginable. Her tunic of green
silk added luster to the whiteness of her bosom and shoulders. Oh! the
Jew had no need of telling this one to turn around, and turn again, in
order that the aged Queen might obtain a good view of her charming
shape. She raised her head, arched her neck, rose on the tips of her
feet, folded her arms gracefully, and at all points played the coquette
before Brunhild and Chrotechilde, who again exchanged looks of approval,
while the Jew, who was now made to feel as uneasy by the audacity of
this slave as before by the sorrowful deportment of the other, whispered
to her:

"Keep quiet, Blandine--do not shake your legs and wave your arms quite
so much. A little more decorum, my girl, in the presence of our
illustrious and beloved Queen! One would think you had quicksilver in
your veins! May your excellence excuse her, illustrious princess. She is
so young, so gay, so giddy-headed--all she wants is to fly from her cage
and display her plumage and voice. Lower your eyes, Blandine! You
audacious girl! How dare you look our august Queen in the face!"

Indeed, instead of avoiding the penetrating eyes of Brunhild, Blandine
sought to catch and mischievously to challenge them, all the while
smiling with a confident mien. The Queen, accordingly, after an equally
long and minute survey, said to her:

"Slavery does not seem to sadden you?"

"On the contrary, glorious Queen, to me slavery has been freedom."

"How is that, impudent lass?"

"I had a peevish, cross, quarrelsome step-mother. She made me spend upon
the cold stone porches of the basilicas all the time that I was not
engaged plying my needle. The old fury used to beat me whenever I
unfortunately took my nose off my sewing and smiled at some lad at the
window. Accordingly, great Queen, what a sad lot was mine! Ill fed, I
who am so fond of dainties; ill clad, I who am so coquettish; on my feet
at the first crow of the cock, I who am so fond of snoozing in my bed!
And so it happens that great was my joy when your invincible grandson
and his brave army, Queen, illustrious Queen, drew, last year, near
Tolbiac, where I lived."

"Why so?"

"Because, glorious Queen, I knew that Frankish warriors never kill young
girls. I said to myself: 'Perhaps I may be captured by some baron of
Burgundy, a count, or perhaps even a duke, and once I am a slave, if I
know myself, I shall become a mistress--because there have been female
slaves known--"

"To become Queens, like Fredegonde, not so, my little one?"

"And why not, if they are pretty!" impudently answered the minx without
lowering her eyes before Brunhild, who listened to and contemplated her
with a pensive air. "But, alas," Blandine proceeded saying with a half
suppressed sigh, "I did not then have the fortune of falling into the
hands of a seigneur. An old leude, with long white moustaches and not a
bit amorous, had me for his share of the booty, and he immediately after
sold me to seigneur Samuel. But perhaps it is not yet too late, and a
lucky chance may come my way. But what is this that I am saying!" added
Blandine smiling her sweetest at Brunhild, "is it not a great, an
unexpected piece of good luck that has brought me to your presence,
illustrious Queen?"

After a moment's reflection, Brunhild said to the merchant:

"Jew, I shall buy one of these two slaves from you."

"Illustrious Queen, which of the two do you prefer, Aurelie or
Blandine?"

"I am not yet decided--leave them at the palace until this evening--they
shall be taken to my women's apartment."

At a nod from the Queen, Chrotechilde rang the bell; the second old
woman again appeared; Brunhild's confidante said to her:

"Take these two slaves with you."

"Illustrious Queen," said Blandine turning once more to Brunhild, while
the Jew was carefully wrapping the devilish girl in her veil. "Queen,
choose me, glorious Queen--you will thereby do a good work--I would so
much like to stay at court."

"Keep still, impudent thing!" said Samuel in a low voice while gently
pushing Blandine towards the Queen's bedroom, at the door of which
Chrotechilde pointed her finger. "Too much is too much; such
familiarities may displease our illustrious sovereign!"

The two young girls, one of whom was brimming over with happiness while
the other staggered under the weight of her grief, stepped into the
Queen's apartment. The Jew humbly bowed before Brunhild, left by the
same door that he had entered, and closed behind him the leather curtain
that masked the issue to the spiral staircase.

Brunhild and her confidante were left alone.



CHAPTER II.

QUEEN AND CONFIDANTE.


"Madam," said Chrotechilde to Brunhild, "for whom do you intend the one
of the two female slaves whom you expect to buy?"

"You really ask me?"

"Yes, madam--"

"Chrotechilde, age seems to dull your powers of penetration--perhaps I
may have to look for some other confidante."

"Madam, please explain yourself--"

"I mean to test how far the present dullness that seems to have come
over you may go."

"Truly, madam, I am at a loss to understand you--"

"Tell me, Chrotechilde, did not my son Childebert, when he died
assassinated by Fredegonde, leave me the guardianship of his two sons,
my grandchildren, Thierry and Theudebert?"

"Yes--madam--but I was speaking of the two female slaves--and not of
your children."

"At what age was my grandson Theudebert a father?"

"At thirteen--at that age he had a son from Bilichilde, the
dark-complexioned slave with green eyes, for whom you paid a big price.
I still see her wild looks, as uncommon as her style of beauty. For the
rest, she had a nymph's waist, and wavy and jet-black hair that reached
the floor. I never in my life saw such hair. But why do you look so
somber?"

"The vile slave! Did not that miserable Bilichilde gain a fatal
ascendency over my grandson Theudebert, despite the many other
concubines that we furnished him?"

"Indeed, madam! So fatal was the ascendency that she gained over him,
that she caused us to be driven out of Metz, both you and me, and led
prisoners as far as Arcis-on-the-Aube, the boundary of Burgundy, the
kingdom of your other grandson, Thierry. But all that is an old story,
madam, that is dead and should be forgotten, together with the principal
actors in it. Bilichilde is no more; she was last year strangled to
death by your grandson, the savage idiot Theudebert himself, who passed
from love to hatred; afterwards, beaten at the battle of Tolbiac by his
brother, whom you hurled at his head, he was himself shorn of his hair
and stabbed to death; finally, his five-year-old son had his skull
broken against a stone. Accordingly, that score was thoroughly settled.
Were you not amply revenged?"

"No; with me, hatred survives vengeance, it survives death itself, as
the dagger survives the murder. No; my vengeance is not yet complete."

"You are not reasonable. To hate beyond the grave is childish at your
age."

"And is your mind not yet enlightened by what we have just said?"

"With regard to the two handsome slaves?"

"Yes, with regard to the two pretty girls."

"No, madam, I cannot yet fathom your thoughts."

"Let us, then, proceed, seeing that you have become so obtuse. Tell me,
what was the nature of Theudebert, before we gave him Bilichilde for
companion?"

"Violent, active, resolute, head-strong and above all proud. At eleven
years he already felt the proud ardor of his royal blood. He used to say
loftily: 'I am the King of Austrasia! I am master!'"

"And two years after he possessed the dark-complexioned slave with the
green eyes and curly hair, whom you so judiciously chose for him, what
was then the nature of my grandson? Answer me, Chrotechilde."

"Oh, madam, Theudebert was unrecognizable. Unnerved, irresolute and
languid, he had no will except to go from his bed to table, and from
table to bed with his concubines. He hardly had enough spirit to hunt
with falcons, a woman's amusement; the hunt of wild animals he could not
think of, it was too tiring. I was not at all surprised at the change.
From being robust, pert and loving noisy games since his early
childhood, he became sickly, weak, puny, dreamy, and preferred darkened
rooms as if the light of the sun hurt his eyes. In short, he had given
promise of becoming a man of large size, but he died stunted and almost
beardless."

"It was that I aimed at, Chrotechilde. Precocious debauchery unnerves
the soul as much as it does the body. Accordingly Theudebert's issue was
not born with vitality enough to survive."

"True enough; I never saw such puny children--but what else could be
expected from a dwarfish and almost imbecile father?"

"And yet, as early as his twelfth year, Theudebert used to say
haughtily: 'I am the King of Austrasia! I am master!'"

"Yes, but afterwards, whenever you sought to converse with him upon
matters of state, and you called his attention to his being King, the
boy would regularly answer you in his languid voice and with his eyes
half shut: 'Grandmother, I am King of my women, of my amphoras of old
wine and of my falcons! Reign in my stead, grandmother; reign in my
name, if you please!'"

"And it did please me, Chrotechilde. I reigned in Austrasia for my
grandson Theudebert until the day when that vile slave Bilichilde,
availing herself of her influence over the imbecile King, drove me from
Metz--drove out me--Brunhild!"

"Ever the remembrance of that occurrence! Again does the storm gather
over your forehead! Again your eyes shoot lightning! But, by the
heavens, madam; the slave has been strangled, the imbecile and his son
are both dead--they have both been killed and lie in their graves. I
even forgot that, in order to complete the hecatomb of those malefic
animals, Quintio, the stewart of the palace and Duke of Champagne, who
took an improper part in the affair of Metz, was put to death upon your
orders. What more can you wish? Besides, in exchange for the Austrasia
that you lost, did you not gain a Burgundy? If Theudebert drove you from
Metz, did you not take refuge here, in Chalon, near your other grandson
Thierry? Enervated and besotted through overindulgence with the women
that we furnished him with, did you not drive him to undertake a
merciless war against his own brother, whom he overcame at Toul and
Tolbiac, and who, after these defeats, was himself, together with his
son put to death, as I reminded you a minute ago? Thus revenged for
being exiled from Metz, have you not ever since held sway over Thierry
and actually reigned in his stead? When Aegila, the stewart of the
palace, made you apprehensive by reason of his growing influence over
your grandson, you promptly rid yourself of Aegila, and you substituted
him with your lover Protade, who thereupon became the mayor of the
palace--"

"But they killed him, Chrotechilde--they killed him--they killed my
lover, my Protade!"

"Come, madam; we are here among ourselves; admit that a Queen never
suffers any dearth of lovers. You need only choose among the handsomest,
the youngest, the most appetizing nobles of the court. Moreover, madam,
without meaning to make you any reproaches on that score, if they did
kill your Protade, did you not in turn kill their Bishop Didier?"

"Perchance he did not merit his fate?"

"Never was punishment more condign! The wily prelate! He schemed to
supplant us in our amorous manoeuvres! Why, the fellow plotted the
marriage of your grandson to the Spanish princess, in order to snatch
him from the voluptuous life in which we kept him, and thereby withdraw
him from your domination! And what happened to the tonsured schemer?
The current of the Chalaronne washed his corpse down the stream, while
the Spanish woman, upon whom he reckoned in order to evict you and, by
means of her, to rule Thierry and through Thierry Burgundy, that Spanish
woman has been repudiated by your grandson, she went back to her own
country only six months after her wedding, and we have appropriated her
dower. Finally, Thierry died this year of a dysentery," added the hag
with a horrid smile, "and so you now are absolute mistress and sovereign
Queen of this country of Burgundy, seeing that Sigebert, the eldest son
of Thierry, your great-grandson, is now only eleven years old. We must
prevent these kinglets from dying out, else Fredegonde's surviving son
would fall heir to their kingdoms. All that is needed is that they
vegetate, in order that you may reign in their stead. Well, madam, they
vegetate. But all this takes us far away from the young female slave
whom you wish to buy from Samuel."

"On the contrary, Chrotechilde, the review leads us directly to the
slave."

"In what manner?"

"There can no longer be any doubt about it; age is softening your
brains; formerly so quick to grasp my purposes, it is now fully a
quarter of an hour that you have been giving me distressful proofs of
your waning intellect."

"I, madam?"

"Yes; in former days, instead of asking me what I intended doing with
one of Samuel's slaves, you would have guessed on the spot. I have been
able to convince myself at leisure of the senility of your
understanding--it is sad, Chrotechilde."

"As sad to me as to you, madam. But deign to explain yourself, I pray
you. For me to hear is to obey."

"What! Dullard! You know that I have the guardianship of my
great-grandchildren, and yet you stupidly ask me what I propose to do
with one of the two pretty slaves! Do you now understand?"

"Oh! Yes! I now begin to understand, madam; but yet your reproaches were
unmerited. You forget that Sigebert is not yet eleven."

"All the better! The debauch will begin so much earlier."

"That is true," remarked the other monster with a horrid peal of
laughter. "That is true; all the better. The debauch will start so much
sooner."

During this shocking conversation the august bronze effigy remained
motionless in the case of medals on the ivory stand; it never once as
much as winked, nor did its metal mouth utter a cry of malediction to
shake the walls of the apartment like a trumpet blast of the day of
judgment.

The conversation between the two matrons proceeded.

"You mean to furnish a concubine to your great-grandson, Sigebert," said
Chrotechilde to the Queen, "although he is not yet eleven."

"Yes," repeated Brunhild; "but what happened with Bilichilde makes me
pause: I do not know which of the two slaves to take. What is your
opinion, in view of your experience?"

"The tall brunette who weeps constantly will never be dangerous; she is
mild, candid, and stupid as a sheep. There is no fear that the silly
thing will ever instil Sigebert with evil thoughts against you."

"I also am strongly inclined in favor of the weepful one; the other girl
seems to me rather too bold a piece. The impudent thing never once
lowered her eyes before mine, that terrify the otherwise firmest and
most daring men."

"It is quite possible, madam, that the frisky little imp may have too
large a measure of what the tall one has too little--there may be profit
in that. Let us look at things as they are. Sigebert is not yet eleven,
he is very childish, thinks only of his top and huckle-bones; besides,
he is quiet and timid, a veritable lamb. Now, then, if the tall silly
thing associates with him like a sheep--you understand me, madam? On the
other hand, the little gay imp might set our lamb afire. I always
remember the fear of Theudebert at the sight of the girl with the green
eyes and curly hair. The matter requires careful consideration, madam.
Let us first study the nature of the two girls. Moreover, there is no
great hurry in the matter. Sigebert is now in Germany with Duke
Warnachaire, the mayor of the palace of Burgundy."

"They may be back any moment. I should not be surprised to see them back
to-day. Moreover, I am in all the greater hurry to procure a slave girl
for Sigebert, seeing that I fear Warnachaire may have gained some
influence over him during this journey into Germany. If so, whatever
influence Warnachaire may have gained over the boy will be speedily lost
in his experiences with love."

"But, madam, if you mistrust the duke, why did you confide Sigebert to
him?"

"Was it not absolutely necessary for Sigebert to be a part of the
embassy? The sight of the royal child, with his sweet face, was certain
to interest in his behalf the German tribes on the other side of the
Rhine whose alliance Warnachaire was to secure for me. Their troops will
double my army. Oh, in this last supreme effort, in this merciless war
that will now break out between me and Clotaire II, this son of
Fredegonde will be ground to dust--it must be--it must be--my vengeance
must be complete."

"And it will be, madam. Until now, your enemies have all fallen under
your blows. The death of Fredegonde's son will crown the work. I must,
nevertheless, admit that this Duke Warnachaire makes me feel uneasy.
Madam, these mayors of the palaces, who, forty-five or fifty years ago,
under the reign of the sons of old Clotaire, began with being the
intendants of the royal palaces, and who, ever since, have by little and
little become the actual governors of the people, I fear me that these
mayors of the palaces will end by swallowing up the kings, if the kings
do not suppress them. These able folks say to the princes: 'Keep
concubines, drink, play, hunt, sleep, squander the money that we fill
your treasuries with, enjoy your lives, bother not with matters of
government, we shall take charge of that burden.' These are dangerous
and wicked proceedings, madam. That a mother, a grandmother should act
in that manner towards her sons and grandsons, that is allowable; but
with mayors of the palace it becomes usurpation; and this Warnachaire,
whom you allowed to retain his office of mayor after Thierry's death is
bent, it seems to me, upon dominating Sigebert and ousting you, madam. I
know that with the tall or the short slave we shall be able to hold our
own against the duke--but never forget your exile from Metz, madam!"

"You are preaching to one already converted. I recently wrote to Aimoin,
who returns with Warnachaire, to kill him on the way back."

"Oh, glorious Queen, why did you not say so before! I would have spared
you my rhetoric."

"But unfortunately Aimoin failed to carry out my orders. Warnachaire is
still alive."

"Why did he not obey?"

"I do not yet know; I may learn the reason to-day."

"At any rate we should not be hasty in thinking ill of Aimoin. Perhaps
no favorable opportunity presented itself; who knows but you may yet see
him return alone with Sigebert. And if not, once Warnachaire is back at
Chalon, in this castle, his fate, madam, will be in the hollow of your
hand--and you should not hesitate to strike. Oh, these mayors of the
palaces, these mayors of the palaces! I look upon them as the gravest
danger to the royal family. You may be certain, madam, that the royal
family will never enjoy safety until it will have rid itself of these
daily more dangerous rivals."

"We need time to overthrow their power. They have drawn around them all
the beneficiary seigneurs whom the royal generosity enriched. Oh! Time!
Time! Oh, how short is life. I need time; combined with it, will-power
and force can do all. The time that I need is a long reign; I shall have
it. The barbarian tribes on the other side of the Rhine have responded
to our call; they will join our army. Thanks to their reinforcements,
the troops of Clotaire will be crushed, and the son of Fredegonde will
fall into my power! Oh! To inflict upon the son a slow death under the
protracted tortures that I prepared for his mother! To avenge by his
agony the murder of my sister Galeswinthe, and of my husband Sigebert!
To take possession of Clotaire's kingdom and reign alone, the undisputed
mistress of all Gaul for many a long year! That is my aim. And it will
be reached. I feel myself full of life, strength and will-power!"

"You will live a hundred years and more."

"I believe it. I feel it. Aye, I feel within me indomitable will and
vitality. To reign! the ambition of great souls! To reign like the
Emperors of Rome! I wish to emulate them in all their sovereign
omnipotence! I wish to count by the millions the instruments of my will!
I wish, by a mere gesture, to cause the power of my arms to be felt from
one confine of the world to the other! I wish to increase my kingdom to
an infinite extent! I wish to be able to say: 'All these countries, from
the nearest to the most distant, belong to me! I wish to concentrate the
forces of all nations into my own hands and to cause all the peoples of
the earth to bend under my yoke! I wish to raise in all parts of Gaul
the marvels of art that now cover Burgundy--fortified castles,
magnificent palaces, gold-naved basilicas, wide and interminable
highways, prodigious monuments, all of which will in all the centuries
to come re-echo the name of Brunhild! Should I allow vulgar scruples to
stay my hand, having such grand designs in view? No! No! Could these
children whom I unman, could these men whom I kill because they hinder
my progress--could they or any of them as much as conceive my gigantic
designs? Of what value to the world is the life of these obscure
victims? Their bones will have turned to dust, their names will be
buried in oblivion, when my name, repeated from age to age, will
continue to amaze posterity!"

"And these will be valid reasons for the priests and bishops, who
besiege you with applications for grants of land and money, to pardon
your crimes."

"I forbid you to say an evil word against the priests; it is they who
draw my triumphal car--"

"The team is rather ruinous."

"Not to me. Do the gifts that I bestow upon them impoverish me? Is not
that which I give them, the overflow of my overflow? Moreover, they will
aid me in restoring the imposts formerly decreed by the emperors, and
thereby to replenish my coffers. Here, take this key; open the little
coffer yonder on the table, and look for a roll of parchment tied in a
purple ribbon."

"Here it is, madam."

"Kiss the parchment, it is written on by the hand of the representative
of God on earth, a Pope--the pious Gregory himself--"

"And does the sovereign pontiff, the successor of St. Peter, as he
claims, he who holds in his hands the keys of paradise, promise to open
them wide for you?"

"It is but just. Have I not amply gilded those keys of paradise? Read
over again to me what the parchment contains."

"'Gregory to Brunhild, Queen of the Franks. The manner in which you
govern the kingdom and preside over the education of your son give
witness to the virtues of your Excellency, virtues that must be praised
and that are pleasing to God. You did not content yourself with leaving
intact to your son the glory of temporal things, you also laid up for
him the great riches of eternal life by causing, with pious maternal
solicitude the germs of the true faith to take root in his soul.'"



CHAPTER III.

THE ROYAL FAMILY.


The reading of the papal epistle was interrupted at this point by the
noise of many children's laughter that proceeded from the contiguous
chamber. Almost immediately thereupon the three younger brothers of
Sigebert, who was then absent on the journey to Germany, rushed in,
followed by their governesses. The little ones ran to their
great-grandmother. Childebert, the eldest of the three, was ten years of
age; Corbe nine, and Merovee, the youngest, six. The poor children, born
of a father who was almost worn out, even before adolescence, through
all manner of early excesses, were delicate, frail, dreamy, and painful
to behold. Even their mirth had a saddening effect. Their cheeks were
hollow, they were sicklied over by a pallor that betrayed ill health,
and that rendered their eyes exceptionally large and weird. Their long
hair, the symbol of Frankish royalty, fell thin upon their shoulders.
They wore short dalmaticas of gold and silver thread. The governesses
respectfully bent their knees at the entrance of the hall and remained
at the door, while the children ran forward and surrounded their
great-grandmother. Childebert remained standing near her; Corbe and
Merovee, the two youngest, climbed upon her knees, as she said to them:

"You seem to be in good spirits this morning, my dear children! What is
the reason of your joy?"

"Grandmother, it is our brother Corbe, who made us laugh."

"What did Corbe do that was so funny?"

"He plucked all the feathers off his white turtle dove--and she
screeched so--she screeched--"

"And you laughed--you laughed--you little imps!"

"Yes, grandmother, but our little brother Merovee wept."

"Did he laugh so hard that he cried?"

"Oh, no; I wept because the bird bled."

"And I thereupon told Merovee: 'You have no courage, if blood frightens
you! And when we go to battle, will you weep there also at the sight of
blood?'"

"And while Corbe was saying so to Merovee, I took a knife and cut the
dove's head off. Oh, I am not afraid of blood; not I; and when I am a
big man I shall go to war, not so grandmother?"

"Ah, children! You know not what you are wishing. It is easy to amuse
yourselves cutting off the heads of doves, without feeling obliged some
day to go to war. To make war means to ride day and night, suffer
hunger, heat and cold, to sleep under tents, and what is worst of all,
run the risk of being wounded and killed, all of which causes great
pain. Is it not far better, dear children, to promenade quietly in a
cart or a litter, to lie down in a soft bed, eat dainties, have fun all
day long, and please your whims? The blood of royal families is too
precious a thing to expose it recklessly, my pretty little kinglets. You
have your leudes to go to war and fight the enemy in battle, your
servants to kill the people who may displease or offend you; your
priests to order the people to obey you. So, you see, all you have to do
is to amuse yourselves, to enjoy the delights of life, happy children
that you are, having nothing to say but 'I will.' Do you understand
these words well, my dear little ones? Answer, Childebert, you being the
eldest and therefore most intelligent."

"Oh, yes, grandmother; I am no more anxious than other people to go to
war in search of lance-thrusts; I prefer to amuse myself, and do what I
please. But why, then, did our brother Sigebert go away on horseback,
followed by armed men, and accompanied by Warnachaire?"

"Your brother is ailing; the physicians have advised letting him
undertake a long trip for the good of his health."

"Will he be back soon?"

"To-morrow, perhaps--perhaps even to-day."

"Oh, so much the better, grandmother! So much the better! His place will
not then be empty in our room--we miss him--"

"Be not too glad on that score, my little kinglets. Henceforth, Sigebert
will inhabit his own royal mansion, he will have his own servants and
his separate room. Oh, he will be like a little man!"

"But he is only one year older than I!"

"Oh, oh! In a year you also will be a little man, my little Childebert,"
replied Brunhild exchanging a diabolical glance with Chrotechilde; "you
will then also have your royal establishment and your separate
room--your chamberlains, your equerries, your slaves, all of them
submissive to your every whim, like dogs to the switch."

"Oh, how I would like to be a year older, so as to have all those things
that you promise me!"

"And so would I like to see you older--and Corbe also--and also Merovee,
I would like to see you all of the age of Sigebert."

"Patience, madam," said Chrotechilde again exchanging infernal glances
with Brunhild; "patience; it will all come about--but what noise is that
in the large hall? I hear numerous steps approaching--it must be
seigneur Warnachaire!"



CHAPTER IV.

QUEEN AND MAYOR OF THE PALACE.


Chrotechilde was not mistaken. The mayor of the palace of Burgundy had
arrived, and now stepped, accompanied by Sigebert, into the chamber
where Brunhild and her confidante were conversing with the kinglets, and
anticipating the future with diabolical foresight.

Sigebert, a boy of barely eleven, was like his brothers, frail, sickly
and pale. Nevertheless, what with the excitement of the journey and the
joy at seeing his brothers, a slight flush suffused his sweet, wan face,
which not all the execrable precepts of his grandmother had succeeded in
depriving of its angelic appearance. He ran to embrace the aged Queen
and then joyfully reciprocated the caresses and answered the volley of
questions of his little brothers, who crowded around him. To each he
handed some slight presents, which he brought from his journey and were
locked in a small coffer that he took from the hands of one of his
suite, and impulsively opened in order to give his brothers a token of
remembrance. Chrotechilde availed herself of a favorable moment, and
approaching the Queen said in a low voice:

"Madam, if you will take my advice, keep the two slaves until
evening--between now and then we shall have time to make up our minds."

"Yes, that will be the best thing to do," answered Brunhild; and
addressing the child: "You should now retire for rest, and you can talk
with your brothers about your journey. I have matters of importance to
consider with Duke Warnachaire."

Chrotechilde led away the children, and the Queen remained alone with
the mayor of the palace of Burgundy, a man of tall stature, and face
cold, impenetrable, resolute. He wore a rich steel armor trimmed with
gold after the Roman fashion. His long sword hung from his side, his
long dagger was in his belt. After attaching a long and scrutinizing
look upon Warnachaire who, however, remained impassible, Brunhild
motioned him to a seat near the table, and let herself down into one
opposite, saying:

"What tidings do you bring?"

"Good--and bad, madam--"

"First the bad."

"The treason of Dukes Arnolfe and Pepin, as well as the defection of
several great seigneurs of Austrasia, is no longer a matter of doubt.
They have deserted our colors and passed over to the camp of Clotaire II
with all their men; they are now preparing to march against your army."

"I have long expected their treason. Oh, seigneurs, enriched and made
powerful by the bounty of the Kings, you are yet able to carry
ingratitude to such lengths! Very well! I prefer open war to
subterraneous manoeuvres. The domains, Salic lands and benefices of the
traitors will all return to my fisc. Proceed."

"Clotaire II raised his camp at Andernach, and has penetrated to the
heart of Austrasia. Being summoned to respect the kingdoms of his
nephews, whose guardian you are, he answered that he would submit only
to the judgment of the grandees of Austrasia and of Burgundy
themselves."

"Fredegonde's son expects to raise the people and seigneurs of my
kingdoms in rebellion against me. He deceives himself. Prompt and
terrible examples will terrify all would-be traitors."

"Well said, madam!"

"All the traitors--whatever their rank may be, whatever their power,
whatever the mask that they assume! Do you hear, Warnachaire, mayor of
the palace of Burgundy?"

"I hear even what you do not say to me--but I bow before my Queen."

"Do you read my thoughts?"

"You take me for a traitor. You consider me your enemy, especially since
your recent return from Worms."

"I am on my guard against everybody."

"Your suspicions, madam, have become certitude. You told Aimoin, one of
our men, to stab me to death."

"I order only my enemies to be despatched."

"Accordingly, I am an enemy to you, madam, at least you look upon me as
such. Here are the fragments of the letter, written in your own hand,
and ordering Aimoin to kill me."

And the duke deposited several fragments of parchment upon the table;
the Queen looked defiantly at the mayor of the palace.

"Did Aimoin give you that letter?"

"No, madam; accident placed these fragments into my hands."

"And yet you return to the palace?"

"In order to prove to you the injustice of your suspicions; that is the
reason I have returned to the place where you are sovereign."

"Or perhaps you come to betray me."

"Madam, if I had wished to betray you, I would have repaired, as so many
other seigneurs of Burgundy have done, not hither, but to the camp of
Clotaire II. I would have placed your grandson as a hostage in his
hands, and I would have remained in your enemy's camp, together with the
tribes that I brought with me from Germany."

"Those tribes are devoted to my interests; they would have refused to
follow you; they have come for the purpose of reinforcing my army."

"Those tribes, madam, have come for the purpose of pillage, and little
do they care whether they be indulged as auxiliaries of Brunhild or of
Clotaire II, whether it be against the country of Soissons, of Burgundy
or of Austrasia. These Franks have no predilections, provided only that,
after they shall have fought bravely and helped in winning the victory,
they will be free to ravage the vanquished country, gather a large
booty, and lead numerous slaves back with them to the other side of the
Rhine--such are the Franks whom I have brought."

"And I tell you that the sight of my grandson, the infant King, asking
through your mouth the assistance of the Germans, interested the
barbarians in his cause, and secured the success of your mission."

"Had you not expressly promised the Franks the pillage of the vanquished
territories, they would have remained unaffected by the youth of
Sigebert; they are as savage as were our fathers, the first companions
of Clovis. It was with no little trouble that I succeeded in preventing
them from ravaging all the districts that we traversed on our route; in
their impatience of savages they imagined themselves already in
vanquished territory. Every day their chiefs called upon me at the top
of their voices to deliver battle, in order that they might begin the
plundering and return laden with booty to Germany, before the winter
season sets in."

"Where are the Franks now?"

"I left them near Montsarran."

"Why so far from Chalon?"

"Despite all I could do to prevent it, those savages killed and stole on
their passage. To bring them here to the center of Burgundy, and then
send them out again in some other direction, according as the
requirements of the war may demand or the facilities for provisioning
may require, would be to expose the territories that may have to be
traversed to untold and unnecessary disasters. Such afflictions may fan
the spark of rebellion among our people--because, as you know, madam,
the people are growing restive even on this side of the frontier of
Burgundy."

"Yes--at the instigation of the traitors who have gone over to
Fredegonde's son, there are some seigneurs who are seeking to raise the
people in rebellion against me--against the 'Romish Woman,' as they call
me. Oh, seigneurs and people will feel the weight of Brunhild's arm!"

"The enemies of Brunhild will always tremble before her; nevertheless, I
fear to increase their number by exposing our people to be victimized by
the barbarism of our new allies. I doubt not that the territory where I
have had those troops encamp will be laid waste, but the evil effect of
their conduct will be at least limited to the spot. Moreover, the
location is central enough to enable us to expedite these auxiliaries in
whatever direction the movements of Clotaire II may render necessary. As
you see, I have acted with foresight."

"What is the temper of the army?"

"It is full of ardor; it only asks to be led to battle. The remembrance
of the last two victories of Toul and Tolbiac, above all, of the immense
booty, the large number of slaves that the troops carried away--all that
fires them with the desire to fight the son of Fredegonde. These, madam,
are the good tidings that counterbalance the evil ones. Is Brunhild
still of the opinion that Warnachaire has conducted himself like a
traitor, and does she still entertain the idea of having him stabbed to
death?"

"A man whom one has sought to do away with, who learns the fact, and who
still comes back--Oh, Warnachaire, that needs careful attention!"

"Brunhild is quick to suspect and to punish, but she is magnificent
towards those who serve her faithfully."

"You have, then, a favor to ask of me?"

"Yes, madam; but only after the war is ended, or, rather, I expect it
after the victory that I shall win over Clotaire II, when I deliver him
to you tied hands and feet."

"Warnachaire!" cried the Queen thrilling with wild delight at the
thought of having Fredegonde's son in her power; "if you deliver
Clotaire a prisoner in my hands, I shall challenge you to express a wish
that Brunhild will not gratify, and--" but recollecting herself, she
suddenly stopped short, cast a somber, scrutinizing glance at the mayor
of the palace and proceeded: "Can it be your purpose to spread a snare
for me and lull my suspicions? Warnachaire, if your purpose is to betray
me--"

"Madam, you look upon me as a traitor. If you but ring that bell,
instantly your chamberlains and equerries will rush in and kill me
before your very eyes. So that you may consider me dead. But who is the
man whom you do not suspect? Whom will you take for your general? Duke
Alethee, perchance, or Duke Roccon?"

"No! Neither the one nor the other!"

"Sigowald, perhaps?"

"You are mocking! He is my personal enemy."

"Perhaps Eubelan?"

"I have not yet forgotten his criminal relations with Arnolfe and
Pepin--the two traitors! He no doubt is considering how to follow their
example, and to go over to the enemy. No; I will not trust Eubelan! He
also is an enemy."

"Yet, madam, they are all capable of captaining the army; they are all
experienced and brave chiefs."

"Yes, but I have not proposed to kill them--at least they do not know
that I had any such intention--while, as to you, I have ordered your
death, and what is more to the purpose, you are aware of it."

"You think me animated with a sentiment of revenge towards you because I
know that you meant to have me stabbed to death. If it is the hope of
vengeance that has brought me back to you, what is there to prevent me
from laying my hand upon this bell, and depriving you of the means to
give the alarm?"

And the duke did what he said.

"What prevents me from drawing this dagger?"

And the duke held the glistening weapon before the eyes of Brunhild,
whose first impulse was to throw herself back and her arms forward.

"What, in short, prevents me from killing you with one blow of this
dagger, which is poisoned as were the daggers of Fredegonde's pages?"

And as he uttered these words, Warnachaire drew so close to Brunhild
that he could strike her before she was able to utter a single cry.
Excepting a first movement of surprise, the Queen did not even wink her
eyes; her indomitable orbs remained resolutely fixed upon those of the
mayor of the palace. With a look of disdain she pushed aside the
dagger's blade, remained pensive for an instant, and then observed
regretfully:

"One is bound to put faith in something. You could have killed me--that
is true; you have not done so--I can not deny the fact. Your purpose is
not to take revenge upon me--unless you mean to reserve me for a fate
more terrible than death. But that is not likely. The man who hates does
not resort to such hazardous and refined schemes. The future belongs to
none. If the opportunity offers to strike an enemy, the blow is dealt
hard and firmly. I therefore conclude that you are not animated by
secret hatred toward me. You shall keep the command of the army. Listen,
Warnachaire, Brunhild is implacable in her suspicions and her hatred,
but she is magnificent towards those who serve her faithfully. Let
Fredegonde's son fall into my hands, and my favor will transcend your
expectations. Let us forget the past, let us be friends."

"The past is forgotten, madam, as far as I am concerned."

"Now let us argue calmly, Warnachaire. Let us sift things to the bottom.
I did mean to have you killed--that is true! I have had so many others
killed! But it never was out of taste for blood. My sister Galeswinthe
was killed, my husband was killed, my son was killed, my most faithful
servants were killed. Single-handed have I been compelled to defend the
kingdom of my son and grandsons against the kings who are bent upon my
destruction. Whatever weapon was available was good to me; and after
all, I have won brilliant victories, I have accomplished great things.
All this notwithstanding I am hated; the Frankish seigneurs envy me; the
vile Gallic plebs, whether slave or free, is silently resentful towards
me, and would rebel if it were not curbed by the terror I inspire it
with. But look! Look at that man! Who is he?" cried Brunhild breaking
off her sentence in the middle, and, precipitately rising, she pointed
at Loysik, who stood at the door connecting with the secret spiral
staircase, and who was pushing aside with one arm the leather curtain
that had until then hid him from the eyes of the Queen and the mayor of
the palace of Burgundy. Warnachaire took a few steps towards the aged
hermit laborer, who advanced slowly into the chamber, and said to him:

"Monk, how come you here? Great is your audacity to dare to introduce
yourself into the Queen's apartment--who are you?"

"I am the superior of the monastery of the Valley of Charolles."

"You lie!" broke in Brunhild. "One of my chamberlains is at the abbey at
this hour to seize the superior, and bring him to me in irons."

"Your chamberlain," replied the monk, "your chamberlain, together with
the archdeacon and all their armed men, is at this hour a prisoner in
the monastery."

To announce such news, no less improbable than offensive to the pride of
Brunhild; to announce it to that implacable woman, and thus to expose
himself to certain death--the action seemed so exorbitant that the Queen
did not believe the monk's words; she shrugged her shoulders with a
look of disdainful pity, and said to the major of the palace:

"Duke, that old man is out of his senses. But how did he contrive to
enter the palace?"

Other circumstances soon combined to confirm Brunhild's belief in the
monk's insanity. Loysik had continued to advance slowly towards the
Queen, but despite his spirit's firmness, of which he had given so many
a proof during his long life, in the measure that he drew nearer to the
horror-inspiring woman, his self-possession gradually forsook him, his
mind became troubled, he felt his knees trembling under him, and he was
constrained to lean against an ivory stand that was within his reach.
The profound, unconquerable emotion was caused by the horror that the
Queen inspired in the venerable monk, together with the consciousness of
the terrible position in which he found himself.

With his head drooping upon his chest, he sought to collect himself and
to gather his thoughts. His eyes wandered over the medal-case that lay
upon the ivory stand against which he leaned. The large bronze medal
that lay among the others drew to itself the monk's attention all the
more readily, seeing that it was the only one of a vulgar metal, all the
others being of either gold or silver. At first Loysik contemplated it
mechanically, but being presently attracted towards it by an undefinable
interest, he stooped over, looked at it more closely, approached his
head nearer in order better to see the imprint, and deciphered the
inscription that was under the august profile, that seemed to stand out
lustrous from the bronze. A thrill ran over the frame of the aged man; a
sudden, an extraordinary feeling seized him, a feeling in which
enthusiasm, stupor and hope were mingled into one. The confusion into
which his mind was thrown an instant before ceased; he felt reassured
and strengthened as if he had encountered a support as unexpected as it
was powerful; in short, it seemed to him a providential circumstance to
encounter--_the image of Victoria in the palace of Brunhild_.

Loysik had bent down in order to contemplate more closely the features
of the Gallic heroine; as he recognized them, he bowed a knee and
stretching his arms towards the august effigy, he murmured:

"O, Victoria--holy woman-warrior in behalf of Gaul! Your presence in
this horrid place fortifies my soul; it seems to impart to me the
necessary strength to save the descendants of Schanvoch, of the faithful
soldier whom you called your brother, and who was one of my ancestors!"



CHAPTER V.

LOYSIK AND BRUNHILD.


Astonished at the oddity of the appearance and conduct of the old monk,
Brunhild and Warnachaire now followed him with their eyes, now looked at
each other in silence during the short instants that Loysik recognized
and contemplated the image of Victoria. More and more convinced that the
monk was out of his mind, the Queen lost all patience, stamped with her
foot on the floor and cried:

"Duke, call in my pages; let them drive out of this room with their
switches this crazy man who pretends to be the abbot of the monastery of
Charolles, and who kneels before my antique medals."

Brunhild was still issuing these orders when one of the pages entered by
the door that connected with the large hall, and bending a knee said to
her:

"Glorious Queen, a messenger has just arrived from the army; he brings
pressing despatches for seigneur Warnachaire."

"That is of greater importance, duke. Receive the messenger and return
quickly to inform me of the tidings that he brings;" and then,
addressing the page and pointing to Loysik, who, with head erect and
firm steps was now advancing toward her, she proceeded: "Fetch in some
of your assistants and drive out that dotard with your switches; the
loss of his senses saves him from a more severe punishment." Saying
this, the Queen rose from her seat, and stepping towards her bedchamber,
once more urged the mayor of the palace: "Warnachaire, return as soon as
possible and let me know what tidings the messenger bears. You will read
me the despatches."

"I shall go, madam, and receive him instantly. But what of this crazy
man? What is to be done with him?"

"Leave that to my pages!"

The mayor of the palace withdrew. Through the door, left open by him,
and without stepping out of the apartment, the page called out to
several of his companions who stood in waiting in the contiguous hall.
Loysik, on his part, seeing that, without taking any more notice of him
than of an insane man, the Queen was returning to her bedchamber, ran
towards Brunhild, and holding before her a parchment scroll that he drew
from his robe, said to her in a firm and collected voice:

"I am not crazy. This charter signed by the late King Clotaire will
prove to you that I am the superior of the monastery of Charolles, where
your chamberlain and his soldiers are, at this hour, retained prisoners
by my orders."

"Loysik!" exclaimed one of the young pages who entered the apartment in
response to the call of their companion. "Brother Loysik here?"

"What! This monk!" cried Brunhild stupefied. "Is he Loysik, the abbot of
the monastery of Charolles?"

"Yes, glorious Queen. He is the venerable abbot."

"How come you to know him?"

"He was pointed out to me at the last slave market. The worthy abbot was
buying slaves to set them free. I saw him again this morning crossing
one of the courtyards of the palace in the company of Samuel and two
young girls."

For a moment Brunhild remained thoughtful, and then ordering the other
pages out of the chamber with a wafture of her hand she addressed the
one who had first come in.

"Go to Pog and tell him to get himself and his assistants ready in the
cave. Let him light his fires and wait for further orders."

The page grew pale and bowed, but before leaving the chamber he cast a
look of pity upon the old man. Left alone with Loysik, the Queen paced
the room for a minute in silence and with agitated steps, and then
turning abruptly upon the hermit laborer said to him in a short, sharp
voice:

"So you are Loysik?"

"I am Loysik, the abbot and superior of the monastery of Charolles."

"How did you penetrate into this room?"

"This morning I met near the castle a slave merchant named Samuel; I had
recently bought several slaves from him; he informed me that he was
coming here; knowing that it was difficult to obtain access to the
palace, I asked Samuel to allow me to accompany him; at first he
hesitated; two gold pieces put an end to his hesitation."

"And as the gateman had received orders to admit Samuel and his slaves,
you passed along with his merchandise! And did you remain in the room
below while the Jew was showing me the two slave girls?"

Loysik nodded his head in the affirmative.

"And after Samuel left the palace?"

"The Jew having informed me that this room was reached from below by the
spiral staircase, I came up a short time ago and concealed myself behind
the curtain; I was a witness of your conversation with one of your
women. I heard everything."

Brunhild looked at the monk with a questioning and threatening mien:

"And so you overheard everything that was said between us?"

"Yes; I listened and heard everything."

"Old man--do you know who Pog and his assistants are?"

"The executioner and his men."

"How old are you?"

"The age of a man about to die."

"You expect death?"

Loysik shrugged his shoulders without answering.

"You are right," proceeded Brunhild with a satanic smile. "To bring
such tidings as you did was to run into the jaws of death."

"I came here of my own free will; your chamberlain and his men remain
prisoners at the monastery. No harm will be done them."

"You are mistaken. A terrible punishment awaits them! Infamy, cowardice,
shame and treachery! An officer, Brunhild's men-at-arms made prisoners
by a handful of monks! Pog and his men will have work to do."

"Your men-at-arms were not cowardly; even had they been more numerous,
they could not have resisted the men of the monastery and the colonists
of the Valley of Charolles."

"Why, they must be redoubtable men!"

"Not that. But they are people who are determined to die free, to bury
themselves under the ruins of their homes if you ignore the rights
guaranteed to them by the charter of the late King Clotaire."

"How dare you invoke such a charter in my presence! A charter of him who
was Fredegonde's father-in-law! A charter of the grandfather of Clotaire
II, the son of Fredegonde and no less a mortal enemy of mine than his
mother herself! You dare mention to me a charter signed by the
grandfather of a man whom I shall pursue into his grave! Insensate old
man! I would burn down the tree that lent its shade to Fredegonde's son!
I would have the spring poisoned that quenched that man's thirst! In
your instance, the question is not about inanimate objects, but of men,
women and children who owe their freedom to the grandfather of
Fredegonde's son. It is in my power to make their souls and bodies,
their whole generation, writhe with pain! Oh, no later than to-morrow
all the inhabitants of that accursed valley will be sent as slaves to
the savage tribes that have come from Germany. It will be but an advance
payment on the pillage that was promised them."

"Very well. You will send troops to the Valley. They will force their
way in, arms in hand; they will crush our inhabitants despite any
resistance that they may offer, and however heroic. Men, women and
children will know how to die. After a stubborn fight, your soldiers
will find upon their entrance into the Valley only corpses and ashes.
But you seem to forget that war has been declared between you and
Fredegonde's son, that the moment is critical, and that you require all
your available forces in order to resist your enemies. Execrated by the
people, execrated by the seigneurs, the leading ones of whom have
already joined the standard of Clotaire II, you are hardly certain of
the loyalty of your own army, seeing that you have been obliged to call
savage tribes to your aid and to allure them with the prospect of
pillage. You seem to forget that, guided by an unerring instinct, and
seeing the power of the mayors of the palaces on the ascendant, the
people look upon these as the natural enemies of the Frankish Kings and
are ready to revolt in support of the former. Despite the heroic
resistance that they will offer, our people of the Valley will be
crushed. I admit it. But do you imagine that the surrounding
populations, however timid and cowed they may be, will remain impassive
when they will see people of their own race slaughtered to the last man
in the defense of their freedom? The horror of conquest, the hatred for
slavery, the unbearable hardships of poverty have more than once driven
people steeped in deeper degradation than our own to serious and
stubborn revolt. To-morrow, who knows! some frightful insurrection may
break out against you, called into being by the voice of the grandees
who abhor you."

"And are the seigneurs, perchance, not the enemies of your race as much
as the kings?"

"Yes; after their purpose is attained, after your ruin is accomplished,
the seigneurs will crush the people just as you are doing now. After the
first explosion of its rage is over, the unhappy people will resume its
old yoke with docility--because the time has not yet arrived for their
liberation! But what does that matter! Such a revolt at this time, in
the very heart of your kingdom, when your most implacable enemy
threatens your frontiers, at an hour when treason surrounds you at every
turn--such a revolt would to-day mean your utter annihilation--it would
deliver you and your kingdoms to your ferocious enemy, Fredegonde's
son!"

At the sound of that name Brunhild trembled with rage. With her head
inclined and her eyes fixed upon the ground, the Queen seemed to listen
with increased attention to the words of Loysik, who continued with
bitter disdain:

"Behold, then, that Queen, the audacity of whose policy has rendered her
so famous! In order to cement her empire she has perpetrated crimes that
will one day cause the veracity of history to be doubted. And she is
about to endanger her kingdom, aye, her very life, out of hatred for a
handful of inoffensive people! Did these people at all injure her? No;
they were unknown to her until now; her attention was drawn to them by
the cupidity of a bishop who coveted their goods. Are the people whom
she wishes to drive to the heroism of despair, perchance, dangerous
enemies to her? No; they only ask to be allowed to continue to live in
freedom, peace and industry; if they can ever become dangerous it could
only be by the example of their resistance--not unlikely, their
martyrdom will provoke uprisings of which she herself will be the first
and leading victim. And yet this woman would rouse them to acts of
despair! She meditates punishing them on the ground that their freedom
is guaranteed by a king who has lain nearly half a century in his grave!
Oh, vertigo of crime! With what joy would I not see this woman throw
herself headlong into the abyss of her own digging were it not that her
feet must slide over the blood of my brothers!"

"Monk--it is an annoying circumstance that your age is that of a man who
is about to die. I would have made you the councillor to whose words I
would have given greatest weight. I shall follow your advice. Your
valley shall be spared--for the present. You speak truly. At this hour
when war threatens, when my grandees but await the opportune moment to
rebel against me--at such a time to drive the inhabitants of your valley
to despair, to martyrdom, would be an act of folly on my part."

Loysik promptly replied:

"My mission is accomplished; I demand of you no promises regarding the
monastery and the inhabitants of the Valley of Charolles; your own
interests are my best guarantee. I would now request of you a sheet of
parchment for me to write to my brother--and to my monks--just a few
lines. You are free to read them--it is my farewell words to my family;
I also wish to request my monks to set your chamberlain, the archdeacon,
and their men-at-arms free. One of your own messengers may carry the
letter."

"There is writing material on this table--you may sit down."

Loysik took a seat at the table and proceeded to write serenely.
Nevertheless such was his joy at having carried the difficult matter to
so successful an issue that his hand betrayed a slight tremor. Brunhild
followed him attentive and somber:

"You tremble--you must be afraid, old man!"

"The gratification of having warded off so many evils from the heads of
my brothers affects me and causes my hand to tremble. Here is the
letter--read it."

Brunhild read, and said as she rolled up the parchment:

"These words of farewell are simple, they are dignified and touching. I
understand better and better the powerful influence that you exercise
over those people--they are the arms, you the head. Within shortly they
will be a headless and, therefore, lifeless body. After the war is over
I shall find it easier to reduce them to obedience. Have you anything to
ask of me?"

"Nothing--except that you hasten my execution."

"I shall be magnanimous; your unshakable firmness pleases me; I shall
spare you the torture and I shall leave to you the choice of death. You
may choose between poison, iron, fire or water."

"Have my throat cut."

"It shall be as you wish, monk. Have you any other favor to ask?"

"Yes," said Loysik slowly stepping towards the ivory stand on which lay
the case of medals, "I would like to take with me this bronze medal; I
would like to keep it with me during the short time of life that is left
me. It will be sweet to me to die with my eyes fixed upon this glorious
effigy."

"Let me see what medal that is--they are all mere antique curiosities.
Truly, this woman is handsome, and proud under her Amazonian casque.
What is the inscription here below? _Victoria, Emperor_. A woman an
emperor?"

"The sovereign title was bestowed upon her after her death."

"She surely was of royal race?"

"She was of plebeian race."

"What was her life?"

"Simple--austere--illustrious! Her great soul was visible in her
serenely grave features--an august countenance that this bronze has
preserved for posterity. Her life was that of a chaste wife--a sublime
mother--a brave Gallic woman. She never left her modest home but to
follow her son to war, or to the camps. The soldiers worshipped her;
they called her their mother. She brought up her son manfully in the
love for his country and set him the example of the loftiest virtues.
Her ambition--"

"This austere woman was ambitious!"

"As much as a mother may be for her son. Her ambition was to render that
son a great citizen, the ardent desire of rendering him worthy of being
chosen chief of Gaul by the people and the army."

"Brought up by so incomparable a mother, was he elected?"

"Citizens and soldiers acclaimed him with one voice. By choosing him
they glorified Victoria--his stout-hearted preceptress. The brilliant
qualities that they honored in him were her work. The son's election
consecrated the sovereign influence of the mother--truly a sovereign in
point of courage, genius and goodness. An era of glory and prosperity
then opened to the country. Emancipating herself from the yoke of Rome,
Gaul, free and strong, drove the Franks far away from her borders and
began to enjoy the blessings of peace. And thus it came about that, from
one end of our territory to the other there was one name everywhere
idolized. That name--the first that the mothers taught their children
after that of God--that name, so popular, that name wreathed in
veneration and devoted love, was the name of Victoria!"

"In short, this woman, this incomparable mother, this divinity, this
object of veneration--reigned in her son's name!"

"Yes, as virtue reigns over the world! Invisible to the eyes, it is to
the heart that virtue reveals itself. As modest in her tastes as the
obscurest matron in the land, Victoria fled from the glamor of honors.
Living privately in a humble dwelling at Treves or Mayence, she
delighted in the glory of her son, and in the well-being of Gaul--but
not in order to reign as Queen--she despised royalty."

"And what was the cause of her haughty disdain for the great of the
earth?"

"She held that the right which kings arrogated to themselves of
transmitting to their children the ownership of the country with its
people, like a private domain with its cattle, was an outrage to the
majesty of man and a crime before God. She furthermore held that
hereditary rule depraves the best dispositions, and produces the
monsters that have horrified the world. Faithful to her principles, she
refused to render the power hereditary in her grandson."

"She had a grandson?"

"Like you, Victoria was a grandmother."

And Loysik looked fixedly at the Queen. There was, in the manner in
which Loysik accented the words addressed to Brunhild: _Like you,
Victoria, was a grandmother_--there was in his tone so crushing an
emphasis, so withering a condemnation of the shocking means employed by
the monster in order to deprave, enervate and morally kill her own
grandsons, whose lives she was nevertheless compelled to respect in
order that she might reign in their name, that Brunhild turned livid
with rage, but controlling herself so as not to expose the wound
inflicted upon her pride, dropped her eyes before the aged monk. Loysik
proceeded:

"Victoria was a grandmother, and, while ruling Gaul with her genius she
never dropped her distaff, which she ever plied near the cradle of her
grandson; she watched over him as she had done over the child's father,
with solicitous firmness; her hope was to render that child also a good
citizen and brave soldier. Her hope was dashed. A frightful plot dragged
into their graves both the son and grandson of the august woman. They
both perished in a popular uprising."

"Ha! Ha!" cried Brunhild breaking forth into a burst of sardonic
laughter, as if her gathering hatred for the Gallic heroine was
assuaged. "Such, then, is the justice of God!"

"Such is the justice of God--the crime enabled Victoria to bequeath to
the admiration of posterity a noble example of patriotism and
abnegation! After the death of her son and grandson, and being urgently
requested by the people, the army and the senate to govern
Gaul--Victoria refused. Aye," added Loysik in answer to a gesture of
surprise that escaped Brunhild, "aye, Victoria refused twice. She
designated the men whom she considered worthiest of being chosen chiefs
of the country, and rendered to them the all-powerful support of her own
popularity and the advice of her exceptional wisdom for the good of the
country. Victoria continued to live modestly in her retreat, and so long
as her life lasted, Gaul remained powerful and prosperous, rid both of
the Romans and the Franks. Victoria died. Her death was the climax of a
series of crimes of which her son and grandson were the first victims.
The illustrious woman died poisoned."

"Ha! Ha!" cried Brunhild breaking forth anew in a burst of sardonic
laughter. "Monk--monk--ever the justice of God!"

"Ever the justice of God--never was the death of the greatest geniuses
that ever shed splendor upon the world wept as the death of Victoria was
wept! One would have thought it was the funeral of Gaul! In the largest
cities, in the obscurest villages, tears flowed from all eyes.
Everywhere these words were heard, broken with sobs: 'We have lost our
mother!' The soldiers, those rough warriors of the legions of the Rhine,
whose faces a hundred battles had bronzed--those soldiers wept like
children. The mourning was universal; imposing as death itself. At
Mayence, where Victoria died, the spectacle of sorrow was sublime.
Reclining upon an ivory couch draped in gold cloth, Victoria lay in
state a week. Men, women, children, the army, the senate crowded the
street of her house. Each came to contemplate for a last time in pious
grief the august features of her who was the dearest, the most admired
glory of Gaul--"

"Monk!" cried Brunhild seizing the arm of the venerable old man and
seeking to drag him after her; "the executioners must be waiting--"

Loysik exerted only the force of inertia to resist the Queen; he
remained motionless and continued in a calm and solemn voice:

"The mortal remains of Victoria the Great were placed upon the pyre and
disappeared in a flame, pure, brilliant and radiant as the life that she
had lived. Finally, in order to do honor to her virile genius across the
ages, the people of Gaul decreed to her the sovereign title that she had
ever declined out of her sublime modesty. It is now more than four
centuries ago since that bronze was cast in the effigy of _Victoria,
Emperor_."

As he uttered these last words, Loysik took the medal in his hands.
Brunhild, whose rage now reached a paroxysmal pitch, snatched the august
image from the old monk's hands, dashed it on the floor, and trampled
upon it in blind rage.

"Oh, Victoria! Victoria!" cried Loysik, his face beaming with exalted
enthusiasm. "Oh, woman Emperor! Heroine of Gaul! I can now die! Your
life will have been to Brunhild the punishment for her crimes!" And
turning toward the Queen, who continued a prey to the frenzied vertigo
that had seized her, he exclaimed triumphantly: "The glory of Victoria,
like the bronze that you are trampling under foot, defies your impotent
rage!"

At this point Warnachaire burst into the chamber crying:

"Madam--madam--disastrous tidings! A second messenger has just arrived
from the army. By a skilful manoeuvre Clotaire II surrounded our German
allies; the prospect of booty carried them over to the enemy's banners;
he is now advancing with forced marches upon Chalon. Your presence,
together with that of the young princes, in the army, is indispensible
at this critical moment. I have just issued the necessary orders for
your immediate departure. Come, madam, come! The safety of your
kingdoms, perhaps your own life, is at stake--as you know, the son of
Fredegonde is implacable!"

Struck with stupor at the sudden news Brunhild at first remained
petrified, with her foot still resting upon the medal of Victoria. An
instant later she had recovered herself, and in a clamorous voice, that
sounded like the roar of an infuriate lioness, she cried:

"To me, my leudes! A horse--a horse! Brunhild will either be killed at
the head of her army or the son of Fredegonde will meet his death in
Burgundy. Send for the young princes! To horse. All forces on the
march!"



PART III.

THE CAMP OF CLOTAIRE.



CHAPTER I.

WEEDING KINGLETS.


The village of Ryonne, situated on the banks of the little river of
Vigienne, lies about three days' march from Chalon. Around the village a
portion of the troops of Clotaire II, son of Fredegonde, lie encamped.
The King's tent has been set up under a clump of trees in the middle of
the village. The sun has only just risen. Not far from the royal shelter
stands a farmhouse. It is larger than any other in sight, and also in
better condition. Its door is closed, and two Frankish soldiers are on
guard before it. The only light that enters the house penetrates through
a little window. From time to time one of the soldiers who is posted
outside, looks in and listens through the window. A worm-eaten old
trunk, two or three stools, a few household utensils, and a long box
filled with straw--such are the furnishings of the place. On that rough
straw couch are three children. They are clad in gold-and silver-trimmed
silk clothes. Who may these children be, so magnificently clad, yet
lying on that pallet like the children of slaves? They are the children
of Thierry, the late King of Burgundy; they are the great-grandchildren
of Brunhild. The three children are asleep in one another's arms.
Sigebert, the eldest, lies between his two brothers; Merovee's head, the
youngest of the three, lies on Sigebert's breast. Corbe, the second, has
his arm around his eldest brother's neck. The faces of the little
princes, as they lie soundly asleep, are half hidden by their long hair,
the symbol of the royal family. They seem to lie peacefully, almost
happily. Especially the face of the eldest has an expression of angelic
serenity. As the sun mounted higher and higher above the horizon, it
presently darted its luminous and warm rays upon the group of sleeping
children. Awakened by the heat and the brilliancy of the light, Sigebert
passed his white wan hands over his large and still half-closed eyes; he
opened them; looked around with surprise; sat up on the pallet; and, as
if suddenly remembering the sad reality, he threw himself back upon the
straw. Tears soon inundated his pale visage, and he laid his hands over
his lips in order to suppress the sobs that were struggling to escape.
The poor child feared to awaken his younger brothers. They were still
soundly asleep, and, despite the movements of Sigebert, who, as he sat
up, caused the head of Merovee to roll upon the straw, the latter's
profound rest was not interrupted. Corbe, however, who was also half
awakened by the heat of the sun, rubbed his eyes and mumbled:

"Chrotechilde, I want my milk--my cake--I am hungry."

"Corbe," Sigebert whispered to him with his face bathed in tears and his
lips palpitating; "brother--wake up. Alack, we are no longer in our
palace at Chalon."

At these words, Corbe woke up completely, and answered with a sigh:

"I thought we were in our palace."

"We are not there any longer, brother; I am so sorry!"

"Why do you say that? Are we no longer the King's sons?"

"We are poor King's sons--we are here in prison. But grandmother, where
is she? And where is our brother Childebert? Where can they be? Perhaps
they also are prisoners."

"And whose fault is it? It is the fault of the army that betrayed us!"
cried little Corbe angrily. "I heard everybody say so around us--the
troops fled without striking a blow. I heard them say that Duke
Warnachaire prepared the treason! Oh, the scoundrel!"

"Not so loud, Corbe, not so loud!" cautioned Sigebert with a smothered
voice. "You will wake up Merovee--poor little fellow! I wish I could
sleep like him. I would not then be thinking."

"You are always weeping, Sigebert; tell me why?"

"Are we not now in the hands of our grandmother's enemies?"

"Be not afraid; she will soon come with another army and set us free;
she will kill Clotaire. Are you not hungry?"

"No! Oh, no! I am neither hungry nor thirsty."

"The sun has long been up; they will surely soon bring us something to
eat. Grandmother was right; war is tiresome and uncomfortable, but only
when one is not a prisoner. But how Merovee does sleep! Wake him up!"

"Oh, brother, let him sleep quietly; perhaps he also thinks, as you did,
that he is in our palace at Chalon."

"So much the worse! We woke up--I do not want him to sleep any
longer--why should he?"

"Corbe, you can not have a good heart."

"Sigebert! They are opening the door--they are bringing us something to
eat."

Indeed, the door opened. Four personages stepped into the house. Two of
them were clad in jackets of hides, and one of these carried a roll of
rope. Clotaire II and Warnachaire accompanied the two men. The duke had
his battle armor on, the King a long light blue silk robe bordered with
ermine.

"Seigneur King," said Duke Warnachaire in a low voice, "will you not
wait for the return of Constable Herpon?"

"Who can tell whether he will be back to-day?"

"You must remember that his horses are fresh; Brunhild's are exhausted
with the march. It is impossible that he should have failed to overtake
the Queen at the foot of the Jura mountains, into which she will not
dare to risk herself. The constable may be back with her from one moment
to another."

"Warnachaire, I am in a hurry to be done with it; such a blow will be
of little moment to Brunhild; why delay it to wait for her to witness?
It should be done quickly."

Saying this, the young King made a sign to the two men, who thereupon
stepped towards the three children on the straw pallet. The sleep of
childhood is so profound that little Merovee was not yet awakened by the
noise. His two brothers, however, crouched back into the remotest corner
of the pallet, stunned and frightened, especially at the sinister faces
of the two men clad in hide jackets. The two cowering children held each
other in a close embrace, trembling and without uttering a word. At a
second sign from Clotaire II, one of the two men, he who carried the
coil of rope, unwound it and stepped closer to the children, while his
companion drew from his belt a long, straight and sharp knife, of the
kind that is used by butchers; he slightly tested the freshly sharpened
edge of the blade with the tip of his thumb, while Fredegonde's son
urged the executioners on with the impatient order:

"Move on, slaves; hurry up!"

The executioner made to the King a sign with his hand, as if to say:
"You need not fear, I shall be quick about it." In the meantime his
assistant had come within reach of the children, who, livid and dumb
with terror, trembled so convulsively that their teeth were heard to
chatter. The executioner's assistant placed a hand on each, and without
turning his head asked:

"Which first? The taller, the smaller, or the one asleep?"

"Begin with the eldest," answered Clotaire II in a hollow imperious
voice. "Hurry up! Hurry up!"

The two children retreated still farther back into the corner in which
the pallet was placed and did not loosen their hold upon each other.

"Mercy!" cried Sigebert in a smothered and plaintive voice. "Mercy for
my brother! Mercy for me!"

"We are a King's sons!" cried Corbe with even more anger than fear. "If
you do any harm to me, my grandmother will have you all killed!"

At this moment, awakened at last by the noise, little Merovee sat up on
the pallet and looked around with wonderment but not in terror. The
six-year-old child could not understand what was going on; he rubbed his
eyes and turning his little head, with his eyes still swollen with
sleep, hither and thither, he looked alternately from the four new
arrivals to his brothers, as if asking what it all meant. The King
having said "Begin with the eldest," the assistant seized Sigebert. More
dead than alive, the hapless child offered no resistance, but let
himself be bound hands and feet, as the lamb does in the
slaughter-house; he only murmured in a woebegone voice:

"Seigneur King! Good seigneur King, do not have us killed--why would you
have us killed? We are willing to be slaves. Send us out to herd your
sheep far away from here; we shall obey you in all things; but, O,
seigneur, mercy, good seigneur King, mercy! Mercy for my two little
brothers and for me!"

As a worthy grandson of Clotaire I, Clotaire II remained unmoved by the
prayers of his victim.

Sigebert passed from the hands of the assistant to those of the
executioner. The child's arms were bound behind his back, and his feet
were tied together; his physical prostration rendered him unable to keep
upon his feet. He fell upon his knees before the slaughterer. The latter
took hold of the child by its long hair and firmly bending its neck back
against his own knee left the child's throat well distended and exposed
to the knife. With a smothered voice and casting an agonizing glance at
the mayor of the palace Sigebert murmured:

"Warnachaire, you who called me during our late journey your 'dear boy,'
will you not implore mercy for me--"

These were the innocent child's last words. Clotaire II gave a motion of
impatience. The executioner approached his knife to the child's throat,
but doubtlessly experiencing a fleeting sentiment of pity, he turned his
head aside and shut his eyes as if to escape seeing the dying glance of
his victim. The movement was but transitory, the long knife quickly
plowed its way through the child's throat and, operated as a saw, cut
down until it struck the vertebrae of the neck. Two jets of purple blood
spurted from the wide-gaping wound and fell in opposite directions like
a ruddy dew on a fold of the robe of Fredegonde's son and upon the iron
greaves of Duke Warnachaire. Withdrawing his knee which had served him
for a block, the executioner left the body to its own weight. It fell
backward; the inert head rebounded upon the floor; a slight tremor ran
over the expiring child's shoulders and limbs, and the lifeless body of
Sigebert sank motionless in a pool of blood.

During the time that the murder of Sigebert was enacting, Merovee wept
scalding tears on the straw where he remained seated; the child wept
because, as he murmured, 'they were hurting' his brother, but with one
so young no thought of death could enter his head. His brother Corbe,
however, a boy of violent and vindictive character, did not emulate the
gentle resignation of Sigebert. He fought and shrieked, and tried to
bite and scratch the assistant who was to bind him fast. The latter was
only tying the last knots when the first child's throat was cut.

"Dogs! Murderers!" cried Corbe in his weak, shrill voice, while his eyes
flashed fire from the midst of his pale face. He straightened himself
and he writhed so convulsively in his bonds that the executioner was
hardly able to hold him. "Oh!" he screamed, grinding his teeth and
panting for breath in the struggle; "Oh, my grandmother will put you all
to the torture for this--you will see--you will see--Pog will get you,
yes--every one of you--you will be put to awful tortures!"

Turning towards the mayor of the palace of Burgundy, Clotaire II said,
pointing his finger at Corbe: "Warnachaire, it would have been
impolitic to leave this hateful and vindictive child alive! Even if
dethroned he would have become a dangerous man."

It took both the Frankish executioners to overpower Corbe. But neither
his screams nor leaps could avail him. Seeing that he struggled
violently in his bonds, the assistant knelt down upon the child's chest
in order to pin him to the ground, while the executioner himself wound
around his wrist the long hair of the young prince, and was thus able to
draw the head towards himself so as to leave the neck distended and
exposed to the knife. A second time the blade cut into the flesh; a
second time the blood spurted out--and the corpse of Corbe rolled over
upon that of his brother.

Only little Merovee was left. The child had remained on the straw
pallet. Whether out of ignorance of the danger that he was in, or
whether due to the thoughtlessness of infancy, when he saw the
executioner's assistant approach him, he rose, walked towards him
submissively, and referring to the resistance that Corbe offered, said
with infantine innocence as he wiped off his tears:

"My brother Sigebert did not resist--I shall be as gentle as
Sigebert--but do not hurt me."

Saying this the child then threw his little blonde head back and himself
offered his neck to the executioner.

At that instant, a rider covered with dust burst into the house crying
in a voice half choked with gladness:

"Great King! I have ridden ahead of Constable Herpon. He brings Queen
Brunhild prisoner. After two days of the hottest chase, he succeeded in
overtaking her at Orbe, in the foot-hills of the Jura."

"Oh, my mother! You will soon thrill with joy in your sepulchre. I have,
at last, in my power the woman whom you were not able to smite!"
exclaimed the son of Fredegonde. He then turned to the executioners who
still held Merovee in their hands: "Do not kill that child--let him be
taken to my tent. Wait for my orders. You do not know, oh, great Queen,
what glory awaits you!" added Clotaire II with an expression of diabolic
ferocity. And addressing Warnachaire: "Let us now go out and give a
worthy reception to this daughter of a King, this wife of a King, this
grandmother and great-grandmother of Kings--Brunhild, Queen of Burgundy
and Austrasia! Come, come!"



CHAPTER II.

AT BAY.


What noise is that? It sounds like the distant and muffled tread and
cries of a large multitude. Aye, large indeed is the multitude that is
advancing towards the village of Ryonne, where the army of Clotaire II
is encamped. Whence does that multitude proceed? Oh, it comes from far.
It started as far away as the slopes of the Jura; it was swelled on the
road by large numbers of the people who inhabited the cities, hamlets
and villages that it crossed; slaves and colonists, young and old men,
women and children, poured from their homes, their fields, their huts;
at the risk of imprisonment, the lash and even mutilation at their
return, slaves and colonists joined the swelling multitude; at the risk
of the fatigue of the rapid march, that for some, lasted two days, for
others, one day, half a day, two hours, or one hour, according to where
they fell in line, city people left their pursuits and eagerly turned
into the surging human stream. But what was it that attracted so eagerly
the frantic, swelling crowd? It was these words, that flew from mouth to
mouth: "Queen Brunhild is passing--she is taken prisoner to be delivered
to Fredegonde's son!"

Aye, such was the hatred, the disgust, the horror, the dread inspired in
Gaul by those two names--Fredegonde and Brunhild--that large numbers of
people found it impossible to resist the curiosity of knowing and seeing
what was to be the issue of the capture of Brunhild by Fredegonde's son.
The multitude, accordingly, moved in the direction of the village of
Ryonne. Fifty horsemen in arms headed the march and cleared the way.
Behind them rode Constable Herpon armed cap-a-pie, and closely after
him, riding between two other warriors on horseback who held her palfrey
by the bridle appeared Brunhild. The old Queen's arms were pinioned
behind her back and she was bound upon her saddle. Her long,
gold-embroidered purple robe was dusty and mud-bespattered, and hung in
tatters from her body. The indomitable woman had offered a desperate
resistance when she was finally overtaken by the constable and his men.
One of her sleeves, together with half her corsage, was torn off, and
left bare her neck and shoulders and one of her arms, all of which were
covered with livid, bluish bruises, partly hidden under her long, grey,
tangled and tumbled hair to which fragments of dung and ordure, that the
people had flung at her while whelming her with insults, were still seen
to cling. From time to time, the fettered lioness gave her head a
convulsive shake in the effort to disengage her face from the disheveled
locks before it--at such times, glimpses were obtained of her hideous,
horrible visage. Before being finally caught, the woman had defended
herself like a wild animal at bay. The desire of her captors was to take
her alive to the son of her mortal enemy. In the brutal hand to hand
struggle of Constable Herpon and his armed men with Brunhild she was
smitten with their fists in the face and kicked in the body. Her arms,
shoulders, bosom, limbs and face were severely bruised. One of her eyes
bore the mark of a violent blow, given with the hilt of a sword. The
eyelids and a portion of the cheek disappeared under a large blue and
black contusion. Her upper lip was slit and swollen as the result of
another blow, that broke in two of her teeth and bathed her lower face
in blood. The blood had since dried on her skin and added to the
hideousness of her appearance. Nevertheless, of such temper was that
being's savage energy, that her forehead retained its wonted
haughtiness, her eyes their wonted pride. Firmly fettered though she
was, bruised, tattered, covered with dust, mud and even dung, Brunhild
still looked redoubtable. Imprecations, hisses, jeers, threats, hurled
at her along the route--nothing had been able to shake her inflexible
soul.

In his haste to relish the sight of his captive and victim, Clotaire
left the village and rode out accompanied by Warnachaire to meet her.
Other seigneurs of Burgundy and Austrasia, who sided with Clotaire, also
followed him. Among the latter were Dukes Pepin, Arnolfe, Alethee,
Eubelan, Roccon, Sigowald, the Bishop of Troyes and many more.

Seeing the King from a distance, Constable Herpon hastened towards his
sovereign, after issuing his orders to the two riders who led Brunhild's
mount. The latter immediately spurred their horses and rode rapidly upon
the heels of the constable leading the fallen Queen between them. Old
though she was, had she not been pinioned, Brunhild would have held her
saddle like an Amazon. But hindered by the bonds that bound her, she was
unable to follow with suppleness the motion of her mount. As a
consequence, the gallop of her palfrey threw Brunhild's body into
ridiculous jumps and postures. The escort of armed men on horseback,
together with the mob, followed her on the run and whelmed her with
fresh jeers and hisses. Constable Herpon finally reached the King,
leaped from his horse and pointing to the old Queen said to his men:

"Set her on the ground. Leave only her arms tied behind her back."

The riders obeyed, and the cords that bound Brunhild to the saddle were
unfastened. But the long pressure of the ligaments had so benumbed her
limbs that she was unable to stand upon her legs and forced her to drop
upon her knees. Immediately she cried out, lest her fall be construed as
an evidence of weakness or fear:

"My limbs are numb--Brunhild does not fall upon her knees before her
enemies!"

The Frankish warriors raised and held the Queen. Her favorite palfrey,
the same that she rode on the day of the battle, and from which she had
just alighted, stretched out its intelligent head and gently licked the
Queen's hands, tied up behind her. For the first time, but only for a
moment, were Brunhild's features expressive of aught but savage pride
and concentrated rage. Turning her head over her shoulder, she said to
the animal in a voice that sounded almost tender:

"Poor animal; you did your best to save me with the swiftness of your
flight--but your strength gave out; and now you bid me adieu in your own
way; you entertain no hatred for Brunhild; but Brunhild is proud of
being hated by all others--because she is feared by all--"

Clotaire II drew slowly near to the old Queen. A wide circle consisting
of Frankish seigneurs, warriors of the army and the mob that had
followed formed itself around the son of Fredegonde and her mortal
enemy. What with the sight of that King, and what with her own
determination not to falter in his presence, Brunhild summoned an energy
and strength that seemed superhuman. Addressing the warriors who held
her under the arms she shouted savagely:

"Back--take your hands from me--I can stand alone!"

Indeed, she stood unsupported, and took two steps towards the King as if
to prove to him that she felt neither weakness nor fear. Thus Clotaire
II and Brunhild found themselves face to face in the center of a circle
that drew closer and closer. The vast crowd was hushed in profound
silence; with bated breath the issue of the terrible interview was
awaited. With his arms crossed over his heaving breast, Fredegonde's son
contemplated his victim wrapt in silent and savage joy. Brunhild broke
the silence. With head erect and intrepid mien she said in her sharp,
penetrating voice that resounded clearly at a distance:

"First of all, good morning to good Warnachaire, the cowardly soldier,
who ordered my army to flee. Thanks to your infamous treachery, here am
I--I, the daughter, wife and mother of Kings--with my arms pinioned, my
face bruised with the fist-blows given me, soiled with dung, mud and
ordure thrown at me by the people along the road.--Triumph, son of
Fredegonde! Triumph, young man! For two days the populace have been
whelming with hisses, contempt and dirt the Frankish royalty, your own,
the royalty of your own family in my person! You have vanquished me, but
never will the royalty recover from the blow that you have dealt me!"

"Glorious King," said the Bishop of Troyes to Clotaire II in a low
voice, "order that woman to be gagged; her tongue is more venomous than
an asp's."

"On the contrary, I wish her to speak; I shall enjoy the torture that
her pride undergoes."

While the prelate and the King were exchanging these words, Brunhild had
proceeded with an ever more resonant voice, waving her head at the crowd
of warriors:

"Stupid people! Besotted people!--You respect us, you fear us, us of the
royal family,--and yet it is a royal face that you see before you,
bruised with fist-blows, like that of any vile slave! The mother of your
King--that Fredegonde who was prostituted to all the lackeys of
Chilperic's palace--must often have looked as I do now, every time that
she was beaten by one of her vulgar associates!"

"Dare you speak of prostitution, you old she-wolf bleached in
debauchery!" cried Clotaire II in a no less resonant voice than
Brunhild.

"Your mother Fredegonde had my husband Sigebert and my son Childebert
stabbed to death by her pages--"

"And you, miscreant, did not you have Lupence, the Bishop of St. Privat
murdered by Count Oabale, one of your lovers?"

"And did not Fredegonde in turn cause Pretextat to be assassinated in
the basilica of Rouen, as a punishment for his having married me to your
brother Merovee--"

"My brother Merovee married you, thanks to your sorceries, abominable
witch! And after you abused his youth you goaded him to parricide--you
armed him against his own father, who was also mine."

"And a loving father! Not content with having his son Merovee's throat
cut at Noisy, Chilperic delivered to the dagger and the poison of
Fredegonde all the children whom he had from his other wives."

"You lie, monster! You lie!" cried Clotaire II livid with rage and
grinding his teeth.

"Seigneur King, do order the woman to be gagged," again whispered the
Bishop of Troyes to the King.

"Of the many wives whom your father Chilperic repudiated there still
remained one alive, Andowere," Brunhild proceeded; "Andowere had two
children, Clodwig and Basine; the mother was strangled, the son stabbed
to death, and the daughter delivered to the pages of Fredegonde!"

"Hold your tongue, infamous woman, who introduce concubines into your
grandsons' chamber for the purpose of enervating them and reigning in
their stead; who order the assassination of whatever honorable people
revolt at such a crime--as happened to Berthoald, the mayor of the
palace of Burgundy, whom you ordered killed; as happened to Bishop
Didier whom you had stoned to death."

"After Chilperic had my husband assassinated, he seized my relative
Sigila and ordered the joints of his limbs to be burned with red-hot
irons, his nose cut off, his eyes put out, red-hot irons thrust under
his nails, and finally his hands, then his arms, then his lower legs and
finally his upper legs cut off--every imaginable torture!"

"Warnachaire!" cried Clotaire purple with rage, "remember all those
tortures; forget not one; we shall presently find whom to apply them
to;" and addressing Brunhild, "And did not you yourself stain your hands
with the blood of your grandson Theudebert after the battle of Tolbiac?
And was not the head of his son, a child of five years dashed against a
stone at your orders?"

"And what blood is that, still fresh, with which your own robe is
bespattered? It is the innocent blood of three children, my grandsons,
whose kingdoms you have secured to yourself by their murder! And that is
the manner in which we all of us, people of the royal family, act. In
order to reign we kill our children, our relatives, our mates. Chilperic
stood in the way of your mother Fredegonde's vulgar pleasures, and she
had him despatched!"

"Gag that woman!" commanded Clotaire in a paroxysm of rage.

"Oh, my dear sons in Christ," shouted the Bishop of Troyes, endeavoring
to drown the panting voice of Brunhild; "place no faith in the words of
this execrable woman in matters that concern the family of our glorious
King Clotaire II.--These are infamous calumnies!"

"Warriors, I wish before I die, to unveil to you all the crimes of your
Kings."

"Hold your tongue, demon! Female Beelzebub!" again broke in the Bishop
of Troyes in a thundering voice, and he added in a lower voice to
Clotaire: "Glorious King, do you not think it is high time to have the
woman gagged? If you do not, you must prepare to hear even worse
accusations."

Two leudes, who at the first orders of Clotaire had looked for a scarf,
threw it over Brunhild's mouth and tied it behind her head.

"Oh, monster, spewed out of Hell!" the Bishop of Troyes thereupon
proceeded to apostrophise Brunhild, "if this glorious family of Frankish
Kings, to whom the Lord granted the possession of Gaul in reward for
their Catholic faith and their submission to the Church, if these Kings
had committed the crimes that you have the audacity of charging them
with in your diabolical spirit of mendacity, could they, as the visible
support given to them by God in overpowering their enemies, shows them
to be--could they be the beloved sons of our holy Church? Would we, the
fathers in Christ of the people of Gaul, order these to obey their Kings
and masters, and to submit to their will?--would we do so if they were
not the elect of the Lord? Go to--witch! You are the horror of the
world! The world now spews you back into hell, where you come from.
Return thither, Oh, monster, who sought to unnerve your grandsons with
debauchery, in order that you might reign in their place! Oh, my
brothers in Christ, who of you all does not shudder with horror at the
base thought of the unheard-of crime that this execrable woman has
gloried in?"

That crime, the most execrable of all that the infamous Queen had
admitted, aroused so profound an indignation among the assembled crowd
that one, unanimous cry of vengeance issued from its midst:--

"Death to Brunhild! Let the earth be rid of her! Let her perish amidst
tortures!"



CHAPTER III.

THE DEATH OF BRUNHILD.


Three days had elapsed since Brunhild fell into the power of Clotaire
II. The sun had crossed the zenith. A man with a long white beard, clad
in a hooded brown robe, and mounted upon a mule was following the road,
upon which, escorted by the armed men of her mortal foe, and leading
behind her a mob that rent the air with execrations, Brunhild had
shortly before ridden to the village of Ryonne. The venerable old man
was Loysik. He had escaped death by reason of the Queen's precipitate
departure from the castle. One of the young brothers of the community
accompanied the old monk on foot, guiding his mule by the bridle. From
the opposite direction, a warrior, armed cap-a-pie, was climbing on
horseback the rough road that Loysik was at the same time slowly
descending with his mule. When the Frank had come within a few paces of
the old man, the latter opened up a conversation with him:

"Are you of King Clotaire's suite?"

"Yes, holy man."

"Is he still at the village of Ryonne?"

"Yes; he will be there till this evening.--I am to ride ahead and
prepare his lodgings on the route."

"Is Duke Roccon among the seigneurs who accompany the King?"

"Yes, monk; Duke Roccon is with the King."

"Is it true, as I hear, that Queen Brunhild has been taken prisoner and
carried to King Clotaire, who has also captured her grandchildren?"

"That is all old news. Where do you come from that you do not know what
has happened?"

"I come from Chalon.--What did the King do with his prisoner and her
grandchildren?"

"The steep ascent has taken the wind out of my horse and he needs a
little rest. So I shall tell you what has happened--all the more
willingly, seeing that it is a good augury to meet a priest, especially
a monk, at the start of a journey."

"Do let me know, I beg you; what has been done with Brunhild and her
grandchildren?"

"There were only three of the children captured on the banks of the
Saone. The fourth, Childebert, could be found nowhere.--Was he killed in
the melee?--Did he escape?--No one can tell.--"

"And the other three?"

"The eldest and the second one were killed."

"In the battle?"

"No--no.--They were killed in the village--yonder. The King had them
killed under his own eyes, in order to be certain of their death; he
wanted to obviate having them turn up some day, and demand their kingdom
back from him. But it is said that the King granted his life to the
third.--I think he was wrong in that.--But what ails you, holy father;
you seem to shiver. To be sure, the morning is rather chilly."

"And what became of Queen Brunhild?"

"She arrived at the village with a magnificent escort! A veritable
triumphal march! Dung for incense, and hootings for acclamation!"

"I suppose the King ordered her to be put to death immediately upon her
arrival?"

"No; she is still alive."

"Did Clotaire have mercy upon her?"

"Clotaire--have mercy upon Brunhild!--Holy man, you must come from far
away to talk as you do! Brunhild was taken three days ago to that
village that you see yonder; she was taken to the house where her
grandchildren were killed. Two expert executioners and four assistants,
equipped with all manner of instruments, were locked up with the old
Queen; that was three days ago, and she is not yet dead. I must add that
she was not tortured at night; the nights were left to her to recover
strength. Moreover, seeing that she undertook to starve herself, food
was forced down her throat--spiced wines and flour soaked in milk. That
has kept her sufficiently alive.--But what makes you shiver so? It is
not so chilly!"

"Yes; the morning is chilly.--And did Clotaire witness the tortures that
were inflicted upon the Queen during those three days?"

"The door of the house was locked and guarded by sentinels. But there is
a little window through which one can look inside. Through that opening,
the King, the dukes, the leudes, the Bishop of Troyes and a few other
preferred personages went from time to time to contemplate the victim in
her agony. Being a connoisseur, Clotaire never took a look inside when
Brunhild was screaming; at times the woman screamed loud enough to be
heard clean across the village; he never went to see her at such times;
but the moment she began to moan, he walked to the window and peeped in;
it is said the sufferings of victims in the torture are intenser when
they moan than when they scream out aloud. It was a protracted holiday
for the whole village. Like the generous King that he is, Clotaire
allowed a large number of people, who followed Brunhild to the village,
to remain to the end of the tortures, and had provisions distributed
among them. Oh, holy man, you should have heard how they kept time with
their hootings to the screams of the Queen.--But I see my horse has
regained his wind--adieu, holy man. If you wish to witness a spectacle
that you never saw and never will see again you would better hurry. They
say there are yet to be some extraordinary incidents to wind up the
torture. The King has sent for one of the camels that carry his
baggage. What he purposes to do with the camel is still a secret. Adieu,
give me your blessing."

"I wish you a happy journey."

"Thank you, holy man; but you had better hurry, because as I was leaving
the village they went for the camel and took him out of his stable."

Pricking his horse with his spurs, the rider rode off at a brisk pace.
Shortly afterwards, Loysik arrived at the entrance of the village of
Ryonne. The aged monk alighted from his mule and asked the young brother
to wait for him. A leude, from whom Loysik inquired after Duke Roccon,
took him to the tent of the Frankish seigneur, contiguous to that of the
King. Almost immediately afterwards the monk was taken to the duke, who
said to him in a tone of respectful deference:

"You here, my good father in Christ?"

"I come with a just petition to you."

"If it is at all in my power, the matter is granted."

"Are you a friend of King Clotaire? Have you any influence with him?"

"If you have any favor to prefer to him, you could hardly arrive at a
better time."

"I come for no favors from the King--I come for justice. Here is a
charter given by his grandfather Clotaire I. As a matter of law, it
requires no confirmation, seeing that the concession is absolute. But
the Bishop of Chalon is giving us trouble. He is laying claims upon the
goods of the monastery, upon those of the inhabitants of the Valley,
and, as a consequence, upon their freedom, notwithstanding both their
goods and their freedom are guaranteed by this charter.--Would you be
willing to request Clotaire, who is now the King of Burgundy, to attach
his seal to the charter issued by his grandfather, in order to insure
its enforcement?"

"Is that all you wish to ask of the King?--The King honors the memory of
his glorious grandfather too highly to fail to confirm a charter issued
by that great Prince. Clotaire must now be in his tent. Wait for me
here, my father in Christ. I shall be back soon."

During the short absence of the Frankish seigneur, Loysik could hear the
uproar of the impatient crowd and warriors calling aloud for Brunhild.
Duke Roccon returned quickly with the old charter of Clotaire I, to
which Clotaire II had attached his seal under the following freshly
written words:

     "We will it, and we so order all our leudes, dukes, counts and
     bishops, that the above charter, signed by our glorious grandfather
     Clotaire, be upheld in force and respected in all its provisions in
     the present and in the future, and we do so in the belief that we
     thereby do honor to our glorious ancestor. And those who are to
     succeed me will uphold this donation inviolate, if they wish to
     share the life everlasting, and if they wish to be saved from the
     everlasting flames. Whoever in any manner does violence to this
     donation, may the gateman of heaven diminish his share of heaven;
     whoever may add to the donation, may the gateman of heaven add
     something unto him."

The aged monk inquired from the duke who it was that wrote the last
words to the charter, and was not a little surprised to hear that it was
the Bishop of Troyes.

"You must, then, have said nothing to the King concerning the
pretensions of the Bishop of Chalon--"

"I did not consider that necessary. I said to Clotaire: 'I request you
to confirm this charter, which your grandfather granted to a holy man of
God.' 'I can refuse nothing to my loyal servitors,' he answered, and he
charged the bishop to write what was proper. That being done, the King
attached his royal seal under the writing."

"Roccon," said the venerable monk, "I thank you--adieu--"

But recollecting himself, Loysik added:

"You told me that the moment was favorable to obtain favors from the
King--promise me that you will ask him to enfranchise a few slaves of
the royal fisc, and to send them to me to the monastery of the Valley of
Charolles."

"Ah, my father in Christ! I knew full well that our conversation would
not be done without your making some demand of enfranchisement."

"Roccon, you have a wife and children--the accidents of war are
changeable. Brunhild is now vanquished and a prisoner; but, if that
implacable Queen, who has emerged so often victorious from the field of
battle, had not been betrayed by her own army and her auxiliaries--had
she, on the contrary, vanquished Clotaire, what would your lot have
been, what the lot of all the seigneurs of Burgundy, who took the side
of the King? What would have become of your wife, of your daughters?"

"Brunhild would have ordered my head cut off; she would have delivered
my wife and daughters to the savage tribes of the other side of the
Rhine as slaves!--Malediction! My two daughters Bathilde and
Hermangarde, slaves!--The perspiration gathers on my temples at the bare
thought of such a thing--let us not speak of it!"

"On the contrary, do let us speak of it! Who knows but that among those
unknown slaves, whose freedom I am asking, there may be some with
daughters whom they love as much as you love yours.--Judge of the joy
that their deliverance would give them by the joy that you and your
children would feel if, having become slaves, you were to be set free.
Roccon, it is in your power to afford such ineffable joy to some
captives.--Keep your dear daughters in mind."

"Very well my dear father in Christ, I promise you ten slaves. Clotaire
will not refuse them to me as my share of the booty of this war."

"Seigneur duke," said a servant who hurried into the tent, "the
promenade of the camel is about to begin."

"Oh! Oh! It is to be one of the best spectacles of the feast.--Come, my
father in Christ!"

"Oh!" cried the aged man horrified. "I do not wish to stay an instant
longer in this horrible place.--Adieu, Roccon!"

"Adieu, good father, you will pray to God for me, in order that I may
have a good part of paradise."

"Man finds paradise in his own heart when he acts justly: the priests
who promise heaven are knaves. I shall pray to God that He may inspire
you to perform charitable deeds.--Adieu."

Loysik left the duke's tent expecting to be able to leave the village
instantly. His hope was not verified. As he walked away he found himself
in a narrow street that divided two rows of huts and was cut at right
angles by a wide highroad. Loysik was walking thither in order to rejoin
the young brother who guarded his mule, when suddenly the uproar of
voices, that had before smitten his ears several times, broke out louder
and nearer. Immediately thereupon, a crowd of the people who had
followed Brunhild to the village in order to enjoy the sight of her
death, broke forth like an eruption out of the highway, poured over the
narrow street, and despite Loysik's efforts to disengage himself,
carried him away like a straw by the torrent. The flood of people
consisted of men, women and children; they were all in rags; they were
slaves and were of the Gallic race. All cried at the top of their
voices:

"Brunhild is coming out of the camp! She will pass this way!"

Loysik made no further efforts to contend against the crowd; he found
himself pushed forward until further progress was barred at the sort of
square in the center of which rose the tent of Clotaire II. A strong
cordon of warriors drawn around the place, prevented the mob from
entering it. As he stood there, in the very front ranks of the surging
crowd Loysik witnessed the following spectacle:

Before him extended a rather wide avenue, now completely deserted of
people; to his left the entrance to the royal tent; before the tent,
Clotaire II, surrounded by the seigneurs of his suite, among whom was
the Bishop of Troyes. Two slaves on foot brought and kept before the
King a spirited stallion, which they were hardly able to curb by means
of two thongs attached to his bit; the animal reared violently although
his hind legs were hoppled. With blood-shot eyes and dilated nostrils,
the powerful beast made such frantic efforts to tear himself from the
two slaves that his deep black coat streamed with sweat on his flanks
and chest. The animal carried no saddle; his long mane floated to the
breeze, or fell down over and almost completely covered his savage head.
Despite all, the slaves succeeded in leading the stallion to Clotaire's
tent. The King made a sign. Immediately, at the imminent risk of being
trampled to pieces, the unhappy slaves crawled down upon their hands and
knees, and slipped a rope with a running knot over each of the animal's
hind legs; other slaves thereupon kept the horse in sufficient control
to allow the removal of his hopples. During this perilous process, the
stallion became so furious that he reared and struck one of the slaves
on the head with his front hoofs; the luckless fellow fell bleeding
under the feet of the animal that then stooped, bit him ferociously, and
crushed his bones with the trample of his hoofs. The corpse was removed,
and two other slaves received orders to join those who, in order to
control the stallion, clung with all their might to the thongs from his
bit. Again cries were heard, first from a distance, but drawing nearer
and nearer. The highroad, deserted but a moment before and running into
the square in front of Loysik, was suddenly filled with a dense mass of
foot soldiers, and presently a camel that towered by the full height of
its body over the armed multitude, hove in sight of the aged monk. The
troop of Frankish soldiers rent the air with their clamor:

"Brunhild! Brunhild! Triumph to Brunhild--Queen, look down upon your
good people of Burgundy who are at your feet!"

Although in a dying state, although broken down by the tortures that she
had undergone during the last three days, still the old Queen, recalled
from her stupor by the loudness of the yells that broke out all around
her, found strength enough to raise herself for a last time upon the
back of the camel, astride of whose back she had been placed and firmly
bound. She was only a few steps from where Loysik stood. What the
venerable monk then saw--Oh, what he saw is nameless, like the crimes of
Brunhild herself. Her long, white, tangled, blood-clotted hair was the
only--the only cover to the nakedness of the old Queen. The woman's
legs; her thighs, her shoulders, her bosom, in short her every limb was
no longer of human shape; it was but a heap of palpitating wounds and
swollen, blackened, bleeding burns; two of her toe-nails, that had been
pulled out, still hung dangling from reddening pellicules at her great
toes; in the other toes of her feet and in her fingers, long iron
needles were seen inserted between the nail and the flesh. Only her face
had been spared. Despite its cadaverous paleness; despite the traces of
the unheard-of superhuman sufferings that it registered, left there by
the tortures inflicted during the three consecutive days;--despite all,
her face still bore the stamp of pride; a frightful smile curled the
Queen's purplish lips; a flash of savage haughtiness illumined from time
to time her breaking eyes. And, oh, fatality, those eyes alighted
accidentally upon Loysik at the moment that Brunhild passed before him.
At the sight of the monk, whose robe, long white beard and tall stature
had attracted the dying Queen's eyes, her body seemed thrilled by a
sudden emotion; she straightened in her seat; and gathering the little
strength that still remained to her, she cried in a voice of despair,
that sounded almost repentant:

"Monk, your speech was soothe--there is a justice in heaven! At this
hour I am thinking, I am thinking--I am thinking of the death of
Victoria."

The furious hootings of the crowd drowned Brunhild's voice; her last
effort, put forth in raising herself and speaking to Loysik exhausted
her failing strength. She fell over backward, and her inert body jolted
up and down over the camel's crupper. Loysik had long struggled against
the horror of the shocking spectacle. Hardly had Brunhild's voice ceased
to be heard than he felt his head swim and his knees sink under him. But
for two poor women, who, struck with compassion for his old age,
supported him, the monk would have fallen to the ground and been
trampled to death.

Loysik remained for a long time deprived of consciousness. When he
recovered, night had come. He found himself lying in a hut upon a bed of
straw. Beside him sat the young brother, who had succeeded in finding
him. The two poor slave women had transported Loysik to their miserable
hut. The first words pronounced by the monk, whose mind still labored
under the effect of the horrible scene that he had witnessed, was the
name of Brunhild.

"Good father," said one of the women, "the hated Queen was taken down
from the camel; she was then only a corpse; she was fastened with ropes
by the hands to the tail of a fiery horse, and the animal was then let
loose; but that part of the execution did not last long; at the very
first bound given by the horse it shattered Brunhild's head; her skull
broke like the shell of a nut, and her brains were scattered in all
directions."

Suddenly the young monk laborer said to Loysik, pointing in the
direction of the glimmer that must have been produced by the reflection
of a great but distant fire:

"Do you hear those distant yells? Do you see that light?"

"That light, my son, is the light cast by the pyre that Clotaire II
ordered raised," said one of the two old women; "those yells are the
yells of the people dancing around the fire."

"What pyre?" asked Loysik with a shudder. "Of what pyre are you
speaking?"

"After the wild horse broke the head of Brunhild, the people who came to
the village in order to see her die besought the King to have the
accursed remains of the old she-wolf placed upon a pyre; the King gave
his consent before his departure; he departed soon afterwards. The pyre
was raised yonder at the square, and the light reaches us."

The evening breeze carried to Loysik's ears the cries of frantic joy,
uttered by the crowd, wild with the intoxication of vengeance:

"Burn, burn, old bones of Brunhild, the accursed! Burn, burn, old
accursed bones!"

As Loysik caught these words he cried:

"Oh, formidable contrast, formidable like the voice of history! The pyre
of Brunhild--the pyre of Victoria!"



EPILOGUE


Ronan, old little Odille, the Master of the Hounds and the Bishopess
were promenading along the bank of the river Charolles, near the lodge
where the monks of the monastery and the inhabitants of the Valley took
their turns as sentinels near the landing-place of the punt. Since the
revelation of the pretensions of the Bishop of Chalon, besides the
regular sentinel, ten brothers and twenty colonists, all well armed,
took turns in guarding the crossing, and encamped in an improvised
block-house.

"Old Master of the Hounds," Ronan observed sadly, "this is the seventh
day since Loysik left; he is not yet back; I can not overcome my
uneasiness."

"Why, there he is!" cried Odille in great glee. "Do you not see his
white mule? He is riding down the slope of the hill in great hurry; he
is coming down to the river bank; send the punt across for him."

Ronan, the Master of the Hounds, Odille, the Bishopess, all their
children, together with several monks and colonists threw themselves
into the punt. The river was quickly crossed, the landing made, and all
ran to meet the monk. Old Odille and the venerable Bishopess found again
on that day their young limbs of girlhood. Loysik was given hardly time
to alight from his mule. It was a pell-mell of arms, hands, heads around
the respected old man. Whom was he to embrace first? He knew not whose
caresses to respond to. After a while the tempest of tenderness
subsided. Calm was restored. Joy no longer choked their throats.
Conversation started on the way to the monastery, and Loysik narrated to
his friends what he learned concerning the tortures of Queen Brunhild.
He informed them of the confirmation of the charter of Clotaire I by
Clotaire II.

"And lastly," Loysik proceeded to say, "upon my return from Ryonne, I
called upon the Bishop of Chalon. The confirmation of the charter by
Clotaire II was a good deal, but that was not all that was needed. There
were still some formalities to fulfill."

"Brother Loysik," put in Ronan, "we heard from the Bishop of Chalon. It
came about this way: After the departure of Brunhild's men-at-arms, whom
we released upon receipt of the orders you sent us when you escaped
death at the monster's hands, what should the archdeacon do but have the
audacity to return at the head of about fifty of his tonsured
fraternity, together with as many poor slaves of the bishopric. The
slaves and the tonsured friars were armed at haphazard, and bore before
their clerical troop a cross in lieu of a banner; they approached
bravely to declare war to us, if we refused to obey the orders of the
bishop, and to allow him to place our goods into his episcopal pockets."

"Ah! What a fine day we had of it!" said the Master of the Hounds. "The
clerical troop brought along a boat upon their wagons in order to cross
the river. That day I was on guard with about thirty of our men. We saw
the boat launched, and the archdeacon step in with two clerks for
oarsmen. Three men gave us little concern. We allowed them to land. The
archdeacon stepped ashore with casque and cuirass over his priestly
robes, a long sword in his hand.

"'If you will not submit to the orders of the Bishop of Chalon,' the
basilica captain cried out to us in a triumphant voice, 'my troop will
enter the Valley and reduce it to obedience by force of arms. I grant
you a quarter of an hour to surrender yourselves.'

"It does not take me quite so long to make up my mind what to do. So I
answered him back on the spot: 'We have already once set you free with
your skin whole, notwithstanding your insolent language; this time,
however, you will receive a rougher lesson, my basilica captain!'"

"Oh, old Vagre, old Vagre!" said Loysik shaking his head. "I disapprove
of such violent language. Had I been here, you would not have spoiled
your cause in that manner."

"Good father," answered the Master of the Hounds, smiling, as well as
Ronan, "the only thing spoiled was the archdeacon's hide. As soon said
as done. Our good man was seized, his clerical robe raised, and the
straps of our belts administered a thorough discipline to the basilica
captain, all casqued and cuirassed as he was. After that he was
deposited into our punt; my men and I stepped in, crossed the river and
met the clerical army drawn up in line of battle on the opposite bank.
Five or six of the tonsured gentry had armed themselves with bows and
arrows. They shot a volley at us; the aim was taken badly enough; but
accident willed it that they killed one of our men and wounded two. We
were thirty at the most, but entered upon close quarters with the five
score churchmen and poor slaves that they dragged after them. They tried
to withstand us, but we invoked our own special trinity--lance, sword
and axe. It was not long before the redoubtable warriors of the Bishop
of Chalon displayed to us the seams of the backs of their breeches in
full view. The glorious episcopal captain leaped upon his mule and gave
the signal to retreat by himself fleeing at full tilt; his tonsured
brethren followed his example--we buried about a dozen dead, and picked
up a few wounded ones, who were taken care of at the monastery and
afterwards set at large. We have not since heard again from the brave
episcopal army."

"I knew all that, my friends, and I approve your action, except the
discipline that you administered to the archdeacon, that I strongly
condemn," said Loysik; "I had much trouble in calming the anger of the
Bishop of Chalon upon that particular head. For the rest, you deported
yourselves as the occasion demanded. Aye, to defend one's rights and
repel force with force is but just; moreover, a resistance carried to
the point of heroism is often politic. Brunhild recoiled before the idea
of driving you to desperate means. Well, as I was saying to you, I
called upon the bishop on my return from Clotaire's camp. I found him
furious by reason of your resistance, and the insult to the archdeacon.
I told him that I condemned the insult, but that I approved the
legitimate resistance of my brothers of the Valley. 'What is the good of
your resorting to violent means?' I said to him. 'You, a churchman, sent
armed men against monks and colonists, who only ask to be allowed to
live in quiet and by the sweat of their brow, as is their right. Your
men were beaten back, and will be beaten back again if they return to
the charge. I pray you to renounce all claims against the Valley; we, on
our part, will recognize your right to spiritual jurisdiction, but
nothing more.' The bishop answered me furiously: 'I shall then take away
from you the priests that I send you to say mass at the monastery! I
shall excommunicate the Valley!' 'If that be your pleasure, bishop, why,
then we shall be excommunicated; for all that you will see the grass on
our meadows continue to grow green, our woods to set forth fresh
branches, our fields to produce wheat, our vines to yield their juice as
plentifully as ever, our cattle their milk, our bees their honey;
children will continue to be born robust and ruddy as hitherto; your
excommunication can in no manner change things. The only thing that
could happen is that our neighbors will say: "Oh, behold an
excommunicated Valley continuing to be fertile; excommunicated people
remaining in a happy frame of mind and thriving; why, excommunication
must be a farce!" So, then, bishop, the ultimate result would be that a
punishment, that so many poor people imagine to be frightful, will be
thought little or nothing of. Take my advice; give up all thought of
violence and of coercion; respect our goods, our rights, our freedom,
and we, in turn, will respect your spiritual jurisdiction--if not, not;
the misfortunes that your iniquity may lead to will then fall upon your
own head!' To make a long story short, my friends, after protracted
debates, I obtained a new charter from the bishop. I shall read it to
you. Listen carefully. It bears, perhaps, the germ of the
enfranchisement of Gaul."

And Loysik read as follows:

     "To the holy and venerable brother in Christ--Loysik, superior of
     the monastery of Charolles, built in the valley of that name,
     conceded to the said brother Loysik in perpetual donation, by
     virtue of a charter granted by the glorious King Clotaire I in the
     year 558, and confirmed by the illustrious Clotaire II this year of
     613, I, Salvien, Bishop of Chalon. We believe it our duty to insert
     on this leaf what we and our successors must do with the aid of our
     Lord God:

     "1st. The Bishop of Chalon, out of respect for the place, and
     without receiving therefor any price whatever, shall bless the
     altar of the monastery of Charolles, and, if requested shall grant
     the holy chrism every year.

     "2nd. Whenever by the will of God a superior may have passed from
     the monastery to the bosom of God, the bishop shall, without
     receiving any recompense therefor, raise to the rank of superior
     the monk who, by virtue of the worthiness of his life, may have
     been chosen by the community.

     "3rd. Our successors, both bishops and archdeacons, or any other
     administrators, or any other dignitaries whatever of the city of
     Chalon, shall arrogate no other power over the monastery of
     Charolles, either in the ordination of persons, or the goods, or
     the farms of the Valley already given by the glorious King Clotaire
     I and confirmed by the illustrious King Clotaire II.

     "4th. Our successors are forbidden to demand, or extort, under the
     title of presents, anything whatever from the monastery or from the
     parishioners of the Valley.

     "5th. Our successors, unless they shall be requested by the
     superior of the community to come and pray at the monastery, shall
     never enter the said monastery, nor cross its outer precincts; and
     after the celebration of the holy mysteries, and after receiving
     short and simple thanks, the bishop shall forthwith return to his
     own residence without having to be requested to do so by anyone.

     "6th. If any of our successors (which may God forfend) filled with
     perfidy, and driven by cupidity, should, in a temerarious spirit,
     attempt to violate the matters hereinabove set forth, then, smitten
     by divine vengeance, he shall be submitted to anathema.

     "And in order that this constitution may ever remain in full force
     and vigor, we have willed that it be corroborated by our own
     signature.--SALVIEN.

     "Done at Chalon, on the 8th day of the calends of November, of the
     year of the incarnation, 613."

"Good brother Loysik," said Ronan, "this charter guarantees our rights;
thanks to you for having obtained it; but did we not have our swords to
defend ourselves?"

"Oh, always that old leaven of Vagrery! The swords, always the swords!
Thus the best of things turn to evil through abuse and hot-headedness!
Yes, the sword, resistance, revolt carried to the point of martyrdom
whenever your rights are violated by force! But why shed blood, why
fight when one's right is recognized and guaranteed? Moreover, who tells
you that you would again prevail if again put to it? Who tells you that
the Bishop of Chalon, or his successor, would not, in case you refused
to recognize his spiritual jurisdiction, call some Burgundian seigneur
to his aid? You would know how to die, but why die if one can live free
and peaceful? This charter binds the bishop and his successors to
respect the rights of the monks of the monastery and of the inhabitants
of this valley. It is an additional guaranty. Should it ever be trampled
under foot, then the hour will have sounded for heroic measures. Until
then, my friends, spend your days in the tranquility that this charter
insures to you."

"You are right, Loysik," replied Ronan, "that old leaven of Vagrery is
ever fermenting in our heads. But is not this submission to the
spiritual jurisdiction of the bishop, a submission that the charter
consecrates, is it not a humiliation?"

"Did he not before now exercise more or less spiritual authority over
us? Formally to recognize his spiritual authority is a matter of but
slight importance; to deny it would be to expose ourselves to
interminable troubles. And all to what purpose? Is not the inviolability
of our goods and our property acknowledged?"

"That is so, brother."

"This charter, that, thanks to the firmness with which you resisted his
iniquitous claims, instead of cowardly resigning yourselves to
usurpations--this charter bears in itself the germ of the progressive
enfranchisement of Gaul."

"How it that, Loysik?"

"Sooner or later, what we have done in the Valley of Charolles will be
repeated in other provinces; the old Gallic blood will not forever
remain torpid; some day, waking up at last to their own numbers and
power, our sons will in their turn say to the seigneurs and bishops:
'Recognize our rights and we will recognize the powers that you have
arrogated to yourselves; if not, war--war to the bitter end--war to the
death--war to the point of extermination!"

"And yet, Loysik," cried Ronan, "what a shame, what an iniquity to
recognize that accursed power, born of a bloody and confiscatory
conquest! To recognize the right of theft, of brigandage and of murder!
The oppression of the Gallic race by the bishops and the race of
Franks!"

"Brother, as much as yourself do I deplore these misfortunes. But what
is to be done? Alas, the conquest and its accomplice the Church weigh
down upon Gaul for over a century, and they have cast deep roots. Our
descendants will be compelled to reckon with a power that years have
fortified; they can not choose but recognize that power, while at the
same time wresting from it, by force if necessary, a portion of the
rights that our fathers were deprived of by the conquest. But what does
it matter, my friends! The first step being taken others will certainly
follow; and with each such step, marking its track with its own blood,
our race will draw steadily nearer and nearer to ultimate deliverance.
Aye, the brilliant day will finally dawn, the day that Victoria
foretold, the brilliant day when Gaul, trampling under foot both the
crown of the Frankish Kings and the tiara of the Popes of Rome, will
re-arise proud, radiant and free. Have faith in the future!"

The news of Loysik's return flew from mouth to mouth, and spontaneously
brought all the inhabitants of the Valley to the monastery. The day was
celebrated with cordial joy. It gave new earnest of many years of quiet,
prosperity and freedom to the monks of the monastery and to the
colonists of the Valley of Charolles.

       *       *       *       *       *

I, Ronan, the son of Karadeucq, finished writing the above narrative two
years after the death of Queen Brunhild, towards the end of the calends
of October of the year 615. Clotaire II continues to reign over Gaul as
the sole ruler, as his great-grandfather Clovis and his grandfather
Clotaire I before him. The murderer of Brunhild's grandchildren does not
belie with his subsequent conduct the sinister character with which he
started his reign. Nevertheless both the royal and the episcopal charter
regarding the colony and the community of Charolles have been respected
down to this date. My brother Loysik, my good old little Odille, the
Bishopess and my friend the Master of the Hounds continue to defy age
with their good health.

I hereby entrust my son's son with the mission of carrying this
narrative to the descendants of Kervan, my father's brother, both of
whom were the sons of Jocelyn. Brittany still remains the only province
of Gaul that preserves its independence. It has repelled the Frankish
troops of Clotaire II as it repelled the attacks of his ancestors.

My grandson will, I hope, arrive without encountering any mishap at the
cradle of our family, situated near the sacred stones of Karnak. I hope
he may successfully accomplish the pious pilgrimage, the same as I did
more than fifty years ago.

I wish to enter upon this leaf a matter of importance to our family,
divided as it now is in two branches, one inhabiting Burgundy, the other
Brittany. In these days of civil wars and general disorder, the peace
and freedom that we now enjoy may at any time be violently assailed. Our
descendants will know how to die rather than relapse into slavery. But
should it happen that unforeseen causes prevent a heroic resolution, if
our family should again be brought under the yoke of servitude and its
members carried away captive, it will be well, as a matter of precaution
against unhappy days, alas! always possible, that the members of our
family should carry some sign of recognition indelibly marked upon an
arm with the point of a needle reddened in the fire and dipped in the
juice of the privet berry. The smart is but slight, and the tender skin
of a child receives and forever keeps the indelible mark. The Gallic
words _Brenn_ and _Karnak_, words that recall the glorious past of our
ancestors, are henceforth to be traced on the right arm of all the
children that may succeed us, and so forward from generation to
generation. Who knows but it may happen that members of our family, now
divided into two branches, may, in the course of the ages cross one
another's path? In that sign they will find the means of recognizing
each other, and render each other mutual assistance.

And now, Oh, our children, leaving the branding needle that I have used
upon my own grandchild as the symbol to accompany this narrative and be
joined to Hena's gold sickle, Guilhern's little brass bell, Sylvest's
iron collar, Genevieve's silver cross, Schanvoch's casque's lark and
Loysik's poniard's hilt, I fervently hope that this narrative may, as
all the preceding ones left by our ancestors, keep alive in your breasts
the flame of an ardent love for your country and for your family. And
may, Oh, my children! the moral conveyed by the adventures of my life,
and of the lives of my father Karadeucq and my brother Loysik never be
lost upon you. Gather from them instruction, example, hope and courage.

THE END.





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