Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Under King Henry's Banners - A story of the days of Agincourt
Author: Westerman, Percy F. (Percy Francis)
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 "Under King Henry's Banners - A story of the days of Agincourt" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive/American Libraries.)



[Illustration:

  "HE DEALT A CRASHING BLOW AT THE RECREANT KNIGHT."

  _Frontispiece._
]



                           UNDER KING HENRY'S
                                BANNERS

                    A STORY OF THE DAYS OF AGINCOURT


                                   By
                           PERCY F. WESTERMAN

                               Author of
                   "The Winning of the Golden Spurs,"
                                  etc.

                  WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY JOHN CAMPBELL


                                 LONDON
                           THE PILGRIM PRESS
                        16, PILGRIM STREET, E.C.



                    _Fair stood the wind for France
                    When we our sails advance,
                    Nor now to prove our chance
                      Longer will tarry;
                    But putting to the main
                    At Kaux, the mouth of Seine,
                    With all his martial train,
                      Landed King Harry._

                    _And taking many a fort
                    Furnish'd in warlike sort
                    March'd towards Agincourt
                      In happy hour;
                    Skirmishing day by day
                    With those that stop'd his way,
                    Where the French Gen'ral lay
                      With all his power._

                  *       *       *       *       *

                      _Upon Saint Crispin's day
                      Fought was this noble fray,
                      Which fame did not delay
                        To England to carry;
                      O when shall Englishmen
                      With such acts fill a pen,
                        Such a King Harry?_

                                            MICHAEL DRAYTON (1563-1631.)



                                CONTENTS


    CHAP.                                                      PAGE

    I        HOW NEWS CAME TO WARBLINGTON CASTLE                  1

    II       THE RETURN OF THE "GRÂCE À DIEU"                    12

    III      HOW A FRIAR AND A LOLLARD MET ON THE HIGHWAY        20

    IV       HOW GEOFFREY LYSLE CROSSED THE CHANNEL              30

    V        HOW THE MERCHANTS TRIED CONCLUSIONS WITH LA
             BARRE                                               41

    VI       THE AFFRAY BY THE RIVER                             51

    VII      HOW GEOFFREY CAME TO TAILLEMARTEL                   61

    VIII     OF THE AMBUSH LAID BY THE MEN OF TAILLEMARTEL       71

    IX       CONCERNING GEOFFREY'S DESPERATE RESOLVE             85

    X        THE EVE OF ST. SILVESTER                            91

    XI       HOW SIR OLIVER GAINED HIS FREEDOM                  101

    XII      IN WHICH GEOFFREY IS LAID BY THE HEELS             106

    XIII     THE POSTERN FACED WITH POINTS OF STEEL             116

    XIV      HOW ARNOLD GRIPWELL WAS FREED FROM HIS BONDS       130

    XV       HOW THE THREE COMRADES SEIZED THE FISHING
             BOAT                                               143

    XVI      THE WRECK OF "L'ETOILE"                            153

    XVII     OF THE COMPANY AT THE "SIGN OF THE BUCKLE"         161

    XVIII    SQUIRE GEOFFREY                                    168

    XIX      TREASON                                            176

    XX       THE TRAITORS' DOOM                                 189

    XXI      HOW GEOFFREY FARED AT THE SIEGE OF HARFLEUR        198

    XXII     THE MARCH OF THE FORLORN SEVEN THOUSAND            214

    XXIII    THE EVE OF AGINCOURT                               224

    XXIV     THE BATTLE OF AGINCOURT                            240

    XXV      THE MASSACRE                                       254

    XXVI     AT THE CASTLE OF SIR RAOUL D'AULX                  267

    XXVII    THE SIEGE OF ROUEN                                 280

    XXVIII   THE FATE OF MALEVEREUX                             288

    XXIX     THE GOLDEN SPURS                                   303



                         LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


   MACE IN HAND, HE DEALT A CRUSHING BLOW AT THE     _Frontispiece in
   RECREANT KNIGHT                                           Colours_

   IT DID NOT TAKE LONG FOR THE ENGLISHMEN TO
   GRASP THE SITUATION                                             48

   "THROW ME YON ROPE!" HE SHOUTED                                144

   "SIRE, WERE THERE ANY WHO DWELT IN FEAR OF
   THE ISSUE OF THE BATTLE, WOULD THEY SLEEP SO
   QUIETLY?"                                                      224

   WITH SPEAR THRUST AND SWEEP OF AXE THEY FELL
   UPON THE STORMERS                                              288

------------------------------------------------------------------------



[Illustration]



                           UNDER KING HENRY'S
                                BANNERS



                               CHAPTER I

                  HOW NEWS CAME TO WARBLINGTON CASTLE


It was shortly after dawn, on the morning of March 21, 1413, that a
grizzled man-at-arms climbed the spiral staircase in the south-west
angle of the keep of Warblington Castle.

He was dressed in a leathern suit, much soiled and frayed by the
frequent wearing of armour, while on his head was a close-fitting cap,
quilted and padded to ease the weight of a steel headpiece. He was
unarmed, save for a long knife that was counterbalanced by a horn slung
from a shoulder-strap of undressed hide.

Under his left arm he bore a flag, its folds gathered closely to his
side, as if he feared to injure the cherished fabric by contact with the
rough stone walls of the staircase; for the flag he had charge of was
the banner of the renowned knight, Sir Oliver Lysle, of the Castle of
Warblington, in the county of Southampton, and of the Château of
Taillemartel, in the Duchy of Normandy.

At the one hundred and eleventh step the man-at-arms paused, and,
raising his arm, thrust with all his might against an oaken trap-door,
sheeted on the outside with lead. With a dull thud the door was flung
backwards, and the old soldier gained the summit of the turret, which
stood ten feet above the rest of the battlemented keep.

Sheltering from the strong north-westerly breeze that whistled over the
machicolated battlements, the man-at-arms gazed steadily—not in a
landward direction, where an almost uninterrupted view extends as far as
the rolling South Downs, neither to the east, where the tall,
needle-like shaft of Chichester Cathedral spire was gradually rearing
itself heavenwards, nor to the west, where the sea and land blended in
the dreary mud banks of Langstone Harbour—but southwards, where,
partially hidden in wreaths of fleecy vapour, the almost landlocked
waters of Chichester Harbour met the open expanse of the English
Channel.

The sound of footsteps on the stone stairs caused the watcher to turn
his attention to the newcomer.

"Good morning, fair sir," he exclaimed, as a lad of about fourteen years
of age climbed actively through the trap-door.

"And to thee, Arnold Gripwell. But how goes it? Dost see aught of the
ship?"

"Nay, Master Geoffrey; this wind, which is most unseasonable for the
time o' year, hath stirred up much mist, so that the sea cannot be
clearly discerned."

"'Tis passing strange. Sir Oliver, my father, hath sent word that, God
willing, he would cross the seas from Harfleur on the eve of the Feast
of St. Perpetua. Already fourteen days are spent, and yet he cometh
not."

"The reason is not far to seek," replied Gripwell, pointing towards the
distant Portsdown Hills. "So long as this wind holdeth the ship is bound
to tarry."

"But how long, think you, will it blow thus? Thou art a man skilled in
such matters."

"Nay, I cannot forecast, fair sir. For now, when the husbandman looketh
for the east wind to break the ground, this most unwholesome air doth
hold. Mark my words, Master Geoffrey, when it turneth we shall have
another winter. But the sun is rising. I must display my lord's banner."

So saying, he bent the flag to the halyards, and soon the emblem of the
Lysles was fluttering bravely in the breeze—azure, a turbot argent,
surmounted by an estoile of the last—in other words, a silver turbot,
with a silver star above, both on a field of blue.

Geoffrey knew well the meaning of this device. The first denoted that
the Lord of Warblington was one of the coastwise guardians of the
Channel; the star was in recognition of a former Lysle's service under
Edward I, on the occasion of a desperate night attack upon the Scots.

Always ready on the first summons, the Lysles placed duty to their king
as the highest of their earthly devoirs, and it was their proud boast
that no important expedition had crossed the Channel without the head of
the Manor of Warblington in its ranks.

Like many an English knight of that period, Sir Oliver Lysle had
interests in France. Through his mother he inherited the seigneurie of
Taillemartel in Normandy.

France was in a deplorable condition. The country was torn by a fierce
strife betwixt the Orleanists—or Armagnacs, as they were oft-times
termed—and the Burgundians. Every baron and knight did as he might,
trade was paralyzed, the poor were oppressed, and from Picardy to
Provence, and from Brittany to Dauphiné, chaos prevailed.

In his own interest Sir Oliver had frequently to cross to France, for
his turbulent neighbours, coveting the fair fields surrounding the
feudal castle of Taillemartel, did not hesitate to encroach upon his
lands. Thus, much to the English knight's regret, he found himself
embroiled in the affairs of a foreign country.

"There is a boat coming up the rithe," exclaimed Geoffrey, pointing to a
small, indistinct object slowly moving against the strong tide that
ebbed through the many channels by which Chichester Harbour is
intersected.

"Methinks thou'rt right," replied the man-at-arms, shading his eyes with
his hand, for the sun had broken through the mist and its rays were
dazzling on the water. "Yea, 'tis a craft of sorts. Would my sight were
as good as in the time of the affray of Otterburn."

"'Tis but a fisherman," replied the lad, after some minutes had elapsed.
"Yet he roweth as if he bore tidings."

"Ay; I wot when first I saw him that 'twas not thy father's cog,"
replied Gripwell, unwilling to admit the inferiority of his sense of
vision, although he had recently confessed it. "But, certes, he is not
one of the men of Warblington, and since he cometh herewards methinks
his errand is no idle one," he added.

"Then let us hasten to the wharf and learn his tidings," said Geoffrey,
as he turned towards the stairway.

With the rising of the sun the portcullis had been drawn up and the
drawbridge lowered. So, passing the vigilant sentinel who kept watch and
ward at the gate of the outer bailey, the lad and his companion made
their way across the mead, past the church that, by a strange
strategical blunder, stood betwixt the castle and the sea, and at length
reached the little stone quay which, at all but the lowest tides,
permitted the approach of the largest vessels of that period.

"'Tis Wat, of Sinah," exclaimed Geoffrey, as the rower turned his head
to make sure of his sinuous course 'twixt the mud banks that were
already showing above the ebbing waters.

"How now, Wat?" quoth the man-at-arms, as the boat rubbed sides with the
landing-place, and the fisherman, well-nigh breathless with his
exertions, tossed his oars into the little craft and scrambled up a
rough wooden ladder.

"Sir Oliver!" he gasped.

"And what of him? Stand not babbling like a child. Out with it, gossip."

"The _Grâce à Dieu_ lies off the Poles yonder," continued Wat, pointing
towards the invisible sandbanks that encumbered the mouth of the
harbour. "She hath come in betimes this morning, and even now is
anchored beyond the bar."

Geoffrey gave a cry of delight at the glad news; but Gripwell was far
from satisfied.

"And why has not the cog stood in? And how goeth it with Sir Oliver?"

"The ebb maketh strongly," replied the fisherman. "'Twas only with much
ado that I gained the harbour, my craft being but light. As thou
knowest, gossip, there be none to touch her, not even at Bosham or
Emsworth. And then concerning Sir Oliver. I saw him not, neither was I
able to draw nigh to the _Grâce_. It served my purpose but to come
hither and claim the guerdon that my lady hath promised to him who
brought the news of Sir Oliver's return."

"Then get thee to the castle, Wat. As for thy craft, it must needs take
ground, since the rithe dries within an hour. But that will pass, I'll
warrant, for thy welcome will not be a hasty one."

Already Geoffrey had sped to bear the news to his mother, the Lady
Bertha, while the fisherman and the man-at-arms followed, Wat inwardly
chafing at the measured stride of the old warrior.

Sir Oliver's wife was a tall, dignified matron of forty years; stern,
almost masculine in manner, yet devoted to her husband and son. During
Sir Oliver's frequent absences the care and maintenance of the castle
were entirely in her hands, and, from the merest detail concerning the
domestic ordering of the numerous household to the weighty questions
appertaining to its defence, the Lady Bertha ruled with firmness and
discretion.

Nor was she backward in maintaining her authority. Once, and once only,
did the youthful Geoffrey take upon himself to give certain orders to
the warriors of the outer bailey.

"Geoffrey, my son," quoth his mother, "when thou dost attain the age of
sixteen it is thy father's purpose to entrust thee with the care of this
castle during his sojournings overseas. When that time cometh I shall
willingly give place to thee in the matter, but so long as my lord
thinketh fit to make me châtelaine of Warblington I, and I only, must
have the ordering o' it."

The Lady Bertha was not slow to act on hearing the good tidings that
were now brought to her. In a few minutes the castle was in a state of
bustle. The nineteen men-at-arms donned their plates and headpieces, and
stood to their arms, ready to prove to the Lord of Warblington that they
kept good watch and ward; the two score archers, putting on their
quilted coats and iron caps, in addition to their everyday dress, rushed
hither and thither, gathering evergreens, heaping piles of faggots in
the centre of the courtyard, and bedecking the gateway with the arms and
pennons of bygone days. Old Giles, the cellarer, hied him to his
subterranean retreat, there to broach casks of the best vintages that
Gascony and Burgundy could produce, while the kitchen staff were busy
with two whole oxen.

Then from the adjacent church tower the bells rang out a merry peal.
Almost at the first note the toilers in the fields dropped their hoes
and unyoked the horses from the ploughs. They knew the meaning of the
peal; to them it meant, as it did on each and every occasion that Sir
Oliver returned in safety from the troublous Duchy of Normandy, that the
day was to be given up to feasting and merrymaking.

In the thatch-roofed houses of the little hamlet housewives left their
hearths, tarrying only to thrust a bough from their upper windows as a
sign of welcome, and trooped towards the castle to share with their
husbands the joys of their feudal lord's homecoming.

And now from the summit of the keep a keen-eyed sentinel espied the
bluff, black bows of the _Grâce à Dieu_, as, labouring slowly under
oars, she crept up the tedious Emsworth channel with the young
flood-tide.

The gunners, with port fires lighted and linstocks ready to hand, were
clustering round their cumbersome, iron-hooped bombards, gazing the
while towards the steadily-approaching vessel. The minstrels, with harp,
pipe, and lute, foregathered on the green within the outer bailey, while
the Lady Bertha—who, in order to show that she held the castle,
refrained from leaving the shelter of the battlements—awaited her
husband at the barbican.

Everything was ready for Sir Oliver Lysle's welcome home.

So intent upon the approach of the expected vessel were the crowds that
thronged the castle that none perceived a horseman riding from the
direction of the city of Chichester. In hot haste, he spared not spur,
and, scorning to keep to the road that led from the highway to the
castle, he urged his steed across the newly-ploughed fields, while a
bowshot in the rear a group of mounted men-at-arms followed at a more
leisurely pace.

Skirting the moat, he gained the barbican, then, drawing in his horse,
he looked, with an expression of mingled anger and surprise, upon the
preparations of welcome.

The newcomer was attired in a blue doublet, amber cloak with fur
trimmings, slashed trunks, and long pointed buskins of undressed
leather, while from elbow to wrist his arms were swathed in black cloth.
That he had ridden far and fast was evident by the exhausted state of
his steed and the numerous splashes of mud and chalk that clung
tenaciously to man and beast. By his left side he wore a long, straight
sword, with a plain cross-hilt and a black leather scabbard, while from
the right side of his belt hung a short dagger and a large leather
wallet.

Geoffrey recognized the newcomer as the seneschal of the Castle of
Arundel. Nor was he long in ignorance of the rider's errand, for, in a
loud voice, the officer exclaimed—

"To the Châtelaine of Warblington greeting; but methinks 'tis neither
time nor place for expressions of gladness."

"How so, Sir Scudamour?" asked the Lady Bertha haughtily, for she took
the seneschal's mien with disfavour.

"By this, fair dame," and, pointing to one of the men-at-arms who had
meanwhile arrived at the barbican, he called attention to a shield-like
object the soldier was bearing. It was a hatchment, or escutcheon of a
deceased noble, and the arms were those of King Henry IV—three lions
passant quartered with fleurs-de-lys.

Drawing a soiled parchment from his pouch the seneschal presented it to
the Lady Bertha with a courteous bow, then, giving a meaning look of
displeasure at the preparations for Sir Oliver's return, he wheeled his
horse and galloped away.

Slowly the châtelaine broke the seals and drew out the missive. Silence
had fallen upon the crowd. Instinctively soldier and peasant knew that
King Henry was no more.

The men-at-arms and archers doffed their steel caps, the peasants,
bareheaded and with mouths agape, crowded silently around the stately
figure of the Lady Bertha, as in a loud voice she began to read the
momentous news—

"To all to whom these present letters shall come: Whereas God hath been
pleased to call unto Himself the soul of Henry, King of England,
France——"

"An empty title," muttered a voice. Geoffrey turned; it was Gripwell who
had uttered these words. Fortunately for him the châtelaine heard him
not, and went on reading.

"——Lord of Ireland, and Suzerain of the Kingdom of Scotland, it is
hereby ordained that on the day following his most lamented decease his
worthy son, Henry, Prince of Wales, Earl of Cornwall and Carnarvon, and
Governor of Calais, be proclaimed King of England, France, Lord of
Ireland, and Suzerain of Scotland. Oyez, oyez, oyez. God save King Henry
the Fifth!"



                               CHAPTER II

                    THE RETURN OF THE _GRÂCE À DIEU_


For the nonce all thoughts of the expected arrival of Sir Oliver Lysle
were forgotten, save by the Lady Bertha and her son.

The pennons and garlands were already being removed, the minstrels
trooped silently back to the great hall, and the banner of the Lysles
was lowered to half-mast.

Yet, although all outward signs of merrymaking had disappeared, the
feast provided for the tenantry was to be partaken of on the arrival of
the _Grâce à Dieu_.

Soldiers and peasants gathered in small knots, eagerly discussing the
events that were likely to ensue consequent upon the late monarch's
decease.

"But Prince Henry was ever a young gallivant," observed Arnold Gripwell.
"I' faith, 'tis no great advancement to have seen the inside of a gaol."

"Have a care, gossip, or thine ears will suffer for it," remonstrated a
bearded master-archer. "Boys will be boys, they say. Perchance our King
has put off all his ill-deeds."

"They do say that he hath made absolute confession," said another. "I
have it on authority of a member of Sir Thomas Erpingham's household
that the Prince hath repaired to the chapel of a recluse, and, laying
bare to him the misdeeds of his whole life, hath put off the mantle of
vice, and hath returned decently adorned with the cloak of virtue."

"So be it," replied Gripwell stoutly. "The late King, though his title
to the throne were but a hollow one, was ever a soldier and a man. Give
me a man whom I can serve and follow to the wars, say I."

"Then perchance thy wish will be gratified, Arnold," remarked Sampson,
the master-bowman. "Prince Henry bore himself like a man at Homildon
fight, as thou knowest. Who knows but that ere long we shall follow him
to France to win back his own?"

"Pray Heaven it be so," returned the master-at-arms heartily. "For my
part, I'd as lief cross the narrow seas as a common soldier. Well I
remember my grandsire's tales of how the manhood of England crossed
thither in the time of the great Edward. Every mean archer, who went as
poor as a church mouse and did not lay his bones on French soil,
returned laden with rich booty. Did not my grandsire purchase the
copyhold of the farm at Nutbourne out of his ransom of a French knight?"

"But what think you, Master Sampson?" asked an archer eagerly. "Dost
think that the new King will make war?"

"He hath by far a better opportunity than Henry of Lancaster, the saints
rest his soul," replied the bowman. "That base rebel, Glendower, hath
been driven from the Welsh marches, and lies in hiding in the wilds of
that leek-ridden country. The Scots, too, are kept well in hand, so that
peace on the borders is to be depended upon. The King hath but to raise
his hand, and from the length and breadth of the realm the yeomen of
England will flock to his banner."

Sir Oliver's retainers were not far from the mark. Like the household of
many another knight, his men-at-arms and archers were tolerably well
versed in the affairs affecting the kingdom's welfare. To them war was
both a trade and the means of following an honourable profession.

Meanwhile the _Grâce à Dieu_ had gained the mouth of the little rithe
leading up to the quay, and was preparing to anchor.

Again the excitement rose, but in the midst of the hum of suppressed
anticipation an archer called attention to a significant fact: Sir
Oliver's shield was not displayed from the ship's quarter.

"Heaven forfend that he be dead," exclaimed Gripwell. "See, the Lady
Bertha hath noticed the omission."

Unable to conceal her agitation, the châtelaine, quitting the post of
honour, had crossed the drawbridge, and, accompanied by Geoffrey, was
hastening towards the wharf, a crowd of archers and men-at-arms
following at a respectful distance.

Already the small craft that belonged to the manor had put off to the
newly-arrived ship, which, for want of water, could not approach within
a bowshot of the shore.

"Where is thy master, Sir Oliver, Simeon?" asked the Lady Bertha, trying
the while to maintain her composure, as a burly, bow-legged man stepped
out of the boat and scrambled up the steps of the wharf.

Simeon Cross was the master-shipman of the _Grâce à Dieu_. For more than
two-score years had he earned his bread on the waters, being more used
to the heaving planks of a ship than to hard ground.

Awkwardly he shuffled with his feet, scarce daring to raise his eyes to
meet the stern, expectant look of the Châtelaine of Warblington.

"Answer me, rascal. Where is Sir Oliver?"

"Lady, I have ever been unshipshape with my tongue; were I to talk much
my words would trip like a scowed anchor. Ere long black would be white,
and white black, and——"

"Cease thy babbling, Simeon, and answer yea or nay. Is Sir Oliver alive
and well?"

"Lady, yea and nay. Yea, since he is still in the flesh, and nay, by
reason of——"

"The saints be praised!" ejaculated the fair questioner, reassured by
the old seaman's reply. "But stand aside, I pray you, for I perceive
that Oswald Steyning draws near. Tell me, Oswald, how comes it that thou
hast deserted thy master? Is it meet that a squire should return without
his lord?"

"Sweet lady, I had no choice in the matter," replied the squire, a
fair-haired youth of about sixteen years of age. "By the express command
of Sir Oliver and of the Lord of Malevereux I stand here this day. Sir
Oliver is alive and, I wot, in health, but, alas! a prisoner."

"A prisoner?"

"Ay, fair lady, of the Lord of Malevereux, otherwise known as the Tyrant
of Valadour, who sends this letter by my hand."

Drawing from his pouch a sealed packet, the squire knelt and presented
it to the châtelaine.

"From Yves, Baron of Malevereux, Lord of the High, the Middle, and the
Low, to the Lady Bertha, Châtelaine of the Castle of Warblington,
greeting:—

"Whereas, by the grace of the blessed Saint Hilary, Sir Oliver Lysle,
thy husband, hath fallen into my hands, be it known that this is my will
and pleasure: Him will I have and hold until a ransom of ten thousand
crowns be paid for the release of the said Sir Oliver. It is my request
that this sum be paid on or before the eve of the Feast of the blessed
Saint Silvester, failing which Sir Oliver must suffer death."

Twice the châtelaine read the missive, then, turning to the squire, she
asked—

"Knowest aught of this letter?"

"Nay, fair lady, though I wot 'tis of cold comfort."

"How came Sir Oliver to be taken?"

"By stealth, madame. They of Malevereux seized him as he lay abed in a
hostel on the road 'twixt Rouen and Taillemartel. Me they also took, but
the Tyrant set me free in order that I might bear tidings to
Warblington."

"And did Sir Oliver charge thee by word of mouth?"

"Yea, 'twas thus:—'Present my humblest respects to my dear lady, thy
mistress, and say that not a groat is to be paid as ransom for me.' No
more, no less."

"That I will bear in mind," replied the châtelaine resolutely.
"Meanwhile I must devise some answer to this Tyrant of Malevereux. Hast
promise of safe conduct?"

"The word of the Lord of Malevereux is but a poor bond, sweet lady. Yet,
since I have his promise, I will right willingly take the risk."

"'Tis well. Now to return to the castle. Arnold, see to the ordering of
the men-at-arms, the archers, and the tenants. Let them have their
feast, e'en though it be a sad one. Simeon, see to it that the _Grâce à
Dieu_ is warped up to the quay at high tide, and take steps to set a
goodly store of provisions on board, since to France thou must sail once
more. Now, Oswald, bear me company, for there is much on which I must
question thee."

All this time Geoffrey had been a silent yet eager listener. Already he
had grasped the main points of the situation, and, quick to act, he had
made up his mind that the time had come for the son of Sir Oliver Lysle
to prove himself worthy of the ancient and honourable name.

"Tell me all thou knowest concerning this Tyrant of Malevereux, Oswald,"
began Lady Bertha, as the châtelaine and the two lads gained the
comparative seclusion of the hall.

"He is the most puissant rogue in all Normandy, ay, in the whole of
France," replied the squire. "Though I perceive he has written in a
courteous style, worthy of a knight of Christendom, he is but a base
robber and oppressor of the poor, and a treacherous enemy to all true
gentlemen of coat armour. He hath declared that he fears neither God,
man, nor devil, yet withal he is of a craven disposition, and full of
superstitious fears."

"It is said that on one day of the year he throws open his Castle of
Malevereux to all who would fain partake of his hospitality?"

"That is so, sweet lady. On the Feast of Saint Silvester—in
commemoration of a deliverance from a great peril—the Lord of Malevereux
doth hold a joust to which all men may come, saving that they leave
their arms at the gate. Beyond that 'tis said that no man, other than
the Tyrant's retainers, hath set foot within the castle save as a
captive."

"The Feast of Saint Silvester!" exclaimed the Lady Bertha. "On that day
this base knight would fain receive ransom for Sir Oliver."

"Might I not be permitted to go to France?" asked Geoffrey, speaking for
the first time during the conversation. "I would desire to have some
small chance of advancement 'gainst this villainous baron."

"Thou'rt but a lad, Geoffrey," replied his mother. "I commend thy
courage and determination; they do thee honour, but the task is beyond
thee."

"I am almost of the same age as that most puissant knight, Edward the
Black Prince, when he fought at Crécy, and as old as our new King when
he crossed swords with Lord Percy at Otterburn," asserted Sir Oliver's
son. "Oswald hath followed my father Francewards these two years.
Therefore, saving your presence, I ought to be up and doing."

"'Tis a matter that demands careful consideration, Geoffrey, though I do
perceive that thou art not like a girl that hath to stay at home. Even
as a young hawk hath to leave the nest, a knight's son must, sooner or
later, quit the shelter of his parents' roof. But of that more anon. It
is in my mind that the good knight, Sir Thomas Carberry, who holds the
Castle of Portchester should hear of the mishap that hath befallen my
lord."

"Wouldst that I ride thither?" asked Geoffrey eagerly, for the doughty
knight was ever a favourite of the lad.

"That is my desire, Geoffrey. The day is but young, and thou canst
return ere sundown. Oswald shall bear thee company."



                              CHAPTER III

                  HOW A FRIAR AND A LOLLARD MET ON THE
                                HIGHWAY


In a few moments the lads had donned their cloaks, girded on their
swords—since none of quality ever ventured upon the highway save with a
weapon ready to hand—and given orders for their horses to be saddled and
brought to the gate.

"Have I to bear a letter?" asked Geoffrey, as he came to announce his
departure.

"Nay, my son; word of mouth will suffice. Now, get thee gone, and the
saints preserve thee."

Swinging easily into the saddle, the lads applied spur; and at a steady
trot they crossed the drawbridge and gained the open country.

It was but a distance of some seven miles 'twixt the Castles of
Warblington and Portchester, while, being part of the great southern
highway between the populous borough of Southampton and the coast towns
of Sussex, there was generally a small number of travellers to be met.

For a while the two lads chatted eagerly, Geoffrey questioning his
companion concerning his adventures beyond the seas, and of the events
that led up to Sir Oliver's captivity. And as they talked Geoffrey's
resolution was rapidly becoming stronger. Gaining confidence from
Oswald's unassuming self-reliance, he realized that with a good heart
youth is capable of overcoming many obstacles.

At length, hard by the hamlet of Bedhampton, the road began to ascend a
spur of chalk down. From the summit a splendid view greeted the lads. As
far as the eye could see was a flat plain, intersected by two large
harbours, while away on the left, beyond a silver streak of sea, rose
the rolling down of the Isle of Wight. Ahead, at a distance of over four
miles, a massive square tower proudly reared itself hard by the head of
the furthermost harbour. It was the Castle of Portchester.

Barely had the two riders gained the foot of the ridge when they
suddenly came upon a grey-cloaked figure bending over a heap of rubbish
by the wayside. Evidently it had been thrown there from a neighbouring
smithy, for scraps of old iron horseshoes predominated.

"'Tis a friar," exclaimed Oswald, as the man, hearing the sound of
horses' hoofs, drew himself up and began to amble along the chalky road.

Doffing reverentially as they passed, the two lads cast a furtive glance
at the cloaked and hooded friar, as he fumbled beneath his garments as
if to conceal something. The man's face was far from pleasant. Shifty
eyes, sharp pointed nose, loose lip, and flabby jowl gave him a crafty,
foxlike appearance, yet to the two unworldly lads a friar could be
nought else but a holy member of the Church.

Ere they had ridden another quarter of a mile something prompted the
lads to look over their shoulders, and to their surprise they perceived
that the friar had returned to the rubbish heap.

"'Tis a strange occupation for a holy man," observed Oswald. "To what
purpose doth he tarry at yonder spot?"

"Nay, I know not," replied Geoffrey. "Perchance he finds it a fitting
place for meditation."

With this the subject was dismissed, and the two riders urged their
steeds to a brisker pace.

At length they arrived at the castle of Sir Thomas Carberry, where, on
being announced, they were ushered into the knight's presence.

"Yves of Malevereux, dost say?" exclaimed Sir Thomas. "Alack-a-day that
Sir Oliver should fall into the toils of such a caitiff. I know the
Tyrant well, having had a slight bickering with him, not once nor
twice."

"Is there indeed no means of securing my father's release save by
ransom? The payment of ransom he hath forbidden," said Geoffrey.

"Perchance, should war ensue and an English army again set foot on
French soil, the King might see fit to send a troop of lances and a body
of archers to rid the world of the pest. Would that I could adventure
myself on Sir Oliver's behalf, yet I fear that affairs of the realm will
prevent my so doing. Nevertheless, I'll do my devoirs to the Lady
Bertha. Convey her my most humble regards, and say that I will ride over
to Warblington to-morrow morn."

"I have asked my mother to give me leave to journey to France," said
Geoffrey. "Couldst thou not throw in thy weighty word for me, Sir
Thomas?"

"Certes! How canst thou hope to overcome the Lord of Malevereux,
Geoffrey? Nevertheless, 'tis right and meet that the son of Sir Oliver
should see to his affairs at Taillemartel. There thou couldst be of
service. Say no more now, but on the morrow I'll broach the matter."

"Sir, I crave your pardon and your opinion," said Oswald. "Dost think
that the King will advance his claim to the French throne?"

"Without a doubt."

"I am right glad to hear of it," replied Oswald. "There is much
advancement to be made in such matters."

"Not without losses, hunger, and discomforts," added the knight, smiling
at the youth's ardent words. "Young men are apt to look upon only the
bright side of war. Such views I myself have held, but as time runs on
we elders know more of the dark side of the picture. Nevertheless, at
the first call to arms I, amongst many, will not be found wanting."

"What think ye of our new King?" asked Geoffrey, more bluntly than he
intended.

The knight shook his head.

"'Tis not meet that a soldier should offer an opinion of his liege
lord," he replied. "Henry V is my King, and to me that is sufficient
reasoning for unswerving loyalty. A true Englishman's duty is to serve
loyally, be he knight or commoner; therefore, I counsel you, reject all
reports to the belittlement of King Harry, strive to live upright and
true to those set in authority, and all will go well."

With this advice Sir Thomas dismissed his visitors, renewing his
assurance that on the morrow he would journey to see the Châtelaine of
Warblington in person.

"Since Sir Thomas hath promised to speak in my favour my hopes are
raised," remarked Geoffrey. "Who knows but that ere the Feast of St.
Mark I may be upon French soil."

"Since the Lady Bertha hath charged me to convey her reply to Malevereux
we may bear one another company," replied Oswald. "But what have we
here?"

The travellers had now reached the outskirts of the little hamlet of
Cosham. Outside a mud-and-wattle cottage a large crowd, comprising
nearly all the inhabitants and a sprinkling of strangers, had collected.
That something was amiss was apparent by the low murmur that reached the
lads' ears as they approached.

"If 'tis some slight affray 'tis our duty to aid the weaker side," said
Oswald, his right hand flying to his sword-hilt. "See to it that thou
dost strike yarely should occasion arise."

Urging their horses through the fringe of the crowd, the two youthful
champions of oppressed right came upon a scene they had not bargained
for.

Standing in the doorway was a woman, middle-aged and comely, whose face
was a study of mingled perplexity, indignation, and fright.

In the middle of a semicircle formed by the crowd towered a powerfully
made man of commanding and noble aspect, dressed in plain yet rich
garments of sober russet cloth tipped with fur. Save for a short dagger
he was unarmed, a vellum-bound book hanging by a steel chain occupying
the place of a sword.

Held at arm's length by the stranger's muscular arm was the friar whom
the lads had seen at Bedhampton that same morning. The man's hang-dog
face was convulsed with fury, though it was evident that he was in
terror of the stranger, whose anger was as apparent as that of his
captive.

Ignoring the hurried undertone remonstrances of a merchant, the stranger
addressed the throng in a loud voice.

"My good people," he exclaimed, "how much longer will ye suffer
yourselves to be deluded by such cloaked and cowled rascals as this? By
what authority doth the friar claim the right to sell pardons and
absolutions for every sin that besets us? Not by that of One above, I'll
warrant. And how can a parcel of so-called relics possess the power of
imparting nameless virtues to the dupe who hath purchased them? Hold up
the trickster's wares," he continued, addressing a sheepish-looking
countryman. "Nay, do not hesitate; if so be a murrain falls upon the
unbeliever, on my head be it."

Thus encouraged the peasant stooped and picked up something from the
ground.

"Hold them up," commanded the stranger authoritatively. "Raise them high
above thy head that all may see."

The man obeyed, and, to Geoffrey's astonishment, displayed a piece of a
horseshoe and a bent and rusted nail.

"Now, dame," continued the stranger, speaking in a kindlier tone. "Tell
me how named your friar this fragment of horseshoe?"

"'Tis a piece of the shoe of the ass that bore the Blessed Virgin into
Egypt," quavered the woman.

"Nay, say not ''tis', but ''twas' told me," corrected the stranger.
"Now, once again, whence comes this twisted clout?"

"A nail from the tree on which was crucified the blessed St. Edmund,"
replied the dame.

"That savours less of the lie," quoth her interrogator, "seeing that
'tis said that at the town of Bury the tree still stands. Answer me, did
your friar also say 'twas the very nail that pierced the martyred King's
limbs?"

"Ay, an' it please thee," replied the woman.

"Then there I have him," exclaimed the stranger. "How can a nail of this
length pierce a man's palm and hold him to a tree? See for yourselves,
my masters, that 'tis beyond reason. Tell me, dame, what price did'st
thou pay for these baubles?"

"A silver groat."

"Then lest it be said that I despoiled the Church, I will reimburse
thee. Now, friends, one more question; since when hath it been the
custom to shoe an ass with a horseshoe?"

A roar of laughter from the crowd greeted this hit. Then with a rapid
motion of his arm the stranger flung the fragments of iron far across an
adjoining field.

"Hence," he thundered, relaxing his grasp on the terrified friar, and
with a tremendous buffet on the ear he sent the wretched man reeling
through a lane betwixt the amazed spectators.

"Have a care, my Lord Cobham," whispered the merchant, plucking at the
knight's sleeve. "Affront not the Church. Already 'tis said that my Lord
Archbishop hath applied to proceed against thee. Do not, I pray thee,
give thine enemies more cause for offence."

"I have no quarrel with the Church, but with the Church's flagrant
offences, Master Pearce. As for my lord the Archbishop, let him do his
worst. The King, a grandson of John of Gaunt, will see to it that
justice to the Lollards be done. Moreover, I have the honour of being a
friend of Harry Monmouth. Shall he, as King, think fit to abandon me to
mine enemies, then God's will be done. I am not the first to suffer for
truth's sake.

"And now, friends," he continued, addressing the crowd once more, "I
trust that this slight bickering hath been to your souls' advantage. Try
to use the wits that have been given you for your advancement; be not
led by the nose by such as ye have just seen. Here is the lamp that
guideth your way, though I must fain admit 'tis at present but a feeble
glimmer." And he touched the Book that was hanging from his belt.

"Soon," he continued, "the day will come when all men shall hear the
Word in the vulgar tongue, and to that set purpose hath Wycliffe
laboured and his followers are toiling still."

Thereupon the Lollard proceeded to read a chapter from the English
translation of the Bible, and for the first time his listeners heard it
read in a simple and familiar language.

This done, my Lord Cobham went on his way, gravely returning the lads'
salutation as they, too, proceeded on their journey.

"This meeting hath opened my eyes," observed Oswald. "E'en though I saw
yon friar in the rubbish heap I little thought his purpose was to trick
his listeners."

"Yet though I felt admiration for the knight, I cannot believe that his
doctrine is wholly right," replied Geoffrey. "Methinks it savours of
rebellion."

"Mark well, he said not a word against the Church."

"That I noticed. Yet it is to be hoped that the friar is but one of a
few black sheep. Father Hilarius is not of that style."

"Nay, a more broad-minded, upright priest I do not wish to meet,"
replied Oswald. "But concerning the Lord Cobham, is he not the same as
Sir John Oldcastle? He is a sturdy Lollard and a friend of the King to
boot."

"Methinks thou'rt right," assented Geoffrey. "'Tis the same Oldcastle of
whom my father hath ofttimes spoken. Now reason with thyself a space;
this knight seemeth to be a right godly man. Therefore it follows, since
he is an admitted friend of the King's, that he would not have mentioned
the matter were the King, while Prince of Wales, the rascal—save the
term—that men would make him out to be.

"We know," went on Geoffrey, "that Judge Gascoigne committed the Prince
to prison. That was for an offence done in the heat of anger. Lord
Cobham was angry even now, when he buffeted the friar, but I wot he is
not a man to consort with drunkards and dissolute persons. Mark well,
also, that Sir Thomas Carberry had not a word to say against the King:
therefore I shall believe that all their stories concerning him are
baseless.

"But come," he added, "we must hasten, for already the sun is low in the
sky."

In silence the lads proceeded on their journey. Both were thoughtful,
for the events of the day had added another perplexity to their small
store of worldly difficulties. Thus pondering, they returned to the
Castle of Warblington, where the châtelaine was eagerly awaiting to hear
the result of their fateful errand.



                               CHAPTER IV

                 HOW GEOFFREY LYSLE CROSSED THE CHANNEL


Sir Thomas Carberry was as good as his word. He rode over to Warblington
betimes on the following morning, where he was welcomed by the
châtelaine and her assembled household.

Being a man of action, the knight lost no time in dealing with the
matter that had brought him thither.

"I can well understand Sir Oliver's wishes in this matter," he remarked.
"Since he will not have a ransom paid on his behalf, and on the other
hand the Tyrant of Malevereux doth threaten him with death should the
gold not be forthcoming, it is certain that we are in a strait. Thou
sayest that the garrison of Taillemartel is not strong enough to assail
the baron's stronghold? Then some other plan must be considered.
Methinks the great thing is to gain time with this recreant Lord of
Malevereux. To that end it would be well to reply guardedly to his
letter."

"But not to promise payment of the ransom?"

"Not in plain words. Write that ere the Feast of Saint Silvester the
demands of the Lord of Malevereux will be met. That need be all; thy
husband's squire can deliver the message, since he hath been promised
safe conduct."

"But will the Tyrant keep to his word concerning the good treatment of
Oswald?" demurred the Lady Bertha. "It is hardly meet that the lad
should be placed in the power of this recreant knight."

"For my part I care but little, fair lady," said Sir Oliver's squire.
"Since my place is with my lord—and 'twas not my doing that I was
compelled to leave him at Malevereux—I'll bear the letter to Sir Yves in
person. Should he think fit to keep his word, well and good; otherwise I
must rest content that I am to be kept in durance with Sir Oliver."

"Well spoken, squire," exclaimed Sir Thomas Carberry. "See to it that
thy actions are as brave as thy speech. Now, there is yet another point.
Who holds the Castle of Taillemartel in Sir Oliver's absence?"

The châtelaine did not reply. Instinctively she realized the motive of
the question.

"Hath my son said aught to thee concerning his wish to go Franceward?"
she asked.

"Fair lady, he hath," replied the knight. "Moreover, 'tis right and meet
that he, as Sir Oliver's son, should hold Taillemartel in his father's
absence. Thrust aside thy feelings as a mother, Lady Bertha, and make a
sacrifice to duty. The lad, from what I know of him—and that is not a
little—hath courage, wisdom, and discretion beyond his years. Let him
have the ordering of Taillemartel, and I'll warrant he'll prove a right
worthy limb of the old Lysle stock."

"And what can be done towards the actual setting free of my husband?"

"Concerning myself, this affair could not have happened at a more
inopportune time. Until I learn King Harry's wishes I am tied to my
Castle of Portchester; otherwise would I right gladly take a troop of
lances, add them to the garrison of Taillemartel, and together they
would have the Castle of Malevereux about its owner's ears in less than
a week. Did Sir Oliver ever mention the name of Sir Raoul d'Aulx,
seigneur of Maissons?"

"I cannot call the name to mind."

"This Sir Raoul is a Burgundian knight, a right worthy gentleman of good
repute. Sir Oliver and I fought side by side with him 'gainst the
Paynims of Barbary, under the late King, when he was but Henry of
Lancaster. Now it is in my mind to write to the Seigneur of Maissons
that he should beleaguer the Castle of Malevereux; knowing that he hath
just cause 'gainst Sir Yves, and that he hath great regard for Sir
Oliver, this request may find favour in Sir Raoul's eyes. To that end
I'll send my squire, Richard Ratclyffe, with thy son and Sir Oliver's
squire, Oswald Steyning. When will Geoffrey be ready for the journey?"

"The _Grâce à Dieu_ lies in the harbour fit to take the sea within an
hour," replied the châtelaine with a sigh, for, although she was
resigned to Sir Thomas Carberry's plan, the thought of parting with her
son seemed well-nigh unbearable.

"Then the sooner the better, since the wind holds fair. I'll send my
squire to thee this night. Now, bear up, fair lady, for by the blessing
of the saints, Sir Oliver will sit at his ease in Warblington Castle ere
the feast of St. Silvester."

So saying Sir Thomas took his leave, while the châtelaine busied herself
with preparations for her son's journey.

That night Geoffrey kept vigil in the little church of St. Thomas à
Becket, vowing to be courageous and honourable in warfare, courteous to
women, and just towards those under his authority, as befitting the son
of a true knight who himself aspired to the gilded spurs. But when he
prayed that he might take vengeance upon the Lord of Malevereux, Father
Hilarius gently reproved him.

"Vengeance, my son, hath no place within the mind of a gentleman of
quality; leave that in the hands of One above, who, if He think fit,
will grind the oppressor between the upper and nether millstones of His
wrath. In thy dealings with thy fellow-men see to it that justice is
ever tempered with mercy."

At length the eventful day dawned. At the head of the rithe lay the
_Grâce à Dieu_, her huge square sail, emblazoned with the arms of the
Lysles, being loosely furled ready to be sheeted home at the
shipmaster's call.

Geoffrey and the two squires, Oswald Steyning and Richard Ratclyffe,
attended by the stout old man-at-arms, Arnold Gripwell, and three trusty
archers, boarded the skiff that was to take them off to the larger
vessel. The hour of parting had come and gone, and with heavy heart Sir
Oliver's son saw the crowd of tenantry on the shore grow less and less
distinct.

But the moment the lads set foot upon the deck of the _Grâce à Dieu_ the
bustle and excitement of setting sail dispelled for the time their
feeling of sadness.

Old Simeon Cross, the master-shipman, was standing by the long tiller,
shouting orders at the seamen to the accompaniment of a string of
expletives uttered in half a dozen different tongues.

"Yarely, now, yarely with the cable! Dick, do you attend to the vang;
Tom, thou rapscallion, haul handsomely on yonder brace. Avast heaving
there! Now she feels it!"

Before the steady north-westerly breeze the _Grâce à Dieu_ bore rapidly
down the Emsworth Channel; the low-lying islands of Thorney and Hayling
were quickly passed, and, after a buffeting on the wind-swept bar, the
staunch vessel was curtseying to the long, heavy swell of the English
Channel.

Ere noon the Sussex Downs were but a low, indistinct line of blue
against the northern sky, while the rounded hills of the Isle of Wight
were fading away on the starboard quarter.

Then, having given the helmsman the course by means of the lodestone
that did duty for a compass, Simeon went below to rest, since he must
needs be on deck throughout the coming night.

"The English shore is well-nigh lost to view," remarked Oswald. "Ere
morning we ought to see the coast of France, an this wind hold."

"Aye, an we are not molested by any of the sea rovers that infest the
Channel," added Gripwell. "Now, young sirs, I'll wager that old Simeon
will descry the French coast ere either of your young eyes can do so."

"I have heard it said that a shipmaster's vision is better by far than a
landsman's," replied Richard Ratclyffe. "Yet I call to mind a device
that my master, Sir Thomas, purchased from a monk of Limoges. It was but
a tube of wood filled with sundry pieces of glass, yet one could
distinguish a man's features a league away."

"By St. George, Master Ratclyffe," exclaimed Gripwell, "thou art trying
to befool us, saving thy presence. See a man's face a league off,
forsooth! Certes, next thou'lt say that it is possible for a person in
England to clap a trumpet to his mouth and speak to another in France.
Go to, Master Ratclyffe, Arnold Gripwell is not to be caught by such
reports."

"Yet such is the truth, Gripwell," replied the squire.

"When I see it I'll believe it," retorted the man-at-arms sturdily.

Ere nightfall the wind dropped, and the _Grâce à Dieu_ floundered
sluggishly in the long rolling swell. Under the influence of this
unaccustomed motion Richard Ratclyffe was the first to succumb to the
woeful malady of sea-sickness. Geoffrey was soon in like case. The
others, having crossed the sea beforetimes, were more hardened to its
usages.

"Go below and lie down awhile," counselled Arnold Gripwell. "Ere ye wake
the evil will have left you."

"I would there were some other way of crossing to France," said Geoffrey
miserably.

"'Tis part of the game, and must be borne with a good heart," replied
Gripwell. "This is the only way, and ever will be the only way, as far
as I can see, unless men devise a means of flying thither through the
air. How think ye, Master Ratclyffe," he added slyly, but the squire was
beyond the sting of banter.

Lulled by the motion of the vessel, Geoffrey sank into a deep yet
troubled slumber, nor did he awake till he was aroused by the
man-at-arms shaking him by the shoulder.

"Up with ye, Master Geoffrey," he exclaimed. "There's foul work without,
and if so be we can play our part every man jack will be wanted."

"What's amiss?" asked the lad, sitting up. All feelings of sea-sickness
had left him; excitement had conquered the landsman's arch-enemy.

"On deck, and thou'lt see," replied Gripwell curtly as he hastened to
rouse the other lads.

It was a strange sight that greeted Geoffrey Lysle as he gained the
deck. Day had just broken, and the pale grey light revealed the presence
of two ships lying a mile or so to leeward of the _Grâce à Dieu_.

One, a tall wall-sided ship, was striving to keep at bay a long,
low-lying galley, from which showers of arrows, quarrels, stones, and
spears were being hurled by the crowd of men who thronged her low
fo'c'sle and towering poop.

"What are we to do, good Master Gripwell?" asked Simeon, the shipmaster,
anxiously. "Yonder lies the ship _Brothers of Lymington_. I know her
well. She is a stout merchantman, but slow; though, by St. Peter, the
_Grâce à Dieu_ could scarce gain a bow-shot length on her in an hour.
The galley, if mine eyes do not deceive me, belongs to the Republic of
Genoa, and scant mercy shall we receive at her hands. What are we to
do?"

"Do?" exclaimed Gripwell in high disdain. "Why, Simeon, trick her. If we
flee we are lost, since she can sail two yards to our one. Art willing
to leave this matter in my hands?"

"Ay, good Arnold," replied the shipmaster nervously.

"Then, do you steer straight for yonder ships. Ho there, Wat! Bring
forth every spear and every steel cap that is in the ship. Thomas of
Gosport, do you wind your horn and blow a rousing blast. The rest of
you, shipmen and archers all, don steel caps and stand fast in the waist
till I give ye word."

So saying, Gripwell left the deck and went below. Meanwhile Geoffrey and
his two comrades were struggling into their plates and steel casques,
knowing that there was hot work afoot, yet wondering what the
man-at-arms was about.

Presently Gripwell re-appeared, bearing six large shields of painted
canvas, emblazoned with the arms of the principal knights of Hampshire.

"Now ye be each two knights," he shouted light-heartedly. "Sixteen years
ago come Martinmas these devices hung in the great hall of Warblington
when Sir Oliver was wed. Ever since that day have I kept them. Whenever
I journey by water they go with me. Now, Sir Geoffrey, take thy place on
the poop with Sir Oswald; Sir Richard, the waist is under thy charge. I
am for the fo'c'sle."

So saying the man-at-arms proceeded to hang the shields over the ship's
sides, according to the custom when knights adventured themselves on the
high seas. Every man had donned a steel cap, and was grasping two and
sometimes three lances, so that the rays of the rising sun glittered
upon a small forest of steel.

"Turn her aside, I pray thee, Simeon, and let yonder rogues see our
knights' shields," ordered Gripwell, and obediently the master-shipman
thrust the helm hard over so that the _Grâce à Dieu_ exposed the whole
of her broadside to the two antagonists.

"Now, wind thy horn once more, Thomas," he continued as the ship resumed
her course straight for the Genoese galley. "Heaven help us if they see
through the trick," he added in an undertone.

The Lymington ship, taking heart at the prospect of a rescue, redoubled
her fire of arrows and stones, but withal the galley stuck doggedly to
her prey. Nearer and nearer came the _Grâce à Dieu_, the lead-coloured
water hissing from her bluff bows as her huge sail caught the rising
breeze.

"We must fight them," quoth Oswald, "unless they give way. If we are to
die 'tis better to fall in the heat of the fight than to have our
throats cut in cold blood, for yon rascals give quarter to none—not even
a gentleman of coat-armour."

"Give the Lymington men a rousing cheer, lads," shouted Gripwell. "Then
stand to your arms and fight as you have never done before. Now,
together!"

From five-and-twenty lusty throats a hoarse shout ascended in a roar of
defiance.

This was too much for the Genoese. Thinking they had a shipload of
valiant knights and their followers to reckon with, they sheered off,
the huge sail was run up, and fifty oars splashed in the water. Once on
the move the galley did not stop till it was a mere dot on the skyline.

"A wax candle as thick as my arm shall burn on the altar of the Church
of St. Thomas à Becket at Warblington for this great deliverance,"
exclaimed the master-shipman fervently. "I' faith, methought I had lost
both ship and life when the rogues held on."

"Bear up, that we may have speech with the _Brothers of Lymington_,"
said Gripwell. "Seeing that she sails but a trifle slower than the
_Grâce à Dieu_ it would be fitting that both sailed in company."

As the _Grâce à Dieu_ drew up close alongside the succoured merchant
ship the bellowing voice of the shipmaster of the _Brothers_ was heard
thanking these gentle and courteous knights for their timely aid.

"And though I be little skilled in reading the devices of gentlemen of
coat-armour," added a voice, "I do perceive that the shield of my Lord
Bishop of Winchester is displayed. Bear my humble respects to his Grace,
and say that out of gratitude, I, Paul Roche, of the honourable company
of Goldsmiths of the free borough of Southampton, do hereby promise a
bar of virgin gold to the service of the Dean and Chapter of the See of
Winchester."

"Better by far give the gold to me, Master Roche," replied Gripwell with
a hearty laugh, and to the astonishment of the passengers and crew of
the _Brothers_ the story of the ruse was unfolded.

The proposal that the two ships should complete the voyage in company
was quickly accepted, and keeping a bow-shot apart the _Grâce à Dieu_
and the _Brothers_ headed for the French coast.

Six hours later both vessels passed between the twin towers that guarded
the entrance to the port of Harfleur, the principal harbour of Normandy,
and Geoffrey had set foot upon French soil.



                               CHAPTER V

                HOW THE MERCHANTS TRIED CONCLUSIONS WITH
                                LA BARRE


The three lads had little time to spend at Harfleur. That walled town,
had Geoffrey but known, was to play an important part in his career, but
being ignorant of the future he merely gazed at the Norman stronghold
with the curiosity common to those who find themselves in foreign parts
for the first time.

The _Grâce à Dieu_ and the _Brothers_ were moored side by side in the
inner harbour, and advantage was taken of their proximity by Master
Roche and his fellow merchants to pay a visit to the ship that had saved
them from beggary, slavery, or death.

"To Rouen is it, my masters?" exclaimed Roche. "Since that is also my
intention, why not travel in company? It so happens that we have hired a
large boat to ascend the river; an it please you, ye are right welcome
to a passage."

"'Twould be well to accept the offer," replied Arnold Gripwell, turning
to Geoffrey. "'Tis said that the roads in these parts are none too safe
for travellers, howbeit they be armed. 'Twill also save the heavy
disbursement that we must otherwise make for the hire of suitable
steeds."

"Alack-a-day!" groaned Richard Ratclyffe. "Methought I had finished with
the water for some time to come."

"Little needst thou consider that, Dick," replied Geoffrey. "The river
is not to be compared with the sea. Here we shall not be troubled by
rough waves."

"Be not so sure about it," remarked Gripwell, with a roguish twinkle in
his eye.

"How so?"

"Thou'lt know ere long," replied the man-at-arms shortly.

Next morning at high-water the _Grâce à Dieu_ warped out into the river
on her return voyage, while the _Brothers_, compelled to wait for cargo
until the return of the English merchants from Rouen, was left in the
charge of her shipmaster and crew.

Just before low tide a "bac" or ferry-boat manned by a crew of Normans
came alongside the _Brothers_. This was the craft in which Geoffrey and
his comrades were to make their sixty-mile voyage to the capital of
Normandy.

The boat was about thirty feet in length, broad of beam, and shallow
draught. With the exception of a small deck for'ard and a slightly
longer one aft, under which a low-roofed cabin provided cramped quarters
at night or in wet weather, the boat was open. Broad thwarts or benches
for the rowers occupied the space amidships, for oars were used except
on rare occasions when the wind was astern, and a square sail could be
set with advantage.

At the second hour of the flood the bac left Harfleur, and under the
steady, powerful strokes of the rowers, made good progress.

Geoffrey could not help noticing the apparently erratic manner in which
the bearded helmsman steered, frequently turning the boat in diverse
way, although the general direction was up stream.

"'Tis well he doth so," said Gripwell in answer to the lad's question.
"Were it not for his skill we should be hard aground on one of the many
sandbanks that lie hereabout."

At length the voyagers saw that the river was rapidly diminishing in
width, while on either hand low-lying banks were clothed in verdure, for
the hand of the spoiler had as yet left this part of Normandy untouched.

Still maintaining their even, tireless strokes, the rowers stuck to
their task, till the villages of Tancarville and Quillibœuf came in
sight.

"We can go no further with the tide," exclaimed the Norman helmsman.
"See, the river is even now overcoming the flood."

"As thou wilt, Gaston," replied Master Roche; "but, I pray thee, put us
within easy reach of a hostel, since my throat is as dry as a limekiln."

"The _du Guesclin Arms_ lieth but a bow-shot from the quay at
Quillibœuf," replied the Norman. "There the cider is of the best, and I
wot Malmsey and sack are to be had, to say nought of the wines of
France."

"Then, I'll find my way to the _du Guesclin Arms_" quoth Master Roche,
filled with pleasurable expectation. "Though I be a true Englishman, and
must needs hate the name of yonder hostel, I'll not quarrel with its
contents. How say you, comrades; will you bear me company?"

Two of the merchants signified their acceptance of his wishes, but the
three lads chose to remain on the quay, watching the endless procession
of strange craft as they dropped down stream.

Gaston skilfully brought the bac alongside the little quay, and, having
secured her by two long and stout ropes, led the way to the inn, Arnold
Gripwell, Roche, his fellow merchants, and the wearied rowers
accompanying him.

Left to themselves, the three lads sat down in the stern of the boat,
discussing the unwonted sights as the ebb gathered strength. Now a cog,
clumsily yet strongly built, drifted down, with only an occasional dip
of a heavy oar to keep her on her course; then a galley, resplendent
with paint and gilt, bearing a member of the household of King Charles
the Sixth of France. Then a barge, laden with a towering cargo of hay,
jostled with a frail cock-boat crowded with Norman peasants.

All the while the turbid river swirled and eddied, for the heavy rains
had swollen the Seine till it had burst its banks above Rouen and had
flooded miles of fair country 'twixt that town and the city of Paris.

Presently Gripwell returned, accompanied by the Norman helmsman and his
crew. The latter sat listlessly on their thwarts, while the man-at-arms
beguiled the lads during the hours of waiting with stories of the past
when the English armies overran the greater part of France.

Suddenly Gaston started to his feet; a low distant roar, like the rumble
of summer thunder, caught his well-trained ear.

"_Vite, vite, mes enfants!_" he shouted. "_La barre!_"

Instantly the hitherto inactive rowers were transformed into alert and
energetic seamen. The holding-ropes were cast off, the oars fell betwixt
the thole-pins and the boat, driving her out towards the middle of the
Seine. Yet, notwithstanding the men's efforts, the craft made no headway
against the stream.

"Why thus?" asked Oswald. "The tide is still against us, and, moreover,
our friends still tarry at the inn."

"Dost not hear the distant roar?" asked Gripwell. "'Tis what men in
these parts call the Mascaret or La Barre, though to English ears 'bore'
sounds more familiar."

Meanwhile all the other boats that were moored to the bank began to put
off into midstream, their occupants joining in the warning cry.

Geoffrey looked down stream, and a strange and awe-inspiring sight met
his gaze. Stretching from bank to bank came an enormous wave, eight or
more feet in height. Its line was bent into the form of a crescent, the
two shoreward extremities being in advance of the centre, and breaking
furiously along the shore, to the accompaniment of an ever-increasing
roar.

While the Englishmen were looking with considerable apprehension at the
progress of the bore, fully expecting that their craft would be engulfed
in the wall of water, a shout from the bank caused them to glance shore
wards.

Master Roche and his three boon companions had left the inn and were
standing on the quay, unable to understand the cause of their fellow
travellers' desertion.

"Come back, robbers, come back," shouted the Southampton man. The
approaching danger was disregarded or unnoticed in his excitement.

Then, espying a small boat hauled up the bank out of harm's way, the
angry merchants lustily dragged it to the water's edge.

"_Arrêtez, messieurs, pour l'amour de Notre Dame_," shouted the Norman
helmsman, waving his free arm frantically by way of warning.

But the thick-headed Englishmen were not to be thwarted in their desire
to regain the bac. The light craft was launched, and the four merchants
awkwardly jumped into it. Fortunately, there were oars in the boat, and
in a measure they were able to keep control over the frail cockleshell.
More than that they could not do, and like a straw the boat was whisked
down stream.

The bore was within two hundred yards ere the merchants realized their
danger. Terror seized them, and in a mad endeavour to escape they did
the worst possible thing—they rowed desperately for the shore.

Nothing could be done to save the inexperienced merchants from the
impending disaster. All the nerve and skill at the Norman's command was
required to attend to the safety of the bac.

A hurried order, and the boat was turned bows on to the approaching
wave, while the rowers bent and strained at their oars to give the craft
sufficient way to mount the watery wall.

"Hold fast!" cautioned Gripwell to the lads.

The next instant the boat's bows were lifted high in the air till the
craft seemed to stand on end. With a sickening shudder the bac remained
for a few seconds poised upon a quivering, unstable pivot; then the long
craft slid down the other side of the mountainous wave into
comparatively calm water.

Anxiously Geoffrey and his comrades looked for their fellow-travellers.
The little skiff, caught broadside on by the billow, had been rolled
over and over, and was floating keel uppermost in the still ruffled
water. Three of its late occupants were clinging to this slender
support, while midway between the upturned boat and the shore the head
of the unfortunate Master Roche was seen bobbing up and down.

The merchant was a good swimmer, and breasted the stream right manfully,
but it was a question whether he would reach the bank ere the arrival of
the second wave, which usually follows the first at a distance of about
two hundred yards.

Quickly Gaston took in the state of affairs. The men clinging to the
water-logged boat must first be rescued, and that quickly.

Ordering his men to pull easily he steered towards the hapless
merchants. Two were quickly hauled in, but the work of rescuing the
third, a heavily-built man, proved a harder task.

Leaning far over the side, the Norman steersman essayed to assist, but
being jolted by one of his excitable fellow-countrymen, he overbalanced
and fell headlong into the river.

Waterman born and bred though he was, Gaston could not swim a stroke.
Raising his hands despairingly above his head and uttering a yell of
terror, he sank, whereupon, without a moment's hesitation, Geoffrey
unbuckled his sword-belt and took a flying leap after him.

But the lad had not counted the cost of his brave act. The terrified
Norman gripped him round the neck in a vice-like grasp, while during the
one brief moment that the English lad's head rose above the water he saw
the second wave bearing down upon them.

With irresistible fury the billow overwhelmed both the drowning man and
his would-be rescuer. To Geoffrey it seemed as if he was buried fathoms
deep in the icy-cold water, while his ears were well-nigh bursting under
the pressure of the wave and the bulldog grip of the half-suffocated
Norman.

Just as the lad's breath and strength were failing his head appeared
above water; at the same time the grasp at his throat relaxed, and he
was able to take in a full, deep draught of life-giving air. With a
sudden jerk he freed himself of the Norman's grip, and ere the man sank
Geoffrey had him by the hair.

[Illustration: "IT DID NOT TAKE LONG FOR THE ENGLISHMEN TO GRASP THE
SITUATION."]

But the coldness of the water and the effect of his almost superhuman
efforts were beginning to tell. His strokes became feebler, his chin
sank lower in the water, yet his hold on the Norman was not relaxed.
Then, just as his strength failed, he was dimly conscious of a babel of
English and Norman voices close above him; eager hands grasped him by
the shoulder, and as he and Gaston were dragged into safety he fell
senseless upon the bottom of the boat.

When Geoffrey came to himself the dreaded bore and its attendant dangers
were past. The boat was progressing rapidly with the now favouring
flood-tide. Master Roche and his companions, arrayed in a medley of
borrowed garments, were sheltering from the strong wind in the little
cabin, while Gaston, who had quickly recovered from the effect of his
immersion, was at his customary post at the helm.

Oswald, Richard Ratclyffe, Gripwell, and the English archers were
gathered round the limp body of their brave comrade, and great was their
joy when he revived.

"Thou must needs lie quiet, Master Geoffrey," exclaimed the old
man-at-arms, as the lad attempted to raise himself on one elbow. "We
need fear no more from the bore, for we are nigh to Villequier, where we
can find shelter and refreshment at _La Dame Dorée_. Certes! What a
story for the folks at Warblington."

That night, after the bac had been safely moored, Gaston came up to the
inn where Geoffrey was.

"Young sir," he exclaimed simply, "I thank thee for thy deed this day.
Though I fear 'tis of little use to say it, bear in mind that if I,
Gaston le Noir, can be of service to thee at any time, my dwelling is at
La Broie, hard by the town of Harfleur."

"'Twas but a small matter," replied Geoffrey. "Yet should it come to
pass that I have need of thee, Gaston, I'll remember La Broie, hard by
the town of Harfleur."



                               CHAPTER VI

                        THE AFFRAY BY THE RIVER


Next morning a dense fog hung over the valley of the Seine, so that it
was impossible to see across to the opposite bank. Nevertheless, the
Englishmen were anxious to resume the journey, and, being assured by
Gaston that he could steer the boat, even were the fog twice as thick,
they embarked once more.

Presently the sun became visible through the white wreathing vapour—a
pale, watery-looking disc. Then a cold westerly breeze, insufficient to
disperse the mist, sprang up, so that the Norman, eager to save the
muscles of his men, ordered the sail to be set.

Above Villequier the windings of the river were not sufficient to
necessitate windward work, so by merely trimming the sail as the course
was altered the boat could pursue her onward way.

Hardly a word was spoken. The fog seemed to affect the spirits both of
the mercurial Frenchmen and the more reticent Englishmen, and in
silence, save for an occasional order from the steersman as the sheets
required attention, the party made rapid progress with wind and tide.

"Yonder lies the Dos d'Ane," remarked Gaston, pointing to a distant
hill. "Close under its shadow boats can shelter from la barre."

"I trow, master, we have had enough of this terrible bore," observed
Roche. "Certes! Even now I have the taste of Seine water in my throat,
in spite of a good stoup of sack."

"Not one good stoup only, gossip," corrected one of his companions.

"As thou wilt, Thomas; but I pray three, ere thou wouldst——"

Master Roche's words were interrupted by a low "hist" from the
steersman.

"'Tis but the cry of a bittern," remarked Ratclyffe.

"_Ma foi!_ If thou canst liken yonder sound to a bird's call thou hast
no right to wear sword," retorted Gripwell, excitement outweighing his
deference. "E'en though the wind bloweth away from us, I can make out
the clash of arms and the shouts of the combatants. Now, am I not
right?" he continued, as a lull in the breeze enabled the Englishmen to
hear the subdued clatter of a distant encounter.

"Steer towards the bank, Gaston," exclaimed Geoffrey. "Perchance we can
be of some slight service to those in the right."

"Certes! I care not which be in the right or wrong," added Gripwell, for
the old war-dog had scented the battle from afar. "Give me room for
sword-play on the weaker side, and that will suffice. How say you,
Master Roche?"

"I and my fellow merchants are men of peace," replied Roche sturdily.
"But if we can be of service we'll follow thee."

So saying, the Southampton man dived into the cabin, reappearing with a
sheaf of swords, which he distributed amongst his companions.

By this time the boat was nearing the bank, and above the clash of arms
and the oaths and exclamations of pain and anger rose the shrill shriek
of a woman.

"Fall on, comrades!" shouted Gripwell, as the bows of the craft slid
gently against the rush-lined bank, and with an agility that was
surprising for his years the man-at-arms leapt ashore brandishing a long
two-handed sword.

Geoffrey, Oswald, and Ratclyffe hastened after him, the four merchants
and the three archers vieing with each other in their haste to follow
him to the scene of the encounter.

The fog had cleared sufficiently for Geoffrey and his comrades to
discern a confused throng of combatants at a little distance from the
bank, where a road ran parallel with the river.

It did not take long for the Englishmen to grasp the situation. Standing
shoulder to shoulder, with brandished spear and sword, were six or seven
men. Sheltering behind them was a woman, but whether young or old the
newcomers could not tell, since she was in a huddled posture, with her
head covered by her coif.

Surrounding the little band swarmed a score or more of repulsive-looking
ruffians, armed similarly to their opponents. Men had fallen on both
sides, while two horses, one dead, the other hamstrung, added to the
carnage. At a distance of twenty paces along the road two of the
villainous rogues were holding an elderly woman, and it was she who was
giving vent to the piercing cries that the Englishmen had heard as they
sped towards the shore.

There was no mistaking the situation. The ladies and their armed
attendants had been assailed by a stronger and more numerous band—either
the servants of some turbulent and rascally baron or a party of men
acting for their own profit, for armed robbers swarmed on French soil
during the troublous feud betwixt the Orleanist and Burgundian factions.

Even the timely arrival of the Englishmen did not have the effect of
causing the assailants to beat a hasty retreat. Instead they held their
ground, striving by a supreme effort to beat down the slender ring of
steel that surrounded the crouching figure in the centre.

In an instant Arnold Gripwell had launched himself into the thickest of
the press. The long two-handed sword flashed, sweeping and thrusting
with the skill and force of long usage.

Nor were the three lads backward in their efforts. The young heir of
Warblington, carried away by the heat of the fight—even though 'twas the
first time he had crossed steel in action—found himself confronted by a
tall, lithe rascal clad in a padded leather coat and flowing gabardine,
and armed with a short, heavy sword.

Avoiding a powerful downward cut, Geoffrey sprang lightly aside, his
antagonist's blade missing his left shoulder by a hair's breadth. With a
swift lunge the lad wounded his foe in the neck, but was almost
immediately repaid by a cut that, falling short, gashed his face.

Ere the man could recover himself Geoffrey's blade sped home, and at the
same time Oswald succeeded in cutting down his opponent.

Of what happened during the next few minutes Sir Oliver's son had but a
confused knowledge; but the rogues had suffered severely, and already
most of them who were uninjured were seeking safety in flight.

Of the two men who guarded the elder woman, one had taken to his heels,
but the other, pushing his captive in front of him, stood, crossbow to
shoulder, seeking to cover his comrade's flight.

Stung to fury by his wound, Geoffrey cast all discretion to the winds.
Calling Oswald to follow him, he dashed towards the cross-bowman,
heedless of the menacing weapon that was aimed full at his body, though
he was protected neither by shield nor breastplate.

The woman saw the danger to which her would-be rescuer was exposed, and,
adroitly slipping to the ground, she drew a small dagger and plunged it
to the hilt into her captor's side. With a yell of pain the man dropped
his cross-bow, pressed his hand to his wound, and turned to flee. But
Geoffrey's blade swung through the air, and with a shriek the robber
fell dead.

That terminated the fight. Nine of the robbers and four of their
opponents had been slain, while four on each side had been grievously
wounded, including one of the English archers, who was already dying.

Meanwhile Oswald had assisted the elder lady to rise.

"By St. Denis!" she exclaimed. "To think that my silver dagger should be
sullied by the blood of a base routier. But I am forgetting. I have to
thank thee, sir, and thy comrades for this timely assistance. I trust
thou art a gentleman of coat armour?"

Oswald hastened to assure the haughty dame that both he and his two
friends were of noble birth.

"The saints be praised!" was the lady's remark. "It would ill-become the
wife of Sir Raoul d'Aulx, seigneur of Maissons, to be beholden to
bourgeois or villein."

Geoffrey felt tempted to point out that 'twas with the aid of the
merchants and the common archers that the affair had been decided, but
the announcement of the lady's title completely took him by surprise.

"Certes!" he exclaimed. "This is passing strange. It is to Sir Raoul
d'Aulx that my companion here, Richard Ratclyffe, squire to Sir Thomas
Carberry, Governor of Portchester Castle, doth bear a letter from his
lord."

"Then perchance thou canst do us a further service," replied Lady
d'Aulx. "Since our horses are done for and many of our men have fallen,
it may be possible for us to journey to Rouen together."

"Our boat, though inconveniently crowded, is at thy service, madame,"
said Roche, who was busily engaged in completing the binding of a slight
cut on his wrist.

"Boat, quotha! I like not this mode of travelling; yet 'tis better than
nothing at all. But, sir, thy name and rank?"

The Southampton merchant quailed beneath the imperious glance of the
haughty French woman. Shuffling his feet uneasily, he tried to make
reply.

"My worthy friend hath ever been bashful in the presence of beauty,"
explained Ratclyffe with courtier-like quickness. "He bears the name of
Sir Paul Roche, of Lucre Castle, hard by the town of Southampton."

"Greetings, Sir Paul," exclaimed Sir Raoul's wife, as the pseudo-knight
gallantly kissed her hand. "But 'tis to no purpose to dally here. Aimée,
my belle, come hither; it is to these honourable cavaliers that we owe
our preservation."

Aimée d'Aulx, Sir Raoul's only daughter, was a tall, graceful maiden of
about thirteen years of age, with dark chestnut tresses and a wondrous
clear complexion. She had now completely recovered from her fright, and
Geoffrey especially could not help noticing her beauty. While possessing
a certain sense of dignity, she lacked the haughty mien of her mother,
and unaffectedly she presented her hand to be saluted by Geoffrey and
his companions, including "Sir Paul," who, having regained his
composure, seemed not a little tickled by his newly-acquired position.

Arnold Gripwell had meanwhile given the archers orders to dispatch the
wounded robbers, according to the custom of the Middle Ages, when human
life was cheaply esteemed in the case of common men who were unable to
pay ransom.

"I pray thee examine yonder rogue," said the Lady d'Aulx, pointing to
the corpse of the cross-bowman who had held her captive. "Methinks he
was the leader of the rabble, yet I trow he is no base-born serf."

The old man-at-arms strode over to the spot where the dead ruffian lay,
and with a kick turned the body over on its back.

"See here, Master Geoffrey," he shouted. "I' faith, though thou wert
reckless enow in rushing in upon a levelled cross-bow, the rogue was but
playing a trick. See, here is the string still notched, but no sign of a
quarrel."

"Then he was a brave man to cover his comrade's retreat with a boltless
bow," replied the lad.

"And thou equally brave, not knowing that thy life was saved by this man
being without a shaft," added Gripwell.

"By St. George, what have we here?" he continued, tearing aside the dead
man's cloak and disclosing a small device upon the left breast of his
doublet. "A red axe upon a field of murrey. Dost know this cognizance,
Master Geoffrey?"

"Nay, forsooth," replied the lad.

"Then I trust that thou wilt ever see it in the dust. 'Tis the coat of
Yves, Lord of Malevereux."

"Surely this is not the corpse of the man who holds my father captive?"

"Nay, young sir; the Lord of Malevereux is great in stature and inclined
to stoutness. Moreover, 'tis unreasonable to suppose that he would lead
in person a band of churlish cut-throats such as these. Without doubt
they are of the household of Malevereux."

"Of Malevereux?" exclaimed the Lady d'Aulx. "Then I do perceive how
matters stand. This base-born Yves knew that I was journeying 'twixt
Harfleur and Rouen, and doubtless thought to hold me to ransom. My
faith, if Sir Raoul doth not bring him to book for this, may I never
break bread again."

"'Tis to this purpose that I am sent to the Castle of Maissons, madame,"
said Ratclyffe. "So that they of Taillemartel should join forces with
the garrison of Maissons 'gainst this villainous Yves."

"Young squire, in the name of Sir Raoul d'Aulx I shall welcome thee and
thine to Maissons, yet methinks that this matter concerning the
combining of the two garrisons must wait, seeing that Sir Raoul hath
been called to Paris by his Sovereign."

"When will he return, fair lady?" asked Geoffrey anxiously.

"Nay, that I cannot say; but rest assured, young sir, that thine anxiety
concerning the chastisement of the Lord of Malevereux is not greater
than mine."

The Englishmen and the party they had succoured embarked upon the boat,
and the journey up stream was resumed. Ere sunset on the following day
the city of Rouen was reached, and Gaston was dismissed with liberal
payment.

Here, after a night's rest, the travellers dispersed. Paul Roche and his
fellow merchants addressed themselves to the disposal of their wares;
the Lady d'Aulx and her attendants, accompanied by Richard Ratclyffe,
set out on the road to Maissons; while Geoffrey, Oswald, and Arnold
Gripwell, with the two surviving archers, took horse and were soon
speeding on their way to Taillemartel.



                              CHAPTER VII

                   HOW GEOFFREY CAME TO TAILLEMARTEL


A few leagues from the city of Rouen Geoffrey and his companions began
to come across evidences of the fearful struggle 'twixt Burgundians and
Orleanists.

Here would be seen a "Burgundian mitre"—the scorched and blackened
gables of a partially demolished cottage; there the corpse of some
unfortunate peasant dangling from the withered branch of a tree. Ever
the air reeked of charcoal and of the fetid odours emanating from
carcases of unburied cattle; for the marauders ruthlessly slew every
four-footed creature that they were unable to drive off to their
embattled retreats.

Utmost caution had to be exercised by the English travellers, since they
were not strong enough to hope to successfully repel the attacks of any
but the smaller bands of freebooters. Twice they were compelled to take
refuge in friendly woods. Once a détour of three leagues was necessary,
owing to the approach of suspicious parties of horsemen, so that the sun
had set ere Geoffrey arrived at the portals of his father's Norman
castle.

In the gloom the lad could distinguish the outlines of two massive
circular twin towers connected by a battlemented wall, pierced by a
lofty gateway concealed by the raised drawbridge. On either side of the
towers the wall ran for a distance of about fifty yards till it joined
another circular though smaller tower forming the angle of the fortified
work. Within, the summit of a square keep was just visible above the
battlements. Barbican or outwork there was none, but a deep moat
surrounded the castle.

"What think ye of Taillemartel?" asked Gripwell as the cavalcade reined
in their steeds at the edge of the moat.

"'Tis a noble pile, Arnold," replied Geoffrey, "though not so large as
Warblington, I trow. But how——"

Geoffrey's words were interrupted by a hoarse shout from the
battlements, and a sentinel demanded the names and errand of the
newcomers.

"They keep good ward," remarked Oswald, as one of the English archers
who was about to sound a tucket thrust his trumpet behind him.

"Ho, there! Who comes?" repeated the sentinel.

"I would have speech with the seneschal," replied Gripwell.

In a few minutes torches flickered behind the battlements, glittering on
steel headpiece and breastplate; then a voice exclaimed: "Here am I,
Bertrand de Vaux, seneschal to my Lord Oliver Lysle. Who would have
speech with me at this unseemly hour?"

"Sir Oliver's son stands without, and would be admitted."

"I wot not that Sir Oliver's son was coming hither," replied the
seneschal. "What proof have I that ye are not of Malevereux, or of
Entrevilles, or of Faux?"

"A truce to thy stubbornness, Bertrand," shouted Oswald. "Dost recognize
my voice? I am Oswald Steyning, Sir Oliver's squire."

"A thousand pardons, monsieur. Now I know 'tis no trick or stratagem.
Nevertheless, be it known that Sir Oliver's strict injunctions allow
neither the gate nor the sally-port to be opened after sunset, save by
virtue of his written order."

"Doth that also apply to the drawbridge?" asked Gripwell.

"Nay," replied the seneschal. "That I will have lowered, but to what
purpose?"

"Hast ever heard how the blessed St. Paul left the city of Damascus? I
pray thee lower ropes from the battlements if naught else will serve,
and I'll warrant that this night we'll slumber quietly within the walls
of Taillemartel."

To this suggestion there was no verbal response, but almost immediately
the iron chains of the drawbridge creaked and clanked as the ponderous
wooden structure fell slowly on its hinges.

Meanwhile the two archers had tethered the horses of the party in a
meadow hard by the moat. This done, Geoffrey and his companions crossed
the drawbridge, to find three stout, noosed ropes dangling from the
almost invisible heights above.

Spinning round and round like a joint on a jack, Geoffrey was drawn up,
and in this somewhat undignified manner he made his entry into his
father's Norman home.

Oswald and Gripwell followed, the ropes being again lowered for the two
archers, and soon the travellers found themselves standing on the
battlements surrounded by the eighty men-at-arms and archers comprising
the garrison of Taillemartel, but it was not until the letter bearing
the Lady Bertha's signature and the seal of Warblington was produced and
read that the seneschal led the round of cheering that greeted Sir
Oliver's son.

Bertrand de Vaux was a short, broad-shouldered, bull-necked Norman, of
about forty years of age. Muscular strength was evinced by his frame,
while his deep-set eyes and heavy square-cut chin denoted resolution and
determination akin to obstinacy.

He was soberly attired in a close-fitting suit of green cloth slashed
with red, while a silver belt, ornamented with the arms of the Lysles,
encircled his waist. On his head he wore a velvet cap of maintenance
ornamented by a silver clasp, also stamped with the turbot and the
stars, while his feet were encased in untanned leather shoes, the toes
of which terminated in long points that for convenience' sake were
turned upwards and fastened to the wearer's calves by means of silver
buckles.

"I pray you bear me company to the banqueting-hall," said the seneschal
addressing Geoffrey and Oswald. "I doubt not that Taillemartel can still
provide a repast fitting for Sir Oliver's son, e'en though Sir Oliver
himself be not here to have the ordering of it."

So saying, he led the way to the hall where the men-servants had already
prepared a plentiful repast of cold venison, pheasants, long rolls of
bread, and a copious supply of mead and wine.

Arnold Gripwell had partaken himself to the quarters of the
_sous-officiers_, while the archers had to content themselves with
company of the Norman soldiery, but their slight knowledge of the
foreign tongue was sufficient to enable them to carry on a conversation
with their new comrades.

"Hast heard or seen aught of Sir Yves of Malevereux?" asked Geoffrey, as
they were doing full duty towards the viands.

"Of Sir Yves nothing; of his following overmuch. Thrice within the last
fortnight have his men appeared within sight of Taillemartel. Yet though
they did us no scath, they did not hesitate to mock at us. _Ma foi_,
when they mentioned the name of Sir Oliver, and taunted us that we were
children not to stir on his behalf 'twas as much as I could do to keep
my men in hand. Yet seeing that they of Malevereux were thrice as many,
and that little or no good was to come of adventuring ourselves 'gainst
them in the open, I kept our men within walls."

"I trust that they have done no harm to the tenantry?"

"Only to Pierre, the wood-cutter," replied Bertram carelessly. "Poor
fool, he would not take shelter within the castle as the rest have done,
so they slew him on his own threshold—not before he had killed two of
the villains."

"Now that is good cheer," continued the seneschal, when Geoffrey had
told him of the proposed alliance with Sir Raoul d'Aulx. "By St. Denis,
with three hundred men-at-arms, archers, and cross-bowmen 'gainst it,
Malevereux will assuredly fall. And then——Ah, with Sir Oliver set free,
and the plunder of two score years within our grasp, life will be worth
living."

On the morning following the arrival of the Englishmen at Taillemartel,
Oswald Steyning set out to deliver the letter from the Lady Bertha to
Sir Yves de Malevereux.

In spite of the young squire's forebodings, he persevered in his
determination of bearding the Tyrant in his den. Refusing to take any of
the garrison as an escort, he bade farewell to Geoffrey and his friends,
both English and Norman; then, trusting to chance to avoid straggling
parties of raiders (though the fact that he bore a letter addressed to
the Tyrant might afford him safe conduct), he rode forth from the
sheltering walls of Taillemartel.

From that moment it seemed as if the earth had opened and swallowed up
the bold and devoted squire of Sir Oliver Lysle. Day after day passed,
yet Oswald did not return. Reluctantly Geoffrey had to admit that,
unless some misadventure had befallen his friend on the way, Sir Yves
had been guilty of a gross breach of faith, and had made the young
squire captive in the gloomy castle of Malevereux.

For the next fifteen days following Oswald's departure nothing of
interest occurred to break the ordinary routine observed at
Taillemartel. Occasionally parties of horsemen, bearing Sir Yves'
livery, would appear before the castle, but they wisely forbore from
approaching within bow-shot. Nevertheless, Geoffrey had not been idle.
Under Gripwell's tutorage he studiously practised the use of the lance,
sword and mace, or engaged in tourneys with blunted lances. Hard knocks
were given and received with good grace, and day by day the heir of
Warblington made rapid progress in the art of war.

At length Richard Ratclyffe arrived at the castle, his crestfallen face
forewarning the garrison of the failure of his mission. Sir Raoul had
been summoned to Paris to attend upon the Dauphin, and for an apparently
indefinite time the Castle of Maissons was to be shorn of its numerous
soldiery, a bare thirty men-at-arms and cross-bowmen being left to hold
the fortress during its lord's absence.

"I can only return to my master, Sir Thomas Carberry, with assurances of
Sir Raoul's condolence," exclaimed Ratclyffe ruefully. "That is but cold
comfort, yet 'tis better than nothing at all. But on the other hand,
Geoffrey, there are great doings afoot. I heard, on the authority of one
of the French king's attendants, that our King Harry hath formally
presented his claim to the throne of France. Failing an immediate
compliance he vows that he will submit his claim to the arbitrament of
the sword."

"'Tis good news," replied Geoffrey enthusiastically, but the brow of the
Norman seneschal clouded ominously.

"France for the Frenchmen," said he. "So long as Sir Oliver holds
Taillemartel as a fief of King Charles I am content. With Burgundian
fighting Orleanist I am likewise content to side with the Duke of
Burgundy. Should he think fit to make alliance with your King Henry 'tis
well; but failing that, how can I, Bertrand de Vaux, stand aloof when
English armies tread on French soil?"

"Have a care, sir, lest you fall betwixt two stools," exclaimed
Ratclyffe. "'Tis said that Burgundy favours King Henry's claim."

"If that be so, I, too, am with him; yet at heart I am a Frenchman."

"Time will prove, good Bertrand. Meanwhile, concerning the matter in
hand; it is my purpose to journey homewards to-morrow, Geoffrey, so if
thou hast a message to send to Warblington I will be the bearer."

"Since so little has been done towards setting free my father, I am at a
loss what to say," replied Geoffrey, sadly. "But this: bear my mother my
most dutiful expressions of regard, and tell her that by the blessing of
God I am in good health. Also that I am striving to do my devoirs as a
true Lysle."

Late in the afternoon of the day following Ratclyffe's departure, a
small cavalcade was observed to be rapidly approaching the castle. The
battlements were immediately manned, the gates shut, and the drawbridge
raised, while speculation was rife as to the object of the new-comers.

Without hesitation the little band rode fearlessly up to the edge of the
moat. There were but seven, all most magnificently mounted and
accoutred, while their leader bore the French Royal arms upon his
surcoat—the silver lilies upon an azure field. A horn was sounded, and
admittance was demanded for a herald of King Charles of France. Upon
this the drawbridge was lowered, and the gates thrown open.

"Welcome, Sir Jacques d'Erquai," exclaimed the seneschal, recognizing
the new arrival as a distinguished knight of the French Court. "What is
thy pleasure?"

"I ask entertainment for me and mine this night, Bertrand. To-morrow we
hasten towards Harfleur, for my royal master hath deigned to favour me.
In sooth, I am ambassador-extraordinary to the King of England."

That evening Sir Jacques was the guest at Taillemartel. During his stay
he spoke but little concerning the nature of his mission. When, however,
he had taken his departure, Arnold Gripwell approached the English lad,
his face working with excitement.

"Yesternight I lay low and said but little, though mine ears were as
busy as a housewife's fingers. Certes, though I understand that this Sir
Jacques d'Erquai kept a proper curb on his tongue, his varlets lacked
common discretion. What, think ye, is the Dauphin's answer to our
Sovereign Lord's demands?"

"Surely the Dauphin will not submit tamely?" suggested Geoffrey.

"Of a surety he will not," continued the man-at-arms. "Not only hath he
refused the king's conditions, but he hath gone further; by the hand of
Sir Jacques he hath sent an insulting message, together with a present."

"The message?" asked Geoffrey eagerly.

"To fully understand the message 'tis necessary to know the nature of
the present, young sir. In short, the Dauphin has sent a box of tennis
balls with the message that King Harry would do better to find amusement
with them rather than present a claim to the crown of France."

"After that there can be but one issue," remarked Geoffrey.

"Ay—war," was Gripwell's curt response.



                              CHAPTER VIII

             OF THE AMBUSH LAID BY THE MEN OF TAILLEMARTEL


Slowly the months sped, yet towards taking any definite steps to secure
his father's release Geoffrey could do little or nothing.

The realization of his two great hopes—the return of Sir Raoul from the
French capital, and the expected invasion by King Henry—seemed too
uncertain. The feast of St. Silvester—a critical time in the affairs of
Sir Oliver Lysle—was now but a few days off, and, as the rapidly
dwindling interval appreciably diminished, the need for action on the
part of his son became more and more urgent.

Early one morning in June a horseman rode with loose rein up to the
castle with the news of the approach of a strong body of mounted men
from Malevereux, and that the invaders' intention was undoubtedly to
sack and plunder the village of Taillemartel, that, up to the present,
had escaped the unwelcome attentions of the ruthless Sir Yves. Possibly
its proximity to the castle had accounted for its immunity hitherto, but
with the force at his command on this occasion the Lord of Malevereux
doubtless thought the opportunity had come to sack the village.

"Now is the time to gain honour and distinction, young sir," quoth
Gripwell to his charge, as he hurried from the armoury with his harness
but partly buckled, and a sheaf of weapons under his arm. "'Tis not for
me to give orders, but saving thy presence, I would suggest that we take
steps to thwart these rogues of Malevereux. Though they be the stronger
party I have but little doubt that by stratagem we may worst them."

"How so, Arnold?" asked Geoffrey.

"Thus," was the reply, and the man-at-arms proceeded to unfold a
carefully prepared plan of action.

Geoffrey and the seneschal expressed their unstinted admiration of
Gripwell's proposal, and without a moment's hesitation the plan was put
into execution.

Leaving but ten men to guard the castle Geoffrey led the rest of the
garrison to the village, which lay but two bow-shots from the walls of
Taillemartel. Here the soldiers proceeded to occupy the cottages on
either side of the only road that passed through the little village,
while outposts were placed with instructions to hasten back to the main
body without being perceived, on the first sign of the approach of the
enemy.

Already the terrified peasants were busily engaged in removing such of
their scanty goods and chattels that were capable of being easily
carried away, while the womenfolk and children were streaming in a
disorderly mob along the dusty road leading to the castle.

"Bid those villeins stop, young sir," exclaimed Gripwell, pointing with
his sword towards the mob of villagers. "They do but hinder our work of
making good the defences."

Calmly Geoffrey walked across to where the peasants were, the seneschal
accompanying him. Like the rest of their men they were unmounted, so
that the risk of being seen by the enemy was considerably reduced.

"Listen, men," exclaimed Sir Oliver's son in the Norman patois, for,
like most of the knights and squires of that period, he could speak the
French tongue. "Listen, men, and if ye be worthy of the name, I pray you
desist from this work of removing your goods. Is it not better to have a
thatch over your heads than a few sorry remnants of your belongings
without a cottage wherein to store them? We are here, by God's help, to
protect you from the rogues of Malevereux. Were it otherwise 'twould
have been more profitable to remain within the walls of Taillemartel and
let the village take its chance.

"Now," he went on, "this is my pleasure; let all those who have any
regard for their own skins and faith in the protecting arm of their
over-lord—let these stand firm and assist in the defence of their
hearths and homes. Those who are not so disposed, let them hasten behind
the walls of Taillemartel—but, be it understood, not a stick of their
goods must be borne hence."

Of the three-score male inhabitants only four took advantage of
Geoffrey's offer to gain the shelter of the castle, and, amid the
hooting and hissing of their fellows, and the rude jibes of the
soldiers, they slunk sheepishly away.

Those of the peasants who stood firm were ordered to drag their wagons
and ploughs to the end of the village street nearer the castle, and to
pile them in a rough breastwork that was practically impassable by
mounted men.

Eagerly the villagers obeyed. Fired by the ardour of their young
seigneur they gained both strength and resolution, so that in a very
short space of time the crowd of demoralized peasants was changed into a
band of determined and comparatively disciplined men.

"Now get you gone to your houses," continued Geoffrey, speaking
according to Gripwell's suggestions. "Arm yourselves with scythes,
flails, clubs, or any other weapon ye may have to hand. Moreover, lay in
a supply of stones, but, on pain of severe punishment, let no man stir
or show himself until he hears a trumpet blown."

In a wonderfully short time the village street was almost deserted, for
the men-at-arms, archers and cross-bowmen had already taken up their
quarters within the houses. Only Geoffrey, Gripwell, the seneschal, and
a few archers remained without. Venturing to the furthermost end of the
village they awaited the arrival of the outposts with news of the
approach of the men of Malevereux.

They had not long to wait. Wellnigh breathless, with his arms pressed
closely to his sides, a lightly-clad archer ran towards the village,
taking advantage of every depression in the ground that might serve to
hide him from the foe. Close behind him ran another, and, a bow-shot in
the rear, a third. All bore the same tidings. A body of mounted men,
estimated at nearly two hundred, and led by Sir Yves in person, was even
now within a league of the village.

"Sir Yves, himself!" ejaculated Gripwell. "Certes, if we cannot bring
him to earth, may I never see Warblington again. Pass the word,
Florestan," he continued, addressing an archer, "that one cross-bowman
in each house reserve his quarrel especially for the Tyrant of
Malevereux. A crown for the man who brings him down."

As the archer ran to communicate the order the man-at-arms turned to
Geoffrey: "Tis time that we took cover, young sir. Be of good heart, for
I'll warrant that these wolves will turn tail and make off faster than
they came. My place is by the side of my master's son. But above all
things take heed that not a bow be loosed nor a stone thrown till the
tucket sounds."

Barely had the defenders retired to their rude defences ere the
followers of Sir Yves appeared; for, deeming the village an easy prey,
they had ridden furiously upon it to plunder and kill.

Fortunately for Gripwell's plan the cottages standing more remote from
the castle were meaner than those in the middle of the village. This
fact was evidently known to the men of Malevereux, for, without waiting
to despoil the poorer houses, they passed on towards that part of the
hamlet where most plunder was likely to be obtained.

In the van, composed of mounted men-at-arms, clad in quilted coats,
breastplates and iron caps, rode a person of quality, for he was armed
cap-à-pied in steel, and bore a shield with the device the red axe.
Previous to entering the village he had closed his visor, so that his
features were not visible.

"Is yon knight the Tyrant Sir Yves?"

"Without a doubt," replied Gripwell in an undertone. "But 'tis ill that
such a gap divides two companies; the van will have reached the
barricade ere the rear-guard rides fairly into the trap."

"Who, then, is this?" continued the lad, as a short, broad-shouldered
man passed at the head of the rear-guard.

The leader of the second company was clad in a complete suit of chain
armour, similar to that in vogue two centuries before, but with the
addition of a steel breastplate, gorget, tassets, and sollerets. His
hands were encased with brazen gauntlets, the backs of which were
composed of thin overlapping plates studded with knots of steel. On his
head he wore a steel bascinet with a beaklike visor, but the latter had
been thrown back, disclosing a dark, cruel-looking face, partially
hidden by a heavy beard and moustache.

Geoffrey repeated the question, for this knight's device was very
similar to the first's.

"It can be none other than Sir Yves' brother, Sir Denis. I see that his
shield shows that he is his brother's cadet. But stand to it; the time
is at hand. Peter, sound a rousing tucket, I pray thee!"

Thus ordered, one of the English archers blew a shrill blast upon his
horn, and the next moment volleys of arrows, bolts and stones whistled
through the air. The close array of mounted men was transformed into a
shouting, panic-stricken, struggling mob. Many fell, dead or wounded,
the plunging, terrified horses adding to the tumult. Here and there, men
braver and cooler than their fellows stood at bay or attempted to force
their way into the houses that sheltered their assailants.

Three cross-bowmen had made Sir Denis their particular mark, but,
doubtless carried away by their excitement, their aim was faulty. One
bolt shattered itself against the knight's steel breastplate, another
glanced from his helmet, while the third missed entirely.

Closing his visor, Sir Denis slipped from his horse and, mace in hand,
strode towards the door of the nearest cottage. In vain quarrels and
stones rattled against his armour of proof, and, like a man bearing a
charmed life, he continued his advance.

"Make good the door 'gainst him," shouted Gripwell to the two English
archers. As he spoke a thunderous blow of the Norman's mace burst in the
upper part of the door.

Peter, the archer who had given the signal for the onslaught,
immediately delivered a spear-thrust; but the knight, with a sweep of
his ponderous weapon, shattered the head of the spear from the haft.
Quick to take advantage, the archer grasped the end of the mace, and a
fierce struggle ensued.

Sir Denis' mace was secured to his wrist by a chain, so that even had he
quitted his hold the weapon would still be attached to his person, yet
he had no intention of so doing.

Swaying to and fro on either side of the partially demolished door,
archer and knight strove for mastery. Both were powerful men, and both
equally determined to gain possession of the mace. At one time the
mailed casque and shoulders of the Norman would be dragged through the
irregular aperture; at another the Englishman was sore put to prevent
himself being hauled from his retreat. Nor could his comrades give him
assistance by laying hold of the knight's weapon; all they could do was
to rain powerful, yet futile, blows upon the armour of the struggling
foeman.

Meanwhile Gripwell, after giving the archer instructions to hold the
doorway, had darted to the inner room, where a pail of charcoal,
intended by its late owner for cooking purposes, glowered darkly on the
floor.

Seizing the portable fire with his gauntleted hands, the man-at-arms
bore it into the other room, where, awaiting his opportunity, he dashed
its contents into the visored face of the Norman knight.

Some of the particles of the red-hot charcoal passed through the narrow
slits in Sir Denis' bascinet. Nearly blinded by the pain the knight
relinquished his hold on the mace and involuntarily attempted to raise
his arms to protect his face. The sudden release of the object of their
contentions caused the archer to reel backwards, till the strain on the
chain pulled the knight's arm towards the doorway.

With a shout of triumph, Gripwell also seized the mace, and archer and
man-at-arms united their efforts to pin their formidable antagonist to
the woodwork by the strain upon the chain.

"Yield thee, Sir Knight," thundered Arnold. "Methinks thou art a good
bond for the safety of my master, Sir Oliver."

As he spoke Sir Denis gave a powerful heave, the chain snapped asunder,
and the two Englishmen fell heavily on the floor. The Frenchman reeled
backwards a good five paces ere he, too, came to earth.

Unable to rise, by reason of the weight of his armour, he lay helpless,
groaning with the effect of the red-hot embers.

"We'll have him anon," cried the man-at-arms, struggling to his feet.
"Look to yon window."

The warning came barely in time. During the struggle at the doorway a
score of men from Malevereux had assailed the window, which Geoffrey,
sword in hand, was defending by the aid of two archers of the garrison
of Taillemartel and three peasants.

Already one of the latter was down, slain by a quarrel shot at close
range, while one of the archers was severely wounded by a blow from a
"morning star."

The arrival of Gripwell and the two English archers soon turned the
scale. While the man-at-arms dealt irresistible blows with his heavy
axe, the archers shot fast and true, and in a short space the band of
assailants seemed to melt away.

"We hold our own everywhere," said Arnold, leaning out of the window
during the brief respite.

The man-at-arms spoke truly. With one exception every house had made
good its defence, and already the demoralized men of Malevereux—those
who had not been slain or grievously wounded—were seeking safety in
flight.

At one place, almost in the centre of the village, the noise of conflict
was still to be heard. Ordering the cross-bowmen from the houses,
Geoffrey gave instructions to form up at the furthermost end of the
village, so as to repel the enemy should they return to the attack, and
also to cut off the retreat of any of the remaining men of Malevereux
should they attempt to escape.

This done, Geoffrey, accompanied by Gripwell and several archers and
men-at-arms, made his way through the corpse-encumbered street to where
the struggle was still maintained.

"We have him safe enough, fair sir," exclaimed a bowman, pausing in the
act of replenishing his quiver with arrows that were everywhere
'feathering the ground. "The Tyrant is cornered in yonder house."

The Knight of the Blood-red Axe had had his horse shot under him early
in the fight. Basely deserted by his panic-stricken followers, he found
his retreat cut off by the infuriated defenders. For a space he kept his
foes at bay, a ring of dead and wounded men surrounding him as he
fought. Wounded in several places till the blood oozed from the joints
of his armour, the knight made a sudden rush towards a deserted cottage.

Here he made a stand, bringing down the seneschal of Taillemartel by a
sweeping cut with his sword, till, borne back by weight of numbers, he
took shelter in one of the rooms.

"Leave him to me," shouted Geoffrey authoritatively, as he forced his
way 'twixt the crowd of soldiery.

"Nay, thou'rt foolhardy," objected Gripwell, laying a detaining hand on
the shoulder of his charge. "Let the men have their way with the rogue;
he is unworthy to be treated as a gentleman of coat-armour."

"Forbear to hinder me; my purpose is fixed," replied Geoffrey stoutly,
and, sword in hand, he rushed into the room where the knight stood, back
to the wall, three writhing bodies on the floor testifying to his
prowess as a swordsman.

"Yield thee, Sir Knight," exclaimed Geoffrey. "I promise thee quarter."

"Give quarter to those who ask it," was the reply. "I surrender to no
man."

The next instant their blades crossed. Both combatants were equally
matched. The English lad lacked the size and weight of his antagonist;
but, with the exception of a slight wound received earlier in the fight,
Geoffrey was comparatively fresh, while the knight had already borne the
brunt of a prolonged encounter against enormous odds.

On his part Geoffrey strove, by means of a succession of rapid passes,
to find a joint of his antagonist's armour; while the Frenchman,
mustering all the strength at his command, relied mainly upon his
powerful sweeping cuts to disable his youthful and active foe.

At length the Englishman wounded his enemy by a lightning-like thrust
that took effect 'twixt the flexible plates of the Frenchman's gauntlet.
But Geoffrey had to pay for his advantage. With a roar like the
bellowing of a bull the knight shortened his sword, and ere the lad
could recover his blade the steel was snapped asunder a span's length
from the hilt.

The Frenchman was not slow to take advantage of his enemy's misfortune.
_Swish!_ came his heavy weapon. Geoffrey's fragment of steel could not
stop the cut, though it deflected the sword-cut, and, receiving the
blade full in his gorget, the lad was sent staggering across the room.

The knight could not forbear from following up his stroke. Unwisely he
left his point of vantage by the wall, and, whirling his sword, prepared
to deal a _coup de grâce_.

In his excitement he forgot the low beam that ran athwart the ceiling,
and ere the stroke could be completed his sword encountered the rafter,
sinking in so deeply that he was unable to extricate his weapon.

Already a dozen men-at-arms were about to intervene, when Geoffrey threw
himself boldly upon his antagonist.

With a resounding crash the two mail-clad bodies fell upon the floor,
the English lad uppermost. The point of his dagger was at the slit of
his antagonist's visor, and the knight was at Geoffrey's mercy.

"Yield thee, Sir Knight."

This time the Frenchman thought ere he declined the proffered condition.

"Thou art of noble blood?" he asked. "If not, slay me."

"I am the son of Sir Oliver Lysle, whom thou——"

"Then I surrender myself," replied the knight, without waiting for
further explanation.

Breathlessly Geoffrey leaned upon the shoulder of one of the archers,
while Gripwell and one or two others proceeded to cut the laces of the
Frenchman's bascinet.

When at length the vanquished man was unhelmed a cry of astonishment
arose from the onlookers.

Instead of the cruel, debased features of Sir Yves of Malevereux the
face of a young man of about twenty years of age greeted the eyes of the
men of Taillemartel.

"Who art thou, young sir?" demanded Geoffrey. "Methought I had captured
the Tyrant of Malevereux."

"I am Henri, son of him whom thou hast named the Tyrant," was the reply.



                               CHAPTER IX

                CONCERNING GEOFFREY'S DESPERATE RESOLVE


"Though we have not Sir Yves in our hands, we have not fared badly,"
said Arnold Gripwell, as they hurried off to muster the men of
Taillemartel, leaving the son of Sir Yves in the charge of a party of
archers. "With Sir Denis and this Henri as our captives we ought to
bring the Lord of Malevereux to his senses."

"He will scarce dare to carry out his threat now," replied Geoffrey. "No
doubt he will be willing to effect an exchange of prisoners. But what
have they done with Sir Denis?"

The man-at-arms and his charge had reached the scene of the encounter
with the brother of Sir Yves, but the helpless steel-clad body of Sir
Denis was nowhere to be seen.

"Perchance some of our men have him in safe keeping," observed Gripwell.
"I pray thee summon our soldiers that we may question them on this
matter."

In response to a trumpet call the garrison of Taillemartel formed up in
the village street, wearied yet triumphant. The defence and subsequent
rout of the invaders had not been accomplished without severe loss.
Eleven men had been killed, and over a score grievously wounded,
including Bertrand de Vaux, the seneschal; while nearly every other
man-at-arms and archer had received some slight injury. Of the peasants
but three had been killed and ten wounded, for they had mainly contented
themselves by hurling stones from a safe distance.

Careful inquiries failed to throw any light on the fate of Sir Denis.
Unnoticed by the defenders, his varlet, with praiseworthy devotion, had
dragged the hapless knight from the fray, and, assisting him to a horse,
had provided him with the means of flight.

Great was Geoffrey's disappointment at the escape of Sir Denis, but,
consoling himself with the fact that the only son of Sir Yves was a
prisoner in his hands, he led his men back to the Castle of
Taillemartel.

Some of the bolder spirits were for setting off in immediate pursuit of
the remnants of the invading forces, while the investment of Malevereux
was seriously discussed. But Gripwell knew that the slender garrison of
Taillemartel was quite insufficient to hope to reduce the formidable
defences of Sir Yves' stronghold. More prudent measures must be taken if
Sir Oliver were to regain his freedom.

Accordingly one of the prisoners was liberated and given a letter to his
master in which the news of his son's capture was made known. Geoffrey
also expressed therein his willingness to hand Henri over to his father
should Sir Yves set Sir Oliver and his squire Oswald at liberty, without
further delay.

Three days later a curt message was received from the Tyrant of
Malevereux.

"Do as thou wilt with my son," he wrote. "Since he hath been fool enough
to fall into thy hands, let him shift for himself. But rest assured
concerning the oath I swore relating to Sir Oliver, not one jot nor one
tittle will I abate in fulfilment of it."

"Here is a fine ado," quoth Gripwell. "'Tis certain this base villain
hath no more regard for his son than for the veriest cur in his
kennels."

"Perchance this Henri will offer ransom," suggested Geoffrey doubtfully.

"We can but try him. Methinks that with all the treasure stored within
the walls of Malevereux 'twould be passing strange if this prisoner of
ours hath not command of ten thousand crowns."

Accordingly Geoffrey and the men-at-arms, attended by two archers,
entered the narrow chamber in which Sir Yves' son was confined.

Henri de Valadour, the son of Sir Yves de Malevereux, was sitting on a
stone bench, brooding over his misfortunes. He had been shown a
consideration that contrasted favourably with his sire's treatment of
Sir Oliver, but the sullen countenance of the prisoner belied any
feelings of gratitude for his courteous though compulsory entertainment.

"Ten thousand crowns, by my hilt!" he cried disdainfully when the matter
was mentioned. "Ye'll do well if ye see the colour of ten thousand sous.
If it be thy will to put me to death so be it; but I pray thee, fair
sir, that it may not be by means of a hempen rope."

"'Twould be a fine sight for the countryside to see Henri, son of Sir
Yves, dangling by his neck from the topmost turret of Taillemartel,"
said Gripwell roughly.

"Forbear, Arnold, forbear," exclaimed Geoffrey, speaking in English.
"'Tis not meet that a commoner should speak thus to the son of a belted
knight—e'en though his sire is unworthy of his coat-armour."

Then turning to Henri: "Nay, we are not murderers," he continued.
"Failing the ransom or a fair exchange of prisoners, thou must needs
remain here awhile in durance. Perchance thy father may see fit to
swerve from his purpose."

A look of gratitude flashed across the sullen countenance of the
prisoner. As a raider, captured in an attempt to pillage the village of
a neighbouring baron, he had expected nothing less than death, since a
ransom was not to be considered.

"Fair sir, I thank thee," he replied. "Would that I could serve thee by
saving Sir Oliver's life; but, though it shames me to say it, neither
mercy nor justice will stand in my father's path."

Despondently Geoffrey brooded over the apparently insoluble situation.
Here he was within thirty miles of the castle where his father was
languishing. The slender garrison of Taillemartel was insufficient to
beleaguer the fortress of Malevereux, though at a word every man would
gladly follow him on a forlorn hope. Also he held the son of his
arch-enemy as a surety for his father's safety, yet that hope, too, had
failed him. Neither could he raise and offer the stipulated ransom,
seeing it was against Sir Oliver's fixed purpose. And the eve of the
feast of St. Silvester was now within the space of a few days.

As he ruminated over these things Geoffrey had an inspiration. It was
but a faint hope, he told himself, yet 'twas better than nothing. He
would take advantage of the open house that Sir Yves kept on the eve of
his patron saint's day and enter the castle in disguise. By some means
the opportunity might occur to provide Sir Oliver with a file or a
knife. With these in his possession much might be done in the hours of
darkness 'twixt the eve and feast of St. Silvester.

Geoffrey realized that he must keep Gripwell in ignorance of his
errand—at least, till he had placed a fair distance between him and
Taillemartel; for the old man-at-arms would never permit his charge thus
to place his head in the lion's jaws. But the lad had counted the cost,
and was prepared to take the risk.

Ere long the plan matured into action. Stealthily providing himself with
a long rope, the lad hid it in one of the small rooms built in the outer
wall of the castle. A suit of mean attire was also laid by, and all that
remained to be done was to wait till darkness set in.

An hour before dawn the guards patrolling the battlements stumbled over
a knotted rope secured to the carriage of a mangonel.

The alarm was instantly raised, and Gripwell, on arriving on the scene,
ordered a general parade, fearing that one of the garrison had deserted.

By the aid of a glare of torches the sub-officers began to tell off the
men of their respective divisions, but ere that could be accomplished
the word was given that Sir Oliver's son was missing.

Thinking that some foul attempt had been made upon his charge, Arnold
Gripwell seized a torch and ran to the lad's apartment. It was empty.
His couch had not been slept on, but instead a sealed letter lay upon
the pillow.

With trembling fingers the man-at-arms broke the seals and read the
contents—

    "Arnold Gripwell,—I have set out, with God's blessing, to
    endeavour to do some small deed of advancement. Do not, I charge
    thee, attempt to follow or hinder me. Meanwhile the ordering of
    Taillemartel is in thy hands.—Geoffrey."

For a while the old soldier gazed at the missive without realizing its
meaning. The lad had gone, but whither? With bowed head and clasped
hands Gripwell knelt before the prie-dieu till the grey dawn gained the
mastery over the shades of night, craving for Divine protection for his
errant charge.



                               CHAPTER X

                        THE EVE OF ST. SILVESTER


Across the vast plain that surrounded the gloomy Castle of Malevereux
streamed a long straggling line of people, all making towards the open
gateway of Sir Yves' feudal pile.

There were merchants from Rouen, soberly attired and wearing long
straight swords as a protection against the perils of the roads;
peasants of both sexes, striving to overcome the deep-rooted sense of
fear in spite of the assured immunity of goods and person for one day in
the whole year; men-at-arms and archers, unarmed save for the short
knives that hung from their belts; and a sprinkling of knights, monks,
palmers, jongleurs, and minstrels.

Amongst Sir Yves' thus generally invited guests limped a lad, footsore
and weary, meanly dressed in coarse gaberdine, doublet, and points. It
was Geoffrey, son of Oliver, Lord of Warblington.

Bound tightly to the inner side of the lad's left arm were two files,
while in addition to the short dagger that hung in his belt a sharp
knife was concealed in one of his undressed leather buskins. Geoffrey's
fair curls had been ruthlessly clipped in order to better his disguise,
but his clear-cut features belied his rôle of peasant.

Crossing the drawbridge, Geoffrey found himself within the portals of
the fortress, where the Tyrant held his father captive, and with a
quivering sensation in his throat the lad paused beneath the deep
vaulted archway, through which the bases of the triple portcullis shone
dully like the fangs of a savage beast.

On either side of the inner gateway stood a strong guard of archers and
men-at-arms. Each arrival was closely scrutinized, and ere allowed to
pass was compelled to temporarily surrender his weapons. Only in the
case of knights and gentlemen of quality was the restriction relaxed,
since they were to take part in the grand joust in honour of Sir Yves'
patron saint.

Without being challenged Geoffrey gave up his dagger, though one of the
soldiers glanced askance at the lad's refined face. Deeply
self-conscious, he bowed his head and hastened his footsteps till he
gained the outer bailey.

Here the rectangular grassy space was surrounded by wooden stands
covered with gay-coloured cloth, rising in tiers towards the encircling
walls. In the centre of the platform facing the gateway was a daïs
provided with a canopy. This was for the use of Sir Yves de Valadour and
his principal guests.

As yet the stands were deserted, the assembled company being entertained
in the grass-grown courtyard, where a profusion of broached casks and
trestled tables groaning with food showed that on this and similar
occasions Sir Yves disbursed his liberality with an unsparing hand.

Scorning to partake of his enemy's food, Geoffrey stole softly betwixt
the crowd of gesticulating and chattering guests and made his way
towards the frowning walls of the keep, that reared themselves skywards
at the junction of the battlements of the outer and inner walls.

He vaguely wondered whether those long slit-like apertures in the base
of the keep were the windows of the dungeons, till the sound of revelry
proceeding from them told that the lower storeys of the keep were
appropriated to the garrison. The dungeons, therefore, he reasoned, were
beneath the ground-level, yet there was nothing to indicate their
position.

Continuing his tour of investigation, Geoffrey came to a lofty doorway
communicating with the inner bailey. Here numbers of gaily-clad guests
were streaming out, laughing and exchanging coarse jokes with each
other.

For a space the lad stood without, then glanced wistfully in the
direction of the inner ward. Then, summoning up courage, he made his way
towards this gateway.

"Ho! stand there!" shouted a hoarse voice. "Who art thou—some masterless
rascal, I'll declare."

Barring his progress stood a huge man-at-arms, resting his gauntleted
hands upon a massive battle-axe.

"Methought the castle was free to all this day," replied the lad.

"This part only to the principal guests of the Lord of Malevereux,"
announced the soldier. "Now, rascal, what would'st thou?"

"My foster-brother Pierre told me that within I could see the dungeons."

"If thou wilt see the dungeons, take heed lest the dungeons keep thee,
_vaurien_," replied the man, laughing. "Now, hence, ere I lay this stick
about thy back."

Discomfited, Geoffrey rejoined the crowd of revellers. He felt that his
plan was doomed to failure, since the prison quarters were evidently in
a remote and strictly-guarded portion of the castle.

Just then his quick ear caught a fragment of the conversation between
two of the guests.

"... and after the joust what happens, gossip?"

"I know not of a certainty, but 'tis said that Sir Yves hath promised to
set the English knight in the lists."

"What English knight?"

"I know not. 'Tis reported that he hath been a prisoner here for some
time past. But in any case we shall see what a half-starved Englishman
can do 'gainst a gallant Frenchman."

"Who is to oppose this English knight?"

"Rumour hath it that Sir Denis himself will sweep the rogue from his
horse. _Ma foi_, 'twill be a merry business. But——"

A loud blast upon a horn caused the conversation to terminate abruptly;
the guests made a hurried scramble towards the platforms, while a crowd
of lacqueys and serving-men ran hither and thither, removing the
depleted tables and wine-casks.

In a few minutes all signs of the feast had vanished. Soldiers began to
erect the barrier for the spear-running, while the opposing knights with
their squires and pages took up their position at one end of the lists.

Precisely at high noon a fanfare of trumpets announced the entry of Sir
Yves de Valadour, Lord of Malevereux, and his chosen company.

Sir Yves was a man of about fifty years of age, dark features,
black-bearded, and with beetling brows that, in spite of the festive
season, seemed to wear a perpetual scowl. He was slightly over middle
height, bull-necked and inclined to obesity, while as he walked his legs
seemed too weak to support his ponderous body. He was richly apparelled
in silk trimmed with fur, though men would have it that underneath his
slashed doublet he wore a suit of light sword-proof mail. With the
exception of a short dagger he was unarmed, while in his hand he carried
a warder with which the signal for the commencement or termination of an
encounter was to be given.

Amidst the plaudits of the majority of the spectators, who louted with
the utmost servility as he passed, Sir Yves ascended the daïs, which was
raised about five feet from the ground, and took his seat in a
high-backed oak chair. On his right sat Sir Denis, his brother, his face
still inflamed from the glowing charcoal that Gripwell had hurled at him
on the occasion of the raid upon the village of Taillemartel.

At his left hand sat Arnaud de Convers, a knight of almost as bad a
reputation as his host. With them were about two score ladies and their
husbands or lovers, their bright garments adding to the picturesqueness
of the assembly.

For a space Sir Yves regarded the crowds of spectators with a curious
sneering expression, then turning towards Arnaud de Convers he whispered
something that brought a grim smile to their faces.

Raising his warder, the Tyrant gave the signal for the tourney to
commence, and amid a prolonged fanfare of trumpets the contesting
knights, twelve in number, rode slowly down the lists. With closed
visors, shields on their left arms and lances raised, the steel-clad
warriors made a brave show, taking no apparent heed of the outburst of
vociferous cheering and the shouts of acclamation as their respective
partisans recognized the devices of their favourite knights.

Opposite the daïs each knight reined in his steed and saluted the Lord
of Malevereux by lowering the point of his lance, while one of the
marshals of the list read out the name and style of the respective
champions.

While this ceremony was in progress Geoffrey, seated on a crowded bench
within three spears' length of the daïs, was taking careful stock of his
surroundings, while at the same time his mind was actively dwelling on
the conversation between the two men that related to one who could be
none other than his father, Sir Oliver. There could be no possible doubt
that the Tyrant meant to cause the death of the English knight, since a
man ill-fed and weakened by close confinement could hardly be expected
to do otherwise than fall an easy victim to the powerful and well-armed
Sir Denis.

Geoffrey's reverie was interrupted by a stirring trumpet-call, and, in
spite of his fears and anxieties, his martial instinct was aroused by
the sight that met his gaze.

From end to end of the lists the field was empty, save for the presence
of two knights armed cap-à-pied, who, motionless as statues, sat upon
their steeds. To the right of each horseman was the stout oaken barrier
that ran athwart the field, so that at the moment of impact it would
prevent the chargers from coming into actual contact.

At the terminations of the barrier fences were erected enclosing spaces
reserved for the other champions and their attendants, while booths had
been set up for the armourers and shoeing-smiths; also, with a great
significance, for the accommodation of those who sustained injuries in
the tourney, priests and chirurgeons being in attendance.

A tense silence fell upon the multitude, broken by the hoarse shout of
"_Laissez aller!_" by Sir Yves.

Instantly the steel-clad statues were transformed into the
personification of warlike activity. The merest touch of the sharp
rowelled spurs sufficed to set their horses into a furious gallop, while
with bodies crouched, shields pointed, and lances in rest, the rival
knights prepared to meet the shock.

With the turf flying in pellets from the horses' hoofs, the sharp points
of their lances scarce swerving a hair's breadth with the motion of
their chargers, the champions closed. For a brief instant both seemed to
sway in the saddle, then recovering themselves they passed each other
and reined up at their respective ends of the lists ere the fragments of
their shattered weapons fell to earth.

An outburst of shouts and acclamations greeted this feat of arms, but
without pausing to recover breath the two champions wheeled and, sword
in hand, rode to continue the encounter.

Sparks flashed as steel met steel. It was mainly cut and parry, though
now and again a lightning-like thrust was given and smartly caught upon
the shield of the opponent.

At length, from sheer exhaustion, both knights began to relax their
efforts, while the crowds, unmindful of the presence of the Lord of
Malevereux in their excitement, shouted encouragement and applause.
Several of the spectators on the daïs begged Sir Yves to throw down his
warder and declare the combat a drawn one, but grimly the Tyrant
refused.

"They have a private quarrel, methinks; therefore _à l'outrance_, let it
be."

But Sir Yves was to be disappointed. With their shields riven asunder
the knights continued the fight, till the sword of one was broken close
to the hilt. Instantly he grasped his mace, and, with all his energy
thrown into the stroke, dashed his opponent's weapon from his grasp.

The latter instantly seized his mace, but on urging their steeds up to
the barrier to renew the encounter neither warrior could put forward
sufficient strength to raise his ponderous weapon. There they sat, their
eyes flashing behind their visors in speechless rage, till at a signal
from Sir Yves their squires ran in and led them back to their respective
tents.

The next bout was betwixt two knights armed with blunted lances. In the
encounter their weapons proved more dangerous than the naked steel; one
of the combatants caught his opponent fairly on the gorget, while the
latter's weapon glanced harmlessly from the former's shield. Wedged in
betwixt the high-peaked tilting saddle, the knight of the slippery lance
was bent backwards till he fell sideways from the saddle, crippled for
life.

Then two champions armed with battle-axes took their places, the
intervening barrier in this instance being removed. Both were short,
broad-shouldered men of immense strength, and each was actuated by a
desire to advance the claims of his lady, since a saffron-coloured glove
adorned their casques. In this encounter it seemed as if the result
would be similar to the first, for neither gained any great advantage,
although they fought vigorously for a considerable time.

At length one of the two champions tripped and fell, his opponent
immediately standing over him with his miserecorde at the bars of his
visor. Once more Sir Yves' warder descended, and the vanquished knight
was assisted to his feet by his lacqueys and taken off the field, while
the victor, proud of his achievement, and in the knowledge that he was
the richer by a suit of brazen armour—for by the rules of the tournament
the harness of the conquered became the property of the
conqueror—stalked slowly round the field with open visor that all might
see and acclaim him.

For the space of over three hours the tourney continued, not without
much shedding of blood, till there remained only one who had not as yet
engaged in the contest.

Even from a distance Geoffrey felt sure that he recognized the
steel-clad figure and the device on his shield, and a glance at the
vacant seat on Sir Yves' right hand strengthened his conviction—'twas
Sir Denis de Valadour, brother of the Tyrant of Malevereux.

Then arose a fanfare of trumpets, and, escorted by a body of
men-at-arms, a tall, gaunt, erect figure entered the arena. In spite of
his pale features—for weeks of confinement had banished the bronzed hue
of health—Geoffrey could make no mistake. The new-comer was his father,
Sir Oliver Lysle.



                               CHAPTER XI

                   HOW SIR OLIVER GAINED HIS FREEDOM


A roar of merriment, mingled with a few cries of shame and pity, greeted
the English knight's reappearance in the lists. Clad in an ill-fitting
suit of chain mail with breastplate and bascinet, the joints of which
were so rusty and stiff that considerable effort was necessary to move
them, Sir Oliver rode slowly into the lists, his lean and decrepit steed
barely able to carry its rider.

Yet, in spite of the obvious inferiority of his harness and the
feebleness of his horse, Sir Oliver Lysle bore himself with a knightly
demeanour that changed the roar of mirth into the silence of shame.

"Sir, this is beyond knightly forbearance," expostulated Sir Conyers de
Saye, one of the champions in the previous encounters. "I pray thee
grant this knight the use of his harness and a proper charger."

"Nay, Sir Conyers, he must abide by that which he hath," replied Sir
Yves angrily.

"I pray thee, Sir Oliver, to do me the favour of accepting the loan of
my plate armour," cried another knight.

"And my charger," added another.

"And I do perceive that thy lance is three spans shorter than that of
thine adversary," exclaimed a third.

"Fair sirs, I thank ye," replied Sir Oliver. "But concerning the harness
'tis not meet that I should place a true knight's suit of mail in
jeopardy. This mail will suffice, since already it is accustoming itself
to my limbs. Also the offer of a lance I beg to decline. Methinks an
English heart behind this lance will atone for its shortness when
opposed to a recreant knight who hath not the courage to openly declare
either for Burgundy or Orleans."

Sir Denis winced within his shell of proof mail. If the steel of the
English knight were as sharp as his tongue, his own task would not be
quite so easy as it had seemed. As for Sir Yves, he was grinding his
teeth with rage and discomfiture.

"Nevertheless," continued Sir Oliver, "I will deem it an honour to
accept the loan of a suitable charger from a true and gallant knight of
France."

"Nay, that shall not be," objected the Tyrant. "Either the charger
provided or none."

"Charger, forsooth!" exclaimed Sir Conyers de Saye scornfully. "Art
blind, Sir Yves, that thou canst not tell good horseflesh from bad, or
is it a case of _oculos habent et non videbunt_? Either Sir Oliver hath
leave to accept the loan of a serviceable charger or I'll shake off the
dust of this place."

"And I," "And I," shouted the other knightly guests, who, in order to
prove the sincerity of their intentions, began to call upon their
squires and pages to follow them from the castle.

"Let him have the horse, then," replied the Lord of Malevereux
ungraciously.

"I pray for thy success," whispered Sir Conyers encouragingly, as Sir
Oliver was assisted into the saddle of the borrowed charger.

A tucket sounded, and Sir Denis cantered to the other end of the lists,
while the English knight, after having given his steed a short run to
test its capabilities, drew up in anticipation of the signal for the
onset.

Unable to control his feelings during the inevitable pause, Geoffrey
started to his feet.

"St. George for England, father!" he cried out, oblivious to all else
besides the two combatants.

Men turned in astonishment to gaze at the daring youth. Sir Denis marked
the lad with a ferocious glare. Sir Yves, engaged in conversation, heard
but the first portion of the exclamation, while Sir Oliver caught
everything but the last word.

"Ay, young sir, St. George for England and God's benison on my task," he
replied.

The next instant the warder of the Lord of Malevereux clattered on the
floor of the daïs.

Both antagonists started at the signal. Sir Denis urged his charger down
the lists at its utmost speed, while with sharpened lance held firmly in
rest he sought to transfix his adversary, or at least to sweep him from
the saddle. On his part Sir Oliver rode more cautiously, keeping a
firmer hold upon the bridle than on his lance.

The spectators held their breath. Surely the ill-armed Englishman must
go down before the impetuous rush of the burly, powerful Frenchman? But
ere their lance-points crossed Sir Oliver pulled in his steed, dropped
swiftly forward across the animal's mane, and raised his shield
obliquely above his head, his lance falling from his grasp as he did so.

Ere Sir Denis could lower his lance-point the steel glided from the
oblique surface of his antagonist's shield. The next instant the
Englishman's sinewy arm was around the Frenchman's waist, and, throwing
all the power of his half-starved frame into one mighty heave, Sir
Oliver lifted his steel-clad opponent clean out of his tilting saddle.
With a dull clang the brother of the Tyrant fell upon the turf, helpless
and beaten by one whom he had regarded as an easy victim to his prowess.

Already some of the squires and pages of Sir Denis were running to their
master's aid, while others attempted to seize the bridle of his
riderless horse. But urging his steed into a gallop, Sir Oliver ranged
alongside the masterless animal, and before the astonished crowd could
realize his action he was in the saddle but recently occupied by Sir
Denis, while his borrowed charger was trotting back to its lawful owner.

"Seize me yon English knight," shouted Sir Yves with an oath. "What! Why
tarry? Dost think 'tis the Prince of Darkness?" For feelings either of
surprise or repugnance towards the man who had already shown his
intention of breaking his plighted promise restrained the servants of
the Lord of Malevereux. Not a hand was raised to apprehend the knight
who had held his own against such fearful odds.

Sir Yves' perjurous utterance was his death warrant. Goaded to fury by
this breach of faith, Sir Oliver spurred his horse up to the foot of the
daïs, and, mace in hand, dealt a crashing blow at the recreant knight.

Hemmed in by the high-backed chair, the Lord of Malevereux was unable to
avoid the stroke. With warder raised he strove to parry the ponderous
weapon, but death came to him far more mercifully than he had brought it
to others. Sir Yves de Valadour, of the high, of the middle, and the
low, lay a corpse in the midst of the assembly that had gathered to
witness his triumph over his captive.

Wheeling, Sir Oliver rode straight for the gateway of the castle. Not
one of the knights stirred a hand to hinder him, though several of the
garrison of Malevereux attempted to bar his way. Two men-at-arms went
down under his charger's hoofs, but before the portcullis could be
dropped or a cross-bowman had levelled his cumbersome weapon the English
knight was spurring across the drawbridge, well on his way to freedom.



                              CHAPTER XII

                 IN WHICH GEOFFREY IS LAID BY THE HEELS


The courtyard of the Castle of Malevereux presented a scene of utter
confusion, following Sir Oliver's desperate deed and successful flight.

With one accord the spectators made towards the gate, shouting and
jostling in their haste to leave the scene of the tragedy. Many were the
glances cast askance at the mangled heap lying in ghastly solitude on
the floor of the daïs, for not one of the chief guests remained by the
body of the dreaded Tyrant.

Filled with a wild excitement of joy at his father's escape, Geoffrey
mingled with the surging crowd. Now that the object of his visit to
Malevereux was accomplished, though 'twas not his doing, the lad
realized that his best plan was to depart as unobtrusively as possible
and make his way back to Taillemartel, whither Sir Oliver must assuredly
have gone.

The lad had gained the gateway of the outer bailey. In another moment he
would have crossed the drawbridge and shaken the dust of Malevereux from
his feet, when a heavy hand grasped him by the shoulder.

"'Tis he, sure enough. Secure him, mes garçons," exclaimed a deep voice,
and, turning his head, Geoffrey found that his captor was the
man-at-arms who had spoken to him at the entrance to the inner ward.

"Sir, why thus? Methinks that all have safe conduct here this day."

"List to him," laughed the soldier. "Doth a peasant lad talk thus? His
speech betrayeth him."

"I myself heard him cry encouragement to the Englishman," said another
soldier.

"Ay, and he called him father," added a third.

"Ah, is that so? Guard the lad carefully. We must bring him before Sir
Denis. Answer me—is Sir Oliver thy sire?"

Geoffrey kept silence. He was in sore straits, yet he resolved to bear
himself right manfully. His arrest had been carried out without
attracting attention from the outgoing throng, and even had he appealed
for aid his words would have fallen upon deaf ears.

In the centre of a ring of steel the lad was urged against the press of
departing spectators, and conducted to a groined room in the inner ward,
where Sir Denis was lying stripped of his harness.

The discomfited knight was in a sorry plight, for, in addition to the
partially-healed burns sustained at Taillemartel, he had been bruised
from head to foot by the fall from his horse. Added to his bodily
injuries, the fact that he had been vanquished by an opponent whom he
had regarded with disdain did not improve his temper. The iron of
humiliation had eaten into his soul.

"_Parblieu!_ 'Tis well that ye have laid the young viper by the heels,"
he exclaimed. "Did I not hear him shout words of encouragement to the
Englishman? More than that, he called him father."

"Ay, _mon seigneur_, I also heard him speak thus," added one of
Geoffrey's captors.

"Thy name and conditions, sirrah. I perceive that thou art not of common
stock. Answer truly for thy life."

"I'll answer thee truly, though not by reason of fear. I am Geoffrey,
son of Sir Oliver Lysle."

"If thy father were worthy of the name he would have returned to aid his
son," sneered Sir Denis.

"Without doubt he will in good time," replied Geoffrey boldly.

"I trust he will. Perchance he may again be a guest under my roof. But a
truce to idle talk; search him."

Under the rough practised hands of the soldiers the files and the dagger
concealed on the lad were discovered and promptly taken possession of by
his captors, and with coarse gibes he was hurried from the presence of
the fierce baron.

From the room in the inner ward Geoffrey was taken across the courtyard,
where he had a brief glimpse of the clear blue sky that was to be a
stranger to him for many a long, weary day.

Unlocking a small heavily-barred door on the ground level of the massive
keep or "donjon," the men-at-arms thrust the lad within. Then, taking a
lighted torch that cast a weird glare upon the low, musty stonework of a
long passage, one of the men led the way, followed by the captive and
the rest of his guards.

At the termination of the passage a flight of narrow stone steps
communicated with another tunnel-like way twenty feet beneath the upper
one. Here the atmosphere was even more dank and unwholesome, while to
the young prisoner the footfalls of the men sounded like a knell.

Still deeper in the bowels of the earth did they descend, till Geoffrey
found himself in another tunnel-like passage roughly constructed of
stones set herring-bone fashion, rising to an uncemented line of
key-stones overhead. Through the joints the moisture dripped
incessantly, forming slimy pools that reflected the dull red glare of
the flaming torch.

"Here's thy kennel, wolf's whelp," said a soldier gruffly, laying a
detaining hand upon the lad's shoulder. 'Twas well he did so, otherwise
Geoffrey would have stepped blindly into a yawning unfenced pit in the
floor of the passage.

Hitherto the captive had offered no resistance, but the sight of the
horrible pit filled him with a nameless terror. Madly he struggled with
his captors, but, in spite of his youthful strength and energy, he was
no match for the burly ruffians that worked the will of the Lord of
Malevereux.

In a trice he was secured, a stout cord passed through a rope girdle
fashion round his waist, and with a savage kick Geoffrey was hurled into
space. Then the cord took the strain of his weight, and slowly he was
lowered into the loathsome den that was to be his prison.

Down and down he found himself being dropped, till far above his head he
could perceive a narrow circle illumined by the torchlight, then with a
jerk his feet touched the floor of the pit.

Throwing down one end of the cord and hauling up the other, the
men-at-arms removed all means of communication with their prisoner, and
with a brutal jest and mocking laugh they disappeared, their echoing
footsteps growing fainter and fainter till all was still.

Left to himself, Geoffrey could scarce control the agony of his
emotions. The impenetrable darkness seemed to possess weight—it
literally crushed him with its terrors.

For a considerable while he dared not move a foot, fearing that the
uneven floor might contain a pitfall that would assuredly compass his
destruction. There he stood, overcome with the sense of his horrible
surroundings, vaguely wondering how long his body and mind could exist
under such appalling conditions. He had heard of men languishing for
months, nay, years, in oubliettes and loathsome dungeons till death came
as a merciful release, but until now he had not realized the bodily and
mental torture of the silence and darkness of a living tomb.

At length his legs refused to support him, and having carefully felt all
around him, Geoffrey sank down upon the moist and slimy stones that
formed the floor of the dungeon. Then he gradually worked his way,
proceeding with the utmost caution, till his hands encountered the
jagged wall. This he followed, making several complete circles ere he
realized, by the leaving of one of his shoes on the floor, that the
place was built in the shape of a bottle.

Then, gaining confidence, he made another circle, taking count of the
number of strides required to bring him back to his starting-place. Thus
Geoffrey discovered that his prison was but twenty paces round, and
without angles or doorways communicating with other parts of the
subterranean chambers.

This was one piece of information, but a most trying question was how to
measure the space of time. Already he was unaware how long he had been
in the awesome pit; time seemed to have ceased to exist.

After seeming hours of torturing suspense the sound of footsteps rumbled
down the tunnel-like passage, and a gleam of light, that gave
indescribable comfort to the miserable prisoner, began to grow brighter
and brighter, till the outlines of a man leaning over the mouth of the
pit were thrown into strong relief by the light of a horn lantern.

"Here's thy food," announced the man gruffly. "Cast loose the cord, I
pray thee."

As he spoke he lowered a pitcher of water and a loaf of rye bread.
Geoffrey unfastened the cord by which they were lowered, and without
another word the gaoler proceeded to pull up the sole means of
communication.

"How long am I to lie in this horrible den, I beg of thee to tell me?"
asked the lad pleadingly, but his only answer was a gruff chuckle, and
the man hurried away.

Geoffrey consumed his sorry meal, then sitting with his head resting on
his knees, tried his utmost to reconcile himself to his surroundings.
Fortunately, sleep came to the relief of his bodily and mental anguish,
and stretched upon the hard floor he fell into a deep yet dream-haunted
slumber.

How long he slept he knew not. Suddenly he awoke with a start, to find
the pit illumined by the glare of numerous torches, while men's voices
roughly shouted to him to bestir himself.

Staggering to his feet, Geoffrey found a stout-noosed rope dangling
within a few inches of his head, and, in obedience to an order, he
passed the loop under his arm-pits. The next instant he was lifted off
his feet, and, swaying to and fro, he was hauled to the surface.

Escorted by his captors, the lad retraced his steps along the damp stone
passage that he had traversed long hours before, but ere the ground
level was reached the party halted before a low iron-bound door.

"This will be thy quarters," exclaimed one of the men, producing a heavy
key that hung with others on his girdle. "How did'st thou like the night
in my lord's guest-chamber, eh? Have a care, therefore, and behave
thyself circumspectly in thy new abode; for, failing this, back to yon
pit thou'lt go."

So saying, the gaoler unlocked the door, that creaked and groaned on its
hinges as it opened.

"In with thee."

Geoffrey could not but obey. Indeed, he was only too thankful to have
escaped the terrors of the oubliette. But as he stepped across the low
threshold he gave a cry of surprise, for the glare of the torches showed
him that the prison-chamber was already occupied—and by none other than
Oswald Steyning!

The ponderous door was closed and locked, but Geoffrey heeded it not. He
had almost forgotten his gloomy surroundings in the joy of greeting his
friend. For some considerable time both lads were too full of excitement
to do more than wring one another's hands, but by degrees they calmed
down, and for the next two or three hours they exchanged stories of the
events that led up to their presence in the Castle of Malevereux.

Thus began the first of many long days of joint captivity. The room in
which the lads were held prisoners was gloomy enough, though it lacked
the grim terrors of the pit. It was barely ten feet in length and six in
breadth, while from floor to ceiling the height varied from nine to five
feet.

At the highest end, which was farthermost from the door, was a square
aperture communicating with the open air, but owing to the thickness of
the walls and a sharp curve in the opening it was impossible to see the
broad daylight. Consequently, though there was a tolerable supply of
fresh air, only a dim subdued light filtered in through the grated
aperture, barely sufficient to penetrate the gloom of the prison.

Beyond the daily visits of the gaoler who brought their food and water,
the lads saw no one. Time hung heavily on their hands, though in
addition to being able to engage in conversation, they took as much
exercise as the confined limits of the cell would permit, in order to
preserve, as far as possible, the suppleness of their limbs and the
strength of their muscles.

Notwithstanding the threat of the oubliette that hung over their heads
like the sword of Damocles—for Oswald, too, had made acquaintance with
the loathsome dungeon—the lads were ever on the alert to take advantage
of an opportunity to effect their escape.

So far their vigilance was ill-rewarded, for, being without weapons or
tools, they were unable to remove the iron bars forming the grating of
the air-shaft, while tunnelling through the walls or under the floor was
equally impossible. Nor did the gaoler take any undue risks; for,
although he entered the cell alone, three or four armed men were always
within easy call, ready to rush to his aid at the first summons.

One day the lads were aroused by an unwonted stir without the castle
walls. Borne faintly to their ears came the sounds of strife, men
shouting and shrieking, weapons clashing, and the sharp hiss of bolts
and arrows.

"The castle is attacked," exclaimed Oswald. "They are storming the
battlements."

"Thou art right," replied Geoffrey. "I trow 'tis my father and the men
of Taillemartel that are without."

"Would that we could see," continued his companion, hauling himself up
the bars of the grating. "Certes, 'tis a fierce encounter."

"Dost hear English voices?" asked Geoffrey anxiously.

"Nay, I cannot distinguish any such."

Long did the sound of strife continue, till at length all was quiet,
save for the exultant shouts of the garrison. Whoever the attackers
were, it was evident that they had been repulsed, and with the utmost
dejection the lads were compelled to admit that their hope of
deliverance had been rudely shattered.



                              CHAPTER XIII

                 THE POSTERN FACED WITH POINTS OF STEEL


About three months after this event the captives were aroused from their
sleep by the door of their prison being thrown open. Accompanied by four
men-at-arms was Sir Denis de Valadour.

Instinctively both lads realized that something untoward was at hand,
and starting to their feet they steeled themselves to meet the coming
ordeal with stout hearts.

"Greetings, gentles," exclaimed Sir Denis, with a forced attempt at a
smile. "Your pardon for this intrusion, for 'tis unbetimes; yet methinks
the nature of my visit will make amends for all things. To be brief,
after due consideration, 'tis my bounden duty to admit that I owe ye
courteous treatment."

He paused and eyed the lads narrowly, endeavouring to note the effect of
his words. But, receiving no reply to his somewhat vague utterances, the
knight continued—

"Certes, 'tis strange how the wheel of fate is ordered by small matters.
When my brother, Sir Yves, fell beneath thy father's hand, Master
Geoffrey, only his son stood betwixt me and the castle and estates of
Malevereux. Henri was ever a lusty youth, and bade fair to live to a
green old age—always excepting the chance of dying in harness. Yet, alas
and alack! he must needs attempt to swallow a carp's bone, with the
result that I am an uncle no longer."

Once more Sir Denis paused, a hypocritical look of sorrow overspreading
his saturnine features.

"And mark ye, carp, lordly salmon, and the roast beef ye Islanders boast
so much about! On these he was fed by thy father's bounty, while I have
given thee but craven fare. Fie on me! Yet I will make amends. As Lord
of Malevereux—for such I now am—'tis in my power to do so. More, 'tis my
wish. Therefore I give you both your freedom."

The youths could scarce grasp the full significance of the word
"freedom." To them the ever-present longing for liberty had grown
fainter and fainter, till only a feeble hope was left them. Now, with
startling suddenness, freedom awaited them.

"Sir Knight, I thank thee," exclaimed Geoffrey when at length he found
words.

"Nay, 'tis nought," replied Sir Denis. "I trust that Malevereux will be
at peace with its neighbours. But, fair sirs, of your charity pray for
the soul of Henri de Valadour, my nephew. By so doing my reward for the
deed is assured."

"When are we permitted to leave the castle?" asked Oswald.

"When ye list. There is no time like the present, fair sirs. But I must
needs point out that my act of clemency is ill-regarded by a section of
the garrison, therefore 'twould be better to depart secretly. Though the
night be dark, the way is easy. Therefore, when we have supped I myself
will conduct ye to the postern."

So saying, Sir Denis clapped his hands, and in response to the summons a
serving-man entered the cell bearing a trencher loaded with good cheer.
After months of poor fare the repast was doubly welcome, though in their
excitement the lads could scarce do justice to the tempting viands.

While the meal was in progress the new Lord of Malevereux stood leaning
against the wall, the glare of a torch held by one of the men-at-arms
throwing his features into strong relief. Was it fancy, thought
Geoffrey, that he saw a sinister gleam in the eyes of Sir Denis?

"Are ye ready, young sirs?" asked the baron when the lads had finished
their repast. "Then follow me; tread boldly, for there is none to hinder
ye."

Traversing three long passages, interrupted by short flights of steps,
the Lord of Malevereux stopped before a low archway where strong bars
took the place of a solid door. Outside the youths could see the dim
outline of a stone wall, feebly lighted by the torch of the attendant
man-at-arms, while the twinkling stars beyond seemed to beckon the
captives to the freedom that had so long been denied them.

"Here is a cloak apiece," said Sir Denis, as a soldier handed the
garments to the lads. "These will not come amiss, I take it, for 'tis
cold without. Now, Hubin, unlock the portal, I pray thee."

The man-at-arms, fumbling at a bunch of keys at his waist, at length
produced the required article, and, thrusting it into the lock,
contrived with much exertion to open the rusty wards.

"'Tis but rarely that men pass this way," explained Sir Denis. "But see,
yonder lies thy path. Adieu, fair sirs."

As the twain passed under the archway the grille was closed with a
ponderous clang, but with feelings of intense thankfulness the lads
realized that they were on the right side of the detaining bolts and
bars.

With light steps they traversed the groined passage. Another ten paces
and they would be under the canopy of Heaven.

"Hold, Oswald!" exclaimed Geoffrey, grasping his companion by the arm,
at the same moment dragging him backwards. "By St. Paul! what have we
here?"

Geoffrey's warning came only just in time. Another step would have
precipitated them into a gloomy and unfathomable pitfall.

The stars had been obscured by passing clouds, and so intense was the
darkness that, although the loom of the country was faintly discernible,
the extent of the new danger was totally concealed.

"The false knight hath betrayed us," exclaimed Oswald. "What is to be
done?"

"We cannot do better than stand where we are till dawn," replied
Geoffrey. "To proceed is to court a speedy death; to return is to suffer
a worse fate. Perchance when 'tis light we may find a way."

As he spoke Geoffrey looked towards the open bars of the doorway through
which they had just passed. The torches had been extinguished, but a low
mocking laugh told the lads that some one was listening and waiting to
enjoy their discomfiture.

"Is this the way a knight keeps his pledge?" asked Oswald.

"Why doubt my word?" replied a deep voice that the youths had recognized
as that of Sir Denis of Malevereux. "Did I not tell ye the way was open?
Fare ye well, then. If so be ye will not profit by my advice, then stay
and starve. On the morrow, ay, and many succeeding morrows, I'll watch
the struggle 'twixt thy choice of death."

Slowly the night passed. The sky, hitherto slightly overcast, became so
clouded that the pitch-like blackness restricted the youths' field of
vision to such an extent that they could scarce discern each other.

With the banking up of the clouds a strong wind sprang up, increasing in
violence till ere long it blew with terrific violence.

Crouching on the stone floor against the side of the vault-like tunnel,
the lads awaited the dawn. The wind pierced them like a knife, and in
their scanty clothing their bodies shivered with the cold.

Occasionally they would converse in short broken sentences, debating
upon the turn of events and the probable disclosures brought by the
dawn. Fortunately, they did not as yet feel the pangs of hunger, thanks
to their repast ere they were taken from their prison; but the vague
threats in which Sir Denis referred to slow starvation filled them with
gloomy fears.

When at length the eastern sky began to assume a vivid crimson hue the
lads staggered to their feet, eager to take stock of their surroundings.

Almost at their feet the floor of the passage terminated abruptly,
descending into what was undoubtedly a part of the fosse or dry moat.
Its depth was not very considerable, being barely twenty feet from the
coping to the bottom of the ditch, which was about ten paces broad, with
its furthermost side sloping steeply to the normal level of the
surrounding land.

But, to the lads' consternation, the whole of the floor of the moat was
studded with sharp stakes, each about the height of a man. In serrated
rows they stood, so close that it was impossible to essay a leap without
being impaled upon one, at least, of the spikes.

Grasping Oswald's hand, Geoffrey leant cautiously forward and examined
the wall on either side of the postern. As far as he could see the
masonry was smooth and even, so that there was no means of finding a
foothold. Above the archway the wall towered to a height of thirty feet,
while, from the presence of two loopholes, through which the ends of
rusty chains still hung, it was evident that at one time a light
drawbridge crossed the moat at this point, forming a means of
communication between the postern and the open ground. On a level with
the loopholes a row of cross-shaped oyelets, or apertures, for
discharging crossbows commanded the approach on this side of the Castle
of Malevereux.

"We are fairly trapped," exclaimed Oswald as they completed their
examination of the moat. "This passage is like to be our death-chamber."

"What lieth at the other end?" asked Geoffrey. "Methought there was a
wide space betwixt the grille and the wall, though yesternight I caught
but a brief glimpse in the torchlight."

"We can but see," replied Oswald. "But we must needs wait awhile, till
the light is strong enough to overcome the gloom of the archway."

Upon investigation the archway was found to afford no possible means of
escape, though, owing to a slight deviation in its general direction, an
intervening curve in the masonry hid the outer portion from the
observation of a person standing without the gate.

As for the latter, it was composed of wrought iron with massive hinges.
The upper part from a distance of three feet from the ground was open,
but secured by the bars of the grille, the space betwixt each bar being
sufficient to enable a man to insert his head without allowing his body
to follow.

Without the door all was quiet. The stone passage, wrapped in sombre
gloom, was deserted. Deeming his prisoners perfectly secure, the Lord of
Malevereux had purposely neglected to post a sentry at this gate.

"The way is clear," said Oswald. "Could we but squeeze through yon bars,
perchance we might lie hidden in some dark recess."

"To what purpose? We should still be within the castle."

"We cannot make our position one whit the worse, Geoffrey. Who knows but
that we may be able to escape by some other postern? Thou art the
slighter build, though certes, we both are as thin as a stripped
distaff. Through with thee, and I'll do my best to follow."

Geoffrey immediately essayed the difficult task, but though he raised
one arm well above his head and kept the other close to his side, while
his comrade assisted by heaving and pushing, his slender body was too
large to pass betwixt the narrow space in the grille. Yet not till he
was black in the face and utterly exhausted by his struggle did Geoffrey
confess himself beaten.

As the sun rose higher in the heavens the wind died away, and by high
noon the atmosphere was in a state of extreme sultriness. Though
protected from the fierce rays by the stonework of the arch, both lads
began to feel the torture of an agonizing thirst, which was intensified
by the tantalizing sight of a small brook meandering through the fields
at a short distance from the castle.

Once did Sir Denis, clad in complete armour, approach the bars of the
door to gloat over his captives, but after a few moments' stay he went
away without a word. Shortly afterwards the lads saw him at the head of
a body of mounted men riding rapidly from the castle.

"Yon base caitiff will trouble us no more awhile," observed Geoffrey,
pointing towards the receding troop. "Come, now, art willing to hazard a
leap?"

"Nay," replied Oswald, regarding the formidable array of spikes with a
shudder. "Cold steel I'd face in battle as becomes an Englishman, but,
by St. George, to be skewered by a rusty spearhead—for thus I perceive
them to be—is more than I can stomach."

"Then I will essay the leap," exclaimed Geoffrey, stripping off his
cloak and rolling it into a ball as a protection for his hands. "If I
fail perchance my weight will thrust aside sufficient of these spikes
for thee——"

"Nay, art mad?" interrupted his companion, laying a detaining hand upon
Geoffrey's shoulder.

"Anything but this horrible thirst."

"Methinks that will shortly be assuaged. Mark yon cloud; observe how it
draws nigh 'gainst the little wind that blows. Within half an hour
'twill be passing strange if there be not a thunder-storm."

Oswald was right in his surmise. Ever and anon a dull rumble could be
heard, the sound gradually increasing in intensity, till, accompanied by
incessant flashes of lightning and deafening rolls of thunder, a
torrential rain descended.

Eagerly the lads extended their open palms to catch the thirst-quenching
moisture, till, feeling greatly relieved, they were glad to retreat to
the furthermost end of the archway to escape the fury of the elements.

"Ho, ho! young sirs. What, still here? Why are ye not well on your way
to Taillemartel?" exclaimed a gruff voice.

Both youths turned at the sound of the voice, and at the same time a
dazzling flash of lightning played upon the steel cap and breastplate of
one of the men-at-arms. Geoffrey instantly recognized him as the man who
had stayed his advance on the occasion of the memorable joust-day.

"Art hungry?" continued the soldier.

Unable to resist the apparent invitation, the lads made their way to the
barred door. Without stood the man-at-arms, with a loaf of rye bread in
his hand, held in such a manner that the glare of a torch enabled it to
be clearly seen.

Ostentatiously the man cut off a slice with his dagger, then replacing
the weapon in a sheath that hung at his right side, he proffered the
bread to the prisoners. Ere they could stretch out their hands the
soldier conveyed the food to his own mouth, his body shaking with
merriment at the lads' disappointment.

Twice he repeated these tantalizing tactics, till, realizing that 'twas
no intention on the part of the man-at-arms to provide them with food,
Geoffrey and Oswald retired a few steps from the grille.

"What! Too tired to take thy food?" roared the rogue. "Nay, that will
not serve. See, here is a tempting morsel."

A sudden inspiration came to Geoffrey. The man had thrust his arm
betwixt the bars in order to still further tantalize the famished lads.
With a swift and surprising spring Geoffrey threw himself at the door
and grasped the fellow's arm by the wrist.

"Quick, Oswald!" he exclaimed.

Oswald had mistaken his comrade's intention, for without attempting to
seize the food that was still grasped in the man's hand, he thrust his
hand between the grille and laid hold of the soldier's dagger.

The next instant the man had fallen a corpse upon the floor, with his
own dagger plunged into the nape of his neck, Geoffrey still retaining
his hold of the soldier's wrist.

"One villain the less," exclaimed Oswald triumphantly.

Fortunately, a deafening peal of thunder had drowned the scream of the
stricken man. This storm was proving a blessing in disguise to the two
desperate youths, for the remnant of the garrison, driven from their
posts by the tempest, had already taken shelter.

"I see a way," whispered Geoffrey earnestly. "Here, take yon dagger and
strip off the fellow's breastplate."

Without stopping to question his companion Oswald did as he was told,
Geoffrey the while holding the wrist of the corpse to prevent it from
falling below the grille. A few minutes sufficed to ease the man-at-arms
of his steel plate and cap, and, retaining the dagger, the lads ran to
the edge of the moat.

"Now dost see, Oswald? I am going to leap upon these spikes holding the
breastplate in front of me to turn the points aside. Should I, with the
blessing of Heaven and the protection of my patron saint, succeed in my
attempt, 'twill be an easy matter to clear aside a space for thee to
leap."

"'Tis possible," replied Oswald, as he broke the captured bread and
divided it between his comrade and himself. "But why shouldst thou take
the honour and the risk of this enterprise? Rather let me essay the
leap."

Finding that Geoffrey remained obdurate, the young squire continued—

"'Tis untoward to stand here debating this matter, since every moment is
precious. Let us draw lots."

So saying, Oswald pulled two threads of unequal length from his frayed
doublet, and, holding them in his hand, allowed one end of each only to
be visible.

"To me!" he exclaimed, as Geoffrey drew the shorter thread. "Certes. If
I fail I trust my failure will be the means of thy safety."

Grasping the breastplate in front of him so that the hollow side would
be uppermost, Oswald boldly leapt into the moat. The steel plate turned
aside two of the spear-heads, and in the space thus cleared the squire
alighted, though the fleshy part of his right leg was badly lacerated by
one of the still standing spikes.

Regardless of the pain, the lad staggered to his feet, and, grasping the
shafts of the spears nearest to him, wrenched them from their supports.
This done, Geoffrey took a careful leap and alighted close to his
companion's side, safe and unhurt.

In fear and anxiety the two lads began to force their way through the
maze of up-pointed weapons, expecting every moment to hear a challenge
from the towering walls behind them, or the sharp hiss of a shaft from a
vigilant bowman; but, thanks to the blinding rain, and the storm being
at its height, the sentinels had relaxed their customary watchfulness.

On gaining the edge of the furthermost side of the moat the lads broke
into a run, in spite of Oswald's painful wound, for it was expedient
that the belt of level ground should be traversed with the utmost
despatch.

Without detection they reached the banks of the little stream that they
had observed from the postern, now swollen into a foaming torrent. Here,
taking advantage of a slight dip in the ground, they followed the course
of the stream, since Geoffrey felt certain that 'twas the same that
crossed the road 'twixt Malevereux and Taillemartel.

For two days and nights the weary fugitives continued their journey,
subsisting on roots and turnips, for the countryside had been swept by a
party of marauders, so that not a farm nor a cottage had escaped
destruction by fire.

Oswald's wound, also, began to cause great anxiety, for the lack of rest
and proper attention had aggravated the injury. But in spite of the
great disadvantages under which they laboured, the lads manfully pursued
their way, till they were rewarded by the sight of the Castle of
Taillemartel.

Encouraged by the prospect of a safe ending of their tribulations, the
fugitives quickened their pace, till Geoffrey suddenly came to a halt.

"Do I see aright, Oswald?" he exclaimed. "Behold the banner over the
keep."

Oswald shaded his eyes and looked, and as he did so a look of dismay
passed over his face. For in place of the mullet and the three stars of
the Lysles floated the black eagle of De Chargné—one of the most
powerful adherents to the Orleanist cause.



                              CHAPTER XIV

                 HOW ARNOLD GRIPWELL WAS FREED FROM HIS
                                 BONDS


Aghast at the disconcerting discovery that the Castle of Taillemartel
was in hostile hands, the lads stood in dire perplexity. The one refuge
on French soil which they had relied upon was now denied them.

"What hath befallen Sir Oliver, thy father?" asked Oswald at length.
"Surely, had he gained the castle he would have held it against all
odds."

"I cannot say," replied Geoffrey. "But, unless we wish to find ourselves
behind iron bars once more, it behoves us to give Taillemartel a wide
berth."

"And to go whither?"

"To the coast. Since our mission is accomplished, and my father is no
longer in the hands of the Lord of Malevereux—though, for aught I know,
he hath again met with some misfortune—we must needs make our way
homewards. But look! A man approaches."

"I trust he is peaceably inclined," observed Oswald, handling the dagger
he had snatched from the luckless soldier. "Let us hide behind yonder
tree till we can make more of him."

Accordingly the lads took shelter and awaited the stranger's approach.

"'Tis Néron de Boeuf," whispered Geoffrey, as the new-comer drew nearer.
"He was ever a good servant of my father. Let us show ourselves and gain
tidings."

"Is he still true to his salt?" asked Oswald cautiously.

"Without doubt. Ho, Néron! What's amiss with Taillemartel?"

The man stood still at the sound of the lad's voice, with amazement
written in every line of his wrinkled face. He was a short, corpulent,
middle-aged man, who had held a post in the buttery at the castle, and,
as Geoffrey had said, had always boasted of loyalty to his master.

"_Pardieu_, monsieur!" he exclaimed as Geoffrey stepped from behind the
tree-trunk. "What has happened to thee? And Monsieur Oswald also."

"It matters little what hath befallen us, Néron," replied Geoffrey.
"Tell us who holds Taillemartel, and where is Sir Oliver?"

"Concerning Taillemartel, the castle hath been taken by Sir Bertrand de
Chargné, though there was but a poor defence. Only the Englishman,
Gripwell, and a few others struck blows for Sir Oliver's cause. They say
that the King of England hath declared war 'gainst this country, and
that every Islander hath either been thrown into prison or hath fled
across the seas. Beyond that I know little; but this I can tell you: Sir
Oliver is still a captive of the Lord of Malevereux."

"But with mine own eyes I saw my father fight his way out of Malevereux,
Néron."

"Then the saints be praised, monsieur. But, be that as it may, Sir
Oliver hath not set foot in Taillemartel since the evil day when he was
taken by the Tyrant."

"And Gripwell—what of him?"

"I cannot say with certainty. Some would have it that he hath gotten
clear away, after vanquishing five of de Chargné's men-at-arms."

"I trust it may be true; but, tell me, what befel Henri, son of Sir
Yves? I was told that he died before his trencher."

"Nay, whoever told thee that lied in his throat. He tried to escape by
rending his sheets into strips and making a rope, but the rope broke and
he fell to his death."

"Whither goest thou, Néron?"

"To the castle, monsieur," replied the Norman apologetically. "A man
must live, e'en if he hath to serve a new master. But, monsieur, thou
art worn and hungry, and so is thy friend."

"Ay, that we are," assented Geoffrey. "Perchance thou canst furnish us
with food, and put us on the safest road to the coast?"

"Concerning food, if ye will bear me company to the village of Tierny,
which hath so far escaped the freebooter, at the house of _ma belle
mère_ ye can be accommodated. 'Tis but two leagues distant, and it
matters little when I return to Taillemartel."

"Thanks, good Néron. Some day I hope to repay thee."

"When Sir Oliver again comes to Taillemartel as its master, monsieur,"
replied Le Boeuf sententiously.

The Norman and the two youths bent their steps in the direction of
Tierny, the former talking volubly the while concerning the events of
the day, in which he seemed well versed.

At the house of his wife's mother he procured food for the fugitives,
and when they had eaten they prepared to take their leave.

"Nay, I cannot give thee directions for the whole journey," he replied
in answer to a question. "But 'tis said that the road through Valions,
St. Barre-en-ville and Plesse will bring thee to Harfleur, being more
direct than by the banks of the river. As it seemeth certain that ye'll
not go further than St. Barre this day, I commend ye to one Charles
Vidoe, who keeps the _Sign of the Lion_. Say that ye are known to Néron
de Boeuf and your comfort is assured."

With a final adieu the Norman bade the lads farewell, and began to
retrace his footsteps towards Taillemartel, while Geoffrey and Oswald,
still footsore, yet the better for a good meal, resumed their long
journey towards Harfleur and England.

"This is great news, if it be true," said Oswald. "Perchance ere we
reach the coast an English army will have set foot on French soil."

"But if so, how are we to find a ship that will bear us across the
channel?" asked Geoffrey.

"In that case we stop with the forces of our King," replied Oswald.

"Nay, 'tis not that I mean. If war hath broken out, and the English army
hath not yet left our shores, it will be well-nigh impossible to get
clear of French soil."

"Then we must bide our time. Meanwhile thou and I are poor peasants
bound for Harfleur, whither our relatives have already gone. This will
be the surest way of evading awkward questions."

Ere the lads reached Valions their plan of action was already decided.
Without incident, and practically unnoticed, they passed through the
little village and began the last stage of their day's journey.

For the most part of the three leagues into St. Barre the road ran in a
straight line, flanked on either side by gaunt willows.

In the ill-tilled fields a few peasants were at their labours, but the
sight of two strangers had the effect of making them run for their
lives. The frequent attention of freebooters had crushed the spirit of
the miserable countrymen, and a craven fear of their fellow-men had
become the chief characteristic of the French sons of the soil.

"This must be St. Barre," said Oswald, pointing to a small hamlet at the
foot of a hill. "Think of the pleasure of being able to sleep on fresh
straw."

"Tis not to be lightly esteemed," replied Geoffrey. "But let us proceed
with caution, for, unless I be mistaken, there are more people in St.
Barre than the village can hold."

It was well that the lads exercised care, for on nearing the hamlet they
found that it was in possession of a strong body of cross-bowmen and
spearmen, wearing the arms of De Chargné upon their surcoats.

"Not only does he hold Taillemartel, but the countryside as well,"
remarked Oswald bitterly. "We must needs sleep in the open this night,
since 'tis madness to enter the village. Alas and alack for my bed of
fresh straw!"

"Nay, it might have been worse," replied Geoffrey encouragingly. "We
might have set our heads in a trap. But the sun sinks low; we must cast
about for a resting-place if we are not to lie upon the open ground."

A short distance from where the lads stood a ruined outbuilding reared
itself by the roadside. Its thatched roof had almost totally
disappeared, the gaunt rafters standing out clearly against the red glow
in the sky.

"This must needs serve," exclaimed Geoffrey, as they arrived at the
barn. "I' faith, if we have no worse company than rats I am content."

The building consisted of only one storey, but on the horizontal beams
beneath the roof a few planks had been left. Geoffrey contrived with
little difficulty to gain the lofty perch, whence he assisted his
comrade, who still felt the effects of his wound, to reach the scanty
planking of the loft. Here they found that the remnant of the thatch
afforded tolerable shelter, and wrapping themselves in their cloaks they
were soon fast asleep.

When they awoke it was broad daylight. Although their slumber had been
sound, it was the babel of men's voices that aroused the youths.

"I tell thee 'tis the fault of old Néron le Boeuf," exclaimed a Norman
voice. "He hath deceived us."

"If so, he'll pay dearly for it," replied another. "Yet why should he
play us false? With promise of a liberal reward—which of a surety his
greed would forbid him from refusing—'tis unlikely that he would have
sent us on a false errand."

"He said that the English lads were to be at the _Sign of the Lion_ in
yonder village?"

"Ay, that he did. Yet those of our men who were in the village swear
that no stranger passed that way."

"Perchance the rascals themselves have cheated us."

"In any case Le Boeuf will pay for it. But we shall rue it too. No
prisoners, no reward, and three of the horses completely foundered. What
a greeting we shall have when we return to the castle!"

"Thou hast forgotten that we have one prisoner?"

"A man of mean condition. By St. Denis, were it not for the information
we may get from him, I'd as lief pass my knife across his throat. And,
look ye, comrades, since some of our horses are done up, 'twill be best
that two of ye stay here with the prisoner. The rest of us will push on
back to Taillemartel, whence we will send more horses for those that
tarry here."

The lads heard this conversation with bated breath. Evidently Néron le
Boeuf, the trusted servant of Sir Oliver, was a traitor, and had not
scrupled to betray those whom he had appeared so anxious to befriend.

Cautiously the lads looked through a crevice in the planking of the
loft, fearful lest the slightest movement would cause the timbers to
creak, or would dislodge a portion of the mouldering thatch.

In the barn below were six bearded men-at-arms, clad in leather jerkins
studded with iron bosses. Each wore a long, straight-bladed sword with a
plain cross-hilt and a short knife or dagger. Why they had entered the
barn seemed a mystery, for they had not attempted to search the place,
and, fortunately, the lads had made no sound in their sleep that was
likely to betray their presence.

"Now, out with ye, and bring in the horses and the prisoner," quoth a
man who was evidently the leader of the party. "And mark ye well. While
we are gone take heed that ye be not seen by our master, for, as ye
know, he journeys to Amiens this day. Had we not been fooled by this
rascally Le Boeuf 'twould have mattered little, but, _ma foi!_ to be
discovered in this plight would mean a raw hide for us all."

With this admonition four of the men went out, and on returning brought
with them two horses and a man, his arms bound behind his back.

To the lads' astonishment the prisoner was none other than Arnold
Gripwell.

"Now, hasten, _mes camarades_," continued the leader. "Ye that remain
keep a sharp eye on this rogue. If he gives trouble pass a knife across
his throat."

"Give me a knife and a free hand, and I'll serve any twain of ye in a
manner that ye'll have good cause to remember," growled Gripwell.

"Nay, thou rascal. Joseph and Gros Vibart yonder have already good cause
to remember thee. Anon we'll give thee a knife, Master Englishman,
though not in the way thou wouldst."

So saying, the Norman leader passed a thong round Arnold's ankles—a
difficult task, for the old man-at-arms lashed out with his feet like an
untamed stallion—and at length the prisoner was secured. Then with a
parting caution the _sous-officier_ and three of the men rode off.

Left to themselves, the remaining two stood by their captive till the
sound of the horses' hoofs had died away in the distance. Then they went
out, whereupon Gripwell began struggling to free himself of his bonds.

"Arnold! Arnold Gripwell," said Geoffrey in a hoarse whisper, "'tis I,
Geoffrey Lysle, and Oswald too! Keep silent, and we'll be at thy side in
an instant."

"Save ye!" ejaculated the man-at-arms. "By all the saints of
Christendom, how came ye here?"

"Hush! Here they come," cautioned the lad. Not a moment too soon; one of
the quick-eared Normans had detected the sound of a voice.

"What wert thou babbling about, rogue?" he asked, throwing down a bundle
of firewood that he had collected, and administering a vindictive kick
at the helpless prisoner.

"Can only a Frenchman call upon his patron saint?" demanded Arnold
fiercely.

Apparently the explanation sufficed, for the man said no more, but
arranged the firewood and set light to it. The thick smoke ascended to
the shattered roof, well-nigh causing the lads to choke and gasp for
breath.

Meanwhile the second Frenchman had taken a small iron pot from his
saddle bow, and had filled it with water from a leather bottle that hung
from the saddle of his companion's horse, but on rising and stepping
back from the fire the first man upset the utensil and spilled every
drop of the liquid.

"A curse on thy clumsiness, Gros Vibart! Not a drain remains."

"There is water to be had from the brook——"

"Two bow-shots away. Since thou hast caused the mischief thou canst best
make amends. Off with thee, I say."

Gros Vibart grumblingly departed, leaving his comrade alternately
reviling him and the luckless Gripwell. Presently the Frenchman, having
exhausted his vocabulary of abuse, came to a standstill in the centre of
the barn, almost underneath the planks on which the lads were lying.

Cautiously Geoffrey raised himself into a crouching posture, then
unhesitatingly sprang upon the Frenchman's shoulders. Down went the man
like a felled ox.

Without a moment's delay Geoffrey cut the thongs that bound Gripwell's
arms and legs, and, stiff and cramped, the man-at-arms slowly rose to
his feet.

"Certes! I little wot that 'twould be by thy aid, Master Geoffrey. But a
truce to gossiping, for the other rogue will be here soon. Not that I
had lost hope, for I meant to outwit them both. There! Now my limbs
begin to feel themselves once more. Hand me thy dagger, for there's more
work to be done ere we leave this place."

Meanwhile Oswald had contrived to descend from his perch, feeling stiff
and weary with the partially-healed wound.

"Welcome, Arnold. But how say ye? How are we to evade the swarm of men
in yonder village?"

"Time to discuss that, young sir, when we have settled with the other
rascal—him I owe much for his scurvy treatment. My word! He'll pay
dearly for kicking a trussed and helpless man."

Presently Gros Vibart returned, but on entering the open door his ruddy
face blanched as he realized that the tables were turned. Yet he was not
devoid of courage, for, hurling the water-pot full at the English
man-at-arms, he drew his sword and rushed straight at his antagonists.

With uplifted arm Gripwell parried the missile. The next instant steel
crossed—the heavy double-edged blade of the Norman and the slender
dagger of the Englishman.

With an agility that belied his corpulent frame Gros Vibart got in a
lightning thrust that required all Gripwell's skill to parry, but the
Norman's blade, slipping down the steel of his foeman, caught in a
deadly notch in the Englishman's guard. A powerful turn of Arnold's
wrist sent his antagonist's weapon hurtling across the barn; and, so
quickly that the lads could scarce follow its thrust, the dagger was
plunged to the hilt in the Frenchman's bull throat.

"Now to work," exclaimed Gripwell breathlessly. "Strip yon carrion while
I serve this one the like. Geoffrey, thou art tall for thine age. That
rogue's garments will suit thee most passably. I will make shift with
this one's clothes, e'en though they be over full for my lean frame."

"And what of Oswald?"

"He must needs go as he is. Thou and I are to be of De Chargné's
following. Master Oswald is to be our prisoner, and we are bound for
Amiens, where De Chargné is now resting. If that will not serve we are
undone."

It did not take long to complete their preparations. Geoffrey and Arnold
donned the clothes of the slain Normans, whose bodies were forthwith
hidden in the long grass. The horses were led for a considerable
distance; then, finding they were useless, the Englishmen turned them
adrift.

By making a wide détour the adventurers succeeded in giving the slip to
the troops in the village of St. Barre, and in high spirits the three
comrades in misfortune set off on the road to Amiens.



                               CHAPTER XV

               HOW THE THREE COMRADES SEIZED THE FISHING
                                  BOAT


"Nay, there is little cause to trouble concerning Sir Oliver," remarked
the man-at-arms in answer to Geoffrey's anxious question. "He is safe
and well cared for, though a prisoner in the hands of—whom thinkest
thou?"

"I cannot say."

"None other than Sir Raoul d'Aulx. 'Faith, the knight could do naught
else but hold Sir Oliver captive, since 'twas by the orders of the King
of France. Yet Sir Raoul was ever a courteous knight; and moreover,
bearing in mind that once he and Sir Oliver were comrades in arms, and
also that thou, his son, hast rendered good service to Sir Raoul's wife
and daughter, my master's condition is not to be deplored, save that he
is under a solemn vow to keep within the boundaries of the Castle
d'Aulx, until the termination of the war or release by our own forces."

"Aye, we heard that war was declared, Arnold. But why doth King Harry
tarry?"

"That is his concern, young sir. 'Tis certain that the French expect his
coming, since every available knight and common soldier is being
hastened into Normandy. What would I give to see a troop of English
lances and a few stout companies of English bowmen."

"Who knows but that thy wish will shortly be gratified?"

"Then it behoves us to hasten towards the sea-coast. From Amiens we
ought to be able to reach Abbeville and seize a craft of sorts that will
bear us to Old England."

Buoyed up with hope the three comrades pursued their way, but, as luck
would have it, a few leagues from the town of Amiens they encountered
none other than De Chargné himself. The baron was returning from a
hawking expedition, and was attended only by a page who carried a falcon
attached to his wrist by a silver chain.

In ignorance of the identity of the man whose livery they wore, Geoffrey
and Gripwell passed him with heads erect and fearless glances.

"Ho, there! Insolent varlets! Why have ye not louted to me, Bertrand de
Chargné? What manner of men have I in my service that pay not proper
respect to their lord and master? Your names, sirrahs? And I'll warrant
that my marshal will lay his rod soundly athwart your backs, so that
another time ye will have good cause to remember me."

Vehemently the French baron poured out this speech, his eyes rolling in
his anger.

"Have at him, Geoffrey," shouted Gripwell, drawing his sword. "If he
'scapes us, 'twill be our undoing."

But even in his hot anger De Chargné scented danger.

[Illustration: "THROW ME YON ROPE!" HE SHOUTED.]

"_Peste!_ Have we wolves in sheep's clothing?" he exclaimed. "Ride,
Michel, for thy life."

As the page set spur to his steed the baron did likewise, and both
riders were soon clattering down the dusty highway.

"We have seen something that few men can boast of," said Gripwell
gleefully. "We have seen the back of a De Chargné. But we must look to
ourselves, for, by St. George, we are like to be in a sorry plight."

Realizing that ere long the Frenchman would raise an alarm, and that the
countryside would be scoured, the adventurers divested themselves of
their surcoats with the De Chargné device. It was now out of the
question to proceed to Amiens, so taking a by-lane the Englishmen set
off at a rapid pace, keeping the while a sharp look-out for any signs of
pursuit.

Three days later the fugitives, footsore and hungry, came in sight of
the blue waters of the English Channel.

"What village is that I see yonder?" asked Gripwell, addressing a
peasant who was toiling along the road, bent double under the weight of
a huge basket filled with seaweed.

"'Tis St. Valery-en-Caux, monsieur."

"_Ma foi_, comrades, we are well out of our way," remarked the
man-at-arms in order to avoid suspicion. "'Tis to Abbeville that we
would go."

"Of a surety thou speakest truly," assented the peasant. "It lieth far
along the shore, though I have ne'er set foot in the town."

"This village will serve our purpose," quoth Gripwell, as the peasant
resumed his way. "We must needs lie hidden till dusk; then, unless I am
much at fault, we can with ease take possession of one of those
fishing-boats I see yonder."

"Canst manage one of these craft?" asked Oswald anxiously.

"The wind blows fair. E'en though I be not a seaman, I am a man of
parts. By the help of St. George I fear not that the task be beyond me."

Encouraged by their comrade's self-reliance the lads took heart. Even
though they were compelled to wait till night, the old soldier was not
idle.

Leaving the two youths snugly sheltered in a field of barley Gripwell
went off on a foraging expedition, returning presently with three large
rye loaves and a bottle of wine.

"How earnest thou by them?" asked Geoffrey in astonishment.

"Thou hadst best not to ask, Master Geoffrey," replied the man-at-arms
with a sly wink. "'Tis but an old trick, known to all hardened
campaigners. Food and drink we must have at all costs, and when the
goodwife hath finished gossiping with her neighbour she can discover her
loss with as much good grace as it pleaseth her. Certes! The miracle of
the vanishing loaves of St. Valery will be a subject of discourse for a
long time to come, I trow. But, come now, let us eat."

When darkness set in the three comrades waited till the last visible
light was extinguished and the village plunged into slumber. Then
cautiously they made their way to the little quay, against which half a
score of strongly-built fishing boats and traders were fastened.

It was now just after high water, and already a steady current was
setting out of the harbour.

"This one will suit our purpose," whispered Gripwell, pointing to a
stout craft of about thirty feet in length, that lay in the outermost
tier. "Tread softly, for the least sound will betray us."

Without mishap Geoffrey clambered over the deck of an intervening ship
and gained the planks of the craft Arnold had indicated. She was of good
beam, entirely open amidships, with a deck fore and aft, under which
were two small cuddies for the accommodation of her crew and for the
stowing of gear.

"Cast off yon rope," whispered Gripwell. "Yarely now, or we shall be
left by the tide; I can touch bottom with an oar."

Swiftly the two restraining hawsers were unbent, and the boat began to
glide stern foremost towards the open sea.

Seizing an oar Arnold worked with powerful yet silent strokes, till the
craft's bow was turned seaward. Twice or thrice her keel scraped against
the rocky bed of the stream, but, greatly to the new crew's relief, the
strong ebb swept her clear, and soon the water began to deepen.

"Hist!" exclaimed Oswald. "Another boat comes this way."

With beads of sweat standing out on his forehead the man-at-arms peered
through the darkness. The squire was right. A huge unwieldy craft,
propelled by oars, was slowly stemming the tide.

"Take the tiller and keep her so," exclaimed Arnold, placing Geoffrey's
hand upon the long, wooden pole. "Say not a word."

Resuming their oars Oswald and the old soldier urged the boat as swiftly
as they were able, exercising due caution to prevent the sound of their
blades from being heard.

"The _Jean Baptiste_ is abroad late this night," shouted a gruff voice
as the two craft swept past each other at less than twenty yards'
distance.

Gripwell could not trust himself to speak. Bending over his oar he
grunted something incoherently.

"Heed him not, Simon. He hath been drinking. Old Jacques is ever surly
in his cups. May the blessed Peter see to it that he tears his nets on
the Roches d'Ailly."

"I' faith," exclaimed Gripwell as the boats drew beyond earshot. "'Twas
a narrow escape. Bear witness, young sirs, how the proverb 'One man's
meat is another man's poison' can be reversed. But now we are clear of
the land, and the breeze is beginning to make itself felt. Stay where
thou art at the helm, Master Geoffrey—nay, 'twill be best for thy
companion to take the tiller, seeing that he is hurt. Thereupon, I pray
thee, bear a hand with this sail."

Not without infinite trouble Geoffrey and the man-at-arms succeeded in
hoisting the heavy yard and its huge brown sail. Then, heeling to the
steady breeze, the little craft began to slip quickly through the water.

"That is well," ejaculated Arnold as he relieved Oswald at the helm.
"Another twelve hours at this speed and we ought to sight the white
cliffs of England."

"How canst thou make sure of the way?" asked Oswald, doubtful of the old
soldier's skill in seamanship.

"Mark yon pennon," replied Gripwell, pointing to a fluttering streamer
at the masthead. "So long as that keeps ahead and the wind holds true,
all will be well. 'Tis a wide mark from Dover to the Wight, and it
matters little at what part we touch."

Throughout the short June night the lads remained on deck, dozing at
intervals in spite of their lengthy rest in the rye-field hard by the
village of St. Valery, yet filled with joy at the thought that they were
being borne rapidly homewards.

At length the day dawned. Eagerly Gripwell scanned the horizon, but to
his great satisfaction not a sail broke the sky-line. The low white
cliffs of France, too, had vanished beneath the encircling rim of
trackless sea.

In the growing light the adventurers were able to make a thorough
inspection of the stolen craft. Anxious to husband their scanty stores,
Gripwell hoped to find some kind of provisions on board. Accordingly he
handed the helm to Oswald, and telling Geoffrey to explore the after
cuddy, he clambered forward to investigate the contents of the place
that did duty for the forepeak.

Placing his hands upon the coamings of the little hatch Geoffrey lowered
himself into the dark recesses of the cuddy. Bewildered by the sudden
transition from daylight to almost pitch darkness, he stood upon the
floor, his shoulders bent to save his head from contact with the low
deck-beams, waiting till his eyes became accustomed to the gloom.

An unexpected lurch of the little craft caused him to lose his balance,
and the next instant he was thrown violently against the side of the
cuddy. Struggling to regain his balance Geoffrey thrust out his hands,
and to his utter astonishment his fingers closed upon the throat of a
human being.

Ere the lad could realize his position he was seized in a powerful grip,
and, beyond a strangled shout from his unseen antagonist, the two
silently engaged in a desperate struggle. Interlocked in an unyielding
grip they swayed to and fro, each adversary trying to bend the back of
his antagonist.

Attracted by the scuffling Arnold came running aft. In his haste he had
forgotten to bring his arms, and well it was that this was the case, for
on gaining the hatchway he could only perceive two unrecognizable
struggling forms.

Cold steel would have been equally dangerous to friend or foe. All that
Gripwell could do was to lie full length on the deck, ready with
outstretched arm to aid the English lad the moment he could be sure of
him.

In spite of the obvious disadvantage of being attacked in unfamiliar
surroundings Geoffrey stoutly maintained his own, but the strength and
endurance of his unseen foe seemed inexhaustible. At length the lad
bethought him of a trick taught him by one of the archers of the
garrison of the Castle of Warblington many months agone.

Hitherto he had been striving to force his enemy backwards, but suddenly
he changed his thrusting motion into a lift. In this he was aided by his
antagonist's own efforts to resist the previous mode of attack, and with
a mighty heave Geoffrey raised his foe from the floor.

With a dull crash the fellow's skull struck the deck-beams overhead, and
a convulsive twitching of his limbs followed by an unmistakable limpness
showed Geoffrey that he had stunned his adversary.

Breathless and well-nigh exhausted the English lad gained the deck,
where he lay filling his lungs with the pure, salt-laden air.

Meanwhile Arnold had descended the hatchway and unceremoniously dragged
the senseless body of the mysterious occupant of the cuddy into the
light of day.

A cry of surprise burst from Geoffrey's lips; his late antagonist was a
youth of about his own age.

"'Tis a Norman fisher-lad," exclaimed Gripwell. "He must have been
hiding ever since we laid hands on this craft. But, what is to be done
with him?"

"He is my prisoner by the right of conquest," replied Geoffrey. "'Tis
not in my mind to do him further scath, for, certes, he hath held his
own as manfully as any Englishman."

Ere long the young Norman recovered his senses, and finding that he was
being kindly treated and that he was not to be thrown overboard—a common
practice in mediæval days when vanquished shipmen were ruthlessly
jettisoned—he became quite communicative.

He had, it appeared, stolen on board the boat to escape the wrath of his
master, whose enmity he had roused. Overcome by sleep he had slumbered
soundly throughout the night, undisturbed, even by the noise of the
footsteps of Gripwell and his two youthful companions, till he felt
Geoffrey's fingers at his throat.

"Have no fear," exclaimed Geoffrey kindly. "We bear thee no ill-will.
But, willy-nilly, thou must come with us to England; then, on my honour,
I vow that thou shalt be given a passage back to France."

"Sir, I thank thee," replied the stranger in the patois of the Norman
shore. "But, if ye hope to reach dry land in safety, I pray ye look to
the sail. Already the wind increases, and ere long there will be a
gale."



                              CHAPTER XVI

                        THE WRECK OF _L'ETOILE_


"A gale coming—how dost thou know that?" demanded Gripwell anxiously.

"I have not been brought up to the sea these last six years for nothing,
monsieur," replied the fisher-lad. "In my mind I can feel the coming
storm. Moreover, did not Père Gobin tell old Sardeau, my patron, that
'twould be hazardous to put to sea yesternight? But, monsieur, since we
are likely to be caught out, we must needs meet danger with a stout
heart."

"Thou art a brave youth," observed Arnold approvingly. "What is thy
name?"

"Jean," replied the other simply.

"What would'st thou have us do with the craft?" continued the
man-at-arms. Bold and fearless as he was he recognized in the Norman lad
his superior in the shipman's art.

"We must hoist a smaller sail, monsieur. Even now the boat is pressed
over much."

As he spoke a vicious squall, the precursor of the storm, began to
thrash the water a bow-shot astern.

Without a moment's hesitation, Jean, whose thick skull had received a
blow that would have disabled many a man for days to come, ran forward
to the mast. Ere the hissing blast swept down upon the craft he had let
go the halyards, bringing the heavy yard, with its bellying sail, to
within a few feet of the deck.

Fortunately Gripwell had the sense to thrust his whole weight upon the
stout tiller to keep the vessel on her course dead before the wind. In a
few minutes the squall had passed.

Descending into the forehatch the Norman lad soon re-appeared, bearing a
small sail rolled up under his arm. This, with Geoffrey's aid, he bent
to the yard, in place of the larger canvas, and under easy sail the
_Etoile de St. Valery_—for such was the name of the stolen craft—tore
before the howling winds. Ugly, white-crested waves reared themselves on
either hand, but, thanks to her broad beam and comparative deep draught,
the threatening breakers swept harmlessly under her hull.

"Where are we?" asked Oswald dolefully, for he had succumbed to the
attacks of his old enemy, and was lying well-nigh helpless against the
low bulwarks.

"St. George be my aid: I know not," replied Gripwell. "But by yonder sun
that tells close on midday, I perceive we are holding a proper course,"
he added, pointing to a faint light in the fleeting clouds that marked
the position of the orb of day.

For the next hour or two the _Etoile de St. Valery_ flew before the
gale, heading blindly towards the as yet invisible shores of England.

Suddenly Geoffrey gave a warning cry, and pointed his finger towards the
boat's bow.

"I see land," he shouted, striving to make himself heard above the
roaring of the elements.

"Thou'rt right," agreed Gripwell, as an apparently unbroken wall of
glistening chalk cliffs loomed up through the mirk. "But 'twill be a
hard task to get into safety with this sea running. Certes, yesternight
I would have given a seven pound candle to the altar of the church of
St. Thomas à Becket at Warblington to be able to see yon cliffs, but now
I would willingly give one of a score pounds not to see them."

"How so?" asked Geoffrey.

"Since we know not on what part of the coast we have lighted, and not a
sheltering port is to be seen, methinks we shall have much ado to
prevent our corpses being washed ashore."

"Can we not cast anchor?"

"'Tis impossible, monsieur," replied the Norman lad, who had overheard
Geoffrey's question. "The stout rope that holds the anchor would be rent
asunder like a wisp of smouldering flax. Nay, monsieur, we must needs
push on, keep the boat's stem to the waves, and trust to be cast fairly
on shore. Alas for the _Etoile de St. Valery_!"

"Courage, comrades," shouted Gripwell. "I espy a place where the cliffs
dip somewhat. We will run the craft ashore at that point. Pull thyself
together, Master Oswald. E'en within an hour thou mayst set foot on dry
land."

As the _Etoile_ approached the shore the seas became shorter and steeper
owing to the shoaling bottom. No longer did the stout craft rise easily
to the rollers, but labouring heavily she took in water on all sides.

"There are men on the shore," said Geoffrey, as a number of people armed
with bows, swords and axes, ran down the steep gorge in the cliffs.

"And a warm welcome they will give us," replied Gripwell gloomily. "Not
a hand will they raise save to help themselves."

The old man-at-arms spoke truly. Every foreign ship—ay, and many a
luckless English craft as well—that had the misfortune to be cast on
shore was regarded by the lawless men of the coastwise hamlets as a
prize. In many cases not only were their crews left to their fate, but
any unfortunate man who reached the shore alive might be cruelly slain
for the sake of a few trifles on his person.

"Hold fast as she strikes!" shouted Gripwell. With feet placed wide
apart and body braced to meet the shock the man-at-arms gripped the
tiller.

Then with a crash that shook the craft from keel to masthead, the doomed
vessel grounded heavily on the shingle.

Thrice she pounded heavily, each time being cast nearer in shore, till
with her hold filled with water, the _Etoile_ settled firmly on a bed of
sand.

Desperately her crew held on, watching the callous spectators on shore,
who, in turn, were waiting for the wreckage to be cast at their feet.
Not a word was spoken by the shipwrecked men; all they could do was to
await the end in whatever form it might come.

After a considerable time had passed in this hazardous position Geoffrey
fancied that the shocks were becoming less violent. Cascades of foam
still swept over the craft, and already portions of the hull were
beginning to show signs of breaking-up. All but the stump of the mast
and the small spread of sail had vanished, having gone by the board soon
after the first shock.

Yes, now he was certain; the tide was falling.

Making his way along the steeply sloping deck to where Arnold was
standing Geoffrey communicated the discovery.

"Ay, it gives us hope," shouted Gripwell in reply. "The boat holds
together. In another half-an-hour we may essay the task."

So saying he whipped out his knife and began to sever one of the ropes
that trailed across the deck. It was a hazardous business, since he had
to release his grasp upon the coaming of the hatchway; but by dint of
working hard between the sweep of each succeeding breaker he contrived
to secure a goodly coil of cordage.

With this the four members of the crew were lashed together with a
distance of about twelve feet between them.

These preparations were observed by those on shore, for there was a
decidedly hostile movement on their part, some going so far as to string
their bows.

"Look at them," exclaimed Jean excitedly. "They are about to kill us."

"And these are Englishmen!" added Oswald.

Hoping to pacify the clamorous throng ashore, the man-at-arms shouted
that he and his comrades were Englishmen, but either the words were lost
in the howling of the wind and the roar of the breakers, or the shoremen
were convinced that since the wrecked craft was of foreign build the
crew must likewise be foreigners. But, whatever view they took of the
situation, the mob showed no signs of abating their hostility.

At this juncture a horseman appeared on the edge of the cliffs to the
right of the gorge. For a brief space he took in the strange scene
beneath him, then, unhesitatingly, he urged his steed down the steep
declivity. Often the intrepid rider was standing in his stirrups as the
horse slid on its haunches; more than once a mass of chalk slipped away
from under the beast's forefeet and came crashing on to the beach below;
but the daring horseman never ceased his downward way till he gained the
shore and tore up to the crowd of expectant wreckers.

Although the new-comer was evidently a man of some position he did not,
at first, have things his own way. Voices were raised in angry protest,
twice or thrice knives gleamed in the air, but by sheer force of will
the horseman succeeded in calming the more turbulent members of the
assembly.

This done he forced his horse through the waves, till up to the girths
in water, he came within a spear's length of the stranded craft.

"Throw me yon rope; follow me, your lives are safe!" he shouted.

With that Gripwell heaved the line, and struggling through the strong
under-tow the four members of the crew gained the land.

"Who are ye, and whence came ye?" demanded their rescuer.

"We are Englishmen escaped from France," replied Gripwell.

"There, did I not say so?" asked the horseman turning towards the still
surging crowd. "Fie on ye."

"But the boat is ourn by ancient rights," objected a bearded fisherman,
whose ears were pierced by a pair of gold earrings, probably part of the
spoil from some castaway.

"Let them have the craft by all means," quoth Gripwell. "I' faith, we
are right glad to see the last of her."

"Where were ye making for?" asked the horseman.

"Firstly to the shores of England, which, by St. George, we have made
far too forcibly to my mind. Secondly we belong to the Castle of
Warblington. Yonder stands Geoffrey Lysle, son of the Lord of
Warblington."

"Thou hast gone wide of the mark, good shipmaster," replied the horseman
with a merry laugh. "Now ye must needs foot it for nearly a score of
leagues ere ye reach Warblington. Ye are now at Birling Gap, midway on
the shore of Sussex. Hast money? Nay? Then here is a groat apiece.
Follow yon track and ye'll soon strike the great highway betwixt Dover
and Southampton. The rest of the way, though it be long, is not
difficult to find."

"One moment, fair sir," quoth Geoffrey. "To whom do we owe this right
courteous treatment?"

"It matters not," was the reply, as the horseman prepared to take his
departure. "But stay; if so be that ye have time to remember me in your
prayers, men call me Wild Dick o' Birling."



                              CHAPTER XVII

                OF THE COMPANY AT THE SIGN OF THE BUCKLE


Glad to have come out of their difficulties so lightly, Arnold Gripwell
and the three lads set out along the path indicated by the kindly Dick
o' Birling.

Reaching the summit of the cliff they turned to gaze upon the scene of
their shipwreck. Far below them the crowd of wreckers and fishermen
seemed like a swarm of ants as they flocked around the stranded hull of
the _Etoile_, now left high and dry, slashing with their axes at the
planks and tearing away everything they could lay their hands on.

The sun was low in the western sky ere the wayfarers crossed the Ouse at
Seaford and reached the little village of Bishopstone.

"Here is an inn," said Gripwell, pointing to a long straggling building,
from the upper storey of which a broom was displayed denoting the fact
that wayfarers could find rest and refreshment.

"Welcome to the _Buckle Inn_, gentles," shouted the host. "What might be
your commands?"

"A joint of English roast beef will not be amiss," replied Gripwell.
"After that beds with fresh straw, an it please thee."

"The _Buckle_ is ever known for the quality of its beds, fair sirs,"
replied the host with well-assumed dignity. "I pray ye enter."

The four wayfarers promptly accepted the invitation, and found
themselves in a long narrow room, with low, oaken rafters black with
smoke. Gathered around a fire blazing on an open hearth were nearly a
score of men, clad in white surcoats blazoned with the cross of St.
George. Many of them had removed their armour, and were stretching their
limbs before the comforting fire.

"Welcome, comrades," shouted a burly giant with a thick crop of reddish
hair. "Sit at your ease and drain a tankard with honest archers. Whence
come ye?"

"From France," replied Gripwell, overjoyed at the sight of a friendly
surcoat.

A roar of laughter greeted his reply.

"From France, quotha? Nay, by my hilt, ye are going the wrong way. 'Tis
to France that all stout-hearted men are wending their way."

"Nor will ye find me backward in that matter," replied Arnold stoutly.
"We have but lately set foot in England and are sore in want of news.
Discuss with us, I pray thee."

"Hast not heard that King Harry hath summoned all true Englishmen,
knights, squires, men-at-arms and bowmen to assemble at Southampton for
the taking of France? Such an army hath never before been equalled. They
say that a chirurgeon and twelve others of his class are to go with us
for the comfort of the sick and wounded."

"The first part of thy speech delights my heart, comrades, but
concerning the latter, one leech in the field will, I trow, do more harm
than a score of French lances."

"Thou speakest pertly, sir stranger. Methinks if thy comb were cut thy
crowing would be somewhat less."

"Give me a stout broadsword, archer, and I'll warrant, old as I am, that
thou wilt not clip it."

This was a direct challenge. In a moment all was confusion, some of the
company shouting encouragement to the man-at-arms, others urging their
comrade to carry out his threat, while the host of the _Buckle_ besought
his patrons to have regard for the good ordering of the inn.

"The loan of thy sword, friend," said Gripwell calmly, addressing
himself to an archer who was shouting himself hoarse on his behalf.

"Take it comrade—but stay, where have I seen thy face before? Why, 'tis
none other than Arnold Gripwell, who clove a Scot to the chin with his
own claymore at Homildon Field."

"Then thou art Thomas Voysey, the archer who threw the ox over his
shoulder in the market-place at York. By St. Thomas à Becket, to think
that I did not recognize an old comrade ere this. Thy hand, Thomas; when
this slight bickering is over I'll quaff a tankard with thee."

"Nay, I meant no offence," protested the man who had expressed his
intention of cutting Gripwell's comb. "I have ever a regard for a
staunch veteran."

"'Tis too late to climb down, friend," replied Gripwell resolutely. "If
so be that thou art unwilling to cross steel, let us discuss the matter
in another way. I do perceive a bundle of stout staves in yonder corner.
What sayest thou—art willing to try a bout with cudgels?"

Clearly the aggressor was anxious to avoid an encounter, but yielding to
the clamour and ironical jeers of his comrades, he selected a weapon and
stood on his guard.

"Have at thee," shouted the man-at-arms, and the next instant the bout
began.

With a quick succession of dull taps as the cudgels met, both combatants
warmed to their work. Blows were smartly parried and counter-strokes
rapidly delivered. Arnold's antagonist was younger and more heavily
built, but he lacked the endurance and coolness of the veteran. Slowly,
but surely, amid the subdued enthusiasm of the spectators, the elder man
forced his opponent backwards, till, with the sweat running down his
face and his breath coming in quick gasps, the archer lost all control
of himself. Whirling his heavy cudgel he strove by a succession of
powerful strokes to break down the veteran's guard; till, seizing a
favourable opportunity, Gripwell got home a shrewd blow on his
antagonist's forehead, following it up by a sharp cut that sent the
archer's weapon flying to the far end of the room.

"Thou art the better man," gasped the archer, clapping his hands to his
bruised pate.

"Spoken like a sensible rogue," replied Arnold, throwing down his
cudgel. "My hand, comrade! Thou, too, shalt share a cup with me, though
I have but a groat in my pouch, of which one penny is for my bed. Host,
a tankard of thy best ale."

Good humour having been restored, the rest of the evening passed in
story and song, till tired out with the crowded events of the last few
days, Geoffrey and his companions were glad to seek repose.

On the morrow it was decided that the man-at-arms and his comrades
should travel in company with the archers, not only for the sake of
protection on the road, but because the sturdy and honest soldiery,
hearing the condition of Geoffrey and Oswald, insisted on sharing their
meals with the lads who had undergone such adventurous ordeals in the
land of the Fleur de Lys.

"I cannot see why King Harry—God bless him!—should call his army
together at Southampton," remarked Voysey, the master-bowman, as the
company took to the road once more. "I am a man of Rye, my comrades all
hail from ancient and loyal Cinque Ports, and seeing the distance across
the Channel is lesser than from Southampton, it is passing strange that
we should have this long march thither, not that I complain—'tis a
soldier's duty to obey orders."

"Nevertheless, to me the plan is simple enough," replied Gripwell. "By
landing at Harfleur—a strong place, for I know it well—and advancing up
the valley of the Seine the King can use his army as a wedge, to split
the French kingdom asunder. Rouen and Paris, rich cities, are likely to
fall into his hands, and, mark you, the booty that is to be had!"

"Ay," replied the bowman, reflectively. "A man can cross to France with
naught but his clothes and his arms, and return home laden with gold.
'Twas thus in my grandsire's time. So now for a prosperous campaign,
comrades!"

Talking thus, the long miles seemed to slip by, and late afternoon found
Geoffrey and his comrades in the city of Chichester.

"'Tis enough for one day," observed the leader of the detachment of the
Cinque Ports archers. "Here we will rest till the morrow."

"As thou wilt," replied Gripwell. "But since we are within half a score
miles of Warblington, my young masters will be wanting to push on. How
sayest thou, Master Geoffrey?"

"Right gladly, Arnold."

"Then so be it. Comrades, adieu, and may we meet ere long on French
soil."

Amidst the boisterous and hearty farewells of the archers Geoffrey and
his three companions set out on the last stage of their homeward
journey. Along the well-known highway they sped, recognizing in every
landmark an old friend. Quickly the great West Gate of Chichester was
left behind; then the Saxon tower of Bosham Church loomed up on their
left hand, to bear them company till the fishing hamlet of Emsworth hove
in sight. Then, joy of joys, the grey tower of Warblington Castle,
standing out clearly against the setting sun, bade them welcome home.

As for Geoffrey, the discomforts and perils of his journeyings were
forgotten; he regarded them as a closed page of his life-story. He
realized that a new phase of his existence was about to commence, and
that on French soil he would have a chance to win his spurs. But even in
the midst of his day-dreams came the disquieting thought that, however
creditably he had borne himself in his mission, he had left Sir Oliver
still a prisoner in a foreign land.



                             CHAPTER XVIII

                            SQUIRE GEOFFREY


"Welcome, Geoffrey. I bring thee good tidings," exclaimed Oswald,
slipping from his saddle and embracing his friend and tried comrade.

It was a month after Geoffrey's home-coming, but during that period much
had taken place.

The Lady Bertha had warmly welcomed her son, whom she had almost given
up as lost. Concerning Sir Oliver her anxieties were greatly relieved,
since she now knew that he had effected his escape from the clutches of
the Lord of Malevereux. Sir Raoul d'Aulx, her husband's captor, she also
realized to be an upright and gentle knight, in whose hands Sir Oliver
would be sure of honourable treatment. The loss of Taillemartel she
regarded with equanimity, since the fief was ever a source of anxiety
and trouble.

"Taking all things into account, Geoffrey," said the châtelaine, "I have
much to be thankful for. Next to thy father's life his liberty is most
to be desired, but for the nonce I must rest content. But, another
matter: since it is our noble King's pleasure to lead an army into
France, it is the duty of his loyal subjects to make sacrifices to that
end. Had thy father been here he would gladly have placed himself at the
head of his retainers and led them to the rendezvous at Southampton.
Since that is impossible, and that our men and archers must go
nevertheless, 'tis fitting that, as thy father's heir, thou should'st
lead them. Now, art willing to do so? Remember, unless thy heart be in
thy work 'tis labour in vain."

"Madame, such is my ardent desire," replied Geoffrey, his eyes sparkling
with enthusiasm.

"I expected no other answer, my son. Go, and may the saints protect
thee. Of the nineteen men-at-arms, fifteen are to join the King's army;
of the thirty and seven archers I purpose keeping but five. Thus the
quota provided by the Manor of Warblington will number forty-seven men
under Oswald and thyself, too few to form an independent company.
Therefore I have asked Sir Thomas Carberry to allow our men to muster
under his banner. If he be willing—and I have no doubt to the
contrary—his reply will be forthcoming ere night, for Oswald hath ridden
over to Portchester this morn."

"I crave thy patience on a small yet weighty matter, mother," exclaimed
Geoffrey. "What is thy wish concerning Jean?"

"The Norman fisher-lad whom thou hast brought overseas? 'Twould be
unseemly to send him back to France with thee. I have already spoken to
the lad, and, by St. George, he is no patriot. Doubtless he finds
himself well treated here, for with tears in his eyes he besought me to
keep him here at Warblington. Therefore 'tis my purpose to place him
under the charge of Herbert the falconer, since for a Norman peasant lad
he showeth great promise."

"On that score, then, my mind is easy," replied Geoffrey. "And now tell
me, when do we set out for Southampton?"

"The King's orders are that the troops assemble on the Feast of St.
Christopher, the twenty-sixth day of the present month. That is but four
days off, and it would ill-become the retainers of Sir Oliver were they
not the foremost of the fore, since the men of Hampshire are ever
amongst the first to obey the call to arms. Therefore, by the day after
to-morrow thou must bid me farewell."

It was at this juncture that Oswald Steyning came to Warblington with
the words, "Welcome, Geoffrey. I bring thee good tidings."

"Ay, Oswald, I have already heard the news. I am to serve my lord the
King in the field."

"Then thou hast but heard a moiety. Sir Thomas Carberry sends greeting
to the Lady Bertha, and expresses his regard for the courtesy of the
Châtelaine of Warblington in entrusting her contingent to his care.
Moreover, he offers thee, Geoffrey, the post of second squire to attend
upon his person."

"Good news! Good news indeed!" exclaimed Geoffrey. "Thou and I, then,
are to be fellow squires as well as companions in arms."

"Save that I am a masterless squire," added Oswald. "I would that Sir
Oliver displayed his banner side by side with the crescent and star of
Sir Thomas Carberry."

"And Richard Ratclyffe—what of him?"

"He is first squire to Sir Thomas, and will, of a surety, attend on him.
But I saw him not, since he hath already journeyed to Southampton to see
to the ordering of the Portchester company's camp."

During the remainder of the day, and the day following as well, activity
reigned within the walls of Warblington. Though every man had been well
equipped, much had to be done ere the little band set out to throw in
its lot with the men of Portchester. Horses had to be re-shod, swords,
bills, and spearheads required grinding and sharpening, bows had to be
overhauled, spare cords waxed, and barrels of arrows prepared. With the
men-at-arms and archers twelve sumpter horses with their attendants were
to bear the baggage as far as the camp of Southampton, while, by express
orders from the King, smiths were at work day and night preparing iron
tips for the stakes that were to play so important a part in the
forthcoming campaign.

At length the time of departure drew near. Having bade farewell to his
mother, the châtelaine, Geoffrey, now accoutred cap-à-pied in bascinet,
globular breastplate, steel gorget, greaves and sollerets, took his
place at the head of the column, with Oswald, similarly attired, at his
right hand.

A spear's length in the rear rode Arnold Gripwell with a grim look of
expectancy on his rugged features, as he bore the banner of the turbot
and the three stars of Warblington. A close observer would have noticed
a wavy black line running athwart the banner from corner to corner,
signifying that the knight whose device it was was absent or prevented
from taking personal command.

Behind Gripwell rode the fourteen men-at-arms, wearing steel caps and
quilted coats, additionally protected by iron plates, while at the side
of each hung a two-handled heavy-bladed sword.

The archers were on foot, each man clad in leather jacket, over which
was a white surcoat with the cross of St. George, loose hose, and caps
of either stiff leather or wicker-work stiffened with bars of iron. They
were armed with the world-renowned bows of English yew, a well-filled
quiver of arrows hanging from the right-hand side of their belts, while
as a supplementary weapon every man carried a short axe or a dagger.

In the rear were the sumpter horses and baggage, attended by a number of
the tenantry of Warblington, who were to accompany the troops only as
far as the port of embarkation.

The first day's march was an easy one. That night the men of Warblington
joined those of Portchester, and quickly the two companies fraternized,
since they had much in common and little cause for dissension.

As the combined forces were about to leave the Castle of Portchester,
Sir Thomas Carberry turned to his newly-appointed squire.

"It is in my mind," quoth he, "that I should bestow upon the Prior of
Southampton this purse of gold for the entertainment of the poor and
needy during our absence overseas. Therefore I pray thee take Oswald and
ride across the hill to Southwick. Thou knowest the Priory?"

"I have heard of it only, sir."

"'Tis easy to find, though the road thither be rough. Present my
compliments to the worthy Prior and give him this. Thence thou canst
make thy way through the villages of Wickham and Botley and rejoin us at
the camp at Bitterne, hard by the town of Southampton. Have I made mine
orders clear?"

"Yea, Sir Thomas."

"Then set forth directly the troops have heard mass. Perchance I shall
not see thee again until thou comest to Southampton, but these
instructions are complete. Pass the word for the men to fall into their
ranks."

A trumpet sounded loud and shrill, and ere its long-drawn note had died
away the eager soldiers were pouring from their quarters into the outer
bailey. Then, to the accompaniment of a series of hoarse orders shouted
by their under-officers, the men ranged themselves in close ranks.

"Passably done," commented Sir Thomas, as, accompanied by his squires,
he walked towards the centre of the column, where his standard was
proudly displayed. "There was slight confusion in the ordering of the
lines, but I'll warrant another fortnight will amend all."

It was indeed a force that any knight of Christendom might well be proud
of. Two hundred and forty men, the flower of the yeomen of South
Hamptonshire, were drawn up, armed and accoutred for active service.

Some of these were old veterans, skilled in the craft of war, gaunt,
sinewy, and stolidly alert; others were middle-aged men, trained by
constant practice at the butts in the use of the deadly long-bow; while
the majority were lads upon whose unwrinkled faces the down of manhood
was beginning to assert itself.

Beyond an occasional brawl, few of the latter had seen a blow struck in
deadly earnest, though they were eager for a chance of winning fame
against the hereditary enemy of England. Their lack of experience on the
field of battle was all but counterbalanced by their enthusiasm, while
the stiffening of veterans was calculated to have a good effect upon the
_morale_ of the comparatively undisciplined archers of the company.

Having walked between the lines and carefully inspected the men under
his command, the Constable of Portchester addressed them in a few
rousing words. Then, as the prolonged cheering died away, a tucket
sounded, and every man, laying his bow, axe, or sword upon the
greensward, marched slowly and soberly into the church of St. Mary, that
lies within the castle walls.

Half an hour later the rear of the long column had trailed beneath the
land-port tower on its way to the wars, while Geoffrey and Oswald were
breasting the steep ascent of Portsdown that lay betwixt the Castle of
Portchester and the Priory of Southampton.



                              CHAPTER XIX

                                TREASON


Having carried out the Constable's instructions relating to the Prior of
Southwick, Geoffrey and Oswald set out on their long ride to rejoin
their comrades at Southampton.

Both lads were lightly accoutred, their armour having been sent on with
the baggage train, and in high spirits they cantered their steeds along
the stretch of grass that bordered the narrow highway.

Presently the open country gave place to dense masses of trees, the
outlying confines of the Forest of Bere—the hunting-ground of kings, and
the haunt of robbers and other evil-doers to boot. Yet there was little
fear of wayfarers being molested in this part of the forest, the outlaws
devoting their attentions to the more remote districts, where the power
of the law, as exercised by the Constable of Portchester, lost somewhat
of its terrors. Nevertheless, the two squires rode warily, keeping a
bright look-out for a possible ambush.

"Methinks I hear men's voices," remarked Oswald, reining in his steed
and listening intently.

"And what of it?" replied Geoffrey with a laugh. "Is not the road free
to all, and may not a man talk if so he listeth?"

"Nay, but 'tis like the shout of a multitude."

"I can now hear it, though 'tis a long way off."

"We must needs ride yarely, for it seemeth as if the sound comes from
the highway in front of us. Let us therefore turn aside through this
thicket."

"Nay," replied Geoffrey stoutly. "That shall not turn us from the
highway. Should there be a band of robbers, 'twill be better to keep to
the road than be entangled in the thickets. Let us set spur, therefore,
and put a brave face on't, though truly I doubt that there be danger."

Thus encouraged, Oswald increased his pace, and, keeping side by side,
the two comrades drew near to the cause of the shouting.

It was a strange sight that met the gaze of the squires, as they turned
a slight bend in the road.

On the right of the highway lay a broad sunlit glade. Seated in a
semi-circle were about two score men, some of whom were yeomen and
farmers, though most were peasants and wood-cutters. Although many
furtive glances were cast in the direction of the highway, the main
attention of the assembly was centred on the form of a speaker, whom the
lads instantly recognized.

"Certes, 'tis my Lord Cobham!" exclaimed Geoffrey. "We have fallen upon
a nest of Lollards."

At that instant one of the assembly happened to catch sight of the two
horsemen, and, giving a warning shout, brought all the crowd to their
feet. Some made towards the undergrowth like startled hares, but for the
most part the Lollards rallied round their leader.

"They will do us no scath," observed Oswald. "Let us therefore ride past
them in peace. Yet 'tis passing strange that these, forming an unlawful
assembly, should fail to set outposts. Had we been a troop of lances
bent on their capture not a man would have escaped."

The squire's resolve to pass them by was doomed to failure, for, seeing
that they were but two wayfarers, several of the men intercepted them.

"Who are ye, and whence come ye?" demanded a burly miller, his garments
dusty with the traces of his calling.

"Peaceable subjects of King Harry," replied Geoffrey boldly. "Ye are, I
perceive, of the following known as Lollards."

"I trust that ye do not mean to betray us? Otherwise——"

"Nay, threaten us not. We would have speech with Sir John Oldcastle."

Blank astonishment was written on the faces of the men who had barred
the lads' way. Several of them muttered under their breath that they
were lost men.

"So be it," replied the spokesman briefly, and laying hold of the bridle
of Geoffrey's horse, led him to where Lord Cobham was still standing,
surrounded by the braver of his followers.

"Greetings, my Lord Cobham," exclaimed Geoffrey, raising his velvet cap,
to which salutation Sir John Oldcastle courteously replied. "I pray thee
that thy men give us free passage."

"Who art thou, fair sir?" asked the knight.

"Canst call to mind the time thou rebukedst the friar hard by the Castle
of Portchester, my lord?"

"Nay, is it possible that thou art the lad who stood by?" asked
Oldcastle. "Thou hast grown somewhat, I trow."

"Tis the same; and my companion here was also with me on that day. In
truth, sir knight, though I be a true member of the Church, thy action I
could not but admire."

"My work in that direction still remains unfinished," remarked Lord
Cobham. "Behold me, a fugitive, thanks to the persecution of my Lord
Archbishop. The meanest of these my followers might be the richer by the
sum of a thousand marks were they to betray me; but on that score I have
scant anxiety. My destiny is in the hands of One above, and should it
please Him to hand me over to mine enemies, His will be done."

"Ask them to swear secrecy concerning thee, fair lord," said one of the
Lollards.

"Nay, I ask no pledge; their way is clear."

"Friends," exclaimed Geoffrey, "I tell ye this: concerning this meeting
we two will keep our own counsel. Nevertheless, if the question is put
straightly to us in this matter we must reply truthfully."

"Bravely spoken, young sir," replied Oldcastle. "It will suffice me,
though I trust none will ask thee if thou hast seen aught of me and my
following. Now farewell, and the blessing of Heaven be with ye both."

Geoffrey was fated never to see the great Lollard leader again. It was
not, however, till two years later, in 1417, that Oldcastle was captured
in the fastnesses of Wales after a desperate resistance. Hailed to
London, he was brought to trial, and even his former friendship with the
King could not save him from the vindictiveness of the ecclesiastical
party, for, under circumstances of extreme barbarity, he suffered death
by fire.

For the next five or six miles the lads conversed on the incident they
had just witnessed. The road was practically deserted, and beyond the
sight of a peasant walking in the fields, or a chapman ambling along
with his wares, the two squires saw nothing to attract their attention.

Late in the afternoon they arrived at the village of Botley, where the
horses had to be fed and watered. While the beasts were being attended
to the clatter of horses' hoofs was heard, and swinging round a bend in
the road came about a score of mounted men-at-arms, all completely
equipped, while at their head rode a young man with a set, grave
expression on his thin yet clear-cut features.

"Greetings, fair sirs," exclaimed their leader courteously. "Canst tell
me whether accommodation is to be had for me and mine? We are bound for
Southampton to join the King's army, but having travelled far this day,
'tis impossible to reach the town this night."

"We also are strangers," replied Geoffrey. "And we, too, are for
Southampton on a like errand as thyself."

"My name is Olandyne, of Ripley, in the county of Surrey. Perchance,
young sirs, ye will bear us company on the morrow?"

"Nay," answered Geoffrey, after he had announced the names and qualities
of Oswald and himself. "We must needs meet my master, Sir Thomas
Carberry, this day. Yet I trust we may meet again on French soil, even
if not before at Southampton."

While the horses were being watered the two squires held conversation
with Olandyne, who had, at his own expense, raised a troop of a score of
men-at-arms for service with the King's forces. At length, the
men-at-arms having found quarters in the village, Geoffrey and Oswald
resumed their way.

Hardly had they gained the hamlet of Hedge End than the sky became
overcast, and a dark, leaden-coloured cloud began to drive rapidly
against the light westerly wind. Then, Nature's sure warning, the air
became sultry and motionless, while even the birds ceased singing in
anticipation of the coming storm.

"'Twill thunder ere long," said Oswald. "Ought we not to find shelter in
one of these cottages? Our velvet cloaks are but a bad protection from
the weather, and 'twould not do to appear before Sir Thomas like two
bedraggled varlets."

"It is my mind to push on," replied Geoffrey. "Perchance we may escape
the storm. See yon cloud bids fair to pass behind us."

"Then as thou wilt, but it behoves us not to spare spur," replied his
companion, urging his horse into a sharp trot.

On and on they rode, Oswald casting anxious glances at the approaching
cloud, while ever and anon the low rumbling of distant thunder was borne
to their ears. Then a few heavy drops began to fall.

"Thou art right; we are fairly caught," exclaimed Geoffrey. "Were we
campaigning in France 'twould matter but little, but since we may have
to attend the Constable when he is received in audience by the King, it
behoves us to take care of our apparel. I see a cottage yonder; can we
but gain it all will be well."

As he spoke Oswald's horse tripped on a mole-hill, and with a crash its
rider fell to the earth. Fortunately, the soil was soft, and with
nothing more than a shaking the young squire rose to his feet.

"Art hurt?" asked Geoffrey anxiously, as he leapt from his saddle.

"'Tis naught; but alas! my horse."

Oswald's exclamation called his companion's attention to the animal. The
fall had broken one of its fore-legs, but without as much as a whinny
the poor beast stood motionless. Instinct seemed to tell it that its
days of usefulness were numbered.

Having removed the saddle and muffled the horse's eyes, Oswald drew his
dagger, and with a swift blow put the animal out of its misery.

"Poor Firebrand!" he exclaimed. "'Tis a sorry ending. But let us hasten,
Geoffrey; the rain increaseth."

Together the lads made their way towards the distant cottage, Geoffrey
leading his horse, while Oswald bore the trappings and saddlery of his
dead steed.

Suddenly a vivid flash of lightning seemed to dart across their path,
temporarily blinding them with its intensity. Geoffrey's horse, already
rendered strangely unquiet by the tragedy which had overtaken its
companion, became mad with terror, and, rearing on its hind legs,
wrenched the bridle from its master's hand. Then, snorting wildly, the
powerful brute galloped madly away, leaving the two astonished squires
gazing after it in bitter dismay.

"By the Rood of Bosham, we are undone!" exclaimed Oswald when he had
recovered his speech.

"We shall be utterly so if we tarry here," replied Geoffrey, as another
vivid flash played upon the rain-sodden ground. "Let us run to yonder
hovel."

"And be soaked to the skin ere we gain it? Nay, let us rather take
shelter under that oak," said Oswald, pointing to a large tree that
stood in a slight depression in the ground, half a bow-shot away on
their left.

The squires, ignorant of the danger they were incurring, made their way
to the spot indicated. Here for a while they remained under the shelter
of the thick foliage while the torrential rain descended with terrible
force.

Ere long, though the tree afforded protection from the falling rain, the
surface water began to collect in the hollow surrounding the base of the
gnarled trunk.

"Unless we want to be ankle deep in water we must climb into the
branches," said Geoffrey. "So up with thee, and I'll throw up the
saddle."

With little difficulty Oswald obtained a secure perch on one of the
massive limbs of the oak, and having, after one or two ineffectual
attempts, succeeded in placing the saddle in his companion's hands,
Geoffrey made haste to follow. Here, fairly well sheltered from the wind
and rain, the two squires waited and watched the vivid flashes of
lightning, to the accompaniment of deafening peals of thunder.

For over half an hour the storm lasted, but just as its fury was
beginning to abate Oswald called Geoffrey's attention to a horseman
approaching their place of refuge. He was completely cloaked, while his
broad-brimmed hat was drawn well over his eyes; but since he rode
cautiously and without undue haste 'twas apparent that his object was
not to shelter from the storm.

"Say not a word to him," cautioned Geoffrey. "Methinks the tree is a
trysting-place."

As the stranger came within the protection of the wide-spreading
branches he halted at the edge of the newly-formed pool, secured his
steed, and looked long and steadily in the direction of the tree-clad
valley towards Winchester. As he did so the squires saw that the lower
part of his face was that of a young man and far from prepossessing. A
perpetual sneer seemed to linger round his slit-like mouth as he
impatiently gnawed his nether lip.

Thrice he made a wide circuit of the tree-trunk, then, stamping his foot
with ill-concealed impatience, resumed his vigil.

Presently he was joined by two other horsemen, one apparently a person
of quality, and the other a thick-limbed, low-browed retainer.

"Greeting, Sir Thomas Grey," exclaimed the former of the twain who had
just ridden up. "Didst think that I had played thee false?"

"Nay, but I must confess 'twas in my mind that if my Lord Scrope was
daunted by a thunderstorm, his words are more weighty than his actions."

"Let that pass," replied the knight addressed as Lord Scrope, with an
attempt at sternness. "'Tis no time for sorry jest. Hast seen aught of
Cambridge?"

"The Earl hath kept within doors at his lodging at Winton," replied
Grey. "Nor would he trust himself in writing. Yet according to his
promise made when last we met, 'tis certain he will abide by our
proposals."

"'Tis well. Now concerning Harry of Monmouth?"

"I know of a surety that he journeys to Waltham four days hence."

"Then he must pass——?"

"Through Stoneham and Durley."

"Of that thou art certain?"

"As certain as death."

"Nay, talk not of death," replied Lord Scrope with a superstitious
shudder. "Wilt thou bring thy five lances to the cross-roads at Horton
Heath—thou knowest the place where the lane opens out beyond the
pine-trees?—then with my fifteen and the Earl's score of mounted men we
can easily make an onfall upon this base usurper."

"'Tis not to be a spear-running to find favour in the eyes of our
ladies," observed Sir Thomas Grey. "If we can bring the wolf to earth
without scath to ourselves 'tis to be preferred. Therefore I propose to
line the hedge with cross-bowmen, shoot down the King and as many of his
retinue as possible, and put the rest to the sword."

"And then——?"

"The rest is easy. We must needs make our way north as quietly as we are
able. The Earl of Cambridge will, in the ordinary course of events,
proclaim the Earl of March, and with this puppet wearing the regal
purple our future—by the powers of darkness, what is that?"

"What hath startled thee, Grey?"

"Methought I heard something fall from above."

"A fine conspirator thou art, to jump at the creaking of a bough,"
remarked Lord Scrope. "Didst thou hear aught, sirrah?" he continued,
raising his voice and addressing his retainer, who stood barely within
earshot.

"Nay, my lord."

"'Tis as I thought. Now to continue our discourse."

Meanwhile the two squires, perched upon one of the overhanging boughs,
had heard almost every word of the diabolical plot, save when a clap of
thunder interrupted their hearing. In his eagerness to follow the
conversation Oswald had leant forward, and in so doing his dagger
slipped from its sheath. Fortunately, its point stuck into a branch
below, and though discovery was averted, the dull thud had reached the
ears of the younger of the two conspirators.

"We have heard enough," whispered Geoffrey, touching his comrade on the
shoulder. "Make thy way cautiously to the other side of the tree, creep
along its lowermost branch, and when the next peal of thunder comes drop
to earth and run for your life."

"And thou?"

"Art with thee, never fear."

Three hours later Sir Thomas Carberry, Constable of the Castle of
Portchester, was supping in his tent in the camp at Bitterne. The
non-arrival of his squire and his companion had caused him no little
anxiety, yet, reflecting that the storm had compelled them to take
shelter, he prepared to retire to rest.

Suddenly he heard the voice of one of the men-at-arms on guard raised in
a peremptory challenge. The flap of the tent was thrust aside, and two
breathless, footsore, and rain-soaked persons, whom the knight hardly
recognized, burst into his presence without so much as "By thy leave."

"Sir," gasped Geoffrey, "we have happened upon a plot——"

"To do me out of my night's rest?" interrupted Sir Thomas grimly.

"Nay, sir, 'tis no jest. 'Tis a plot against the life of the King!"



                               CHAPTER XX

                           THE TRAITORS' DOOM


Early on the morning of the first day of August Sir Thomas Carberry,
accompanied by his two squires and Oswald, waited upon the King at his
lodging in the High Street of Southampton.

Although King Henry had been in residence for nearly twenty days, his
indomitable energy had compelled him to take long daily journeys to all
parts of the county of Hampshire.

Thus one day he would be at Portsmouth, inspecting the scanty defences
of that as yet infant fortress. Then at Winchester, conferring with the
city council concerning the raising of a loan, or at Bishop's Waltham,
there to attend to some affairs that many would have regarded as too
trivial to occupy the Sovereign's precious moments. But it was in things
small as well as great that Henry was thorough. He had fully grasped the
importance of the fact that attention to details brought its own reward.

Early though it was, the King had already transacted a heavy share of
work ere Sir Thomas Carberry alighted before the door of the house that
sheltered his youthful Sovereign.

At the moment of his arrival a deputation of the Honourable Guild of
Merchants was leaving the royal presence—the senior alderman with his
gold chain of office, the seneschal, chaplain, four echevins, and the
usher, attended by the customary number of sergeants. Their faces bore
testimony to the performance of a serious yet successful business, for
the Guild had received the royal assent to an important charter in
consideration of the sum of twenty thousand marks—the loyal contribution
of a powerful and wealthy community.

It was King Henry's custom to receive deputations and persons of quality
in semi-public state. At the termination of each audience properly
accredited personages were permitted to enter the hall where the
Sovereign held his levée, and there to await their turn according to the
order of the _Ceremoniarius_.

Thus when Sir Thomas had announced his name and style to the herald he
and his attendants found themselves in the royal presence, a barrier of
cloth of gold separating the waiting audience from the daïs and a broad
intervening space, where the greatest of the nobility and clergy of the
realm stood about their Sovereign.

Henry V was now in his twenty-eighth year, and in the full vigour of his
life. He was slightly above middle stature, with strongly and handsomely
formed limbs. His features were oval in shape, clear-skinned, and
surmounted by a thick crop of smooth, dark brown hair. His lips were
characteristic of firmness, his indented chin denoted stubbornness,
while sagacity and prudence showed themselves in a straight nose and
clear, brilliant eyes, though a reddish tinge in the latter gave promise
of a stern, almost brutal, temper when provoked to anger.

This was the commanding presence that invited Geoffrey's attention. To
those surrounding the daïs he gave slight heed, albeit there were
Gloucester and Bedford, the King's brothers, Exeter, his uncle,
Salisbury and Warwick, His Grace of Canterbury, the Bishops of
Winchester, Exeter, Ely, and Norwich, and a host of the most famous
knightly warriors of the realm.

At the moment of the Constable of Portchester's entry a young gentleman
of quality was being presented to the King, and, to the great surprise
of Geoffrey and Oswald, they heard the name of their chance acquaintance
at Botley.

"Olandyne of Ripley, in the County of Surrey. Greeting, Master Olandyne,
what is thy pleasure?"

"A boon, sire," exclaimed the suppliant, falling on one knee and kissing
the extended hand of the monarch.

"Say on, young sir, though many are the boons that we are asked to
confer."

"Sire, I have raised at no small cost a troop of twenty men-at-arms.
These I respectfully offer for service in the field." Here Olandyne
paused, unable to utter another word.

"We see not what is the nature of thy request. To us it savours of a
service most loyally rendered," replied the King. "Say on—what boon dost
thou ask?"

"That I may be permitted to lead them in battle, sire."

"Thy request is most reasonable, young sir. Since——"

"I crave your Majesty's hearing for a few brief moments," exclaimed the
Bishop of Norwich in deep, measured tones. "It hath come to my knowledge
that this fellow was formerly a monk of the Charterhouse, and hath
broken his vows of charity, obedience, and constancy to the Order."

"What hast thou to say to this accusation, young sir?"

"'Tis indeed true, sire," replied Olandyne brokenly. "Yet the desire for
a soldier's life overcame the choice made for me of service within the
walls of an abbey. In sooth, sire, I could not keep the vows that were
forced upon me. I——"

"Enough, young sir," thundered Henry, his eyes blazing sternly at the
trembling form of the ex-monk, while the Duke of Exeter whispered
something in the ear of his royal nephew.

"Nay, Uncle Exeter, we are not ashamed to speak our mind, nor are we
willing to offend Holy Mother Church. Therefore, Master Olandyne, thy
services are not required. Thou canst withdraw from our presence,
disgraced, but free from any fear of apprehension and punishment."

Louting low to his Sovereign, Olandyne backed slowly from the daïs, his
face ashen with mortification, confusion, and anger. Nor were there few
of the assembled company who had compassion for the luckless man whose
proffered service had been so curtly declined and whose visions of
martial prowess were so rudely dispelled.

"Ah, our trusted and much beloved Sir John Carberry," exclaimed the King
heartily as the Constable of Portchester advanced to the daïs, followed
by the three squires. "Well, Sir John, how fares it with thee?"

"Sire, I am a soldier and slow of speech. Words come not readily to the
tip of my tongue. But, sire, on a matter of deepest importance I would
speak with thee."

"Is the matter so important that it cannot be declared in the presence
of our trusty and loyal subjects?"

"That is for thee to decide, sire. But if so be that thou wilt desire
the Earls of Gloucester and York, the Earl Marshal, and His Grace of
Canterbury to attend thee in private, I bid so bold as to say that my
communication is no ordinary one."

"Be it so, then," replied Henry, rising from his oaken chair. "Fair
sirs, we would your presence in private."

"Now, Sir John," continued the King as the doors of the ante-room were
closed, "'tis no personal matter of thine, on that I'll stake my crown."

"Sire, saving thy presence, my Sovereign's safety is mine honour, and
mine honour I deem a personal matter."

"Thou hast a shrewd argument, Sir John, in spite of thy slowness of
speech. Thou hast hinted at danger to our person. Say on."

Briefly, yet concisely, the Constable of Portchester related the
treasonable meeting of Lord Scrope of Masham and Sir Thomas Grey under
the oak tree, while Geoffrey and Oswald felt their hearts beat rapidly
and their cheeks flush as their part in the discovery of the fell plot
was unfolded to the royal ears.

"This is no light matter," remarked King Harry at the conclusion of the
knight's story. "Justice must be worked upon these traitors. Where are
Cambridge, Scrope, and Grey?"

"Lord Scrope is in audience, your Majesty," replied the marshal. "Sir
Thomas Grey was at his lodging hard by the Bar Gate but an hour agone.
As for His Grace of Cambridge, according to this list I find that he is
still at Winchester."

"Get thee hence, Sir Marshal," said the King. "Set a guard of archers to
watch my Lord Scrope, without giving him cause for alarm. Send also to
the caitiff Grey, and require his presence instantly. Should he refuse,
then arrest him, otherwise let him come unsuspectingly. As for the Earl,
send a party of mounted men-at-arms to Winchester and secure his
person."

When the marshal had departed on his errand the King turned to Sir John
Carberry.

"By my halidome, thy squire and the squire of our absent Sir Oliver
Lysle have borne themselves with credit. Harry of Monmouth is slow to
reward, yet none the less sure. Let them prove themselves by some deed
of arms in the field, and in due course the gilded spurs of knighthood
shall be theirs."

"Now, my lords," he continued, "let us return to the council chamber.
Not a word nor a look must be given to show that aught is amiss till
Grey is confronted with his partners in their most abhorrent guilt."

On returning to the larger hall the King resumed his reception, devoting
his attention to every suitor who sought a hearing, though at intervals
his glance was directed at the throng behind the barriers, where the
traitor Scrope was a conspicuous figure.

At length Sir Thomas Grey, who had evidently arrayed himself with haste,
entered the room in company with the marshal.

"Ah, we do perceive our right worthy Grey," exclaimed the King.
"Forward, fair sir, we have need of thy services on some small matter."

Unsuspectingly Sir Thomas Grey advanced to the daïs, where he stood
awaiting his Sovereign's pleasure.

"We believe, Sir Thomas, that thou wert sent as envoy to our cousin of
France?"

"Yea, sire."

"Let me think, who were thy fellow-envoys?"

"Sir George Pakenham and Lord Scrope of Masham, sire."

"Is Sir George present?"

The voice of the herald in waiting was heard calling for the absent
Pakenham, whom the King knew to be on duty at the Tower of London.

"Then, my Lord Scrope—is he, too, absent on affairs of State?"

"I am here, sire," exclaimed the recreant earl edging his way towards
the King's presence.

If either of the two conspirators had had an inkling of what was in the
mind of their Sovereign, neither showed it. Grave and imperturbably
dignified they stood side by side before the daïs.

King Harry kept silence for a few moments, then with a dangerous flash
in his eyes he exclaimed:

"Uncle Exeter, thou knowest thy duty."

"Henry, Lord Scrope of Masham, I arrest thee for high treason. Thomas
Grey, knight of Northumberland, I arrest thee also for high treason."

A tense silence fell upon the assembly, broken at length by movement of
the King's body-guard of archers as they advanced to seize the two
traitors. As for Lord Scrope, he sullenly submitted to be bound, but
Grey's hand flew to his sword-hilt. The weapon flashed dully in the
subdued light, but a soldier's hand grasped the knight's wrist in a
vice-like grip; the steel clanked upon the oaken floor, and in a
twinkling the second traitor was secured.

The fate that befel the three conspirators is a matter of history.
Cambridge, Scrope, and Grey were brought to a hasty trial, and condemned
on the 2nd day of August, 1415. The same day Grey was led on foot from
the Watergate to the North Gate, and there beheaded. On the 5th of the
same month the Earl of Cambridge walked the same route, while his meaner
partner in crime, Lord Scrope, was drawn to the North Gate on a hurdle,
where both paid the death penalty.

The earl's body was buried in God's House, in the town of Southampton,
while the heads of Scrope and Grey were sent to York and Newcastle
respectively, where they were exhibited as a stern warning to those who
sought to plot against their lawful Sovereign.

On the same evening of the earl's trial Geoffrey and Oswald were walking
by the shore near the Watergate, when their attention was drawn to a
young man vehemently bargaining with the master of a fishing-boat.

"For forty marks I'll set thee ashore on French soil, young sir,"
exclaimed the seaman decisively. "Not a groat less."

"Then do so, for before heaven I have forsworn the land of my birth."

Instinctively Geoffrey gripped his comrade's arm. The voice was that of
the ex-monk Olandyne.



                              CHAPTER XXI

                   HOW GEOFFREY FARED AT THE SIEGE OF
                                HARFLEUR


It was an unwonted sight that met the eyes of the burghers of Harfleur
on the morning of the 14th day of August, 1415. From the Rade de Caen to
the Rade de Havre the estuary of the Seine was dotted with sails—not
those of peaceful merchantmen, but of the ships of the English invaders.

King Harry led the van in a carrack with purple sails, on which were
embroidered the arms of England and France. The sun glinted on the
armour and shields of the knights of his household, while to add to the
almost barbaric splendour of the royal ship musicians blew trumpets and
clarions, with all the energy left at their command after a stormy
passage across the Channel.

In the wake of the King's carrack, and stretching in irregular lines far
to the east and west, lumbered the rest of the fleet of fifteen hundred
vessels, till the wide estuary seemed choked with floating fortresses.

On the towering forecastle of the _Rose of Hampshire_, Sir Thomas
Carberry's own cog, a knot of squires and men-at-arms were eagerly
scanning the walls and towers of the still distant town of Harfleur.

"I' faith, 'tis a vast difference since the time when we crawled in
thither in the old _Grâce à Dieu_," observed Gripwell.

"Ay," assented Geoffrey. "But what thinkest thou—will the citizens of
Harfleur offer resistance?"

"Not to our landing, young sir. Were they ten times as strong they could
not hold the vast stretch of shore. But methinks all this host will not
frighten them into letting go of their riches without a tough struggle.
Mark ye the Jumelles—those twin towers guarding the harbour? Unless mine
eyes deceive me, I perceive the glint of steel behind the battlements."

"I heard it mentioned that five of our largest galleys were to make a
dash into the harbour," remarked Oswald.

"Foolish talk," ejaculated the old man-at-arms contemptuously. "When we
were last within this part didst thou not mark two great chains trailing
from embrasures in either tower? Ere now, I'll warrant, those chains
have been drawn up, so that no vessel can pass in or out. Certes! Swept
by stones, bolts, and arrows, to say nought of those new-fashioned
bombards, no craft will remain afloat for five minutes. Nay, Master
Oswald, therein thou hast been misinformed, for a leader like King
Harry, for all that he be young and daring, would not hazard a main on
such a vain enterprise."

As Gripwell had foretold, the English host landed without opposition, at
a spot barely a league from the town of Harfleur. Altogether the arduous
task of disembarking the stores and munitions of war occupied another
three days, at the end of which time Henry commenced a strict blockade
of the doomed town.

Nor did he merely sit down before Harfleur. A double line of trenches
and batteries at the most salient points were constructed; bombards,
firing a thirty-pound stone shot, were secured to their cumbersome
carriages, and a heavy fire was directed against the walls.

While this was in progress a mine was commenced close to the northern
gate of the town. Working day and night, the sappers plied mattock and
spade so diligently that on the third day of the siege the tunnel had
all but reached the base of one of the flanking towers of the gate.

To protect these underground toilers a strong force of men-at-arms was
stationed in the subterranean gallery under the orders of the Constable
of Portchester, who directed his two squires Richard Ratclyffe and
Geoffrey, to take alternate duty in the mine.

"And mark ye well," he exclaimed. "Ever and anon ye must bid the diggers
cease. Then listen attentively. If ye hear the sound of the Frenchmen's
spades speed and bring me word, or our labour is undone. They of the
city are not a mere rabble of townsfolk to be despised, for both the
Lord of Gaucourt and Sir Jean d'Estrelle are past masters in the art of
war. If they have not already commenced a countermine, may I never again
break bread."

Just before midnight Geoffrey descended the shaft leading to the tunnel.
The sullen glare of the torches threw a weird light upon the naked backs
of the diggers, the tarnished armour of the men-at-arms, and the timber
props of the long, narrow gallery that reeked vilely of an unwholesome
smoke-laden atmosphere.

"Hast heard aught?" asked he of Ratclyffe, who had hastened to meet him
with evident relief.

"I did but bid the men cease a short while ago," replied the elder
squire. "All is quiet as the grave."

Left to himself, Geoffrey slowly paced the tunnel betwixt the bottom of
the shaft and the part occupied by the guard of men-at-arms. The heat
soon became so oppressive that he removed his bascinet, placing it on a
convenient baulk of timber, then wrapping a scarf round his head he
continued his measured pace to and fro till he had completed twelve
lengths of the tunnel.

Then bidding the toilers desist, he placed his ear to the damp ground
and listened intently.

"Methinks Sir John will have to forswear his bread," he exclaimed to
himself, as the diggers resumed their operations.

Thrice did the squire call a halt, but on each occasion there were no
signs or sounds of the counter-miners' work.

At length one of the sappers called out that he had struck stone. Making
his way to the head of the tunnel, Geoffrey saw by the aid of a torch
that the man had spoken truly. The lowermost layer of masonry of the
tower lay exposed three feet from the floor of the tunnel.

All that now remained to be done was to undermine the base and place
explosives in position.

"Go and carry word to Sir John," ordered Geoffrey, addressing a
man-at-arms. "Perchance he may wish to examine the stone-work ere the
powder is brought hither."

The soldier hastened on his errand, while the men continued to attack
the hard soil with their spades. They had succeeded in their efforts to
strike the base of the tower, and one and all were delighted with their
success.

Just as Geoffrey was on the point of bidding the toilers desist the
floor of the tunnel suddenly collapsed, leaving a gaping hole, through
which a swarm of armed men poured with shouts of triumph.

Ere the English men-at-arms could draw their swords the foemen were upon
them, striking down the unarmed sappers right and left. In the confusion
most of the torches were extinguished, and in the almost total darkness
friend gripped friend by the throat, the cries of the wounded adding to
the uproar.

With cries of "_A Gaucourt!_" "_St Denis à mon aide!_" the French
knights pressed home the attack, while the English men-at-arms, with
cries of "St. George for England!" strove to hold their own against the
overwhelming numbers. More torches were brought to illuminate the
ghastly scene, and by their light men fought and died like wild beasts.

Unmindful of his unprotected head, Geoffrey had drawn his sword at the
first alarm, and had contrived to force his way to the front. Skill and
coolness were thrown to the winds, and striking madly at the forest of
opposing spears and swords, the squire strove to keep the foe at bay.

Soon his fury began to tell on him; his sword-arm was becoming nerveless
under the strain, while his shoulder was bleeding profusely from a
thrust betwixt the joints of his armour.

Still he fought on, till he heard the glad sounds of the succouring
forces that the Constable of Portchester was bringing up with all
dispatch to the rescue. Just then a mortally wounded man-at-arms gripped
the lad's ankle. Simultaneously a powerful Norman flung himself upon the
enfeebled and embarrassed squire, and losing his balance, Geoffrey fell.

In the glare of the torchlight he saw the Frenchman's arm raised to deal
a _coup-de-grâce_, but with an exclamation of surprise the man checked
the descending knife. A thousand flashing lights danced before
Geoffrey's eyes, and with a groan he lost consciousness.

                  *       *       *       *       *

When the young squire came to his senses he found himself lying on a
rough pallet in a darkened room. It was now morning. From without came
the sullen roar of artillery, mingled with the shouts, shrieks, and
cries of the combatants, showing that the assault was being pushed home.

By degrees Geoffrey remembered the events of the previous night—the
opening of the countermine, the grim and terrible struggle in the
subterranean depths, and his own misfortune. He had a vivid recollection
of the arresting of the descending knife of his adversary, but beyond
that his memory failed him. Why was he thus spared? Where was he, and by
whose agency had he been brought hither?

But the lad's throbbing brain could not suggest a reason. In vain he
strove to collect his thoughts, till with a groan of pain and mental
anguish he turned himself on his couch. Then he became aware that his
shoulder had been dressed, and that a wet bandage had been tied round
his head.

Presently, worn out with utter exhaustion, the squire fell into a
troubled sleep.

When he awoke the sounds of conflict had died away. A slight murmur in
the room caused him to turn his face towards the door. He was not alone.
Standing on the threshold was a man dressed in a leathern jacket and
close-fitting iron cap, while above his right shoulder projected the
stirrup and part of the steel bow of an arbalist.

In spite of his dress and equipment, Geoffrey recognized the man; it was
Gaston le Noir, the pilot of La Broie.

"Art awake, young sir?" quoth the Norman. "I trust thou wilt soon be
thyself once more."

"How came I here, Gaston?" asked Geoffrey.

"How camest thou here? By St. Denis, 'twas by reason of the debt I owe
thee, which I have been enabled to repay. Yet, let it be understood that
'twas more by chance than otherwise, for had I not seen thy face my
knife would have been plunged into thy body."

"Then thou art the man who grappled with me, Gaston?"

"Ay," replied the pilot shortly, "I came near to slaying thee in fair
fight."

"How camest thou to be shut up in Harfleur?" asked Geoffrey curiously.

"Young sir, I am ever a true Frenchman, therefore 'tis my duty to bear
my part in defending the town. Moreover, thy countrymen have burned the
village of La Broie, and with it my house; and, what is more, my boat
has been pressed into their service."

"But when the war is over and we are masters of France thou canst return
to ply thy trade as pilot."

"The English will never be masters of France, young sir," replied the
Norman fiercely. "The greater the danger the stronger will all true
Frenchmen stand."

"Art thou not a vassal of the Duke of Normandy, and is not our king the
Duke?"

"A duke who wars against his overlord is no master of mine," retorted
the Norman. "But now, young sir, I must away. Wilt thou give me thy
solemn word that thou wilt remain my prisoner, and not attempt to
escape? Bear in mind that on the occasion of the attack upon the English
mines an order was given that no prisoners were to be taken. At great
risk I bore thee hither, and if thou wert discovered by the governor of
the town or his officers 'twould go hard with thee and me. Come, Squire
Lysle, thy promise!"

"Nay," replied Geoffrey resolutely, "I'll not give thee my parole. Yet
rest assured, should I fail in my attempt to break away, none shall know
from whose care I have escaped."

"Hot-headed boy!" exclaimed Gaston. "Thou wilt undo all the good I fain
would do. Nevertheless, I'll see that thou art guarded. When I am on the
walls my man Philippe will stand without the door. Shouldst thou attempt
to pass hence thy blood be upon thine own head."

In high dudgeon Gaston le Noir left the lad's presence, vowing that
since he had requited his debt he would not suffer his prisoner to be a
source of danger to him. Presently he returned, accompanied by a
heavy-browed, huge-limbed man whom Geoffrey recognized as being one of
the crew of the pilot's boat on the occasion of his journey up the Seine
to Rouen.

"Philippe, mark well," exclaimed Gaston. "I have made a fool of myself
by giving quarter to this squire; yet thou and I must needs keep a sharp
eye on him. Therefore, should he attempt to quit this place, do not fear
to pass thy knife across his throat."

Gaston's companion regarded the youth with a grim stare, while Geoffrey
took stock of him, wondering whether in his weak state he could, by any
manner of chance, prove a match for the powerful-looking seaman. Then,
as the door was closed and barred, Geoffrey fell back upon his pallet, a
prey to deep despondency.

Though he appreciated Gaston's action in saving his life, the squire
realized that the man meant to keep his word. Then, as he dwelt upon the
situation, Geoffrey began to see the object of the Norman's solicitude.
With the fall of the town, for fall it must, unless succour were
speedily forthcoming, the inhabitants would in all probability be put to
the sword for having offered resistance to their feudal lord. Therefore
Gaston hoped to save his own life by proclaiming his good deed in
rescuing the squire from certain death.

Slowly the days of captivity passed, yet the vigilance of the youth's
captors was in no wise relaxed. On the subject of the state of the siege
they maintained a strict reticence, though by the scanty fare supplied
Geoffrey knew that provisions were beginning to fail within the
beleaguered town.

Meanwhile the besiegers lay thick without the walls, and slowly yet
surely advanced their trenches almost under the shadow of the
battlements. But a deadly foe had made its appearance amongst King
Henry's host. Dysentery, caused by bad and insufficient food and the
September dampness, raged through the camp, till three thousand men, or
one-tenth of the invaders, fell victims to the dread pestilence.

Under these circumstances the King realized that it would be better to
risk a few hundred lives in a general onslaught than to lose his men in
the comparative inaction of an investment; and on the eighteenth day of
September preparations for a desperate attack upon the defences were
commenced.

Eager to learn the reason for the unmistakable bustle in the besiegers'
camp, the Lord of Gaucourt sent a spy from the town. The spy was
detected, and on being taken before King Henry he was ordered to be
hanged at sunset before the North Gate.

Within the town famine was rampant, but, suspecting that some of the
inhabitants had concealed a stock of provisions instead of contributing
to the common fund, Gaucourt ordered a house-to-house search.

One of the results of the examination was that Geoffrey was discovered
in the house where Gaston had taken up his abode. But for Philippe's
dulness of mind the young squire might have been regarded as one of the
wounded defenders of the town, but instead the squire was seized and
carried before the Governor of Harfleur.

Closely questioned by the Lord of Gaucourt, Geoffrey admitted that he
was a squire to the Constable of Portchester, and had been taken
prisoner at the destruction of the mine, but he steadfastly refused to
give the name of his captor; and as Gaston had hidden himself on the
news of the apprehension of his prisoner, and Philippe had retained
sufficient sense to pretend to be unable to throw light upon the matter,
the culprit who had broken the orders relating to the refusal of quarter
remained undiscovered.

"Away with him," thundered Gaucourt at the conclusion of the
interrogation. "To the tower at the North Gate. Bid the men-at-arms
erect a gallows on the battlements and send a herald to the enemy. Tell
them that an English squire is in our hands, and should they execute our
spy this squire's life shall pay forfeit."

It was a strange sight that met Geoffrey's gaze as he found himself on
the lofty battlements with the shadow of a rough gallows falling athwart
the shattered masonry.

Around him stood Gaucourt and the chief men of the garrison and town,
while in the background were the men-at-arms and cross-bowmen to whom
the defence of the tower was entrusted.

Below the outlines of the besiegers' trenches were spread out like a
gigantic map, while upon the earthworks English archers and men-at-arms
swarmed like ants, shaking their fists and shouting in impotent rage at
the men who were about to take vengeance upon their prisoner.

Yet not an arrow nor a bolt was discharged from either party, for an
hour's truce had been agreed upon, so that the French herald could place
his master's proposals for the life of the spy before King Henry.

At a safe distance in the rear of the trenches clustered the tents of
the English host, the largest flying the banner of the lion and leopards
quartered with the fleur-de-lys that denoted the royal pavilion.

Massed in close columns were bodies of the English men-at-arms,
accompanied by a swarm of lightly-clad men bearing long scaling ladders.
Amongst the banners of the knights who were to lead the desperate attack
Geoffrey recognized the star and crescent of Sir Thomas Carberry's
company as the Hampshire men stood to their arms, ready at the
termination of the truce to rush towards the walls to rescue or avenge
their young squire.

At length, escorted by a guard of mounted archers, the French herald
left the royal pavilion and rode slowly towards the town. Hardly had he
reached the innermost of the triple line of trenches when there was a
commotion amidst the tents, and, accompanied by a brilliant train of
knights, Henry himself advanced to direct the threatened assault.

"How now, herald?" demanded the Lord of Gaucourt as the envoy, hot and
breathless, gained the summit of the tower.

"Fair sir, the English king is not to be bent from his purpose. He bids
me say that, according to the usages of war, he will hang our man.
Moreover, if this squire dies on the gallows, thy life and that of a
score of the bravest knights and men of quality of this town will answer
for it—'not by the sword, but by a hempen cord, be the blood of a
Gaucourt ever so blue.' Those were the words of the King of England."

At the threat of the rope the French knight's cheeks blanched, for,
brave though he was, he recoiled at the thought of dying the death of a
churl. Then recovering himself, he exclaimed—

"Let not the King of England think to turn me from my purpose. Watch yon
gallows carefully; if our spy is thrown from the ladder, then up with
yon squire. I also will remain here to see to the ordering o' it."

Meanwhile the stormers of the English army had advanced to within an
arrow's flight of the walls. Like a gigantic spring the attackers
clustered together in a vast coil, ready to unwind and thrust itself
against the battlements of Harfleur; yet, though the truce was at an
end, the reopening of the hostilities seemed suspended till the double
tragedy was enacted.

Bravely Geoffrey braced himself to undergo the final ordeal. Come the
worst, he was determined to let his enemies see how a true English
squire would die, cheered by the desperate yet doubtless unavailing
efforts of his own countrymen to effect his rescue.

Slowly the sun sank in the west; longer grew the shadow of the lofty
towers, till it was lost in the distance. Then as the blood-red orb
disappeared beneath the horizon the gallows on the plain was not without
its burden.

The shout of execration that rose from the Frenchmen on the walls was
drowned by the sullen roar of rage and fury from the besiegers as the
men-at-arms seized the English squire and raised him on their shoulders.

The fatal noose was already around his neck when the Lord of Gaucourt
spoke.

"Cast the squire loose," ordered he. "By St. Denis, I am not a butcher.
The King of England spoke truly when he said that the spy had placed
himself beyond the pale, but this prisoner hath not merited such a
death. Take him to the quarters in the citadel. Ho, there! Bid our men
stand fast for the honour of France, for our enemies are upon us!"

In the midst of a guard of men-at-arms, Geoffrey, well-nigh bewildered
by the sudden change of his fortunes, felt himself hurried from the
walls and through the narrow streets. Even as he went he heard the air
torn by the thunderous discharge of the bombards, while ever and anon a
huge stone shot, glancing from the battlements, would hurtle overhead
and bury itself in the midst of the crowded houses of the town.

All that night the squire remained awake in his place of detention,
listening to the rumble of the ordnance. Yet though the bombardment was
continuous, there were no signs of an actual assault being delivered,
and at dawn the cannonade ceased.

Three more days passed, yet beyond a desultory discharge of artillery
hostilities seemed to be suspended, then to the squire's inexpressible
joy he heard the steady tramp of feet and shouts of exultation uttered
by hundreds of lusty English voices.

Ere he could realize that Harfleur had indeed fallen, the door of his
prison was thrown open, and Sir Thomas Carberry, attended by Oswald,
Ratcliffe, Gripwell, and several of the men-at-arms of Warblington,
flocked into the room.

Unable to utter a sound, Geoffrey grasped the knight's hands, while his
overjoyed comrades almost overwhelmed him with anxious questions and
hearty congratulations.

Thus a second time did Geoffrey Lysle taste the joys of freedom.



                              CHAPTER XXII

                THE MARCH OF THE FORLORN SEVEN THOUSAND


It will now be necessary to relate the final incidents of the siege of
Harfleur, after Geoffrey had been removed from the shadow of the
gallows.

All that night a heavy cannonade was directed against the doomed town in
order to prepare the way for the grand assault. But ere the latter was
delivered the Lord of Gaucourt sent a herald to the King of England
offering to capitulate within three days unless the town should be
succoured before the expiration of that term.

Incredibly inactive, the King of France made no effort to relieve the
fortress that had held out so bravely and desperately for more than
thirty days, and on Sunday, September 22, Gaucourt, accompanied by the
principal knights and burgesses of Harfleur, delivered up the keys of
the town.

On the following day Henry and his forces entered Harfleur with all the
pomp and magnificence of a conqueror, but at the North Gate he removed
his casque and shoes, and with impressive humility walked barefooted to
the principal church of the town, where the _Te Deum_ and _Non Nobis_
were sung with the greatest fervour by hundreds of battle-worn English
warriors.

Having done his spiritual duty Henry's next care was to secure the
captured town against attacks from without, and to take steps to husband
his resources. Accordingly the captured knights and men-at-arms were
compelled to give up their arms and armour, and allowed to retain only
those garments sufficient to cover them. Those who were willing to give
their parole to surrender themselves at Calais at Martinmas were
dismissed. A few who declined to give such assurances were sent to
England with the booty.

The English had, by sheer valour and perseverance, secured the chief
town and port in Normandy; but in so doing their losses by wounds and
sickness were so great that the primary object of the invasion—the
conquest of France—was for the time being out of the question.

Henry had three courses open to him: he could either remain within the
walls of Harfleur till reinforcements arrived from England, or he could
re-embark and give up the fruits of victory; or he could adopt the
desperate step of marching along the coast to Calais, a distance of more
than one hundred and seventy miles. Something had to be done; so, with
the glorious record of his great grandfather, Edward III, to raise the
enthusiasm of his men, Henry decided upon the third and most dangerous
alternative.

His preparations were soon complete, for the massing of a huge French
army hastened his actions. Five hundred and fifty men-at-arms and twelve
hundred archers were to be left at Harfleur to hold the town at all
costs; the sick and wounded, together with the artillery and heavy
transport, were sent back to Southampton, and with a bare seven thousand
men King Harry set out upon his desperate enterprise on the morning of
October 8.

"By St. George, 'twill be a question of no little advancement or a
glorious death," exclaimed Sir Thomas Carberry to his squire as from his
position in the vanguard of the host he turned and saw the orderly lines
of men breasting the hill beyond the town of Harfleur. "If we gain our
end our deed will be sung as long as England remains a nation. Failing
that, _dulce et decorum est pro pâtria mori_—what sayest thou,
Geoffrey?"

"Fair lord, I am in accord with thee, though to speak plainly I would
rather return to England victorious than lay my bones in the soil of
France. What thinkest thou of our chance, Sir Thomas?"

"'Tis not a chance: our future lies in the hands of One above. Yet,
speaking as a man well versed in war, our position is very little
different from that of the worthy King Edward III before Crécy, and,
certes, not worse than before Poictiers. Mark yon line of hungry men
clad in rags and rusty armour: I'll warrant they'll fight as blithely
and as well as did their forefathers. Times and manners change, in
sooth, but the character of the English soldier will, I trow, ever
remain the same."

Day after day the weary march was maintained, the troops sleeping in the
open at night, in constant expectation of a sudden onfall by the
overwhelming host that was known to be hovering in the vicinity. Yet
without any serious opposition the English Army reached the mouth of the
Somme, where Edward III had made a successful crossing on his march to
Calais.

But the fortune that had favoured his great-grandsire was denied the
brave and headstrong King Henry, for at Blanche-Taque, the scene of the
passage of the Somme, the French were massed in such a strong position
that it would have been sheer madness to attempt the ford.

"By my halidome, my lords," exclaimed the King, when he saw the enemy's
strength and unassailable position, "ere I left Harfleur I registered a
solemn vow not to retrace one step while I wear coat-armour. If I cannot
go on, here I must abide, but since I am unwilling to stand here and
hurl defiance at these Frenchmen, I must needs go on."

To this deliberate vow Henry scrupulously adhered. On one occasion it is
recorded that he inadvertently rode past a house that had been selected
for his night's resting-place. Stubbornly he refused to return, and
spent the night with his troops in the open.

It can be readily understood that a man who rigorously kept his oath
pertaining to small matters would be even more strict in the ordering of
greater things. He now gave orders for the little army to turn aside and
march inland, following the left bank of the swift-flowing Somme.

This meant that the danger of his position was increased fourfold. So
long as he kept to the coast his left flank was secured from attack, but
directly the English Army marched away from the sea, it was liable to be
completely surrounded by the ever-growing French host.

For eight long days the English army marched slowly up the valley of the
Somme, vainly endeavouring to find a bridge or a ford that had been left
slenderly guarded. To the fatigues of their arduous march were added the
difficulties of obtaining provisions in a devastated country, but
encouraged by the personal example of their Sovereign the troops
maintained their courage and self-confidence.

"Canst perceive yon castle?" asked Gripwell of Geoffrey, pointing to the
summit of a square keep that showed itself above a distant hill. "Tis
the Castle of Maissons where the Count, Sir Raoul d'Aulx, holds thy
father captive."

"I have heard much of Maissons, but never before have I perceived it,"
replied Geoffrey, shading his eyes as he looked towards the grim pile.
"How sayest thou, Arnold? Perchance Sir Raoul and most of his men are in
the field. If I obtain my lord's permission to take a score of
men-at-arms, 'twould be an easy matter to ride over to Maissons and
demand its surrender. Without doubt the near presence of the English
army would frighten them into opening their gates."

"Nay, 'tis not to be thought of, Squire Geoffrey," replied Gripwell.
"Hath not the King issued orders concerning stragglers and against
affairs requiring the absence of any soldiers from the army? Think no
more of it yet awhile, for I'll warrant that if we vanquish the host
that threatens us the gates of every castle in Normandy will be thrown
open to the King."

Reluctantly the young squire had to abandon the chance of rescuing his
father, but ere long an event occurred that kept him fully occupied for
some time to come.

"Geoffrey," exclaimed Sir Thomas Carberry, who had just left the King's
presence, "the time hath come when we must prove our courage and
devotion. Dost mark yon mill, at the head of the river? The red roof is
to be seen above the trees on thy left."

"Yes, sir," replied the squire. "Methinks that foes are in force there,
since the smoke of many camp fires rises skywards."

"Nay, 'tis the fires of the wood-cutters of Peronne. But to the point:
my company must seize yon mill at all costs, and hold the ford above but
hard by the mill till the main body of the army can cross. See to it
that the mounted men-at-arms only are to essay this task—of the archers
we have no need. Now, hasten, for every moment is precious."

Led by Sir Thomas Carberry in person, with Geoffrey and Oswald and
Richard Ratclyffe riding close behind him, the eighty men-at-arms rode
steadily through the open valley towards the ford. Then, as the company
rounded an intervening spur of ground, the mill again appeared in sight.

Scattered in and around the rambling stone building were several French
knights, crossbowmen and men-at-arms. Although placed there for the
express purpose of guarding the important passage, it was not until the
head of the English column showed itself that the defenders realized the
danger. Standing in his stirrups Sir Thomas shouted his battle-cry; then
with a roar the horsemen thundered towards the ford.

Ere the horses could gain the water sufficient time had elapsed to
enable the crossbowmen to wind their cumbersome weapons, and with a dull
bass hum the heavy quarrels began to speed over and betwixt the
Englishmen, some finding a billet in the bodies of the charging horsemen
or their steeds. Now and again a horse would sink to earth, throwing its
rider headlong, while those following had much ado to prevent themselves
from being overthrown by the still plunging animal. Sometimes a thrown
rider would struggle to his feet and begin to stumble blindly after his
comrades, but more often the thrown warrior would lie still and
motionless, never again to hear the shouts of his victorious comrades in
arms.

Now the head of the column was in the swift-flowing river. The water
soaked through Geoffrey's mailed shoes and greaves, but the squire
heeded it not: his whole attention was directed against a knot of
mail-clad Frenchmen who were urging their steeds into the stream to
contest the possession of the ford.

With a crash the sharpened lance-points met, but owing to the retarding
influence of the water the shock was not so great as that of the
tilt-yard. Some of the less skilful riders were hurled from their
saddles to perish miserably in the river, but the majority, casting
aside their unwieldy lances, fell upon each other with axe, mace and
sword.

Of what happened during the next few moments Geoffrey had but a dim
recollection. It was cut, thrust, and parry, steel ringing on steel,
horses champing and neighing, wounded men shrieking dismally till their
miserable cries were stifled by the silent yet swift-running current,
and above all the hoarse shouts of the English men-at-arms who were not
to be gainsaid in their determination to win the ford.

At length the mêlée thinned, and the squire found himself opposed to a
knight clad in bronzed armour, and armed with a long two-handled sword.
Wedged firmly in his high-pommelled saddle the Frenchman had slung his
shield behind his back, and, with the reins dropped upon his horse's
mane, he was able to devote his whole strength to the wielding of his
mighty weapon.

A sweeping cut delivered at Geoffrey's head the squire caught upon his
shield, with no other ill effect than to shear off its upper corner.

Then with lightning rapidity the cut was repeated, this time full on the
youth's right side. The Englishman's sword barely checked the swinging
blow that all but numbed the lad's sword-arm, while his counter-cut fell
harmlessly upon the French knight's gorget.

Realizing that the only way to avoid the seemingly tireless cuts was to
get within his adversary's guard Geoffrey dug his spurs into the flanks
of his charger. The powerful brute instantly responded, and the two
animals were plunging neck to neck as Geoffrey rained a hail of
ineffectual blows upon the Frenchman, who in turn endeavoured to shorten
his sword and recover his lost advantage.

Heedlessly the two combatants were edging down stream, till with a neigh
of terror the Frenchman's horse lost its footing. Its hind feet had
slipped over a shelf in the bed of the river. Scraping desperately with
its fore hoofs it strove to regain a foothold. Only by his prompt action
was Geoffrey able to save himself and his steed from a similar fate.

"Help me, I yield," shouted the knight, dropping his sword and holding
out his right hand.

In reply, Geoffrey stretched out his gauntleted hand to grasp his
vanquished foe, but ere he could do so the struggling animal's feet
slipped from the ledge, and in an instant horse and knight were lost to
view in the depths of the mill-stream.

By this time the ford was won. Those of the defenders who had escaped
slaughter had fled, save a few who, taking shelter in the mill, resisted
desperately till slain to the last man.

The Constable of Portchester's company had lost heavily. Fifteen gallant
men-at-arms had ridden to their death, while a score more had been
sorely wounded. Ratclyffe was making light of a blow that, cracking his
steel bascinet, had grazed his forehead till he was well-nigh blinded
with blood. Neither Sir Thomas nor his squire Geoffrey had sustained
injury, though dents in their armour bore silent testimony to the heat
of the action. But the object of the engagement was achieved, for
without further molestation the whole of the little English army crossed
the Somme.

"Ay, my lord, they bore themselves right manfully," replied Sir Thomas
Carberry, when the Earl of Exeter complimented him on the gallant
exploit of the company. "But here we are across the river, and I'll
warrant our difficulties are only begun. Yet mark these rascals of mine,
they reck not the odds, so long as there is the prospect of a fight."

"Then they'll have their desire ere long, Sir Thomas," replied the
Earl—"a fight compared with which this gallant deed is but naught. The
fame of the English arms will ring through Christendom ere we reach
Calais."

"Amen," replied the Constable. "For 'tis for this purpose that we are
here."



                             CHAPTER XXIII

                          THE EVE OF AGINCOURT


The English army had crossed the Somme at a distance of more than sixty
miles from the ford of Blanche-Taque, where Edward III had made his bold
stroke eighty years previously. To regain the sea by descending the
right bank of the river would mean a march that was beyond the strength
of the weary soldiers; accordingly King Henry resolved to abandon his
original plan and march direct to Calais.

It was not until the morning of October 24, that the invaders crossed
the River Ternoise after a slight skirmish at the ford of Blangy. On and
on they toiled, soaked by the October rain, half famished, and footsore
through hard marching; yet the indomitable spirit that pervaded the
dauntless band never for one moment showed signs of flagging.

On crossing the Ternoise the order of march had been reversed. The
Hampshire companies, on whom the brunt of the vanguard actions had
fallen, were ordered to fall in with the main body, while the advance
guard was entrusted to the men of Yorkshire and Devon, under the command
of the Duke of York.

[Illustration:

  "SIRE, WERE THERE ANY WHO DWELT IN FEAR OF THE ISSUE
  OF THE BATTLE, WOULD THEY SLEEP SO QUIETLY?"
]

Steadily Geoffrey and Oswald trudged through the stiff clay that sorely
impeded the progress of the soldiers. The squires had divested
themselves of a portion of their armour, that dangled from the
saddle-bow of their chargers. In common with many of the mounted men
they had temporarily given up their steeds to those of the archers who
would otherwise have fallen out by the wayside.

Twelve miles of that tedious route had been accomplished since the
passage of the Ternoise, when a soldier, galloping madly on a
foam-flecked horse, came thundering along the road, a shower of mud
flying from the hoofs of his steed.

"The enemy, sir," he shouted as he passed the leader of the Hampshire
companies.

Already the vanguard was observed to be at a standstill, while the
supporting troops extending right and left were taking up their position
on the flanks. The spirit of battle was in the air.

Massing in close order the five thousand men of the main body moved to
the support of their van. Cold, fatigue, hunger—all were forgotten.

It was a stirring sight that met the gaze of Geoffrey and his comrades
as they gained the brow of a low hill overlooking the woods of
Maisoncelles. Before them lay a gently-sloping plain, flanked on either
side by dense masses of trees, while across the open ground could be
traced the narrow lane that passed through the village of Agincourt and
joined the broader road from Abbeville to Calais, just beyond the
cluster of thatched and mud-walled houses.

But to the observers' eyes the lane was lost to view in the serried
ranks of the mighty host representing the chivalry and power of France.
Three bowshots off, at the very least, the enemy stood, barring the
advance of the slender English force.

Swiftly, yet in an orderly manner, the archers and men-at-arms of the
invading army took up their positions. The men-at-arms, barely four
thousand in number, were placed in the centre, the bowmen being massed
on either flank; but by mutual consent, for the night was beginning to
draw on, there was no inclination to engage in battle.

"The King's orders are that ye rest yourselves," announced Sir Thomas
Carberry, as he rode up to his company. "'Tis nearly certain that the
foe will not attack us this night, yet to guard against surprise let
each man sleep in his ranks, with his arms ready at his side. 'Tis a
sorry night, men, for rest, yet be assured I and my squires will share
the discomforts with you."

"I heed not the rain, fair sir," exclaimed an archer boldly, "though I
be powerful hungry."

Good-humoured laughter from his fellows greeted these words. Geoffrey
recognized the voice as that of one of the Warblington archers, who in
times of peace was a wild-fowler of the marches of Thorney.

"Have no fear on that score, archer," replied the Constable. "Already
the sutlers are abroad, and many wains of provisions are on their way
from yonder village. I do perceive, also, that on our right flank the
men are lighting fires. Gripwell, do thou send ten men into the woods
and bring back faggots sufficient to last us the night."

Quickly the men went on their errand, and ere long thick columns of
smoke arose from the sodden logs, till the heat gaining the mastery, the
dull red flames began to throw out a comforting glow. Then, with the
arrival of the victualling wains, drawn by peasants pressed into
service, the camp began to show signs of cheerfulness, in spite of the
almost continuous downfall of icy rain. Yet the utmost order and decorum
prevailed in the English lines—a striking contrast to the boisterous
laughter and merriment that was wafted on the winds from around the
watch fires of the French camp.

At intervals officers passed slowly along the lines intent on seeking
out their friends, whom, perchance, they were to see and converse with
for the last time; priests and friars, too, threaded their way amongst
the soldiery, hearing confessions and giving spiritual consolation to
all who desired their ministrations.

Thus the time passed till it was midnight. At intervals the rain ceased,
and the pale moonbeams glittered upon the damp grass and the waving
foliage of the neighbouring woods. Most of the English troops had fallen
asleep, slumbering fitfully under the canopy of heaven. Others conversed
in low tones, or offered up prayers for the safety of their comrades and
themselves, and for the successful issue of the coming struggle. Still
the French camp maintained its state of revelry, for food and wine were
in abundance, and, with every prospect of delivering a crushing defeat
upon their numerically weaker foes, the mercurial spirits of the
Frenchmen rose high. They had forgotten their defeats at Crécy and
Poictiers; time had erased the memory of the English longbow.

"The night drags slowly on," remarked Oswald, drawing his saturated
cloak more closely around his shoulders. "Would that we had something to
do to bring some warmth to our bodies."

"We'll not lack for warmth ere the sun sets again," replied Geoffrey.
"But what discord those Frenchmen are making. Could we but let loose a
troop of lances through the camp there would be no little advancement
occasioned by the deed. But who cometh?"

At that moment a soldier walked swiftly along the front of the line of
recumbent men. The moonbeams glistened on his armour that a long cloak
failed entirely to conceal.

"Halt! who comes?" demanded Geoffrey, barring the stranger's way with
drawn sword.

"A friend! Why hast thou challenged me?" replied the man in a deep
voice.

"'Tis not permitted to pass without the lines," replied the squire. "I
pray thee keep close to the fires, lest an over-zealous archer feather
thy back with an arrow."

"Thanks for thy warning, fair sir; I will pay heed unto. But I pray
thee, who art thou, what is thy condition?" asked the man with a trace
of authority in his speech.

"Since thou art a stranger 'tis thy place to give thy name first,"
replied Geoffrey.

"And if I refuse?"

"Then 'tis my duty to bring thee before my master, Sir Thomas Carberry,"
answered the squire, at the same time beckoning to two men-at-arms who
were standing close to one of the camp-fires.

"Nay, use not force, fair sir," replied the cloaked man. "To thy master
I can give a good account of myself."

"I trust for thine own weal that thou canst," said Geoffrey as he
preceded his prisoner, the two soldiers following to prevent a possible
treacherous attack on their young squire.

Sir Thomas Carberry was at that moment conversing with Sir Hugh Talbot
of the Salisbury company, and on the approach of the party he turned.

"Whom hast thou here?" demanded the Constable.

"A man whom I found without our lines," replied Geoffrey. "According to
mine orders to detain all who might be thus found I have brought him
hither."

"Thy squire, Sir John, is to be commended for his action," said the
stranger in an altered tone, as he removed the cloak from his head and
shoulders, disclosing the familiar features of Henry, King of England.

"Sire!" gasped the astonished knight. "Thy pardon for my squire and for
me——"

"Pardon for faithfully executing mine orders, good knight? Nay, rather
let us be quick to recognize a stern devotion to duty. But how sayest
thou, Sir John? Thou art grown grey in warfare. What thinkest thou of
our chances in the coming fight?"

"A better chance the royal Edward never had at Crécy, sire, unless yon
host have the sense to enfold us by their superior numbers. Yet methinks
they will risk their advantage in a frontal attack, and neglect to make
use of the cover afforded by yon woods."

"Trusted men I have already sent to make sure of the nature of the
ground on our right flank," said the King. "For a like purpose have I
come to thee. Hast thou a trusty level-headed man or two whom thou canst
send through the woods on our left? If so, I pray thee dispatch them
with haste, and let them bear me a full report within an hour. But, bear
in mind, none but those who have counted the cost and are willing to
undertake the hazard are to be sent. Thy zealous squire, there: he hath
lurked in trees before to-day, as we know full well—perchance he may be
eager to repeat his exploits. But that is his affair. Fare thee well,
Sir Thomas.... Stay—another question: What dost thou think of the
spirits of the men under thy command?"

In answer the Constable pointed to the lines of slumbering men.

"Sire, were there any who dwelt in fear of the issue of the battle,
would they sleep so quietly in the face of danger? Speaking for our
company, I can safely say that their hearts are full of courage and
devotion to thy person."

"'Tis well, Sir Thomas. Thrice happy is a king whose people's hearts are
his throne. Again, farewell, and may Heaven look favourably upon us this
coming day."

"Geoffrey, thou hast heard his Majesty's word?" asked Sir Thomas.
"Certes, thy service in the matter of the conspiracy at Southampton he
hath not forgotten. How sayest thou? Art willing to undertake this
enterprise? Bethink thee; 'tis a perilous service, and short will be thy
shrift if thou art discovered."

"Fair sir, I have already counted the cost. Give me thy leave and thy
blessing, and I will go."

"But not alone. Choose a burly comrade and get thee away. Remember that
within an hour the King requires my report."

The squire made his way to where Gripwell was standing, with Oswald and
Ratclyffe.

"Ho, Squire Lysle!" exclaimed the man-at-arms. "Who was yon fellow whom
thou hast carried to our master? Hast 'prisoned a hornet? I' faith, he
swaggered past us as if he were King Harry himself."

"'Twas none other than the King," replied Geoffrey.

"What! The King? A fine story to tell at home—if home we ever see—how
that Squire Lysle laid hands upon his liege lord."

"Nay, let that pass," replied Geoffrey, "for I have other work in hand.
Art willing to bear me company as far as the French camp?"

"Right willingly," replied the grey-headed man-at-arms when the squire
had explained the nature of his errand.

"And I, too, will go with thee," exclaimed Oswald.

"And I," added Ratclyffe.

"Nay, four are too many for a secret errand such as this," objected
Geoffrey. "Now help me to unhelm, Oswald. My coat of mail must also be
left behind."

Swiftly the rusted armour was removed, and, armed only with a poniard,
Geoffrey set out on his desperate errand, with Arnold Gripwell,
similarly armed, to bear him company.

In a whisper they replied to the cautious challenge of the alert
sentinel, then crossing the bog-like ground in front of the lines, they
gained the sombre recesses of the wood.

Here the darkness was more intense than in the open, but by degrees
their eyes became accustomed to the gloom, though at almost every step
they stumbled over the slippery moss-grown roots that encumbered the
ground in all directions.

For a distance of nearly a bow-shot the two adventurers pursued their
way, till, plucking at his comrade's sleeve, Geoffrey came to a sudden
standstill.

For full five minutes they listened, striving to detect above the
confused noise of the French camp the sound of some unseen foe. A sudden
rustling in the undergrowth caused the lad's heart to beat violently,
while his right hand clutched the hilt of his dagger. Then came a sharp
squeal of pain, and a hare, with a stoat at its throat, tore almost
across the squire's feet.

Presently the twain came to a clearing, through which wandered a little
brook. Here the ground was almost knee-deep in stiff clay, so that both
men had to hold the tops of their shoes to prevent them being dragged
off their feet by the tenacious slime. The crossing of the glade was a
nerve-racking ordeal, since neither knew but that an invisible foe
lurked in the thickets beyond.

Fortune favoured them, however, and unharmed they gained the friendly
shelter of the furthermost wood.

Now they were abreast of the French outposts. Peering through the
bushes, Geoffrey could see the mail-clad sentinels either sitting
motionless on their horses or walking slowly to and fro to the
accompaniment of a clanking and groaning of the joints of the harness
and the squelching noise of the animals' hoofs in the mire.

The nearmost horseman was humming a chanson of Picardy, quite oblivious
of the fact that two Englishmen were almost within a stone's throw of
him; yet, though the cordon extended completely across the open ground,
through some inexplicable error the French had utterly neglected to hold
the woods on either side of the valley.

Resuming their cautious movements, Geoffrey and Gripwell skirted the
second line of outposts, where a row of fires threw its weird light upon
the crowd of soldiers, mainly engaged in drinking, singing, and
gambling, while the position of the two daring Englishmen was rendered
doubly hazardous by the constant procession of varlets and peasants who
were engaged in cutting wood to feed the watch-fires.

Still the French camp seemed a long way off, though the silken tents of
the nobles were now discernible in the glare of the huge pile of burning
faggots.

"We have gone far enough," whispered the man-at-arms.

"Nay, 'tis my purpose to press on," remarked Geoffrey. "Stay here an
thou wilt."

"That cannot be. Where thou goest I will follow," said Gripwell
doggedly.

"Then let us gather a bundle of faggots apiece, and set out boldly
towards the camp. It is in my mind to see how these Frenchmen fare."

Struck by the audacity of the squire's proposal, Gripwell could not but
assent, so, hastily collecting a heavy load of wood, the twain stumbled
upon a path where numbers of soldiers and peasants were passing to and
fro.

Unsuspected the Englishmen joined in the throng, and, bending low under
their burdens, jogged steadily towards the vast city of tents.

"Ho, there, comrade!" shouted a cross-bowman. "Bring hither that fuel;
our fire is all but out."

"Nay," replied Gripwell in good French. "That cannot be. This wood is
for my master, the Lord of Rougemont."

This encounter showed that there was no suspicion towards a stranger,
and, encouraged by the discovery, Geoffrey and his companion walked
boldly down the lines till they reached a tent that the squire knew by
reason of its size and magnificence belonged to no mean personage. Two
men-at-arms stood without the door, over which hung a shield emblazoned
with a golden oriflamme.

From within came the sounds of tankards clashing upon oaken boards, the
rattle of dice, and mingled bursts of laughter, disappointment, and
anger.

"Methought I was to hear a council of war," exclaimed Geoffrey in a low
voice, "but 'tis a roystering crew."

"Perchance in their jollity we may hear some smattering of news,"
replied Gripwell, and flinging down his burden with a gesture of utter
fatigue, he seated himself upon it, with his head resting on his arms.
Geoffrey hastened to follow his example. In the constant throng their
action seemed natural. The two guards barely condescended to notice
them, since they were some distance from the tent, which was that of no
less a personage than Charles d'Albert, Constable of France.

"A curse on thy luck, my Lord of Marle," exclaimed an excited voice. "I
have not cast a main this night. I owe thee two English earls and four
knights already."

"Nay, Falconberg, 'tis five knights by my reckoning. Without doubt these
rascally Islanders will be cheap enough ere to-morrow even, but be that
as it may, one cannot ignore the rules of the game."

"I cannot understand the Duc de Bourbon," grumbled the first speaker.
"Though I am willing to admit that he has prior claim to the person of
the King of England, he will not risk his share of the spoil. Surely my
offer of twenty thousand crowns and the Duke of York will be sufficient
inducement?"

"I am weary of casting the dice," replied Bourbon. "Ere dawn I shall be
too tired even to ride down a single English knight."

"Peste! The battle will be over in a quarter of an hour. Our first
division is strong enough to sweep these English off the face of the
earth. My Lord d'Alençon, the second division, which thou hast command
of, must be mounted, since there will be no other work left than to ride
down and slay the light-footed archers. As for thy division, my Lord
Falconberg, there will be nothing left for it to do."

"Unless it be to shout encouragement to thy men," replied Falconberg
with a laugh. "Alas! these poor Englishmen. But let's proceed. Who'll
throw with me for my last three knights?"

"We have learnt what is worth a bushel of gold, Squire Geoffrey,"
whispered Gripwell. "Let us away. As it is, the hour is wellnigh spent."

Resuming their loads, the two comrades made for the nearest fire, and,
having cast the faggots upon the smouldering embers, retraced their
footsteps towards the shelter of the woods. On the way they fell in with
a party of soldiers in search of a load of wine that had gone astray
between the camp and the village of Agincourt, and, imitating their
staggering gait and drunken song, they contrived to get clear of the
line of tents without being challenged. Then, taking advantage of the
narrow path through the forest, the two comrades succeeded in slipping
away unnoticed by their maudlin companions.

"Now let us hasten," whispered Gripwell. "Yet be cautious, for we know
not whether any enemy hath entered this part of the wood since we came
hither."

Unmolested they passed the flank of the French advanced posts, then
gaining confidence in the fact that the English outposts were but a
bow-shot off, they increased their pace.

The trunk of a tree larger than its fellows barred their path. Geoffrey
recognized the tree as having been the means of causing him to stumble
over one of its exposed roots on their outward journey. This time he
leapt lightly over the obstacle, to find himself thrown violently in
contact with a human being.

The impact hurled both to the ground, while Gripwell, unaware of what
was amiss, narrowly escaped tripping over the two struggling forms.

Noiselessly the squire and the unknown wrestled on the ground. Geoffrey
was unable to draw his poniard, nor was his antagonist able to use a
weapon; but the English lad, even in the midst of the desperate
struggle, could not help wondering why his foeman did not shout for
assistance. On his own part he knew that one cry would doubtless bring
the French outposts to the spot, and the night's work would be undone.

Whoever the stranger was, he had no lack of strength and courage, for
not until Gripwell had contrived to distinguish the combatants in the
darkness and had wound his cloak tightly round the fellow's head was the
issue decided.

"Stand by while I plunge my knife into his body," hissed the old
man-at-arms.

"Not so," whispered Geoffrey in reply. "'Tis but a short distance to the
camp, and this rascal may be of service. Help me carry him thither."

With this the stranger began to writhe and struggle again, mumbling
incoherently from the suffocating folds of Arnold's cloak. There was no
help for it; a sharp blow on the temples from the man-at-arms' powerful
fist reduced the captive to a state of semi-insensibility.

Thereupon Gripwell bound the man's arms with his own belt, secured his
feet with the folds of his cloak, and effectually gagged him by means of
a fir-cone held in position by Geoffrey's scarf. This done, the squire
raised the helpless prisoner by the shoulders, and the man-at-arms took
hold of his feet, and with their heavy burden the two comrades resumed
their way till they were greeted by the welcome sounds of the English
outposts.

"Whom hast thou there?" asked Sir Thomas Carberry, who had been
anxiously awaiting the return of his squire.

"Some fellow who stood in our path, fair sir," replied Geoffrey
breathlessly.

By this time the prisoner had recovered his senses, and by an unexpected
thrust of his feet sent Geoffrey staggering into the arms of the
Constable. At the same time he contrived, bound as he was, to wrench
himself out of Geoffrey's arms, and, falling on his feet, he swayed to
and fro in helpless rage, unable, by reason of the gag, to utter a
sound.

But as the glare of the fires fell upon his features Geoffrey found, to
his discomfiture and consternation, that his prisoner was none other
than his fellow squire, Richard Ratclyffe!



                              CHAPTER XXIV

                        THE BATTLE OF AGINCOURT


"A scurvy trick hast thou played on me," exclaimed Ratclyffe when the
amused soldiers had released him from his bonds. "By the Rood I'll think
twice ere I venture again into the forest to seek for thee."

"Hadst thou but spoken thou wouldst not have been mishandled thus,"
replied Geoffrey, who had by now expressed his sorrow for the mistake.

"Spoken! Forsooth! Did I not try to speak the moment I heard Gripwell
discussing with thee on the subject of letting out my life's blood? But
what with being wellnigh smothered by his cloak, and——"

"Nay, say no more, squire," interrupted Sir Thomas. "'Twas all a
mistake, and beyond a shrewd blow—of which we shall have plenty ere
long, I trow—there is little scath. Now, Geoffrey, the nature of thy
report?"

Briefly the squire told his master of what had occurred, the nature of
the ground, the position of the French outposts, and, most important of
all, the conversation in the tent of d'Albert relating to the plan of
attack.

"By St. Paul! Thou hast entered their camp?" exclaimed the knight. "This
is almost beyond belief. But as it is we now know that we can occupy the
woods on the Frenchmen's flanks without let or hindrance. I'll now to
the King, but, rest assured, thou wilt have full credit for thine
enterprise. Ay, and thy man-at-arms also," added Sir Thomas, as his
squire began to remind him that Arnold had shared the perils of the
desperate errand.

Thoroughly tired out, Geoffrey laid himself down by one of the fires,
and, heedless of the steady rain, he was soon fast asleep.

Meanwhile, Sir Thomas Carberry had hastened to make his report to the
King. Henry had taken little repose, for having completed his inspection
of the lines in the guise of an ordinary officer, he retired to his tent
to don all his armour save his gold-encircled bascinet. This done he had
mass celebrated in his quarters, followed by a general council, at which
all the commanders of divisions were ordered to attend.

"Most excellent service," exclaimed the King when Sir Thomas had
delivered his report. "See to it, Uncle Exeter; send at least four
hundred lances to the wood on the enemy's left flank. Half that number
of archers are to take up their position on the opposite side of the
valley. Impress upon them the utmost importance of concealment till the
word is borne them."

Silently the troops intended for the ambush moved towards the stations
allotted them, and ere the council was broken up, the Duke of Exeter
returned with the news that the manœuvre had been successfully executed.

"Now, my lords, the day breaks," exclaimed Henry. "Let us to our
stations and do our duty as becomes Englishmen. To-day, fair lords, is
the Feast of the blessed saints Crispin and Crispian. From this day till
all times will our names be linked with them, if we acquit ourselves
nobly. Therefore let us be of good courage, remembering that our souls
and bodies are in God's holy keeping."

With the dawn the rain ceased, and across the sodden valley the trumpets
of the little English army rang out loud and clear as the sun rose in a
cloudless sky. Eagerly the chilled and shivering men-at-arms and archers
flocked to take up their positions, glad that the dreary period of
inaction was over.

In the centre, under the Duke of Kent, stood the dismounted men-at-arms,
resting stolidly on their spears and axes, while as an afterthought a
sprinkling of archers took their stand in front of the heavy troops. On
either flank were hundreds of bowmen under Lords Beaumont and
Willoughby. In addition to their deadly longbow and their swords and
axes, each archer bore an iron-shod stake.

Barely twenty paces in the rear of the front rank were marshalled the
reserves, composed chiefly of spearmen, under the command of the Earl of
Exeter.

The army being drawn up in line of battle, Henry, mounted on a white
palfrey, rode slowly between the ranks. He had now donned his surcoat
emblazoned with the lions of England and the lilies of France, while on
his head he wore a polished steel bascinet which was encircled by a very
rich crown of gold, rendering its wearer a conspicuous object in the
field.

"Certes," exclaimed the veteran Lord Camoys to the Constable of
Portchester, as his gaze travelled from the seemingly countless
multitude of Frenchmen to the six thousand Englishmen standing
motionless in the ranks. "What would some of the good knights who have
remained in England give to be here?"

"What sayest thou, my lord Camoys?" asked the King, who had overheard
the knight's remark. "Dost wish for more good Englishmen to be here?
Nay, I would not have a single man more. If God give us the victory we
know that we owe it to His goodness. If He does not, the fewer we are
the less will be the loss to England. But let us fight with our usual
courage, and God and the justice of our cause will protect us."

Having completed his inspection the King took up his position at the
head of the second line, with the Duke of Gloucester, Mowbray, the Earl
Marshal, and the Earls of Oxford and Suffolk, while above him fluttered
the Royal Standard, leaving no doubt as to the identity of the King of
England.

Meanwhile, the French had been mustering in dense masses across the
valley, till their three divisions, each ten files deep, seemed to
resemble a solid wall of steel, dominated by a forest of banners. At
length their preparations were complete, but there seemed no inclination
on their part to open the battle.

Suddenly, to the surprise of the English, three French knights, armed
cap-à-pied, rode fearlessly across the intervening plain. Some of the
archers began to bend their bows, but were restrained by their officers.

"They bear a message," shouted Lord Camoys to those nearest him. "Open
ranks and let them pass, but take heed that they see not the pointed
stakes."

Haughtily the three Frenchmen rode through the gap in the front rank and
reined in before the Royal Standard, where Henry, now on foot, awaited
them.

"Sire," exclaimed the foremost knight. "I am Jacques de Helly, Maréchal
of France."

"That we do perceive," replied the King curtly, "both by thy cognizance
and by reason of the fact that thou wert, and still ought to be, our
prisoner in England."

"'Tis on that matter that I am come," replied de Helly. "'Tis reported
that I have broken my parole. Let it be known to all men that 'tis
false. To all or any who would gainsay me, I hereby offer to meet them
in single combat, here betwixt the armies."

"'Tis no time for single combats," replied Henry sternly. "Hence, lest I
lose patience with thee. Also go tell thy countrymen to prepare for
battle at once."

"Sire," exclaimed de Helly, his swarthy features livid with anger, "I
shall receive no order from you; Charles is our liege lord; him we obey,
and for him we'll fight when the time comes."

"Away, then," replied the King. "Take care that we are not before you,"
and as the haughty Frenchmen turned and rode beyond the English front,
Henry shouted in a loud and ringing voice, "Advance banners in the name
of God and St. George!"

Standing in his stirrups the grey-haired Sir Thomas Erpyingham threw his
warder in the air—the signal for the advance. Instantly the little
English host was electrified into activity, and with shouts of "St.
George for Merrie England," the foremost division began to close upon
the seemingly overwhelming masses of the enemy.

Still the Frenchmen showed no signs of advancing. Something must be done
to goad them to move to meet the attack, otherwise the handful of
Englishmen would be thrown away upon the solid phalanx of French steel.

From his position on the right of the men-at-arms of the Hampshire
division, Geoffrey saw the Frenchmen standing in close ranks, regarding
their on-coming foe with looks of disdain. Now, the foremost division
was on the edge of the intervening belt of bog-land. A few more steps
and the natural defence on which the king had placed so much hope would
be turned from an advantage into a hindrance, then——

"Halt," shouted the young Duke of Kent in a voice that was borne high
above the subdued hum of the ranks. "Archers! Loose wholly together!"

There was very little of nervous haste on the part of the bowmen. Even
the comparatively raw recruits were as steady as the most exacting
leader could desire. Hardly had the words of command ceased when the air
was torn by the sharp swish of the speeding arrows, and at less than
half a bow-shot the French received the death-dealing blast.

In the twinkling of an eye their foremost ranks were thrown into the
utmost disorder. 'Gainst the deadly cloth-yard shaft, plate armour,
leathern coat, and iron buckler alike were useless. Knights and
men-at-arms rolled on the ground, transfixed, not once but many times,
by the goose-wing-tipped arrows.

But amongst the struggling press of Frenchmen brave men were to be found
in plenty. Disentangling themselves from the disorderly mass, the
mounted men with lance at rest spurred towards the archers.

"Stand fast behind your stakes," shouted the company commander,
realizing that once the heavy cavalry came within striking distance of
the lightly armed archers the latter would be cut to pieces and
scattered like chaff.

On came the French horse, knee to knee, plunging heavily in the thick
tenacious clay, while unceasingly the hail of arrows was maintained till
the line of stakes was faced by an almost insurmountable barrier of dead
and dying steeds and their riders.

To add to the confusion the English archers in ambush delivered a raking
fire, till, losing men both in the flanks and rear of their division,
besides those who perished in the charge upon the palisades, the French
began to give back.

"Forward—men-at-arms and archers!" shouted a ringing voice that all who
heard recognized as the King's. Conspicuous by his gold-emblazoned
helmet and the royal arms on his surcoat, Henry led the counter attack
in person.

The deadly bows were dropped or slung across the archers' backs, and
with axe, sword, spear and mace the dismounted men-at-arms and bowmen
hurled themselves upon the swaying, demoralized mob of their enemies.

For a while the battle resolved itself into a series of desperate
conflicts, all order being thrown to the winds. Often the combatants had
no room to ply their weapons, the two-handed swords of the French
men-at-arms being useless when opposed to the knives and daggers of the
English archers. So thick did the press become that the King's brother,
the Duke of York, was crushed to death betwixt two mailed Frenchmen.

Into the thickest of the mêlée plunged the Constable of Portchester,
with Geoffrey, Oswald and Ratclyffe close at his heels as became their
duties; but ere long the heir of Warblington, separated from his
comrades, found himself confronted by a tall knight whose armour bore no
device. In an instant they closed, Geoffrey's antagonist endeavouring to
hurl the squire to the earth, while the young Englishman attempted to
deliver a poniard stroke between the joints of the knight's armour.

As they fought an archer sprang upon the squire's foeman, and with a
mighty heave wrenched his bascinet from his gorget, disclosing the
features of the ex-monk Olandyne. The next instant the recreant had
fallen with the archer's knife buried in his throat.

Suddenly a shout arose, "To me, Englishmen!" and Geoffrey perceived the
Duke of Gloucester hard pressed by four or five French knights. Unable
to make good his defence the Duke was already wounded, yet he stubbornly
continued the unequal combat.

One of the foremost of his attackers was a broad-shouldered knight whose
surcoat had been torn away during the earlier stages of the conflict.
His shield, too, had been lost, but armed with a heavy battle-axe, he
pressed the Duke with demoniacal fury.

In reply to the shout for aid Geoffrey made his way through the
struggling crowds towards the Duke, but ere he could disengage himself,
Gloucester was beaten to the earth by a mighty sweep of the Frenchman's
battle-axe.

The next instant the King himself had stepped across his brother's
prostrate body, and with shield outstretched and ready blade he defended
the helpless Duke from the combined assault of the French knights.

But help was at hand. Geoffrey and three others threw themselves upon
the King's assailants, Henry directing his attention to the unknown
knight of the axe. In this he had enough to do, for the Frenchman's
weapon descended with fearful force upon the King of England's helmet.
Luckily the blow was a glancing one, yet it clove the golden crown on
his bascinet, and brought Henry to his knees.

But the unknown's triumph was short-lived. Regaining his feet the King
in turn sent his antagonist reeling to the earth, while, carried away by
the heat of the battle, his three subjects were about to slay the man
who had so nearly achieved his purpose.

"Hold, I yield! I am Alençon," exclaimed the prostrate knight. But the
offer of surrender came too late. Ere the King could stretch forth his
hand to protect his enemy, the Duc d'Alençon had received his
death-blow.

"Nay, fair sirs," exclaimed the King breathlessly, "I am unhurt; yet, an
I were, 'tis no time for condolences."

Henry had spoken truly, for approaching him in a compact body were
eighteen knights, each of whom had sworn a solemn oath to kill or take
the King of England or perish in the attempt. The Royal Standard of
England had served them as a guide only too well.

In an instant Geoffrey was swept to the earth by the desperate rush, one
of the knights who had gone to the King's assistance was slain, and
Henry with three of his followers was left to meet the determined
attack.

Once again the King, defending himself with courage and coolness, was
beaten down upon his knees, but others of his supporters came to the
rescue, and the eighteen Frenchmen kept their vow—they died to a man.

Slowly Geoffrey extricated himself from the mire and regained his feet.
Beyond being sorely bruised he was unhurt, and with the knowledge that
the King was safe he plunged again into the press.

But already the tide of battle had turned. Unless a surprising rally
should take place on the part of the enemy the conflict was decided. The
first division of the foe had recoiled upon the second, and now both
were assailed by the victorious English, and the remains of both were
seeking safety in flight. As for the third line, the fate of their
comrades had struck them with panic. On the approach of the four hundred
English lances, who had hitherto remained in ambush with remarkable
self-restraint, they, too, fled, and the victory was complete.

In an endeavour to find Sir Thomas Carberry, Geoffrey made his way
betwixt the piles of corpses to where a few valiant French knights still
held out. For a while the squire searched in vain, till he perceived
seven or eight surcoated archers, whom he recognized as being
Warblington men, standing in a semi-circle with brandished weapons.

As Geoffrey drew near the object of their position became apparent.
Standing with his back against a tree was a Frenchman. He was clad in
complete mail, but in spite of this he had received more than one wound.
The plume had been shorn from his crest, his shield was splintered, his
armour cracked and dented, and his sword, broken close to the hilt, lay
at his feet. Battle-axe in hand he stood at bay, disdaining to receive
quarter at the hands of base archers, while his antagonists hesitated to
come within reach of the menacing weapon.

"Send a shaft through him," suggested one.

About to act upon this advice, an archer bent his bow.

"Hold!" exclaimed Geoffrey, grasping the man by the shoulder. Even as he
did so the arrow sped, but wide of the mark. Angrily the archer turned
about.

"Who art thou to stand betwixt an honest Englishman and a rascally
Frenchman?" he demanded, for he failed to recognize his young leader,
whose armour was covered from helm to solleret in mud and gore.

"Dost not know me, Hubert?"

"By Our Lady, 'tis Master Geoffrey. Thy pardon, young sir. But this is
our affair, therefore, come not to prevent us working our will on this
thick-headed Frenchman."

"Have ye not demanded his surrender?"

"Ay," replied the men in a chorus. "And he refuses."

"Sir Knight," exclaimed the squire earnestly. "Wilt yield?"

"Art thou a gentleman of quality, sir?" replied the Frenchman. "If so——"

"Nay, since we are to be done out of his ransom let him die,"
interrupted the archers sturdily.

"Fret not yourselves," exclaimed Geoffrey. "Were he dead not a groat
would ye receive. On the other hand, if he surrender the ransom I'll
bestow upon you."

"Then we are content," replied the soldiers, and they moved away.

"Wilt yield, sir Knight?" repeated the squire. "I am a gentleman of
coat-armour, and will give thee every consideration befitting a gallant
and debonair gentleman of France."

"Fair sir, I yield," but as the vanquished knight tendered the hilt of
his axe he toppled and fell heavily to the ground.

Drawing his poniard Geoffrey knelt beside the unconscious man and deftly
severed the laces of his bascinet. Upon removing the heavy headpiece he
found to his surprise that his captive was none other than Sir Raoul
d'Aulx, Seigneur de Maissons and the knight who held Sir Oliver Lysle in
courteous captivity.

In vain Geoffrey searched for fresh water. In the furrows and ditches
there was water in plenty, but discoloured by the blood of friend and
foe. But to the squire's intense relief the colour began to return to
the face of Sir Raoul, and at length he opened his eyes.

"Ho, Geoffrey, I have sought thee high and low: methought thou hadst
bitten the dust," exclaimed a well-known voice as Oswald Steyning
approached, his unhelmed head swathed in a blood-stained scarf.

"I have indeed bitten the dust, Oswald," replied Geoffrey with a smile,
"yet, thanks be to God, I have received no hurt. But thou bearest some
token of the fray?"

"A mere cut," replied Sir Oliver's squire lightly.

"And Sir Thomas and the rest of the company?"

"Beyond a few slight but honourable wounds Sir Thomas is unscathed, but
alas! Ratclyffe is no more."

"Tis sad news. And Gripwell——?"

"As blithe as a maid on May Day. Certes, he hath good cause, for but a
short while ago I saw him with mine own eyes taking two French knights
to the camp. If he see England again never another day's work will he
need to do, for his prisoners are worth four thousand crowns apiece."

"I pray thee lend me thine aid with this one," said Geoffrey, pointing
to his captive. "'Tis none other than Sir Raoul d'Aulx."

"Therein thou art fortunate," replied Oswald. "Let us quit this field,
for my stomach turns at the sight of it."

With a squire supporting him on either side Sir Raoul was placed on his
feet and assisted towards the rear, where the baggage and horses had
been placed under guard, and where the captives were being taken for
safety; but, ere Geoffrey and his charge reached the fringe of the
corpse-encumbered field, a man-at-arms rode past them in hot haste.

"Look to yourselves," he shouted. "We are attacked in the rear. The camp
is taken!"



                              CHAPTER XXV

                              THE MASSACRE


The alarming news that an attack was being made on the rear quickly
spread, and from all parts of the field knights, men-at-arms and archers
came running towards the Royal Standard as fast as their wearied bodies
and cumbersome armour would permit.

Yet, even in the face of this new danger the mercenary instinct of the
common soldiers was paramount. They had fought and won; rich and noble
prisoners, worth princely ransoms, were theirs, and even the threatened
attack failed to make the archers and men-at-arms abandon their
hard-earned prizes. Thus the King found himself surrounded by a medley
of Englishmen, intermingled with a crowd of French knights and gentlemen
who in the confusion of the impending attack would undoubtedly be a
source of danger to their captors.

Henry was quick to act. As a general and a soldier he resolved upon
stern measures.

"My Lord Camoys," he exclaimed, "take a thousand lances and at all costs
hold the enemy in check until the men-at-arms and archers can be formed
up. Pass the word also that every man is to put his prisoner to death."

Unhesitatingly Lord Camoys rode to execute his terrible orders, but to
the King's anger and surprise, sullen murmurs of protest and defiance
rose on all sides. Though realizing the gravity of the situation, the
English—knights and common soldiers alike—were loth to take such extreme
measures. In some cases feelings of humanity prompted them to resist
their liege-lord's orders, but, generally speaking, it was the
reluctance to put a high-born prisoner to death that incited them to
refusal. According to the practice of the times the indiscriminate
slaughter of the common soldiers—men who could not afford to pay
ransom—was regarded as the custom of war, but the murder of every
prisoner who was willing to pay a large sum to his captor was in every
sense abhorrent.

"By the Blessed Trinity," thundered the King, "what is this I see? Open
rebellion? Sirs, ye will pay dearly for this anon."

And turning to one Thomas Almer, squire to Sir John Cornwall, afterwards
Baron Fanhope, he ordered him to take three hundred archers and execute
the helpless prisoners.

"Nay, I cannot abide it," exclaimed Geoffrey resolutely, as the shrieks
of the unfortunate Frenchmen began to ring in his ears. "E'en if my own
life has to pay forfeit this knight must be protected."

Bidding Oswald support the tottering form of Sir Raoul, Geoffrey made
his way to where lay the body of a slain English man-at-arms. Quickly he
stripped the corpse of its white surcoat with the distinguishing Cross
of St. George, and returning, began to place it over the body of his
captive.

Feebly Sir Raoul tried to resist. This donning of the hated cognisance
was repugnant to his sense of honour, but his strength was unequal to
his resolution, and with a groan he swooned away.

"We are indeed in sore straits," exclaimed Geoffrey as he carried out
his plan of disguising the Frenchman's appearance. "If we stay here
perchance they will see through the trick; if we go on we shall fall
into the hands of our enemies. Yet, by St. George, I'll see Sir Raoul to
safety or perish."

By dint of great exertions the two squires dragged the mail-clad body of
the helpless knight to the shelter of a thorn-bush. Here they waited,
reluctantly compelled to witness the horrible scene as the archers went
about their murderous business.

Presently three of the executioners, with reeking weapons in their hands
and their white surcoats splashed with blood, approached.

"Whom hast thou here, sir squire?" demanded one, pointing with his blade
at the unconscious Sir Raoul. "I' faith; I'll swear yon red cross covers
no English carcase."

"'Tis a wounded knight," replied Geoffrey. "I thank thee for thy offer
of assistance, but must needs decline it."

"Hark at him! Decline, forsooth? Nay, mine assistance is to help the
rogue to Paradise, so stand aside, squire, in the King's name, for no
man dare tell me that his harness was fashioned in England."

"Nay, 'tis no affair of thine, archer; yet if a gold piece or two
will——"

"Offerest thou me gold?" replied the soldier with a gruff laugh. "I'll
wager I have enough gold sewn up in my doublet to buy thee thrice over."

"Then take care lest I slit thy doublet and thy hide as well," replied
Geoffrey, standing on his guard. "'Tis ill that Englishmen should shed
each other's blood, yet I have sworn to protect this man, and before
Heaven I'll not go back from my word."

"Fall on, comrades," shouted the archer. "We'll see whether this young
cockerel can scratch as well as crow."

"Draw, Oswald; I _command_ thee!" exclaimed Geoffrey, and wondering at
his companion's tone, Oswald, sword in hand, took his place at his side.

"We are but wasting time," expostulated one of the archers. "The squire
is right: why should we fight Englishmen? Are we not exceeding our
orders?"

"What! Art afraid of two lads?" replied his fellow. "Come on, I say, and
let's settle this business."

"Do it thyself. For my part I'll pass by. The King can be told of this
opposition anon."

"Go, chicken-heart! What will thy friends and kinsfolk at Ely say when
they hear that thou hast shown the white feather to two beardless
squires? Now, look to thyself, squire."

As the archer with two of his comrades was on the point of closing, a
cry went up "In the King's name, the slaughter of the prisoners must
cease!" The order was repeated in all parts of the field, and in a very
short space of time the work of massacre had ceased, the archers being,
for the most part, glad to cease their unprofitable and hateful task.

"'Tis well for thee, squire," growled Geoffrey's antagonist, smartly
thrusting his sword back into its scabbard and turning on his heel.
"But, mark ye, the King shall hear of this."

The report of the attack upon the rear guard had proved to be greatly
exaggerated. Finding that the camp had been left slenderly guarded a
seigneur living close to the village of Agincourt, Isambard by name, had
gathered together a band of five hundred peasants, and falling upon the
baggage guard had put them to flight. This done, the marauders set to
work to pillage the baggage, till they were dispersed by the English
lances.

Yet Isambard had not been unsuccessful, for part of his spoil consisted
of the King's crown that had been made in anticipation of his coronation
in Paris, and also a diamond-hilted sword belonging to the royal
treasures.

But to counterbalance this gain 'tis said that no less than fourteen
hundred defenceless and unarmed knights and squires of France had been
slaughtered in cold blood. No wonder, therefore, was it that when
Isambard presented his trophies to the Duc de Burgundy that irate
prince, reproaching the seigneur as being the cause of the massacre,
ordered him to be cast into prison.

"I fear we have not seen the end of this affair," remarked Oswald, as
the two squires stood much disquieted by the side of their prisoner, and
the gravity of their offence began to loom larger. "If this comes to the
King's ears we are likely to be put to death."

"I, perchance, but not thou, Oswald," replied Geoffrey.

"How so? Did I not draw with thee?"

"Didst thou not hear me _order_ thee to draw? Since thou art my father's
squire and I am his representative in the field, thou art under my
orders, though heretofore I have not exercised any authority over thee.
Therefore, should it come to pass that the matter is taken up, thou
canst—nay must—plead that 'twas by my command that thou didst resist the
King's orders."

"Thou meanest me well, Geoffrey; but methinks 'twill not serve," replied
Oswald as the generous nature of his friend's act became apparent to
him. "However, 'tis of no use waiting for trouble; let us find Sir
Thomas Carberry and confide in him."

Acting on this sensible advice the two squires assisted Sir Raoul, who
had again recovered consciousness, to his feet, and having left him in a
secure place in charge of two of the Warblington archers, who had
strayed across their path, they set out to find the Constable of
Portchester.

The field of battle was literally smothered with corpses of men and
horses; shattered weapons lay everywhere, while in front of the
still-standing row of stakes the barrier of slaughtered Frenchmen was
piled breast-high. Amid these horrible surroundings archers were
carelessly sauntering, withdrawing arrows that had sunk deep in the
clayey soil to replenish their quivers, or stopping to plunder the body
of some wealthy knight. Here and there walked small knots of soldiers
searching for the corpse of their master, or engaged in succouring their
wounded comrades, whose groans and cries of pain rose on all sides; but
most of the English knights and squires, as well as a vast concourse of
men-at-arms, had gathered round the Royal Standard that floated proudly
over the fatal field.

"Ah, there is Sir Thomas," exclaimed Oswald, pointing to the star and
crescent banner that showed bravely amidst a waving forest of silken
guidons and pennons.

"Heaven be praised," exclaimed the Constable, "that I see thee safe and
sound, Geoffrey. Methought I had lost both my squires. And Oswald, too!"

"Fair lord, I have as yet been spared, though Richard Ratclyffe hath
fallen."

"Ay, and right bravely he fought and died; Heaven rest his soul," added
the knight gravely. "But what hath gone amiss? I see trouble in thine
eyes."

"Sir, thou art like to lose another squire," replied Geoffrey.

"How so? How so?" demanded the Constable anxiously. Then with a smile he
added, "Perchance the King hath thought fit to give thee advancement?"

"Advancement of a kind, fair sir," replied Geoffrey gloomily, and in a
few words he related the events concerning Sir Raoul's capture and
escape from massacre.

"By St. George! What hast thou done?" exclaimed Sir Thomas, aghast at
his squire's temerity. "Thou hast flouted the King's authority."

"In this matter I had no choice," replied Geoffrey. "Deeply I regret my
error, but I am under a vow to save this French knight."

"'Twill require all my efforts to save thee from the hangman's rope,
young sir. But, certes, I'll do my utmost. An I can but get the King's
ear when he is in a good mood, so much the better. Above all I must have
my say ere the squire in charge of the archers can lay his complaint.
Yet think not to get off lightly, Geoffrey. Thou hast erred and must
needs pay the penalty."

"That I know, fair sir."

"Then bear thyself like a true soldier. But here comes the French
herald. List to what he hath to say, for 'tis of much import."

Even in his distress Geoffrey craned his neck to see the meeting twixt
the victorious king and the representative of the conquered foe.

The French knight was magnificently harnessed in a suit of white armour,
over which was a tabard emblazoned with the royal arms of France. He was
unarmed and unhelmed, for he bore his casque in his right hand.
Alighting from his palfrey, he threw the reins to an attendant, and
accompanied by two pages, advanced to where Henry stood, clad in his
soiled and dented armour, surrounded by his lords and chief officers.

"I am Denis Mountjoye, King-at-Arms, and a loyal servant to my master
King Charles, on whose account am I here."

"Greetings, herald," exclaimed the King courteously. "We would fain know
thy errand."

"I crave permission to bury our dead, sire."

"First tell us, herald: to whom belongs this victory—to us or to the
King of France?"

"To you, sire."

"And yon castle—what name does it bear?"

"The Castle of Agincourt, sire."

"Then let this battle be called the battle of Agincourt," announced the
King in a loud voice. "Herald, thy request is granted. Five hundred
peasants can see to the burial of thy master's dead; Sir John Crofton
will give thee further directions."

As soon as Mountjoye had taken his departure the King removed his
helmet, which bore eloquent testimony to its wearer's prowess, and in
obedience to an order, knight, squire and common soldier followed his
example. Then, led by Henry in person, the psalm _Non nobis, Domine_,
was chanted by the English army in order to acknowledge, in the midst of
triumph, the only Giver of victory.

The French losses were enormous. Ten thousand fell on the field of
battle, and of these only fifteen hundred were common soldiers. The
Constable of France, the Counts of Nevers and Marle, the Dukes of
Brabant, Alençon and Barre, and the Archbishop of Sens were amongst
those who laid down their life for France; while the Dukes of Bourbon
and Orleans were amongst the prisoners.

The losses on the victorious side were proportionately small. The Duke
of York, the Earl of Suffolk, four knights, seven squires, and about
fifteen hundred men-at-arms and archers died in battle, or, roughly, one
in every four men engaged. Had the remnant of the French army rallied
and made another attack in the open, the shattered English force might
never have reached Calais, but so disheartened were the defeated troops
that any attempt at a renewal of the fray was impossible.

Deeming himself secure from further molestation Henry withdrew his
forces to the camp at Maisoncelles, a short distance from the scene of
action, to allow his wearied men a good night's rest ere resuming their
coastward march.

The shades of evening were falling upon the ghastly field of Agincourt
as the Constable of Portchester returned from audience with the King. He
had gone alone, thinking it wiser to leave the two culprits in their
quarters during the fateful interview with his royal master.

During his absence Geoffrey and Oswald had not been unmindful of their
lord's comfort. Tents there were now in abundance, for the fugitive host
had left the whole of the camp equipment standing.

"What think ye of our condition, Arnold?" asked Geoffrey of the old
man-at-arms, pausing in the midst of arranging Sir Thomas's couch.

"Faith! many a man has been hanged for less," replied Gripwell, bluntly
outspoken in his sorrow. "E'en though the order was unnecessary, as it
seems, yet 'twas thy place to obey it. Yet likely thy youth and thy
previous good service being taken into consideration, thou mayest save
thy neck. But here comes our master. Methinks I read good tidings on his
face."

Dutifully the two squires hastened to relieve Sir Thomas of his armour,
placing wine and food before him as he eased his wearied limbs upon the
couch. Though both lads were consumed with anxiety they preserved a
strict silence, awaiting the news of the knight's mediation.

"By Our Lady," exclaimed the Constable, "'tis strange that after a hard
day in the field I should have to spend a harder time in exercising my
sorry tongue on behalf of two wrong-headed young squires. Yet fret not
thyself, Geoffrey; nor thee, Oswald. In short, ye are pardoned for your
transgression, though at a price."

"Fair lord, I thank thee," Geoffrey exclaimed.

"Nay, wait and hear me out. Certes, when I told the King his brow was as
black as a thundercloud, yet, on recalling thy services to him both at
Southampton and on the field when he was beset by d'Alençon, he mused
awhile.

"'Then the chief culprit was the squire who went into the enemy's camp,
and who later helped most valiantly to beat d'Alençon to the earth? And
he would spoil himself on account of a French knight? Well, Sir Thomas,
we'll let this pass. It was in our mind to bestow upon him the gilded
spurs of knighthood, but now 'tis not to be thought of. As for his
companion in trouble thou sayest he acted under compulsion? Let that
also pass.'

"Then as I was about to withdraw who should appear but Sir John
Cornwall. 'Sire, I have a plaint to lay before thee. My squire Almer
hath reported that two squires have obstructed certain of my archers in
the execution of thy orders.'

"'Thou art too late, Sir John,' replied the King. 'Sir Thomas, here,
hath already lodged a case 'gainst them. Yet thanks for thy zeal in our
cause.'

"Once more I was about to withdraw when the King called me back. 'Who is
this French knight, and what hath he done that thy squire should so
stoutly befriend him?'

"'Sire,' I replied, 'he is Sir Raoul d'Aulx, seigneur of the Chateau de
Maissons, and he holds this squire's father, Sir Oliver Lysle, in
captivity.'

"''Tis indeed strange. We would have thought that 'twould be an eye for
an eye, a tooth for a tooth. But concerning this Castle of Maissons—doth
it not lie near this place?'

"'But a short distance from the ford at Peronne.'

"'Then see to it, Sir Thomas. Let a troop of lances on the morrow be
sent to bring Sir Oliver hither, for we have heard much concerning the
Lord of Warblington, and have need of his services.' With that I thanked
the King and withdrew."

"Fair lord, then we are much beholden to thee."

"Nay, 'twould ill become me if I failed to do my utmost for my squires.
Now to rest, Geoffrey, for thou must be up betimes, since it is my
desire that thou shouldst ride with the men-at-arms to Maissons."

For a space Geoffrey could not utter a word, then with an effort he
asked—

"Did I hear aright, fair sir? The King—did he say that the gilded spurs
of knighthood were not to be thought of in my case?"

"Aye, that he did," replied the Constable with a twinkle in his deep-set
eyes. "Aye, that he did; but beshrew me, I have forgotten to add his own
words 'for a while at least.' So bear up, young heart, and I'll warrant
that thou'lt be Sir Geoffrey ere the King sets foot in Paris."



                              CHAPTER XXVI

                   AT THE CASTLE OF SIR RAOUL D'AULX


The morning after Agincourt dawned bright and clear, with a keenness in
the wind that betokened the approach of winter.

Ere the camp was fully astir, for the war-worn soldiers were thoroughly
enjoying their hard-earned rest, forty men-at-arms of Sir John
Carberry's command formed up on an open stretch of ground in front of
the Hampshire Company's lines.

The horses, thanks to a complete day's idleness in the rich pasture
ground, were fresh and well-fed, presenting a vast contrast to their
gaunt and stern riders, many of whom bore traces of the ordeal they had
undergone culminating in the desperate advance upon the disordered
French lines. Yet they were one and all filled with enthusiasm, for all
of them knew Sir Oliver as a gallant knight, while every available man
of the Warblington contingent had volunteered for the expedition that
was to set free their beloved master.

Arnold Gripwell had barely completed his careful inspection of the
equipment of the troop, both horse and rider, when the Constable of
Portchester, accompanied by Geoffrey and Oswald, emerged from his tent
to bid his men Godspeed.

"Thou knowest the way?" he asked as the squires mounted their chargers.
"'Tis plain enough, since 'tis worn by the feet of seven thousand of our
men. But take heed lest ye fall in with any large bodies of roving
Frenchmen, e'en though they have been soundly beaten. All being well ye
should be back ere sunrise to-morrow; but if by noon ye have not put in
an appearance I'll lead a double company to your aid."

"'Tis well, fair lord," replied Geoffrey. "I will do my utmost to return
at dawn."

Then, without so much as a cheer or a trumpet note the little band set
out, and passing through the lines of the sleeping camp, gained the open
country beyond.

Without molestation, for the country appeared deserted, the men-at-arms
recrossed the Ternoise and the Somme, and an hour before noon came in
sight of the towers of Maissons.

Here Geoffrey, on Gripwell's advice, called a halt, to rest and refresh
the horses, and to give the men a short respite ere advancing upon the
castle.

The squire had already made cautious inquiries of his captive, Sir
Raoul, concerning the possible garrison of Maissons; but, unwilling to
inform the knight that it was proposed to summon the castle to
surrender, Geoffrey had been unable to gather any definite information
as to its state of defence.

"They are ready to give us a right warm welcome!" exclaimed Oswald, as
in nearing the castle the drawbridge was observed to be drawn up, while
the sun glistened upon steel caps and spearheads over the battlements.

"Certes, they are by no means few," observed Gripwell, shading his eyes.
"It would seem that the followers of this Sir Raoul have not stuck to
the field with their master. There must be at least three score of
them—and behind stout walls too. By St. George, we'll have a tough task
here, squire Geoffrey."

"That is to be seen," replied Geoffrey. "Has any man a white scarf with
him? If so let him bind it to his spear."

Two or three of the required articles were at once forthcoming, and
using one as a flag of truce, Geoffrey rode boldly up to the edge of the
moat, a man-at-arms riding close behind him with the emblem of parley.

"I would have speech with the representative of Sir Raoul d'Aulx,
Seigneur de Maissons," exclaimed Geoffrey.

"Thy message, sir," replied a woman's voice, and to the squire's
astonishment and confusion there appeared the figure of the Lady Aimée,
daughter of the seigneur and the haughty châtelaine whom Geoffrey had
rescued on his journey up the Seine two years previously. She had donned
a light steel corselet and cap that failed to conceal her dark brown
tresses, and leaning upon a shield emblazoned with the d'Aulx arms, she
stood proudly and defiantly upon the battlements of her ancestral home.

Even though Geoffrey had raised the visor of his helmet he felt certain
that the damosel failed to recognize him. Nor was that to be wondered
at, since the squire had altered and matured not a little during those
two years of strenuous life and activity, while in complete mail he
looked a very different person from the lad who in ordinary travelling
attire had dared to rush in upon a levelled crossbow to aid the haughty
Lady d'Aulx.

"In the name of the most puissant sovereign Henry, King of England and
France, I demand surrender of the castle known as Maissons, now in the
possession of the representatives of Sir Raoul d'Aulx."

"'Tis easy to demand, sir," replied the girl. "Yet not easy to acquire.
How dost thou think that thou canst take this castle with more than half
a hundred defenders behind its walls. Have a care, sir, lest the forces
of King Charles, the only King of France, do not sweep thee and thine
from off the face of the earth."

"I fear them not," replied Geoffrey. "Thou knowest only too well that
only yesterday the French fled before our arms, leaving vast numbers of
gallant knights upon the field and in our hands."

In spite of her coolness Aimée d'Aulx staggered beneath the shock of the
news, but recovering herself, she replied, "A truce to thy words, sir.
An thou wilt take the castle, advance, for 'tis a warm reception that
awaits thee and thine."

With that the girl disappeared from view, leaving Geoffrey staring up at
the battlement where she had stood.

"Fair sir," quoth the man-at-arms who bore the white flag. "Hast thou
taken notice of those nine steel caps showing above the wall?"

"Nay," replied the squire shortly, for, truth to tell, during the
interview he had eyes only for the fair Aimée d'Aulx.

"They have not moved a hair's breadth these five minutes," continued the
man. "Since 'tis impossible for a Frenchman to remain quiet, for
curiosity must have otherwise consumed them, I am of opinion that those
head-pieces are set up only to trick us."

"By the rood, Hubert, methinks thou shouldst be right in this matter,"
exclaimed the squire excitedly.

"And, moreover," went on the soldier imperturbably, "didst thou not mark
how yon damsel was taken aback when thou told'st her of the rout of
yesterday?"

"Now thou speakest of it I call it to mind," admitted Geoffrey. "What of
it?"

"This, fair sir: 'tis certain that none of this knight's followers have
gained the shelter of the castle, otherwise the news would have been no
news. I'll warrant, could we but cross the moat, that ten stout
men-at-arms could carry the castle by escalade."

"Thine advice is good, Hubert," said Geoffrey, as the twain turned and
rode back to their comrades.

After a short council had been held, ten of the men-at-arms divested
themselves of their armour, and armed only with their axes and daggers,
ran boldly towards the moat.

Here they were assailed by a shower of ill-directed stones, while from a
few of the oyelets came an irregular discharge of arrows, shot so feebly
that for the most part they failed to pass within a spear's length of
the object of their intended mark.

A roar of derisive laughter burst from the lips of the seasoned
veterans, as without a moment's hesitation they plunged into the waters
of the moat. Unscathed, though the stones churned up the water all
around them, the men swam to the opposite side, where, taking advantage
of a narrow terraced ridge of rock at the base of the castle walls, they
gained the shelter of the raised drawbridge.

Soon a coil of rope, weighted by an axe, was thrown deftly over one of
the chains that supported the drawbridge full thirty feet above the
ground.

"Up with thee, John o' Bosham," exclaimed the man who had been appointed
the leader of the enterprise. "Thou wert a shipman ere thou wert
man-at-arms. And thou, too, Peter of Gosport. Up with thee, I say."

With their axes thrust into their belts the two soldiers swarmed up the
swaying rope, and agilely balancing themselves on the chain, they looked
about for some means to sever the stout iron links. Being without files
they soon realized that the task was beyond them.

"Try the woodwork, John!" shouted one of the men from below. "Yet take
good heed when thou hast done thy work."

Blithely the twain set to with their axes, and amid a shower of
splinters the chain-plate secured to the frame of the drawbridge was cut
out, falling with a loud clang against the wall.

With that the two men-at-arms made their way astraddle of their lofty
swaying perch, and having passed the rope through one of the links of
the still-holding chain and secured themselves to it by their belts,
they again fell to work. "Stand clear below," exclaimed Peter, as the
woodwork creaked ominously.

The next moment the chain-plate was wrenched from its hold, and with a
crash the heavy drawbridge fell, rebounding more than once ere it came
to rest. Then amid the cheers of their comrades the two daring and by
this time well-nigh exhausted men slid down the rope to the ground.

Meanwhile Geoffrey and the main body had not been idle. At great pains
they had felled a young fir tree, and having stripped it of its
branches, bore it to the edge of the moat.

As the drawbridge fell, two score willing hands raised the heavy
battering-ram, and recking not the shower of stones that rattled
harmlessly on their headpieces, the men-at-arms attacked the iron-bound
oaken door.

At the third blow the massive timber was burst asunder, and with shouts
of triumph the men-at-arms swarmed into the castle, to find it deserted
save by half-a-dozen trembling serving women incongruously wearing steel
headpieces, two decrepit men-servants, and the Lady Aimée d'Aulx!

"Thou hast conquered, sir," exclaimed the girl haughtily. "Accept my
congratulations on thy feat of arms—this victory over a handful of
helpless women-folk."

"Nay, fair lady," replied Geoffrey, advancing with raised visor. "We do
not make war upon women. Rest assured, therefore, that neither thou nor
thine will suffer harm."

"Then why art thou here?"

"To carry out the orders of my royal master. Further——"

"The saints preserve me!" exclaimed the damsel. "Of a surety I have seen
thee before? Ay, 'tis the youth that befriended us at the Dos d'Ane."

"Shrewdly guessed, fair lady. I am in truth Geoffrey Lysle, squire to
Sir Thomas Carberry, and son of Sir Oliver Lysle, whom thy father holds
captive in this castle, and whom it is my desire to set at liberty."

"Tell me, young sir," asked the girl eagerly. "Thou didst say that our
arms have suffered a reverse? Canst say aught concerning my father, Sir
Raoul?"

"He is safe, though hurt; a prisoner. More, he is my prisoner."

"Then thou art willing to set him at liberty in exchange for thy sire?"

"My father I hope to regain by virtue of the success of our arms in the
taking of this castle of Maissons. As for Sir Raoul, 'tis my purpose to
receive two thousand crowns for his ransom."

"Like the rest of these Englishmen, thou wouldst place money before
honour?" said the girl scornfully. "No doubt it was for that purpose
alone that his life was spared?"

Geoffrey coloured at the unjust taunt. He shrank from telling how he had
rescued Sir Raoul at the risk of his own life and honour, and that he
had demanded the ransom solely on account of the archers, whose offers
of quarter the knight had resolutely refused.

"'Tis the usage of war on both sides, fair lady," he replied with a
dignity equal to her own. "But of that anon. Oswald, do thou conduct the
Lady Aimée to her apartments, and see that none of the men-at-arms
venture upon her privacy."

Then turning to an old servitor, who, by reason of a bunch of keys
hanging from his girdle, was evidently custodian of the keep—

"Hasten thee, rascal, take me to the Lord of Warblington's quarters—or
prison, whichever it be."

Obediently the man complied, and soon Geoffrey was grasping his father
by the hand. His long quest had ended at last.

Sir Oliver's quarters were plainly yet comfortably furnished, and were
situated in a part of the domestic buildings of the castle. Under his
promise not to break faith with his captor unless ransomed or rescued,
he had been allowed almost complete freedom, being at liberty to hunt in
an adjoining forest, or to wander in or about the castle. Punctilious
towards his captor and strictly true to his parole, the Lord of
Warblington had endured his detention with fortitude, though his
thoughts were ever speeding towards his wife and home across the English
Channel.

For the space of nearly two hours father and son remained in eager and
joyous converse, while the soldiers were feasting in the courtyard of
the castle, till the necessity of rejoining the English camp became
apparent.

"Art ready, Oswald?" asked Geoffrey, after Sir Oliver had warmly greeted
his faithful squire.

"All is ready," replied Oswald, "but I bear a message from the Lady
Aimée. She would see thee in the great hall."

With mingled sensations of hope and fear Geoffrey made his way to the
girl's presence. Seated on an oak chair, with two tiring maids in
attendance, the Lady Aimée d'Aulx awaited the coming of her captor. She
had discarded her steel corselet, and had taken particular care that her
tresses should be rearranged, while in place of her riding-habit she had
assumed a dark blue kirtle with hanging sleeves slashed with
murrey-coloured silk, and on her head a high sugar-loafed cap after the
fashion of the times.

"Thy pleasure, fair lady?" exclaimed Geoffrey, louting low before her.

"Squire Geoffrey, I must needs make amends for my ill-natured tongue.
Thy friend Oswald hath told me concerning thy generous and courteous
treatment of my father. I crave thy forgiveness."

Geoffrey vehemently protested that no forgiveness was necessary, since
nothing untoward could fall from the lips of the daughter of Sir Raoul
d'Aulx. Then time passed rapidly and unheeded, for the two were engaged
in animated conversation, regardless of the presence of the tiring maids
who had discreetly withdrawn to one of the alcoves.

At length the squire prepared to take his departure, for his ears had
caught the warning long-drawn blast of a trumpet in the courtyard.

"And hast thou truly forgotten what I said concerning my father's
ransom?" asked the girl.

"Ay, truly."

"And dost thou not require that _I_ should be held to ransom, squire
Geoffrey?"

For answer Geoffrey's steel-grey eyes looked steadfastly into the dark
glistening orbs of the Norman maiden. Then courteously and reverently he
raised her hand to his lips.

When Geoffrey Lysle rode away from the Castle of Maissons he took with
him the heart of the Lady Aimée d'Aulx.

                  *       *       *       *       *

True to his promise Geoffrey and his men-at-arms regained at dawn the
English camp, where Sir Oliver received a rousing welcome, not only from
his own retainers, but from the many knights who regarded him with the
warmest feelings of esteem.

Though the men-at-arms who had carried out the raid on Maissons had had
little rest, there was scant time for leisure. The army had to resume
its march to Calais, where, accompanied by a vast host of prisoners,
Henry arrived without let or hindrance.

Here, safe within the walls of that fortress, a council was held at
which it was recognized that the only thing to be done at present was to
return to England. A rest of several days was allowed to the hard-worked
troops, during which time most of the prisoners, save those of higher
rank, were permitted to depart upon payment of their ransoms and the
promise to take no active part against the invaders.

Amongst the released captives was Sir Raoul d'Aulx. The two thousand
crowns received by Geoffrey were handed over to the men to whom the
ransom had already been promised. The French knight took farewell of Sir
Oliver and his son with the utmost good humour, for the bonds of old
comradeship betwixt the Lord of Warblington and the Seigneur of Maissons
were too strong to be severed by the quarrels of two nations.

At length, in the middle of November, the King with his victorious
forces recrossed the Channel. At Dover the enthusiasm was intense, the
townsfolk rushing knee-deep into the icy cold water to bear their
national idol ashore, while the streets were hung with bright colours in
honour of the brave.

Thence, after a few days' rest in the castle, Henry resumed his
triumphal progress to London, attended by his nobles, knights, and
soldiers, and accompanied by his prisoners.

But Sir Oliver Lysle did not bear his sovereign company. Since he had
not taken an active part in the campaign he was loth to share in the
welcome extended to the veterans of that perilous march from Harfleur to
Calais. So, obtaining permission to withdraw, he returned to Warblington
Castle, whither Geoffrey and Oswald hastened after the festivities in
London were concluded.



                             CHAPTER XXVII

                           THE SIEGE OF ROUEN


Although Henry V had left the shores of France without having concluded
a treaty with his defeated foes, hostilities were practically suspended
for a space of nearly two years. But in 1416 the King entered into an
alliance with the Duke of Burgundy, who, since the fatal field of
Agincourt, had become paramount in France.

With this powerful ally Henry's chances of securing the French crown
were greatly increased, and in the month of July, 1417, he again
prepared to invade Normandy.

After two years of ease following the strenuous life in the field,
Geoffrey longed for the opportunity of buckling on his armour and again
seeking his fortune in the land of the Fleur de Lys, and great was his
delight when orders were received for the army to assemble at
Southampton.

As in the glorious expedition of 1415 Geoffrey went in attendance upon
Sir Thomas Carberry, but with this difference: he was now the senior
squire, a lad of fifteen, Walter Talbot by name, having recently been
taken into the Constable of Portchester's service as junior squire.

This time the star and mullet of the Lysles was also in evidence, but
without the waving black line, for Sir Oliver Lysle was now present in
person to lead the men of Warblington. With him went Oswald Steyning,
and though in separate companies the two comrades had ample
opportunities of enjoying each other's companionship.

Arnold Gripwell, also, had joined the army assembled at Southampton.
Sinewy as of yore the gaunt old man-at-arms looked no older than he did
on the day when he watched in vain for his master's return in the _Grâce
à Dieu_, though in truth his strength was slowly failing.

On the 1st day of August, 1417, the English army landed on the shores of
Normandy, and the march of the invaders became a veritable pageant of
martial triumph. The royal castle of Touques fell after a short siege,
and disheartened by the success of their foes and torn by internal
dissensions, the French seemed to have given up all hope of holding the
Duchy of Normandy. Damvilliers, Harcourt, Eu, Evreux, opened their gates
without resistance, and after a stubborn yet ineffectual defence Caen
was taken by escalade on the last day of August.

Shortly after this success the Duke of Brittany deserted the cause of
Charles of Valois, and swearing fealty to Henry, joined his forces to
those of the invader, with the result that the town and castle of
Falaise—so closely associated with William the Conqueror—surrendered on
the second day of January, 1417. This was the last of Henry's successes
in that year.[1]

-----

Footnote 1:

  It must be borne in mind that at this period the New year was reckoned
  from the 1st of March, and not from the 1st of January. This
  peculiarity has given rise to many apparently conflicting dates in
  mediæval history.

-----

Spring was well advanced ere the King left his quarters at Bayeux and
marched up the left bank of the Seine. Once again he had set himself a
formidable task—this time the taking of Rouen, the capital of Normandy.

The city was of immense strength, occupying a splendid natural position
on the north or right bank of the Seine. Lofty walls, powerfully mounted
with bombards and mangonels, completely encircled the town, the
battlements being pierced by six gates on the landward side, in addition
to the two water-gates that abutted on the spacious quays, where ships
of considerable burthen could moor after ascending the river from the
sea.

Its garrison consisted of twenty-five thousand men trained to the use of
arms, while the numbers of the ordinary inhabitants were largely
increased by the influx of crowds of terrified country-folk who had
sought a doubtful security behind the walls of the town.

The presence of the host of non-combatants was a source of weakness to
the besieged, since they had to be fed and could do little service in
return, while the time of year was too early for the rich harvest to be
gathered and stored within the town.

Having seized and garrisoned the Pont de l'Arche, to three leagues above
Rouen, the King was able to cut off all communications betwixt the city
and Paris. He thereupon proceeded to erect six strong forts, one
opposite each of the land-gates, connecting them by a "curtain" or line
of trenches strengthened with earthworks and palisades.

The river, too, was obstructed both above and below the town, by spiked
booms and sunken barges, while in addition to a fleet of English vessels
that had ascended the Seine and kept guard below the city, a number of
large galleys were, by dint of much manual labour, dragged overland for
a distance of nearly a league, and launched once more above the town.

Having completed his circumvallation of Rouen the King, unwilling to
risk a general assault, ordered a strict blockade to be maintained, and
in a very short time the besiegers settled down to their task, their
works assuming the appearance of a town enveloping a town. The strictest
discipline was maintained: even the wild Welsh levies and the still more
untrained Irish irregular cavalry were kept under perfect control, the
punishment of death being inflicted upon all found guilty of plundering,
and even on those who straggled beyond the lines.

On the other hand, every day found the position of the besieged becoming
more and more desperate; and it was not long ere famine began to stalk
through the congested streets of Rouen.

Thereupon the governor of the town resolved upon a desperate and
pitiless expedient. Gathering together nearly fifteen thousand of the
non-belligerents, he ordered them to leave the city.

As the last of the multitude issued from beneath the battlements the
gates were shut. Thinking that they would be granted safe conduct
through the English lines the miserable wretches advanced, forgetting
their plight in their expectations of being able to find food in the
open country beyond the entrenchments that encircled the town.

But to their consternation Henry refused to allow any of the refugees to
pass. Probably he thought that by so doing the Governor of Rouen would
be compelled to re-admit them, and thus hasten the fall of the city
through famine. On the other hand the Governor was of opinion that Henry
would relent and allow the non-combatants to pass.

Neither King nor Governor would give way, and in consequence the fifteen
thousand helpless wretches were cooped up betwixt two fires, subsisting
on roots, and on the very scanty supplies with which the English
soldiers, at great risk, secretly supplied them, in spite of the King's
orders.

Some succeeded in stealing through the invaders' lines. Hundreds fell by
the hands of their own countrymen in attempting to force their way back
into the town, while, save for a very few, the rest perished miserably
of hunger.

Henry's action can only be described as barbarous. Coupled with the
massacre of prisoners at Agincourt it forms a blot upon his reputation,
and in this case there was no such imperative necessity—those
non-combatants could have done him no harm.

Fortunately the Hampshire Companies were posted on the riverside, and in
consequence Geoffrey and his companions were spared the horrors of the
scenes that followed, though they heard with feelings of shame, and
compassion of the barbarity practised upon the luckless folk.

Slowly the siege wore on. No attempt was made to sally from the city,
nor was there any on the part of the Dauphin to relieve the capital of
Normandy, and thus the blockade, though rigidly enforced, became so
tedious and irksome to the besiegers that they longed for something to
occur that might rouse them into activity.

One day in September, Sir Oliver Lysle and Sir Thomas Carberry had
ridden to another part of the English lines to confer with Sir Brocas
Scorton concerning the providing of a fresh supply of hurdles for the
entrenchments.

On this occasion neither knight saw fit to take his squire with him, and
in consequence Geoffrey, Oswald, and young Walter Talbot, together with
five or six other squires were holding a feast in one of the rooms of
Sir Oliver's quarters; it being the anniversary of Oswald's birthday.

In the midst of the festivities a mounted messenger pulled up at the
door, and knocking with the hilt of his dagger, demanded to be shown
into Sir Oliver's presence.

"He is not here," replied Oswald. "He hath gone to the lodging of Sir
Brocas Scorton."

"Then bear this letter to Sir Oliver, young sir. Methinks thy revelries
are apt to be rudely disturbed," replied the horseman, whom Geoffrey
recognized as one of the King's own heralds. "But I must away, since I
have three cartels to deliver within an hour."

Evidently the missive was one of the greatest importance; and consumed
with impatience Geoffrey and Oswald made ready to ride across to the
lodgings of the brave old Yorkshire knight, Sir Brocas Scorton.

"By St. Wilfred of Ripon, thou art most fortunate," exclaimed Sir
Brocas, as Sir Oliver read the King's order and passed it to the other
two knights.

    "To our trusty and well-beloved Oliver Lysle, knight, Lord of
    the Castle of Warblington, in the county of Southampton, and at
    present serving with our forces before Rouen. Greeting.

    "Whereas it hath come to our knowledge that our rebellious
    subject Denis, Lord of Malevereux, hath caused us much trouble
    by his ill-conduct; it is our pleasure that thou shouldst
    proceed to the before-mentioned Castle of Malevereux with such
    forces as thou mayst deem necessary and carry it by assault and
    hang the said Sir Denis upon the battlements of his castle.

                   "(Signed) Henricus Quintus, Rex.
                                    "Ang: et Franc."

"I' faith, 'tis plain enough," remarked Sir Thomas Carberry. "Oliver, my
right trusty friend and companion-in-arms, I pray thee that I may have a
share in this business, though, be it understood, I do not aspire to any
honour that might detract from thine advancement."

"I accept the offer of thy services, Thomas," replied Sir Oliver.
"Betwixt us we can muster eighty lances and four score and ten archers.
If we are not able to bring this recreant to boot may I never see
Warblington again. But there is no time to be lost; the King's orders
must be obeyed with promptitude, so, Sir Brocas, this matter concerning
the hurdles must needs stand over a while."

"May ye both be here to attend to it this day week," answered the
Yorkshire knight. "So fare ye well."

Ere sunset the two Hampshire knights with their squires and followers,
nearly two hundred strong, were well on their way towards the gloomy
Castle of Malevereux.



                             CHAPTER XXVIII

                         THE FATE OF MALEVEREUX


Judging by the grimly exultant expressions on the faces of the men, the
expedition was a popular one. The Warblington men were well aware of the
hardships their master and his son had undergone at the hands of the
villainous Sir Denis, while the Portchester troops had occasion to
remember that their Constable's squire had been treacherously detained
by the Lord of Malevereux.

There was also the inducement held out by the presence of vast
quantities of booty to be had on the taking of the fortress; while,
above all, knight, squire, and common soldier realized that they were
carrying out a direct command of the King.

Owing to the fact that the archers were afoot the progress of the column
was necessarily slow, and when Sir Oliver called a halt for the night
only four leagues separated them from their late quarters before Rouen.

The men slept in the open, wrapped in heavy cloaks. The horses, securely
tethered, were placed in the centre of the camp, while sentinels were
posted on all sides.

[Illustration: "WITH SPEAR THRUST AND SWEEP OF AXE THEY FELL UPON THE
STORMERS."]

Shortly after midnight the alarm was raised that the camp was attacked,
and with shouts of "Stand to your arms!" the men-at-arms and archers,
hastily awakened, formed up for the purpose of repelling the threatened
onslaught.

Standing at his post behind his sire and the Constable, Geoffrey could
make out the sharp thud of the hoofs of numerous horses, while a babel
of discordant sounds, shouted in a foreign tongue, resounded on all
sides of the camp.

"Archers, make ready; let no man loose till I give the word," shouted
Sir Oliver, as, waiting sword in hand, he strove to detect something in
the voices of his unseen antagonists that might tell him who they were!

In spite of their rude awakening the soldiers preserved a coolness only
to be gained by constant training in the field. Mechanically the
dismounted men-at-arms fell into line, and dropping on one knee, drove
the butts of their long spears into the earth, while in the intervening
gaps the archers, with arrow on string, awaited the order to let fly
their deadly shafts.

Thrice the unseen cavalry galloped completely round the bristling circle
of steel, though at a respectful distance, as if attempting to find a
weak spot at which to deliver an attack.

"Let them keep to it," remarked Sir Oliver, with a laugh. "Methinks
their horses will be blown ere they come within bow-shot."

"Pile on more wood, then," ordered Sir Thomas Carberry. "Make a rousing
blaze, for 'tis in our favour, since our backs are to the light. Then
perchance we may have a glimpse of our doughty foes."

"They shout in no French tongue, fair sir," exclaimed Geoffrey.

"Then, perchance, they are the German troops whom, report saith, the
Dauphin hath hired."

"A truce to conjectures," said Sir Oliver. "Sound a tucket—one of our
camp calls—and see what that will bring forth."

Hardly had the last notes of the trumpet died away ere the discord
ceased, save for the clattering of a single horseman, who rode straight
for the hedge of steel, guided by the fiercely-blazing camp-fire.

"Stand! Thy name, condition and errand," shouted Sir Oliver.

A rich rolling voice replied, "I am Sir Brian of Ennisbarry, in the
county of Wexford. If ye be enemies of the King of England look to
yourselves. Further, should any knight among you wish to ease his soul
or seek some small advancement, I am here to help him in the furthering
o'it."

"Certes, 'tis the Irish kernes," observed Sir Oliver in an undertone;
then raising his voice he replied—

"Greetings, Sir Brian: two most unworthy knights of Southampton give
thee welcome. I pray thee first quiet thy followers, then if it please
thee join us around the camp-fire."

Amid a babel of voices the Irish horsemen formed a bivouac within a
bow-shot of their English companions-in-arms, and when they had settled
for the night, for they were about to encamp just before they stumbled
across the outposts, Sir Brian, attended by two squires, rode up to the
two Hampshire knights.

"Once again welcome, Sir Brian," exclaimed Sir Oliver. "Though I am
afeared we have but sorry fare to offer thee."

"Sure, 'tis better than I've had these last two days," replied the
Irishman, quaffing a horn of wine that Oswald had produced from the
baggage on his master's sumpter horse.

Sir Brian was a short, slender man of about fifty years of age. He was
clean-shaven, thus revealing a long upper lip and a strongly-formed
cloven chin. His bluish-grey eyes were close set, and brimming with
good-humour. His hair fell in long lank masses from beneath a
cone-shaped steel cap. His body was unprotected by defensive armour save
by a breast-plate that terminated at his waist, and was without gorget.
From his belt dangled a long, cross-hilted sword in a scabbard of black
leather, ornamented with Runic characters, while across his back was
slung a targe of wood covered with undressed leather.

As for his two squires, they were unable to speak a word of English, and
since Geoffrey and Oswald were ignorant of Irish their attempts to
entertain their visitors were limited to dumb show.

It was a strange story that Sir Brian related a part of. His light
cavalry had been surprised earlier in the day by the soldiers of Sir
Denis, and after a fierce engagement the former were compelled to
retreat, leaving four of their number in the hands of the Lord of
Malevereux, by whose orders they were hanged on the battlements of the
castle.

When the Irish knight heard that Sir Oliver was about to assault the
stronghold of Sir Denis, his excitement knew no bounds. He would, he
declared, join his men with those of the Hampshire knights. There would
be booty enough and to spare for all, but he chiefly desired vengeance
upon the Lord of Malevereux for the execution of his four men.

"As thou wilt, Sir Brian," quoth Sir Oliver. "The more the merrier; but,
since we start at daybreak, thou hadst best seek repose."

When the march was resumed a strange sight met Geoffrey's eyes. He had
often heard of the King's Irish kernes, but since they were employed
almost exclusively in scouring the country around Rouen, he had never
before had the opportunity of seeing them.

They were for the most part only partially clad. Many were barefooted,
others boasted of one stocking and one shoe only. They rode barebacked
upon wiry mountain horses, so small that the riders' feet came within a
few inches of the ground.

All except their leader were quite without armour, their offensive
weapons consisting of stout spears and long double-edged knives, while a
few carried round targes provided with a steel spike in the place of a
boss. Though they were ill-disciplined they were excellent scouts, while
in a hand-to-hand conflict they made up for their lack of mail by a wild
impetuosity that struck terror into the hearts of the well-accoutred
French men-at-arms.

It was late in the afternoon when the expeditionary force came in sight
of the Castle of Malevereux. The appearance of the gloomy pile, rendered
even more forbidding by the presence of four gibbets and their ghastly
burdens standing clearly against the sky, aroused many burning thoughts
in Geoffrey's mind.

As it was too late that day to open the assault Sir Oliver ordered his
men to rest themselves, and having constructed hasty entrenchments the
Englishmen and their Hibernian allies lay around the castle, so that
none might leave or enter.

The night passed without interruption, and shortly after daybreak
preparations were made to deliver an assault upon the frowning walls.
From the neighbouring woods the besiegers obtained timber, out of which
rough ladders were constructed, while the Irish levies, who had tethered
their horses at a safe distance from the castle, were kept busily
employed in gathering and carrying bundles of straw and faggots to fill
the moat.

Clad in complete mail, Sir Oliver, accompanied by his squire and a
mounted man-at-arms, rode towards the gateway, while a strong body of
archers occupied a position half a bow-shot in the rear.

To all outward appearances the castle seemed deserted, save by the
dangling corpses of the unfortunate Irish prisoners, but on Sir Oliver
ordering a rousing blast to be sounded, a burly figure, whom Geoffrey
recognized from a distance as Sir Denis, appeared on the battlements,
wearing a white scarf.

"In the name of the most puissant sovereign Henry King of England and
France, I, Oliver, knight of Warblington, summon thee, Denis de
Valadour, Lord of Malevereux, to give up the said castle immediately and
unconditionally," shouted the English knight.

For an answer, Sir Denis raised his right arm, and pointed derisively at
the swaying bodies that hung from the gibbets. This action was the
signal for a sudden discharge of cross-bow bolts from the oyelets, while
a huge stone hurled by a mangonel cunningly concealed behind a
projecting spur of masonry, flew but a few inches above Sir Oliver's
head. As for the bolts, one glanced from Oswald's shield, another struck
the horse of the man-at-arms to the earth, but the rest either fell
short or wide.

Standing in his stirrups the Lord of Warblington shook his fist at the
treacherous and recreant Norman, while a flight of arrows, well and
truly sped, rattled against the corslet and visor of Sir Denis. Whether
any of the missiles took effect or not the Englishmen were unable to
see, but the knight quickly disappeared behind the parapet.

Scorning to turn his face from the foe, Sir Oliver, regardless of the
bolts that still came from the castle, slowly backed his horse till out
of range.

"This will be a right joyous encounter, Thomas," he exclaimed to his
companion knight, at the same time dismounting and handing his steed
over to the care of an archer. "Is all prepared?"

"Ay," replied Carberry. "The men are like hounds in leash. Look also, I
pray thee, at those Irish."

"Sir Brian hath a strange following, yet, methinks they are not lacking
in courage e'en though they may err through rashness. But bid the
archers shoot."

Under a fire so straight and true that none of the enemy dared show
himself, the Irish kernes ran up to the dry moat and threw down their
burdens, till a swaying yet passable causeway took the place of the
raised drawbridge.

"Men-at-arms! In the name of St. George and for Merrie England—forward!"
shouted Sir Oliver, and with one accord squires and common soldiers ran
steadily towards the walls, keeping decorously behind the two mail-clad
knights, whose armour greatly retarded their speed.

Mingled with the men-at-arms were several archers, whose special duty it
was to carry the scaling ladders up to the walls, while in the rear
their comrades maintained their steady fire.

The mass of panting, shouting, and excited men gained the edge of the
moat, and, with swords and axes brandished above their heads, prepared
to follow Sir Oliver and Sir John across the temporary bridge, when a
cross-bowman more daring than his fellows showed himself for an instant
above the battlements and shot his bolt.

The next instant he toppled over the parapet, pierced by half-a-score of
arrows; but the mischief was already done, for the quarrel transfixed
Sir Oliver's leg just above the left genouillère, or metal knee-cap.

With a crash the knight fell to the ground, but as two men-at-arms
rushed to his assistance he waved them off.

"To the walls," he exclaimed. "Ye can do much service there. As for me,
I will tarry here till we gain the castle."

In spite of this momentary check the stormers pressed forward, and
scaling ladders were reared, and, led by Sir Thomas Carberry, the
men-at-arms clambered impetuously up the swaying and creaking timber.

Hitherto the English archers had kept the garrison well in check, but
now, fearful of harming friend as well as foe, they desisted. In a
moment the battlements were thronged by the desperate defenders,
foremost of whom was Sir Denis.

With spear thrust and sweep of axe they fell upon the stormers ere the
latter could gain a footing on the walls. Many an Englishman and Norman,
clasped in a deadly embrace, were tumbled from the battlements; to the
hoarse shouts of the combatants were added the shrieks of the maimed and
wounded, while the steady stream of ascending men continued without any
appreciable sign of a lodgement being obtained upon the
fiercely-defended wall.

Geoffrey, sword in hand, found himself half-way up the creaking ladder,
when a loud shout of warning rose high above the din. The enemy had
loosened a huge mass of masonry, and toppling it over, swept the ladders
of their human burden.

From the mingled crush of dead and wounded the survivors contrived to
extricate themselves, and, hopelessly repulsed, began to give back, with
cries of rage and alarm.

Shaken and bruised from head to foot, but otherwise unhurt, Geoffrey
found himself lying on the brushwood that had broken his fall. With an
effort he regained his feet, stung with the bitterness of defeat.

"Stand!" he shouted to the wavering men-at-arms. "Stand! E'en though we
have not yet won the day we cannot leave our comrades here."

Encouraged by his words, and by the fact that the English archers were
again able to deliver a death-dealing flight of arrows, the discomfited
men-at-arms stood their ground, and began to remove the bodies of their
unfortunate comrades from the floor of the moat, and with some semblance
of order they retired to the rear of the bowmen.

The losses in the repulse had been great. In addition to Sir Oliver, the
Constable of Portchester had been stunned through being hurled from the
ladder, while eleven dead and fifteen badly wounded men-at-arms
testified to the stubbornness of the defence.

"Geoffrey, my son," exclaimed Sir Oliver, as Gripwell and another
man-at-arms were preparing to withdraw the quarrel from his leg, "on
thee has fallen the command. Thou must needs turn this check into
victory, and that soon, otherwise 'tis better to perish to a man than to
return to our King beaten and dishonoured."

Then overcome by the anguish of his wound the knight swooned.

The squire realized the responsibility that had been forced upon him.
Undoubtedly he must act, and that quickly; yet he was adverse to making
another attempt without adopting some other and better plan of attack.

Hastily conferring with Oswald, Gripwell, and Sir Brian, he expounded
his proposals for the renewed assault. The Irish, who had hitherto been
held in reserve, were to set fire to the heap of faggots and straw that
lay in the moat before the gateway. Should the latter be sufficiently
charred to enable it to be splintered with axes, the kernes were to dash
through the smouldering embers and force an entrance; while the
men-at-arms, led by Geoffrey, were to assail the postern through which
the two squires had effected their escape on the occasion of their
captivity.

The main entrance and this portion being on opposite sides of the castle
gave the attackers an advantage, inasmuch as the besieged would be
compelled to divide their numbers instead of concentrating the whole of
their forces in one spot.

"Bravely thought of, young sir," exclaimed Sir Brian. "Give my fellows
but a footing in the gateway, and they'll serve yon villains as did the
blessed St. Patrick the serpents in ould Ireland."

"Saving thy presence, sir," quoth the master bowman. "Our stock of
arrows is but scanty. Already many of the archers have empty quivers."

"Then I pray thee bid them husband their shafts," replied Geoffrey.
"Without a covering flight the escalade will assuredly be a doubly-hard
task. Art ready, Sir Brian?"

Supported by a steady discharge of arrows a body of the Irish levies,
bearing flaming torches, rushed to the edge of the moat, and in a few
moments a crackling column of flame ascended.

While the fire was in progress, Geoffrey, profiting by the confusion,
led his men-at-arms to the opposite side of the castle, where, lying in
ambush in the depression formed by a brook, they waited the signal for
the combined assault.

As soon as the fire had burned itself out, Sir Brian placed himself at
the head of his men, and with a wild shout the Irish rushed at the
charred door. Though numbers fell as they crossed the moat the advance
was irresistible. With a ponderous crash the timbered door was
shattered, and the ill-armed swarm of Irishmen flung themselves upon
their better accoutred yet demoralized foes.

Meanwhile the English men-at-arms had crossed the pike-studded moat,
and, ere the defenders were aware of the assault, fifty mail-clad
warriors had forced the wicket gate at the end of the disused
postern-gallery.

With shouts of triumph the assailants threaded their way through the
narrow tortuous passages and emerged at the inner bailey. Here they
found themselves in the rear of the survivors of the garrison, who were
being hard pressed by the Irish kernes.

Caught betwixt two bodies of their attackers the Normans fought with the
fury of despair, scorning to ask the quarter that they knew would be
denied them.

Sir Denis was almost the last to fall. In spite of his cruel and
treacherous character he was no coward in the fight, and wielding his
axe with ferocious skill and strength, he kept at bay the circle of
steel that surrounded him.

At length, mindful of Geoffrey's shouts to take him alive, three of the
men-at-arms using a stout plank as a means of offence, brought him to
his knees. Even then the knight continued to lay about him, till he was
finally over-borne by a rush of the infuriated Irish, who were with the
utmost difficulty prevented from plunging their knives into his body.

"I pray thee make an end and that quickly," exclaimed Sir Denis
dauntlessly, when, at the end of the combat, he was brought before
Geoffrey.

"That I must do," replied the squire. "Yet e'en though thou hast dealt
foully with me and mine, 'tis not by my will that thou must die. By the
orders of my sovereign lord—and thine, though thou art a rebel—thou must
be hanged on thine own battlements."

"Hanged!" exclaimed Sir Denis, his face turning an ashen grey. "Hanged!
'Tis impossible. A knight to die a villein's death?"

"Such are mine orders," replied Geoffrey curtly. "If there is aught on
thy mind thou mayest have an hour's respite."

The sun was sinking low in the west as the doomed prisoner, accompanied
by a strong guard of men-at arms and archers, was led to the
battlements, where Sir Brian, Geoffrey, Oswald and Walter Talbot were
present to execute the King's commands. Already some of the Irish troops
had removed the bodies of their comrades from the gallows, and the rope
of one was in readiness to receive its victim.

With a firm step Sir Denis walked to the place assigned for him, his
arms bound behind his back, and his neck bared for the fatal noose.

"Young sir," said he, "cannot this be put aside? I do not beg for life,
yet of thy charity, give me the axe rather than the cord."

"Nay," replied Geoffrey shortly, for he could not trust himself to say
more. Then turning to the archers he signed to them to proceed with
their work.

As one of the men bent to secure the knight's ankles, Sir Denis leapt
backwards, sprang on to the parapet, and with a hoarse roar of defiance,
dropped to his death upon the rocks fifty feet below.



                              CHAPTER XXIX

                            THE GOLDEN SPURS


That night the victorious troops spent in possession of the captured
castle. Sir Oliver and Sir Thomas Carberry were brought within the
fortress, and every possible care was bestowed upon the disabled
leaders.

Sir Oliver's wound, though not dangerous, would prevent his taking the
field for many weeks to come, while the Constable of Portchester's
condition gave cause for great anxiety. It was, therefore, decided to
remove the two knights and the two score and nine wounded soldiers to
the Castle of Taillemartel, that had long since been occupied by the
English invaders.

Accordingly this was done, and the helpless men were sent thither in
wains under a suitable guard; the Castle of Malevereux was thoroughly
plundered, and afterwards given to the flames; and the Irish kernes,
each man with a goodly bundle of loot thrown across his wiry steed, rode
off to find fresh openings for their activity.

Mustering his scanty force, Geoffrey gave the word to march, and with
eight wagons, piled high with booty, the column set off towards the
King's camp before Rouen, leaving a tall pillar of smoke in their rear
as a token that their mission was accomplished, and that the accursed
pile of Malevereux would no more be a terror to the countryside.

Without interruption the two companies arrived at Pont de l'Arche, where
Geoffrey handed over the spoil to the custody of the keeper of warlike
stores. This done, the march was resumed towards their quarters on the
left bank of the Seine.

At a bend in the road Geoffrey perceived a large body of horsemen riding
towards him. Knowing not whether they were friend or foe, since
straggling parties of Frenchmen frequently assailed the English
outposts, the squire ordered his men-at-arms to dismount and the archers
to make ready.

"Canst discern their banners?" he asked of Oswald, who was riding at his
left.

"Nay, the sun is behind them," replied Sir Oliver's squire. "Yet, for
their numbers there is no lack of standards and banners."

As he spoke a horseman was observed to leave his party and ride rapidly
in the direction of the Hampshire men.

"Hold!" he shouted, when he came within hailing distance. "Who and what
are ye?"

"We are of the companies of Sir Oliver Lysle and of Sir Thomas
Carberry," replied Oswald, "and are for the camp before Rouen, having
completed some small enterprise at the Castle of Malevereux."

"Then why are not the banners of these two gentle knights displayed?"
returned the horseman. "But delay thine explanations: yonder is none
other than King Henry. To him thou must needs give account of thyself."

With fast-beating heart and rising colour, Geoffrey ordered his men to
redress their ranks, and with Oswald at his side, and Gripwell, bearing
the furled banner of Malevereux, close behind him, the young leader rode
to meet his royal master.

The King had that morning made a circuit of the entrenchments, and
accompanied by the Dukes of Exeter, Gloucester, and Clarence, and a
galaxy of gaily attired nobles and clerics—amongst the latter being the
warlike Cardinal Beaufort—was on the point of returning to his quarters
when the sight of a column of armed men marching from the direction of
Malevereux arrested his attention.

"By my halidom!" exclaimed the King. "We would know why yon body of
soldiers should approach our lines without displaying the banner of the
knight in command. 'Tis contrary to our express orders. Therefore, Sir
Gilbert, ride over and ask their leader why our commands are
disregarded. Bid them also approach, so that we may see what manner of
men they are."

"From Malevereux!" exclaimed Henry on the return of his messenger. "Then
Sir Oliver hath failed to carry out our commands? Dare he return with
defeat written broad upon his features?"

Impatiently the King awaited the approach of the leader of the
expedition, the absence of the knight's banner having misled him as to
the issue of the enterprise.

"Where is Sir Oliver Lysle?" he demanded.

"Sire, he hath been wounded and hath been left at the Castle of
Taillemartel, as also hath Sir Thomas Carberry," replied Geoffrey.

"And the rebel Sir Denis of Malevereux: hath he been hanged on the
battlements of his own castle, according to our commands?"

"Nay, Sire——"

"Then thou hast ventured to return hither branded with the unpardonable
disgrace of defeat?"

"Sire," replied Geoffrey, pointing to the captured standard that Arnold
Gripwell had unfurled, "Sir Denis is dead, slain by his own act, ere we
could work thy will upon him. We were, by the grace of God, able to
carry the castle after one repulse." And in a few words the squire gave
a plain account of what had occurred during the expedition, modestly
omitting the gallant part he had played in the final assault.

"Thy name, squire?" demanded the King, and Geoffrey gave it.

"By our Lady! Thou art the same that served us right well at
Southampton, and again on the eve of our victory at Agincourt, though at
the end of that thou didst wellnigh place thy neck in a halter. By the
soul of my father we have a good memory for such matters. Now, return to
thy company, young sir. Sir Gilbert, bring before us the two squires
whom we perceive stand at the head of the column."

The King listened attentively to Oswald's version of the capture of
Malevereux, the squire mentioning several details that Geoffrey had
purposely omitted, while young Talbot stoutly praised Geoffrey's bravery
in rallying the discomfited stormers at the termination of the first
onslaught.

"Then 'tis to Squire Lysle that the credit of the successful assault is
due?" remarked Henry. "Are we to understand that both Sir Oliver and the
Constable of Portchester were sore hurt before the second attempt was
made? And is this the reason why their banners are not displayed?"

"Such is the case, Sire," replied Oswald.

Once again Geoffrey was called before his sovereign, while the
men-at-arms and archers were formed up in a double line twenty paces
from where the King and his retinue were standing.

"Geoffrey Lysle, squire to that right worthy knight, Sir Thomas
Carberry," began the King, "it hath been our pleasure to receive from
the hand of thy master no slight account of thy deeds and thy devotion
to duty in times past. Moreover, under divers circumstances, we
ourselves have witnessed thy courage on the field of battle.

"Concerning this latter we are judging by the outward appearance, which,
as we know to our cost, is apt to be deceptive. E'en the sweetest flower
may harbour a vile worm gnawing at its stalk unperceived; a brave coat
of mail may conceal a craven heart, a closed visor a face graven with
treachery. Yet, on the other hand, Sir Thomas hath had ample
opportunities to study thee at the festive board, in the camp, and in
the hour of peril. Courage alone counteth for little; yet, when
consorting with loyalty, truthfulness, and humanity, 'tis a fitting
quality for a knight.

"Thou hast found thyself in petty disgrace ere now, young squire, yet
for this we must make due allowance withal. By our Lady, we can call to
mind divers misdeeds committed in our youth, the which our enemies have
thought fit to make much of. Hence we can lightly pass over thy
transgressions and reward thy good and gallant deeds in the past." Then
turning to Sir Gilbert the King asked for his sword.

"Kneel, young sir."

With bowed head and overflowing heart Geoffrey sank on his knee. The
long-hoped-for guerdon was his.

"Arise, Sir Geoffrey Lysle!" exclaimed the King in a ringing voice,
bringing the blade lightly down upon the young warrior's shoulder.

Amid loud shouts of delight and redoubled cries of "Long live the King!"
Geoffrey arose, and, with more words of good cheer and advice, Henry
re-mounted his charger, and accompanied by his suite resumed his way to
the camp.

                  *       *       *       *       *

With the passing of Geoffrey Lysle the Squire our story draws to a
close.

It remains to be said that the newly-made knight bore himself right
valiantly throughout the long-drawn siege of Rouen and the stern
conflict before Pontoise, adding to his laurels in a manner worthy of a
man whom the King had delighted to honour.

After the Perpetual Treaty of Troyes, Geoffrey followed the example of
his royal master, and took unto himself a wife from the Land of the
Fleurs de Lys, the fair bride being Aimée, daughter of the chivalrous
Raoul d'Aulx.

Oft-times did Sir Geoffrey Lysle cross the Channel under the banner of
England, and, in the dark pages of history relating to the undoing of
all that King Henry V had achieved, his deeds, together with those of
numerous warriors, both of high and low degree, serve to show that in
the hour of defeat the spirit of the English nation can still remain
undaunted.

Oswald Steyning, too, won his spurs, by a signal act of devoted
gallantry at Verneuil. Throughout the long-drawn contest for the
possession of the realm of France the two knights maintained the bond of
friendship cemented in their early days, and on their retirement from
service in the field no joust or spear-running held in the counties of
Hampshire and Sussex was considered a success unless honoured by the
presence of the veteran knights, Sir Geoffrey Lysle and Sir Oswald
Steyning.

The valiant old man-at-arms, Arnold Gripwell, settled down to a quiet
life upon his freehold farm purchased by the hard-earned spoils of the
field of battle. But his martial instincts oft reasserted themselves,
especially when, surrounded by an eager crowd of boys—the future
guardians of the sea-girt realm of England—he would relate the story of
how the young Squire of Warblington won his spurs in the glorious days
of Agincourt.

[Illustration]

                                THE END

           _Printed by_ BUTLER & TANNER, _Frome and London_.



Some attractive Volumes from the Catalogue of

THE PILGRIM PRESS.

_SPLENDID SELECTION OF BOOKS FOR BOYS._

ROBERT LEIGHTON'S ROMANCES.

WITH NELSON IN COMMAND.

A Tale of Nelson and the Baltic. With Illustrations. Imperial 16mo,
cloth boards, olivine edges, 3s. 6d.

_Third Edition._

_Morning Post._—"The reader obtains a good idea of Nelson's character,
while the condition of the eastern counties of England at a time when
smuggling was rife and the pressgang won men for the Navy is described
with accuracy. The story itself goes with a swing and dash which make it
excellent reading, and if the young hero's promotion to the quarter-deck
is rapid, he certainly won it manfully."

_Nautical Magazine._—"While the historic narrative of the Battle of the
Baltic is carefully adhered to throughout, the story lends an element of
excitement and charm which makes us forget we are reading history. The
book is a splendid one for boys."

THE GREEN PAINTED SHIP.

A Romance of the Sea. With Illustrations by J. W. CHARLTON. Imperial
16mo, cloth boards, olivine edges, 3s. 6d.

_Second Edition._

_Daily Telegraph._—"A mutiny, an abandoned ship, the discovery of a
pirate's hoard of treasure, and many exciting episodes, go to make up a
story after the British boy's own heart, and one that fully maintains
its author's reputation as a writer of stirring and exciting tales."

HURRAH FOR THE SPANISH MAIN.

A Tale of the Days of Drake. Illustrated by J. AYTON SYMINGTON. Imp.
16mo, cloth boards, olivine edges, 3s. 6d.

_Guardian._—"Boys should, and will, be grateful for an excellent story
of peril and adventure."

_Methodist Recorder._—"We can hardly imagine the boy to whom its
stirring pages will not appeal."

THE OTHER FELLOW: THE MYSTERY AT BARRACOMBE MANOR.

Illustrated by SAVILLE LUMLEY. 6s.

_Standard._—"There is plenty of sensation, but it is of a healthy kind,
and the detective interest is very skilfully managed. We should not be
surprised if the book were to be one of the favourites of the season."

THE HAUNTED SHIP.

A Romance of the Devon Smugglers. With Six full-page Illustrations by H.
L. SHINDLER. Imperial 16mo, cloth, olivine edges, 3s. 6d.

_Second Edition._

_St. James's Gazette._—"Everything that a boy's book ought to be, and
seldom is."

_Expository Times._—"From beginning to end it is exciting, and the
hair's-breadth escapes of its hero will delight all its readers."

IN THE LAND OF JU-JU.

A Tale of Boys' Adventures in Benin. With Six full-page Illustrations by
CECIL SCRUBY. Large imperial 16mo, cloth boards, olivine edges, 3s. 6d.

_Second Edition._

"A delightful story, which has, too, a geographical and historical
value."—_Daily Telegraph._

FIGHTING FEARFUL ODDS; or, THE TEMPTATION OF JACK RODNEY.

With Six full-page Illustrations by J. AYTON SYMINGTON. Imperial 16mo,
cloth boards, 3s. 6d.

"A clever story, interesting throughout, and wholesome in
tone."—_Record._

"Such a story as this is all too rare."—_Spectator._

"There is not a dull page in the book."—_Newcastle Chronicle._

UNDER THE FOEMAN'S FLAG.

A Tale of the Spanish Armada. Illustrated by PAUL HARDY. Imperial 16mo,
cloth boards, 3s. 6d.

_Second Edition._

"A rattling story, quite one of the best of the year."—_Daily
Chronicle._

"The story is told with great spirit, and is full of excitement and
interest."—_Standard._

IN THE GRIP OF THE CORSAIR.

An Historical Romance of the Mediterranean. With Illustrations by
MAYNARD BROWN. Imperial 16mo, cloth boards, 3s. 6d.

_Third Edition._

"It is a stirring story, and well told."—_Speaker._

                  *       *       *       *       *

                           By OTHER AUTHORS.

A GENTLEMAN ADVENTURER.

A Story of Panama, 1698. By JOHN BLOUNDELLE-BURTON, Author of "The
Hispaniola Plate," etc. With Illustrations by MAYNARD BROWN. Imperial
16mo, cloth boards, 2s. 6d.; paper covers, 6d.

_Third Edition._

"Few will lay down the story without feeling that they have for a time
been completely carried away into a stirring world and into contact with
vigorous passions."—_Times._

IN A DEEP-WATER SHIP.

A Personal Narrative of a Year's Voyage as Apprentice in a British
Clipper Ship. By ERNEST RICHARDS. Profusely Illustrated. Imperial 16mo,
cloth, gilt top, 3s. 6d.

16 PILGRIM STREET, LONDON, E.C.



                           Transcriber's Note

The original spelling and punctuation have been retained. Except were
noted.

Variations in hyphenation and compound words have been preserved.

Italicized words and phrases in the text version are presented by
surrounding the text with underscores.

The illustration caption for the frontispiece does not fully contain
the text listed in the List of Illustrations for the frontispiece. The
difference was retained.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Under King Henry's Banners - A story of the days of Agincourt" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home