Arthur Conan Doyle
Part 7 out of 8
your will if perchance you should fall in the midst of the fight?"
Bambro' turned to the others. "If such should be the case, fair
sirs, I desire that my Squire Croquart should command."
There was a pause while the knights looked with some chagrin at
each other. The silence was broken by Knolles.
"I will do what you say, Richard," said he, "though indeed it is
bitter that we who are knights should serve beneath a squire. Yet
it is not for us to fall out among ourselves now at this last
moment, and I have ever heard that Croquart is a very worthy and
valiant man. Therefore, I will pledge you on jeopardy of my soul
that I will accept him as leader if you fall."
"So will I also, Richard," said Calverly.
"And I too!" cried Belford. "But surely I hear music, and yonder
are their pennons amid the trees."
They all turned, leaning upon their short spears, and watched the
advance of the men of Josselin, as their troop wound its way out
from the woodlands. In front rode three heralds with tabards of
the ermine of Brittany, blowing loudly upon silver trumpets.
Behind them a great man upon a white horse bore the banner of
Josselin which carries nine golden torteaus upon a scarlet field.
Then came the champions riding two and two, fifteen knights and
fifteen squires, each with his pennon displayed. Behind them on a
litter was borne an aged priest, the Bishop of Rennes, carrying in
his hands the viaticum and the holy oils that he might give the
last aid and comfort of the Church to those who were dying. The
procession was terminated by hundreds of men and women from
Josselin, Guegon, and Helleon, and by the entire garrison of the
fortress, who came, as the English had done, without their arms.
The head of this long column had reached the field before the rear
were clear of the wood, but as they arrived the champions picketed
their horses on the farther side, behind which their banner was
planted and the people lined up until they had inclosed the whole
lists with a dense wall of spectators.
With keen eyes the English party had watched the armorial blazonry
of their antagonists, for those fluttering pennons and brilliant
surcoats carried a language which all men could read. In front
was the banner of Beaumanoir, blue with silver frets. His motto
"J'ayme qui m'ayme" was carried on a second flag by a little page.
" Whose is the shield behind him - silver with scarlet drops?"
"It is his Squire, William of Montaubon," Calverly answered. "And
there are the golden lion of Rochefort and the silver cross of Du
Bois the Strong. I would not wish to meet a better company than
are before us this day. See, there are the blue rings of young
Tintiniac, who slew my Squire Hubert last Lammastide. With the
aid of Saint George I will avenge him ere nightfall."
"By the three kings of Almain," growled Croquart, "we will need to
fight hard this day, for never have I seen so many good soldiers
gathered together. Yonder is Yves Cheruel, whom they call the man
of iron, Caro de Bodegat also with whom I have had more than one
bickering - that is he with the three ermine circles on the
scarlet shield. There too is left-handed Alain de Karanais; bear
in mind that his stroke comes on the side where there is no
"Who is the small stout man" - asked Nigel - " he with the black
and silver shield? By Saint Paul! he seems a very worthy person
and one from whom much might be gained, for he is nigh as broad as
he is long."
"It is Sir Robert Raguenel," said Calverly, whose long spell of
service in Brittany had made him familiar with the people. It is
said that he can lift a horse upon his back. Beware a full stroke
of that steel mace, for the armor is not made that can abide it.
But here is the good Beaumanoir, and surely it is time that we
came to grips."
The Breton leader had marshaled his men in a line opposite to the
English, and now he strode forward and shook Bambro' by the hand.
"By Saint Cadoc! this is a very joyous meeting, Richard," said
he, "and we have certainly hit upon a very excellent way of
keeping a truce."
"Indeed, Robert," said Bambro', "we owe you much thanks, for I can
see that you have been at great pains to bring a worthy company
against us this day. Surely if all should chance to perish there
will be few noble houses in Brittany who will not mourn."
"Nay, we have none of the highest of Brittany," Beaumanoir
answered. "Neither a Blois, nor a Leon, nor a Rohan, nor a Conan,
fights in our ranks this day. And yet we are all men of blood and
coat-armor, who are ready to venture our persons for the desire of
our ladies and the love of the high order of knighthood. And now,
Richard, what is your sweet will concerning this fight?"
"That we continue until one or other can endure no longer, for
since it is seldom that so many brave men draw together it is
fitting that we see as much as is possible of each other."
"Richard, your words are fair and good. It shall be even as you
say. For the rest, each shall fight as pleases him best from the
time that the herald calls the word. If any man from without
shall break in upon us he shall be hanged on yonder oak."
With a salute he drew down his visor and returned to his own men,
who were kneeling in a twinkling, many colored group whilst the
old bishop gave them his blessing.
The heralds rode round with a warning to the spectators. Then
they halted at the side of the two bands of men who now stood in a
long line facing each other with fifty yards of grass between.
The visors had been closed, and every man was now cased in metal
from head to foot, some few glowing in brass, the greater number
shining in steel. Only their fierce eyes could be seen smoldering
in the dark shadow of their helmets. So for an instant they stood
glaring and crouching.
Then with a loud cry of "Allez!" the herald dropped his upraised
hand, and the two lines of men shuffled as fast as their heavy
armor would permit until they met with a sharp clang of metal in
the middle of the field. There was a sound as of sixty smiths
working upon their anvils. Then the babel of yells and shouts
from the spectators, cheering on this party or that, rose and
swelled until even the uproar of the combat was drowned in that
So eager were the combatants to engage that in a few moments all
order had been lost and the two bands were mixed up in one furious
scrambling, clattering throng, each man tossed hither and thither,
thrown against one adversary and then against another, beaten and
hustled and buffeted, with only the one thought in his mind to
thrust with his spear or to beat with his ax against anyone who
came within the narrow slit of vision left by his visor.
But alas for Nigel and his hopes of some great deed! His was at
least the fate of the brave, for he was the first to fall. With a
high heart he had placed himself in the line as nearly opposite to
Beaumanoir as he could, and had made straight for the Breton
leader, remembering that in the out set the quarrel had been so
ordered that it lay between them. But ere he could reach his goal
he was caught in the swirl of his own comrades, and being the
lighter man was swept aside and dashed into the arms of Alain de
Karanais, the left-handed swordsman, with such a crash that the
two rolled upon the ground together. Light footed as a cat, Nigel
had sprung up first, and was stooping over the Breton Squire when
the powerful dwarf Raguenel brought his mace thudding down upon
the exposed back of his helmet. With a groan Nigel fell upon his
face, blood gushing from his mouth, nose, and ears. There he lay,
trampled over by either party, while that great fight for which
his fiery soul had panted was swaying back and forward above his
But Nigel was not long unavenged. The huge iron club of Belford
struck the dwarf Raguenel to the ground, while Belford in turn was
felled by a sweeping blow from Beaumanoir. Sometimes a dozen were
on the ground at one time, but so strong was the armor, and so
deftly was the force of a blow broken by guard and shield, that
the stricken men were often pulled to their feet once more by
their comrades, and were able to continue the fight.
Some, however, were beyond all aid. Croquart had cut at a Breton
knight named Jean Rousselot and had shorn away his shoulder-piece,
exposing his neck and the upper part of his arm. Vainly he tried
to cover this vulnerable surface with his shield. It was his
right side, and he could not stretch it far enough across, nor
could he get away on account of the press of men around him. For
a time he held his foemen at bay, but that bare patch of white
shoulder was a mark for every weapon, until at last a hatchet sank
up to the socket in the knight's chest. Almost at the same moment
a second Breton, a young Squire named Geoffrey Mellon, was slain
by a thrust from Black Simon which found the weak spot beneath the
armpit. Three other Bretons, Evan Cheruel, Caro de Bodegat, and
Tristan de Pestivien, the first two knights and the latter a
squire, became separated from their comrades, and were beaten to
the ground with English all around them, so that they had to
choose between instant death and surrender. They handed their
swords to Bambro' and stood apart, each of them sorely wounded,
watching with hot and bitter hearts the melee which still surged
up and down the field.
But now the combat had lasted half an hour without stint or rest,
until the warriors were so exhausted with the burden of their
armor, the loss of blood, the shock of blows, and their own
furious exertions, that they could scarce totter or raise their
weapons. There must be a pause if the combat was to have any
decisive end. "Cessez! Cessez! Retirez!" cried the heralds, as
they spurred their horses between the exhausted men.
Slowly the gallant Beaumanoir led the twenty-five men who were
left to their original station, where they opened their visors and
threw themselves down upon the grass, panting like weary dogs, and
wiping the sweat from their bloodshot eyes. A pitcher of wine of
Anjou was carried round by a page, and each in turn drained a cup,
save only Beaumanoir who kept his Lent with such strictness that
neither food nor drink might pass his lips before sunset. He
paced slowly amongst his men, croaking forth encouragement from
his parched lips and pointing out to them that among the English
there was scarce a man who was not wounded, and some so sorely
that they could hardly stand. If the fight so far had gone
against them, there were still five hours of daylight, and much
might happen before the last of them was laid upon his back.
Varlets had rushed forth to draw away the two dead Bretons, and a
brace of English archers had carried Nigel from the field. With
his own hands Aylward had unlaced the crushed helmet and had wept
to see the bloodless and unconscious face of his young master. He
still breathed, however, and stretched upon the grass by the
riverside the bowman tended him with rude surgery, until the water
upon his brow and the wind upon his face had coaxed back the life
into his battered frame. He breathed with heavy gasps, and some
tinge of blood crept hack into his cheeks, but still he lay
unconscious of the roar of the crowd and of that great struggle
which his comrades were now waging once again.
The English had lain for a space bleeding and breathless, in no
better case than their rivals, save that they were still
twenty-nine in number. But of this muster there were not nine who
were hale men, and some were so weak from loss of blood that they
could scarce keep standing. Yet, when the signal was at last
given to reengage there was not a man upon either side who did not
totter to his feet and stagger forward toward his enemies.
But the opening of this second phase of the combat brought one
great misfortune and discouragement to the English. Bambro' like
the others, had undone his visor, but with his mind full of many
cares he had neglected to make it fast again. There was an
opening an inch broad betwixt it and the beaver. As the two lines
met the left-handed Breton squire, Alain de Karanais, caught sight
of Bambro's face, and in an instant thrust his short spear through
the opening. The English leader gave a cry of pain and fell on
his knees, but staggered to his feet again, too weak to raise his
shield. As he stood exposed the Breton knight, Geoffrey Dubois
the Strong, struck him such a blow with his ax that he beat in the
whole breast-plate with the breast behind it. Bambro' fell dead
upon the ground and for a few minutes a fierce fight raged round
Then the English drew back, sullen and dogged, bearing Bambro'
with them, and the Bretons, breathing hard, gathered again in
their own quarter. At the same instant the three prisoners picked
up such weapons as were scattered upon the grass and ran over to
join their own party.
"Nay, nay!" cried Knolles, raising his visor and advancing. "This
may not be. You have been held to mercy when we might have slain
you, and by the Virgin I will hold you dishonored, all three, if
you stand not back."
"Say not so, Robert Knolles," Evan Cheruel answered. "Never yet
has the word dishonor been breathed with my name, but I should
count myself faineant if I did not fight beside my comrades when
chance has made it right and proper that I should do so."
"By Saint Cadoc! he speaks truly," croaked Beaumanoir, advancing
in front of his men. "You are well aware, Robert, that it is the
law of war and the usage of chivalry that if the knight to whom
you have surrendered is himself slain the prisoners thereby become
There was no answer to this and Knolles, weary and spent, returned
to his comrades. " I would that we had slain them," said he. "We
have lost our leader and they have gained three men by the same
"If any more lay down their arms it is my order that you slay them
forthwith," said Croquart, whose bent sword and bloody armor
showed how manfully he had borne himself in the fray. "And now,
comrades, do not be heavy-hearted because we have lost our leader.
Indeed, his rhymes of Merlin have availed him little. By the
three kings of Almain! I can teach you what is better than an old
woman's prophecies, and that is that you should keep your
shoulders together and your shields so close that none can break
between them. Then you will know what is on either side of you,
and you can fix your eyes upon the front. Also, if any be so weak
or wounded that he must sink his hands his comrades on right and
left can bear him up. Now advance all together in God's name, for
the battle is still ours if we bear ourselves like men."
In a solid line the English advanced, while the Bretons ran
forward as before to meet them. The swiftest of these was a
certain Squire, Geoffrey Poulart, who bore a helmet which was
fashioned as a cock's head, with high comb above, and long pointed
beak in front pierced with the breathing-holes. He thrust with
his sword at Calverly, but Belford who was the next in the line
raised his giant club and struck him a crushing blow from the
side. He staggered, and then pushing forth from the crowd, he ran
round and round in circles as one whose brain is stricken, the
blood dripping from the holes of his brazen beak. So for a long
time he ran, the crowd laughing and cock-crowing at the sight,
until at last he stumbled and fell stone-dead upon his face. But
the fighters had seen nothing of his fate, for desperate and
unceasing was the rush of the Bretons and the steady advance of
the English line:
For a time it seemed as if nothing would break it, but gap-toothed
Beaumanoir was a general as well as a warrior. Whilst his weary,
bleeding, hard-breathing men still flung themselves upon the front
of the line, he himself with Raguenel, Tentiniac, Alain de
Karanais, and Dubois rushed round the flank and attacked the
English with fury from behind. There was a long and desperate
melee until once more the heralds, seeing the combatants stand
gasping and unable to strike a blow, rode in and called yet
another interval of truce.
But in those few minutes whilst they had been assaulted upon both
sides, the losses of the English party had been heavy. The
Anglo-Breton D'Ardaine had fallen before Beaumanoir's sword, but
not before he had cut deeply into his enemy's shoulder. Sir
Thomas Walton, Richard of Ireland one of the Squires, and Hulbitee
the big peasant had all fallen before the mace of the dwarf
Raguenel or the swords of his companions. Some twenty men were
still left standing upon either side, but all were in the last
state of exhaustion, gasping, reeling, hardly capable of striking
It was strange to see them as they staggered with many a lurch and
stumble toward each other once again, for they moved like drunken
men, and the scales of their neck-armor and joints were as red as
fishes' gills when they raised them They left foul wet footprints
behind them on the green grass as they moved forward once more to
their endless contest.
Beaumanoir, faint with the drain of his blood and with a tongue of
leather, paused as he advanced. "I am fainting, comrades," he
cried. "I must drink."
"Drink your own blood, Beaumanoir!" cried Dubois, and the weary
men all croaked together in dreadful laughter.
But now the English had learned from experience, and under the
guidance of Croquart they fought no longer in a straight line, but
in one so bent that at last it became a circle. As the Bretons
still pushed and staggered against it they thrust it back on every
side, until they had turned it into the most dangerous formation
of all, a solid block of men, their faces turned outward, their
weapons bristling forth to meet every attack. Thus the English
stood, and no assault could move them. They could lean against
each other back to back while they waited and allowed their foemen
to tire themselves out. Again and again the gallant Bretons tried
to make a way through. Again and again they were beaten back by a
shower of blows.
Beaumanoir, his head giddy with fatigue, opened his helmet and
gazed in despair at this terrible, unbreakable circle. Only too
clearly he could see the inevitable result. His men were wearing
themselves out. Already many of them could scarce stir hand or
foot, and might be dead for any aid which they could give him in
winning the fight. Soon all would be in the same plight. Then
these cursed English would break their circle to swarm over his
helpless men and to strike them down. Do what he might, he could
see no way by which such an end might be prevented. He cast his
eyes round in his agony, and there was one of his Bretons slinking
away to the side of the lists. He could scarce credit his senses
when he saw by the scarlet and silver that the deserter was his
own well-tried squire, William of Montaubon.
"William! William!" he cried. "Surely you would not leave me?"
But the other's helmet was closed and he could hear nothing.
Beaumanoir saw that he was staggering away as swiftly as he could.
With a cry of bitter despair, he drew into a knot as many of his
braves as could still move, and together they made a last rush
upon the English spears. This time he was firmly resolved, deep
in his gallant soul, that he would come no foot back, but would
find his death there amongst his foemen or carve a path into the
heart of their ranks. The fire in his breast spread from man to
man of his followers, and amid the crashing of blows they still
locked themselves against the English shields and drove hard for
an opening in their ranks.
But all was vain! Beaumanoir's head reeled. His senses were
leaving him. In another minute he and his men would have been
stretched senseless before this terrible circle of steel, when
suddenly the whole array fell in pieces before his eyes, his
enemies Croquart, Knolles, Calverly, Belford, all were stretched
upon the ground together, their weapons dashed from their hands
and their bodies too exhausted to rise. The surviving Bretons had
but strength to fall upon them dagger in hands, and to wring from
them their surrender with the sharp point stabbing through their
visors. Then victors and vanquished lay groaning and panting in
one helpless and blood-smeared heap.
To Beaumanoir's simple mind it had seemed that at the supreme
moment the Saints of Brittany had risen at their country's call.
Already, as he lay gasping, his heart was pouring forth its thanks
to his patron Saint Cadoc. But the spectators had seen clearly
enough the earthly cause of this sudden victory, and a hurricane
of applause from one side, with a storm of hooting from the other
showed how different was the emotion which it raised in minds
which sympathized with the victors or the vanquished.
William of Montaubon, the cunning squire, had made his way across
to the spot where the steeds were tethered, and had mounted his
own great roussin. At first it was thought that he was about to
ride from the field, but the howl of execration from the Breton
peasants changed suddenly to a yell of applause and delight as he
turned the beast's head for the English circle and thrust his long
prick spurs into its side. Those who faced him saw this sudden
and unexpected appearance. Time was when both horse and rider
must have winced away from the shower of their blows. But now
they were in no state to meet such a rush. They could scarce
raise their arms. Their blows were too feeble to hurt this mighty
creature. In a moment it had plunged through the ranks, and seven
of them were on the grass. It turned and rushed through them
again, leaving five others helpless beneath its hoofs. No need to
do more! Already Beaumanoir and his companions were inside the
circle, the prostrate men were helpless, and Josselin had won.
That night a train of crestfallen archers, bearing many a
prostrate figure, marched sadly into Ploermel Castle. Behind them
rode ten men, all weary, all wounded, and all with burning hearts
against William of Montaubon for the foul trick that he had served
But over at Josselin, yellow gorse-blossoms in their helmets, the
victors were borne in on the shoulders of a shouting mob, amid the
fanfare of trumpets and the beating of drums. Such was the combat
of the Midway Oak, where brave men met brave men, and such honor
was gained that from that day he who had fought in the Battle of
the Thirty was ever given the highest place and the post of honor,
nor was it easy for any man to pretend to have been there, for it
has been said by that great chronicler who knew them all, that not
one on either side failed to carry to his grave the marks of that
XXIV. HOW NIGEL WAS CALLED TO HIS MASTER
My sweet ladye," wrote Nigel in a script which it would take the
eyes of love to read, "there hath been a most noble meeting in the
fourth sennight of Lent betwixt some of our own people and sundry
most worthy persons of this country, which ended, by the grace of
our Lady, in so fine a joust that no man living can call to mind
so fair an occasion. Much honor was gained by the Sieurde
Beaumanoir and also by an Almain named Croquart, with whom I hope
to have some speech when I am hale again, for he is a most
excellent person and very ready to advance himself or to relieve
another from a vow. For myself I had hoped, with Godde's help, to
venture that third small deed which might set me free to haste to
your sweet side, but things have gone awry with me, and I early
met with such scathe and was of so small comfort to my friends
that my heart is heavy within me, and in sooth I feel that I have
lost honour rather than gained it. Here I have lain since the
Feast of the Virgin, and here I am like still to be, for I can
move no limb, save only my hand; but grieve not, sweet lady, for
Saint Catharine hath been our friend since in so short a time I
had two such ventures as the Red Ferret and the intaking of the
Reaver's fortalice. It needs but one more deed, and sickerly when
I am hale once more it will not be long ere I seek it out. Till
then, if my eyes may not rest upon you, my heart at least is ever
at thy feet."
So he wrote from his sick-room in the Castle of Ploermel late in
the summer, but yet another summer had come before his crushed
head had mended and his wasted limbs had gained their strength
once more. With despair he heard of the breaking of the truce,
and of the fight at Mauron in which Sir Robert Knolles and Sir
Walter Bentley crushed the rising power of Brittany - a fight in
which many of the thirty champions of Josselin met their end.
Then, when with renewed strength and high hopes in his heart he
went forth to search for the famous Croquart who proclaimed
himself ever ready night or day to meet any man with any weapon,
it was only to find that in trying the paces of his new horse the
German had been cast into a ditch and had broken his neck. In the
same ditch perished Nigel's last chance of soon accomplishing that
deed which should free him from his vow.
There was truce once more over all Christendom, and mankind was
sated with war, so that only in far-off Prussia, where the
Teutonic knights waged ceaseless battle with the Lithuanian
heathen, could he hope to find his heart's desire. But money and
high knightly fame were needed ere a man could go upon the
northern crusade, and ten years were yet to pass ere Nigel should
look from the battlements of Marienberg on the waters of the
Frische Haff, or should endure the torture of the hot plate when
bound to the Holy Woden stone of Memel. Meanwhile, he chafed his
burning soul out through the long seasons of garrison life in
Brittany, broken only by one visit to the chateau of the father of
Raoul, when he carried to the Lord of Grosbois the news of how his
son had fallen like a gallant gentleman under the gateway of La
And then, then at last, when all hope was well-nigh dead in his
heart, there carne one glorious July morning which brought a
horseman bearing a letter to the Castle of Vannes, of which Nigel
now was seneschal. It contained but few words, short and clear as
the call of a war-trumpet. It was Chandos who wrote. He needed
his Squire at his side, for his pennon was in the breeze once
more. He was at Bordeaux. The Prince was starting at once for
Bergerac, whence he would make a great raid into France. It would
not end without a battle. They had sent word of their coming, and
the good French King had promised to be at great pains to receive
them. Let Nigel hasten at once. If the army had left, then let
him follow after with all speed. Chandos had three other squires,
but would very gladly see his fourth once again, for he had heard
much of him since he parted, and nothing which he might not have
expected to hear of his father's son. Such was the letter which
made the summer sun shine brighter and the blue sky seem of a
still fairer blue upon that happy morning in Vannes.
It is a weary way from Vannes to Bordeaux. Coastwise ships are
hard to find, and winds blow north when all brave hearts would
fain be speeding south. A full month has passed from the day when
Nigel received his letter before he stood upon the quay-side of
the Garonne amid the stacked barrels of Gascon wine and helped to
lead Pommers down the gang-planks. Not Aylward himself had a
worse opinion of the sea than the great yellow horse, and he
whinnied with joy as he thrust his muzzle into his master's
outstretched hand, and stamped his ringing hoofs upon the good
firm cobblestones. Beside him, slapping his tawny shoulder in
encouragement, was the lean spare form of Back Simon who had
remained ever under Nigel's pennon.
But Aylward, where was he? Alas! two years before he and the
whole of Knolles' company of archers had been drafted away on the
King's service to Guienne, and since he could not write the Squire
knew not whether he was alive or dead. Simon, indeed, had thrice
heard of him from wandering archers, each time that he was alive
and well and newly married, but as the wife in one case was a fair
maid, and in another a dark, while in the third she was a French
widow, it was hard to know the truth.
Already the army had been gone a month, but news of it came daily
to the town, and such news as all men could read, for through the
landward gates there rolled one constant stream of wagons, pouring
down the Libourne Road, and bearing the booty of Southern France.
The town was full of foot-soldiers, for none but mounted men had
been taken by the Prince. With sad faces and longing eyes they
watched the passing of the train of plunder-laden carts, piled
high with rich furniture, silks, velvets, tapestries, carvings,
and precious metals, which had been the pride of many a lordly
home in fair Auvergne or the wealthy Bourbonnais.
Let no man think that in these wars England alone was face to face
with France alone. There is glory and to spare without trifling
with the truth. Two Provinces in France, both rich and warlike,
had become English through a royal marriage, and these, Guienne
and Gascony, furnished many of the most valiant soldiers under the
island flag. So poor a country as England could not afford to
keep a great force overseas, and so must needs have lost the war
with France through want of power to uphold the struggle. The
feudal system enabled an army to be drawn rapidly together with
small expense, but at the end of a few weeks it dispersed again as
swiftly, and only by a well-filled money-chest could it be held
together. There was no such chest in England, and the King was
forever at his wits' end how to keep his men in the field.
But Guienne and Gascony were full of knights and squires who were
always ready to assemble from their isolated castles for a raid
into France, and these with the addition of those English
cavaliers who fought for honor, and a few thousand of the
formidable archers, hired for fourpence a day, made an army with
which a short campaign could be carried on. Such were the
materials of the Prince's force, some eight thousand strong, who
were now riding in a great circle through Southern France, leaving
a broad wale of blackened and ruined country behind them.
But France, even with her southwestern corner in English hands,
was still a very warlike power, far richer and more populous than
her rival. Single Provinces were so great that they were stronger
than many a kingdom. Normandy in the north, Burgundy in the east,
Brittany in the west and Languedoc in the south were each capable
of fitting out a great army of their own. Therefore the brave and
spirited John, watching from Paris this insolent raid into his
dominions, sent messengers in hot haste to all these great
feudatories as well as to Lorraine, Picardy, Auvergne, Hainault,
Vermandois, Champagne, and to the German mercenaries over his
eastern border, bidding all of them to ride hard, with bloody
spur, day and night, until they should gather to a head at
There a great army had assembled early in September, whilst the
Prince, all unconscious of its presence sacked towns and besieged
castles from Bourges to Issodun, passing Romorautin, and so onward
to Vierzon and to Tours. From week to week there were merry
skirmishes at barriers, brisk assaults of fortresses in which much
honor was won, knightly meetings with detached parties of
Frenchmen and occasional spear-runnings where noble champions
deigned to venture their persons. Houses, too, were to be
plundered, while wine and women were in plenty. Never had either
knights or archers had so pleasant and profitable an excursion, so
that it was with high heart and much hope of pleasant days at
Bordeaux with their pockets full of money that the army turned
south from the Loire and began to retrace its steps to the
But now its pleasant and martial promenade changed suddenly to
very serious work of war. As the Prince moved south he found that
all, supplies had been cleared away from in front of him and that
there was neither fodder for the horses nor food for the men. Two
hundred wagons laden with spoil rolled at the head of the army,
but the starving soldiers would soon have gladly changed it all
for as many loads of bread and of meat. The light troops of the
French had preceded then and burned or destroyed everything that
could be of use. Now also for the first time the Prince and his
men became aware that a great army was moving upon the eastern
side of them, streaming southward in the hope of cutting off their
retreat to the sea. The sky glowed with their fires at night, and
the autumn sun twinkled and gleamed from one end of the horizon to
the other upon the steel caps and flashing weapons of a mighty
Anxious to secure his plunder, and conscious that the levies of
France were far superior in number to his own force, the Prince
redoubled his attempts to escape; but his horses were exhausted
and his starving men were hardly to be kept in order. A few more
days would unfit them for battle. Therefore, when he found near
the village of Maupertuis a position in which a small force might
have a chance to hold its own, he gave up the attempt to outmarch
his pursuers, and he turned at bay, like a hunted boar, all tusks
and eyes of flame.
Whilst these high events had been in progress, Nigel with Black
Simon and four other men-at-arms from Bordeaux, was hastening
northward to join the army. As far as Bergerac they were in a
friendly land, but thence onward they rode over a blackened
landscape with many a roofless house, its two bare gable-ends
sticking upward - a "Knolles' miter" as it was afterward called
when Sir Robert worked his stern will upon the country. For three
days they rode northward, seeing many small parties of French in
all directions, but too eager to reach the army to ease their
march in the search of adventures.
Then at last after passing Lusignan they began to come in touch
with English foragers, mounted bowmen for the most part, who were
endeavoring to collect supplies either for the army or for
themselves. From them Nigel learned that the Prince, with Chandos
ever at his side, was hastening south and might be met within a
short day's march. As he still advanced these English stragglers
became more and more numerous, until at last he overtook a
considerable column of archers moving in the same direction as his
own party. These were men whose horses had failed them and who
had therefore been left behind on the advance, but were now
hastening to be in time for the impending battle. A crowd of
peasant girls accompanied them upon their march, and a whole train
of laden mules were led beside them.
Nigel and his little troop of men-at-arms were riding past the
archers when Black Simon with a sudden exclamation touched his
leader upon the arm.
"See yonder, fair sir," he cried, with gleaming eyes, "there where
the wastrel walks with the great fardel upon his back! Who is he
who marches behind him?"
Nigel looked, and was aware of a stunted peasant who bore upon his
rounded back an enormous bundle very much larger than himself.
Behind him walked a burly broad-shouldered archer, whose stained
jerkin and battered headpiece gave token of long and hard service.
His bow was slung over his shoulder, and his arms were round the
waists of two buxom Frenchwomen, who tripped along beside him with
much laughter and many saucy answers flung back over their
shoulders to a score of admirers behind them.
"Aylward!" cried Nigel, spurring forward.
The archer turned his bronzed face, stared for an instant with
wild eyes, and then, dropping his two ladies, who were instantly
carried off by his comrades, he rushed to seize the hand which his
young master held down to him. "Now, by my hilt, Squire Nigel,
this is the fairest sight of my lifetime!" he cried. "And you,
old leather-face! Nay, Simon, I would put my arms round your
dried herring of a body, if I could but reach you. Here is
Pommers too, and I read in his eye that he knows me well and is as
ready to put his teeth into me as when he stood in my father's
It was like a whiff of the heather-perfumed breezes of Hankley to
see his homely face once more. Nigel laughed with sheer joy as he
looked at him.
"It was an ill day when the King's service called you from my
side," said he, "and by Saint Paul! I am right glad to set eyes
upon you once more! I see well that you are in no wise altered,
but the same Aylward that I have ever known. But who is this
varlet with the great bundle who waits upon your movements?"
"It is no less than a feather-bed, fair sir, which he bears upon
his back, for I would fain bring it to Tilford, and yet it is
overlarge for me when I take my place with my fellows in the
ranks. But indeed this war has been a most excellent one, and I
have already sent half a wagonload of my gear back to Bordeaux to
await my homecoming. Yet I have my fears when I think of all the
rascal foot-archers who are waiting there, for some folk have no
grace or honesty in their souls, and cannot keep their hands from
that which belongs to another. But if I may throw my leg over
yonder spare horse I will come on with you, fair sir, for indeed
it would be joy to my heart to know that I was riding under your
banner once again."
So Aylward, having given instructions to the bearer of his
feather-bed, rode away in spite of shrill protests from his French
companions, who speedily consoled themselves with those of his
comrades who seemed to have most to give. Nigel's party was soon
clear of the column of archers and riding hard in the direction of
the Prince's army. They passed by a narrow and winding track,
through the great wood of Nouaille, and found before them a marshy
valley down which ran a sluggish stream. Along its farther bank
hundreds of horses were being watered, and beyond was a dense
block of wagons. Through these the comrades passed, and then
topped a small mound from which the whole strange scene lay spread
Down the valley the slow stream meandered with marshy meadows on
either side. A mile or two lower a huge drove of horses were to
be seen assembled upon the bank. They were the steeds of the
French cavalry, and the blue haze of a hundred fires showed where
King John's men were camping. In front of the mound upon which
they stood the English line was drawn, but there were few fires,
for indeed, save their horses, there was little for them to cook.
Their right rested upon the river, and their array stretched
across a mile of ground until the left was in touch with a tangled
forest which guarded it from flank attack. In front was a long
thick hedge and much broken ground, with a single deeply rutted
country road cutting through it in the middle. Under the hedge
and along the Whole front of the position lay swarms of archers
upon the grass, the greater number slumbering peacefully with
sprawling limbs in the warm rays of the September sun. Behind
were the quarters of the various knights, and from end to end flew
the banners and pennons marked with the devices of the chivalry of
England and Guienne.
With a glow in his heart Nigel saw those badges of famous captains
and leaders and knew that now at last he also might show his
coat-armor in such noble company. There was the flag of jean
Grailly, the Captal de Buch, five silver shells on a black cross,
which marked the presence of the most famous soldier of Gascony,
while beside it waved the red lion of the noble Knight of
Hainault, Sir Eustace d'Ambreticourt. These two coats Nigel knew,
as did every warrior in Europe, but a dense grove of pennoned
lances surrounded them, bearing charges which were strange to him,
from which he understood that these belonged to the Guienne
division of the army. Farther down the line the famous English
ensigns floated on the wind, the scarlet and gold of Warwick, the
silver star of Oxford, the golden cross of Suffolk, the blue and
gold of Willoughby, and the gold-fretted scarlet of Audley. In
the very center of them, all was one which caused all others to
pass from his mind, for close to the royal banner of England,
crossed with the label of the Prince, there waved the war-worn
flag with the red wedge upon the golden field which marked the
quarters of the noble Chandos.
At the sight Nigel set spurs to his horse, and a few minutes later
had reached the spot. Chandos, gaunt from hunger and want of
sleep, but with the old fire lurking in his eye, was standing by
the Prince's tent, gazing down at what could be seen of the French
array, and heavy with thought. Nigel sprang from his horse and
was within touch of his master when the silken hanging of the
royal tent was torn violently aside and Edward rushed out.
He was without his armor and clad in a sober suit of black, but
the high dignity of his bearing and the imperious anger which
flushed his face proclaimed the leader and the Prince. At his
heels was a little white-haired ecclesiastic in a flowing gown of
scarlet sendal, expostulating and arguing in a torrent of words.
"Not another word, my Lord Cardinal," cried the angry prince. "I
have listened to you overlong, and by God's dignity! that which
you say is neither good nor fair in my ears. Hark you, John, I
would have your counsel. What think you is the message which my
Lord Cardinal of Perigord has carried from the King of France? He
says that of his clemency he will let my army pass back to
Bordeaux if we will restore to him all that we have taken, remit
all ransoms, and surrender my own person with that of a hundred
nobles of England and Guienne to be held as prisoners. What think
Chandos smiled. "Things are not done in that fashion," said he.
"But my Lord Chandos," cried the Cardinal, "I have made it clear
to the Prince that indeed it is a scandal to all Christendom and a
cause of mocking to the heathen, that two great sons of the Church
should turn their swords thus upon each other."
"Then bid the King of France keep clear of us," said the Prince.
"Fair son, you are aware that you are in the heart of his country
and that it standeth not aright that he should suffer you to go
forth as you came. You have but a small army, three thousand
bowmen and five thousand men-at-arms at the most, who seem in evil
case for want of food and rest. The King has thirty thousand men
at his back, of which twenty thousand are expert men-at-arms. It
is fitting therefore that you make such terms as you may, lest
"Give my greetings to the King of France and tell him that England
will never pay ransom for me. But it seems to me, my Lord
Cardinal, that you have our numbers and condition very ready upon
your tongue, and I would fain know how the eye of a Churchman can
read a line of battle so easily. I have seen that these knights
of your household have walked freely to and fro within our camp,
and I much fear that when I welcomed you as envoys I have in truth
given my protection to spies. How say you, my Lord Cardinal?"
"Fair Prince, I know not how you can find it in your heart or
conscience to say such evil words."
"There is this red-bearded nephew of thine, Robert de Duras. See
where he stands yonder, counting and prying. Hark hither, young
sir! I have been saying to your uncle the Cardinal that it is in
my mind that you and your comrades have carried news of our
dispositions to the French King. How say you?"
The knight turned pale and sank his eyes. "My lord," he murmured,
"it may be that I have answered some questions."
"And how will such answers accord with your honor, seeing that we
have trusted you since you came in the train of the Cardinal?"
"My lord, it is true that I am in the train of the Cardinal, and
yet I am liege man of King John and a knight of France, so I pray
you to assuage your wrath against me."
The Prince ground his teeth and his piercing eyes blazed upon the
youth. "By my father's soul! I can scarce forbear to strike you
to the earth! But this I promise you, that if you show that sign
of the Red Griffin in the field and if you be taken alive in
to-morrow's battle, your head shall most assuredly be shorn from
"Fair son, indeed you speak wildly," cried the Cardinal. "I
pledge you my word that neither my nephew Robert nor any of my
train will take part in the battle. And now I leave you, sire,
and may God assoil your soul, for indeed in all this world no men
stand in greater peril than you and those who are around you, and
I rede you that you spend the night in such ghostly exercises as
may best prepare you for that which may befall." So saying the
Cardinal bowed, and with his household walking behind him set off
for the spot where they had left their' horses, whence they rode
to the neighboring Abbey.
The angry Prince turned upon his heel and entered his tent once
more, whilst Chandos, glancing round, held out a warm welcoming
hand to Nigel.
"I have heard much of your noble deeds," said he. "Already your
name rises as a squire errant. I stood no higher, nor so high, at
Nigel flushed with pride and pleasure. "Indeed, my dear lord, it
is very little that I have done. But now that I am back at your
side I hope that in truth I shall learn to bear myself in worthy
fashion, for where else should I win honor if it be not under your
"Truly, Nigel, you have come at a very good time for advancement.
I cannot see how we can leave this spot without a great battle
which will live in men's minds forever. In all our fights in
France I cannot call to mind any in which they have been so strong
or we so weak as now, so that there will be the more honor to be
gained. I would that we had two thousand more archers. But I
doubt not that we shall give them much trouble ere they drive us
out from amidst these hedges. Have you seen the French?"
"Nay, fair sir, I have but this moment arrived."
"I was about to ride forth myself to coast their army and observe
their countenance, so come with me ere the night fall, and we
shall see what we can of their order and dispositions."
There was a truce betwixt the two forces for the day, on account
of the ill-advised and useless interposition of the Cardinal of
Perigord, Hence when Chandos and Nigel had pushed their horses
through the long hedge which fronted the position they found that
many small parties of the knights of either army were riding up
and down on the plain outside. The greater number of these groups
were French, since it was very necessary for them to know as much
as possible of the English defenses; and many of their scouts had
ridden up to within a hundred yards of the hedge, where they were
sternly ordered back by the pickets of archers on guard.
Through these scattered knots of horsemen Chandos rode, and as
many of them were old antagonists it was "Ha, John!" on the one
side, and "Ha, Raoul!" "Ha, Nicholas!" "Ha, Guichard!" upon the
other, as they brushed past them. Only one cavalier greeted them
amiss, a large, red-faced man, the Lord Clermont, who by some
strange chance bore upon his surcoat a blue virgin standing amid
golden sunbeams, which was the very device which Chandos had
donned for the day. The fiery Frenchman dashed across their path
and drew his steed back on to its haunches.
"How long is it, my Lord Chandos," said he hotly, "since you have
taken it upon yourself to wear my arms?"
Chandos smiled. "It is surely you who have mine," said he, "since
this surcoat was worked for the by the good nuns of Windsor a long
"If it were not for the truce," said Clermont, "I would soon show
you that you have no right to wear it."
"Look for it then in the battle to-morrow, and I also will look
for yours," Chandos answered. "There we can very honorably settle
But the Frenchman was choleric and hard to appease. "You English
can invent nothing," said he, "and you take for your own whatever
you see handsome belonging to others." So, grumbling and fuming,
he rode upon his way, while Chandos, laughing gayly, spurred
onward across the plain.
The immediate front of the English line was shrouded with
scattered trees and bushes which hid the enemy; but when they had
cleared these a fair view of the great French army lay before
them. In the center of the huge camp was a long and high pavilion
of red silk, with the silver lilies of the King at one end of it,
and the golden oriflamme, the battle-flag of old France, at the
other. Like the reeds of a pool from side to side of the broad
array, and dwindling away as far as their eyes could see, were the
banners and pennons of high barons and famous knights, but above
them all flew the ducal standards which showed that the feudal
muster of all the warlike provinces of France was in the field
With a kindling eye Chandos looked across at the proud ensigns of
Normandy, or Burgundy, of Auvergne, of Champagne, of Vermandois,
and of Berry, flaunting and gleaming in the rays of the sinking
sun. Riding slowly down the line he marked with attentive gaze
the camp of the crossbowmen, the muster of the German mercenaries,
the numbers of the foot-soldiers, the arms of every proud vassal
or vavasor which might give some guide as to the power of each
division. From wing to wing and round the flanks he went, keeping
ever within crossbow-shot of the army, and then at last having
noted all things in his mind he turned his horse's head and rode
slowly back, heavy with thought, to the English lines.
XXV. HOW THE KING OF FRANCE HELD COUNSEL AT MAUPERTUIS
The morning of Sunday, the nineteenth of September, in the year of
our Lord 1356, was cold and fine. A haze which rose from the
marshy valley of Muisson covered both camps and set the starving
Englishmen shivering, but it cleared slowly away as the sun rose.
In the red silken pavilion of the French King - the same which had
been viewed by Nigel and Chandos the evening before - a solemn
mass was held by the Bishop of Chalons, who prayed for those who
were about to die, with little thought in his mind that his own
last hour was so near at hand. Then, when communion had been
taken by the King and his four young sons the altar was cleared
away, and a great red-covered table placed lengthwise down the
tent, round which John might assemble his council and determine
how best he should proceed. With the silken roof, rich tapestries
of Arras round the walls and Eastern rugs beneath the feet, his
palace could furnish no fairer chamber.
King John, who sat upon the canopied dais at the upper end, was
now in the sixth year of his reign and the thirty-sixth of his
life. He was a short burly man, ruddy-faced and deep-chested,
with dark kindly eyes and a most noble bearing. It did not need
the blue cloak sewed with silver lilies to mark him as the King.
Though his reign had been short, his fame was already widespread
over all Europe as a kindly gentleman and a fearless soldier - a
fit leader for a chivalrous nation. His elder son, the Duke of
Normandy, still hardly more than a boy, stood beside him, his hand
upon the King's shoulder, and John half turned from time to time
to fondle him. On the right, at the same high dais, was the
King's younger brother, the Duke of Orleans, a pale heavy-featured
man, with a languid manner and intolerant eyes. On the left was
the Duke of Bourbon, sad-faced and absorbed, with that gentle
melancholy in his eyes and bearing which comes often with the
premonition of death. All these were in their armor, save only
for their helmets, which lay upon the board before them.
Below, grouped around the long red table, was an assembly of the
most famous warriors in Europe. At the end nearest the King was
the veteran soldier the Duke of Athens, son of a banished father,
and now High Constable of France. On one side of him sat the
red-faced and choleric Lord Clermont, with the same blue Virgin in
golden rays upon his surcoat which had caused his quarrel with
Chandos the night before. On the other was a noble-featured
grizzly-haired soldier, Arnold d'Andreghen, who shared with
Clermont the honor of being Marshal of France. Next to them sat
Lord James of Bourbon, a brave warrior who was afterwards slain by
the White Company at Brignais, and beside him a little group of
German noblemen, including the Earl of Salzburg and the Earl of
Nassau, who had ridden over the frontier with their formidable
mercenaries at the bidding of the French King. The ridged armor
and the hanging nasals of their bassinets were enough in
themselves to tell every soldier that they were from beyond the
Rhine. At the other side of the table were a line of proud and
warlike Lords, Fiennes, Chatillon, Nesle, de Landas, de Beaujeu,
with the fierce knight errant de Chargny, he who had planned the
surprise of Calais, and Eustace de Ribeaumont, who had upon the
same occasion won the prize of valor from the hands of Edward of
England. Such were the chiefs to whom the King now turned for
assistance and advice.
"You have already heard, my friends," said he, "that the Prince of
Wales has made no answer to the proposal which we sent by the Lord
Cardinal of Perigord. Certes this is as it should be, and though
I have obeyed the call of Holy Church I had no fears that so
excellent a Prince as Edward of England would refuse to meet us in
battle. I am now of opinion that we should fall upon them at
once, lest perchance the Cardinal's cross should again come
betwixt our swords and our enemies."
A buzz of joyful assent arose from the meeting, and even from the
attendant men-at-arms who guarded the door. When it had died away
the Duke of Orleans rose in his place beside the King.
"Sire," said he, "you speak as we would have you do, and I for one
am of opinion that the Cardinal of Perigord has been an ill friend
of France, for why should we bargain for a part when we have but
to hold out our hand in order to grasp the whole? What need is
there for words? Let us spring to horse forthwith and ride over
this handful of marauders who have dared to lay waste your fair
dominions. If one of them go hence save as our prisoner we are
the more to blame."
"By Saint Denis, brother!" said the King, smiling, "if words could
slay you would have had them all upon their backs ere ever we left
Chartres. You are new to war, but when you have had experience of
a stricken field or two you would know that things must be done
with forethought and in order or they may go awry. In our
father's time we sprang to horse and spurred upon these English at
Crecy and elsewhere as you advise, but we had little profit from
it, and now we are grown wiser. How say you, Sieur de Ribeaumont?
You have coasted their lines and observed their countenance.
Would you ride down upon them, as my brother has advised, or how
would you order the matter?"
De Ribeaumont, a tall dark-eyed handsome man, paused ere he
answered. "Sire," he said at last, "I have indeed ridden along
their front and down their flanks, in company with Lord Landas and
Lord de Beaujeu, who are here at your council to witness to what I
say. Indeed, sire, it is in my mind that though the English are
few in number yet they are in such a position amongst these hedges
and vines that you would be well-advised if you were to leave them
alone, for they have no food and must retreat, so that you will be
able to follow them and to fight them to better advantage."
A murmur of disapproval rose from the company, and the Lord
Clermont, Marshal of the army, sprang to his feet, his face red
"Eustace; Eustace," said he, "I bear in mind the days when you
were of great heart and high enterprise, but since King Edward
gave you yonder chaplet of pearls you have ever been backward
against the English!"
"My Lord Clermont," said de Ribeaumont sternly, "it is not for me
to brawl at the King's council and in the face of the enemy, but
we will go further into this matter at some other time.
Meanwhile, the King has asked me for my advice and I have given it
as best I might."
"It had been better for your honor, Sir Eustace, had you held your
peace," said the Duke of Orleans. "Shall we let them slip from
our fingers when we have them here and are fourfold their number?
I know not where we should dwell afterwards, for I am very sure
that we should be ashamed to ride back to Paris, or to look our
ladies in the eyes again."
"Indeed, Eustace, you have done well to say what is in your mind,"
said the King; "but I have already said that we shall join battle
this morning, so that there is no room here for further talk. But
I would fain have heard from you how it would be wisest and best
that we attack them?"
"I will advise you, sire, to the best of my power. Upon their
right is a river with marshes around it, and upon their left a
great wood, so that we can advance only upon the center. Along
their front is a thick hedge, and behind it I saw the green
jerkins of their archers, as thick as the sedges by the river. It
is broken by one road where only four horsemen could ride abreast,
which leads through the position. It is clear then that if we are
to drive them back we must cross the great hedge, and I am very
sure that the horses will not face it with such a storm of arrows
beating from behind it. Therefore, it is my council that we fight
upon foot, as the English did at Crecy, for indeed we may find
that our horses will be more hindrance than help to us this day."
"The same thought was in my own mind, sire," said Arnold
d'Andreghen the veteran Marshal. "At Crecy the bravest had to
turn their backs, for what can a man do with a horse which is mad
with pain and fear? If we advance upon foot we are our own
masters, and if we stop the shame is ours."
"The counsel is good," said the Duke of Athens, turning his shrewd
wizened face to the King; "but one thing only I would add to it.
The strength of these people lies in their archers, and if we
could throw them into disorder, were it only for a short time, we
should win the hedge; else they will shoot so strongly that we
must lose many men before we reach it, for indeed we have learned
that no armor will keep out their shafts when they are close."
"Your words, fair sir, are both good and wise," said the King,
"but I pray you to tell us how you would throw these archers into
"I would choose three hundred horsemen, sire, the best and most
forward in the army. With these I would ride up the narrow road,
and so turn to right and left, falling upon the archers behind the
hedge. It may be that the three hundred would suffer sorely, but
what are they among so great a host, if a road may be cleared for
"I would say a word to that, sire," cried the German Count of
Nassau, "I have come here with my comrades to venture our persons
in your quarrel; but we claim the right to fight in our own
fashion, and we would count it dishonor to dismount from our
steeds out of fear of the arrows of the English. Therefore, with
your permission, we will ride to the front, as the Duke of Athens
has advised, and so clear a path for the rest of you."
"This may not be!" cried the Lord Clermont angrily. "It would be
strange indeed if Frenchmen could not be found to clear a path for
the army of the King of France. One would think to hear you talk,
my Lord Count, that your hardihood was greater than our own, but
by our Lady of Rocamadour you will learn before nightfall that it
is not so. It is for me, who am a Marshal of France; to lead
these three hundred, since it is an honorable venture."
"And I claim the same right for the same reason," said Arnold of
The German Count struck the table with his mailed fist. "Do what
you like!" said he. "But this only I can promise you, that
neither I nor any of my German riders will descend from our horses
so long as they are able to carry us, for in our country it is
only people of no consequence who fight upon their feet."
The Lord Clermont was leaning angrily forward with some hot reply
when King John intervened. "Enough, enough!" he said. "It is for
you to give your opinions, and for me to tell you what you will
do. Lord Clermont, and you, Arnold, you will choose three hundred
of the bravest cavaliers in the army and you will endeavor to
break these archers. As to you and your Germans, my Lord Nassau ,
you will remain upon horseback, since you desire it, and you will
follow the Marshals and support them as best you may. The rest of
the army will advance upon foot, in three other divisions as
arranged: yours, Charles," and he patted his son, the Duke of
Normandy, affectionately upon the hand; "yours, Philip," he
glanced at the Duke of Orleans; "and the main battle which is my
own. To you, Geoffrey de Chargny, I intrust the oriflamme this
day. But who is this knight and what does he desire?"
A young knight, ruddy-bearded and tall, a red griffin upon his
surcoat, had appeared in the opening of the tent. His flushed
face and disheveled dress showed that he had come in haste.
"Sire," said he, "I am Robert de Duras, of the household of the
Cardinal de Perigord. I have told you yesterday all that I have
learned of the English camp. This morning I was again admitted to
it, and I have seen their wagons moving to the rear. Sire, they
are in flight for Bordeaux."
"'Fore God, I knew it!" cried the Duke of Orleans in a voice of
fury. "Whilst we have been talking they have slipped through our
fingers. Did I not warn you?"
"Be silent, Philip!" said the King angrily. "But you, sir, have
you seen this with your own eyes?"
"With my own eyes, sire, and I have ridden straight from their
King John looked at him with a stern gaze. "I know not how it
accords with your honor to carry such tidings in such a fashion,"
said he; "but we cannot choose but take advantage of it. Fear
not, brother Philip, it is in my mind that you will see all that
you would wish of the Englishmen before nightfall. Should we fall
upon them whilst they cross the ford it will be to our advantage.
Now, fair sirs, I pray you to hasten to your posts and to carry
out all that we have agreed. Advance the oriflamme, Geoffrey, and
do you marshal the divisions, Arnold. So may God and Saint Denis
have us in their holy keeping this day!"
The Prince of Wales stood upon that little knoll where Nigel had
halted the day before. Beside him were Chandos, and a tall
sun-burned warrior of middle age, the Gascon Captal de Buch. The
three men were all attentively watching the distant French lines,
while behind them a column of wagons wound down to the ford of the
Close in the rear four knights in full armor with open visors sat
their horses and conversed in undertones with each other. A
glance at their shields would have given their names to any
soldier, for they were all men of fame who had seen much warfare.
At present they were awaiting their orders, for each of them
commanded the whole or part of a division of the army. The youth
upon the left, dark, slim and earnest, was William Montacute, Earl
of Salisbury, only twenty-eight years of age and yet a veteran of
Crecy. How high he stood in reputation is shown by the fact that
the command of the rear, the post of honor in a retreating army,
had been given to him by the Prince. He was talking to a grizzled
harsh-faced man, somewhat over middle age, with lion features and
fierce light-blue eyes which gleamed as they watched the distant
enemy. It was the famous Robert de Ufford, Earl of Suffolk, who
had fought without a break from Cadsand onward through the whole
Continental War. The other tall silent soldier, with the silver
star gleaming upon his surcoat, was John de Vere, Earl of Oxford,
and he listened to the talk of Thomas Beauchamp, a burly, jovial,
ruddy nobleman and a tried soldier, who leaned forward and tapped
his mailed hand upon the other's steel-clad thigh. They were old
battle-companions, of the same age and in the very prime of life,
with equal fame and equal experience of the wars. Such was the
group of famous English soldiers who sat their horses behind the
Prince and waited for their orders.
"I would that you had laid hands upon him," said the Prince
angrily, continuing his conversation with Chandos, "and yet,
perchance, it was wiser to play this trick and make them think
that we were retreating."
"He has certainly carried the tidings," said Chandos, with a
smile. "No sooner had the wagons started than I saw him gallop
down the edge of the wood."
"It was well thought of, John," the Prince remarked, "for it would
indeed be great comfort if we could turn their own spy against
them. Unless they advance upon us, I know not how we can hold out
another day, for there is not a loaf left in the army; and yet if
we leave this position where shall we hope to find such another?"
"They will stoop, fair sir, they will stoop to our lure. Even now
Robert de Duras will be telling them that the wagons are on the
move, and they will hasten to overtake us lest we pass the ford.
But who is this, who rides so fast? Here perchance may be
A horseman had spurred up to the knoll. He sprang from the
saddle, and sank on one knee before the Prince.
"How now, my Lord Audley," said Edward. " What would you have?"
"Sir," said the knight, still kneeling with bowed head before his
leader, "I have a boon to ask of you."
"Nay, James, rise! Let me hear what I can do."
The famous knight errant, pattern of chivalry for all time; rose
and turned his swarthy face and dark earnest eyes upon his master.
"Sir," said he, "I have ever served most loyally my lord your
father and yourself, and shall continue so to do so long as I have
life. Dear sir, I must now acquaint you that formerly I made a
vow if ever I should be in any battle under your command that I
would be foremost or die in the attempt. I beg therefore that you
will graciously permit me to honorably quit my place among the
others, that I may post myself in such wise as to accomplish my
The Prince smiled, for it was very sure that vow or no vow,
permission or no permission, Lord James Audley would still be in
the van. "Go, James," said he, shaking his hand, "and God grant
that this day you may shine in valor above all knights. But hark,
John, what is that?"
Chandos cast up his fierce nose like the eagle which smells
slaughter afar. "Surely, sir, all is forming even as we had
>From far away there came a thunderous shout. Then another and yet
"See, they are moving!" cried the Captal de Buch.
All morning they had watched the gleam of the armed squadrons who
were drawn up in front of the French camp. Now whilst a great
blare of trumpets was borne to their ears, the distant masses
flickered and twinkled in the sunlight.
"Yes, yes, they are moving!" cried the Prince.
"They are moving! They are moving!" Down the line the murmur
ran. And then with a sudden impulse the archers at the hedge
sprang to their feet and the knights behind them waved their
weapons in the air, while one tremendous shout of warlike joy
carried their defiance to the approaching enemy. Then there fell
such a silence that the pawing of the horses or the jingle of
their harness struck loud upon the ear, until amid the hush there
rose a low deep roar like the sound of the tide upon the beach,
ever growing and deepening as the host of France drew near.
XXVI. HOW NIGEL FOUND HIS THIRD DEED
Four archers lay behind a clump of bushes ten yards in front of
the thick hedge which shielded their companions. Amid the long
line of bowmen those behind them were their own company, and in
the main the same who were with Knolles in Brittany. The four in
front were their leaders: old Wat of Carlisle, Ned Widdington the
red-headed Dalesman, the bald bowyer Bartholomew, and Samkin
Alyward, newly rejoined after a week's absence. All four were
munching bread and apples, for Aylward had brought in a full
haversack and divided them freely amongst his starving comrades.
The old Borderer and the Yorkshireman were gaunt and hollow-eyed
with privation, while the bowyer's round face had fallen in so
that the skin hung in loose pouches under his eyes and beneath his
Behind them lines of haggard, wolfish men glared through the
underwood, silent and watchful save that they burst into a fierce
yelp of welcome when Chandos and Nigel galloped up, sprang from
their horses and took their station beneath them. All along the
green fringe of bowmen might be seen the steel-clad figures of
knights and squires who had pushed their way into the front line
to share the fortune of the archers.
"I call to mind that I once shot six ends with a Kentish woldsman
at Ashford - " began the Bowyer.
"Nay, nay, we have heard that story!" said old Wat impatiently.
"Shut thy clap, Bartholomew, for it is no time for redeless
gossip! Walk down the line, I pray you, and see if there be no
frayed string, nor broken nock nor loosened whipping to be
The stout bowyer passed down the fringe of bowmen, amidst a
running fire of rough wit. Here and there a bow was thrust out at
him through the hedge for his professional advice.
"Wax your heads!" he kept crying. "Pass down the wax-pot and wax
your heads. A waxed arrow will pass where a dry will be held.
Tom Beverley, you jack-fool! where is your bracer-guard? Your
string will flay your arm ere you reach your up-shot this day.
And you, Watkin, draw not to your mouth, as is your wont, but to
your shoulder. You are so used to the wine-pot that the string
must needs follow it. Nay, stand loose, and give space for your
drawing arms, for they will be on us anon."
He ran back and joined his comrades in the front, who had now
risen to their feet. Behind them a half-mile of archers stood
behind the hedge, each with his great warbow strung, half a dozen
shafts loose behind him, and eighteen more in the quiver slung
across his front. With arrow on string, their feet firm-planted,
their fierce eager faces peering through the branches, they
awaited the coming storm.
The broad flood of steel, after oozing slowly forward, had stopped
about a mile from the English front. The greater part of the army
had then descended from their horses, while a crowd of varlets and
hostlers led them to the rear. The French formed themselves now
into three great divisions, which shimmered in the sun like
silvery pools, reed-capped with many a thousand of banners and
pennons. A space of several hundred yards divided each. At the
same time two bodies of horsemen formed themselves in front. The
first consisted of three hundred men in one thick column, the
second of a thousand, riding in a more extended line.
The Prince had ridden up to the line of archers. He was in dark
armor, his visor open, and his handsome aquiline face all glowing
with spirit and martial fire. The bowmen yelled at him, and he
waved his hands to them as a huntsman cheers his hounds.
"Well, John, what think you now?" he asked. "What would my noble
father not give to be by our side this day? Have you seen that
they have left their horses?"
"Yes, my fair lord, they have learned their lesson," said Chandos.
"Because we have had good fortune upon our feet at Crecy and
elsewhere they think that they have found the trick of it. But it
is in my mind that it is very different to stand when you are
assailed, as we have done, and to assail others when you must drag
your harness for a mile and come weary to the fray."
"You speak wisely, John. But these horsemen who form in front and
ride slowly towards us, what make you of them?"
"Doubtless they hope to cut the strings of our bowmen and so clear
a way for the others. But they are indeed a chosen band, for mark
you, fair sir, are not those the colors of Clermont upon the left,
and of d'Andreghen upon the right, so that both marshals ride with
"By God's soul, John!" cried the Prince, "it is very sure that you
can see more with one eye than any man in this army with two. But
it is even as you say. And this larger band behind?"
"They should be Germans, fair sir, by the fashion of their
The two bodies of horsemen had moved slowly over the plain, with a
space of nearly a quarter of a mile between them. Now, having
come two bowshots from the hostile line, they halted. All that
they could see of the English was the long hedge, with an
occasional twinkle of steel through its leafy branches, and behind
that the spear-heads of the men-at-arms rising from amidst the
brushwood and the vines. A lovely autumn countryside with
changing many-tinted foliage lay stretched before them, all bathed
in peaceful sunshine, and nothing save those flickering fitful
gleams to tell of the silent and lurking enemy who barred their
way. But the bold spirit of the French cavaliers rose the higher
to the danger. The clamor of their war-cries filled the air, and
they tossed their pennoned spears over their heads in menace and
defiance. From the English line it was a noble sight, the
gallant, pawing, curveting horses, the many-colored twinkling
riders, the swoop and wave and toss of plume and banner.
Then a bugle rang forth. With a sudden yell every spur struck
deep, every lance was laid in rest, and the whole gallant squadron
flew like a glittering thunderbolt for the center of the English
A hundred yards they had crossed, and yet another hundred, but
there was no movement in front of them, and no sound save their
own hoarse battle-cries and the thunder of their horses. Ever
swifter and swifter they flew. From behind the hedge it was a
vision of horses, white, bay and black, their necks stretched,
their nostrils distended, their bellies to the ground, whilst of
the rider one could but see a shield with a plume-tufted visor
above it, and a spear-head twinkling in front.
Then of a sudden the Prince raised his hand and gave a cry.
Chandos echoed it, it swelled down the line, and with one mighty
chorus of twanging strings and hissing shafts the long-pent storm
broke at last.
Alas for the noble steeds! Alas for the gallant men. When the
lust of battle is over who would not grieve to see that noble
squadron break into red ruin before the rain of arrows beating
upon the faces and breasts of the horses? The front rank crashed
down, and the others piled themselves upon the top of them, unable
to check their speed, or to swerve aside from the terrible wall of
their shattered comrades which had so suddenly sprung up before
them. Fifteen feet high was that blood-spurting mound of
screaming, kicking horses and writhing, struggling men. Here and
there on the flanks a horseman cleared himself and dashed for the
hedge, only to have his steed slain under him and to be hurled
from his saddle. Of all the three hundred gallant riders, not one
ever reached that fatal hedge.
But now in a long rolling wave of steel the German battalion
roared swiftly onward. They opened in the center to pass that
terrible mound of death, and then spurred swiftly in upon the
archers. They were brave men, well led, and in their open lines
they could avoid the clubbing together which had been the ruin of
the vanguard; yet they perished singly even as the others had
perished together. A few were slain by the arrows. The greater
number had their horses killed under them, and were so shaken and
shattered by the fall that they could not raise their limbs,
over-weighted with iron, from the spot where they lay.
Three men riding together broke through the bushes which sheltered
the leaders of the archers, cut down Widdington the Dalesman,
spurred onward through the hedge, dashed over the bowmen behind
it, and made for the Prince. One fell with an arrow through his
head, a second was beaten from his saddle by Chandos, and the
third was slain by the Prince's own hand. A second band broke
through near the river, but were cut off by Lord Audley and his
squires, so that all were slain. A single horseman whose steed
was mad with pain, an arrow in its eye and a second in its
nostril, sprang over the hedge and clattered through the whole
army, disappearing amid whoops and laughter into the woods behind.
But none others won as far as the hedge. The whole front of the
position was fringed with a litter of German wounded or dead,
while one great heap in the center marked the downfall of the
gallant French three hundred.
Whilst these two waves of the attack had broken in front of the
English position, leaving this blood-stained wreckage behind them,
the main divisions had halted and made their last preparations for
their own assault. They had not yet begun their advance, and the
nearest was still half a mile distant, when the few survivors from
the forlorn hope, their maddened horses bristling with arrows,
flew past them on either flank.
At the same moment the English archers and men-at-arms dashed
through the hedge, and dragged all who were living out of that
tangled heap of shattered horses and men. It was a mad wild rush,
for in a few minutes the fight must be renewed, and yet there was
a rich harvest of wealth for the lucky man who could pick a
wealthy prisoner from amid the crowd. The nobler spirits
disdained to think of ransoms whilst the fight was still
unsettled; but a swarm of needy soldiers, Gascons and English,
dragged the wounded out by the leg or the arm, and with daggers at
their throats demanded their names, title and means. He who had
made a good prize hurried him to the rear where his own servants
could guard him, while he who was disappointed too often drove the
dagger home and then rushed once more into the tangle in the hope
of better luck. Clermont, with an arrow through the sky-blue
Virgin on his surcoat, lay dead within ten paces of the hedge;
d'Andreghen was dragged by a penniless squire from under a horse
and became his prisoner. The Earl of Salzburg and of Nassau were
both found helpless on the ground and taken to the rear. Aylward
cast his thick arms round Count Otto von Langenbeck, and laid him,
helpless from a broken leg, behind his bush. Black Simon had made
prize of Bernard, Count of Ventadour, and hurried him through the
hedge. Everywhere there was rushing and shouting, brawling and
buffeting, while amidst it all a swarm of archers were seeking
their shafts, plucking them from the dead, and sometimes even from
the wounded. Then there was a sudden cry of warning. In a moment
every man was back in his place once more, and the line of the
hedge was clear.
It was high time; for already the first division of the French was
close upon them. If the charge of the horsemen had been terrible
from its rush and its fire, this steady advance of a huge phalanx
of armored footmen was even more fearsome to the spectator. They
moved very slowly, on account of the weight of their armor, but
their progress was the more regular and inexorable. With elbows
touching - their shields slung in front, their short five-foot
spears carried in their right hands, and their maces or swords
ready at their belts, the deep column of men-at-arms moved onward.
Again the storm of arrows beat upon them clinking and thudding on
the armor. They crouched double behind their shields as they met
it. Many fell, but still the slow tide lapped onward. Yelling,
they surged up to the hedge, and lined it for half a mile,
struggling hard to pierce it.
For five minutes the long straining ranks faced each other with
fierce stab of spear on one side and heavy beat of ax or mace upon
the other. In many parts the hedge was pierced or leveled to the
ground, and the French men-at-arms were raging amongst the
archers, hacking and hewing among the lightly armed men. For a
moment it seemed as if the battle was on the turn.
But John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, cool, wise and crafty in war,
saw and seized, his chance. On the right flank a marshy meadow
skirted the river. So soft was it that a heavily-armed man would
sink to his knees. At his order a spray of light bowmen was
thrown out from the battle line and forming upon the flank of the
French poured their arrows into them. At the same moment Chandos,
with Audley, Nigel, Bartholomew Burghersh, the Captal de Buch, and
a score of other knights sprang upon their horses, and charging
down the narrow lane rode over the French line in front of them.
Once through it they spurred to left and right, trampling down the
A fearsome sight was Pommers that day, his red eyes rolling, his
nostrils gaping, his tawny mane tossing, and his savage teeth
gnashing in fury, as he tore and smashed and ground beneath his
ramping hoofs all that came before him. Fearsome too was the
rider, ice-cool; alert, concentrated of purpose, with, heart of
fire and muscles of steel. A very angel of battle he seemed as he
drove his maddened horse through the thickest of the press, but
strive as he would: the tall figure of his master upon his
coal-black steed was ever half a length before him.
Already the moment of danger was passed. The French line had
given back. Those who had pierced the hedge had fallen like brave
men amid the ranks of their foemen. The division of Warwick had
hurried up from the vineyards to fill the gaps of Salisbury's
battle-line. Back rolled the shining tide, slowly at first, even
as it had advanced, but quicker now as the bolder fell and the
weaker shredded out and shuffled with ungainly speed for a place
of safety. Again there was a rush from behind the hedge. Again
there was a reaping of that strange crop of bearded arrows which
grew so thick upon the ground, and again the wounded prisoners
were seized and dragged in brutal haste to the rear. Then the
line was restored, and the English, weary, panting and shaken,
awaited the next attack.
But a great good fortune had come to them - so great that as they
looked down the valley they could scarce credit their own senses.
Behind the division of the Dauphin, which had pressed them so
hard, stood a second division hardly less numerous, led by the
Duke of Orleans. The fugitives from in front, blood-smeared and
bedraggled, blinded with sweat and with fear, rushed amidst its
ranks in their flight, and in a moment, without a blow being
struck, had carried them off in their wild rout. This vast array,
so solid and so martial, thawed suddenly away like a snow-wreath
in the sun. It was gone, and in its place thousands of shining
dots scattered over the whole plain as each man made his own way
to the spot where he could find his horse and bear himself from
the field. For a moment it seemed that the battle was won, and a
thundershout of joy pealed up from the English line.
But as the curtain of the Duke's division was drawn away it was
only to disclose stretching far behind it, and spanning the valley
from side to side, the magnificent array of the French King,
solid, unshaken, and preparing its ranks for the attack. Its
numbers were as great as those of the English army; it was
unscathed by all that was past, and it had a valiant monarch to
lead it to the charge. With the slow deliberation of the man who
means to do or to die, its leader marshaled its ranks for the
supreme effort of the day.
Meanwhile during that brief moment of exultation when the battle
appeared to be won, a crowd of hot-headed young knights and
squires swarmed and clamored round the Prince, beseeching that he
would allow them to ride forth.
"See this insolent fellow who bears three martlets upon a field
gales!" cried Sir Maurice Berkeley. "He stands betwixt the two
armies as though he had no dread of us."
"I pray you, sir, that I may ride out to him, since he seems ready
to attempt some small deed," pleaded Nigel.
"Nay, fair sirs, it is an evil thing that we should break our
line, seeing that we still have much to do," said the Prince.
"See! he rides away, and so the matter is settled."
"Nay, fair prince," said the young knight who had spoken first.
"My gray horse, Lebryte, could run him down ere he could reach
shelter. Never since I left Severn side have I seen steed so
fleet as mine. Shall I not show you?" In an instant he had
spurred the charger and was speeding across the plain.
The Frenchman, John de Helennes, a squire of Picardy, had waited
with a burning heart, his soul sick at the flight of the division
in which he had ridden. In the hope of doing some redeeming
exploit, or of meeting his own death, he had loitered betwixt the
armies, but no movement had come from the English lines. Now he
had turned his horse's head to join the King's array, when the low
drumming of hoofs sounded behind him, and he turned to find a
horseman hard upon his heels. Each had drawn his sword, and the
two armies paused to view the fight. In the first bout Sir
Maurice Berkeley's lance was struck from his hand, and as he
sprang down to recover it the Frenchman ran him through the thigh,
dismounted from his horse, and received his surrender. As the
unfortunate Englishman hobbled away at the side of his captor a
roar of laughter burst from both armies at the spectacle.
"By my ten finger-bones!" cried Aylward, chuckling behind the
remains of his bush, "he found more on his distaff that time than
he knew how to spin. Who was the knight?"
"By his arms," said old Wat, "he should either be a Berkeley of
the West or a Popham of Kent."
"I call to mind that I shot a match of six ends once with a
Kentish woldsman - " began the fat Bowyer.
"Nay, nay, stint thy talk, Bartholomew!" cried old Wat. "Here is
poor Ned with his head cloven, and it would be more fitting if you
were saying aves for his soul, instead of all this bobance and
boasting. Now, now, Tom of Beverley?"
"We have suffered sorely in this last bout, Wat. There are forty
of our men upon their backs, and the Dean Foresters on the right
are in worse case still."
"Talking will not mend it, Tom, and if all but one were on their
backs he must still hold his ground."
Whilst the archers were chatting, the leaders of the army were in
solemn conclave just behind them. Two divisions of the French had
been repulsed, and yet there was many an anxious face as the older
knights looked across the plain at the unbroken array of the
French King moving slowly toward them. The line of the archers
was much thinned and shredded. Many knights and squires had been
disabled in the long and fierce combat at the hedge. Others,
exhausted by want of food, had no strength left and were stretched
panting upon the ground. Some were engaged in carrying the
wounded to the rear and laying them under the shelter of the
trees, whilst others were replacing their broken swords or lances
from the weapons of the slain. The Captal de Buch, brave and
experienced as he was, frowned darkly and whispered his misgivings
But the Prince's courage flamed the higher as the shadow fell,
while his dark eyes gleamed with a soldier's pride as he glanced
round him at his weary comrades, and then at the dense masses of
the King's battle which now, with a hundred trumpets blaring and a
thousand pennons waving, rolled slowly over the plain. "Come what
may, John, this has been a most noble meeting," said he. "They
will not be ashamed of us in England. Take heart, my friends, for
if we conquer we shall carry the glory ever with us; but if we be
slain then we die most worshipfully and in high honor, as we have
ever prayed that we might die, and we leave behind us our brothers
and kinsmen who will assuredly avenge us. It is but one more
effort, and all will be well. Warwick, Oxford, Salisbury,
Suffolk, every man to the front! My banner to the front also!
Your horses, fair sirs! The archers are spent, and our own good
lances must win the field this day. Advance, Walter, and may God
and Saint George be with England!"
Sir Walter Woodland, riding a high black horse, took station by
the Prince, with the royal banner resting in a socket by his
saddle. From all sides the knights and squires crowded in upon
it, until they formed a great squadron containing the survivors of
the battalions of Warwick and Salisbury as well as those of the
Prince. Four hundred men-at-arms who had been held in reserve
were brought up and thickened the array, but even so Chandos' face
was grave as he scanned it and then turned his eyes upon the
masses of the Frenchmen.
"I like it not, fair sir. The weight is overgreat," he whispered
to the Prince.
"How would you order it, John? Speak what is in you mind."
"We should attempt something upon their flank whilst we hold them
in front. How say you, jean?" He turner to the Captal de Buch,
whose dark, resolute face reflected the same misgivings.
"Indeed, John, I think as you do," said he. "The French King is a
very valiant man, and so are those who are about him, and I know
not how we may drive them back unless we can do as you advise. If
you will give me only a hundred men I will attempt it."
"Surely the task is mine, fair sir, since the thought has come
from me," said Chandos.
"Nay, John, I would keep you at my side. But you speak well,
Jean, and you shall do even as you have said. Go ask the Earl of
Oxford for a hundred men-at-arms and as many hobblers, that you
may ride round the mound yonder, and so fall upon them unseen.
Let all that are left of the archers gather on each side, shoot
away their arrows, and then fight as best they may. Wait till
they are past yonder thorn-bush and then, Walter, bear my banner
straight against that of the King of France. Fair sirs, may God
and the thought of your ladies hold high your hearts!"
The French monarch, seeing that his footmen had made no impression
upon the English, and also that the hedge had been well-nigh
leveled to the ground in the course of the combat, so that it no
longer presented an obstacle, had ordered his followers to remount
their horses, and it was as a solid mass of cavalry that the
chivalry of France advanced to their last supreme effort. The
King was in the center of the front line, Geoffrey de Chargny with
the golden oriflamme upon his right, and Eustace de Ribeaumont
with the royal lilies upon the left. At his elbow was the Duke of
Athens, High Constable of France, and round him were the nobles of
the court, fiery and furious, yelling their warcries as they waved
their weapons over their heads. Six thousand gallant men of the
bravest race in Europe, men whose very names are like blasts of a
battle-trumpet - Beaujeus and Chatillons, Tancarvilles and
Ventadours - pressed hard behind the silver lilies.
Slowly they moved at first, walking their horses that they might
be the fresher for the shock. Then they broke into a trot which
was quickening into a gallop when the remains of the hedge in
front of them was beaten in an instant to the ground and the broad
line of the steel-clad chivalry of England swept grandly forth to
the final shock. With loose rein and busy spur the two lines of
horsemen galloped at the top of their speed straight and hard for
each other. An instant later they met with a thunder-crash which
was heard by the burghers on the wall of Poitiers, seven good
Under that frightful impact horses fell dead with broken necks,
and many a rider, held in his saddle by the high pommel, fractured
his thighs with the shock. Here and there a pair met breast to
breast, the horses rearing straight upward and falling back upon
their masters. But for the most part the line had opened in the
gallop, and the cavaliers, flying through the gaps, buried
themselves in the enemy's ranks. Then the flanks shredded out,
and the thick press in the center loosened until there was space
to swing a sword and to guide a steed. For ten acres there was
one wild tumultuous swirl of tossing heads, of gleaming weapons
which rose and fell, of upthrown hands, of tossing plumes and of
lifted shields, whilst the din of a thousand war-cries and the
clash-clash of metal upon metal rose and swelled like the roar and
beat of an ocean surge upon a rock-bound coast. Backward and
forward swayed the mighty throng, now down the valley and now up,
as each side in turn put forth its strength for a fresh rally.
Locked in one long deadly grapple, great England and gallant
France with iron hearts and souls of fire strove and strove for
Sir Walter Woodland, riding hard upon his high black horse, had
plunged into the swelter and headed for the blue and silver banner
of King John. Close at his heels in a solid wedge rode the
Prince, Chandos, Nigel, Lord Reginald Cobham, Audley with his four
famous squires, and a score of the flower of the English and
Gascon knighthood. Holding together and bearing down opposition
by a shower of blows and by the weight of their powerful horses,
their progress was still very slow, for ever fresh waves of French
cavaliers surged up against them and broke in front only to close
in again upon their rear. Sometimes they were swept backward by
the rush, sometimes they gained a few paces, sometimes they could
but keep their foothold, and yet from minute to minute that blue
and silver flag which waved above the press grew ever a little
closer. A dozen furious hard-breathing French knights had broken
into their ranks, and clutched at Sir Walter Woodland's banner,
but Chandos and Nigel guarded it on one side, Audley with his
squires on the other, so that no man laid his hand upon it and
But now there was a distant crash and a roar of "Saint George for
Guienne!" from behind. The Captal de Buch had charged home.
"Saint George for England!" yelled the main attack, and ever the
counter-cry came back to them from afar. The ranks opened in
front of them. The French were giving way. A small knight with
golden scroll-work upon his armor threw himself upon the Prince
and was struck dead by his mace. It was the Duke of Athens,
Constable of France, but none had time to note it, and the fight
rolled on over his body. Looser still were the French ranks.
Many were turning their horses, for that ominous roar from the
rear had shaken their resolution. The little English wedge poured
onward, the Prince, Chandos, Audley and Nigel ever in the van.
A huge warrior in black, bearing a golden banner, appeared
suddenly in a gap of the shredding ranks. He tossed his precious
burden to a squire, who bore it away. Like a pack of hounds on
the very haunch of a deer the English rushed yelling for the
oriflamme. But the black warrior flung himself across their path.
"Chargny! Chargny a la recousse!" he roared with a voice of
thunder. Sir Reginald Cobham dropped before his battle-ax, so did
the Gascon de Clisson. Nigel was beaten down on to the crupper of
his horse by a sweeping blow; but at the same instant Chandos'
quick blade passed through the Frenchman's camail and pierced his
throat. So died Geoffrey de Chargny; but the oriflamme was saved.
Dazed with the shock, Nigel still kept his saddle, and Pommers,
his yellow hide mottled with blood, bore him onward with the
others. The French horsemen were now in full flight; but one
stern group of knights stood firm, like a rock in a rushing
torrent, beating off all, whether friend or foe, who tried to
break their ranks. The oriflamme had gone, and so had the blue
and silver banner, but here were desperate men ready to fight to
the death. In their ranks honor was to be reaped. The Prince and
his following hurled themselves upon them, while the rest of the
English horsemen swept onward to secure the fugitives and to win
their ransoms. But the nobler spirits - Audley, Chandos and the
others - would have thought it shame to gain money whilst there
was work to be done or honor to be won. Furious was the wild
attack, desperate the prolonged defense. Men fell from their
saddles for very exhaustion.
Nigel, still at his place near Chandos' elbow, was hotly attacked
by a short broad-shouldered warrior upon a stout white cob, but
Pommers reared with pawing fore feet and dashed the smaller horse
to the ground. The falling rider clutched Nigel's arm and tore
him from the saddle, so that the two rolled upon the grass under
the stamping hoofs, the English squire on the top, and his
shortened sword glimmered before the visor of the gasping,
"Je me rends! je axe rends!" he panted.
For a moment a vision of rich ransoms passed through Nigel's
brain. That noble palfrey, that gold-flecked armor, meant fortune
to the captor. Let others have it! There was work still to be
done. How could he desert the Prince and his noble master for the
sake of a private gain? Could he lead a prisoner to the rear when
honor beckoned him to the van? He staggered to his feet, seized
Pommers by the mane, and swung himself into the saddle.
An instant later he was by Chandos' side once more and they were
bursting together through the last ranks of the gallant group who
had fought so bravely to the end. Behind them was one long swath
of the dead and the wounded. In front the whole wide plain was
covered with the flying French and their pursuers.
The Prince reined up his steed and opened his visor, whilst his
followers crowded round him with waving weapons and frenzied
shouts of victory. "What now, John!" cried the smiling Prince,
wiping his streaming face with his ungauntleted hand. "How fares
"I am little hurt, fair lord, save for a crushed hand and a
spear-prick in the shoulder. But you, sir? I trust you have no
"In truth, John, with you at one elbow and Lord Audley at the
other, I know not how I could come to harm. But alas! I fear
that Sir James is sorely stricken."
The gallant Lord Audley had dropped upon the ground and the blood
oozed from every crevice of his battered armor. His four brave
Squires - Dutton of Dutton, Delves of Doddington, Fowlhurst of
Crewe and Hawkstone of Wainhill - wounded and weary themselves,
but with no thought save for their master, unlaced his helmet and
bathed his pallid blood-stained face.
He looked up at the Prince with burning eyes. "I thank you, sir,
for deigning to consider so poor a knight as myself," said he in a
The Prince dismounted and bent over him. "I am bound to honor you
very much, James," said he, "for by your valor this day you have
won glory and renown above us all, and your prowess has proved you
to be the bravest knight."
"My Lord," murmured the wounded man, "you have a right to say what
you please; but I wish it were as you say."
"James," said the Prince, "from this time onward I make you a
knight of my own household, and I settle upon you five hundred
marks of yearly income from my own estates in England."
"Sir," the knight answered, "God make me worthy of the good
fortune you bestow upon me. Your knight I will ever be, and the
money I will divide with your leave amongst these four squires who
have brought me whatever glory I have won this day." So saying
his head fell back, and he lay white and silent upon the grass.
"Bring water!" said the Prince. "Let the royal leech see to him;
for I had rather lose many men than the good Sir James. Ha,
Chandos, what have we here?"
A knight lay across the path with his helmet beaten down upon his
shoulders. On his surcoat and shield were the arms of a red
"It is Robert de Duras the spy," said Chandos.
"Well for him that he has met his end," said the angry Prince.
"Put him on his shield, Hubert, and let four archers bear him to
the monastery. Lay him at the feet of the Cardinal and say that
by this sign I greet him. Place my flag on yonder high bush,
Walter, and let my tent be raised there, that my friends may know
where to seek me."
The flight and pursuit had thundered far away, and the field was
deserted save for the numerous groups of weary horsemen who were
making their way back, driving their prisoners before them. The
archers were scattered over the whole plain, rifling the
saddle-bags and gathering the armor of those who had fallen, or
searching for their own scattered arrows.
Suddenly, however, as the Prince was turning toward the bush which
he had chosen for his headquarters, there broke out from behind
him an extraordinary uproar and a group of knights and squires
came pouring toward him, all arguing, swearing and abusing each
other in French and English at the tops of their voices. In the
midst of them limped a stout little man in gold-spangled armor,
who appeared to be the object of the contention, for one would
drag him one way and one another, as though they would pull him
limb from limb. "Nay, fair sirs, gently, gently, I pray you!" he
pleaded. "There is enough for all, and no need to treat me so
rudely." But ever the hubbub broke out again, and swords gleamed
as the angry disputants glared furiously at each other. The
Prince's eyes fell upon the small prisoner, and he staggered back
with a gasp of astonishment.
"King John!" he cried.
A shout of joy rose from the warriors around him. "The King of
France! The King of France a prisoner!" they cried in an ecstasy.
"Nay, nay, fair sirs, let him not hear that we rejoice! Let no
word bring pain to his soul!" Running forward the Prince clasped
the French King by the two hands.
"Most welcome, sire!" he cried. "Indeed it is good for us that so
gallant a knight should stay with us for some short time, since
the chance of war has so ordered it. Wine there! Bring wine for
But John was flushed and angry. His helmet had been roughly torn
off, and blood was smeared upon his cheek. His noisy captors
stood around him in a circle, eying him hungrily like dogs who
have been beaten from their quarry. There were Gascons and
English, knights, squires and archers, all pushing and straining.
"I pray you, fair Prince, to get rid of these rude fellows," said
King John, "for indeed they have plagued me sorely. By Saint
Denis! my arm has been well-nigh pulled from its socket."
"What wish you then?" asked the Prince, turning angrily upon the
noisy swarm of his followers.
"We took him, fair lord. He is ours!" cried a score of voices.
They closed in, all yelping together like a pack of wolves. "It
was I, fair lord!" - " Nay, it was I!" - " You lie, you rascal, it
was I!" Again their fierce eyes glared and their blood-stained
hands sought the hilts of their weapons.
"Nay, this must be settled here and now!" said the Prince. "I
crave your patience, fair and honored sir, for a few brief
minutes, since indeed much ill-will may spring from this if it be
not set at rest. Who is this tall knight who can scarce keep his
hands from the King's shoulder?"
"It is Denis de Morbecque, my lord, a knight of St. Omer, who is
in our service, being an outlaw from France."
"I call him to mind. How then, Sir Denis? What say you in this
"He gave himself to me, fair lord. He had fallen in the press,
and I came upon him and seized him. I told him that I was a
knight from Artois, and he gave me his glove. See here, I bear it
in my hand."
"It is true, fair lord! It is true!" cried a dozen French voices.
"Nay, sir, judge not too soon!" shouted an English squire, pushing
his way to the front. "It was I who had him at my mercy, and he
is my prisoner, for he spoke to this man only because he could
tell by his tongue that he was his own countryman. I took him,
and here are a score to prove it."
"It is true, fair lord. We saw it and it was even so," cried a
chorus of Englishmen.
At all times there was growling and snapping betwixt the English
and their allies of France. The Prince saw how easily this might
set a light to such a flame as could not readily be quenched. It
must be stamped out now ere it had time to mount.
"Fair and honored lord," he said to the King, "again I pray you
for a moment of patience. It is your word and only yours which
can tell us what is just and right. To whom were you graciously
pleased to commit your royal person?"
King John looked up from the flagon which had been brought to him
and wiped his lips with the dawnings of a smile upon his ruddy
"It was not this Englishman," he said, and a cheer burst from the
Gascons, "nor was it this bastard Frenchman," he added. "To
neither of them did I surrender."
There was a hush of surprise.
"To whom then, sir?" asked the Prince.
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