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Title: Cedric, the Forester
Author: Marshall, Bernard Gay
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Cedric, the Forester" ***

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                                  ————

[Illustration: _NOW HE RAISED HIMSELF ON HIS ARM AND CLAIMED THE
VICTORY_]



                          CEDRIC THE FORESTER


                          BY BERNARD MARSHALL



                        D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
                      NEW YORK : LONDON : MCMXXVI



                          COPYRIGHT, 1921, BY
                        D. APPLETON AND COMPANY

        Copyright, 1920-1921, by The Sprague Publishing Company
                PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA


      DP Transcriber’s notes can be found at the end of the book.



                                  ————


                          CEDRIC THE FORESTER



                                  ————



Contents


  · CHAPTER I—THE SIEGE OF CASTLE MOUNTJOY

  · CHAPTER II—THE TAPPING ON THE DUNGEON WALL

  · CHAPTER III—CEDRIC THE FORESTER

  · CHAPTER IV—THE CHAMPION OF MOUNTJOY

  · CHAPTER V—THE FESTIVAL OF THE ARCHERS

  · CHAPTER VI—WOLF’S HEAD GLEN

  · CHAPTER VII—THE OUTLAWS OF BLACKPOOL

  · CHAPTER VIII—“THE FORTRESS OF THE MONKSLAYER”

  · CHAPTER IX—CHURL AND OVERLORD

  · CHAPTER X—THE PASS OF THE EAGLES

  · CHAPTER XI—BY KIMBERLEY MOAT

  · CHAPTER XII—THE IRON COLLAR

  · CHAPTER XIII—ON THE ROAD TO RUNNYMEDE


                                 ————.

*ILLUSTRATIONS*

    Now he raised himself on his arm and claimed the victory

    Two huge stones, hurled by Alan the Armorer, came  down on the
    heads of the luckless churls in the moat

    Dame Franklin and the old soldier were frozen in their  places

    The force of my blow drove him backward, but my weapon pierced
    him not

    We had gone scarce half a mile when ’twas plainly to be seen
    that my little mare was no match for the long-limbed steeds of
    the Carletons

    While I spoke my mother had grown pale as death

    Then Elbert did come to the mark and, with a merry grin, sent
    five arrows toward the target

    We made a procession through the field, all the men and maidens
    shouting and dancing and making a most merry and heartening din

    He gave no inch of ground save to leap from side to side in
    avoiding my downward strokes

    In a twinkling armed and mounted men were all about us

    Old Marvin had his cross-bow ready drawn, and he shot young
    Montalvan through the face at the very first onset

    Hard we rode, indeed, and with little mercy on our mounts

    The water at the ford was filled with mounted men and bullock
    carts, laden with spoil and making their difficult way through
    the swift-flowing current

    The leader had his great sword thrust aside by Cedric’s bow,
    then was seized about the waist and hurled to the rocks below

    Both were red of face with hurry, and their horses were well
    lathered and breathing hard

    Then with loud menaces I drove him to the wall where I made him
    stand with hands above his head

    Sir Cedric rose to his feet and for a moment looked from one to
    the other of our company

    With a mighty shout, we rode down upon the bridge, trusting all
    to the darkness and the fury of our attack



CHAPTER I—THE SIEGE OF CASTLE MOUNTJOY


That was a blithe spring morning when the messenger from the King
brought to my father the order to join the army at Lincoln for the great
expedition into Scotland. Six armored knights with their squires and a
hundred men-at-arms made up the Mountjoy quota; and these my father,
liege lord of the domain and loyal subject of the crown, lost no time in
bringing together.

Messengers, on horseback and afoot hurried out with his commands; and at
the castle we were all in a pretty flurry of making ready.

The armorers were hammering and riveting in the courtyard, making a most
merry din; the big ox-carts lumbered in over the drawbridge, bearing
meat and grain for my father’s company while on its way to the assembly
ground and for us who were to remain at Mountjoy; and our men in their
leathern jackets and hoods and with their cross-bows slung on their
backs were coming in by ones and twos and in groups of half a score.

Now my lady mother drew near to Father’s side as he watched the labor of
the armorers, and I, having no will to lose any word of his, came
forward also.

“My lord,” she said, “I would speak with thee where the noise of these
hammers will not deafen our ears.”

My father laughed as one laughs at the sorriest jest when he is gay.

“Gadzooks! my lady,” he said with a curtsy which my mother says he
learned in Italy, and which, try as I may, I cannot copy—“a daughter of
the Montmorencys should find in the din of armorers’ hammers a music far
sweeter than that of the lute or viol.”

“’Tis well enough,” said my mother, hurriedly, “and I should sorrow to
live where it never was heard. But I have a grave matter upon which to
consult thee. Hast thou given thought, my lord, to the castle’s defense
during thine absence and that of the best part of our men?”

My father’s brow became furrowed. I opened my mouth to speak, but Mother
frowned at me so I held my peace. Methinks she sometimes thinks of me as
naught more than a child, forgetting that it was my fifteenth birthday
that we marked at Candlemas.

“Some little I have thought of that,” began my father, “and, indeed,
Kate, I would not have thee think I would leave thee unsecured. Marvin,
the old cross-bowman who attended me through all my campaigns, and whose
eye for the homing place of his arrow, is, in spite of his years, like
that of Robin Hood himself, shall be thy right-hand servitor, and with
him six good serving men, who, like him, are of the older day and unfit
for the long marches, but who can handle the cross-bow or, at need, the
spear as well as in their best days. These shall be at thy command; and
will be ample for these quiet times.”

“Nay, my lord,” she answered, quickly, “these days are none so quiet,
with the Old Wolf of Carleton sharpening his fangs for us and ours.”

“The Old Wolf hath his summons to the King’s banner as I have mine. Our
smaller quarrels must be laid aside while the war is on; and if Fortune
desert me not, I shall return far higher in the favor of the King than
e’er before. It is this very business, well and faithfully done, that
shall put an end to Carleton’s insolence. The Wolf shall snap his jaws
in vain. The fat goose of Mountjoy for which he hungers shall show
itself an eagle with beak and talons.”

“I hope it may be as thou sayest, my lord. Still, leave with us Old
Alan, the armorer. He too is past the days of hard campaigns; and thou
wilt have the young smith, Dickon, for thy work in the camp. Alan shall
make for us such a store of cross-bow bolts as will make Old Marvin and
his men seem a score in case of need.”

“As thou wilt, Kate. I had need of Old Alan’s head far more than his
hands; but ’tis true enough he’s not the man who followed my father to
the wars.”

Then he turned to me and smiled as on that greeting day of his return
from the Holy Wars.

“But, Kate,” he cried, “here is the Champion of Mountjoy now. We had
forgot the chief of our defenders. Mayhap Sir Dickon here, if any seek
to do thee harm, will find better marks for his bolts than rooks and
hares.”

I knew that he made a jest of me; for he, too, hardly knows that I lack
but half a foot of being as tall as himself and that when I am not put
about by hurry or the like, my voice is as low a bass. But I answered in
goodly earnest:

“That I will, Father. An if any varlet throw but an unmannerly word at
my lady mother, I’ll stop his mouth with a good steel bolt. Let but any
one—Gray Wolf or other—threaten Mountjoy while thou’rt away, and come
within bow-shot of our walls, and he shall rue it well.”

“Ha! The young eagle tries his wings,” laughed my father. “Spoken like a
true Mountjoy, Dickon. Thou’lt do. Give thee but a few more years and
thou’lt serve the King like all thy line.”

“And like a true Montmorency, my lord,” put in my mother. “Forget not
that.”

“’Pon my soul, ’tis true,” he laughed, “Dickon hath as good blood on the
distaff side as any his father can boast.—But to the matter of the
castle’s defense in need. Will-o’-the-Wallfield shall stay behind also
to see that stores of grain and beef are ample. He’s ever a good hand
with the farmers and as sound as an oak staff.” And with a kiss for my
mother and a pinch o’ the ear for me, he hurried out again to the
armorers.

His spirits in good sooth were high that morning, as well might they be.
It was full two years since his return from the Holy Land. I had seen
him in London, riding in his shining mail with those who had helped
redeem the Blessed Sepulcher, and he the bravest, finest figure of them
all. Since that time he had stayed here at the castle with naught to do
save to judge the suits of the countryfolk and now and again chase down
and hang some forest-lurking robber. His comrades in arms and those that
knew his temper and his deeds were at the Court, a hundred miles away;
and many a dull day must have seemed a week in passing. Here in the West
we have no tourneys and of travelers from the farther world not many.
Only lately some little stir of life did we have. The Gray Wolf of
Carleton from his castle at Teramore, three leagues away, had sent to us
an insolent demand for tribute, claiming forsooth that the Lords of
Mountjoy were but a younger line of the House of Carleton and that we
held our fiefs on sufferance and at the will of them, our superiors.

Always shall I remember the language of my father’s answer. The clerkly
knave who brought Lord Carleton’s message shrunk and shriveled before it
like a leaf too near the fire. Just so will I meet all such threats and
insolence when I have but a few more years.

“Suzerain of Mountjoy, forsooth! Let the Gray Wolf look well to
Teramore, lest we of Mountjoy smoke him from his lair. Mountjoy banners
will dip before those of Carleton when England pays tribute to the
Saracen, and Beelzebub, thy master’s friend, sits on the throne.”

The knave slunk back to Teramore; and for some weeks the Gray Wolf’s
pack had yapped and yowled. Two of Lord Carleton’s bailiffs had their
heads well broken by Mountjoy tenants of whom they demanded rental; and
an armed party was sent out to avenge them. These men-at-arms were even
more roughly used by some of our Mountjoy cross-bowmen who spied the
Carleton banner from afar as it entered the village.

Real fighting would surely have come of it, and we of Mountjoy
outnumbered three to one, had not the King sent messengers to Teramore
and Mountjoy also, commanding all of us to cease from any violence in
the quarrel till his men could report to him the rights and wrongs of
it.

Now came the King’s call to his vassals, great and small, to serve in
the Scottish war; and my father was gay with the thought of service
under his sovereign’s banner,—service that might place the name and fame
of Mountjoy high in his master’s favor, and show what manner of man and
subject it was whom the Gray Wolf would rob of his lands.

A week from that morning my mother had in hand a letter brought by a
courier from the King’s army and bearing my father’s greetings. They
were well on their way to the north, and believed the Scots would soon
have reason to repent them of their folly. Father had been given a post
in the advance guard, and was in high feather over rejoining some of his
comrades of earlier years.

On the same day, and from another source, we had news that the Gray Wolf
was delayed at Teramore by an illness,—the same that had plagued him at
times since his campaigns in the Holy Land, but that he had sent word to
the King that he would overtake the banners ere they reached the
Scottish border.

At seven of the next morning, I stood with Old Marvin by the drawbridge
wheel. He had seen to its lowering, and a wain-load of wheat from the
grange at the Wallfield was coming slowly into the courtyard. Suddenly I
espied a body of horsemen approaching at a trot half a mile away, at a
bend on the wooded road from Mannerley. With pointing finger, I guided
the eyes of Marvin; and for half a minute we both stood watching the
riders without a word. They were soon lost behind the trees, but our old
archer, with his hand on the wheel, now shifted his looks to the road
where it came out of the forest, a scant bowshot below us.

Now we could hear the hoofbeats and once and again the ring of steel.
This could be no friendly call from our neighboring knights and squires
so early in the day. Besides, the loyal men of the whole region were
with the King’s banner. Had the horsemen come by the Teramore road, our
thoughts would have flown at once to the Old Wolf and his designs, and
the drawbridge had gone up in a twinkling; but these came from
Mannerley; and I knew well that the good lady of Mannerley had days
since sent her small quota of knights and men-at-arms to Lincoln. We had
not long to wonder, for now the column came from the wood at a swinging
trot, and with a tall, gray-bearded knight at its head came forward
swiftly toward the open gate.

Marvin stayed his hand no longer. I seized the crank with him; and we
swiftly turned it. We drew the bridge to a slant, half way to the
upright and barely in time to halt those riders on the yonder side of
the moat.

“I know thee, my Lord Carleton,” shouted Marvin, “what would’st thou at
Mountjoy? Dost think we keep no watch and ward?”

The Old Wolf (for verily he was the leader of the horsemen) shouted back
to us in tones that made my ear drums ache:

“Lower the bridge, varlet. Know’st thou not I am liege lord of Mountjoy,
and will hang thee higher than Haman if thou stay’st me by so much as an
instant. Lower the bridge, if thou would’st save thy carcass from the
crows!”

Before Marvin could say aught in reply he was thrust aside, and my
mother, the Lady of Mountjoy, stood by the sally port. In a moment I
stood close behind her with cross-bow drawn and bolt in groove.

“My Lord Carleton,” she said, and her voice was wonderfully sweet after
the rasping tones that had been filling our ears, “what dost thou here
with three score mounted men when the King hath summoned all loyal
vassals to his banner?”

So evil a face as he made at this greeting I hope never to see again.

“Ah! ’tis thou, then, Kate of Montmorency. I have somewhat pressing
business of my own to forward ere I send final answer to the King. Now
deliver to me the keys of this my castle of Mountjoy. Or mayhap thou
wilt send yonder leather-coated varlet to act as thy champion ’gainst
one of my kitchen knaves. Now lower thy bridge, and all shall be well. I
will send thee and the boy there with a convoy of trusty knights to the
Convent of St. Anne. If thou hast the folly to attempt to stay me, I
will take the place by storm; thy varlets shall hang, every one; and
thine own fate thou canst guess. Come now! which, shall it be? I am not
accustomed to stay long for answers.”

“Traitor and Hound of Bedlam!” cried my mother in such a voice as I knew
not she possessed, “thine own head with the gray locks thou dishonorest
shall hang from my battlements ere thou gainest aught by this attack on
what thou thinkest to be a defenseless woman. While my lord fights for
his country under the banner of the King, thou sendest back lying
messengers, and arm thy crew for robbing him of his lands. Now back,
with all thy bloody-handed band, or my cross-bowmen shall see if they
cannot find with their bolts the joints of your harness. I give no more
time to parley. Back with you!”

Already my cross-bow was leveled at the gray beard of the leader on the
other side of the moat. I would make good my boast made to my father but
a week since. I was trembling and my hair stood up like that of a dog
that meets his bitter enemy. Muttering a little prayer for the bolt, and
closing my eyes with a sudden, foolish dread, I pulled the trigger. But
my mother, just then seeing my design, struck up the weapon with one
swift blow, so that the bolt sped harmlessly over the heads of the
horsemen.

“Hold thy arrows, boy,” she commanded, “we cannot shoot men down at
parley, be they never so villainous. And we shall have fighting enough
ere long.”

Lord Carleton made a move of defiance; but he wheeled his steed and led
his men down the road by which they came. In the shadow of the woods
they halted; and the Gray Wolf called about him three or four knights to
whom he gave hurried orders. Very soon his troop broke into three
parties. One rode to the right and another to the left, while the third,
under the old lord’s command, remained opposite the main gate and
drawbridge. Then our watchers on the battlements saw the other parties
posted at points of vantage around the castle and a young squire riding
at full gallop along the road to Teramore. The siege of Castle Mountjoy
had begun.

We passed some weary hours while the Carleton knights gave no sign of
meaning to attack. The approaches to the drawbridge are steep and rocky,
and the moat is commanded by the cross-bowmen from the slits in the
towers and from the battlements above. I well knew that Carleton was an
old and skillful soldier, even though a cruel and bloodthirsty one; and
it was easy to be seen that he had no mind to lose any of his armored
knights in vain attempts to reach us. Now and again a cross-bow bolt
sped from our battlements toward the besiegers; and some of these rang
on their helmets or breastplates; but the hounds had good Toledo armor,
and no bolt found its way to joint or visor. I found none to stay me
now; and stood by a firing slit, sending arrow after arrow at our
enemies.

Twice old Marvin had dinted with well-aimed bolts the hauberk on which
rested the long gray beard of the leader of the pack. A younger knight,
whom I took to be Ronald of Egleston, seemed to beg him to take to the
shelter of the trees; but the Old Wolf just shook his head with
impatience, and rode on from one to another of the sentry posts.

At noon we could see in the edge of the wood, beneath the oak branches
not yet clothed with leaves, leathern wallets opened and bread and meat
passed around, this being followed by horns of ale and skins of wine
from the load of a pack-mule tethered near by.

Then my mother, aided by old Dame Franklin, her nurse as a child and
ever her faithful servitor, and by me as the Heir of Mountjoy and the
representative of my father here, carried to the sentinels on the
ramparts and at the arrow slits bounteous refreshments of bread and
cheese and ale, encouraging them the while by friendly, confident words
and by her dauntless demeanor in readiness for the attack which we all
well knew was to come.

“Marvin,” she said, as we came near my old friend and worthy teacher of
the arts of war, “shall we give them as good or better than they can
send?”

“Aye, that we will, Lady,” quoth Marvin with an obeisance, losing the
while no glance of what might be happening in the edge of the wood
opposite, “if the wind will but ease a thought, and the Gray Wolf take
not to some shelter, I will land an arrow yet at the roots of that beard
which flaunts there in the breeze like a banner for those robber
hounds.”

“God speed thy bolt, good Marvin. An thou dost that, ’twill be as loyal
a service as e’er them did’st the House of Mountjoy. His band would not
linger long to annoy us, I think. And that cottage and half dozen acres
by the mill shall be thine in fee simple.”

“Lady Mountjoy,” he said, with another bow, “I have served my Lord of
Mountjoy and his father before him for fifty years. Your bounty is ever
welcome, but, with it or without, I serve while I live. But hold!
there’s the Gray Wolf again, looking our way with hungry eyes,—”

He took long and careful aim, while I who had often seen him bring down
a running hare at a greater distance, watched him with halted breath.
But Fortune smiled not on him. A gust of wind came just as he drew
trigger, and turned his bolt enough in the hundred and fifty yards of
its flight to make it pass harmlessly to one side of our enemy. Old
Marvin made a bitter groan at this bad hap, and stood looking at the
knight with grinding teeth.

“Better luck and a quieter air next time, good Marvin,” quoth mother,
“thou’lt wing him yet, be sure.” And she passed to another embrasure to
greet old Alan, the armorer, who was busy with carrying fresh supplies
of bolts to the archers.

At two o’ the clock a cry came down from our lookouts that
reënforcements were coming for our enemies. My mother and I hurried to
the battlements and from there descried a motley array of a hundred or
more men-at-arms, archers and peasants with axes and spades, tramping
along the road from Teramore.

For a moment we were frightened at what we saw. Here was proof indeed
that the Old Wolf meant no hurried foray but an attack in such force as
might be expected to gain the castle and the lands of Mountjoy.

Most of its proper defenders were far away, marching with other loyal
men under the banner of the King; and now it was clear that Carleton had
let no man go forward from all his lands, reserving all for this
treacherous blow. Armored knights could not swim the moat or climb up
its steep sides; but the Carleton force was now twenty times greater
than ours, and the Gray Wolf was well skilled in all the arts of attack.

We had not long to wait in suspense. The men-at-arms and the peasants
turned into the wood before coming within range of our archers. Soon
after we heard the sound of many axes. Before a half hour had passed
there came from the forest a body which seemed like a part of the wood
itself. A hundred men ran out, clad in leathern jackets or the peasants’
homespun, and carrying no weapons save axes or poniards stuck in their
belts, each bearing before him a great, withe-bound armful of branches.
Following these came a score with planks and beams from a little lodge
in the wood which they had torn down; then eight huge fellows, running
with a tree, trimmed of its branches and carried butt foremost as a
battering ram. This was the thing that made me quake for the safety of
the castle, for it was clear to all of us that if those robber beasts
could fill the moat with their fascines and lumber, they could swarm
across, force down the drawbridge and with that accursed log break down
the inner gate. Once inside the courtyard, they would hold all in the
castle at their mercy.

Surrounding the churls who acted as ram-bearers, and running as best
they might in their heavy armor, was a group of knights and squires, led
by the savage old graybeard of Carleton. Last of all came a dozen
cross-bowmen with bows drawn and bolts in groove.

A half dozen of our bolts hummed through the air at their on-coming
line. I was at one of the arrow slits, glad indeed of a fair chance at
the Carleton curs, and using as best I might the good steel bow which my
father had brought back from the Crusade. Some of our first volley of
bolts found their marks, but most flew over their heads or buried
themselves in the bundles of branches which served them well as shields.
With might and main we loaded and fired again, this time with more
effect. One of my bolts felled the leader of the ram-bearers and threw
his fellows into confusion. But now the line was at the moat, the
fascines were hurled into it, the planks and beams followed helter
skelter, and a few of the boldest of their men-at-arms dashed out on the
footing thus made.

Now indeed our bolts began doing their work. The fascines gone, the
leathern jackets were but the sorriest protection, and at twenty to
forty paces hardly a bolt failed to bring down its man. We were firing
as fast as we could lay the bolts in groove. All their burdens were in
the ditch, but it was not filled enough to allow a crossing. Some of
those who had ventured on the planks and branches became foot-caught,
slipped through to the water below and perished miserably like thieving
rats caught and drowned in a trap of meal strewn on the water of a tub.

The Carleton cross-bowmen could do little against our stone walls
pierced with narrow firing slits. Some of their arrows came through, but
none of us were injured. Two huge stones, hurled by Alan, the armorer,
from the battlements above, came down on the heads of the luckless
churls in the moat and helped to scatter the scanty footing. Thrice more
had old Marvin dinted with his bolts the armor of the Gray Wolf, who was
running up and down behind his men, shouting threats and orders; but
still the arrows failed in drawing blood. Two other knights were not so
fortunate, for bolts struck them full in the faces, and they were borne
from the field by their comrades.

In time, mid curses and threats, old Carleton shouted an order for
retreat. It was none too soon, for already half the homespun varlets and
men-at-arms, seeing no hope of reaching us, and expecting any moment the
fate which was falling on their comrades, were on their way to the
shelter of the woods. The Carleton crew recrossed the open ground more
quickly than it had come. Twenty or more of their number remained
behind, in the ditch or on its bank, and the battering ram lay where its
bearers had dropped it when their comrades broke and ran.

[Illustration: _TWO HUGE STONES, HURLED BY ALAN THE ARMORER, CAME DOWN
ON THE HEADS OF THE LUCKLESS CHURLS IN THE MOAT_]

Hardly had the last of them disappeared under the oaks when Marvin and
Alan appeared in the moat, armed with long-handled pikes. Quickly
hauling together some of the planks and beams to make a raft, they began
pulling and pushing apart the rest of the matter which had been meant to
form a crossing. There had not been enough of the brush and lumber for
the Carleton purpose but could they place as much more in the same spot,
it might make them a footway. We who guarded them from above and stood
ready to give warning of any new attack were able to tell them over and
again that none of our enemies were showing their heads. So holpen, the
old soldiers made a thorough piece of work, and in half an hour had
hauled out all the planks and beams and so scattered the brush bundles
that they would be of little use to the attackers should they find
stomachs for another assault.

That night was a weary one for all of us. The camp fires of the Carleton
robbers made a kind of circle about our place and gave us warning of how
close they made the siege. My mother gave orders that half her men
should lie down to sleep, though with their arms beside them, while she
and Marvin often made the rounds to be sure of the watchfulness of the
others. She would have had me go to my bed like a very child; but I
begged it as a boon to share the watch, to which prayer she most
unwillingly gave ear. That night I could not have slept in the downiest
of couches, e’en with the softest music of well-played lutes. There was
men’s work afoot; and ours were all too few. At midnight the sleepers
were awakened and the watch changed; but always we three remained on
guard.

The night was quiet, even so; and so was the whole of the day that
followed. Beyond bowshot on the open ground, we could see the groups of
our enemies and watch the sentries pacing their beats. Nearer at hand on
the wooded side, we could hear from time to time the calls of men and
the strokes of axes.

In the afternoon my mother found a few hours for sleep, leaving Marvin,
who seemed to have no need for rest, in charge. Our old soldier and
worthy lieutenant had told her that the siege might last for weeks, and
that it would be folly for her to wear out her strength in its very
beginning. To this good advice I made bold to add my urging. Dame
Franklin had followed her mistress everywhere, bringing her food and
drink when of herself she would have forgotten, and trying always to
place herself between Lady Mountjoy and her enemies.

The first night had been starlit, but that which now came on was cloudy
and so dark that one could scarce discern an enemy at a dozen paces, and
not then unless his figure were seen against the sky. None of our men
were allowed to sleep, for it was felt that the Carletons might come at
us again at any moment and with much better chances for success than
before. No one in the castle forgot that our enemies outnumbered us by
almost a score to one or had any doubts as to what would come to us if
by force or by treachery, the Gray Wolf and his pack made their way into
our courtyard.

Soon after midnight we heard a loud tramp and roar of footsteps in the
direction of the wood. Arrows we sent hap-hazard toward the attack, but
in the darkness these did little more than tell our enemies that the
Mountjoy men were at their posts. In a moment the other side of the moat
was thronged with half-seen figures. Cries of command rang out and the
waters of the ditch splashed high with the strokes of fascines, logs and
sacks of earth. Now again our archers found victims, but in the murk and
mid the wild cries and running to and fro these were but few. Most of
our bolts struck harmlessly into the ground or the water or rang against
the stones of the moat wall.

The frontmost of the churls who bore the brush and sacks, when they had
cast their loads into the ditch, turned and ran back to the edge of the
wood whence they presently returned with fresh supplies. Had it not been
for the good labors of old Marvin and Alan in moving the matter cast
down in the first attack a way would soon have been laid to the foot of
the drawbridge. As it was, our ditch was fast filling. There seemed to
be thousands of the burden bearers, running like Imps of Darkness with
planks and great bundles; and in the pitchy dark of that black night the
fire of our garrison had no effect.

I was firing as fast as might be from one of the arrow-slits; but, like
the others, could not tell whether any of my bolts were finding victims.
Each moment the numbers of our enemies increased. The pile of planks and
brush now reached nearly to the inner wall of the moat. My mother ran
back and forth behind the archers, carrying new supplies of missiles,
and shouting heartening words. Old Marvin was hurling bolts as fast as
he could load, and roundly cursing the hounds of Carleton and the
blackness of the night that sheltered them. A moment more and I could
hear axes ringing against iron. The bloody crew were hacking at the
fastenings of the chains of the drawbridge.

Suddenly a thought crossed my mind like a shooting star; and I sprang
away from my firing port.

“Mother,” I cried, “we must have light to shoot by or we’re undone.
Quick! the torches!”

Throwing down my cross-bow, I ran into the great hall and caught up a
torch from the mantel. Thrusting it deeply into the fireplace embers, I
quickly kindled it; then sped up the stairs toward the battlements.

Not for nothing is my lady mother a Montmorency of the old fighting
line. In a trice she had understood my plan and was following me with a
lighted torch. Close behind her came old Dame Franklin, bearing another.
The three of us ran with all our might up the crooked stair and the
ladders, and came out on the battlements, under the black sky.

As if the castle were all aflame, the moat and the farther bank were
lighted by the glare. In an instant the cross-bowmen found their targets
among the fascine bearers and the men-at-arms who were already swarming
across. At once we heard their cries of rage and pain, and could see
corpses rolling down the bank into the muddy waters. Alan heaved great
stones from his supply on the battlements on to the heads of the
men-at-arms in the ditch who but now had been raising a shout of
victory. Old Marvin took most careful aim at a gray beard which caught
the flare of light, and sent forth a mighty yell of joy as the knight
spun around on his heel and fell to the ground.

Oh, the crowding and shouting and trampling under foot in the ranks of
our enemies! The threats and the fear and the curses! Our arrows kept
pouring from the firing slits. A younger knight caught his chief by the
shoulders while another seized his legs, and they bore him quickly away.
There was no need for any order to retreat. The whole body was in
headlong flight in the winking of an eye, pursued by the whizzing bolts
and the jeering yells of our fellows in the towers. On the battlements
above stood my lady mother, old Dame Franklin and I, holding aloft our
flaming torches.

Suddenly the old nurse screamed that I was hurt. And indeed, I now felt
a most sharp pain through my shoulder where, it seems, had struck a bolt
discharged by some Carleton archer. My doublet was covered with blood;
and I felt a most unmanly giddiness. It was over in a flash; but my
mother, pale as a ghost under the torchlight, had seized me by one arm
while Dame Franklin grasped the other, fearing forsooth lest I fall from
the battlements to the moat below. Between them, I made my way down to
the hall where they led me to a couch, they all the while mumbling and
weeping and forgetting our glorious victory which had all my thoughts.

Soon old Marvin had drawn the arrow and dressed the hurt with the
simples he had at hand. ’Twas my first wound, and, truth to tell, as
Marvin plucked the bolt away my stomach was none too well at ease, and
the room and all its folk swung slowly round and round. Yet when I heard
him declare to my lady mother that the young master was now a man in his
own right and a worthy son of the Mountjoys, I closed my eyes to the
dizzying hall with its dancing armor suits and its nodding pictures of
my long dead forbears, and soon slumbered, well content.

For two hours and more I slept as one drugged. When my eyes opened, the
hall had ceased its swinging, and my mother sat by my couch and did hold
my hand in both of hers as she was wont to do long, long ago when I was
but a child. Dame Franklin, in a chair near by did slumber deeply and
with most comical groans and snores. Just then returned old Marvin,
fresh from new labors in the moat. He and Alan had again cleared away
all the contrivings of our enemies; and he was in high feather at our
victory.

“Lady Mountjoy,” he said, making due obeisance, “we have beaten the
wolf-pack full soundly. The Old Wolf himself is sore stricken, if not
dead; and the others will gladly crawl to their holes. Sir Dickon will
have a merry tale and true to tell my lord when he comes from the
Scottish war.”

“Say’st thou so, good Marvin?” quoth my mother in reply. “Dost think we
have smitten them so they will give over all their evil design?”

“My word upon it, Lady. We have beaten off all their strokes, killed a
score and more of their men, and gi’en to the Old Wolf himself some
measure of his just deserts. The morning will show their camp fires cold
and the woods and fields of Mountjoy deserted by the whole wolf-pack.
Ere three days have passed thou shalt walk abroad with thy women and
without fear of any Carleton, lord or churl.”

These goodly words were to me better than physic; and the smile which my
lady mother gave to me was a fair guerdon for any service. Soon I slept
again and dreamed of riding my white mare on the banks of Tarleton Water
on a day most fair to see. But I wakened to a gray and frosty dawn and
to things far other than my dreams. My mother had just returned from the
ramparts. The besiegers were still at their posts, and their camp fires
burned brightly. She had made out messengers speeding along the road to
Teramore, but of a breaking of the siege could see no signs around the
camps of our enemies.

When she brought this news to me, I spurned the quilted robes and the
silken coverlet which she had laid over me, sat up on the couch and
asked for boots and cross-bow. She was deeply frightened at this,
fearing my giddiness had returned and that I knew not what I said. But
Marvin, coming into the hall just then, did say that my wound was too
slight a thing to keep a fighting man in his bed; and thus aided I had
my way, and soon was on the ramparts again.



CHAPTER II—THE TAPPING ON THE DUNGEON WALL


As before, the siege went on, the sole variance being the absence of the
gray-bearded horseman from the groups of knights and squires who made
the circuit of the sentry-posts. Days and weeks went by, and they made
no further assaults, but so closely were the siege lines drawn that,
without wings no creature could enter or leave the castle. It was
evident that the Carleton men hoped to starve us into submission. We
smiled at this when we thought of the loads of grain and salted meats
which had been brought into the storerooms in the first week of my
father’s absence, and which would be enough to feed all our little
garrison for a year. A well of most sweet water in the courtyard had
never been known to run dry; so we had little cause for fear of either
hunger or thirst.

What with Marvin’s simples, my wound was fast healing, and I longed for
another fray where I could use my bow at close quarters. Scarce a day
passed without one of my bolts striking the steel harness of some
Carleton knight; but none found their way to armor joints; and the
peasants and leather-coated men-at-arms kept well beyond a hurtful
range.

One dismal morning, when a month had passed, my heart sank, as did those
of all the Mountjoys, as we made out the tall figure in black armor and
the long gray beard of the Lord of Carleton, again making his rounds at
the head of a group of knights and squires. Plain to see, he had
recovered from his wound and was as bent as ever on Mountjoy’s fall. The
old Gray Wolf was hungry not only for the house and lands of Mountjoy
but also for the vengeance which to him would be sweeter than all the
lands of England. Now might we expect new assaults, planned with their
two failures in mind, and bringing to bear new plans and schemes and all
their beastly hate and greed. Some of our old serving men shivered as
they spoke of the devilish deeds of the Gray Wolf, and of the fate in
store for them if the next assault should win its way.

That night, at something after ten, the weather being raw and dismal
with a cold spring rain and the spirits of all the Mountjoy folk
somewhat adroop, one of the archers had been sent to the cellars to draw
a pitcher of ale. In a moment he came up the stairs on the run, and
burst into the hall with the empty pitcher held in shaking hands and
with teeth chattering with fright.

“Oh, my lady!” he said, catching for his breath, “the Evil One hath us
now, and all our doings are for naught.”

“What say’st thou, Gavin?” called his mistress, “who tells thee tales of
the Evil One?”

“’Tis—’Tis the truth,” answered poor Gavin, “but now, in the cellars, he
goes—_tap tap tap_ in the ground at one’s feet. So has he come to take
many a poor mortal. We be called for, and all our sins on our heads,
with no holy man at hand to say him nay with book and bell.”

“Go to. Thou’rt a coward when in the dark by thy lone,” said my lady,
scornfully, “though thou fight’st well and truly with comrades at thy
elbow. Marvin, if our watchers are to have their sup of ale on this raw
night, thou must even draw it thyself.”

But our brave old archer, hero of a hundred battles, turned pale and
answered slowly:

“Nay, my lady, it is not well for mortal men, with mayhap many a word
and deed unconfessed and unpenanced, to meddle with the Powers of
Darkness. For my sins I know them of old, and I dare not face them. Show
me a mortal man, and I’ll stand before him with whatever weapons, but
not the spirits that thump on the footstones by night or twist the neck
of a sleeping man with a hand not seen.”

My mother turned pale, and I could see the fringe of her sleeve barely
aquiver in the candlelight. She opened her mouth to speak in reproof of
Marvin; but found no words, and sat gazing toward him with wide and
glistening eyes. Truth to tell, it was a fearsome thing, and for myself
I had but the smallest wish to face the dungeon passages on that black
night. ’Twas not so long since I would not have faced them by my lone on
the most quiet and peaceful of nights with no armed enemies within a
day’s journey; and a great round lump came up into my throat as I
thought of it. Yet, even as we sat eying one another in fear, a thought
came to my mind of the duty of a Mountjoy. ’Twas but natural that our
serving men should fear the evil sprites let loose by darkness and
troublous times; and e’en my mother, a fair and gracious lady, and
withal none too strong of body, was not made to face such things. But I
was the Heir of Mountjoy; and my father had knelt before a King of
France and been made Knight of a holy order for his deeds on the Plains
of Jerusalem. I started up and cried:

“Tush! good Marvin. Methought thee far too bold for frightening with old
wives’ tales. Come! I’ll go before thee bearing a candle to fright away
thy imaginings.”

“Spoken like a true Montmorency,” said my mother with a strange little
laugh, “truly, Dickon, thou’lt shame us all.”

Then she rose and reached to the shelf behind her for a candlestick.

“Oh, now, my lady!” cried old Dame Franklin. “Go not to the dungeons on
such a night. The men can better want their sup of ale. ’Tis an ill
night for all uneasy sprites. Bide here by the fire, for soon we go to
the battlements again.”

But my lady already stood with her hand on the great latch of the door
at the head of the stairway which led to the donjon keep. I took my
cross-bow.

“If any of the Imps of Darkness challenge us,” I said, “I’ll see whether
or no they can stand before a good steel bolt.”

But even in the midst of my confident words, I had a thought anent the
spectral tappings which chilled the blood in my veins. Ghostly visitants
I was ready then to challenge; but I had heard my father tell how the
Crusaders took one Saracen stronghold by means of a mine or tunnel, dug
with weeks of toil under the walls and into the passages of the ancient
keep. Why should not the Old Wolf of Carleton have planned a like
attack? During the weeks when his men had seemed so quiet and had given
the Mountjoys scarcely a chance for a long bowshot, might they not have
been driving such a tunnel under their very feet? Suppose that tapping
that Gavin thought the work of the Evil One were the sound of the tools
of the servants of one scarcely less evil and with even more cause to
wish us ill!

“Come then,” said my mother, her face white but firm. Opening the great
oak door, she led the way toward the dungeons.

Cross-bow in hand, I followed; and just behind me came Dame Franklin. As
she moved toward the door, Old Marvin picked up his cross-bow, made sure
of the poniard in his belt and followed also, mumbling the while, as
best he might, the words of a Latin prayer.

We came to pause amid the stillness of the vault which was like unto
that of the Mountjoy tomb at Kirkwald Abbey to which one day, with my
hand tightly clasping my father’s, I had paid a well remembered visit.
The candle wavered and guttered in a faint draught, and the light
gleamed on the wide eyes of the old dame and the trembling hands of the
archer. I was standing full still with my eyes on my mother’s face. For
long we stood while I could hear no sound save the beating strokes
beneath my doublet. Then, suddenly, from the floor beneath or the solid
wall beside us,—

Tap, tap—tap—tap tap.

No one spoke. The candle shook in my lady’s hand till it threatened to
fall and leave us in utter darkness. Dame Franklin and the old soldier
were frozen in their places. Then again:

Tap tap—tap—tap tap.

“Oh, Mother,” I whispered, “the passage! The secret passage! Our enemies
have found it.”

There was another fearsome silence. Then again—Tap tap—tap—tap tap.

Then the echoes of the great vault were roused by a loud, clear call
from my lady mother:

“Oh, my lord! My Lord Mountjoy, is it thou?”

There came a muffled voice in reply, and again we heard the tapping.

[Illustration: _DAME FRANKLIN AND THE OLD SOLDIER WERE FROZEN IN THEIR
PLACES_]

At once she leaped toward the wall with a glad cry:

“Oh, my lord, my lord, have patience but a moment. I will undo the
door.”

She brushed aside some old and mildewed hangings, all heavy with dust
and grime, and brought to view a small iron door. Snatching from her
girdle the largest key, she fitted it into the lock. Still, try as she
would, she could not turn it till old Marvin came to her help. Then
indeed the rusty lock gave way, the door swung slowly open, and my
father, the Lord of Mountjoy, followed by half a score of knights and
men-at-arms, stepped forth into the candlelight.

When Lady Mountjoy at last was free from my father’s embrace, she stood
with her hands on his shoulders and asked a dozen questions, demanding
that he answer all at once.

“Whence comest thou, my lord? Are the Scots beaten? Had’st thou news of
the treachery of the Old Wolf of Carleton? How many men hast thou? Oh! I
had forgot this secret passage and the door to which thou gavest me the
key on our wedding day. My foolish men, and almost myself, believed thy
signal was a ghostly tapping. But Dickon remembered the passage; and
when I had thrice heard the signal I knew it for the knock that thou
makest at my door,—the signal that means thee and none else in the
world.”

Meanwhile old Marvin had made fast the secret door, and we all were
moving toward the stairway, my father’s arm encased in link armor thrown
around the waist of the castle’s mistress.

“Welladay, my dearest Kate! Not quite so fast and I will tell thee. The
Scots are beaten; and we of Mountjoy had an honorable share in it. The
campaign goes on, but a loyal youth from Mountjoy village found me after
the battle and told of the doings of the traitor, Carleton. Straightway
I took the boy before the King. And he being pleased with some work I
had done that day, did bid me take ten of my best men, make my choice of
ten horses from his train, and ride post haste to the relief of my house
and my lady. We reached the Tarn Rock, half a league from here, at
nightfall, and reconnoitered Carleton’s camp. He being in greater force
than we could cope with at once, I bethought me of this old passage from
the wood two furlongs off. And so I have been tap, tap tapping for an
hour, hoping at last to get the news of my coming to thee. And art thou
well, my Kate? And have the rascals done aught to harm thee or Dickon
here?”

“Not a whit, my lord. Save for an arrow stroke our Dickon hath come by
in open fight, and which is already nearly healed. They have made some
mighty threats, and would have carried them through with right good will
could they have reached us; but, thanks to Dickon, to old Marvin here
and the others, they got much worse than they gave. Many a Carleton
knave will ne’er cut another throat, be it of man or pig; and the Old
Wolf himself was very near to his just reward in the shape of a good
steel bolt from Marvin’s bow.”

On the ramparts next morning swung my father’s banner of purple and
gold. Watching our enemies’ camp, I could plainly see that the display
of this flag, which they knew should signify naught else than the
presence of the head of our house, early brought most of them, and
finally the Gray Wolf himself, to gaze at the flagstaff. They were
telling one another, as I could well imagine, that this was but a ruse
on the part of the castle’s mistress, intended to deceive them into the
belief that Lord Mountjoy had come through their lines in the night.
What was their surprise therefore, when Lord Mountjoy appeared on the
battlements in full armor and wearing the purple plume he had brought
from Italy, and yet more when they saw him attended and followed as he
was. Armored knights, in numbers they could not tell, came into sight
and passed from view on the battlements and at the casements. We could
fairly see the rumor flying through the Carleton camp that Lord Mountjoy
had returned with all his men and by stealth or by magic had passed
their sentinels during the night.

The Gray Wolf stared long and viciously at our battlements, and called
on those with younger eyes to make sure of what he saw. Then with oaths
and curses that made his men quail before him, he gave orders to break
camp and return to Teramore.

By midday the last signs of the siege were gone, the ashes of the
circling camp fires were cold, and the great drawbridge was down once
more. A messenger was sent to the Tarn Rock to bring in the horses and
their guards. In the sunny spring afternoon, when we went forth to
reconnoiter the deserted camps of our enemies, I rode at my father’s
side, wearing for the first time the gold-hilted sword which had been
brought from Damascus.

Two months later, the King returning to London, confirmed my father in
possession of his estates, and sent messengers to old Lord Carleton
demanding his instant attendance at court. Again the Old Wolf was ill,
too much so to obey the command of his sovereign; but this time he was
not to rise from his bed as soon as the messengers had turned their
backs.

The wound in his throat made by Marvin’s bolt had never fully healed,
and now this, coupled with his old distemper, had laid him low. Even
while the heralds waited, the priest in the great upper chamber was
saying the prayers for the dying. At sunset on that day, I could see
from the Tarn Rock the blue and white banner of Carleton flying at half
mast over the battlements of Teramore.



CHAPTER III—CEDRIC THE FORESTER


It was on a sunny noontide, in fair October, some six months after we
had driven the hounds of Carleton from our castle of Mountjoy, that I
was riding in the forest, three leagues and more from home, on the way
to see my cousins of Leicester at their manor by the edge of Pelham
Wood, and mayhap to share with them one of those goodly pasties of
venison which their table never lacks.

My bonny white mare, Clothilde, did amble along the woodland path with
dainty and springing steps, as though ’twere joy enough to be abroad and
lightly burdened on such a day; and it seemed to me I felt my youth and
growing bones and sinews as ne’er before. As I passed the Tarleton Water
which was rippling most sweetly under the sun glints, I was minded of a
fair dream that had come to me on that night we halted the second
assault of the Carletons, and after old Marvin had bathed and dressed
the wound I had from a cross-bow bolt. Here was the sparkling water,
just as I had seen it then, and the glimmering of the light on the oak
leaves of red and brown and gold; and here was I astride the goodly mare
that I had raised and broken from a colt, and on an errand far enough
removed from the grim business of that dark and dangerous time.

By my side was the gold-hilted sword from Damascus which had been mine
since the return of my father, Lord Mountjoy, from the Scottish war; and
I bore no other arms nor thought of any need for them. My sixteenth
birthday would not now be long in coming; and already my mark on the
lintel post was within a handsbreadth of my father’s own. My voice had
grown more settled of late; and, in the lonely reaches of the forest, I
was practicing for my own delight a sweet ballad which I had often heard
him sing, and which he had from the minstrels of Provence who had
journeyed with the armies to the Holy Land.

Suddenly, from the corner of my eye, I marked the movement of a bush in
a little glade two hundred yards to the right of my path. The swing it
made was none such as are caused by the wind; and indeed at the time all
the air about was still and warm with the quietness of the summer of St.
Martin’s. Rather was the movement I had scarcely seen the twitch of the
leafy top of a sapling when its stem is roughly seized or when some
heavy thing hath fallen against it. To me it told, plainly and well,
that either was a deer grazing in that thicket or that some man, mayhap
with good reason for not wishing to be seen, was hiding there.

In a moment I had turned Clothilde’s head from the path and was riding
through the light underbrush with my eyes fixed on the ferny glade. Soon
I broke through the bushes that screened it and saw a youth in the
Lincoln green of a forester, stripping the hide from a fine antlered
buck. There had been, in the troublous times of the past year and more,
while most of the knights and gentlemen of the countryside were with the
King’s banner in Scotland, far too much of lawless slaying of deer by
poaching villains and forest hiding thieves. Twice had I, in the thick
of the woods, come on the half-flayed and mangled carcasses which had
been left to waste or to feed the wolves after tenderloins and haunches
had been cut away. Now my choler quickly rose within me, and I called
out, full rough and loud:

“How now! Thou deer-stealing varlet! I have thee red-handed. By my
faith, thou shalt smart well for this.”

The poacher sprang up and faced me; and I saw that he was a youth of not
more than my own time, though perhaps a thought broader of the shoulders
and hips. He seemed not like a forest lurker either, for he had a good
and open English face with the wide blue eyes that low-hearted knaves
but seldom have. Now, however, he answered my threatening looks with a
stare as bold as that of Robin Hood, and flung back at me in snarling
tones:

“I steal no deer. I am the son of Elbert the forester of Pelham. My lord
of Pelham allows us four good deer in each twelve-month; and this is but
the third we have taken.”

“Thou liest, scurvy knave,” I shouted, drawing my sword and making it
whistle through the air about my head, “leave that carcass and walk
before me to Pelham Manor; and we shall see what Lord Pelham says to
this pretty tale of thine.”

For answer the forester leaned forward and seized his cross-bow which
was leaning, ready drawn and with bolt in groove, against the bole of a
sapling near at hand. Leveling the piece at my throat, he growled, full
surlily:

“Now, Sir Dickon of Mountjoy, turn thy horse and betake thee from here
as fast as may be. I have spoken truth, as you may learn full easily if
you ride to Pelham; but never will I, who go about my lawful business,
consent to walk as your prisoner like a stealer of sheep. Get thee gone
now, for truly my finger itches at the trigger.”

His blue eyes blazed at me with a menace not to be gainsaid. Here was no
crouching knave who might receive a buffet for his insolence, but one
full capable of making good his word. I was looking straight down the
cross-bow groove at the steel bolt which another threat from me would
send flying into my face. The knave was well beyond the reach of my
sword, and could kill me as easily as he had the great buck that lay at
his feet. I wheeled the mare and rode away out of the thicket, throwing
over my shoulder the while a string of threats of the punishment his
acts should bring down on his head when I had but spoken with his master
of Pelham. To all these the young forester answered never a word, but
stood with leveled weapon till I had passed from sight and hearing.

In the midst of my wrath at being thus balked I could not but admit that
he bore himself well and truly. And I thought of a saying of my father’s
that the greatness of England in battle was not the work of her armored
horsemen or even of her stout men-at-arms, but of these same yeomen of
the field and forest, who on many a hard-fought field had stood in
leathern coats or homespun smocks like the oaks of their native woods
and rained their arrows on the faces of the enemy spearmen till the
lines wavered and broke and made way for the charge of the mail-clad
knights.

I soon regained the pathway, and was riding slowly while I meditated the
things I should say to Pelham of the insolence of his forester,—if
indeed the churl were the son of Elbert as he claimed. And so were my
thoughts disturbed that I saw no more the beauty of the day in the
greenwood nor heard the trills and twitterings of the birds overhead.
Thus engaged, and with my eyes fixed on the track in front, it was with
surprise that I heard the sound of a horse’s hoofs and looked up to see
approaching me, and but a hundred yards away, a tall young man, dressed
in the style more affected at the court than in our rough Western land.
It needed but a second glance for me to name him as Lionel, the
twenty-years old son of the old Lord of Carleton, and the bitterest
enemy of our house.

Early in the summer the Old Wolf of Carleton, as he was known to the
countryside, had died of a wound given him two months before by our old
Marvin with his good cross-bow when the Carletons were carrying forward
their traitorous assault on the Castle of Mountjoy, the while my father
with the best part of his men were with the King’s banner in Scotland.

For five years Lionel had been absent from Teramore, and one of a group
of high-born youths who, at the great London house of the Duke of
Cumberland, were being trained as squires-at-arms whilst they awaited
the day for receiving the order of knighthood. At the news of his
father’s death he hurried to Teramore to join his mother and take charge
of the great estate.

Often had we heard since then of the dire threats that he breathed
against the House of Mountjoy and all its people; but the King himself
had declared our quarrel just and affirmed our rights to the lands of
Mountjoy; and we gave little heed to the mouthings of one who had yet
his spurs to win and his name to make ’mongst fighting men. But now the
thought came over me of a sudden that I was but half a league from
Teramore Castle, mounted on a gentle palfrey and with no weapon save the
good sword at my side. If the threats of Lionel of Carleton were aught
but empty air, he would scarce let slip such an opportunity.

These thoughts were but too well founded. Carleton was gazing fiercely
at me as he came forward; and as his horse came opposite, pulled him up
with a wrench on the bridle rein so violent that the mettlesome steed
all but cast himself on his haunches.

“Ha! Well met, young Dickon of Mountjoy!” he snarled. “By my troth, my
good fairy must have guided my bridle to-day to give me this chance to
say my say to this young whelp of a race of dogs! Now shalt thou learn
what it is to have the Carleton for an enemy.”

Carleton was taller and longer-limbed than I. He wore a stout broadsword
and, stuck in his belt on the other side, a poniard of most wicked
design. He had the better of me in respect to four years and more of
practice of arms; and I knew full well that, were their quarrels right
or wrong, the Carletons were no weaklings. But already I smarted with
the affront given me by the poaching varlet; and now this insult to the
honorable name of Mountjoy was not to be borne. I threw his words back
in his teeth.

“Thou Wolf-pup from a race of thieves unhung!” I shouted. “Get thee down
from yon tall war-horse, and draw that sword if thou darest. Thou’lt
make good thy mighty words or verily thou shalt eat them here and now.”

So saying I swung to the ground and drew my weapon. Carleton lost no
time in doing likewise, and came at me with a fury which I had scarce
expected. I met his thrust with the parry which my father had well
taught me years agone; and had my enemy not sprung aside with the
quickness of a cat, my sword in return had pierced his neck.

“Ha!” growled Carleton between his gritting teeth, “so the Mountjoy
whelp hath already a trick or two of fence. ’Twill make the game the
more worth the playing. Hast stomach for cold steel? Look now!”

He danced about me, thrusting and slashing wickedly with his heavy
sword, and displayed not ill the training he had had in the halls of
Cumberland. But since the day I could raise a foil, it had been my
dearest plaything; and whenever my father had been at home, he had made
my teaching his special care. Since his return from Scotland there had
been scarce a day when we had not spent a brace of hours with the foils
or with broadswords and bucklers. Some men are born for sword-play, as
others, like Old Marvin, for the cross-bow; but Lionel of Carleton was
not of these. A minute had not passed, as we circled and danced about
one another, with our weapons striking fire in the shadow of the wood,
before I knew that Carleton, with all his added years and training, was
no more than a match for me, if indeed as much. He panted and cursed as
each trick of thrust was met by its proper parry, and slipped most
dangerously on the oak leaves underfoot as I stepped aside from his
bull-like rushes. Presently my sword nicked him fairly on the arm,
drawing a spurt of blood and a stream of oaths. He lunged wildly
forward. I parried his thrust and drove my sword straight at his breast
bone.

[Illustration: _THE FORCE OF MY BLOW DROVE HIM BACKWARD, BUT MY WEAPON
PIERCED HIM NOT_]

The force of my blow drove him backward, but my weapon pierced him not.
Then at once I realized that which made my blood turn cold. He was
wearing beneath his doublet a shirt of linked mail; and I, without
defense of any sort, was fighting an armored enemy.

“Ho!” I cried, “so thou gard’st thy coward heart with mail, lest
peradventure one might fight with thee on even terms.”

The wicked look he gave me in reply reminded me, even in that moment of
peril, of that on the face of the Gray Wolf of Carleton when he answered
my mother’s challenge as to his errand at the gates of Mountjoy. But he
spent no breath in reply, and fought on with fury, bent on pressing his
unknightly vantage to the utmost. Twice I narrowly escaped his blade;
then once mine grazed his neck, for that was now my mark; and again
blood spurted from the gash.

At this he lost all caution and rushed upon me as a bear upon his foe,
getting within my guard by some ill chance, and seizing me about the
neck and arms. Both our swords were dropped in the struggle; and we
wrestled and fought, not like knights and gentlemen, but like drunken
lackeys who have fallen out over their games of dice. Now, indeed, did
Carleton’s weight and strength befriend him. I strove for my life to
topple him beneath me, but all to no purpose. In an instant I was
whirled through the air, and came down with a crash on my back, with
Carleton’s knee firmly planted on my breast bone.

At once he drew his poniard and pressed the point against my throat.

“Now yield thee, Whelp of Mountjoy,” he panted, “quick, ere thou diest.”

“Thou hast won,” I answered, “but, fighting thus, ’twere more to thy
honor to have been overcome.”

“None of thy insolence,” he snarled, “yield thee now as my prisoner and
vassal, and say that thou’lt ever yield obedience to the Carleton as thy
liege lord.”

At this my gorge rose and the world turned black about me. “Never,” I
groaned, “better far to die than suffer such disgrace.”

“Die then,” he shouted, hideously, and drew back his poniard for the
thrust.

I closed my eyes, yet blood-red figures swam across my vision. In an
instant the steel would pierce my throat. Then of a sudden the grip of
my enemy relaxed, and his body rolled heavily from me.

I started up, and saw the Carleton lying face up on the oak leaves, his
forehead pierced by a cross-bolt. Running toward me through the
undergrowth was a figure in Lincoln green which my staring eyes soon
told me was the young forester who had defied me in the glen but half an
hour gone. His cross-bow was in his hand, and he panted for breath as he
approached and called:

“Art thou hurt, Master? Has he stabbed thee?”

“Not a whit,” I answered dazedly, examining my limbs and body the while,
“I have to thank thee then for my life. Thou camest in the nick of
time.”

“The Saints be thanked,” he answered joyfully. “The Carleton there has
what he well deserves. I heard the sword-play from the glen yonder, and
soon knew the voice of that black caitiff. I was coming softly through
the woods, wishing but to see close at hand a gallant passage at arms,
when he overthrew thee and would have foully murdered thee, his
prisoner. ’Twas well my bolt already lay in groove.”

“Son of Elbert,” I answered, offering him my right hand, “thou’rt a
ready man and a true, and willing I am to call thee friend. But what
other name hast thou?”

He took my hand in a mighty grip and smiled most winsomely. “Cedric,” he
replied, “a goodly Saxon name, borne by my grandfather before me.”

“Well then, Cedric, we must bethink us what shall be done in this
juncture. Yonder horse of the Carleton’s is ours by lawful spoil. Mount
therefore, and let us betake ourselves from here as soon as may be.” I
took up my sword and my cap from the oak leaves.

He turned toward the horse, and in so doing his glance carried far down
the pathway which there for a quarter mile was straight beneath the
oak-trees. Then he turned back to me with a cry of alarm.

“Mount and quickly. There be a half dozen of the Carleton men-at-arms.
An they catch us here by the body of their master, they will have our
blood. Come! For our lives!”

With one bound he vaulted to the saddle of the war horse. Scarcely
knowing what I did, I found myself on the mare’s back and spurring away
up the forest path. Cedric had no spurs, but he quickly urged his mount
to a gallop by blows of his heels; and we raced away at full speed. The
Carletonians raised a shout as they caught sight of us, and spurred
their horses in pursuit. Over our shoulders we saw them pause for a
moment by the body of Lionel; then resume the chase with a fury that
boded ill for us. I knew full well the fate in store should they
overtake us; and pressed the little mare for all the speed she had.
Cedric, on the tall war horse, quickly drew ahead, then, seeing me
losing ground, drew rein till I overtook him. Our pursuers were well
mounted, and were spurring and lashing their horses without mercy. The
thunder of hoofs along the forest road was like that at a tourney or a
great race-course.

If I had had but a better mount, we could soon have drawn away from
them, for the tall steed which Cedric bestrode was the best of the
Carleton stables, and our horses were more lightly burdened than those
of our pursuers. As it was, we had gone scarce half a mile when ’twas
plainly to be seen that my little mare was no match for the long-limbed
steeds of the Carletons. Yard by yard we lost ground; and now we could
hear the clashing of stirrups and scabbards as our enemies panted close
upon our trail.

[Illustration: _WE HAD GONE SCARCE HALF A MILE WHEN ’TWAS PLAINLY TO BE
SEEN THAT MY LITTLE MARE WAS NO MATCH FOR THE LONG-LIMBED STEEDS OF THE
CARLETONS_]

We were going up a slope where the path ran between groups of boulders
and great rocks. Suddenly Cedric drew rein and turned aside behind a
sheltering ledge. Clothilde was panting hard, and I gladly followed him,
though knowing naught of what he intended.

Throwing himself from the saddle, the forester quickly braced his
cross-bow and placed a bolt in groove. Resting the weapon on the corner
of the rock, he took quick aim, and let drive at the leading horseman.
Instantly the rider fell headlong to the ground, and his companions drew
rein in confusion. With a wondrous deftness, my companion loaded again
and let fly. This time one of the horses, struck in the breast by the
bolt, reared up and threw his rider.

Like a flash Cedric leaped again on his horse’s back, and signaling me
to follow rode straight away into the forest. The branches were so low
and the undergrowth so thick that it would seem that no rider could make
his way; but we were riding for our lives, and knew that the limbs would
hold back our enemies even more than ourselves. For five minutes we tore
wildly through the woods, half the time with our faces hidden in our
horses’ manes to save our eyes from being plucked out by the branches.
We could hear shouts and curses behind us; but these momently grew
fainter, and then could be heard no more.

Soon we came to the bank of a shallow brook. Into this, without stop or
parley, plunged Cedric, but instead of riding straight across as I had
thought, he turned his horse’s head up-stream and urged him at a trot
along its bed. For a quarter of a mile we rode thus, then coming to a
ford and a half-blind pathway, turned aside in the direction away from
Teramore, and again laying our heads on the necks of our mounts, sped
through the woods at a ringing gallop. When we had covered a mile in
this way, the path merged into a wider one; and I recognized a little
vale to which my father and I had once come a-hunting, and which was
scarce five miles from Mountjoy.

Here for a moment we paused, and Cedric threw himself down and placed
his ear to the ground. Then he rose with a glad smile and shook his
head.

“Dost hear nothing of hoof-beats?” I questioned.

“Not a stroke,” he answered. “I had bethought me of a cave hard by here
where we might be hidden if the hounds were close upon us. There, with
the cross-bow, we could have stood off a hundred if need be, but we must
have turned the horses loose, with the chance of their being taken.”

“Nay,” said I, “we’ve shaken them off full well. In half an hour or less
we can be crossing the drawbridge at Mountjoy. That noble steed thou
ridest is too fine a prize to be left to the Carleton wolves.”

Just then something whirred viciously through the air between us, and a
steel cross-bow bolt half buried itself in a tree-trunk close at hand.

Wheeling about toward the place whence came the arrow, I saw the steel
cap and the ugly face of a Carleton man-at-arms over the top of a rock a
hundred yards away which concealed and sheltered the rest of him.
Cedric, with a twist of the bridle rein and some vicious blows with his
heels, urged his horse behind the tree which had received the bolt; and
I mayhap would have shown more wisdom had I done likewise. But I saw but
the single enemy before me; and for the instant his arrow groove was
empty. Cedric had already taken toll of two of our enemies, while I, the
heir of our house whose quarrel he had espoused, had done naught but fly
before their pursuit. With a yell, “A Mountjoy, A Mountjoy,” which is
the battle cry of our people, I set spurs to my horse, and, sword in
hand, charged straight toward the rock.

The Carleton man was striving sore to draw his bow and place another
bolt; and had he been but half so deft with that goodly weapon as Cedric
had twice shown himself that day, he might have stopped me in full
career with an arrow in the breast or face. But he fumbled sadly with
the string, and ere he could reach another bolt from his pouch I was
almost upon him. In this strait he dropped the bow and, standing erect,
whisked a broadsword from his belt. The scoundrel was tall and long of
arm; and now I saw that he wore a quilted and steel-braced jacket which
none but the heaviest blow might pierce. I had already repented me of my
folly in rushing, for the second time that day, into combat so unequal,
and was bethinking me what trick of fence might serve my turn with this
brawny and ill-visaged swordsman, when once again the skilled and ready
hand of my friend of the Lincoln green saved me from dire peril. Even as
our blades clashed, and I felt in his sword-play the firm, sure wrist of
my enemy, a bolt whizzed past me and pierced his neck, just where the
quilted jacket lay open at the throat. Without a cry, he fell forward on
his face.

I looked wildly about, in effort to espy more of the men-at-arms, if so
be they were awaiting us in ambush. But I could see no one; and no more
arrows came from hidden foes. The woods were as quiet and serene, and
the westering sun sent its beams as sweetly into the bonny glade as
though men had never killed one another for gain or vengeance. Cedric,
on the Carleton war-horse, came forward at a canter, with his bow made
ready for another shot if need were.

“Are there more of the hounds?” he called, “if so be, we must take
shelter.”

“I see none,” I answered, “though yonder, midst the little birches, is
the horse which this one rode. Mayhap his comrades have ridden by other
roads to cut us off.”

“’Tis truth,” said Cedric, “yon Jackboots, that lieth now so still, did
come about by Wareham Road at breakneck pace while we made but slow
riding through the tangle. ’Twas well he had not the skill of a yeoman
with the cross-bow, else one or both of us would ne’er again have seen
Mountjoy. But come! Can thy little mare hold full stride through the
glen and over yonder hill? An if she can, we may soon be where no
Carletons will dare pursue.”

For answer I set spurs to the mare’s sides and led the way down the path
to the brook at the bottom of the valley. In a cloud of spray we forded
the stream, then drove on without mercy up the long slope of Rowan Hill.
Soon we were in sight of the towers of Mountjoy, and while the sun had
yet an hour’s height, went safely o’er the drawbridge.



CHAPTER IV—THE CHAMPION OF MOUNTJOY


As Cedric of Pelham Wood rode with me into the courtyard, we met my
father, the Lord of Mountjoy, coming from the stables. His favorite
steed, a fine black stallion, Cæsar by name, did suffer from a sprain he
had come by at the tournament at Winchester; and my father was much in
fear would never again be fit to bear him in the lists or to the wars.
We came forward but slowly; and Lord Mountjoy had ample time to note the
mud-stained and foam-flecked sides of our mounts, the rents in my
garments and the bloody scratches which the forest boughs had made on
our faces. Truly, I fear I made but a sorry picture; and ’tis little
wonder that a frown was on my father’s brow and a roughness in his voice
as he called to me:

“How now, Sir Dickon! Hast thou ridden thy little mare through the
Devil’s Brake and foundered her once for all? And who is this fellow in
rags and shreds of Lincoln green that rides at thy side like a comrade?
Methinks ’twere better if he kept his place, an ell or two behind.”

Cedric’s face grew red with wrath at these words; but I hastened to
answer before he could make utterance.

“Hold, Father. This is Cedric, a forester of Pelham Wood, and our good
and true friend. Twice or thrice this day hath he with his good
cross-bow (of which he hath a skill like that of Old Marvin himself)
saved me from death at the hands of the Carletons.”

“By my faith! Say’st thou so, my boy?” exclaimed Father, with a wondrous
change of countenance. Then, turning to Cedric,

“Any who fights the Carleton wolves is a friend to all true Mountjoys.
Come my lad, thy hand! And thy pardon if I did speak a thought rough,
not knowing thy deserts. Wert thou sore beset? And did thy bolts make
good men and quiet of some of those restless knaves?”

“Some of them, my lord, will ne’er again rob an honest farmer of his
stores or burn a woodman’s cottage,” said Cedric with a smile.

“By’r Lady! Thou’rt a man, and shall be a Mountjoy, if guerdon can keep
thee,” cried my father. “But hold! Give thy mounts to the grooms, and
come to the hall. ’Tis ill talking with an empty stomach and a dry
throttle. And I’ll warrant you’re famished, both. There’s a hot pasty
and somewhat else to be found, I’ll be bound. You shall tell me of this
day’s work by the board and the fire.”

In the hall we were greeted by my lady mother, who had heard somewhat of
that which passed in the courtyard. Cedric doffed his cap when I
presented him to her ladyship, and bowed with a grace I looked not for.
And she did ask most eagerly if aught of harm had come to either of us.
Being assured that we were yet whole of skin save for the woodland
boughs, she brought with her own hands a bench before the fire, and bade
Cedric sit as she might have bidden any knight or courtier who visited
the hall of Mountjoy. Then she hurried out and bade the maids bring meat
and drink of the best for our refreshment.

My father and mother sat down by either side of us as we ate; and when
our hunger had been something dulled, and the maid had been despatched
for a jar of the Mountjoy honey which my mother so closely guards
against the coming of noble guests, I began the tale of the fortunes of
the day.

“Thou knowest, Father, that young Lionel of Carleton hath often sworn to
have the lives of you and me for the check the Carletons had in their
foray on Mountjoy in the spring and for the bolt which came from
Marvin’s bow which laid low his father, the Old Wolf of Carleton.”

“Full well I know it,” growled my father, “an if he were aught but a
beardless youth, I would long ago have challenged him to the combat.
When he hath won his spurs, if he be still of the same mind, I’ll meet
him with whatever weapons he chooses, and trust to put an end to his
mouthings.”

“That thou’lt never do, Father,” I cried, “for Cedric here hath come
before thee. This day, but half a league from Teramore, young Lionel did
meet me as I went my way alone through the forest; and did curse and
revile me and all my house, saying that we of Mountjoy were a race of
dogs. This being more than e’en a Mountjoy could bear, I did challenge
him to mortal fight, and we did meet with swords, on foot there in the
path. I quickly found that he wore, beneath his garment, a coat of
linked mail which shielded him from all my thrusts. All his strokes I
made shift to parry, and at last, when he found he could not reach me
with his sword, he rushed within my guard, seized me with a wrestling
hold and flung me on my back. Then, kneeling on my chest, he placed a
poniard at my throat and sought to make me swear allegiance to the
Carleton, acknowledging him as lord and suzerain. This I would never do;
and truly I thought my last hour had come, for he had drawn back his
dagger for the thrust, when this brave youth, coming through the woods
with cross-bow drawn, did see the Carleton’s murderous aim, and let fly
a bolt which struck him through the forehead.”

While I spoke my mother had grown pale as death and my father red, with
blazing eyes and angry clinching hands. When I paused my mother cried:

“Oh, Dickon! And had’st thou no wound at all?”

“Not a nick,” I answered, “though ’twas close enough, in faith. But we
had more to do in no time at all, for no sooner had the Carleton
breathed his last than there came a-riding towards us six stout
men-at-arms of the Carleton livery. We took horse and rode for our
lives, Cedric here on the Carleton’s great war-horse. But my little
Clothilde being no match for their long-limbed steeds, we should have
been overhauled and slain had not Cedric twice turned on them with his
cross-bow, each time landing a bolt that sent one of the robber hounds
to earth. With that, and with hard riding through the woods where no
paths were, we at last got safe away.”

“Ah!” cried my father, joyfully, rising and offering his hand again to
Cedric, “’twas sweetly done, i’faith. Three of the Carleton hounds in
one brief day! Whose son art thou, my friend? And where did’st thou
learn such deadly handling of thy weapon?”

“Elbert’s son am I,” answered Cedric, steadily, “he is forester to my
lord of Pelham; and last year did carry away the prize for archery at
the Shrewsbury tourney. Since I could carry bow, I have shot as he did
teach me.”

“What years hast thou?”

“Sixteen, come Candlemas.”

“The very age of Dickon here,” cried my mother. “Cedric, lad, does thy
mother live?”

“Nay, my lady,” quoth he, sadly, “two years agone we buried her.”

[Illustration: _WHILE I SPOKE MY MOTHER HAD GROWN PALE AS DEATH_]

“Then thou shalt come to live at Mountjoy,” she went on with bonny,
flushing cheeks and bright and eager eyes. “Hast thou learned thy
letters? Canst thou read prayer book or ballad?”

“Nay, my lady,” he said again, with a blush. “We of the forest know
little of letters.”

“Then I will teach thee. Thou’rt a mannered lad and well spoken for one
who knows not court or town. Thou shalt be a clerk an thou wishest.”

“No clerk shall he be,” I cried. “Saving thy pardon, good Mother, he
shall be my squire-at-arms. A man that fights as he shall be no
shaven-pate. He shall teach me his craft with the bow, and of him I will
make a bonny swordsman. What say’st thou, Father? Have I not the right
of it?”

My father did smile somewhat to see me so hot and eager in my plans. And
truly, I bethought me then that this lad whom I was choosing for my
comrade-in-arms was one whom but three hours gone I had never seen, and
that now I knew naught of him save that he fought well and truly and
with a wondrous skill of his weapon. Yet, looking at his clear, blue
eyes and his way of holding up his head as a freeman of England, I
repented me not of my words.

Cedric was gazing at Lord Mountjoy, and quietly awaiting his word, while
my lady mother glanced quickly from one to another of us. When my father
began to speak it was slowly and soberly enough.

“Not quite so fast, Sir Dickon. There’s many a thought to be taken yet
anent thy knightly training. But now it comes to me that Cedric here
e’en must remain at Mountjoy for some months at least, if he would guard
his life and limb. After this day’s work, should any of the Carleton men
come upon him at a vantage, his shrift would be short and no prayers
said.”

So was it settled that Cedric should remain with us of Mountjoy. The
next day a messenger was despatched to Elbert, the forester, with the
news of his son’s brave deeds and his present safety. I lost no time in
beginning his training for sword-play; and he showed himself the best of
learners. Within a week, moreover, he had shown to me some tricks of the
cross-bow of which I had never heard, and fairly ’mazed our men with the
marks he struck at a hundred paces distance. Already we planned a match
’twixt Cedric and Old Marvin which should be a fête-day for all the
friends of Mountjoy.

Then came a messenger from Shrewsbury, where for the time the King made
his seat, bearing a scroll addressed to my father and sealed with the
sign royal. Father read it slowly to himself as he stood with his back
to the fire in the hall and the King’s messenger was quaffing a cup of
wine in the courtyard. My mother and I waited eagerly to hear its
contents. Cedric sat in a farther corner, saying over to himself the
names of the great letters which my mother had made for him on a sheet
of parchment.

’Twas plain to see that the message was not to my father’s liking, for
he scowled fearsomely as he conned the words. Suddenly he began reading
it in a loud and wrathful voice; and Cedric dropped his parchment to
listen.

    “To Robert, Lord of Mountjoy and Knight of the Holy Sepulcher,
    from Henry, King of England, Duke of Normandy and Lord of Anjou,
    Acquitaine, and Gascony, _Greeting_.

    “Know thou that there hath appeared before our Court at
    Shrewsbury, Elizabeth, Lady of Carleton and Teramore, and relict
    of Geoffrey, Lord of Carleton, deceased, who hath, on oath, made
    complaint against thee, thy minor son, Richard and a certain
    yeoman of Pelham Forest, Cedric, son of Elbert, and now harbored
    by thee at Mountjoy, as follows:

    “That, on Saturday, of October the twenty-second day, thy son
    Richard did ride in the forests of Teramore without lawful right
    and leave from the holders thereof; that Lionel of Carleton, son
    of Geoffrey and Elizabeth of Carleton aforesaid, did meet with
    him and order him to leave those lands and return not; that thy
    son Richard did then and there attack Lionel of Carleton; and
    while they did fight, the yeoman, Cedric, being a servitor and
    confederate of Richard of Mountjoy did most foully slay Lionel
    of Carleton by a mortal weapon, to wit, a cross-bow bolt
    discharged from a point of hiding; that the servitors of
    Carleton did pursue and endeavor to arrest Richard of Mountjoy
    and the yeoman, Cedric, the which they did resist with force and
    arms, and that the aforesaid Cedric did again from hiding strike
    down and kill two of the Carleton retainers, so that he and thy
    son, Richard, did make their way to the Castle of Mountjoy where
    thou hast since harbored and protected them.

    “Now therefore, know that it is my will that thou repair to our
    Court at Shrewsbury, bringing with thee thy son Richard and the
    yeoman, Cedric, and with not more than ten of thy retainers or
    men-at-arms, that fair trial of this cause may be had before our
    presence, on Thursday, of November the second day, at ten of the
    clock.

    “And be thou here solemnly charged and commanded to desist from
    all violence and quarrel against the family of Elizabeth of
    Carleton or any of her servants and retainers, and to cause all
    thy family, thy servants and retainers to likewise refrain.

    “Given under our hand and seal, this thirty-first day of
    October.

        “_Henry_ (Rex).”

When the reading was finished we were silent for a space, my father
pacing back and forth with roughened brow, and Mother gazing anxiously
upon him. At last he turned and said:

“We must to Shrewsbury. ’Tis the King’s command; and the Mountjoys have
ever been loyal vassals, as none know better than the King himself. What
say’st thou, Richard? Canst thou tell in open court the tale of that
day’s work even as we heard it here?”

“That I can, Father,” I replied, “’tis the truth, and I care not who
hears it.”

“And thou, Cedric,” he said, turning to face the forester who had now
advanced to my side, “darest thou to face thy enemies and ours thus?
Remember, ’twill go hard with thee if we fail to bring the King to see
the truth o’t. He might order thy hanging easily as the whipping of a
thief. Shall not I rather mount thee on the good horse thou didst win
from the Carleton, with thy cross-bow on thy back and a bag of gold
pieces beneath thy coat, and send thee to my cousin of Yorkshire, there
to bide till this ill wind hath overblown?”

“My lord,” answered Cedric, proudly, “that were to save myself at thy
cost. The King hath commanded thee to bring me before his court; and if
thou fail, he will visit his wrath upon thee. I will not fly. Rather
will I ride the good steed thou speakest of to Shrewsbury in thy good
company.”

“Well said and bravely,” said my father, with a note in his speaking
which I had heard but once, and that when an old comrade-in-arms, whom
he had thought dead in the Holy Land, came in illness and want to our
castle door. Now he gazed for a moment full keenly at the face of
Cedric, then turned and hurried to the courtyard to give orders for the
morrow’s journey.

The King’s Court was held in the great hall at Shrewsbury, with such a
brave array of lords and knights and men-at-arms, not to speak of clerks
and counsellors with their mighty gowns and wigs, as was but seldom seen
in our Western country. As I gazed at the King in his robes of state,
seated on the dais in the midst, and noted his cold, gray eye and the
hard lines about his mouth, my heart did somewhat misgive me, for all my
repeating over and over to myself that none could gainsay the justice of
our quarrel.

A word overheard as we entered the hall had set me thinking deeply; and
though I feared not for myself, I began to wish that Cedric who now sat
so uprightly by my side had thought fit to take the hint my father gave
when first the summons reached us. ’Twas said that the King, in his
youth, more than thirty years agone, had known Elizabeth of Winchester,
before she was the bride of the Lord of Carleton, that she had then been
one of the fairest and proudest maidens in the kingdom, and Prince Henry
had felt for her more than a passing fancy. However this had been, and
whatever its bearing on the day’s fortunes, it was now too late to do
aught but await the event. The herald was announcing the cause against
Richard of Mountjoy and Cedric, son of Elbert.

Two of the Carleton men-at-arms were sworn as witnesses, and told the
tale of the killing of Lionel much as it had been set forth in the
complaint of Elizabeth, their mistress. They declared that when they
first came in sight of us, the Carleton and I were fighting with swords
and hand to hand, and that I, seeming to have the worse of the fray, did
shrilly call to some one hidden in the tangle behind, whereat a
cross-bow bolt came from this ambush and slew their master. From that
time on, their tales of the day’s doings kept near the line of truth;
and they did assert full stoutly their honesty in all this business when
the King questioned them, making, ’twas plain to see, no little impress
on his mind. Indeed, ’twas possible they believed the tale themselves,
it being to them most likely from the things that they had seen.

Then was I called upon for my account; and I did set forth all the
doings of that day from the time the Carleton met me in the path,
forgetting not the foul insults with which Lionel began our quarrel nor
the hidden coat of mail with which he thought to shield him. Cedric,
with head held high and wide blue eyes gazing straight at the King, next
told the tale; and his telling was closely like to mine.

When we both had done, the King sat with his eyes on the ground before
him; and the hall was very still till Elizabeth of Carleton, tall,
white-haired and queenly, in silken robes of black, rose in her place,
and, stretching forth her hands, addressed the King:

“Henry of Anjou,” she cried, “Elizabeth of Winchester, in her old age
and sorrow, calls to you for vengeance for her murdered son.”

More she would have spoken, but bitter tears streamed down her face, and
her voice was choked with sobs.

The King gazed steadily at the weeping lady, and made as though to speak
when my father started from his seat and shouted:

“There was no murder done, my Lord. The Carleton brought his death upon
himself.”

The King turned upon him a stern and heavy look.

“Mountjoy,” he said, “wast thou there in the forest when Carleton was
slain?”

“Nay, my lord.”

“Then knowest thou aught save what thy son tells thee of this fray with
thy enemies?”

“Nay, my lord; but ’tis enough. The Mountjoys fight their enemies and do
not lie about them.”

With a wave of his hand the King bade my father be seated. Then he sat
motionless and thoughtful for long, while none ventured to disturb him.
His brow was drawn as with pain and he rested his head on his hand, the
while we of Mountjoy, our enemies of Carleton all the members of that
brilliant company awaited his verdict.

At last he slowly lifted his head and began to speak:

“I find the prisoners guilty of the charge that lies against them. To
Richard, son of Robert, Lord of Mountjoy, I extend my clemency in view
of the loyal and valiant service rendered by his father to our house,
commanding only that he desist from bearing arms till he receive our
permission.

“As for yonder varlet, called Cedric, he shall hang, to-morrow at dawn;
and his body shall swing from Shrewsbury gate as an example to like
evil-doers.”

Some of the clerks and constables strove to raise the shout—“Long live
the King”; but all became utterly silent when my father sprang from his
bench, and with a face of fury addressed his sovereign:

“Not so, my lord! Not so! By the Holy Sepulcher, it shall not be.”

The King sprang to his feet, and his right hand went to his sword hilt.

“Mountjoy,” he shouted, “thou forget’st thyself. Beware lest thou bring
down on thy head a wrath more terrible than that of any Carleton.”

“By Heaven, my lord!” returned the Lord of Mountjoy in tones that
matched the King’s, “that brave youth shall never hang for having done a
deed that should bring him praise instead. I stand on my rights as a
freeman of England, and demand the _trial by battle_. There lies my
glove.”

Tearing from his hand his leathern gauntlet, he dashed it on the floor
at the feet of the King.

All the assembled knights and soldiers drew a deep breath, as one man.
There was a low murmur of applause, for the Mountjoys have many friends.
The King’s hand left his sword, and his face relaxed.

“Thou hast the right, Mountjoy,” he said. Then, turning to the Carleton
benches, went on: “Is there any among you who will take up this
challenge?”

At this there started forth from a group of knights who had been
standing a little behind the Lady of Carleton, a man of middle age,
short of stature and of wide-mouthed, ill-favored face, but broad of
shoulder and with arms so long that his hands reached nearly to his
knees like those of a great ape I had seen in the train of the Cardinal.

“I, Philip, Knight of Latiere in Gascony, am cousin of Elizabeth, Lady
of Carleton,” he shouted. “I take up this glove as her protector and
champion.”

Then, seizing the glove, he tossed it high in air; and while it soared
aloft, drew a long and slender blade from its scabbard, and as the glove
fell, pierced it with a flashing thrust so that he held it high where
all might see it impaled on the point of his sword.

“So let it be,” said the King. “This cause shall be tried by wager of
battle, here and now. Sir Philip De Latiere, the conditions are at your
will, so they be fair and equal.”

“Let him take a sword like unto this,” said De Latiere, carelessly, “and
if he chooses one a handsbreadth longer, I care not. Then let him lay
aside all other weapons, as I do; and I trust, with the favor of Heaven,
to be the means of affirming the righteousness of thy judgment.”

With this speech, he made a low bow to the King and another to the
assembled knights, and, loosening his sword-belt, handed it with his
scabbard and his outer cloak to a squire.

Then I found voice for a thought that had been boiling within me.

“’Twere well, my lord,” I said to the King, “to have this champion
searched for hidden armor. I have grievous knowledge that the Carletons
scruple not to gain that vantage.”

Some of the friends of Mountjoy raised a shout:

“Ay! Well spoken! Let him be searched.”

The King quelled the tumult with a royal gesture.

“Sir Hugh of Leicester,” he said to an aged knight of his train, “make
search of both these champions, and tell us whether they wear other arms
or armor than the terms permit.”

In the meantime my father had thrown aside his cloak and belt; and his
sword being far heavier than De Latiere’s, had received the loan of a
lighter weapon from one of the King’s attendants. Sir Hugh approached
and lightly struck the shoulders and breast and waist of both the
combatants, and announced to the King that neither carried other weapons
of offense or defense than the swords in their hands.

Thereupon a space some twelve paces across was cleared in the center of
the hall, and Sir Philip and Lord Mountjoy stood facing one another,
awaiting the word.

On a signal from the King, the herald shouted, and instantly the blades
struck fire, and the champions whirled about one another in mortal
combat. The Frenchman danced and dodged with a quickness that minded me,
even then, of the beast he so resembled. My father had much ado to
continue facing him; and soon ’twas plain to see that the Carleton
champion was such a master of fence as would find few to equal him in
all England. His blade so flashed in thrust and parry that the eye could
not follow its motions; and my father, of whom always I had thought as
the finest of swordsmen, soon had all he could do, and more, in
defending his breast from the assault, and had no instant’s leisure to
threaten his enemy.

Half a minute had not passed ere the Frenchman’s slashing blade drew
blood from the Mountjoy’s arm, then from his shoulder; and for one black
instant methought the blow was mortal. But for minute after minute, my
father fought on, with lips tight closed and eyes that ever followed the
hand of his enemy. Then I wondered if De Latiere, with all his leaps and
runs, would not tire himself at the last, and slowing in his thrusts,
give my father’s slower spent strength its chance for victory. But again
I saw how fast the Mountjoy bled from the two wounds he already had; and
this hope flitted.

Then truly, in bitterness of spirit, did I perceive how false and cruel
is our vaunted trial by wager of battle. Here was my father, a good man
and true, fighting to defend the life of an innocent youth; and this
dancing Frenchman, to whom the sword was as the wand of a juggler, would
soon kill him before our eyes. That Cedric, the forester, was guiltless
of the treacherous deed with which he stood charged altered not a whit
the devilish skill of the champion who fought to see him hang. And if De
Latiere overcame my father at the last, and left him dead at the feet of
the King, the tale that I had told would be no whit less true for such
an outcome. Verily at that moment my eyes were opened, and thoughts came
to me that shall remain while yet I live.

Now the end fast approached. Blood streamed from my father’s wounds, and
he breathed fast and thickly. He scarce moved from his tracks save ever
to turn and face his ape-like enemy, whose blade flashed as swiftly as
ever, and in whose eyes gleamed a look of deadly purpose.

My eyes could never follow the stroke which brought to a close this
desperate, unequal combat. What I saw was that the Frenchman’s blade had
pierced my father’s breast. Then—all the Saints be thanked!—one last
fierce blow from the Champion of Mountjoy.

This instant was the first since the duel began when De Latiere’s
matchless guarding had not fenced his body from my father’s thrust. As
quick as the light’s rebound when it strikes the surface of still water
was the Mountjoy’s return of the stroke he had received. The next moment
both the champions lay on the floor; and King and knights and lords
rushed forward to their succor.

De Latiere was thrust clean through the body; and he never moved nor
spoke. But my father’s wound, though grievous, it now appeared was far
from mortal, his enemy’s blade not having deeply pierced him. Now he
raised himself on his arm and claimed the victory for Mountjoy and the
right.

                                  ————

Ten days thereafter, we bore home the Champion of Mountjoy in a
sumptuous litter, which had been the gift of the King himself. Near the
gentle palfrey which bore its van, I rode on my faithful little mare,
for now we had no fear of lurking enemies. By the open side of the
litter, and oft in gay and heartening speech with him who lay on the
silken pillows within, rode Cedric of Pelham Wood, on the captured
war-horse of Carleton and wearing, full well and bravely, a new-made
suit of the Mountjoy purple and gold.



CHAPTER V—THE FESTIVAL OF THE ARCHERS


Young Cedric, the forester, who was now my constant companion, was
walking with me on the path that led by the Millfield. There, since the
raising of the siege of Castle Mountjoy, Old Marvin, the archer, and his
gray-haired dame had had their cottage and half dozen acres of mowing
and tillage. ’Twas on a fair December morning, when yet no snow had
come. The hoar frost still covered all the western slopes, and the
wood-smoke that came down from a clearing in the forest above did
sweeten the air more to my liking than all the scents and powders that
the traders bring from Araby.

We had had an hour at the foils, wherein I was master, and another with
the cross-bow. And at this good sport Cedric did show such skill that
once more I spoke my wonder at the magic of it. He had no more than my
own sixteen years; and when ’mongst men and soldiers, he but seldom
lifted his voice; but his handling of this weapon would honor any man of
middle life who had spent more years with the bow in his hands than
Cedric could count, all told.

“Cedric,” I cried, “methinks Old Marvin himself could not best thee; and
for thirty years he of all the Mountjoy archers hath borne the palm.”

Cedric smiled, but shook his head.

“Mayhap Old Marvin knoweth a many things anent the placing of his bolt
that have not yet come to me. My father, Elbert of Pelham Wood, who
taught me what I know, hath often told me that with the long-bow one man
and one only in all of England could best him,—and that one no other
than Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest; but with the cross-bow, Marvin of
Mountjoy could ever lesson him. And did not thou tell me that ’twas Old
Marvin who laid low the Gray Wolf of Carleton, at the siege? ’Tis one
thing to strike a fair bull’s-eye on target, in broad daylight and quiet
air, and another far to strike the throat of one’s enemy in battle and
by torchlight.”

“Aye, and ’twas thou, Cedric, who struck down young Lionel of Carleton
and two of his robber hounds of men-at-arms, in our fray in the woods
but six weeks gone. Thy bolts did not then fly by guess or by luck, I
trow.”

Cedric smiled again, but had no words for this; and I went quickly on:

“I tell thee that when thou’rt my squire indeed, and I a knight in
truth, and not by courtesy only, I’ll have thee ever ride beside me with
thy bow upon thy back, though thou shalt wear garments of velvet instead
of Lincoln green and a good broadsword shall swing by thy side. Then can
we strike down any caitiff from afar, if need be. And many a night when
we make bivouac in the forest or on the moorlands we shall sup right
royally on the hares or moorfowl which thy skill will provide, and snap
our fingers at the inns and all the houses of the towns.”

“’Tis a fair thought,” sighed Cedric. “An oak-leaf bed in a glade, by a
goodly stream, is ever more to my liking than any made in a dwelling,
save in the wet or bitter weather. But, for Old Marvin now—Methinks
’twould please me well to shoot against him at archer match. Were I
bested by such as he, ’twould be no honor lost.”

“By my faith!” I shouted, “such a match we will have. ’Twill be a fair
sight indeed to see two archers such as thou and Marvin at the marks.
We’ll have a festival for all the friends of Mountjoy, noble and simple,
and roast an ox for their regalement. Since the Shrewsbury court and the
battle trial that freed thee and me from all charges of foul play in the
matter of Lionel of Carleton, and now that my father is nearly well of
his wounds, the Mountjoys have reason enough to rejoice. We’ll have a
day to be remembered.”

Just then Old Marvin, who did chop for firewood a fallen yew in the
field near by, caught sight of us, and, dropping his ax, came forward to
greet us.

“A fine morning for the woods, Sir Dickon,” he said, doffing his
headgear to me and nodding to Cedric. “Could not one get the leeward of
a buck on such a day?”

“Aye,” I answered, full the while of my new thought, “and if either thou
or Cedric here did come within a hundred paces, we should eat on the
morrow of a fair pasty of venison. But what say’st thou, Marvin to an
archer match with Cedric? Thou knowest he is newly in our service, but
that he hath an eye for the homing of his bolt. Of all the Mountjoy men
he alone is worthy to shoot against thee.”

“Aye,” cried Marvin, eagerly. “I have heard much of his skill. ’Tis said
that for such a youth he shoots most wondrous well. For twenty years no
Mountjoy hath striven with me at tourney; and a fair day at the marks
would like me well. Will there be a prize, think’st thou?”

“Aye, that there will be,” I returned full gaily, for now methought the
day promised such sport as we had not had for years; and I was fair
lifted up with the picture of it that filled my mind. “I’ll make my
father give to him who wins the day the best milch cow in all the
Mountjoy barns. How likest thou that, Marvin? Could’st thou use such a
beast on thy little farm?”

“Marry! Well could I,” answered Marvin, his eyes shining as brightly as
a youth’s. “My dame did tell me yesterday ’tis what we most do lack.”

“And I,” put in Cedric, “should any wondrous luck or chance bring the
prize to me, could give her to my father. He hath a little meadow by his
cottage in Pelham Wood where a cow could find sweet pasture, and, in the
cot, three little ones who’d thrive on the milk. Marvin, be sure I’ll
take the prize from thee if ever I can.”

“An thou winnest it, thou’lt shoot well, Cedric lad,” answered Old
Marvin with a grin. “’Tis now full many years since I found any man to
best me.”

But now I caught sight of my father, Lord Mountjoy, astride the palfrey
he rode in those days of recovering from the hurts he had at Shrewsbury,
and riding toward the clearing on the hill where the woodmen piled the
logs for our fireplace burning. I waved and beckoned to him till he
paused and turned his horse’s head toward us. In a moment we three stood
about him and told of our plans for the archery match. Most of the words
were mine, but Cedric and Old Marvin himself were not a whit less eager.
Soon I had drawn from Lord Mountjoy the promise that we should have our
will, and that the archer festival should be held in the Mountjoy lands
in three days’ time.

But, hot and eager as I was, I noted even then a backwardness in my
father’s answers that puzzled me. ’Twas not like him to care for the
gift of a cow or a colt to any of his faithful retainers; and I knew he
loved a fair match at the targets as well as any. After we had said
“good day” to Marvin, and as Cedric and I walked down the road toward
the wood on either side of his horse, Father gave utterance to his
worrying thought.

“Dickon, ’tis but natural at thy years to be eager and headlong in thy
thinking; but has the thought not come to thee at all that this match
that thou dost plan so joyously may end in sorrow to thy old instructor
in arms?”

“How so?” I questioned,—but even in the saying, I saw a glimmer of his
meaning.

“For thirty years and more Old Marvin hath been leading archer of
Mountjoy. He nears three score and ten; and may the saints bespeak him
many years of peace after all the toils and perils he hath undergone for
our house. Mayhap his eye is as clear and his hand as true as ever; but
I have seen somewhat of the shooting of Cedric here; and it may be that
he’ll best Old Marvin at the thing which is his dearest pride. Should
that happen, canst thou warrant Marvin will not carry home a bitter
heart from thy festival?”

“Oh, Father! Surely thou dost jest. Marvin is no child to grieve at
being beaten in fair play, should that chance befall him. I warrant
we’ll see never a sign of it.”

“’Tis true enough,” said my father slowly, “we’ll never see a sign of
it; but the bitterness may be there ne’ertheless. But I bethink me
now,—get John o’ the Wallfield or some other Mountjoy archer to make a
third. Then Marvin can be but second at worst, and ’twill make a fairer
show for all these friends we are to bid come to our fête. John is ever
a hopeful youth, and will shoot as though his life depended on it.”

Saying thus, he set spurs to his horse, and, with a nod and smile at
Cedric, rode away up the forest path.

That afternoon messengers went out from the castle, to bid to the
festival the tenantry and all the friends of Mountjoy for ten miles
’round; and an ox was slain for the roasting.

Three days later, on another perfect morn without cloud or breath of
wind, there assembled in Yew Hedge Meadow, a furlong from the Mountjoy
gate, a concourse which might have graced a tournament. The Pelhams were
there and the Leicesters and even a half dozen of the Montmorencys, my
mother’s kin from Coventry. The yeomanry of the Mountjoy lands had come,
e’en to the last man and maid and child, and nigh two hundred of the
neighbor folk from Pelham Manor, Leicester and Mannerley. The gentry
were gathered on some rows of benches, covered with gay-colored robes,
which had been placed on a little hillock at the left; and the commoners
stood or walked about on the good brown sward, having many a gay crack
and jest between them, and enjoying, methought, a better view of the
archery than their betters on the higher ground.

Many of the Mountjoy men had brought their cross-bows; and were now
taking random shots at the white-centered target, a hundred paces down
the meadow. Others had long-bows and the cloth-yard shafts that the
forester loves. When Cedric’s father, Elbert of Pelham Wood, came on the
ground with his long-bow in his hand a cry went up for a match with that
noble weapon to come before the prize shooting of the cross-bow men.

My father came and full warmly greeted the Pelham forester, and gave his
word for the long-bow trials. Two of our Mountjoy lads shot each five
shafts at the three-inch bull’s-eye; and of these Rob of the Rowan
Grange was in high delight at thrice fairly striking it. Then Elbert,
with a merry grin that showed his toothless jaws, did come to the mark
and sent five arrows toward the target, suffering none to touch them
till the last was sped. When he had finished there was a shout from all
the people, with Rob o’ the Rowan’s voice among the loudest, for every
arrow point had pierced the white.

Now came Marvin, bonnet in hand, before Lord Mountjoy; and began to
speak with a quickness and a shortness of breath that I had ne’er before
noted.

“My lord, methinks ’twould better the match for those that come to see
our archery if we had, besides yonder target, a moving mark. What
think’st thou of the rolling ball such as I used a score of years agone,
and with which thyself did have much good sport?”

“Marry! Well bethought, good Marvin!” cried Father. “Have the lads bring
planks from the courtyard and set up the trough as thou bid’st them. We
have bowling balls enough. Truly, ’twill make the match a gayer sight.
There are many here that never have seen thy skill so displayed.”

[Illustration: _THEN ELBERT DID COME TO THE MARK AND, WITH A MERRY GRIN,
SENT FIVE ARROWS TOWARD THE TARGET_]

Marvin turned away full eagerly to give orders for the making of the
slanting trough of planks down which the bowling ball should roll; and
as I saw the light in his eyes my heart did warm toward our faithful and
stout-hearted old follower that he should devise this play to save his
archer fame. For plain it was to me that my father had been well pleased
at this thought of Marvin’s, believing that in this game which was his
very own, and practiced by none beyond the lands of Mountjoy, he would
display such mastery as would far outweigh any vantage that young Cedric
might gain at the bull’s-eye shooting.

Many hands made light work of the making ready. Soon a trough of planks
went up to one side of the arrow course, and eighty yards from the mark
at which the archers stood. One end was raised four yards from the earth
on a scaffolding on which a lad might climb to place the bowling balls
in groove. When, at the word, he rolled one from him, it dashed down the
slope and rolled and bounded o’er the sod for thirty paces, full like a
hare started from his covert by the hunters. To strike this ball in full
career with cross-bow bolt was no child’s play. To this could I well
swear, for never yet had I succeeded in doing so, when, two years agone,
Old Marvin had sought to teach me. As I recalled my many bootless
trials, I laughed to think of Cedric and the game Old Marvin now had
played on him.

Now came the cross-bow men to the mark for the target shooting. Old
Marvin began, and in high confidence. But verily, Fortune frowned on
him, for the wind that had been but a breath before, sprung up just as
he laid finger to trigger; and his first two bolts missed the white by
half an inch. Then came three well within the circle; but the old
archer’s face bore a piteous frown as he made way for Cedric, for he had
thought to equal the long-bow shooting of his old gossip of Pelham Wood.

Cedric quickly sent three bolts to the bull’s-eye. Then his hand seemed
to tremble; and methought he suffered from the eyes of such a crowd of
witnesses. His fourth bolt struck just outside the black, and the fifth
went two inches wide.

“What ails thee, lad?” questioned his father, full sharply. “Marvin had
the wind to fight; but the air was quiet for thee. Methinks the fare of
Mountjoy hall too rich for a plain forester. Thou handled thy weapon
better on rye bread and pease porridge.”

“Mayhap thou’rt right, Father,” returned Cedric with a laugh. “Or mayhap
I grow soft with sleeping on so fair a couch of wool. To-day I cannot
shoot, it seems. Another day may better it.”

John o’ the Wallfield was now making careful sight at the bull’s-eye;
and all the assembly watched him close, for it had been whispered that
but the day before he had made five bull’s-eye strokes with ne’er a
break, and at the same distance as now. He had many friends among the
younger men and maids; and these now called to him words of cheer and
bade him show his mettle. Thus besought, he showed a skill that
surprised us all and filled me with a worry I could scarce suppress.
Four of his bolts landed fair within the white, and the fifth but barely
missed it. At the target he was winner; and, a few years back, he had
been the best of all the Mountjoy archers, save only Marvin himself, at
striking the rolling ball. It began to seem that John o’ the Wallfield
who had been brought into the match to make a third in the scoring,
might end by leading off the prize.

Next Marvin came to the mark to shoot at the rolling ball. All the
yeomanry crowded round for a nearer view; and the knights and ladies
left their benches and came forward that they might miss nothing of this
strange test of archery. Now indeed did Marvin display something of the
craft that had made him for so many years the leading archer of
Mountjoy. Four of his bolts struck the swiftly running mark full
squarely; and the fifth was wondrous close. When he had finished all the
older yeomen and men-at-arms raised the shout of “Marvin! Marvin!” and
some did already talk of bearing him aloft as winner of the day. For
never in his life had the old marksman bettered the record he had just
made at the rolling ball; and it was not believed an archer lived who
could equal it.

’Twas Cedric’s turn to shoot next at this strange target. As he came
forward he seemed to be more wrought upon than ever; and I bethought me
that he bore but ill the fortunes of the day. He drew his bowstring to
charge his weapon with a most unseemly twitch; and then exclaimed in
wrath at a broken cord.

“Ho!” he called, “I must lay me a new string, it seems. This one was
sadly frayed, and now is gone. But let me not delay the match. Let John
go on in my turn while I knot and stretch a stouter one.”

Nothing loath, John stepped forward to the mark. My father gave the
signal, and the ball rolled down the incline to the sward. Before it had
bounded a half dozen paces it was pierced by John’s bolt; and there rose
a great cry from all the younger men. Next came a miss; then another
stroke; and the hubbub rose again. For the fourth and fifth shots, John
aimed full carefully along the course the ball should go and before the
word was given; but all his care availed him not, for both the bolts
missed clean.

Now again the meadow echoed with the cries of “Marvin! Marvin!” Some too
did call out a cheer for Cedric as he came up with bolt in groove; for
the young forester was well bethought at Mountjoy, and to-day he had not
shamed the old-time leader as some had thought he might. As soon as the
first ball touched the sward he pressed trigger; and in a moment ’twas
seen that his bolt had nicked its edge. Then twice he missed it fairly;
and twice more his bolts struck home. With but one more stroke he would
have equaled Marvin’s score. As it was, his points were six, even as
those of John o’ the Wallfield, while Marvin had thrice struck the
bull’s-eye and four times the rolling ball.

[Illustration: _WE MADE A PROCESSION THROUGH THE FIELDS, ALL THE MEN AND
MAIDENS SHOUTING AND DANCING AND MAKING A MOST MERRY AND HEARTENING
DIN_]

When Lord Mountjoy announced the prize was Marvin’s, the elder Mountjoy
men broke out afresh with cheers; and in these all the company, led by
my father himself, speedily joined. Two of the stoutest yeomen hoisted
Marvin to their shoulders; and with them in the lead, we made a
procession through the fields and toward the hall, all the men and
maidens shouting and dancing and making a most merry and heartening din.

The tables were spread in the courtyard, and already were laden with
bounteous platters of the roasted beef with bread and cakes and ale and
goodly Yorkshire pudding. The yeomanry here sat them down while my
father did lead his guests of gentle blood to the tables spread in the
castle hall. For an hour we feasted sumptuously, and many a tale was
told of archery and of the deer hunting of olden days, when, as I
learned from the talk of my elders, men were taller and stronger and of
keener eye than now, and such craft of the bow as Elbert and Old Marvin
had that day displayed was the boast of many archers in any goodly
company.

In all this talk Cedric, the forester, had no part; though he listened
full courteously to any who would address him. I had been rejoiced at
Marvin’s victory; but now I bethought me that Cedric might be feeling
bitterness at his own poor showing. That he should strike the rolling
ball but thrice in the first five trials seemed not strange; but he had
done no better at the bull’s-eye target; and his father’s words might
well have cut more deeply than he chose to show. I found a place beside
him, and, speaking softly so that no other might hear, did say:

“’Twas not thy day to-day, Cedric; but mind thee not. There’ll be many
another match whence thou’lt carry off the prize.”

Cedric turned to me and smiled, methought a bit grimly, and I went on:

“’Twas hardly fair to thee to make thee shoot at the rolling ball at a
match and for the first time. ’Tis Marvin’s own game; and at it he hath
always excelled all others.”

“Sir Dickon,” said Cedric, speaking as softly as I, “canst thou keep a
secret?”

“Of a certainty,” I answered. “What now hast thou to reveal?”

“I will show thee something which I would fain have thee know, if thou
wilt promise me to tell no soul whatever nor to give any hint of it.”

“’Tis well,” I answered, “I promise it.”

“Listen!” he whispered, “I go now to the Yew Hedge Meadow. After some
minutes do thou follow me, and speak not to any one.”

Speaking thus, he rose and quickly left the tables. I was full of a
desire to learn his meaning; and did wait but the shortest space before
following him. I found him, with his cross-bow ready drawn, at the
archers’ mark in the meadow.

“Do thou climb upon yon scaffolding,” said Cedric, “and roll me a ball
that I may try my hand once more at this strange game of Marvin’s.”

I did as he did ask; and his bolt struck it fairly in mid career.

“Well shot!” I cried, “thou’lt yet be Marvin’s match at this game too.”

“Prithee, another ball,” called the forester.

Again I rolled the ball and again ’twas fairly struck. A third and
fourth and fifth and sixth went down the trough; and I grew fairly
’mazed, for Cedric met each with a bolt as surely and as easily as if
they stood stock still. I leaped down from my perch on the scaffolding
and ran to him.

“Cedric!” I cried, “what means this? Thou passest Marvin’s self. Did thy
hand tremble to-day from the gaze of so many onlookers?”

Cedric laughed again; and now he wore such a gay, light-hearted look as
I bethought me had not been on his face for three days past.

“Hush!” he said, “tell it not so loud lest some may hear thee. But was
it not the will of my Lord Mountjoy, who risked his life for me at
Shrewsbury, that Old Marvin should win this one last archer match? It
cost me but a broken bowstring and some little work of the head when
John o’ the Wallfield seemed like to win the day. He needs must shoot
before me that I might know how to guide my bolts. Had he struck the
rolling ball with but one more bolt, he would have equaled Marvin’s
score; and I must have done likewise that we three might shoot again. If
with two more, he would have bested Marvin, and I must take the prize
from him. But with only two strokes in the five, ’twas easy quite; and
now Marvin hath the prize that it were shame to keep from him.”

Then indeed I understood; and I wrung Cedric’s hand in gladness.

“My father shall know of this,” I cried; “and he’ll give thee a prize
also. Another cow, second only to the one that Marvin chooses, shall go
to thy father’s cottage.”

But Cedric’s face, which had been merry, now quickly altered; and he
shook his head.

“Sir Dickon,” he said steadily, “dost thou not recall that thou didst
promise not to reveal what I did show thee?”

“Why! But of that word thou’lt release me, Cedric. ’Twas but a notion of
thine. Truly, Lord Mountjoy should know of this.”

But Cedric still shook his head.

“I told thee not in order that I might gain a prize. And for my shooting
this day no prize will I take. I somehow could not bear that thou
should’st think me so poor an archer as this day’s work did show; but
now I hold thee to thy knightly word, well and freely given.”

I could think of no word more to say nor any way of moving him from his
resolve. So we walked slowly back to the hall, and in silence, for
Cedric was ever of few words, and I was thinking deeply on his
obstinacy.

In the courtyard and in the hall we found the feast was yet in progress.
Truly, if our men of England do work and fight as valiantly as they eat
and drink, ’tis no wonder that our land grows in power and holds up its
head among nations. I left Cedric at his former seat, and walked
straight across the hall to my father. Cedric’s eyes followed me, for it
was plain that he yet feared I might tell Lord Mountjoy how our archery
meet had been guided. And I cast back at Cedric, as I went, a sly and
crafty look which did nothing [to] reassure him.

Soon I gained the ear of my father; and for half a minute did speak to
him full earnestly. To which he straightway made answer in his strong
and goodly tones which Cedric and many others might well hear above the
hum of voices and the clatter of the serving-men:

“Marry! Well bethought, Dickon. It were indeed a shame to let such
archery at our festival go unrewarded. ’Twill pleasure Cedric also; and,
truly, he hath borne himself well this day.”

Rising, he addressed the company:

“Ho! good friends all! Fair ladies and most worshipful knights and
gentlemen: I go to the courtyard to say to our yeomanry assembled there
some words that you may also wish to hear.”

Then he passed out of the hall, and all the lords and ladies rose to
follow him. Cedric and I were last. As we waited for the crowd to pass
through the doorway, he whispered, sharply:

“Hast thou then told Lord Mountjoy after all?”

I smiled in answer.

“Contain thyself, good Cedric, and hear what thou shalt hear.”

He would have questioned further, but at that moment my father’s voice
was heard in the courtyard.

“Friends and Well Wishers of the House of Mountjoy: I know full well,
’twill pleasure you to hear that the prize that our good Marvin hath so
truly won this day is not the sole prize of our festival. The cross-bow
is a noble weapon, but the long-bow of Merry England is no less; and we
have seen some archery to-day that must not go without a guerdon.
Therefore to Elbert, Forester of Pelham and father of Cedric, now of our
house, I give his choice of any cow in the Mountjoy herds, saving only
that which Marvin chooses. To John o’ the Wallfield also I make gift of
a good steel cross-bow of the sort which Marvin tells me he much
desires, and with which he may better even the archery he hath bravely
shown to-day.

“Now here’s a health to Merry England and long life to her honest
yeomanry! So long as they guide bolt and shaft as now they’ll confusion
bring to all of England’s enemies.”

So it befell that in the dusk of that fair day Elbert, the forester, did
lead home to Pelham Wood a goodly, milk-white heifer. A proud man was he
of this prize of his archery; but, had he known the full tale of the
day’s doings, he might have been, without vainglory, prouder still.



CHAPTER VI—WOLF’S HEAD GLEN


I think that that spring morning whereon Cedric and I set out on the
forest road to Coventry was the fairest that ever I have seen. The sun
shone gloriously in the open glades and on the moorlands, and white
clouds sailed aloft like racing galleons. The bird chorus among the
little new leaves overhead was as the mingled music of harps and lutes
and voices in the choir at Shrewsbury, and flowerets of blue and pink
and gold full gallantly bedecked the pathside and the brown forest
floor. Withal ’twas not a day for idleness and dreaming, for a chill air
breathed in the darker vales, and here and there in the deep woodlands
and on northern slopes a graying patch of snow yet lingered.

Old William, a faithful archer of Mountjoy, rode with us as guide and
counsellor—this by the insistence of my father, Lord Mountjoy, who had a
sorry lack of faith in the judgment and discretion of what he called
“two half-broke colts” like Cedric and me.

“I know full well,” he had said when I broached the plan of riding the
ten leagues to Coventry to pay due respects to our kinsfolk of
Montmorency,—“that Cedric hath a wondrous skill and quickness with his
cross-bow, and that thou, Dickon, in thy sword-play, art not far behind
many a man that calls himself knight and soldier. You will be mounted
well; and mayhap, if danger beset, can fight or fly, saving whole skins
as on that day the Carletons hunted you in the woods of Teramore. But
all is not done by eyes and limbs, be they never so keen and skilled.
Your veteran of three-score will step softly and dry-shod around the
quagmire in which your hair-brained youth of sixteen plunges head and
ears.”

“Never fear, Father,” I cried, “with William or without, we’ll keep
whole skins. These are now full quiet days, and we ride for pleasure,
not for brawling.”

“’Tis true,” he answered slowly, “with the hanging of Strongbow, we now
have the outlaw bands in wholesome fear; and the Carletons have raised
no battle cry since the fall. ’Tis like they have little will for it
since they were so sorely smitten at the siege and first the Old Wolf
and later young Lionel received their just dues from us and ours. They
have no leaders now save the widowed lady and a fifteen-years old lad
that bears his father’s name of Geoffrey and shall be Lord of Carleton.
Mayhap we have before us some few years to build the fortunes of our
house without let or hindrance from any of that crew at Teramore. But
William shall go with thee to Coventry, ne’ertheless, to see that thou
miss not the road and seek no useless brawls. Listen well to what he
tells thee, and thou’lt make a safe return.”

Now all three of us had our cross-bows slung upon our backs; and I wore
at my side the good Damascus blade which was my dearest pride. We
carried in leathern pouches a store of bread and meat for the midday
meal; and William had made shift to shoot a moorfowl that he spied
running midst the gorse by the wayside.

So, an hour past the noonday, we made camp by a fair stream, set a fire
alight to roast the bird, and feasted right merrily. As we sat about the
embers, filled with the comfort of hunger well sated, I lifted up my
voice in a ballad of which I had many times of late made secret
practice. It went right merrily and clear; and when I had once sung it
through Cedric and old William both urged me on to repeat it. When I
sang again Cedric surprised me much, seeing the untaught forester that
he was, by joining me with a sweet, high contra-melody that wondrously
enhanced the music; and old William too, after a few gruff trials, did
bravely swell the chorus.

Thus pleasantly occupied, and with our carol ringing through the vale,
we heard no sound of hoofbeats, and I looked up with a start to see,
passing along the path, fifty paces from our camp fire, three armed and
mounted travelers.

There were two stout men-at-arms, wearing the braced and quilted jackets
that, against arrows or javelins, so well replace breastplates of steel,
and armed with great two-handed broadswords and poniards. Between them,
and a little to the fore, on a proudly stepping little gelding, rode a
youth of somewhat less than our own years, wearing an embroidered tunic
of white and rose and a sword which hung in a scabbard rich with gold
and gems.

William snatched at the cross-bow which lay on the grass beside him; but
the strangers paid little heed to us, the men-at-arms but glancing
surlily in our direction. In a moment they had passed from sight, and
the forest was quiet again. For a little we talked of who they might be
and what their errand was in these parts; but none of us could name any
of their party. We were now some eight leagues from Castle Mountjoy and
mayhap three from Mannerley Lodge. It seemed not unlikely that the
stranger youth might be of some party that visited the good lady of
Mannerley, and that he was now riding abroad under the escort of two of
her stout retainers.

The passing of the strangers, and the sour looks of the two men had
driven the carol from our minds; and we loosed our horses from the
saplings to which they had been tied, and soberly remounted to resume
our journey. It had been ten of the morning ere we left Mountjoy, and we
had come but slowly along the narrow forest paths. Now the sun was well
down in the West, and clouds were gathering darkly overhead. William
urged us to make haste lest we be caught in the cold rain that he
prophesied would be falling ere night. So we took the road again, and,
after all our good cheer and merry chorusing, with our spirits strangely
adroop.

We rode but slowly, for we had no wish to overtake the travelers. On our
woodland roads, ’tis well to beware of strangers, especially when night
approaches and one is not yet in sight of friendly castle walls. If they
too made for Coventry, ’twas well, and we might follow them into the
town without exchanging words; and if their way lay elsewhere, we could
willingly spare their company.

A mile or so we rode in quietness. Then, coming to the top of a rise
where the path emerged from the woods and half a mile of open moor lay
before us, we beheld a sight which caused us to draw rein full suddenly
and to gaze again, under sheltering hands, at the place where the road
again made into the forest. There were our three strangers in desperate
fight with half a dozen men. The outlaws—for such they seemed—were
roughly clad in gray homespun and Lincoln green, and armed with bows and
quarterstaves. They did swiftly run and dodge from behind one tree-trunk
to another, evading the sword strokes of the horsemen and sending shaft
after shaft against them. Even as we gazed, an arrow pierced the quilted
jacket of one of the men-at-arms, or found a spot uncovered at the
throat, and brought him heavily to the ground.

For one quick-throbbing moment I looked at Cedric, to spell, if I might,
his thoughts at this juncture. Should we turn back ere the outlaws spied
us, and make good our ’scape in the forest? The band might be far larger
than it seemed; often a hundred or more of these robbers consorted under
the banner of some famous outlaw chief. If we went forward, we might but
add to the number of their victims.

Then came the voice of old William, cracked and broken with his fear for
our safety, and striving hard to stay us from an emprise which seemed
certain death:

“Turn, Masters! Turn ere they sight us. We are too few and too lightly
armed to face such numbers. An we go forward, they’ll spit us with their
shafts like a roast at the fire. Come, Sir Dickon! Come, I pray thee. My
Lord Mountjoy leans upon me to bring thee safe through. Back to the
greenwood while yet there’s time.”

I uttered not a word, and firmly held my restive steed; but I saw in
Cedric’s face no thought of flight nor care for life or limb,—rather the
look of a noble hound that spies the frothing, tusker boar at slaughter
of his comrades, and beseeches but the word that looses him against the
monster’s flank.

And now Cedric’s horse and mine sprang forward together. To this day I
know naught of any settled thought of riding to the attack. Mayhap the
limbs that came to me as my heritage from a line of fighting men that
never endured to see foul ambush and treachery have their way did move
without any guidance and set the spurs against my horse’s sides. Cedric
rode the great war-horse which he had won from the Carleton; and though
my own mount was a fair tall stallion, half of Arab strain, the forester
drew ahead on the rough pathway e’en while he drew his cross-bow cord
and fitted bolt to groove. In a moment I had charged my weapon also; and
then I found old William by my side, his cross-bow in his hands and all
his protests forgotten.

Now the hoofs of our mounts thundered most sweetly on the sward, and for
all the folly of our venture, I felt such an uplifting of the heart as I
had known but once or twice before in all my life. As we neared the fray
at the wood’s edge, I shouted the battle cry of Mountjoy; and, my two
companions joining with a will, we came down upon the varlets like a
troop of armored horse.

As we approached ’twas clear that the outlaws had all the better of the
fight. One of the men-at-arms lay dead on the ground, and the other
though still fighting blindly had twice been pierced by arrows in neck
and face. The robbers had a chieftain who carried no bow, but a sword
only, and who had been ordering and cheering on his men while striking
no blow himself. Now the youth in the white tunic, who had received no
hurt as yet, dashed toward him and struck full bravely with his
golden-hilted sword, but wildly and in a way unskilled. The robber met
the blow with a twisting parry that struck the hilt from the boy’s hand
and sent the blade whirling away into the underbrush; then leaping
forward he seized the youth’s shoulder and pulled him from his horse.

[Illustration: _HE GAVE NO INCH OF GROUND SAVE TO LEAP FROM SIDE TO SIDE
IN AVOIDING MY DOWNWARD STROKES_]

Drawing rein at fifty yards, we all three let fly our bolts, Cedric and
old William each bringing down his man. My own bolt flew wide of the
robber captain because of my fear of striking the youth who was now his
prisoner. Then, dropping the bow, I betook me to a weapon more natural
to my temper, and, sword in hand, was instantly in combat with the
chief. He pushed the boy behind him and gave me blow for blow; and,
truth to tell, he handled his blade—the weapon of a knight and
gentleman—with a skill far beyond that of any yeoman I had known. Our
blades flashed merrily in the sunlight that now streamed through a rent
in the western clouds; and I lost all knowledge of the fray around us.

I fought on horseback, and he on foot; but he gave no inch of ground
save to leap from side to side in avoiding my downward strokes. All his
thrusts I managed to parry; but, somewhat with swordsmanship and more
with wondrous quickness of foot, he likewise foiled mine. Twice had I
essayed the best of all my tricks of fence only to fail in reaching my
tall and nimble enemy.

I was gathering my wits for another stratagem, the which might take him
off his guard, when suddenly, and to my great amaze, he leaped aside
from my attack and sprang behind a tree trunk. From there he leaped to
another, farther in the forest; and so by running and hiding, quickly
disappeared in the greenwood.

I looked about me, dizzied with the quickness of that which had
befallen; and beheld a sight for tears and groaning. Both the stranger
men-at-arms lay dead on the oak leaves amidst the bodies of five of the
outlaws who had been slain by their swords and our cross-bow bolts; and,
lying with his shoulders half supported by Cedric’s arms, was our
faithful old William, his breast pierced by a cloth-yard shaft and his
eyes just closing in death.

Cedric sadly laid down the body of our old retainer; and I thought it
fitting to make a hasty prayer for his soul’s peace. Then, as I rose,
the stranger youth came forward haltingly. Methought he had a most
winsome face, with honest eyes of blue and with brown and curling hair.
I was about to offer some friendly greeting when our ears were affrayed
by a loud blast of a hunting horn which came from a furlong’s distance
in the wood.

Cedric’s face changed instantly; and he grasped at my elbow.

“Quick, Sir Dickon!” he cried. “Let us mount and away. Yon notes are the
call of the robber chief to all his band. They’ll be here anon and slay
us every one if we make not haste.”

“Come then,” I answered, and, seizing the youth’s hand in lieu of other
greeting, I drew him swiftly toward his horse, and mounting my own,
wheeled back into the pathway. Cedric, with one bound, was on his
horse’s back; but the stranger was slower in his movements, seeming
mazed and like one in a dream with the suddenness of these turns of
fortune. I caught the bridle rein of his horse which had somewhat
strayed; and then indeed he came quickly forward and climbed to the
saddle. But a precious moment had been lost; and now, just as we emerged
on the moor, there came a deadly flight of arrows from the wood. The
archers were yet a hundred paces off; and low-hanging boughs did much
deflect their shafts; but my horse was sorely stricken and reared and
flung me to the earth. Another arrow struck mortally the stranger boy’s
bay gelding, and a third pierced my doublet sleeve and drew a spurt of
blood.

“Quick!” shouted Cedric. “Mount with me, both of ye. Quick for your
lives!”

Reaching down, he fairly lifted the stranger to a place in front of him,
while I seized his belt and madly scrambled up behind. Then the forester
set spurs to his horse’s sides, and that splendid steed, despite his
triple burden, was off with a bound.

But now, alas! the outlaws were at the wood’s edge. Another flight of
arrows whistled about our ears; and the stranger, with a groan, clapped
his right hand to his side and tried manfully to pluck away a shaft
which was quivering there. His violent clutch served but to break the
wood, and left the barb embedded in the flesh. Cedric threw one arm
about him, lest he fall, and shouting to me to cling tightly to his
waist, spurred madly on, blind to all but the path before him.

The robbers came streaming from the wood, and seeing that our one
remaining horse was now burdened with the weight of three riders, dashed
after us on foot with the hope, not ill-founded, of overtaking and
slaying us. Some of these men of the greenwood can leap and run very
like the deer they chase; and, had not our horse been the best and
strongest that ever I bestrode, they might have gained upon us on the
open heath enough to have made sure work of their archery.

But momently we drew away from them; and none of their whizzing shafts
did further harm. Indeed, had not Cedric been fain to check our speed
lest our burdened mount stumble in the rough and treacherous pathway, we
might have shortly distanced them. As it was, we came again to the
forest which we had left a quarter hour before, and the smoother road
beneath the oak trees, with the shouting robber band a furlong behind
us.

Then for the first time spake the youth that rode so unsteadily before
us. Deathly pale he was, and his voice like that of one on a sick-bed.

“Masters,” he murmured, “I fear my hurt is mortal, and you vainly risk
your lives for mine. Put me down, I pray you, on the oak leaves, that I
may die in peace, and you may ’scape with no more hurt.”

“That we will not,” I cried, hotly. “We’ll bear thee away to safety,
spite of all. Look but now! We gain upon them. A quarter hour will see
us well beyond their reach.”

“I cannot bear it,” he answered faintly. “I bleed full sorely, and I
needs must rest.” With that his color left him utterly; his blue eyes
twitched and closed; he fainted, and but for Cedric’s arm must surely
have fallen.

Cedric turned to me and whispered:

“Save him we must, or we are no true men.”

“Surely we must save him,” I echoed, “but how shall we compass it? If he
have not rest full soon and the dressing of his hurt, he will surely
die.”

“One chance there still remains,” he answered softy, “though in the
essay we give o’er our own near sight of safety. What say’st thou? Shall
we attempt it?”

“With all my heart,” I cried. “Shall we make stand in some rock cranny
hereabouts?”

To this the forester made no reply. We were riding down a slope toward a
wide but shallow stream which we must ford. The outlaws were hid from
view by the rise behind us, but we could still hear their shouts and
knew that they had by no means given o’er the hope of reaching us.

Midway in the current Cedric sharply pulled his horse’s head to the
right, and leaving the pathway utterly, spurred him at a trot up the
sandy and pebbly bed of the stream. A turn soon hid the ford from view,
and this not a moment too soon, for now again we heard the outlaws
coming down the hill in hot pursuit. Cedric drew rein for an instant,
and we heard them splashing through the shallows of the ford, and then
their running feet on the path beyond. A bow-shot farther on we drew out
from the stream bed and made better going in the open woods of a valley
which led upwards toward the rocky hills to the northward.

“Dost know this place?” I asked of Cedric.

“Aye,” he answered shortly, “’tis known as Wolf’s Head Glen.”

Then we came to thicker wood growth; and he had much ado to guide the
war-horse safely in the tangle and to keep the boughs from the face of
the stricken youth before him. Once more we entered the stream bed, and
again emerged where the forest was of older growth and had little
underwood to check us. We had come a mile or more from the pathway when
of a sudden the forester drew rein and looked with care about him. Then
he leaped down, leaving me to hold the wounded boy, and made his way up
a rocky slope to a tangle of saplings and thorn bushes. These at one
point he drew apart; then he disappeared, crawling on hands and knees
into the darkness beyond.

Speedily he returned; and now a glad and hopeful look was on his face.
“’Tis well,” he said, “we yet will save him. Here is shelter and safe
hiding if I mistake not.”

He lifted down the boy, and together we bore him up the slope and
through the narrow, thorny pathway. Beyond was a rocky cave with space
enough for half a dozen men to lie on the beds of leaves the winds had
drifted in, though nowhere high enough to let one stand erect. The mouth
was safely covered by the growth of sapling trees and briers; and one
might pass at twenty paces and ne’er suspect it.

We laid our burden on the leaves. The poor youth’s face was so white and
still and his hands so cold that truly I thought we were too late and
that his spirit had fled. But Cedric stripped away the garments from the
lad’s breast and laid his ear against it. Then he rose and nodded
brightly.

“He lives. We yet will save him. First let us make ready a bandage, then
pluck this shaft away and bind the wound.”

I quickly stripped me of a linen garment of which Cedric did make a soft
dressing and shield for the hurt. Then I held the quivering side while
Cedric firmly drew away the arrow. As it came forth the boy gave a
piteous groan and his eyes flickered open, but quickly closed again. The
bleeding started afresh, but the forester, with a wondrous deftness,
applied the bandage and closely fastened it with strips that went about
the body and over the shoulders of the lad. Then we brought water in an
iron cup which Cedric carried at his girdle, and bathed the boy’s white
face. Soon his eyes opened once more, and he asked for drink.

When the lad’s thirst was sated and he knew us again, Cedric stole out
with cross-bow drawn to make his way a little down the glen and see if
any of the robber band had trailed us. Seeing naught of them, he quickly
returned and took our good steed and, first giving him to drink at the
stream, tethered him in a close thicket half a furlong off where he
might browse in quiet and mayhap escape the notice of our enemies.

An hour later we re-dressed our companion’s hurt, using a poultice of
healing leaves which Cedric had found by the brookside and crushed
between stones. Soon the lad fell asleep, and though sometimes beset
with grievous pains and babbling dreams, did rest not ill for one who
had been so near to death.

Cedric and I watched the night out, sitting with drawn bows at the cave
mouth. The stars were bright, but there was no moon and little wind; and
our talk was low lest after all some of the outlaws might be near. Half
in whispers he told me the story of the glen and its name. It seems that
an honest yeoman, John o’ the Windle, who had been his father’s friend
in his youth, had had the mischance to quarrel with a sheriff’s man,
and, to save his own life, had pierced him with a cloth-yard shaft. Then
John Windle had fled to the forest and become a wolf’s head, which is
the name the commonalty have for outlaws, since the killing of either
wolves or outlaws may bring a bounty from the Crown. For years he had
lived in this very glen, with his hiding place in the cave known to but
a few faithful friends. Often he was pursued to the little valley, but
among its woods and streams always shook off the sheriff’s trailers and
made good his ‘scape. Finally the legend grew that he was befriended by
unseen powers and changed himself to a wolf whenever he crossed the
little stream at the place where so many times his trail had been lost.
Cedric’s father, Elbert of Pelham Wood, had once brought him to this
spot to visit the outlaw after he had become old and was far gone in his
last sickness; and a few days later the two foresters had buried the
wolf’s head near the cave where he had lived.

Just after dawn, Cedric, sitting at watch, pierced with a cross-bow bolt
a hare that was hopping through the underwood fifty paces off. Most
cautiously we built a little fire within the cave and roasted the meat
for our breakfast, we being of sharpest appetites through having eaten
naught since the middle of the day before.

Some of the tenderest bits we offered to the stranger, and he did try to
eat, but with no avail for he grew dizzy when we raised him from his
couch. Cedric’s face grew grave at this, and soon he came and placed his
hand upon the cheek and neck of the lad. What he found made him frown
most anxiously at me. The face of the wounded youth had now lost all its
paleness; ’twas flushed and something swollen and to the touch near
burning hot.

“Sir Dickon,” called Cedric, suddenly, “we must move him, and quickly,
to where a leech can tend him. He hath a fever, and with it his wound
will not heal.”

“Can we issue from this wood by any other road than that on which we
left the robbers?” I questioned. “If so be, mayhap we can reach to
Mannerley Lodge.”

“There is a steep pathway higher in the glen that doth issue on Wilton
Road. If we gain that, ’tis not above two leagues to Mannerley.”

“Then let us go. I wager we meet not again with the outlaws. They ever
scatter and hide themselves after a fray like that of yesterday. Our
steed must carry three as before. ’Twill be but an hour’s ride.”

Soon Cedric had returned from the thicket with the steed, we had lifted
the stranger as gently as might be, and, mounting also, were on our way
out of the forest. Now I rode in the saddle and held the boy in his
place, and Cedric sat behind me with drawn cross-bow and bolt in groove.

We met none to gainsay us, and soon emerged from the wood. For a quarter
hour we made such speed as we might along the road to Mannerley. Then
all at once the youth’s body grew limp in my arms, and I saw that again
his wound bled full sorely and that once more he yielded to a death-like
fainting.

I drew rein, and we dismounted, laying the boy on the leaves by the side
of a little brook. For anxious moments we knelt beside him, bathing his
forehead with the cold water, listening in vain for his heart-beats, and
much in fear that his eyes would never reopen.

[Illustration: _IN A TWINKLING, ARMED AND MOUNTED MEN WERE ALL ABOUT
US_]

Then of a sudden we heard iron-shod hoofs on the roadway and a man’s
rough voice in surprise and angry threatening:

“Hold! What have we here? By’r Lady! ’tis the Mountjoys!”

In a twinkling, armed and mounted men were all about us; and with a
heart like lead I recognized the Carleton livery. We could neither fight
nor fly. Half a dozen stout men-at-arms leaped from their horses and
rushed upon us. We had not struck a blow ere they overthrew us and
wrenched our weapons from our hands. In a moment more my hands and
Cedric’s were fast bound with halters like those of scurvy thieves that
go to pay their penalty upon the gibbet.

“Ha! Look but here!” cried the leader, whom I now saw to be none other
than the man who had so sworn against us at the trial at Shrewsbury,
“these are young Sir Richard and the forester that slew Sir Lionel but
six months gone. And now we come on them again red-handed. See _this_
foul wickedness that they have done! What say you now? Shall we not rope
them up to yonder limb in requital?”

“Aye, Aye! Let’s hang them and quickly,” cried another.

“Men of Carleton,” said I from where I lay upon the ground, “we are no
murderers. But if slay us ye must, let us at least have the death of men
and soldiers. I am the heir of a noble house that yields no jot to any
Carleton; and my comrade here is a freeman of England with no smirch on
his name. ’Tis not fitting that ye visit on us the punishment of
thieves.”

“Ho!” jeered the leader, “hear the young hound of Mountjoy, now caught
in the sheepfold. ’Tis like if we listen to him that he and this Pelham
varlet will yet concoct some plan to ’scape us. Quick, men! the halters!
For we have other and sadder work to do.”

Then for a moment all the forest and the blue sky seemed to turn to
blackness around me. There was a roaring in my ears like to that I heard
when as a child I fell one day from the foot board over the waters of
the mill race and came not up to breathe till I reached the other side
of the whirlpool below. Then from the midst of this reeling nightmare I
heard a voice, saying faintly:

“Oh, Hubert! What dost thou here? And what do ye to these friends of
mine that they lie on the ground in bonds?”

The stranger youth was sitting up on his leafy couch. His face was still
deadly pale, but his eyes gleamed brightly.

“Our Lady be thanked! He lives,” muttered the leader of the men-at-arms,
to my utter amaze doffing his headpiece before the stricken youth. Then
in answer:

“Master Geoffrey, God be thanked, they have not murdered thee! But these
are Sir Richard of Mountjoy and the forester, Cedric, the very same that
did to death thy brother, Lionel. Now we shall swing them from yonder
oak limb. ’Twill heal thee faster to see thy enemies thus justly
served.”

“Hubert, thou shalt not,—_on thy life_!” cried Geoffrey, his weak voice
shrill with passion, “be they Mountjoys or be they sons of Beelzebub,
they are good men and true, and have over and again risked their lives
for mine. And I do verily believe that the tale they told at the
Shrewsbury trial was the truth, and that my brother brought his death
upon himself. Now cut those bonds,—and quickly.”

The soldier yet hesitated and muttered somewhat beneath his breath.

“I tell thee, Hubert,” broke out Geoffrey afresh, “thou shalt loose
them, and give them horses that they may ride safely to Mountjoy. If
thou disobey me, verily I’ll have thee beaten with rods and cast in the
lowest dungeon of Teramore.”

Another of the men-at-arms now spoke aside to Hubert.

“He is the Master, Hubert; and we must e’en obey. Forget not that, since
the death of Lionel, young Sir Geoffrey is himself the Carleton.”

Hubert drew his dagger and came toward me. From the look on his ugly
face I much misdoubted whether he meant to carry out the commands of his
young master or to stab me to the heart. But he quickly cut the rope
that bound my wrists, and then did a like service for Cedric.

We stood erect and made our bows before the young Lord of Carleton.

“Sir Geoffrey,” said I, slowly, “thy house and mine have been bitter
enemies; but glad am I to call thee friend. Wilt thou clasp hands in
token?”

For answer his face lighted up with his most winsome smile, and he
extended toward me his right hand in fellowship. To Cedric also he gave
a clasp of such heartiness as he could compass, calling him the while
brave rescuer and comrade. Then turning again to me, he said:

“Sir Richard of Mountjoy, mount this horse of Hubert’s here, which I
freely give thee, while Cedric rides the good steed that bore us so
bravely through the forest. My men shall make for me a litter of poles,
with robes and garments slung between, and bear me to Mannerley. There
will I bide till my wound is healed. Say to thy father, the Lord of
Mountjoy, that I renounce all the vengeance that my father and my
brother swore against him, and that I extend to him also the hand of
friendship. ’Twill please me well if, while I still lie at Mannerley, he
and thou and Cedric come riding there and visit me. And so good-by with
all my heart. May thou win safely home and Heaven’s blessing follow
thee.”

Gladly we mounted and reined our horses’ heads toward home. As we left
the little glade we turned for one more look at the pale youth, lying
half prostrate on his couch of leaves; and our hearts did swell with
gladness to know his life was safe and that no longer was he a stranger
or an enemy. And once more we caught his winsome smile and the wave of
his hand that bade us God speed.



CHAPTER VII—THE OUTLAWS OF BLACKPOOL


’Twas a fortnight after the fray with the outlaws on the borders of
Blackpool Forest, where, all unknowing, we had saved the life of young
Sir Geoffrey of Carleton, heir of the house that for so long had been
our bitterest enemy, that my father and I rode with Cedric, my comrade
and squire, and six stout men-at-arms over the hill road to Mannerley.
There our new-made friend, Sir Geoffrey, lay recovering from his wound.

Lord Mountjoy wore helmet and cuirass; and his good two-handed
broadsword swung by his side, while both Cedric and I wore shirts of
linked mail and our followers each a quilted, shaft-proof leathern
jacket. Cedric carried the cross-bow which he had often used to such
good purpose, and I the sword of Damascus steel which my father had
riven from a Saracen noble in the Holy Land. Withal we made a brave
array on the woodland roads and one of which the boldest band of outlaws
with their bows and bills and coats of Lincoln green might well beware.

But no enemy gainsaid us on the road; and at two o’ the clock we rode
across the drawbridge of our good friend and neighbor, the Lady of
Mannerley. She bade us welcome in the courtly manner to which she was
bred, and ushered us to the great hall. Geoffrey was reclining in a
great chair before the fire, and rose to greet us with most joyous face.
His wound was healing fast, as we had known from the messengers who had
passed almost daily to and fro; but the young Lord of Carleton was still
pale with the bloodletting, and could leave his chair no longer than the
courtesy of a host demanded. As he shook hands with my father, the Lord
of Mountjoy, his words of heartfelt welcome and the smile on his winsome
face made amends for the weakness of his clasp; and I was filled with
joy to see that my father warmed to him at once and for his sake
willingly forgot the deeds of the old Gray Wolf, who had been Lord of
Carleton.

When Geoffrey was again seated and we had found places on the benches
around him, the Lady of Mannerley brought to us some most dainty cakes
and cups of hot mulled wine, serving us with her own hands, as is the
custom when guests of quality are welcomed. There ensued an hour of
goodly talk, Geoffrey of Carleton plying my father with questions of
that of which he loves best to speak,—the wars for the Holy Sepulcher’s
recovery—and Cedric and I listening or putting in our words as occasion
offered. Geoffrey heard from me the tale of our archer festival and of
old Marvin’s and Cedric’s wondrous prowess with the cross-bow. Then by
degrees we came to the story of the day whereon Cedric and I and poor
old William came upon the outlaw band in Blackpool that sought to kill
his two retainers and make him prisoner; and we lived over again in joy
the battle at the forest’s edge and the bloody and desperate chase that
followed.

When that tale had been fully told by us three youths, speaking
sometimes in turn and sometimes, at the most perilous passages, crying
out all together what had chanced, Geoffrey turned to me to say:

“But, Sir Richard,—in the forest where I first saw thee and Cedric at
the fire,—that was a most sweet ballad you did sing. Can you not raise
it again? I have a great mind to hear it.”

At this, nothing loath, I turned my eyes to the rafters and began the
lay. Cedric, joining in with his sweet harmonizing, did give it a grace
which else it had sadly lacked; and the hall of Mannerley rang with it
even as had the little glade in the wood. Lady Mannerley came again to
the door of the hall, and behind her a half dozen of her maids and
serving men. Geoffrey and the others loudly cried “Encore”; and the
second time my father took up the lay with us, so it went rousingly and
to the delight of the whole company. When at last we ceased Geoffrey
declared that the song and the gay and heartening talk withal had done
for him more good than all the herbs and poultices of the leech, and
that with one more day like to this he verily believed he could ride
abroad whole and sound.

Our audience departed with the end of the singing; and then Lord
Mountjoy spoke most seriously:

“What thou say’st, Sir Geoffrey, puts me in mind that in these rough
times there is other work for us who are verily whole and sound than
this chaffering and singing at a bonny fireside, most pleasant though it
be. I must bestir myself to punish these greedy rascals of the greenwood
that set upon to rob and murder all those that go the forest roads not
armed to the teeth and in strong company. ’Tis said that this unhung
varlet that so sorely beset thee hath now no less than seven score
bowmen at his back. To-morrow I ride to enlist the aid of my lord of
Pelham with his twenty archers, and as soon thereafter as may be to
Dunwoodie of Grimsby. The good lady who is now our hostess will
doubtless send some men-at-arms and foresters. We shall make up a
company that can take Blackpool Wood from all its sides at once; and it
shall go hard but we send a half hundred of the rogues to their
reckoning.”

During this speech the eyes of the young Lord of Carleton had grown
bright as with a fever; and he could hardly wait for my father to come
to an end before crying out:

“Oh, good Mountjoy! My friend—if thou art my friend indeed, stay this
goodly enterprise but a few short months—or weeks mayhap—and let me join
with thee. This outlaw chief, whom now I learn is called the Monkslayer
from certain of his bloody deeds, hath offered both injury and insult to
the House of Carleton. Two of my faithful men he slew, and me he took
prisoner, and would have held for high ransom, if indeed he spared my
life, had it not been for Sir Richard and Cedric here and that worthy
old archer of Mountjoy who met his death fighting in my behalf. Give me
but two short months—I ask no more—to heal me of my wound and make some
practice of arms; and I will ride with thee to the hunting of this
outlaw and his band with forty men-at-arms and eight score archers from
Carleton and Teramore. So shall we make short and sure work of it.”

My father gazed at the glowing face of our new-made friend; and plain it
was to me that the liking he had at first conceived for the lad suffered
nothing from this headlong eagerness to be up and doing with arms in his
hands. Turning to Cedric and me, with a broad and happy smile, Lord
Mountjoy said:

“Well, lads, ’twas your quarrel and Sir Geoffrey’s at the first. What
say you? Shall we risk the scattering and ’scaping of these rogues by
waiting till the fall for him? For I plainly see that, with all good
will, he cannot rightly ride and fight before that time in such a rough
campaign as this will be.”

“Oh, let us wait, Father!” I cried, “Sir Geoffrey hath the right in
saying ’tis especially the Carleton’s quarrel; and ’twill be a fine
sight for all the countryside to see the banners of Mountjoy and of
Carleton waving together in so good a cause after all these years of
enmity. Mayhap Sir Geoffrey will return with usury the arrow-shot he had
from those scurvy knaves. If so, ’twill not be an ill beginning for his
career in arms.”

Cedric, who was ever of few words, nodded his head at this speech of
mine; and so ’twas settled among us. Through the summer months we would
strike no blow at the outlaws save in defense, but at the fall of the
leaf, when the woods made not so close a cover, we would fall upon them
in their fastnesses with all our forces at once, and so destroy and
scatter them that the woodland roads of the whole county would be free
of their kind for years to come.

A week later Sir Geoffrey took his way to his great castle at Teramore
under a strong escort of Carleton men-at-arms. Ten days thereafter
Cedric and I rode thither to pay a promised visit and to talk of the
outlaw hunt and our great plans for the days to follow. Sir Geoffrey
showed himself a most gracious host; and we passed some goodly hours in
the Carleton hall and in the courtyard where Cedric did try most
manfully to impart to Geoffrey and me some measure of his cross-bow
skill.

For my own handling of this weapon, I fear that all Cedric’s and old
Marvin’s teachings are bootless, and that never shall I shoot with any
certainty; but, to Cedric’s huge delight, Sir Geoffrey took to the
exercise like one born in a forester’s cottage. In half an hour he was
striking marks at fifty paces that were small enough for Cedric’s own
aim at twice that distance, and his instructor was prophesying he would
be a bonny archer long before he could well handle a broadsword. This I
thought likely enough, for Geoffrey, though his age lacked but half a
year of Cedric’s and mine, was somewhat lightly built and had not yet
the reach and the forearm muscles that make a swordsman. ’Twas plain
that among us three I should long remain the master with this best of
weapons; and with this thought to console me, I took it not too ill that
I should prove such a poor third at the archery.

That night, as Cedric and I sat at board with my father and mother, we
were full of talk of the day’s doings; and I was already planning
festival days and nights when the Carletons and the Mountjoys and all
our friends of Pelham and of Mannerley should fore-gather at Mountjoy or
at Teramore for feasts and dancing in such ways as had been in days of
yore.

Suddenly my mother interrupted all this talk and planning with a sober
question:

“And the Lady of Carleton—Geoffrey’s mother—did she greet thee full
courteously to-day, Dickon?”

At once I felt as one who treads in icy water where he had thought to
meet firm ground.

“Nay, mother. We saw her not at all—save for a glimpse at chamber window
as we rode toward the drawbridge.”

“Ah! then she was not abroad, it seems.”

“Nay, she kept her chamber. Mayhap she was not well.”

“Did Sir Geoffrey make for her her excuse?”

My face, as I could feel, grew burning red as I made answer:

“Nay, he said no word of her.”

Then Lady Mountjoy turned to my father, who had been closely listening:

“It seems, my lord, that we shall not soon ride toward Teramore.”

My father sadly shook his head, and gazed at the board before him. He
had been glad at heart at the thought of the healed breach between the
two houses; and now it seemed that all such thoughts were vain.

“Mayhap Lady Carleton will ride over with Sir Geoffrey when next week he
comes to Mountjoy as he promised,” I offered.

My father again shook his head.

“Mayhap she will, Dickon. If so be, she shall have the right hand of
welcome; but much I misdoubt her coming to Mountjoy. When all is said,
’tis but natural she cannot bring herself to call us friends. It was we
of Mountjoy that did to death her husband and her eldest son; and though
we know well, and have maintained it by oath and by arms, that ’twas in
fair battle, on our part at least, and that they brought their deaths
upon themselves, yet perhaps ’tis too much to expect her to credit our
words and deeds that give the lie to those of her own house. Nay, I see
it now. She will never be a friend of Mountjoy.”

He sighed deeply and turned again to his carving. None of us had more
words; and it seemed that a cold fog, like those that come from the
Western Sea in springtime, had settled on our spirits.

Four days later Sir Geoffrey came to Mountjoy, attended by a well-armed
retinue; but his lady mother was not with him; and again he said no word
of her. We made the young heir of Carleton full welcome to Mountjoy, and
spent the day with meat and drink and the practice of arms. With the
cross-bow he did even better than before, and showed himself not too
dull a learner at the foils. But the gayety we had had at Teramore was
not with us at Mountjoy. ’Twas as if some shriveled witch had envied us
our merriment and put a spell upon us to destroy it. Something of this
Sir Geoffrey seemed to feel at last; and the sun was yet three hours
high when he took horse for his return.

So passed the summer. We did not ride again to Teramore, nor did Sir
Geoffrey come to Mountjoy. Once I learned that he visited the Lady of
Mannerley; and Cedric and I took the same day to pay our own respects.
We had much good talk of the outlaw band and of the great day that was
now fast approaching, but of Lady Carleton and the new peace that
reigned between Mountjoy and Carleton no word was spoken.

Came a day in fair October that minded me full sharply of that one a
year agone whereon I had met Lionel of Carleton in the woods of
Teramore. The men of Mountjoy were early astir, and four score strong,
counting the men-at-arms, the cross-bow men and the foresters with their
long-bows and cloth-yard shafts, were making toward their post on the
hither side of Blackpool Wood. On our left, two furlongs off, were Lord
Pelham and his archers; to the right the score or so of Mannerly
retainers and Squire Dunwoodie with half a hundred yeomen. On the far
side of the forest, three leagues away, we knew that young Sir Geoffrey
with dour-faced old Hubert led nigh two hundred Carleton men-at-arms and
bowmen, and Lionel of Montmorency a hundred more. We were to march in
open line, converging toward the center of the wood at grim Blackpool.
Any of the robbers found in hiding were to be captured or slain; and
whichever leader first encountered the outlaws in force was to give
three long notes on his hunting horn. Then half the forces of all the
others were immediately to join him, leaving the remainder to guard all
lines of possible escape. Our plans had been well kept secret amongst
the leaders; not one of our own men knew them until that very morning.
Withal it promised to be a most unlucky day for those cut-throat knaves
who had so long cheated the gallows.

Our march was slow, as well might be in all those brakes and rocky
glens. Now and again a lurking knave in Lincoln green was found and
quickly made prisoner—or, if he made resistance, even more quickly
disposed of. Some, however, were too fleet of foot for capture by our
more heavily burdened men; and, after sending a shaft or two at the line
of skirmishers, made good their escape into the wood before us.

’Twas ten by the sun when we heard, from Dunwoodie, far on our right,
the three long blasts of the horn. Instantly my father and I took half
our men, and leaving the rest under old Marvin, the archer, ran through
the forest toward the fray. Afterward we learned to our cost that some
of our leaders took not so careful thought of the places of their forces
in the skirmish line, but rushed off at once to the alarm, followed by
well nigh their whole companies, leaving in places gaps of a mile or
more in what should have been our close-drawn cordon.

Be that as it might, ten minutes had not passed before Dunwoodie with
his half hundred archers was reinforced by a gallant array of bowmen and
men-at-arms. The outlaws, a hundred or more in number, and led by the
Monkslayer himself, had been pressing Dunwoodie hard. The robber chief,
carrying a sword and wearing the steel cap and breast-plate of a knight,
stood forth from all shelter, commanding and exhorting his followers,
apparently with no fear at all of flying shafts and quarrels. The men of
Dunwoodie Manor fought from behind trees and rocks; and most of them had
quilted, leathern jackets; but they were no match in archery, for the
outlaws, many of whom, by virtue of their skill with the long-bow, had
lived for years in the forest and never lacked for venison or greatly
feared the sheriff and his men. Half a dozen Dunwoodie archers already
lay weltering on the leaves, struck through throat or face with
cloth-yard shafts; and only one or two of the robber knaves had been
likewise served. Our coming, however, changed all in a twinkling.
Mountjoy struck the outlaws on one flank just as Lionel of Montmorency
came down upon the other. In the time a man would need to run a
furlong’s length, a score or more of the varlets were slain by shafts
and cross-bow quarrels or by the swords of our men-at-arms, fifty more
had clasped their hands above their heads in token of surrender, and the
Monkslayer and the remainder of his crew had taken flight toward the
center of the forest.

My father, who had been chosen leader by the other nobles, now called a
halt and sent out a half dozen messengers to right and left to see and
report to him the state of our cordon. Some of these returned in half an
hour with their news, while others made the entire circuit of the
forest, bearing Lord Mountjoy’s commands for the reforming and
tightening of the skirmish line and for the delaying of further advance
till he should give the word. Since the scattering of the main body of
the robbers a number of the fugitives had been creeping back with their
hands tightly clasped over their heads and begging for quarter. It was
my father’s thought that, in a day’s time, these desertions from the
outlaw band would be so many that the task of surrounding and taking the
remainder and the Monkslayer himself would be a light one.

At two o’clock Sir Geoffrey joined us with thirty of his men. The main
body he had left under old Hubert on the other side of Blackpool. He was
aching for a sight of the outlaws, and deemed our chances of
encountering them again better than those along the line he had been
guarding. Sir Geoffrey had grown brown and sturdy in the summer just
past, and had added near an inch to his stature. Now he handled his
cross-bow like a skilled archer, and was soon in eager talk with Cedric
over the practice at moving marks.

Our camp was made in a fair and pleasant glen, some two or three miles
from Blackpool. We had eaten of the bread and meat in our pouches, and
sat at ease about our camp fires, my father having well seen to it that
sentinels were posted against any sortie of the enemy. Suddenly one of
these, half a furlong away in the wood, called out to us and pointed
down a pathway to where it crossed a stream a bowshot below our camp.
There were approaching two men in the Lincoln green, and bearing a cloth
of white which had been tied to a rough pole standard.

“Ha!” cried Squire Dunwoodie, “here come two of the varlets with a
message. We will hear it; and if we like it not, will hang them up to
yonder limb.”

“Nay!” cried my father, angrily, “we shall do no violence to bearers of
a flag of truce, be they honest men or thieves. ’Tis like the Monkslayer
begs for mercy; but whate’er his message, the bearers of it shall return
to him unscathed.”

The envoys now approached and, bowing low before Lord Mountjoy,
delivered to him a folded parchment. My father bent his brows upon this
for a moment, then exclaiming in wrath, bade me read it to the assembled
company. These were the words of the scroll:

    “To Robert, Lord of Mountjoy, Geoffrey, Heir of Carleton and
    other worshipful lords and gentlemen:

    “Know that my men have this day taken prisoner, and now securely
    hold for ransom Elizabeth, Lady of Carleton with two of her
    attendants. Some three score of my greenwood rangers are now
    held captive by you, if indeed you have not already done
    violence upon them. These friends and followers of mine I now
    ask that you freely release, without injury or mutilation, and
    that they go free before the sunrise of to-morrow. Also that you
    then withdraw all your armed forces from Blackpool Forest. Then
    shall the Lady and her attendants likewise depart without harm
    from me or mine. If so be you refuse my terms, then when the sun
    is one hour high you shall receive a messenger from me who will
    bear with him the left hand of the aforesaid Lady of Carleton.
    If by sunset of to-morrow my men have not been suffered to
    freely return, another messenger shall bring you the lady’s
    right hand.

    “My fastness you shall never take. If you attempt it, at the
    first alarm the prisoners shall die. Enough is said to make
    plain my will. Those who have had dealings with me will tell you
    that my word for good or for ill I always keep.

        “_William of Tyndale_,
        Called by some the Monkslayer.”

“Oh, the murderous varlets!” cried Sir Geoffrey; and I thought it no
shame to him that tears streamed down his face, “they will cut off her
hands. ’Twere better far that they slew her outright. Oh! to have that
bloody villain for a moment within sure aim I would willingly die the
instant after.”

“How could she have been taken?” asked Lord Mountjoy.

“I mind me now,” replied Geoffrey, wringing his hands in misery, “she
ever went on Saturdays to tend my brother’s grave at Lanton, two miles
from our gates and on the forest’s edge. She was used to take an ample
guard; but to-day I have taken nearly all our men-of-arms for this
expedition. She liked it not that I should come; and now she has
ventured forth without escort and to my everlasting sorrow. Oh, that
_bloody_ villain!”

“Hush, Sir Geoffrey,” said my father quickly, his face working in
sympathy with the lad’s sore distress, “they shall not harm thy lady
mother. If need be, and no other way will serve, we will e’en release
our prisoners and thus pay her ransom.”

A mutter of discontent from some of the other leaders followed this, and
Dunwoodie spoke full surlily:

“Seven of my good yeomen have already been slain in this quarrel; divers
of our friends have lost men also, and Lord Pelham hath been borne
homewards with an arrow wound that came near to being mortal. Shall we
have nothing for all this but the freeing of these varlets?”

“What would’st thou do then, Dunwoodie,—leave the Lady of Carleton in
the hands of the outlaws?”

Dunwoodie only growled in reply; and soon my father spoke again, this
time to the outlaw messengers:

“Go to your chief,” he said, “and say that we consider his offer, but
that if the Lady of Carleton or her attendants be harmed one whit, we
will hunt him and all his followers to the death e’en if that hunting
takes a thousand men and a year’s campaigning. Let him look to it.”

The messengers bowed again and made their way into the deeps of the
forest. My father and the nobles that were there gathered about the camp
fire in deep discussion of this sore dilemma.



CHAPTER VIII—“THE FORTRESS OF THE MONKSLAYER”


Cedric plucked at my sleeve and drew me aside.

“Thou and Sir Geoffrey come with me a little,” he whispered, “I have
somewhat to say on this.”

Quickly I sought out Geoffrey, and led him away into the bracken in
which Cedric had already disappeared. A bow-shot away from the camp we
came up with him.

“Sir Richard,” he said, speaking far more quickly than was his wont. “I
have a thought of the whereabouts of this fastness that the robber
speaks of in his letter.”

My heart leaped within me. “Hast thou, Cedric?” I cried. “If any one of
all our company should know, it would be thou who art native to these
woods and knowest them as the very deer that run them.”

“Aye,” he replied shortly, “I believe ’tis not two miles hence. What
say’st thou? Shall we reconnoiter?”

“With all my heart,” I answered.

Geoffrey drew his cross-bow cord and placed a bolt in groove. “Lead on,
Cedric,” he said in a low voice. “I will follow thee if ’tis to a lion’s
den.”

“Come then,” replied Cedric, and moved away through the underwood.

He took a roundabout course to avoid our own sentries and their
questions which might be hampering. In five minutes we had passed the
line where a little ravine ran between the posts of two of the archers
who stood on guard, and were hurrying through the wood, crouching for
shelter behind trees and rocks and crossing the more open spaces in
stooping runs lest we encounter the arrows of the outlaws. We saw none
of our enemies, however, and in an hour were on a deeply wooded hillside
amidst huge rocks and brawling streams, half a league and more from our
camp fires.

Now we knew from the added caution of our leader that we approached the
spot he suspected as the fortress of the outlaws. He crouched and
crawled like a serpent, and fully as silently, turning to us from time
to time to lay a finger on his lips. At last he paused at the foot of a
huge old oak that yet bore most of its leaves, and motioning us not to
follow, quickly drew himself up among the branches.

For half a minute he lay on a great limb six yards above the ground and
peered obliquely down the hillside at a point where we could see naught
but a little stream that issued from between huge ledges. Then his face
lighted up of a sudden, and he looked down to us and beckoned us to join
him.

This we managed with no more noise than might well be covered by the
rustling of the oak leaves, and soon lay on the limb beside Cedric and,
peering out betwixt the branches, beheld that to which his finger
pointed.

There was a narrow pathway which led up between the ledges; and, at a
bend in this where they were concealed from any in the wood below, stood
two tall archers in Lincoln green, with axes in their belts, long bows
in hand and arrows ready notched. They neither saw nor heard aught of
us, and we might have fired on them with goodly chance of slaying one or
both; but Cedric now motioned us down to the ground again and soon
joined us beneath the tree.

Without a word he retraced his steps through the forest; and by sundown
we stood again amongst the ferns in the place where he had first
revealed his thought. Then he spoke again:

“’Tis e’en as I thought. The Monkslayer hath his fastness in a wide
cavern at the head of yonder gully. There is no approach save by that
winding path you saw where half a dozen men might well stop a thousand.
He thinks to guard my Lady Carleton there until her ransom be paid. And
whether even then he will let her go unharmed we know not.”

Sir Geoffrey ground his teeth in rage.

“Hast thou any plan?” I asked of Cedric.

“Aye,” he replied, “though ’tis something ticklish; and if it fail,
’twill be an ill chance indeed.”

“Say on, Cedric,” said Geoffrey, eagerly.

“This is my thought,” said Cedric, “we have till to-morrow’s sunrise
before any harm shall befall thy lady mother. Now, it would be
disastrous to attack the fastness openly; but it may be that with two
score of swordsmen, creeping on them just before the dawn, we can take
them by surprise. Your archer is all at disadvantage in fighting at
arm’s length; and if such a force can reach the cavern’s mouth, I
warrant we snatch away the prisoners almost before they are aware. The
cave is broad but not deep. I remember it full well. There is no room in
it for hiding.”

“But Cedric!” I cried, “how shall we reach the cave’s mouth without
alarm? Hast thou forgotten the two sentries in the lower pathway?”

Cedric smiled broadly.

“And hast thou forgotten, Sir Dickon, the oak tree from which we spied
them but now? Old Marvin and I together shall care for the sentries.”

I drew a deep breath as I caught the full working of his plan. “Cedric,”
I said, “thou wilt never remain a simple squire. Thou hast a head as
well as an arm. The King hath need for such in many places of trust.”

“Let us first make this plan succeed,” replied Cedric evenly, though I
could see that my words had warmed him to the heart. “Now shall we tell
Lord Mountjoy?”

“Aye,” said I, “let us have him from the camp at once. I warrant you
he’ll kindle at our news. And he knows which of our swordsmen will carry
themselves best in such a venture.”

“And I have twenty men of Carleton here that can be trusted,” put in
Geoffrey.

“Right,” said Cedric, “’twill make us amply strong. We must have no
blunderers, though, for look you, some of these greenwood men have ears
that can hear a twig break at two hundred paces. We must urge Lord
Mountjoy to hold all at a safe distance till the signal.”

Two hours after the midnight we set out through the forest for the
storming of the robber fastness. Cedric, as pathfinder, was in the lead,
followed close by Lord Mountjoy, Sir Geoffrey and me. After us, and
treading most cautiously, ’mongst the leaves and brush, came old Marvin,
the archer, and thirty chosen swordsmen of Mountjoy with a score or more
of Geoffrey’s men.

There was no moon; and the faint stars gave but little light in the
forest deeps. Our way lay, as often as not, over steep and rocky slopes
where our faces were torn with thorns and our legs bruised against the
unseen rocks.

We had made little more than half of our way to the outlaw stronghold
when Lord Mountjoy, in coming down a streamlet bank in the darkness,
stepped heavily on a stone that rolled beneath his weight, and went to
the ground with his right foot twisted under him. He gave a groan of
pain, yet in an instant was up again to resume his march. But then ’twas
found this could not be. His ankle had been most sorely wrenched, and
would not at all endure his weight. He sank down again on a leafy bank,
and called us to him. Amidst half stifled groans and grumblings at his
ill fortune he declared he could not move from thence without
assistance. There was no help for it; he must await our return.
Therefore he gave o’er to me the leadership of the venture. We left with
him two stout men-at-arms, and went quickly on, for now it seemed the
sunrise could not be long in coming.

At the fourth hour of the morning we lay by the streamlet bed, two
hundred paces from the robbers’ sentry post in the rocky passage. Cedric
and old Marvin had left us to climb the hillside by another route and
gain the branches of the great oak tree. Already there was a grayness in
the dark that told of the coming dawn. Half an hour passed, and by
little and little the trunks of the trees grew more clearly to be seen
and we could well make out each other’s faces. Roosting wild fowl roused
themselves, and flew away with a clatter of wings. We knew that Cedric
and Marvin awaited the daylight to make sure their aim. At last, on the
top of a tall tree above me, I spied a beam of sunlight.

Immediately, as it seemed, there came from the oak tree the call of an
owl, twice repeated. This was the signal for which we waited; and we
sprang up together and ran, as silently as might be, toward the pathway
entrance. We gained it unmolested, and with Geoffrey and me in the lead,
quickly came upon the bodies of the sentries. Cedric and Marvin, from
their post in the tree, had well done their work. The sentinels had
perished silently, each with a bolt through his skull.

We rushed forward; and now some of our arms rang against the stones; and
there was a cry from above us. This was no time for stealth and
creeping. On we went with a rush and with a clatter of heels on the
rocks of the path and of steel against steel as we jostled one another
in the race.

In a moment we were at the cavern’s mouth; and found a score of the
robbers on their feet to meet us. Arrows whizzed among us and one or two
men fell, mortally hurt. Geoffrey let fly his bolt at a tall villain
that stood in his path, and shot him fair between the eyes. Then I saw
no more for I was face to face with the outlaw chief, and our swords
flashed fire.

He still wore his steel breastplate, which I believe he had not laid
aside that night; and this well matched the shirt of woven mail that had
stayed two or three arrows which had otherwise laid me low. I felt
taller and stronger at that moment than e’er before in my life; and my
sword seemed a very plaything in my hands, like that of the Frenchman,
De Latiere, who had so nearly done to death my father at the court at
Shrewsbury. The outlaw was no novice with the sword, as I who had once
before crossed weapons with him, could well testify. But almost at the
outset I brought to bear the play that, with my father’s help, I had all
that summer been perfecting. A swinging feint at the forearm turned
itself in mid-air to a flashing thrust straight at his unguarded throat.
I pierced him through and through, and he fell and died at my feet.

Looking about me, I saw most of the outlaws dead or dying and the
remainder being fast bound as prisoners. Young Sir Geoffrey of Carleton
had dropped his cross-bow on the ground and stood with his mother’s arms
firmly clasped about his neck the while he whispered somewhat in her
ear. At her side her two handmaids stood unharmed and loudly weeping for
joy.

As I stood looking, well content, at this spectacle, the Lady of
Carleton suddenly loosed her son and ran toward me. In an instant I too
was clasped in a warm embrace.

“Richard of Mountjoy,” she cried, “thou and thine were my son’s friends
and rescuers, and now mine also. This day’s deeds bespeak thee far
better than any words. Heaven is my witness, I believe thou art a true
man and hast spoken the truth as to thy dealings. All that we can do to
serve thee shall be done. From this day forth and forever there shall be
peace and love betwixt our house and thine.”



CHAPTER IX—CHURL AND OVERLORD


’Twas a year and more after the overthrow of the Monkslayer in Blackpool
Forest and the killing or scattering of most of his band that my father,
the Lord of Mountjoy, with my lady mother and myself and Cedric the
Forester, now my accredited squire, sat one day in the hall of Mountjoy
talking of the news that had that day come in. There had been, it
seemed, a most desperate and bloody revolt of the churls on the lands of
Sir Hugh DeLancey, some ten leagues to the south of us. A hundred or
more of the peasantry with some apprentices and hangers-on at the
village, armed with axes, clubs and scythes, had taken the manor by
surprise in the night, killed Sir Hugh and half a dozen of his men in
the hall, driven out the lady, then sacked the place and burnt it to the
ground.

We were fair horror-struck at such lawless and brutal doings; and for a
time we vied with one another in calling vengeance down on the leaders
of that guilty crew and in plans for assisting in their punishment. But
in the midst of this an archer came from the courtyard with the word
that one of Sir Hugh’s men-at-arms, who had been wounded in the
onslaught, had managed to get him to horse and away after the death of
his master, and was even now at the gate asking the hospitality of
Mountjoy. My father at once gave orders for his welcome; and soon the
man, who, after all, had escaped with wounds of no great moment, was
sitting at our board with meat and drink before him. When his hunger and
thirst were abated, he told us the tale of the churls’ revolt in a
somewhat different seeming.

Sir Hugh DeLancey, though a loyal follower of the King, a resolute
punisher of outlawry, and oft a comrade of my father’s at the jousts and
in the battle line, had been a hard master to all his men in kitchen and
hall and a heavy-handed overlord to the peasantry about him. Many a one
had muttered curses after him when his back was turned; but he was ever
quick with riding whip, or oaken cudgel at need, so that almost none
dared gainsay him. Now it seemed that but the day before he had sent his
steward to the cottage of Oswald, a farmer of his demesne, to say that
Oswald was to make ready to receive for the night two of the grooms of
Lord Westerby who were to accompany their master on a two-days’ deer
hunt in Sir Hugh’s forests. By ill hap it chanced that Dame Margery,
Oswald’s wife, was ill-a-bed at the time, and appeared to be nigh unto
her death; and Oswald sent back the word to his master that on this
account he could not receive the two men that were to be quartered on
him. The steward, however, held an old grudge against Oswald; and so,
returning to his master, spoke but the half of Oswald’s answer, saying
only that the farmer refused to have the grooms in his cottage.

When Sir Hugh heard this, he flew into a rage, called for his horse and
rode to Oswald’s door, followed at a little distance by this retainer
who now told us the tale. Arrived before the cottage door, he drew his
sword, and, taking it by the blade, pounded with might and main with the
butt on the panel. Oswald came forth, and, angered by this unseemly
noise at the door of what would soon be a house of mourning, spoke
roughly to his liege lord, requesting him to withdraw and leave the
dying in peace.

Sir Hugh’s own choler was so high that ’tis doubtful if he sensed the
meaning of Oswald’s words, for he answered with a command to throw the
door wide, as he would take the cot forthwith to stable his horse
within, and it should be seen who was master on the lands of DeLancey.
Oswald stood immovable, and as the knight advanced on him laid hold of a
firewood stick to dispute his way. At this Sir Hugh struck right madly
with the weapon which he still held by the blade. By a most unhappy
chance the broadsword hilt came down, full force, upon the farmer’s
temple, and in an instant he was stretched dead at the feet of his
master. Then Sir Hugh took horse again and rode back to the manor.

Poor Dame Margery set up a piteous outcry, and soon there came two or
three of the neighbor folk who heard her broken tale of the encounter.
Ere night the bitter news was on every tongue within miles of DeLancey
Manor; and when at dark the word went round that Margery had died also,
a vengeful band soon formed itself, and those bloody deeds were done of
which the earlier news had come to us.

Scarce had the DeLancey man finished his tale and been taken to his
lodging where the leech should tend his hurts when a messenger rode up
to our court-yard gate and demanded admittance in the name of the Lord
High Constable. He brought us the news that the Constable was already in
the saddle and with half a hundred lances at his back was riding to
DeLancey Manor for the quelling of the mutiny and the punishment of Sir
Hugh’s murderers. It seemed, however, that the Lord Constable had no
archers with him and feared they might be sorely needed in the fighting
to come. Therefore he asked of Lord Mountjoy that he send with the
messenger half a dozen mounted cross-bow men,—men who could strike a
fair target at two hundred paces; and he promised to reward bountifully
any such who should do the Crown good service.

At this Lord Mountjoy turned to Cedric, saying:

“Now here’s the chance, Cedric, my lad, for thee to earn both gold and
honor. Wilt thou pick five more Mountjoy cross-bow men and ride with
them ’neath the Constable’s banner?”

But with a countenance of a sudden grown something pale, Cedric made
reply:

“Good my lord, I pray you lay not your commands upon me to that effect.
This expedition likes me not.”

“How now!” exclaimed my father, “this is a new temper for thee, Cedric.
Thou’rt ever ready to be where shafts and quarrels fly. Surely thou’rt
not frighted of peasants’ clubs and scythes.”

“Nay, my lord. But for this fighting I have indeed no stomach, and ’tis
like I should make but a poor soldier in the Constable’s train. I pray
you, if Mountjoy must furnish archers for this work, let some other lead
them.”

My father’s face grew very red. He leaned far over the table toward
Cedric, and seemed about to speak full loud and angrily. Then bethinking
himself, he turned again to the Constable’s messenger, and said:

“Return thou to the Lord Constable with Mountjoy’s compliments; and say
that within the half hour six good cross-bow men will set forth from
here, and will o’ertake him on the road long before he reaches DeLancey
Manor.”

The messenger bowed and withdrew. Soon we heard his horse’s hoofs on the
drawbridge. Then Lord Mountjoy sent for one of the older of the Mountjoy
archers from the court-yard below, and gave to him the commission just
refused by my obstinate squire. This accomplished he turned again to
Cedric, with a heavy frown on his brow, and said:

“Now tell us, if thou wilt, sirrah, why this sudden showing of the white
feather. ’Tis not like thee, I’ll be bound, to shrink from any fray,
whether with knight or clown, or to shame me as thou hast before the
Constable’s messenger. What terrifies thee now in the thought of this
rabble?”

“I have no fright of them, my lord. Rather I wist not to have any hand
in their punishment for a deed which, lawless though it be, still had
the sorest provoking.”

Lord Mountjoy gazed at the youth in amazement. My mother and I caught
our breaths and one or the other of us would have interposed a word to
blunt the edge of such wild-flung talk; but my father burst out again,
and in a voice that echoed through the house:

“And would’st thou then let the murderers of my friend go free of
punishment for that he had struck down a churl that refused him entrance
to a house on his own domain?”

“The man did but defend his right,” returned the Forester, steadily.
“The house was his, against all comers, e’en his liege lord, till he had
been duly dispossessed.”

Such rebel doctrine had ne’er before been heard in Mountjoy Hall. ’Twas
little wonder that my father’s face grew purple with wrath as he
shouted:

“And where gettest thou such Jack Clown law as that? Is it from the
books of chronicles thou hast learned to pore over by the hour, or from
the monks at Kirkwald that lend them to thee?”

“Nay, my lord, ’tis from the ancient Saxon law that ne’er hath been
abrogated in England, though many a time o’erridden. ‘A freeman’s house
is his sole domain though it be no more than a forester’s cot.’”

Lord Mountjoy had risen and now stamped back and forth.

“Ne’er abrogated, forsooth! But it well should be. This is no law or
custom for the descendants of the nobles that landed with William the
Conqueror. ’Tis of a piece with the insolence of the churls on Grimsby’s
lands, who would have a magistrate of their own choosing forsooth, to
try their causes withal—reaching up to snatch the reins of governing
from their lawful masters. What do such clowns know of law or governing?
When did ever such make shift to guide or protect a state?”

“Those same chronicles, my lord, of which you spoke but now, tell us of
a republic of Rome, where commoners ruled the city, and that that city
grew so great in power as to rule half the world and more.”

My father gazed grimly at the youth who dared thus to question his
wisdom; but for the moment he had naught to say, and Lady Mountjoy
seized the chance to exclaim:

“Oh! in those chronicles there is a bonny tale of the saving of the city
by the voice of geese. I will fetch them and read it you.”

Lord Mountjoy, not thus to be put aside, made an impatient gesture, and
was about to take up again the argument when a knock was heard on the
door of the hall, and a maid announced that Old Marvin, the archer,
craved speech with Lord Mountjoy. Glad enough was I to see him admitted,
for this quarrel that had flamed up so suddenly between my father and my
friend and squire was a bitter thing to me and to my lady mother. More
than once had Cedric saved my life in battle and skirmish; and Lord
Mountjoy himself had stood forth as his champion when King Henry
condemned Cedric to be hanged for the killing in fair fight of young
Lionel of Carleton. Of all the Mountjoy retainers, Cedric had the
steadiest hand and the clearest head. I had often prophesied that unless
I rose in honors and preferment faster than I could rightly expect, I
should not long be able to retain such a youth as a simple squire. But
now I seemed like to lose him before ever my spurs had been won and he
to part from us in bitterness.

As Cedric was the most valued among the younger retainers of our house,
so was old Marvin, the cross-bow man, among the elders who had followed
first my grandfather, then my father to the wars. His wondrous skill
with his weapon had done yeoman service on many a field, and finally had
struck down the old Gray Wolf, Lord Carleton in the midst of the
desperate assault he made on the walls of Mountjoy. For two years now
Marvin and his good wife had enjoyed the cottage and six acres of the
Millfield, where we hoped he might have many years of peace as some
measure of requital for a lifetime of toil and danger. ’Twas not likely
that Lord Mountjoy, in the angry mood of the moment, would have admitted
any other of his followers; but Marvin was a man of honor and privilege
in Mountjoy Hall.

As soon as Marvin had entered, my mother rose and, calling Cedric to
her, found some duty upon which to employ him, so that he left the hall,
and was seen no more till late at night. Meanwhile the old archer had
explained to us that a message had just come to him from his brother who
was a forester on the lands of Lord Morton, a day’s journey to the
north. Marvin had not seen his brother for twenty years; and when last
they parted it was in some coldness; but now the other, who was a few
years older than Marvin, was lying sick in his cottage at Morton, and
asked his brother to come to him that they might be reconciled ere he
died. He offered, if Marvin would come and stay with him to the end, to
settle upon him as his heir any goods or savings he might have. Marvin
now craved leave to join a merchants’ caravan which was just setting
forth in that direction, that he might comply with his brother’s last
request.

On hearing Marvin through, my father instantly gave his leave, and
ordered furthermore that a good horse from the Mountjoy stables be
placed at his disposal. Thereupon our faithful old retainer bade us a
hasty good-by, for the caravan was already on the road; and we wished
him a safe return.

My mother and I did hope and plan that Lord Mountjoy might easily forget
the dispute he had with Cedric; and to that end found means to keep
Cedric busily employed through the following morning; and at the midday
meal did turn the talk toward the great tournament that was soon to be
held at Shrewsbury. But some Imp of Mischief had his way at last, for at
mid-afternoon my father entered the hall and found Cedric by the
fireside, deep in the great book of chronicles. This was enough to bring
to mind the heresies that Cedric had found therein; and in a moment all
the anger of the day before flamed up again. Soon Lord Mountjoy was
shouting in his wrath, declaring that the nation went to the dogs where
curs and clowns were not duly subject to their lawful masters, and that
if Cedric would mend his fortunes, he must first cast out such folly
from his mind. Cedric replied, in lower tones indeed, but by no means
meekly, upholding what he called the rights of English freemen to
household and to peaceable assembly and to trial, when accused, by
juries of their peers. At last my father checked his speaking, and said
slowly and in cold anger:

“I tell thee, sirrah, thou’lt mend thy clownish ways of thinking if
thou’rt to remain in Mountjoy Hall. We’ll have no rebel firebrands—no
ale-house ranters with their crazy mouthings,—stirring up our yeomanry
through thee. While I hold the fee of Mountjoy, every man-jack in cot or
in castle must be a loyal subject of the King and of his liege lord.”

At this my squire made a low bow and said:

“I thank you then, my lord, for all your kindness, and will say
farewell. I can say naught but the truth for either friend or foe.”

“Cedric!” cried my mother, “thou canst not mean it. Think what Mountjoy
means to thy fortunes; and think again of the good-will we all bear
thee. Say to Lord Mountjoy that those were but thoughtless words, and be
our man again.”

Cedric shook his head, but trusted not his voice to speak. Thereat my
father drew from his pouch a purse of gold and offered him.

“Thou hast given the Mountjoy right loyal service. Take this in token.”

But Cedric again shook his head.

“Nay, my lord, such service as I gave was not for gold, and I cannot
receive it. With your leave, I will take the steed that was the
Carleton’s, and since called mine, and ride away from Mountjoy where my
words and thoughts are dangerous.”

More talk there was and further urgings from my mother and from me; but
Cedric’s will remained unmoved. Lord Mountjoy paced back and forth
before the hearth with hands clasped behind his back and with a deeply
furrowed brow. The Forester bowed low again and left the hall; and soon
thereafter we heard the tramp of his horse on the drawbridge. Then I
took me to the battlements and watched my loyal squire and comrade till
his figure grew dim and disappeared on the road that lay to the south
and east, toward London town.

Three mournful days went by. Word came that the peasantry of DeLancey
Manor had been herded up by the Constable and his lancers, and that two
of the ringleaders had been hanged. Although my father gave the
messenger who brought this news a broad piece of gold, it seemed to
bring him but little cheer to know that the slayers of his friend had
met their punishment. There was but little talk in Mountjoy Hall; the
rain fell dismally without; the days were dark and cold; and e’en our
good log fire seemed powerless to brighten them.

Then came, hard riding, a messenger from the Lord of Morton. He bore a
letter from his lordship to my father; and filled it was with direful
news. Old Marvin of Mountjoy had been sorely wounded at Morton in some
fray for which Lord Morton blamed no other than his own son, who, it
seems, had perished in the fighting. Lord Morton wrote in noble fashion
of his grief that our retainer should have come to harm through any of
his house, and said that Marvin had the best of care at Morton, and
that, so soon as he should be sufficiently recovered, he should be borne
to Mountjoy in a litter, and that all of the goods of his brother who
had lately died should be honorably bestowed upon him.

The letter was brief withal; and when my father had finished reading it
to us we yet remained sore puzzled at this happening. We turned again to
the old serving man who had brought the message, and him Lord Mountjoy
questioned sharply:

“Know’st thou aught of this affair, my man, save what is set forth in
this letter?”

“Aye, my lord,” he answered heavily, “much of this sad work I saw. ’Twas
an ill time indeed, for my Lord of Morton is far gone in years, and now
this misfortune hath robbed him of his only son and heir.”

“Tell us of it, I pray thee,” said my father, eagerly, “if so be thou
canst do so with full loyalty to thy house.”

“Nay. My Lord Morton conceals naught. It was Sir Boris, his son, that
was to blame, and he denies it not. Lord Morton is an upright man and a
just; but for years he hath tried in vain to curb the wildness of young
Sir Boris. Drink and dice have been the young lord’s ruin as of many a
better man before. Only a fortnight since, Lord Morton forbade him, on
pain of his worst displeasure, to bring any dice, those tools of the
Devil, into Morton Hall. More than that, he drove from the very door two
of the young bloods from Shrewsbury who had been the young lord’s boon
companions in drinking and gaming.”

“But how did this touch our Marvin? He was not lodged in Morton Hall, I
trow.”

“Nay, my lord. Marvin came three days ago to the cottage in Morton Wood
where his brother, the forester, lay in his last illness. ’Twas none too
soon, i’ faith, for hardly more than a day later, Old Gilbert breathed
his last. That was toward sundown; and Marvin, who had been joined by
some stranger lad, prepared to spend one more night in the cottage to
look after his brother’s body, which they planned to bury on the morrow.
This I knew, for my Lord Morton had sent me there for word of the
forester; and I brought back the news to the Hall.

“A little later I had commands from young Sir Boris to join him in his
hunting lodge in the wood, for that he should meet some friends there in
the evening, and I should wait on them with food and drink. I well knew
that this was but a trick to set at naught the orders of my Lord Morton;
and now I have sorrow that I did not instantly acquaint him with it. But
Sir Boris was a willful man and very ill to oppose; so I obeyed him,
thinking that ’twas better there should be at the lodge one man at least
of sober head than that the party should be served by some of our young
kitchen knaves who think of naught themselves but drink and lawless
living.

“But alas! that night’s revel was far worse than ever I had thought.
There was young Damian of Lancaster, Sir Henry Walcott and Guy De
Montalvan—roistering and dissolute blades all of them—and two or three
more whose names I knew not. I had brought a fair venison pasty to the
lodge; but for this they nothing cared. ’Twas the love of drink and
gaming that brought them there; and the fires were scarce lighted and
the table spread ere they had broached a cask of wine and the dice were
rattling on the boards. Their gaming soon was fast and furious; and the
stakes grew ever higher. Young Boris at first won nearly every cast,
till his pouch was bulging with gold pieces; but by ten o’ the clock his
luck had turned and he lost and lost. All his winnings went, then all
the gold he had or could borrow. Next he wagered the suit of armor which
had been his father’s gift when he was knighted, then the great white
horse which bore him in the tourney. In another hour all of these were
lost and young Guy de Montalvan was richer far than e’er he had
deserved. By now all of them were much the worse for wine; and when Sir
Boris wished to continue the play when he had naught more to wager, they
disputed him with oaths.

“Then my young master bethought him for a space whilst the others played
on regardless. At last he burst out with a shout:

“‘I know the whereabouts of gold that is of right the Morton’s. Gilbert,
the old churl who was our forester, hath died this day. At his cot he
had, I doubt not, store of gold pieces which my father and I have given
him from time to time. Now I have need of them, and will proceed to take
what is mine own. Who follows me?’

“There were shouts and laughter at this and clapping of hands. Sir Boris
started up and, sword in hand, ran out the door. Then before I could say
or do aught to stay them, the whole rioting crew had seized cloaks and
weapons and were streaming forth into the forest on the way to Gilbert’s
cottage. I left the lodge and ran with all my might along the path to
the castle to arouse Lord Morton. But ’twas half a mile and more, and
when I reached there my master was deep in sleep. He roused him up at
once, and soon, with half a dozen stout men-at-arms at his back, was
running through the wood to put a stop to those mad doings.

“But alackaday! he was too late to do aught but view the scene of ruin
and dishonor to his house and to gather up the bodies of the slain and
those who lay in wounds and blood. The rest of the tale I had from old
Marvin himself as I tended him but yesterday; and piteous it was, not
for him only, who will recover of his hurts, but for all of us who love
the name and fame of Morton.

“’Twas near midnight when he and the stranger youth who were lying on
the floor, covered with their cloaks were roused by blows of sword hilts
that rang upon the door and by shouts and drunken yells. The body of old
Gilbert lay upon the bed; and doubtless this din and cursing at such a
time struck horribly on Marvin’s ears.

“‘Who art thou, and what wilt thou have?’ he shouted.

“‘Sir Boris of Morton,’ came the answer, ‘get up, thou churl and open
the door.’

“‘Not for thee nor any man in such guise as this. Know’st thou not that
Gilbert, the forester, lieth dead here? Go thy ways, I pray thee, and
leave this house in peace.’

“But at this there were more yells and calls and louder smiting on the
door. Then spake the stranger youth:

“‘Go thy ways, whoe’er ye be. We be two armed men, and will suffer none
to enter here this night.’”

“Well and bravely spoken!” exclaimed my father, “’twas a well-born
youth, I warrant thee.”

“Nay,” answered the old servant, “he wore the hodden gray. But gentle or
simple, he soon was forced to make good his words or swallow them, for
my young master and his crew withdrew them for a brief space, then came
rushing all together, bearing a huge log which they employed for a
battering ram. At the very first thrust, it broke down the cottage door
with a horrid crash. Then those that bore it instantly drew swords and
poniards and essayed to enter in its wake.

“Old Marvin, it seemed, had his cross-bow ready drawn; and he shot young
Montalvan through the face at the first onslaught. The stranger youth
fought with broadsword, and well and truly too. He had at first some
vantage in the shadow in which he stood; but soon the rioters were all
around him. He felled one of them with his very first stroke; but then
Sir Boris came opposite him, striking and cursing like a madman. Marvin
was overthrown and sorely wounded, and still the youth fought on, beset
by four of his enemies at once. In a moment he had thrust Sir Boris
clean through the body, and an instant after, fell, wounded to the
death.”

[Illustration: _OLD MARVIN HAD HIS CROSS-BOW READY DRAWN, AND HE SHOT
YOUNG MONTALVAN THROUGH THE FACE AT THE VERY FIRST ONSET_]

“Oh! By all the Saints!” cried Lord Mountjoy, “in hodden gray, say’st
thou? I warrant ’twas a disguise, and that he was of noble strain. He
could not have better died had he been a Huntingdon or a Montmorency.”

During this recital my mother’s face had grown white as wax. Now she
asked in halting whispers, midst gasps for breath that came near to
being sobs:

“Had’st thou—no word—of his name and degree?”

“Nay, my lady,” replied the old servant, “save that Marvin seemed to
know him and called him Cedric.”

“Cedric!” cried my mother and I at once, while my father turned deadly
pale and sat down heavily on a bench near by.

“Cedric!” I shouted again, “’tis Cedric of Mountjoy,—none other.”

Then my father found voice. ’Twas a low, weak tone—one scarce to be
heard indeed:

“This is a judgment on me for my hardness. Cedric was right indeed. I
see it clearly now that ’tis our own old Marvin whose rights were
trampled on by those who called him churl and varlet. And what a battle
the lad did make! And how he fell—like a prince of the blood beset by
ruffians! Oh! Did he live to speak any words of farewell—to leave any
message with Marvin or any other?”

“I know not, my lord,” replied the old serving man, “when I left Morton
Hall this morning, ’twas said that he still breathed, but that he could
scarcely last the day.”

My father started up and gave a furious pull to the bell cord. The
clangor thus provoked sent the chief of our serving men hurrying in.

“Tell the grooms to saddle Cæsar,” shouted Lord Mountjoy, “and call
Broderick and say that he and six armed and mounted men are to attend
me. I ride at once to Morton.”

“And I also,” I cried, “Galvin, tell the grooms to make ready the black
mare that I rode yesterday.”

“And my horse also,” shrilled my mother, the instant I was done. “I,
too, will ride to Morton.”

’Twas fifteen leagues to Morton Hall; and much of the road was rough and
wild, with many a stony hill to climb and many a stream to ford. The
half of the journey we made by the light of the great round harvest moon
that sent its silvered rays near level through the forest. Hard we rode,
indeed, and with little mercy on our mounts; and ’twas scarce four hours
after we left Mountjoy when, piloted by the old Morton serving man, we
dismounted before the door of Gilbert’s cottage.

[Illustration: _HARD WE RODE, INDEED, AND WITH LITTLE MERCY ON OUR
MOUNTS_]

Praise be to the saints! We were not too late, for Cedric lay within,
still breathing, though with closed eyes and with face of deathly
paleness. Old Marvin lay on another couch hard by; and a leech and a
nursing woman from Morton Hall were with them.

Marvin greeted us gladly, and seemed not surprised at our coming. His
voice roused Cedric; and he looked upon us with knowing eyes and weakly
uttered words of welcome. Lord Mountjoy knelt on the ground at his side,
and clasped his hand.

“Cedric,” he whispered, painfully, “canst thou forgive me my words of
harshness and my driving thee forth from thy home?”

Then a smile of great content o’erspread my comrade’s face; his eyes
grew brighter, and a faintly ruddy color came to his cheeks.

“Lord Mountjoy,” he said, and his voice was far stronger than before, “I
freely forgive you for any trifling slights you have offered. I pray
you, make not too much of them.”

“Thou wert right, after all,” went on Lord Mountjoy, “in holding to the
rights thy fathers had of old. I should well have known thou wert too
staunch ever to be a breeder of trouble in the house of thy friends. Now
would I give the half of my lands to have thee back, well and sound, at
Mountjoy Hall.”

Then Cedric smiled again, now broadly as of old.

“No such price as that shall you pay, my lord, for somewhat which shall
be granted without price whatsoever. I have two deep wounds, forsooth,
but little thought of dying. The good leech here knows not of the
strength that a plain-living forester can muster when his friends come
all these leagues to bid him be of good cheer. I will ride again beneath
the Mountjoy banner, my lord, and that before the spring.”

At that all three of us that had before knelt dry-eyed before his couch,
began weeping copiously for very joy, and Old Marvin, from his bed
offered up a prayer of thanksgiving. The leech now came forward, and
closely noting the change in Cedric’s face, added his assurance to the
stricken youth’s own testimony. Two hours later we came softly from the
cottage where both our faithful men lay soundly sleeping. Into the
forest the leech followed us to say that now the worst was past, and
that he doubted not their full recovery.



CHAPTER X—THE PASS OF THE EAGLES


On a breezy autumn morning, while we made practice of arms in the
courtyard, a herald from De Lacey, the Lord High Constable, rode over
Mountjoy drawbridge. He had an urgent message for my father, and the
like for Sir Geoffrey, the young Lord of Carleton, Sir James Dunwoodie
of Grimsby and all the other loyal knights and barons of our
neighborhood. The Welsh had broken over the border once more; and under
Rhys, their barbarous chief who styled himself King of Wales, were
burning and ravaging through the Western Marches. Many miles of fair and
fruitful land they had overrun; and now they lay before Wallingham,
threatening that goodly fortress and all of those who had taken refuge
within it with fire and sword.

The army of the Welsh was five thousand strong. They had driven the
garrison of Wallingham within walls at once; and had they been as
skilled in the use of mangonels and other enginery of siege as they were
with the swords and javelins of their ancient custom, they would ere
this have breached or scaled the walls and given the place over to
massacre and the torch. But stout Sir Philip De Courcey still stood at
bay; and now De Lacey was arming for his relief. The Constable had but
five hundred horsemen; and of these seven score mail-clad knights, for
the young king, Richard the Lion Hearted, so lately crowned, was
gathering for the Crusade a vast array of the chivalry of England; and
this left our Western Marches but lightly defended. So the Lord
Constable was sending messengers far and wide, calling to his standard
the knights and barons of the Western counties with all the mounted men
that at a day’s notice they could muster.

De Lacey had many times before met and scattered the bands of Welsh
marauders. Now he meant to deliver such a blow as should break their
power forever. He had sworn to drive them not only from the plain of
Wallingham, but across the Marches and into their mountain fastnesses
and to harry and slay them till not a score of the robbers remained
under the skull-bone banner of their chief. To this end, he would accept
no foot-soldiers, even as archers. His whole force must be mounted in
order that the Welsh, on their tough little mountain horses might not
escape as they had done after many another bloody raid.

On the following day there gathered under the Constable’s banner at
Hereford such an array of chivalry as I had ne’er before seen. Four
hundred mail-clad knights were there, and near a thousand men-at-arms in
good steel caps and braced and quilted leathern jackets and bearing the
stout shields and heavy broadswords of their trade. Then there were
twelve hundred and more of archers, mostly armed with cross-bows, but
some with long-bows and cloth-yard shafts, some having quilted caps and
jackets, but more being lightly clad in the foresters’ Lincoln green or
peasants’ hodden gray. All, as by the Constable’s command, were mounted
in some sort, though truly some of the sorry old nags and hairy-legged
plow-horses that they bestrode might have much to do to overtake one of
the wiry and long-shanked Welsh who fled on foot, to say naught of their
ponies that could run all day without tiring on their moorland tracks
and winding mountain ways.

Geoffrey, the young Lord of Carleton, with two hundred men, was at the
meeting place when we arrived. Soon after came Dunwoodie of Grimsby,
Lord Pelham, Lionel of Montmorency and the men of Mannerley, Whitbury
and Gresham. By the Commander’s order, each man had in his pouch store
of bread and dried meat for three days’ campaigning. Beyond that time,
we must find our eating where we could. ’Twas mid-afternoon ere our
force was assembled; but we took the road straightway, and by nightfall
were encamped at Hardiston, half way to Wallingham.

For Geoffrey of Carleton, for myself, the Heir of Mountjoy, and my
squire and comrade, Cedric of Pelham Wood, this was the first sight and
sound of war on such a scale; and we were fairly lifted up by the
thought of what the morrow would bring. Cedric and I had each nineteen
years at Candlemas, and Sir Geoffrey but six months less. Many bloody
frays had we seen in the petty warfare of our countryside with robber
baron and with banded forest outlaws; and each of us already knew the
pang of hostile steel. Cedric, indeed, was but lately recovered from the
wounds he had a year before at Morton where he had been accounted as one
dead. But the tramp of an army of mounted men and the sweet music of
their clinking armor and weapons we heard for the first time that day.
We rode near the middle of the line; and, glancing forward and back at
the gallant train, that seemed a whole crusade on the narrow roads,
could scarce believe that there existed anywhere an enemy that could
stand before its charge. Our mail-clad knights alone, riding under the
lead of the stern old Constable, seemed invincible. The Welsh, we knew,
fought without defensive armor, save their bull’s hide shields; and
almost I pitied them for their nakedness when I thought of the terrible
Norman spears and swords in the hands of men long trained in their
skillful use and hardened by years of warfare. It seemed scarce fair
indeed that knights and gentlemen should fight at such advantage. The
arrows and javelins and e’en the sword strokes of their enemies would
touch them not, while their own well-aimed blows would cleave through
flimsy defenses and scatter wounds and death. Thus mused I in my
youthful ignorance; but ere two days had passed I was both sadder and
wiser. Never again will I pass such hasty judgment on the power of an
enemy I have not surely tried.

Though both Sir Geoffrey and I were as yet knights by courtesy only, not
having won our spurs, we were armed and equipped for the expedition like
the older knights about us. Cedric also, though a yeoman born, wore a
coat of woven mail, and had a good broadsword at his side. But slung
upon his back the while was his steel cross-bow—his first and favorite
weapon and the one with which he had such wondrous skill. He could
strike a running hare more surely than I could one that sat stock still
beneath a bush; and he had managed to impart to a dozen and more of the
Mountjoy archers some measure of his craft, so that ’twas acknowledged
we had the best cross-bow men in the countryside.

Geoffrey of Carleton had gained much in the two years just past in
breadth of shoulder and length of arm; and could now dispute with me on
almost even terms with the foils or the wooden targes and broadswords of
our martial play. I had already the height and reach of my father who
had a name for bone and brawn and feats of knightly strength; and
Cedric, though a handsbreadth shorter, had the shoulders and thighs of a
smith. He could hang by one arm from a bough, and draw himself up to the
chin; and I have seen him crumple a gold coin in his hand by way of
making good his word when he had declared it over thin and light.

Though Cedric was born and had lived till his sixteenth year in the
woodland cottage of his father, the forester of Pelham, his speech was
not as that of the churls around us; and at Castle Mountjoy he had
learned the ways of gentleness as readily as one of noblest blood. My
lady mother was never aweary of lessoning such a pupil in the manners of
a knight and gentleman; and now had reason to look with pride on her
work. Withal Cedric ne’er forgot the class from which he sprung nor
carried himself as a lord over them when given authority.

We made but a short night of it at Hardiston. By three o’ the clock we
were in saddle again, and pricking forward toward the plain of
Wallingham. By sun-up we were within three leagues of the castle, and
the Constable had sent forward light-armed scouts to bring us word of
the siege. Then spake my father, with the freedom of an old comrade of
the Constable’s and veteran of many a hard campaign:

“Methinks, my lord, that Rhys and his Welsh rabble will ne’er await our
coming on Wallingham Plain where they must needs fight with the castle
in their rear and the danger of a sortie of the garrison. Beshrew me if
they do not fly again across the Marches when they hear of our coming in
force, and await another time to strike at undefended lands.”

“By’r Lady! Mountjoy,” returned the Constable, “I believe thou’rt right,
and Rhys will never risk his thieving crew on a good wide field where
sword and lance decide the day. But what would’st thou suggest? Can we
do aught but ride for Wallingham as hard as may be?”

“Aye, my lord. There is a fork o’ the road a bowshot hence where one
track leads to Wallingham and the other to Egbert’s Ford o’er a wide
stream a league from the castle. ’Tis on the road to the Marches; and if
we ride and hold it, we may there intercept the Welsh and cut them off
from their retreat. If they leave not Wallingham, we can ride from
thence and take them at vantage.”

“Well said, Mountjoy, i’ faith!” cried De Lacey, “prithee, Sir Richard
of Mountjoy, ride forward and give the word to the vanguard to take the
right turning. We’ll come between the rogues and their retreat, and
fight, mayhap, with the river at our backs. There’ll be full many of
them, I trust, that will never ride again for robbery and burning.”

Mine errand with the vanguard was quickly done. Less than an hour
thereafter we rode out of the forest in sight of Egbert’s Ford. Then
were Lord Mountjoy’s words full justified for we saw before us, and but
half a mile away, the whole army of the Welsh in full retreat on the
road toward the Marches and the tangle of mountains and valleys beyond.
Fortune smiled on our banners that morning; for indeed, had we foreknown
our enemies’ movements and timed our coming to the minute, it could not
have better fallen out. As we emerged from the greenwood, half of the
Welsh army had already crossed the stream; the water at the ford was
filled with mounted men and bullock carts, laden with spoil and making
their difficult way through the swift-flowing current; and the remainder
of their forces still stood on the hither side, awaiting their turn for
the crossing.

It needed not the eye of a great captain to discern our vantage in such
a posture. As our knights and men-at-arms came forth on the field they
set up a shout of joy full like that of unleashed hounds that see the
boar started from his covert. Almost without a word from their chiefs,
and without a moment’s loss, they formed in line of battle. Then came
the Constable’s ringing word: “Forward for Saint George!” and the line
rolled forward down the hill with a rush and roar like that of the great
downfall of rock and earth and full-grown trees that I had once seen in
the Western mountains.

My father and I rode at the head of the Mountjoy knights and
men-at-arms, and not far from the Constable. Sir Geoffrey full gallantly
captained the chivalry of Carleton and Teramore, and Lionel of
Montmorency rode just beyond him, leading a hundred lances. Lord
Mountjoy had named Cedric to lead the Mountjoy archers, five score
strong; and I could see o’er my shoulder that they were the first of the
bowmen to form their line and follow in the wake of the men-at-arms.
Thus the army of the Constable poured down upon the luckless Welshmen in
two thunderous, onrushing waves.

[Illustration: _THE WATER AT THE FORD WAS FILLED WITH MOUNTED MEN AND
BULLOCK CARTS, LADEN WITH SPOIL AND MAKING THEIR DIFFICULT WAY THROUGH
THE SWIFT-FLOWING CURRENT_]

They made shift to meet our attack as best they might, facing us with
stubborn courage indeed, but with little skill of the military art, and
with a battle front that seemed more like a moiling and howling mob of
rioters than an army under its lawful captains. If any noise e’er heard
could have effected it, we might have been checked indeed, for, as we
galloped down upon them, they set up a chorus of shrieks and yells that
seemed like to split one’s ears. Swords and maces seemed their principal
weapons, with here and there a lance or a battle-ax, and mingled
helter-skelter with their heavier arms, the bows and shafts of their
archers. Their bows had not the length nor the power of those of our
English foresters; and the cloud of arrows they sent toward our
mail-clad line had no more effect than as if a flock of sparrows had
sought to check and thwart us.

Into that howling mob we rushed with leveled lances. Our horses were
stayed by the very mass of the bodies of our enemies; and in a moment we
were assailed, as it seemed, from all sides, by the survivors, some of
them dreadfully wounded, but wielding swords and battle-clubs and
javelins with a demon-like fury.

Their skill with these weapons was not to be despised; and, if they had
no coats of mail to shield them, neither were their movements impeded by
weight of armor. Hundreds of our men-at-arms and scores of knights fell
in that struggle on the river brink. Victory was no such easy goal as I
had thought.

Meanwhile the half of the Welsh army which was on the other side of the
river, commanded by Rhys himself, essayed to re-cross and come to the
aid of their comrades. They might well have succeeded, and mayhap found
some means of outflanking us, had it not been for the watchfulness of
Cedric of Mountjoy. He and our whole array of archers had been close
behind us, striving to do their share by way of shooting between our
bodies at the mass of Welshmen. But soon the tangle was such that their
bolts seemed as like to slay friend as foe, and they had gradually
desisted. Then Cedric caught sight of the Welsh entering the water on
the farther side, and drawing the Mountjoy archers to the left of the
main battle, began sending a stream of quarrels in their direction. The
Lord Constable, having just then a moment’s respite, saw what was
toward, and sent word to the other leaders of our bowmen to follow the
tactics of the Mountjoy men. In a moment the air above the stream was
filled with a cloud of bolts and shafts, and the waters became clogged
with dead and dying men and horses. Such a rain of death and wounds was
not to be endured by unprotected men. Soon the Welsh warriors were
turning their horses’ heads again toward the bank; and those that
regained it, with their fellows who had not yet reëntered the ford, fell
back to a safer distance.

Now the battle on the river bank went swiftly to its close. The
struggling and yelling Welsh grew ever fewer, and our knights gained
room for yet more deadly work with sword and lance. Soon the half of the
Welsh forces that had occupied the hither bank had been destroyed or
scattered, and our army was crossing the river in pursuit of Rhys and
his remaining warriors who were riding for life toward the mountains in
the West.

True to his sworn purpose, the Constable lost not a moment in the chase.
The Welsh horses were fresher than ours that had already traveled far
that day, and they were more lightly burdened, else we might have ridden
them down and finished the work so well begun at Egbert’s Ford. As it
was, our enemies, by abandoning their spoils and lashing their ponies
forward without mercy, managed to keep well beyond bowshot for the half
a dozen leagues that lay between the Ford and the entrance of a narrow
valley that led up into the mountains where they had so often before
found safe retreat. Into this defile we rode at three o’ the clock,
cutting down or making prisoners of a dozen stragglers whose horses had
failed them at the beginning of the upward road.

Without pause we spurred on up the stony pathway for a mile and more;
then found the valley narrowing to a pass between high walls of rock.
Through this the army of the Welsh had gone, leaving a guard of a
hundred or more to stay our progress.

Our leader well knew the tactics fit for such a juncture. He halted his
main force, and sent forward the archers,—the long-bow men under Simon
of Montmorency, and those with cross-bows under Cedric of Mountjoy. Soon
the defenders of the pass were whelmed with a cloud of arrows and
quarrels. They sheltered themselves as best they might ’mongst rocks and
trees; but the arrows came like rain, searching every cranny of the
pass. In scarce half an hour the last of the Welsh rear-guard was slain
or had fled, and the way was open before us.

The Constable left two hundred men-at-arms and archers, under an old and
trusted knight, to guard the pass behind us; and we rode forward into
the wide valley. The day was now far spent, and the sun had passed from
sight behind the mountains that rose ever higher toward the West. The
scattered oaks and firs and the great rocks that strewed the valley on
either hand might well have sheltered an ambush; and we rode forward
more slowly, with lines of skirmishers well to the fore and to the right
and left.

And now it seemed that Fortune who with the sun had smiled upon us all
day long, withdrew her favor also, for we had traversed scarce a league
of the rocky track along which Rhys and his army had fled when thick
clouds obscured the narrow sky above us; thunder roared and rumbled in
the mountain passes, and torrents of rain began to fall. The darkness
swiftly enclosed us, and we had perforce to halt lest we should lose our
way amongst the woods and rocks. There, drenched and chilled and worn
with a day of riding and battle, we made bivouac and ate of the food in
our pouches. Mindful of the skill and daring of the Welsh in night
attacks, the Lord Constable posted double lines of sentinels; and we
seized such sleep as we might, wrapped in our dripping cloaks and lying
upon the grass and leaves.

At last, I for one, slumbered heavily; and it seemed but an hour ere our
leaders roused us and we saw the black shadows of the mists around us
turning gray with morning light. While we ate again of the bread and
meat we carried, the Constable despatched two riders with a message to
Sir Guy Baldiston at the pass, with commands to send back word to
Wallingham of our whereabouts and our intent to pursue the ravagers
still farther.

In half an hour we were again in saddle, and De Lacey was giving
directions for our better ordering to guard against surprise upon the
march, when one descried our messengers returning at full gallop and
lying low upon their horses’ necks as if in fear of arrows that might
come from wayside rocks and trees. They rode indeed not like the
soldiers of a victor’s army but like men who are hunted and flee for
their lives.

In a moment more they had attained our lines, their horses loudly
panting with the labor of such galloping over rough and stony paths; and
the foremost rider cried out to the Commander:

“Oh, my lord! Sir Guy and all his men are slain, and the Welsh have the
pass again. We but narrowly escaped being taken ourselves.”

The Constable sat on his great war-horse, gazing and frowning at the
messenger for a length of time that an arrow, shot strongly upward,
might have needed to come again to earth. Then he said, sternly:

“And how closely didst thou see all this?”

“My lord, we rode within a bowshot. ’Twas something dark and misty; and
we knew not what was toward. The pass is filled with Welshmen; and they
raise the skull-bone banner. ’Tis an army such as we encountered
yesterday.”

De Lacey glanced about him at his leaders.

“My lords and gentlemen: you hear what has chanced. Shall we attack
again from this side or fare onward?”

“We must ride onward, my lord, and that quickly,” answered Lord
Mountjoy, “we cannot force that narrow pass ’gainst such an army as our
messenger describes. Doubtless they hold also the crags above; and from
thence they can roll down rocks that would fell and crush any force that
attempted it.”

“We saw many hundreds of them on the crags above,” put in the messenger.

“And what if we ride forward?” demanded the Constable. “Have we a
clearer road on that side?”

“Aye, my lord,” returned my father, “once, years agone, I rode through
this valley a hawking. There is another gateway, called the Pass of the
Eagles, three leagues farther west. It is much broader than the other,
and if we hasten, Rhys can scarcely gather a force that can hold it
against us. Then beyond is the good wide valley of Owain, adown which,
in ten hours hard riding we may gain the Marches once more.”

The Lord Constable gazed at the ground before him for a moment. Then he
lifted his head and spake so that all around might hear.

“My lords: this Welsh freebooter hath shown himself a better general
than I. He hath enticed us into this valley, and then hath closed the
gate behind us, as one entraps a bear or wolf. The storm, it seems, hath
given him respite; he fights in his own land, and doubtless the night
hath brought many recruits to his banner. Now ride we on to force this
other gateway ere he gather an army that can close that also. Forward,
for Saint George.”

At the full trot we rode away, and for an hour and more we slackened not
our speed. By the sides of the pathway, or crouching under crags on the
hillside, we saw at intervals the huts of stones and turf of the Welsh
mountain folk; but all stood silent and deserted with never a wisp of
smoke from chimney or sight of woman or child.

When the sun was an hour high, the valley narrowed again around us; and
we came in sight of the Pass of the Eagles. Then indeed we knew that if
any of us returned alive from this adventure, ’twould be by the favor of
all the Saints and by the utmost might of our arms. For the army of Rhys
stood before us, drawn up in twenty ranks across the defile which was
there of a furlong’s width. In the front rank stood the spearmen with
the butts of their weapons firmly planted in the ground and the points
held at the height of a horse’s breast; in the next the King and his
sons, the leaders of tribes and all of those who bore the heaviest arms
and iron shields; behind them, rank after rank of swordsmen and javelin
throwers, and, rearmost, their archers with bows in hand and arrows
ready notched.

The flanks of the Welsh array were protected by high and rocky slopes
where scrubby oaks and thorns found scant foothold amidst the crags and
where no horse could tread. On both sides of the valley where it
narrowed to the pass were broken cliffs that not a mountain goat could
scale. Beyond these lay the heather-covered mountainsides and faraway
rocky peaks where already snow had come.

At the word our men wheeled into line of battle, the armored knights in
the van, in two open ranks, then the men-at-arms in three more of closer
array. The archers were not to charge with us, but, with a dozen knights
and a hundred men-at-arms under Lord Mountjoy, were to form a rearguard
lest other bodies of the Welsh close in upon us. Both Sir Geoffrey and I
had won favor in the Lord Constable’s eyes by somewhat we had
accomplished in the fighting at the ford; and now I led the forces of
Mountjoy at his right and Geoffrey those of Carleton and Teramore on his
left hand.

In a moment came the furious shock of battle and all the frightful
scenes of the struggle by the river’s edge—with the vantage now on the
side of our enemies. Many of the steeds of our gallant knights
transfixed themselves upon the Welsh lances; and their riders, brought
to the ground, fell victims to swords or javelins or were crushed
beneath the hoofs of our own oncoming ranks. But the line of spears was
utterly broken; and the other knights and men-at-arms drove furiously
into the mass before them. Swords and lances did their terrible work,
and in the briefest time hundreds of our enemies had fallen. The
Constable fought that day with a huge mace, and, swinging it about his
head as it were a willow wand, he seemed like the great god Thor of the
heathen worship of old.

But now for every two or three of the Welsh one of our knights or
men-at-arms perished also. Some of the tribesmen, struck down by the
swords of the riders, thrust upwards at our horses with swords and
knives as we passed over them, and so cast down many a rider into the
mêlée of dashing hoofs and glancing blades; and many times furious
warriors, laying hold upon the riders, brought them to the earth and to
speedy death. Their archers and javelin throwers aimed at our necks and
faces; and though many of their shafts flew wide or even struck down
their own, others found their marks indeed and added to our fatal
losses.

From one desperate moment to another, for a length of time ever unknown
to me, the struggle and the slaying went on unchecked. Our numbers grew
ever fewer, and we were gaining scarce a yard of ground. For all the
heaps of fallen, the Welsh fought on with undiminished fury; and ’twas
evident that they would slay the last of us ere we could force the pass.
Lionel of Montmorency had fallen with half his men, as also Dunwoodie
and Sir William, his brother and heir. The Lord Constable himself was
wounded, and, panting with fatigue and loss of blood, had dropped his
mace to fight again with broadsword. Sir Geoffrey of Carleton had once
saved him from the hands of a huge Welsh warrior who sought to drag him
from his saddle; and now the two fought almost back to back in an ever
narrowing circle of enemies.

Suddenly I saw and felt the tribesmen wavering and giving ground before
us, and became aware of a shower of cross-bow bolts that was falling
among them and striking them down by hundreds. Looking up to see whence
they came, I beheld Cedric of Mountjoy and half a thousand of his
cross-bow men among the rocks in the promontory to the right,
discharging their bolts as fast as they could lay them in groove and
pouring a most deadly hail into the thick ranks of our enemies. ’Twas
evident that Cedric had dismounted all his men and found some means to
scale the cliffs and strike the Welsh in flank.

[Illustration: _THE LEADER HAD HIS GREAT SWORD THRUST ASIDE BY CEDRIC’S
BOW, THEN WAS SEIZED ABOUT THE WAIST AND HURLED TO THE ROCKS BELOW_]

Then I saw that a body of the enemy, hastily called from the rear-most
ranks by the huge and red-haired Gruffud, son of Rhys, assaulted this
position and sought to pull our archers from their posts of vantage.
Climbing upward amongst the crags, they faced at closest range the
deadly aim of the cross-bow men. Backward they fell by scores, their
bodies crushing down those below them. Not a dozen came to grips with
the archers. Of these the leader had his great sword thrust aside by
Cedric’s bow, then was seized about the waist, lifted from the earth and
thrown to the rocks below where he lay still with broken back.

With the fall of Gruffud, our men set up a mighty shout, and pressed the
Welsh ever the harder. The deadly bolts still poured down from Cedric’s
vantage ground, but shifted ever their direction as we drove the enemy
before us. The yells of the Welshmen, which had been those of victory
and triumph, now changed to cries of despair. Hundreds turned and fled;
and of these many cast down their weapons that they might run the
faster. Soon the downward pathway ahead of us was filled with fugitives,
and only a few bands of desperate warriors fought on, preferring death
to such a defeat after victory had been almost within their grasp.

With the pass open before us, we paused not to pursue the Welsh into the
rocky and wooded fastnesses where they had fled. Taking up our sorely
wounded in such litters as we could hastily form, and those with less
grave hurts behind the other horsemen, we reformed our column and rode
away down the broad valley toward the Marches and the goodly fortress of
Wenderley that Sir John Clarendon held for the King.

When the moon rose at the ninth hour of the evening of that day the Lord
High Constable stood in the courtyard at Wenderley, surrounded by the
lords and barons of his expedition and of the castle garrison. His
wounds had been bathed and bandaged, but his face was white with the
bloodletting and the fatigues of the day so that his friends were urging
him to seek his rest. Yet for the time he put away their counsel,
declaring that one duty yet remained. Young Geoffrey of Carleton and I
with Cedric, my squire, had been summoned before him.

“Kneel down,” he commanded, sternly. We obeyed in silence, and he drew
his sword from its sheath and thrice struck the young Lord of Carleton
lightly on the shoulder.

“Rise, Sir Geoffrey of Carleton,” he said, “I dub thee knight. Be thou
ever faithful, true and valorous as thou hast been this day.”

Then I also received the strokes of the sword and words were pronounced
that made me a knight and chevalier in verity.

Lastly, and to my great amaze, I heard the words:

“Rise, Sir Cedric De La Roche. I dub thee Knight of the Crag. The device
on thy shield shall be an eagle in token of the spot where thy resource
changed defeat to victory. Be thou ever faithful, true and valorous as
thou hast been this day, and England hath gained a stout defender and
King Richard of the Lion Heart a worthy support to his throne.”



CHAPTER XI—BY KIMBERLEY MOAT


After the Battle of the Pass we had a season of quiet at Mountjoy. King
Richard had sailed on the Great Crusade, leaving his brother John as
Regent; and the people of England, nobles and commons alike, learned
that there was a far worse rule than that of stern old Henry of Anjou,
for John Lackland, his younger son, had at once the greed of a tiger and
the meanness of a rat. Many of the high places of Church and State were
filled with his favorites—miserable creatures for the most part whose
only merits were a ready complaisance to the wishes of their master and
a measure of craft and subtlety in furtherance of his schemes. Sheriffs
and bailiffs of a yet more contemptible strain hurried to do the bidding
of these velvet-clad beggars and thieves, and honest and forthright men
led a hard life indeed unless they were themselves high in power and of
numerous following.

Among these last might be reckoned the Mountjoys and their friends and
allies, the Carletons of Teramore. We were too strong and too valuable
in the defense of the Western Marches to be meddled with save for the
greatest cause; so the land for some leagues about us was in a measure
free from the ills which now and again brought other portions of the
Kingdom to the verge of rebellion.

Sir Cedric, as now we gladly styled him, was high in the councils of
Mountjoy. My father consulted him as often as myself on the gravest
questions; and Lady Mountjoy willingly spent uncounted hours in
bettering his knowledge of polite and courtly ways and of those divers
little matters of knightly bearing to which in our rough Western land we
give mayhap too little heed. At the books, to her amaze, he soon had far
outstripped her. An uncle of his was one of the monks at Kirkwald Abbey,
and a famous Latin scholar. For a year past, Cedric had been making
frequent journeys to the Abbey; and once we had old Father Benedict at
Mountjoy for a month or more. For hours together they would pore over
dusty and ancient tomes that made me ache with weariness but to look
upon them. The first we knew, our Cedric was better at the Latin reading
than any layman we had seen or heard of. History and chronicles were
good meat and drink to him; and often, with his head between the covers
of a book, his dinner would be quite forgot but for my lusty calling.

Withal he was no pale bookworm, but a lusty and rollicking lad who in
rough and tumble play could lay me on the broad of my back with scarce a
minute’s striving. At the sword-play I was ever his better, but his
mastery of the cross-bow grew yet more wonderful as the seasons passed.
Even the oldsters admitted that he equalled Marvin at Marvin’s best.
Already he had the name of the best cross-bowman in England; and I found
that strangers to our county, who had heard nothing of the deeds of my
father and all our noble forbears, had knowledge, nevertheless, of
Mountjoy as the house to which Sir Cedric gave allegiance.

But I think the thing that warmed me most toward my former squire and
constant comrade was the loyalty he ever had to the class of folk from
which he sprung. Lord Mountjoy often gave to him authority over working
crews at some necessary task on farm or highway or scouting parties of
swordsmen and archers that rode the Marches to guard against the Welsh
marauders. It would have been no wonder had such a sudden rise to title
and preferment bred in a youth who had been born in a forester’s cot a
certain arrogance of manner and an overweening confidence in his own
worth and deserts. But, by his own desire, the archers and men-at-arms
of Mountjoy still addressed him as they had when his station was no
higher than theirs; and though he could be quick and firm on occasion,
he was never above listening to and profiting by the counsels of the
elder men in buckram or in hodden gray. Nor did he forget the cottage in
Pelham Wood which housed his old father and his small, tow-headed
brethren. Since he had dwelt at Mountjoy Hall, scarce a month had passed
without his riding thence and leaving with them some share in any
guerdon he had won.

It was after such a journey that Cedric returned to the Hall one autumn
evening in such a mood of silence and depression as I had never seen
since those sad days when he quarreled with my father over the
punishment due the churls of De Lancey Manor. At his supper he spoke no
word, and ate and drank but little. My lady mother did anxiously inquire
if he were ill, for we knew him well as a valiant trencherman, and he
had ridden far in a frosty air. He put away her questionings with his
usual courtesy, denying that aught ailed him; but me he could not so
easily check, for I followed him to his room, and, finding him sitting
with his face in his hands, demanded to know as friend and comrade what
had turned his world awry.

“Sir Richard,” he replied sadly, “hast ever had friend of thine flung
into dungeon cell, there to lie at the pleasure of some low-living
scoundrel?”

“Nay,” I answered quickly, “this evil I have thus far ’scaped, though I
well know ’tis common enough in these days, and many there be that
suffer it.”

“Of those I am one,” replied Cedric. “And now I rack my head to know
whether or not there be any possible help for it. Wilfrid, son of the
farmer of Birkenhead, was my comrade and playmate since ever I can
remember. We hunted and fished and swam together and willingly fought
each other’s battles when we were but little lads. Once he plunged in
and pulled me from the Tarleton Water, when, far gone with cramp, I had
twice sunken. His handling of the long-bow is well-nigh equal to my
father’s, and better than that of any youth I know. I had lately planned
to bring him to Mountjoy and to say a word to thy father of his
deserts.”

“And who is it that now hath seized him?”

“’Tis that wry-mouthed and rat-eyed scoundrel, Bardolph, that lately
hath been made King’s Bailiff, and hath in charge the rebuilding of
Kimberley Castle.”

“He that plundered the chapel at Ravenstone?”

“The same. He would steal the pennies from the eyes of the dead, if no
avenger were by. But ’tis spite rather than greed that prompts him in
this matter of my friend. Some years ago, when we were all lads
together, young Bardolph, who is the son of an innkeeper at Rothwell,
came riding past Birkenhead with some village comrades of his. In a
foolish attempt at wit, he cast some foul insult at Wilfrid who stood by
the way, watching them pass. In an instant, Wilfrid had snatched him
from the saddle and rolled him well in a puddle of mud that chanced to
be at hand, so that Bardolph rode home at last a sorry spectacle indeed.
That day he ne’er forgot, it seems, and only now has found an
opportunity for vengeance. He hath been given the charge of the work at
Kimberley where Prince John plans to enlarge and strengthen the fortress
and fill it with a numerous garrison. He hath need of many cattle for
the work of hauling the stone and timber; and though we are not now at
war, and there can be seen no pressing need for haste, he seizes the
horses and oxen from the farmers roundabout and drives the work as
though the Scotch and Welsh were o’er the borders both at once. With
this excuse he seized the yoke cattle at Birkenhead.”

“But Birkenhead is full five leagues from Kimberley.”

“Aye, and that it is that shows the act was done with malice and with
none of necessity. A hundred farms were nearer to the castle, and some
of them might far better spare their oxen. ’Twas in the thick of harvest
too. Thou knowest how the rains have held it back till it seems that the
snows may cover the uncut grain if the farmers make not haste. But
Wilfrid made shift to go on with his hauling in some sort. He put to the
yoke a pair of half-broke steers that should not have worked till the
spring, and with half loads was bringing his crops to barn and stack.
Then what did Bardolph do but come again, with two soldiers at his back,
and make demand of Wilfrid for these cattle also.”

“The hound! I would I had been there to tell him straight what manner of
cur he is.”

“There was no need for that. Wilfrid forthwith flew into such a rage as
drove from him all fear of what might betide. First he shouted at the
bailiff some most naked truths as to his character and doings, then he
rushed upon him, and, warding off a sword blow, pulled him from his
horse, even as he had done that other time, and ere the soldiers could
interfere had broken Bardolph’s nose with one great blow from his fist.”

“Oh Saints above! Did he so indeed? There’s a yeoman for thee of the
sort that win England’s battles. I would we _had_ him under Mountjoy
banner. But what next occurred?”

“The soldiers had leaped from their horses as soon as the bailiff went
down, and both together they seized Wilfrid and overthrew and bound him
fast. Then, lashing him on the back of a horse, they set out for
Kimberley, with he of the broken nose riding close behind, shedding a
stream of blood and furious oaths. The neighbor folk say that over and
over again he swore that young Birkenhead should never leave Kimberley
alive.”

“By’r Lady!” I cried, “there’s naught to prevent him making good his
threats. He is in command at Kimberley now that the Sheriff hath left
for the North.”

Cedric nodded sadly.

“’Tis so. He dares not put him to death openly, but he may starve him in
his cell and report that he died of a sickness. And if the Sheriff
returns, I doubt of much betterment for one in Wilfrid’s plight. Thou
knowest well that throughout England at this moment there are lying in
dungeons, with chains on their limbs, full many honest men who are as
innocent of any crime as thou or me.”

“I know it well indeed. And of these there are many as to whom their
very jailers know not the charge against them, for their accusers are
long ago dead. ’Tis a hard world we live in, Cedric; but I see not how
we may better it.”

Cedric sprang up and faced me with high-held head and blazing eyes.

“Sir Richard, if thou’lt help me, we _may_ better this hard world for
one luckless man. It has come to me how we may take Wilfrid of
Birkenhead from the very walls of Kimberley.”

“Help thee? My word upon it, I _will_ help thee if it can be done at
all. Say on.”

“My thought is this,” answered Cedric quickly, whilst tears of joy
sprang to his eyes at my hearty seconding, “one that came from Kimberley
even as we talked at my father’s to-day hath told us that Wilfrid is
confined not in the castle dungeons, since those are in some way
concerned in the present changes, but in a strong room in the tower,
some forty feet above the moat. The window is not barred, since the
apartment was never meant to serve for prison; but the wall is sheer
below it to the cliff that steeply slopes from thence to the moat.
‘Twould be sure death to fling one’s self down, since the rock at the
base is after all too wide to be passed by a leap from the window. But
with a stout rope now, and with friends on the farther side with horses
not far off—”

“But the sentries on the battlements would surely spy him as he
descended.”

“Not on a moonless night, and especially if he knew the moment when the
sentry had just passed overhead and therefore would not soon return.
’Tis a desperate thing, I own; but believe me, Sir Richard, we shall not
fail. Already I see the way to take the rope and our messages to Wilfrid
in his cell. There is a group of trees which in the last score of years
while the castle has been little used as a stronghold, has been allowed
to grow on the hither side of the moat, just opposite the tower. There
we will hide and do our part in the venture. To-morrow night will be
moonless. What sayest thou?”

                                  ————

The next day at noon, soon after Bardolph of the Broken Nose had ridden
away from Kimberley on some necessary errand, a stout old monk, in the
flowing robe of his order, with hood and cowl closely drawn about his
face, and bearing a basket on his arm, appeared at the gate of
Kimberley. He wished to see the prisoner, Wilfrid, and to bear to him
the consolations of religion and also some articles of food which
friends of his had prepared. The clerkly youth who seemed in authority
in the absence of the bailiff was much in doubt as to the wisdom of
permitting any such entry, and, indeed, at first refused. But the good
monk fairly overwhelmed him with quotations from the Scripture and the
writings of the Holy Fathers relative to his duty to visit those who
were sick or in prison, and quoted so many Latin texts that the youth
was soon fairly bewildered and overcome. Stipulating only that the
basket be left below, since the bailiff had given strict orders that no
food was to be taken to the prisoner by any save himself, he led the way
up the tower stairs, and unlocking the heavy oaken door, admitted the
monk to the room where Birkenhead was confined.

In another quarter of an hour the monk had departed as he came, taking
up his basket again at the gateway and leaving with the chatelaine his
heartiest blessing. To me, who had been anxiously watching from one of
the village houses, a furlong from the walls, it seemed that he walked
with much firmer and more vigorous step as he returned o’er the
drawbridge than he had when first he crossed it. But if this were so,
none in the castle seemed to remark it—at any rate the monk’s departure
was not interrupted, and he passed out of the village, looking neither
to the right nor the left.

Soon after, I followed and overtook him after he had entered a thick
copse of yew and hazel half a mile away. Beneath that leafy screen,
Cedric flung off the monkish gown and hood, dropped the basket on the
ground, and stood gazing at it gloomily.

“Sir Richard,” he said at length, “Wilfrid of Birkenhead hath been for
three days close shut in that tower room, and no least morsel of food
hath been given him. Bardolph verily means to compass his death by
starving.”

“The miserable hound!” I answered between set teeth, “’tis a pity
Wilfrid did not strike a thought harder and break his worthless skull.”

Cedric’s face was wried with pain and wrath. He stamped upon the ground
in bitter impatience. Then, pulling from the basket the huge meat pie
which had formed the greater part of the provision he had sought to
carry to the prisoner, he dropped it before him and struck it with most
vicious kick before it reached the ground. The crust flew off in a dozen
pieces, and revealed the inner part as no juicy slices of flesh of fowl
or pig but a close-wound coil of hempen rope, such as no mortal man
could feed upon.

“Had I placed this beneath my armpits as was my first thought,” growled
Cedric, “it would now have been safe hidden in the bundle of straw they
have given Wilfrid for a bed. Fortune favored us not, it seems; but
mayhap that fickle jade will smile on our further contrivings. I made a
new plan even as I climbed the tower stairs; and Wilfrid is well
apprised of it. ’Tis not so simple as the first nor seemingly so sure;
but it may serve our turn.”

“Must we wait till the morrow and risk another entry of the castle?” I
questioned. “Mayhap the bailiff will not ride abroad so opportunely.”

“Nay, we shall make the essay to-night,” he answered slowly. “Time
presses, if Wilfrid is not to be so weakened by fasting as to be
incapable of any effort in his own behalf. Marcel hath already been told
to have the horses here at nine and await our coming till dawn if need
be. If we can come by a ball of fine, stout cord like fishing lines, we
will have that rope in the tower room by midnight. Then all the rest
will be quickly done, and Wilfrid a dozen leagues from Kimberley ere
sunrise.”

                                  ————

An hour before midnight Cedric and I lay under the group of saplings,
ten yards from the castle moat and opposite the window of the room which
held young Wilfrid of Birkenhead. Beside us on the ground, lay the ball
of cord, with one projecting end fastened to the coil of rope. Now
Cedric took a cross-bow bolt from the sack at his girdle and tied the
other end of the cord firmly about it. Then, drawing the bow, he placed
the bolt in groove.

The sky was covered with thin clouds that half obscured the stars; and
the moon had not yet risen. The castle wall on the other side of the
moat was a gray blur in the murk, but we could clearly see the sentinel
as he slowly paced his rounds of the battlements. The steel cap that he
wore and the point of his spear caught now and again a gleam of the
starlight. Twenty feet below the tower’s summit a blacker square in the
wall was the window of Wilfrid’s cell; and to the right of this could
barely be discerned the lattice which had been swung wide as though to
admit the fresher air.

Cedric crouched on his knees, gazing at the window till the sentry
passed from sight; then softly he uttered the cry of an owl. At once
some white object fluttered in the blackness of the cell window. Cedric
rose to his feet, took careful aim at the window and let fly the bolt.
But alas! the pull of the cord as it unwound from the ball checked the
quarrel sadly, and it rang on the stones of the wall no higher than our
heads. We crouched at once in the shadows, certain that the sentry had
heard its steely stroke; but he came not back to the tower; and soon we
breathed again.

Cedric drew in the line and recharged his weapon, whispering to me the
while that he should have better known than to have it so tightly
coiled, and that another try, with the cord lying loose, would surely
place the bolt within the window.

Now the sentry came again on his rounds; and we waited perforce for his
passing. When he had gone once more Cedric threw his weapon to his
shoulder and sent the bolt on its way. How my ears strained in
listening! And, an instant later, how my heart sank when I heard once
more the clang of iron ’gainst the tower stones and realized that Cedric
had failed a second time to strike his mark at fifty paces.

This time the sentry heard the stroke—or so it seemed—for he came
hurrying back to the tower battlements, and peered downward past the
open window for minutes together. But all had become as still as death,
and there was naught that he could see; so at length he turned away and
resumed his pacing.

As Cedric again drew in the quarrel, he whispered to me:

“I have it now. The line drew down my bolt by a yard or more. I must
allow for that by a higher aim. The third cast never fails; and for that
we yet have time ere yonder sentry is sure there’s mischief afoot.”

He took a fresh bolt and tied the cord with care about it. Then for the
third time he aimed at the tower above us. ’Twas the lucky third indeed,
for, close following the whir of the quarrel, came a muffled thud as it
struck the oaken door within the cell. This seemed not to reach the ears
of the sentry on the other side of the battlements, for though we
listened with bated breath, there was no sound of his returning
footsteps. The next instant we could see the unspent portion of the line
was tightening with a pull from the tower. Then straightway the coil of
rope left its place at our feet, swam through the moat and climbed the
tower’s side.

Cedric and I clasped hands in joy, for now we could see our project
succeeding. In no more time than he needed to descend from the window,
swim the moat and reach the horses in the hazel copse, Wilfrid would be
safely away from Kimberley.

Once more the sentry made his rounds, and once more passed regardless of
what was going forward six yards below him. Wilfrid appeared at the
window, and, lowering himself hand over hand, came swiftly down the rope
to the cliff below. There misfortune awaited us. As he dangled from the
rope with his feet seeking a hold on the sloping cliff, he loosened a
bit of rock, the size of a man’s head, that lay near the tower base; and
this accursed stone slid and rolled noisily down the crag and struck the
waters of the moat with a hideous splashing.

At once the sentry, whose ears mayhap had been sharpened by the other
noise for which he had found no reason, came running again to the tower.
Peering into the darkness below, he spied the prisoner just as he leaped
down the rock and plunged into the moat.

The sentinel was a ready man and determined,—such an one as might well
have served a better master. Setting up a lusty shout of alarm, he
turned at once to a pile of the stones that were kept on the battlements
for the repelling of besiegers, and began hurling these into the moat.

The water’s surface was in shadow and we could not see the head of the
swimmer, nor could we tell whether any of the soldier’s wild-flung
missiles had found their mark. A minute passed wherein my blood seemed
to freeze and my limbs to lock themselves fast like those of one who
perishes from a mad dog’s bite. The stones still followed one another in
vicious plunges into the black waters: and the soldier continued to
halloo for the guardsmen at the gate to lower the bridge and search the
farther bank.

Then Cedric broke away from me and plunged into the moat. Forgetting all
else, I followed him to the water’s edge, stood peering vainly into the
blackness, and might have dived in also had he not speedily returned. He
was swimming lustily with one hand, and with the other bearing up his
comrade. I seized them both as they came within reach, and hauled them
ashore. Cedric joined with me and we drew Wilfrid up the bank and half
way to the group of saplings. There Cedric stopped with a groan of
misery, and fell on his knees by the limp body of his friend. The wind
had brushed the clouds from the sky; and by the starlight I saw that
Wilfrid’s head had been crushed by one of the stones from the
battlements.

Cedric rose to his feet and shook his fist in frenzy toward the King’s
stronghold. But already the bridge was down, and the guard was pouring
across. I plucked my comrade by the sleeve.

“Come Cedric, come! Our friend is past all help. Let us away ere they
slay us also.”

He turned to me with a face of deathly whiteness; and for a moment I
thought he would refuse. But I seized his hand, and he let me hurry him
to the shelter of the trees. Through these we quickly passed, and then
raced down the dim-lit field to a hedgerow a furlong away. Running
behind this, we soon distanced our pursuers.

In half an hour we had come by roundabout ways to the hazel copse where
Marcel and the horses awaited us. In silence we mounted, and in silence
rode through all the hours of darkness, Cedric sitting with head bowed
forward, enwrapped in gloomy thought as in a sable garment. The way was
rough and weary, and we found no solace in the fragrance of the harvest
fields and leaf-strewn woods or in the song of the night wind. As the
sun rose behind a veil of gray and chilling mists, we climbed the slopes
of Rowan Hill and sighted the towers of Mountjoy.



CHAPTER XII—THE IRON COLLAR


A year had passed since our ill-fated venture beneath the walls of
Kimberley, and ’twas such an autumn morning as makes one forget his
cares and sorrows and those of a strife-torn world, and believe in the
coming of a better day.

Cedric and I had promised ourselves rare sport in the woods of Grimsby.
The sky overhead was of brightest blue, and the sunlight filtered
sweetly through the boughs of oak and beech that now had dropped the
half of their leaves to make a rustling carpet underfoot. In the
treetops the birds sang lustily, making the best of the smiling time
that comes before the winter’s winds and snows. Now and again a
woodmouse scampered on fallen log, a hare sprang away from her form, or
a moorfowl scuttled to cover in the bracken. To me there were never
sweeter sights and sounds and fragrances than those of autumn woodlands;
and to Cedric, the son of a Pelham forester, they were as native and
joyous as the brown brook waters to the speckled trout or the green hill
pastures to the Mountjoy kine.

Since my comrade and former squire had been knighted at Wenderley, after
the victory over the Welsh at the Pass of the Eagles, we at Mountjoy had
grown well used to think of him as Sir Cedric De La Roche, the name
conferred by the Lord High Constable when he made him knight and
chevalier. But a newer honor had come to him but four months past; and
though ’twas well deserved and a most gracious act of our liege lord,
the Lion Hearted Richard, we yet could scarce conceive of its reality.

De Lacey, the High Constable, who with the backing of all the Mountjoys
and Carletons, had well served the King in the Western counties in the
struggle against his usurping brother, John, after the King’s return
from the German captivity, had told to him the tale of the Welsh battle
and something of Cedric’s more recent services. Then he had hinted that
the fee of Grimsby had been vacant, save for the royal stewards, ever
since Sir James Dunwoodie and his brother had perished in the Battle at
the Pass. Forthwith the King summoned secretaries to write at his
bidding; and shortly a herald arrived at Castle Mountjoy with letters
patent, making our Cedric the Knight of Grimsby and conferring on him in
fee the lands and manor house and all the rights Dunwoodie had before.

At the royal assembly at Shrewsbury, Cedric had appeared with his due
quota of six mounted men-at-arms and fifty archers; and no knight or
baron in the whole array looked a better captain of his forces or held
himself in more manly fashion as the King rode down the line to view us.
Truly my heart swelled that day with gladness at the recognition that
had come to so brave and true a man without awaiting the silvering of
his hair and the bowing of his shoulders with years.

Lord Mountjoy was mightily proud of Cedric, as I well knew, and had
stinted not to boast of him on occasion as a Mountjoy lad with a head as
well as hands. And, however he might wish to check o’er-weening youth
and confidence, my father might not gainsay that he, that had long been
famous for his swordplay through all our countryside, had much ado to
hold his own with foil or quarter-staff against me, now that my strength
and reach did equal his, or that Cedric of the broad back and oaken
thighs could lift breast-high a weight that neither of us could stir.

Now Sir Cedric De La Roche and I adventured through the Grimsby woods,
afoot, clad as huntsmen and carrying only our cross-bows and poniards.
For the most part, those that hunt in greenwood choose the long-bow with
its cloth-yard shafts; but from a child Cedric had displayed a wondrous
skill with the other weapon; it was ever his favorite; and I followed
his humor. Already he had struck a fine moorfowl that ran amongst the
gorse and I a hare that sat upright beneath a leafy beech, thinking
himself well hidden. We talked full loud and gayly as we made our way
through bush and brake or along the woodland paths, for truly it was the
sunlight and the comradeship and the smell of the fallen leaves that had
brought us to the forest rather than any wish for heavy game sacks.
Already we had meat enough for the roasting at our noon-tide campfire;
and we little cared for more.

To fare abroad on such a morn, among the gray tree trunks and by the
brown woodland streams, was enough for our content. As we walked on,
Cedric told tale after tale that he had from old books of ballads and
chronicles wherein brave knights rode gayly through just such a land as
this and had full many gallant adventures and sweet passages at arms.
Almost could I see the fays and elves that he declared were dancing on
the forest floor and the old, black-robed magician that held them at his
thralls.

Suddenly we heard sound of hoofs, and saw approaching us along a bridle
path two armed and mounted horsemen. ’Twas Lord Gilroy, who held the
great domain of that name two leagues and more away, and his nephew, a
hulking youth of two and twenty or thereabouts, by name Sir Philip
Carrington. Both were red of face with hurry, and their horses were well
lathered and breathing hard. At first sight of us Lord Gilroy called out
loudly:

“Ah, good morrow, gentlemen! Well met, Mountjoy and Grimsby both.
Grimsby, we have to crave thy leave to ride through thy lands in search
of a murdering villain that hath escaped us at Gilroy.”

“A murderer, sayst thou?” answered Cedric, “whom hath he slain?”

[Illustration: _BOTH WERE RED OF FACE WITH HURRY, AND THEIR HORSES WERE
WELL LATHERED AND BREATHING HARD_]

“’Tis Simon, my dogmaster. He lies at the point of death, or is dead for
aught I know by this time, his skull near crushed with a cudgel. ’Twas
my thrall, Egbert, a surly fellow well deserving of the hangman’s noose,
that thus assaulted him. It seems the dogmaster had found him sore
abusing one o’ the best of our hounds, and had rated him soundly,
threatening a report to me of his actions. I saw but the end of the
matter and that from a distance, and with Philip here have ridden hard
after him. The varlet made at once for the woods and has thus far
escaped us; but we will run him to earth, if it take the whole of
Gilroy.

“A surly fellow indeed!” exclaimed Sir Cedric. “’Tis well that he be
apprehended quickly, else he’ll join some outlaw band, and bid us all
defiance. Thou may’st ride through my lands at will for his capture—or
we may chance upon him in the wood. How may we know him?”

Lord Gilroy smiled, but in a hard, grim way he hath that is more
menacing than any frown.

“’Tis easy knowing him. He wears an iron collar, like all my thralls,
bearing his own name and mine in graven letters. It makes the hunting of
them far easier when they have done some violence, or if they attempt to
fly from my lands. But give you good day, messieurs! We must fare on. If
so be you get sight of him, a cross-bow quarrel would not be amiss if he
stop not on order. And if you take and send him to me, I will be much
beholden. Our thralls must be kept well in leash, e’en if that leash be
on occasion a hangman’s knot. Come Philip, ride to the left, I pray
thee, while I follow this path through yonder thicket.”

Cedric and I walked on, talking of this bloody mischief, and of the
chances of the thrall’s recapture. Somehow the brightness had gone from
the sun glints, and the woodland seemed no longer a forest enchanted
where nymphs and elves might dance away from hollowed tree or the
gray-haired wizard, Merwin, be seen upon a mossy rock, summoning by
magic spells a troop of Arthur’s chivalry.

“’Tis true this fellow must be taken,” said Cedric, sadly, “for such as
he make up the outlaw bands that now and again give trouble sore to
honest men. But I know not for the life of me why men that are born and
die upon this green earth like any others, and that have as good a wish
to live unhampered as you and I, should wear upon their necks collars of
iron that mark them forever as slaves and bondmen. I have little wonder
that such at times break forth with violence. Nay! I have the more that
ever they remain quiet like oxen in a paddock awaiting the plowman’s
yoke.”

Cedric had stopped short in the path and was facing me. Upon his broad
and comely face was the same stern look he had worn that day he
withstood my father in the matter of the churls at De Lancey Manor.

“Why, God ha’ mercy, Cedric!” I protested, “I see no need for all this
heat. These thralls have never known other condition; and ’tis like they
live the more in comfort for a master’s guidance.”

Cedric’s eyes blazed at this, and he spoke full loudly:

“Look thee now, Sir Richard! Hast ever asked of thrall whether or not he
would have his freedom if he might? If ever thou dost, thou’lt find that
there’s never a villein or thrall in England but would prefer himself as
master to the kindest and best of lords that ever lived.”

“How know’st thou that?” I questioned, sharply, being myself somewhat
kindled by the heat with which he spoke.

“Hark thee, Sir Richard! Thou hast on Mountjoy lands no thralls, for
that thy grandfather made freemen of them all. But when I came to
Grimsby there were here a dozen or more that wore the iron collar and
might not leave the land. I had not been here a fortnight ere I loosed
the collars from their necks, and bade them go or stay as pleased them
for that now they were free men. Some were youths like ourselves; some
strong men of middle life and others old and white-haired; but every one
of them fell down before me and wept for very joy that they and their
children after them should be free. Forsooth, I liked it not that men
with sons older than me should pay me homage as I were a heathen Caliph
on his throne. ’Tis nearly four months since; and not one of them has
left the lands of Grimsby and every one would fight for me ’gainst any
man on earth. Had’st thou seen their faces on that day I threw their
collars to the smith to beat into bush-cutting hooks, thou’d never
question more whether men would choose to _be_ men rather than cattle.”

“Ah well!” I answered, “mayhap it is as thou sayest. Some of the best
men under the Mountjoy banner are sons of those my grandfather loosed
from bondage. But this is a question too great for our settlement, and
this too fair a day for argument. What if we make our fire and dress
this meat for dinner? Verily, I am already sharp set with this autumn
air.”

Just then we spied before us, on a little rise in the woodland, a
hunting lodge that had been built by the Dunwoodies for their pleasuring
when they and their friends hunted in the forest. Cedric remembered that
he had the key to the great lock on the door among those that hung at
his girdle; and we advanced to enter and examine the place, I, for one,
being glad enough of any happening that should cause us to forget the
matters of which we had been talking. Soon we were inside the lodge, and
found it clean and comfortable enough, it being furnished forth with a
table and benches of logs, split and hewn, and a good broad fireplace
with spits whereon to hang the roasting.

“Ah!” cried Cedric in a voice far other than his last speaking, “what
say’st thou? Shall we not roast our meat here rather than among the
leaves in the wood, where a fire in this dry time may go beyond our
holding?”

“Surely,” I answered, “’twill be better far to-day. Come, I’ll flay and
dress the hare while thou makest ready the fire. Thou’rt ever skillful
at the kindling.”

So we set gayly to work; and in half an hour had our meat before us on
the table. Some bread and cheese from our pouches that we toasted o’er
the embers made with it a feast fit for any king on a woodland holiday.
Our content with the world returned, and we sang a lusty ballad over the
well-picked bones. Then, being something thirsty, Cedric started up to
see if the lodge contained a pitcher with which he might fetch clear
water from the stream near by. Meanwhile my eye had been caught by an
old and somewhat rusted broadsword that hung on pegs over the fireplace.
I reached it down at once, and, testing it with a few passes and upward
strokes, found it a good blade and true; and wondered much that it
should have been left in this place as something without worth. Then I
saw on a bench in a darkened corner a small anvil and some armorer’s
tools, and bethought me that the lodge might have been used at need for
repairing arms when the Grimsby men were called to war.

For a moment I had not noted Cedric’s movements; but now at a sudden
word from him I wheeled about and saw him crouching at the door of an
inner room of the lodge and gazing into the darkness beyond as a hound
that hath run the fox to earth: I crouched beside him and looked also.
The room beyond, it seems, had been used in the Dunwoodies’ time for the
receiving and dressing of meat and drink and such like offices. There
was a small square window, now nearly closed by its plank shutter, but
admitting at the side a narrow beam of light. For a time my eyes could
make out naught; but after a little I saw, beneath a bench or table in
the farthest corner, first two glistening eyes, then, dimly, the form of
a man.

Cedric took down his cross-bow and laid a bolt in groove.

“Come forth from there, my man,” he shouted, “we have thee fairly
caught.”

No answer came, and for a moment I doubted if we had seen aright. Then
Cedric called out again:

“Come forth, I tell thee. Else I’ll fairly send a quarrel through thee.”

There came a low groan from the darkness, and words that seemed made
with labor:

“Strike then. I care not.”

“What say’st thou?” called Cedric, “seest thou not I can strike thee
with bolt fairly in face?”

“Strike then. ’Tis better so.”

Cedric turned to me with blank amaze upon his face.

“Heard thou ever the like? The man defies us to the death.” Then,
quickly thrusting his bow into my hands:

“Hold this against mischance. There’s more to this than we know. I will
fetch this fellow forth.”

“Hold Cedric,” I cried, “beware lest he stab thee.”

But my comrade had already advanced into the darkened room. He sprang
beneath the table, like a boar-hound on his prey, and in an instant
emerged at deathly grips with a man as broad and heavy as himself who
fought with tooth and nail and heel and with the fierceness of a
cornered wolf. E’en in that moment I noted the iron collar on his neck,
and knew we had to do with Egbert, the Gilroy thrall.

Round and round they whirled in desperate wrestling, the while I tried
in vain to be of help. In a moment they were out of the room where the
villein had lain hidden and fighting full madly in the lodge, the thrall
striving to throw his captor from him and make his way out the door and
into the woods beyond.

Finding this impossible, he made a mighty effort, and lifted Cedric
fairly from his feet, and flung him on his side upon the floor. For an
instant it seemed he would win away unless I drove a quarrel through
him; but Cedric twisted instantly and rolled the other on his back. Then
in a flash he had pinned him down and had his knee on his breast.

“Now yield thee,” Cedric panted. “Thou seest I can slay thee if I will.”

“Slay me then,” gasped the other. “’Tis better than Lord Gilroy’s
branding iron or hanging noose.”

“Ah then, thou’rt Egbert that murdered the dogmaster?”

“No murderer am I; but that will serve me not. Lord Gilroy will have me
flayed alive with ne’er a chance to tell my tale.”

For a moment Cedric gazed into the bloodshot eyes beneath him. Then he
questioned, slowly:

“Hark thee, my man. If I let thee up, wilt thou sit quiet and tell to us
thy tale of this day’s doings?”

“Aye,” replied the thrall, “though to me ’tis all one. Thou’rt a knight
and landlord, and wilt have no ear for the words of a thrall that wears
the iron collar and is hunted by his master like a sheep-killing hound.”

“Of that we shall see,” replied Cedric, and, springing up, he released
his prisoner and pointed to one of the benches that he might sit before
us. “Now tell us,” he commanded, “why thou did’st beat the dogmaster
till he lies near to death.”

Egbert, the thrall, took seat as he was bidden, loosed the garment that
had tightened about his throat in the struggle and began:

“Simon, the dogmaster, had ever a grudge toward me,—for what I know not.
And when I went to him three days ago to say that one huge hound of his
pack had come a roaring at me as I worked in the field, and forced me to
climb on a hay rick to ’scape his jaws, he only laughed and said that
thrall-meat would be cheaper far for such a valued beast than beef or
mutton. This morn, at nine o’ the clock, I crossed the hay field at the
back of the kennels, and out leaped this same hound with frightful
growls and roars and widely opened jaws as if he would devour me
forthwith. No tree or hay-rick was at hand that I could climb; and I
seized me a stone the size of my right fist, and with it felled the
beast so that he lay still enough upon the grass. This was no sooner
done than I heard behind me the running feet of Simon, the dogmaster. He
had his dog-whip in his hand; and when he came in reach, he struck at me
with all his might. The lash curled about my face, and made the weals
you still may plainly see. Such despite was more than I could bear. I
seized the whip from his hand, and although I knew full well it meant
the branding iron or the gallows, I struck him thrice o’er the head with
the loaded butt he keeps for the savage and unruly ones among his pack.
Simon fell down in a heap. And then I saw Lord Gilroy riding toward me
from a hilltop a furlong off, and made for the woods where his horse
could not follow. They hunted me all morning, but I would have won away
had’st thou not found me.”

When the thrall had ceased speaking it was very still in the lodge.
Cedric looked at me with a painful question in his eyes. What my own
looks answered I know not save from his words that quickly followed.

“Egbert,” he cried, “thy act may have been lawless; but we will not
judge thee; and thou shalt not be sent back to the lash or the branding
iron by act of ours. Neither shalt thou longer wear that badge of
slavery about thy neck. Here’s that which will sever it.”

Striding to the darkened corner he took from among the armorer’s tools a
stout, long-bladed file; then, springing back to Egbert’s side, seized
the iron ring with one hand and set to work upon it with lusty strokes.
Soon the band was half cut through; then Cedric dropped the file, and,
taking the collar in both his sinewy hands, gave a mighty twist, broke
it apart utterly and flung it as an accursed thing into the blackness
beneath the armorer bench.

Next he took his cross-bow from the table and thrust it into Egbert’s
hands.

“Take this for thy safer journeying,” he cried, “thou’lt need to travel
fast and far for some few days. Then thou may’st take service under some
true lord as a plowman or a soldier as thou wilt. From this day forth
thou art a freeman.”

Egbert gazed at Cedric with tears streaming down his face. Then he fell
on his knees before him; but my comrade raised him almost roughly.

“Up with thee, Egbert! Thou’rt a freeman now, and should do utter homage
to none but God. And there’s work to do if thou wilt keep thy freedom.
Thou must be far away from Gilroy before another morn.”

Egbert, among his sobs of joy, could say no word. I found in my pouch a
little purse of gold and gave it him.

“Thou’lt need to buy thy food and lodging as a traveler,” I said, “and
not be taken as a prowling varlet. Look to it now.”

Then he that had been our prisoner found voice at last and began to
murmur broken words of thanks and to encumber his new found liberty with
oaths of lifelong fealty to ourselves. But Cedric again checked him with
uplifted hand.

“Hark!” he whispered, “what was that sound?”

For a moment all three of us stood silent and breathless, listening to
the wind in the branches without and the faint snapping of coals on the
hearth. Then came the noise again,—a long drawn, baying howl of a hound
on a scent.

“Some of our neighbors hunt the deer,” I said.

“Nay,” answered Cedric quickly, “’tis no deer-hound. ’Tis a far deeper
note.”

Meanwhile the face of Egbert had turned an ashen gray, and now his limbs
shook with very terror.

“’Tis the bloodhounds of Gilroy,” he gasped. “My lord ever keeps two or
three for just such use as this. They follow on my track.”

Then from a window we saw, a furlong off in the open wood, two huge
brown hounds that ran with noses close to earth and upon a path that led
straight toward the lodge.

Cedric seized his cross-bow again from Egbert’s hands.

“Get thee back within,” he commanded, “I will soon stop the coursing of
these blood beasts.”

Egbert leaped through the door again to the inner room; and Cedric,
throwing wide the shutter, was taking aim at the foremost of the hounds
when I cried out from behind him:

“Hold! Hold! It is too late. There come the horsemen.”

From another point in the wood, not far from where the dogs had emerged,
there were now riding toward us half a dozen mounted men. Cedric
withdrew his weapon; and we gazed upon them in utter dismay. Lord Gilroy
and Sir Philip Carrington were in the lead, and after them came three or
four stout foresters and last of all, upon an ambling palfrey, none
other than Simon, the dogmaster, with his head bound round and round
with a great white cloth.

Cedric put away his bow, and, unbarring the door of the lodge, stood on
the step without, spurning away the hounds that sought to enter.

“Good morrow, gentlemen!” he called, full jovially.

“Good morrow, gentlemen _both_,” answered Lord Gilroy with a most wicked
laugh.

“Your hunting does not prosper,” said Cedric, paying no heed to the
affront conveyed in Gilroy’s sneering words.

“How not?”

“Why, it would seem that your hounds have picked up our trail to the
lodge here in place of that of their proper quarry, as the best of dogs
will do at times.”

“Aye,” answered Lord Gilroy, still with the evil smile on his face. “The
best of dogs and men do err at times. And yet, ’tis passing strange they
are so set upon it. See! They course about and about thy little lodge
and will not leave it.”

Cedric cast a careless glance at the hounds. Then he said:

“Come messieurs, can ye not alight for a moment and rest within? I
cannot offer meat and drink for here we have none; but you may sit upon
a bench by a fire while your men aid the hounds at finding the track
again.”

Lord Gilroy threw his bridle rein to one of the foresters, leaped down
from his horse, and strode toward the door; and his nephew did likewise.
Simon and the others withdrew to a little distance and dismounted by the
brook where they called the hounds to them.

When our most unwelcome guests were within the lodge, Cedric made haste
to place for them the benches before the fireplace and again lamented
that the place afforded nothing of refreshment. I made such talk as I
might with both Lord Gilroy and Sir Philip, asking them of the tourney
at Winchester where they had lately ridden, the deer on Gilroy lands and
other like matters of no import.

Gilroy’s keen gray eyes roved ever about the lodge; and after one or two
courteous replies to my questions, he asked of Cedric:

“Art sure, Grimsby, that that inner room contains no cask or wine-skin?
’Twould seem else that thy lodge is but meagerly furnished.”

“Aye, ’tis so,” answered Cedric at once.

Again our guest glanced keenly at Sir Cedric, while I breathed shortly
indeed. But he said no more; and now I made diversion by asking Sir
Philip if ’twas true that the Carringtons are Welsh descended. I knew
full well ’twas not; and was hugely pleased when he denied it hotly and
went on at greatest length to prove his family of pure Norman blood by
reciting all the quarterings on the Carrington shield and their origins
in the days before the Conquest.

At last Lord Gilroy stood erect and said, to my great and joyful relief:

“Welladay! We must fare on, if ever we are to take that runagate. The
sunbeams already slope far to westward; and ’twill soon be—”

But there his words were of a sudden checked; and he stood staring at a
point on the floor beneath the bench, three yards away. There, where
half an hour before all had been deepest shadow, the sloping beam of the
afternoon sun now rested, and brought to clear and certain view _the
iron collar_.

With an oath he sprang forward and seized it. Holding it up before us,
he read in a loud voice the graven words:

    “_Egbert, Thrall of William, Lord of Gilroy._”

Cedric stood facing him; and none of us spoke any word. Then Gilroy
flung the collar on the floor and burst forth:

“Ah then! ’Tis even as I thought. One churl will help another in any
strait.”

At this insult to my comrade, my hand flew to where my good sword should
have been; and I ground my teeth to find it not. But Gilroy paid no heed
to me. Instantly he sprang forward toward the inner door.

“We’ll see what lies within,” he shouted.

But Cedric De La Roche was quicker yet. He leaped before the door, and
with a mighty push sent Lord Gilroy half across the room. Then both
Gilroy and Carrington drew swords and rushed upon us. By this time I had
gathered my wits, and recalling the goodly weapon at my very back, had
turned and seized the rusted broadsword from above the fireplace. I was
but just in time to receive the attack of both of them at once; for
Cedric stooped to reach his cross-bow which rested against the wall,
ready drawn and with the bolt he had meant for the hound still in
groove. For a moment I withstood the double attack; then Sir Philip only
was before me. He fought fiercely enough, forsooth, but in a most
lubberly fashion. Half a dozen strokes and I caught his weapon with a
twist I had long practiced and sent it clattering across the floor. Then
with loud menaces of running him through the body, I drove him before me
to the wall where I made him stand with hands above his head. Glancing
sidewise, I now beheld the Lord of Gilroy in the same pitiful plight.
His weapon also lay on the floor; and Cedric stood before him with
cross-bow leveled at his heart.

“Wilt thou slay us then,” growled Gilroy, “in unseemly brawl over this
runagate?”

“Nay,” answered Cedric sweetly, “but ye are our prisoners, duly taken.
If we grant your lives and arms, you shall give us knightly word to
retire from the lands of Grimsby, and give o’er this bloody hunting you
were bent upon.”

“That word we give,” said Gilroy, shortly.

We instantly lowered our weapons, and, stooping, lifted the swords from
the floor and returned them to their owners. Simon, the dogmaster,
opened the door and thrust in his bandaged head wherein one eye was
purple and swollen with a blow it had received from the whip butt.
Behind him stood two of the foresters.

“Return thou, till I call thee,” shouted Gilroy furiously.

When they had retired once more to the brookside, our late antagonists
turned again to leave the lodge. At the door Lord Gilroy paused and
spake again, slowly and as one that fully weighs his words.

“Our word is given to leave the lands of Grimsby and thus to allow this
thrall to escape. But no promise have we given as to aught else. Mayhap
the King will listen when I send him word at Winchester how his vassal
so newly of the fee of Grimsby is bearing himself. Mayhap it will not
seem to him quite fitting that one who holds his lands in fee should
with deceit and with violence shelter misdoing churls from their lawful
masters.”

[Illustration: _THEN WITH LOUD MENACES I DROVE HIM TO THE WALL WHERE I
MADE HIM STAND WITH HANDS ABOVE HIS HEAD_]

I caught my breath in dismay. Such a threat I knew the crafty Gilroy
quite capable of carrying out. For myself I had little concern: the
Mountjoys were too strong in the Western country and too valuable to the
King’s cause for any such matter to bring down upon us any serious
menace. But Cedric was a yeoman born; and many there were to think with
spite and envy of his rise to knightly dignity.

Sir Philip now burst forth with a cackling laugh—the first sound that
had come from him since I had him at the wall with his hands o’er his
head.

“Ha, Grimsby!” he jibed, “thou’rt not so great a victor as it seemed.
Mayhap the fee of Grimsby will soon be vacant once more.”

Then Cedric spoke again, his words being pronounced with the same slow
heedfulness with which the Lord of Gilroy had uttered his threat a
moment since.

“’Tis true, my lord, that naught prevents thee from sending or carrying
this tale to the King. ’Tis also true—and this mayhap thou hast
forgotten—that naught prevents _me_, in the event of thy wishing to
carry this quarrel further, from taking to the King the full account
(well known to me though thou hast thought it hidden) of thy doings and
those of the Carringtons during the weeks that followed the King’s
return to England, and while his traitorous brother, Prince John, with
the aid of certain gentlemen who might have been more loyally employed,
strove to keep him from his throne, and even, so ’tis said, to deprive
him of life.”

Before the half of this had been spoken the face of Lord Gilroy had
grown pale as death, and he seemed to shrink a full handsbreadth in
stature. His nephew gazed from one to the other of us with whitened
cheeks and foolish, open mouth. As soon as Cedric had finished, Lord
Gilroy began in a tone far different from any he had used that day:

“Nay, nay, Grimsby and Mountjoy both! Why _should_ we make of this
trifling despite o’er a runagate thrall such a matter of bitter
menacing? In truth, ’twere well should we all forget this day of petty
quarreling and live in neighborly peace henceforth.”

“Nothing would better please me,” quoth Sir Cedric in reply.

“And thou, Mountjoy?” pursued Lord Gilroy, “what sayest thou?”

“With all my heart,” I replied.

Lord Gilroy seemed about to offer his hand in token of our
reconciliation; but mayhap something in our faces stayed him. With a
hurried bow he turned once more to the door of the lodge. After him went
Sir Philip, reminding me in his shrunken confidence of a rain-drenched
chanticleer. At the brookside, they climbed sullenly upon their horses’
backs, and without a word to their followers, spurred away through the
forest.

An hour later, Egbert, the freeman, astride a good horse from the
Grimsby stables, with cross-bow in hand and gold in pouch, was riding
through the twilight on the road to Shrewsbury.



CHAPTER XIII—ON THE ROAD TO RUNNYMEDE


I was in Stamford in the year of the Great Charter of King John. Half
the knights and barons of all England with a goodly following of
men-at-arms and yeomanry had been assembled under the banner of our
stout Marshal, Fitz Walter, and had seized by force and arms full many
royal castles. Now, at the end of a truce which to no avail had been
secured by the Archbishop, we were ready to march towards London to
bring to terms our most crafty and tyrannic lord and king. For years he
had dealt in plots and scheming to overreach the great and strong among
the baronry, and from the weaker seized their lands and goods at will
and oft threw their persons into durance to further his gross ends of
gain or vengeance. Now some hundreds of the barons of the North, with a
dozen or more of us from the West counties and the Welsh Marches, and a
sprinkling of churchmen, who no less than ourselves had suffered from
the King’s o’erreaching, were gathered in Bermondsey Hall to agree, if
we might, upon a scroll of the grievances that the King must remedy when
our further assaults should have forced him to sue for peace.

Geoffrey, Lord of Carleton and Teramore, leader of a hundred lances and
half a thousand bowmen, rose from his seat amid a clamor of disputing
voices and saluted the Marshal and the assembled company.

“I propose, my lords and gentlemen,” he said in that high, sweet voice
of his which yet is far-heard and commanding, “the name of Sir Cedric De
La Roche, Knight of Grimsby and bold defender of our Western Marches,
for the fifth and final member of this group. He is a brave man and
true; and hath, as we often say in the West, a head as well as an arm.
He is both soldier and scholar, forsooth, and knoweth more of the Latin
tongue than any layman among us. You have named Sir Richard of Mountjoy
to serve you in this matter because, three months agone, he took the
Castle of Tournoy which the King’s men were strongly holding with
greater forces than his own and from whence they might have sorely
threatened us. But most of you know not that ’twas Cedric De La Roche
who gained entrance to the castle in disguise, and full well deceived
the garrison, then at midnight overpowered, gagged and bound the
sentinel at a little postern gate, threw it open and admitted the
Mountjoys. Lacking him and his stratagem we might still be hammering at
the walls of Tournoy and our whole campaign be sore delayed.”

“For the Latin we have the Abbot of Moberley,” said old Lord Esmond from
his seat on one of the benches at the right. “What need have we of
another clerk?”

“The Reverend Abbot,” answered Carleton, “will do the cause good
service, I doubt not, in making clear for our Commissioners the
substance of old scrolls and charters which they must study, and mayhap
in inditing in fair Latin hand the articles which we present to the
King. In his hands we may be sure the interests of his order, and
particularly of the Abbey of Moberley, will not suffer. But I say ’tis
well that we of the baronage have a representative of our own number who
can see that this scroll, for which we risk our lives and fortunes,
truly and amply provides for remedy of the wrongs we suffer.”

“And _I_ say,” shouted Lord Esmond, springing to his feet the instant
Carleton had finished, “that if we are to have a representative of our
order in the inditing of this scroll, as my Lord Carleton says, we
should have a representative indeed. De La Roche is a true man and a
capable soldier, as none will deny; but we have here many lords and
gentlemen of longer service and of purest Norman blood. The Knight of
Grimsby, as all may know, is yeoman and Saxon born. Such a man, be he
never so learned, must ever think as the folk from whom he sprung and
can never rightly guard our rights and privileges.”

For an hour we had debated of our wrongs and the measures that should
put an end to them, each speaker being fiercely bent upon the thing that
should lift the oppression that had borne most heavily upon him and
caring little for aught else. But finally ’twas seen that the whole
assembly could accomplish naught but argument and loud bickering, and
that the writing of the scroll must be done by a few chosen men who
should later bring their work before the whole body of leaders for their
assent and undertaking. Two of the oldest of the northern leaders, the
Baron De Longville and the Lord of Esmond, had been first named, then
the learned and courtier-like Abbot of Moberley who was beneath the
insurgent banner because of the King’s high-handed procedure in the
matter of Moberley Abbey, where, during the absence on pilgrimage of the
rightful holder, he had declared the abbacy vacant and conferred it with
all its lands upon one of his shameless favorites from Normandy. A
moment before, my own name had been added to the list in recognition of
the services of the Western lords that had well broken the power of the
King in all their countryside.

Following Lord Esmond’s bitter speech, came shouts of approval from some
of the other northerners; and it seemed like that my old friend and
comrade would be deprived of the honor which Geoffrey of Carleton had
sought to have conferred upon him. But the venerable De Lacey, long the
Lord High Constable of England, and still a power in the land, though
bent and snowy-haired with age, rose slowly to his feet and addressed
the Marshal and the company:

“My lords: ’tis well for those to talk who know whereof they speak.
Years agone I knighted Cedric De La Roche for knightliest service at the
Battle of the Pass where verily he changed defeat to victory. Since that
time he hath many a time and oft served under me and others, always to
the welfare of the Kingdom and the enhancement of his name. Lord Esmond
says that Cedric De La Roche comes not of noble family. I ask of you, my
lords, who made _our_ families noble but some hard-smiting ancestors we
had that served not better, I warrant you, than this man of whom we
speak. And I have seen his lands of Grimsby and the stout and loyal men
who do willingly follow him, and know full well he can think and plan as
well as strike. Finally, my lords, ’tis not the tale of his father’s or
his grandfather’s deeds but of his very own that should guide the
choosing of a man for a time of need.”

At this, still louder shouts burst forth, especially from the younger
men; and some did loudly call Sir Cedric’s name, insisting that he
serve. When partial silence came once more, the Marshal brought all
question to an end by announcing all the names of the group and ending
with that of Cedric De La Roche. Then, it being near the supper hour,
the company broke up amid cheering and noisy overthrow of benches and
the clamor of many voices in eager talk of the day’s events.

The meeting next day of the group that should do the writing of the
scroll was scarcely better than that of the whole assembly. Esmond and
De Longville disputed long and loud over exemption from the tax levied
for the French war; and some suggestions that we others made for the
Kingdom’s better ordering went all unheeded in the din. The Abbot,
smiling and crafty as always, patiently awaited the time, so sure to
come, when noise and clamor should exhaust itself, and his own
smooth-spoken counsel should prevail. He had with him a copy of the old
charter of the First Henry; and Cedric a draft of some of the laws of
Edward the Confessor which he believed should be included. At last, when
’twas seen that we made no headway, my own voice was for a moment
listened to; and ’twas agreed that our two scholars, the Abbot and
Cedric De La Roche, should work together, making from the ancient laws
and grants, with such additions as were found needful, the articles we
should put before the King.

With all my comradely thought for Cedric, I could but smile as I thought
of the task that now confronted him. I knew well that he had certain
cherished plans with regard to these articles whereby he hoped to gain
for the commons some of the privileges and immunities which he regarded
as the natural rights of freeborn men. Often and often he had declaimed
to me of these things, and with such eloquence and conviction as well
nigh made me a convert to his party—if that could be called a party
which had no leaders and no program and scarce a voice save his own. The
commons knew no other way of protest against the wrongs they suffered
than such violent and fruitless revolts as that of the churls of De
Lancey Manor, with mayhap the killing of a tyrannous noble and the later
hunting down and hanging of the leaders of the mob. Cedric had for years
maintained that their natural rights should be assured to them by
charter and not left to the caprice of some careless or greedy overlord.

But the Abbot of Moberley was allied by blood and by early training to
powerful Norman families; and ’twas likely that he had but little
sympathy with any such ideas. Handsome, learned and eloquent, he was
accustomed to win his way among rough and heavy-handed lords and barons
and the little better schooled officials of the royal courts by the
skill and grace of his address, and yet more, if all rumors were true,
by a readiness to shift his allegiance to any cause in accordance with
circumstance and his own prevailing interest. In truth, he had been bred
for the law as much as for the Church; and his great services to his
order, which had been amply rewarded with power and place, were those
performed in court or council rather than in church or monastery.

At this very time, Lord Geoffrey of Carleton, Cedric and I had reason to
suspect the Abbot of secret communications with the Archbishop, who was
still nominally of the King’s party, and who would perhaps have much to
do with the final shaping of our articles if ever we should force the
King to consent to their sealing. ’Twas evident that the rights of
churchmen would not be overlooked in the final treaty; and, although
this too had our approval, we were the more determined that those of
other estates should also be well guarded.

On the morrow, nevertheless, it seemed certain that this co-working of
two such diverse men would be effective, and that we would soon be
prepared to take before the assemblage of leaders the completed scroll.
The Abbot and Cedric De La Roche came late to our meeting, and still
debating hotly on the way; but they brought a list of articles they had
most cunningly devised for the remedy of the ills of which we most
loudly complained. The Abbot read them to us clearly and with most just
accent, like the learned speaker that he is; and I think the two old
northern lords were mightily impressed with the power and worth of words
so skillfully marshalled. When he had finished we might have then and
there adopted the articles and ended our labors. But at the end of his
reading, the Abbot said:

“My lords, I wish to testify that from Sir Cedric De La Roche I have
received most welcome assistance in the drawing of this scroll, both in
the reading of the ancient laws and charters and in the devising of new
provisions toward the wise and just ordering of the Kingdom.
Nevertheless, upon some minor points we have not yet agreed; and upon
these he wishes to address you.”

Sir Cedric rose to his feet, and for a moment looked from one to the
other of our company. His fine and open countenance and clear blue eyes
and the martial squareness of his broad shoulders would have won him
high regard in any great assembly. It seemed to me at that moment that
the youth whom I had first known as a forester of Pelham and whom I had
seen rise to knightly dignities, well deserved, was at the summit of his
career when those whose decisions were weighty in the affairs of our
time awaited his words on a matter of such moment. Baron De Longville
was looking at Cedric with no unfriendly eye; but the Lord of Esmond,
who had wished to adopt the articles at once, frowned with impatience at
the end of the Abbot’s speech, and now gazed moodily at the floor.

“My lords,” began Cedric clearly, “we have as the twentieth of these
articles—‘Let no Sheriff or Bailiff of the King take horses or carts of
any free man for doing carriage except with his own consent.’ Upon the
next page we have the provision—‘Let not the body of a baron, knight or
other noble person be taken, or imprisoned or disseized, or outlawed or
banished, or in any way destroyed, nor let the King go or send upon him
by force, except by the judgment of his peers or by the law of the
land.’ These things are just and right, but to my thinking they go not
far enough. Why should we not deserve the good wishes for the triumph of
our cause and the strong right arms not only of the baronage but of all
the freemen of England? Why should not these provisions be altered to
guard their rights also?”

[Illustration: _SIR CEDRIC ROSE TO HIS FEET AND FOR A MOMENT LOOKED FROM
ONE TO THE OTHER OF OUR COMPANY_]

Lord Esmond raised his head and gazed sharply at Cedric’s face.

“And how would’st _thou_ amend them,” he growled.

“I would say, in the first instance, ‘Let no Sheriff or Bailiff of the
King _nor any other person_ take horses or carts of any free man for
doing carriage except with his own consent.’ And in the second, would
have the words _a free man_ in place of _baron, knight or other noble
person_, so that it would read: ‘Let not the body of a free man be taken
or imprisoned or disseized, or outlawed’—and the rest.”

“Mayhap these churls have made thee their spokesman,” sneered Esmond.

“Nay,” replied Cedric, “I speak for no party, whether high or low, but
for the common good of England.”

Lord Esmond turned with sour and vinegary look first to De Longville,
then to the Abbot.

“What did I say in the Assembly? This man hath no conception of the
rights of our order. All his concern is for churls and clowns.”

Cedric grew very red, and his hand went to his sword hilt. I sprang up
to address our chief, De Longville, and placed myself between the Knight
of Grimsby and the fiery old lord from the North.

“My lords,” I cried, “we gain nothing by arguments that speedily pass
into brawls. Come, let us vote upon these provisions. ’Tis the rightful
way. To-morrow, or the next day at the furthest, we must take our report
to the Assembly; and we should come to agreement.”

“’Tis so,” replied De Longville, “we waste our time in bickering. Come
Esmond, what say’st thou as to these amendments?”

“I say _nay_,” shouted Esmond. “Let the articles even stand as they
were.”

“And thou, Most Reverend Abbot?”

“I say _nay_,” replied the churchman quietly.

“And thou, Mountjoy?”

“Aye,” I answered loudly. “These changes seem to me to take naught from
us and to be well conceived to gain us many friends.”

“De La Roche?”

“Aye.”

De Longville gazed first at the floor beneath his feet then at the
ceiling overhead and bent his brows in a painful frown. At length he
said:

“It seems I have the casting vote. I see little use in these changes,
save to pamper churls and thralls that too often already raise their
heads with complaints and demands. Some of them verily believe they
might govern the land as well as their betters. ’Tis a dangerous
tendency that must be checked. I say _nay_ also.”

Lord Esmond turned toward Cedric with a smile of triumph; and my heart
became as lead to think of his defeat. But the Knight of Grimsby was
instantly on his feet again with a new proposal, which to my amaze he
uttered with a broad and pleasant smile on his face, such as he might
have worn had his amendings been received with utmost acclaim.

“Has the thought come to you, my lords, that in this scroll, thus far,
we have made no provision for the enforcement of our demands? We deal
with a strong and crafty monarch. Even if he place his seal upon our
demands, what surety have we that he will adhere to them after our
levies have been dispersed? He will then be stronger than any one or two
or three of us. How shall we ensure his adherence to the treaty?”

The rest of us gazed at one another in silence. This was a new thought,
it seemed, to our whole assembly; and none could deny the seriousness of
the question. At last De Longville spoke again:

“And hast thou, Grimsby, given thought to this so that thou canst now
produce a remedy?”

“Not on the instant, my lord; but in the main my thought is this: In
this instrument itself must be provision for its enforcement. The King
must agree that a body of ten or a score or more of us shall be named by
ourselves; and that these shall be responsible to see that the charter
be not impaired or overridden. In another night I can form the language
to carry this provision into our articles.”

Then the Abbot spoke, suggesting that Sir Cedric be instructed to do
this; and finally, on motion of mine, the articles were back referred to
Cedric and the Abbot with instruction to bring to our meeting, at two o’
the clock on the following day, a fair and perfect copy that we might
adopt and place before the assembled leaders.

’Twas then high noon. As we left the Council Hall, Sir Cedric took me by
the arm and insisted that I come to his inn for the midday meal. There
was in his inviting a special urgency and a look in his eyes from which
I who knew him so well of old instantly gained the knowledge that this
was no ordinary matter of courtesy but something of vastly greater
moment. So I easily suffered myself to be led toward his quarters; and
soon we were seated at a board that was graced with a goodly roast and
all other due refreshment.

When we had something satisfied our hunger, and the old serving man who
waited on us had departed, Cedric bent toward me across the board to
say:

“What sayest thou, Sir Richard, to a ride of a dozen leagues or so and a
little adventure whereby, if Fortune favors, we may do our cause full
loyal service?”

“With all my heart!” I cried, “whither shall we ride, and on what
errand?”

’Twas two months and more since we had seen activity; and this dull life
of the camp and the town was little to my liking. Sir Hubert Gillespie
had lately struck a blow for the King by the surprise and capture of two
strong castles in the Midlands that we had thought safely in our hands,
while we with our brave array at Stamford consumed the days and our
dwindling substance in idleness.

“’Tis one that’s something dangerous, forsooth,” replied my friend, “and
I doubt much whether our elderly and prudent leaders would approve it.”

“Say no more, for Mountjoy is with thee to the hilt. What followers
shall I bring, and with what arms?”

“A dozen lusty swordsmen—men still young and light on the feet and with
heads to understand a stratagem. Dickon and John o’ the Wallfield and
Elbert the Smith are the right sort. See that every man wears beneath
his outer garment a coat of linked mail and carries a sword no longer
than his arm. Within the hour I will meet thee at the beech wood thou
knowest to the south of the town; and will bring a like number of the
men of Grimsby. We shall ride hard and far; so look to it, I pray thee,
that thy men be well mounted. We may have cause for speed on the
homeward road.”

An hour later, with four and twenty proper men, Cedric and I rode out of
the beech wood, and took the high road toward the south, where, but five
or six leagues away, the castles and most of the towns were still in the
hands of the King’s mercenaries. I knew full well that the quest on
which we were embarked was one that meant our cause’s advancement, and
would have willingly trusted Cedric for the rest; but now we drew ahead
of our horsemen, and he explained full clearly his design. ’Twas such a
plan as only Cedric would have formed, and its outcome in truth,
exceeding dubious; but we were comrades of old in many a venture that
would have been refused by prudent men; and now he had no labor in
convincing me that this was worth the trial.

After an hour’s riding, we came to a thick wood, and turned aside in
this into a little glade where we halted to rest our mounts and to bring
about a most surprising change in our appareling. At a word from Cedric,
each of the Grimsby men proceeded to withdraw from his saddle bags some
garments which, being unfolded, appeared as the long gray cloaks and
hoods of palmers. Each, it seemed, had brought a costume for himself and
for one of the Mountjoy men; and now, in less time than the telling
takes, we had all laid aside among the bracken any headwear or other
dress that might not properly consort with these, and stood forth as a
body of pilgrims in the dress that marked those who had accomplished the
toilsome journey to the Holy Land. Soon we were on the road again, and,
save for now and again the rattle of a sword hilt or a robust, laughing
word, might not have been distinguished from a cavalcade of devout
returning pilgrims such as were not uncommon on our roads.

Without mishap we pursued our way into a region where all the points of
vantage were held by our enemies; and where armed parties, far too
strong for our gainsaying, patrolled the roads or watched them from the
hilltops. In the late afternoon we came within sight of the Castle of
Moberley which was held for the King by Sir John Champney with a hundred
lances and six score cross-bowmen.

On the left, and but half a mile from the castle, lay the Abbey where
William De Bellair, favorite of the King, renegade cleric and forsworn
Crusader, held usurping sway over the monks and lay brethren and the
fields and vineyards that had been the rightful domain of our associate
at Stamford whom we still greeted as the Abbot of Moberley.

At a like distance from Moberley Castle was a fork in the road just
beyond a timbered bridge o’er a stream. There the left-hand track led to
the Abbey and that on the right went straight to the castle gates. At
the full trot we took the former turning, and soon were calling for
admittance at the Abbey doors.

This, to a devoted band of pilgrims, was not long denied. The gates were
thrown ajar, and, leaving two trusty fellows to care for the horses in
the outer courtyard, we passed into the refection hall of the monastery
to pay our respects to this venerable seat of piety and learning. Our
worthy palmers scattered themselves about the great room with its low
timbered ceiling and mighty fireplace, and engaged in talk with the
monks or in reverent examining of the painted series on the walls, the
work of an earnest though not too highly skilled lay brother, and
setting forth the story of Joseph and his brethren.

After a little, Sir Cedric, acting as our leader, sent word to the Abbot
whom we had not yet seen, that here was a group of a score and more of
palmers who now paid their first visit to the far-renowned Abbey of
Moberley and who wished to have speech with the reverend master of the
house ere they departed. This message, with its accompanying
compliments, accomplished its intent; and soon William De Bellair, in
all the robes of his office, entered the hall from an inner door and
seated himself in his great chair on the dais.

If ever the character and history of a man were written on his face,
’twas so with the false Abbot of Moberley. My gorge rose within me at
the sight of his red and bloated countenance that told so plainly of a
life the very opposite of that led by a true monk and churchman. His
mean and shifty little gray eyes were all but covered with folds and
wrinkles of fat, yet quite sufficiently revealed a nature compounded of
fox and pig. De Bellair was one of a group of dissolute Frenchmen who
had won the favor of the King and the hatred of true Englishmen by
supporting our lawless and grasping sovereign in all his schemes for the
seizure of power and wealth. It was against them nearly as much as the
King that our banner of revolt had been raised; and in our Articles of
Stamford we had already named a half dozen of the worst of them who must
be deprived of all offices and banished from the Kingdom. ’Twas no blame
to the Church that such miscreants profaned some of her holy offices. In
defiance of her rights of ancient usage, they had been thrust by their
royal master into the places they disgraced, oftentimes in reward for
services which would not bear recording.

“Reverend Father,” said Cedric, bowing low, “we congratulate ourselves
upon our visit to this ancient and honorable abbey; and we have here
some gifts and tokens to bestow upon thee as the head of this worthy
brotherhood.”

De Bellair bowed deeply in acknowledgment of this greeting. When he
raised his head again, what was his amaze and horror to find that he
that had addressed him so respectfully had sprung upon the dais, pulled
from his shoulders the palmer’s cloak, and now rushed upon him as a
hound upon his quarry. In an instant the long gray robe was flung o’er
the Abbot’s head and arms, and despite his struggles and cries a rope
was speedily bound about his middle, pinioning his hands to his sides.
Then he was lifted bodily and hurried toward the courtyard door. Some of
the monks set up a hideous outcry, and one or two sought to intercept
those who carried the bound and struggling Abbot; but where they thought
to deal with unarmed pilgrims, they found themselves confronted with two
and twenty stout fellows each of whom had drawn from beneath his flowing
cloak a short-bladed sword and flourished it in most menacing way. They
fell back before us, overawed, and understanding nothing of what had
passed. Only one of the monastery people did preserve his wits at this
amazing juncture, and this an acolyte youth of sixteen years. Slipping
out of the hall and through the rear of the Abbey, he ran, as we
afterwards learned to our cost, with might and main to take the news of
this mad foray to the castle’s governor.

In the outer yard we spent some time in adjusting more firmly our
captive’s bonds and in cutting slits through the cloak that bound his
head so as to allow him to breathe but nowise to see and scarcely to
make himself heard with calls for help. Then hoisting him with
difficulty (for he was a gross, fat man) upon a stout charger whereon
one of our own men rode behind him, we turned away from the Abbey and
rode at such speed as we might on the road by which we came.

Our progress was slow at the first, for our prisoner sat most unevenly
in his bonds; and we had no mind to let him fall by the way. And we had
no more than fairly set out on the road when he began to shout and
halloo in such wise that Dickon o’ the Wallfield, who rode behind him,
was fain to bring him to understanding of his hopeless plight by a sharp
prick from his poniard’s point. Thereafter he was silent; and we made
better way; but withal most precious time had been lost. The night had
already fallen, and with another quarter hour we might have won safely
away. But as we approached the fork of the road we heard a thunder of
hoofs coming from the castle. The riders were nearer the joining than
we, and ere we could gain the bridge we heard their horses upon it and
knew that Sir John Champney’s men were drawing up in battle array to
meet us. As we surmised even then, Sir John had divided the force that
he so hastily summoned to punish the supposed outlaws who seized the
Abbot for a ransom, and had sent one party straight to the Abbey and led
the other to this point to intercept us.

In the light from the great moon now rising, we could see that their
numbers were more than twice our own. They were variously armed, as was
to be expected with men who had been so abruptly summoned forth; but
there were lances and steel caps enow and some had coats of mail. We
sorely wished for the good broadswords we left behind at Stamford or the
cross-bows with which a dozen of our party were so skilled. But now was
not time for hesitation or for choosing of courses. Well we knew that in
a trice the other party, riding from the Abbey gates, would be on our
track and we would be taken in front and rear. With a mighty shout we
rode down upon the bridge, trusting all to the darkness and the fury of
our attack.

In a moment we were in the midst of a bloody mêlée on the bridge. Our
men thrust back their hampering robes, and hewed and slashed with deadly
effect; but those opposing us were no weaklings nor novices in war. Sir
John Champney slew two of our men with downright broadsword strokes and
another was pierced through throat by a lance. I rode in a closer press
of fighting than I had seen since the Battle of the Pass; and once or
twice was near beaten from my horse, though some of those that rained
their blows on me fared worse indeed. Then Cedric came face to face with
Sir John Champney, received a broadsword stroke on his uplifted,
mail-clad arm, and countered with a blow that sent his enemy to earth.

Instantly the cry arose that Sir John was slain. Most of his followers
were French and Flemish mercenaries; and now they melted away before us,
fleeing to the fields on either side of the bridge or leaping to the
shallow waters below. We paused long enough to learn that our men who
had fallen were past all help; then rode forward at a gallop up the
moon-lighted way, with our prisoner still safely bound and in our midst.

By the eleventh hour we entered again the wood where we had transformed
ourselves to palmers; and ’twas the work of but a moment to change us
back to knights and men-at-arms. By midnight we were safely in the town
and had our prisoner properly bestowed. Then Cedric and I parted for the
night,—I to go to my bed, and he, as the morrow showed, to labor by
candle-light all through the hours of darkness.

At nine the next morning I was by appointment at Cedric’s lodging, and
found that he had just despatched a messenger to the true Abbot of
Moberley with an urgent request that he come at once since most
important news awaited him from the Abbey itself. This message speedily
accomplished its object, and the Abbot, standing not on ceremony, came
hurrying to the lodgings.

[Illustration: _WITH A MIGHTY SHOUT, WE RODE DOWN UPON THE BRIDGE,
TRUSTING ALL TO THE DARKNESS AND THE FURY OF OUR ATTACK_]

We greeted him most courteously, and, when our guest was duly and
comfortably seated, Cedric stated that riders had come in from Moberley
the night before with the news of a most surprising happening. A band of
a score or more of pilgrims returning from the Holy Land had entered the
Abbey, and, doubtless being wroth at William De Bellair because he had
forsworn himself by abandoning his vow to go an Crusade for the recovery
of the Holy Sepulcher, had seized and bound him, and, overawing the
monastery with weapons, had carried him away by force.

The Abbot listened to this tale of violence with sparkling eyes and with
no hint of censure for those who had so roughly laid hands upon a cleric
dignitary. When it was finished, indeed, he could scarce restrain his
glee. Rising and smiting the table roundly with his hand, he cried:

“Ha! Well served! Well served indeed, for a creature that calls himself
monk and abbot, forsooth, when profit is that way to be gained but who
forgets all monkish obligations when a layman’s way of living better
serves him! The palmers are right indeed, and I devoutly hope they may
keep him for aye as far from Moberley Abbey as his conduct hath ever
been from that of a true churchman.”

Cedric then resumed, in slow and measured voice:

“It so happens, Reverend Abbot, that I have several friends among these
palmers, and to some extent they rely on me for advice in this matter.”

“Ah! Is it so indeed?” questioned the Abbot, eagerly. “Then I trust that
thou, as a true friend of the Church and her rightful servitors, hast
given advice to hold this fellow they have taken—at least till the King
be brought to terms and our brotherhoods be free again to fill their
offices without dictation.”

Cedric slowly shook his head.

“Nay, my advice has not yet been given. ’Twill require some further
meditation to be sure that ’tis wisely bestowed. But, Reverend Abbot, if
thou wilt but climb the stair that I shall show thee here and apply
thine eye to a hole in the wall at the right, near the top, I warrant
thee a sight well worth thy pains.”

So saying, Cedric rose and throwing open a small door at the rear of the
room, indicated a dim and curving staircase that rose beyond it. The
Abbot, after a searching glance at his host as though he feared some
stratagem, quickly mounted, looking eagerly the while for the eye-hole
in the wall. Both of us remained below; and Cedric, turning to a cabinet
withdrew from it and placed upon the table a huge scroll of many sheets
of freshly-written parchment.

A moment later, the churchman returned with brightly glowing face and
twinkling eyes, and when the stairway door was closed again, exclaimed:

“Sir Cedric De La Roche, thou’rt a true friend to the Church, and thy
services shall be well remembered. ’Tis William De Bellair, beyond all
doubt, who sits in yonder inner room, and ’tis two archers of Grimsby
who guard him. Full well do I know who led that band of palmers; and I
say again thy fortunes shall not suffer for it.”

Cedric bowed and smiled.

“Ah well! ’Tis neither here nor there who led the palmers or whether
they acted wholly of their own impulse. The thing of greatest moment now
is this scroll of the articles which I have here in fair copy. Read it,
I pray thee, and see whether thou wilt give thy voice for its adoption.
Thou wilt see that I have introduced the provision for five and twenty
barons who shall enforce the charter and also have written in some other
matters that seem to us of moment.”

The Abbot took the scroll and quickly conned the pages whereon he and
Cedric had on the first day of their labors come to full agreement. Then
he came to the twentieth article, and ceasing reading, looked up at
Cedric sharply.

“Thou hast here the wording for which thou did’st argue yesterday.”

“Aye, ’tis so,” answered Cedric, grimly, “read on.”

The Abbot complied, but quickly came to another stop.

“Let not the body of _a free man_ be taken or imprisoned—” he read,
“that again is the very language that was yesterday rejected.”

Cedric nodded in assent. “Read on,” he said.

For some pages the Abbot went on in silence. Then he uttered an
exclamation of surprise, and paused to read again—this time aloud—an
article that appeared near the end of the scroll.

“All the aforesaid customs and liberties which the King hath conceded,
to be held in the Kingdom as far as concerns his relations to his men,
all in the realm, as well ecclesiastics as laity, _shall on their part
observe toward their men_.”

The Abbot leaped to his feet, his face red with wrath.

“What means this, De La Roche? Would thou have all these things for
which we risk our lives and lands extended to every churl and varlet in
the Kingdom?”

“Aye,” answered Cedric steadily. “And if thou’lt look abroad through our
camp, thou’lt see some thousands of those same churls and yeomen that do
risk their lives in this cause as much as thou or me.”

The Abbot shook his head with impatience.

“’Tis beyond reason, De La Roche. I cannot give my word for it.”

Cedric for a moment gazed out of window. Then he said to me:

“This keeping in durance of an ecclesiastic who was appointed to his
place by the King and moreover stands high in his favor, is a difficult
and dangerous business. ’Twill be better if we take him to the town’s
edge and turn him loose to find his way back whence he came.”

The Abbot gazed at Cedric with parted lips and bated breath while one
might have told two score. Then of a sudden he flung the parchment on
the table and laughed full loud and long.

“Thou hast won, De La Roche. I yield me. Thou hast won and fairly.
Thou’rt a most persuading speaker, I’ll be bound. I will go before our
group this day, and make them adopt these articles whether they will or
no. Then to-morrow I will speak for them before the whole assembly. Thou
shalt see what I can do when I am well put to it. Depend upon it, the
articles of that very scroll that lies before us will be the ones our
party will present to the King. And thou, on thy part, shall have due
watch and ward kept of thy prisoner, and see to it that he by no means
gains his liberty until the King hath sealed our charter and pledged
himself to interfere no more in our clerical elections.”

The Abbot was as good as his word. That afternoon he delivered such an
address in eulogy of the articles as they appeared in this latest scroll
as I had never heard before on any subject whatsoever. He marshalled all
the arguments Cedric had used together with many more he had not thought
on. His speech was filled with grace and eloquence and was of an
enthusiasm that carried all away. He showed beyond all doubt the power
that would accrue to our party through this inclusion of the rights of
the commonalty in our charter. When he was done De Longville as strongly
favored these provisions in the articles as on the day before he had
opposed them. Lord Esmond grimly held his peace, though oft shaking his
gray head in denial, and soon the scroll had been adopted by our vote of
four to one. The following day our ardent champion made a yet more
eloquent speech before the full assembly; and the articles were approved
by acclamation.

All know the remainder of the tale of Magna Charta,—how the King, three
days later, at Brackley where the articles were read to him, refused
them with an oath, furiously declaring that the barons might as well
have asked of him his kingdom,—how we resumed the war forthwith and the
taking of his castles,—how the gates of London were opened to us and the
King was at length brought to terms at Runnymede. There again ’twas
Cedric De La Roche and the Abbot of Moberley who conferred with the
Archbishop and the other commissioners of the King and satisfied
themselves and us that the completed scroll that received the royal seal
was to the same effect as our articles of Stamford and Brackley.

And now King John is dead, and little lamented, and a wiser sovereign
rules the land. Already men begin to see how great a thing was done at
Runnymede. ’Tis said that the Great Charter will be for centuries to
come the basis of our English law, since it affirms with equal voice the
rights of all our three estates,—the nobility, the clergy and the
commons. It seems to me that later generations will find in its
provisions the authority and the suggestion for many a reform that we
dare not yet attempt, and that freer and happier men may date the
beginning of better things to our bitter struggle with King John. If so
be, may they think not overmuch of us that were noble born and fought
for lordly privilege, but may they never forget that in our day there
were true men of lowly birth who risked their all for the rights of
their fellows. Of these was none more worthy of honor than he whom I am
ever proud to call my friend and comrade,—Cedric, the Forester of
Pelham.


                                THE END
                 Transcriber’s Notes for Cedric, the Forester:

       Differences from modern spelling and modern construction have not
                                 been changed.

        Variations in hyphenation and inconsistencies in spelling were
                                   retained.

           Punctuation inconsistencies and typographical errors were
                              silently corrected.





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