H. Rider Haggard
Part 2 out of 8
"You seem cold, cousin," said Wulf, studying her. "Godwin has
kept you too long to pray with him in church. Well, it is his
custom, from which I myself have suffered. Be seated on this
settle and warm yourself."
She obeyed without a word, and opening her fur cloak, stretched
out her hands towards the flame, which played upon her dark and
lovely face. Wulf looked round him.
The hall was empty. Then he looked at Rosamund.
"I am glad to find this chance of speaking with you alone,
Cousin, since I have a question to ask of you; but I must pray of
you to give me no answer to it until four-and-twenty hours be
"Agreed," she said."I have given one such promise; let it serve
for both; now for your question."
"Ah!" replied Wulf cheerfully;"I am glad that Godwin went first,
since it saves me words, at which he is better than I am."
"I do not know that, Wulf; at least, you have more of them,"
answered Rosamund, with a little smile.
"More perhaps, but of a different quality--that is what you mean.
Well, happily here mere words are not in question."
"What, then, are in question, Wulf?"
"Hearts. Your heart and my heart--and, I suppose, Godwin's heart,
if he has one--in that way."
"Why should not Godwin have a heart?"
"Why? Well, you see just now it is my business to belittle
Godwin. Therefore I declare--which you, who know more about it,
can believe or not as it pleases you--that Godwin's heart is like
that of the old saint in the reliquary at Stangate--a thing which
may have beaten once, and will perhaps beat again in heaven, but
now is somewhat dead--to this world."
Rosamund smiled, and thought to herself that this dead heart had
shown signs of life not long ago. But aloud she said:
"If you have no more to say to me of Godwin's heart, I will
begone to read with my father, who waits for me."
"Nay, I have much more to say of my own." Then suddenly Wulf
became very earnest--so earnest that his great frame shook, and
when he strove to speak he could but stammer. At length it all
came forth in a flood of burning words.
"I love you, Rosamund! I love you--all of you, as I have ever
loved you--though I did not know it till the other day--that of
the fight, and ever shall love you--and I seek you for my wife. I
know that I am only a rough soldier-man, full of faults, not holy
and learned like Godwin. Yet I swear that I would be a true
knight to you all my life, and, if the saints give me grace and
strength, do great deeds in your honour and watch you well. Oh!
what more is their to say?"
"Nothing, Wulf," answered Rosamund, lifting her downcast eyes.
"You do not wish that I should answer you, so I will thank
you--yes, from my heart, though, in truth, I am grieved that we
can be no more brother and sister, as we have been this many a
year--and be going."
"Nay, Rosamund, not yet. Although you may not speak, surely you
might give me some little sign, who am in torment, and thus must
stay until this time to-morrow. For instance, you might let me
kiss your hand--the pact said nothing about kissing.
"I know naught of this pact, Wulf," answered Rosamund sternly,
although a smile crept about the corners of her mouth,"but I do
know that I shall not suffer you to touch my hand."
"Then I will kiss your robe," and seizing a corner of her cloak,
he pressed it to his lips.
"You are strong--I am weak, Wulf, and cannot wrench my garment
from you, but I tell you that this play advantages you nothing."
He let the cloak fall.
"Your pardon. I should have remembered that Godwin would never
have presumed so far."
"Godwin," she said, tapping her foot upon the ground,"if he gave
a promise, would keep it m the spirit as well as in the letter."
"I suppose so. See what it is for an erring man to have a saint
for a brother and a rival! Nay, be not angry with me, Rosamund,
who cannot tread the path of saints."
"That I believe, but at least, Wulf, there is no need to mock
those who can."
"I mock him not. I love him as well as--you do." And he watched
It never changed, for in Rosamund's heart were hid the secret
strength and silence of the East, which can throw a mask
impenetrable over face and features.
"I am glad that you love him, Wulf. See to it that you never
forget your love and duty."
"I will; yes--even if you reject me for him."
"Those are honest words, such as I looked to hear you speak," she
replied in a gentle voice."And now, dear Wulf, farewell, for I am
"To-morrow--" he broke in.
"Ay," she answered in a heavy voice."To-morrow I must speak,
and--you must listen."
The sun had run his course again, and once more it was near four
o'clock in the afternoon. The brethren stood by the great fire in
the hall looking at each other doubtfully--as, indeed, they had
looked through all the long hours of the night, during which
neither of them had closed an eye.
"It is time," said Wulf, and Godwin nodded.
As he spoke a woman was seen descending from the solar, and they
knew her errand.
"Which?" asked Wulf, but Godwin shook his head.
"Sir Andrew bids me say that he would speak with you both," said
the woman, and went her way.
"By the saints, I believe it's neither!" exclaimed Wulf, with a
"It may be thus," said Godwin,"and perhaps that would be best for
"I don't think so," answered Wulf, as he followed him up the
steps of the solar.
Now they had passed the passage and closed the door, and before
them was Sir Andrew seated in his chair by the fire, but not
alone, for at his side, her hand resting upon his shoulder, stood
Rosamund. They noted that she was clad in her richest robes, and
a bitter thought came into their minds that this might be to show
them how beautiful was the woman whom both of them must lose. As
they advanced they bowed first to her and then to their uncle,
while, lifting her eyes from the ground, she smiled a little in
"Speak, Rosamund," said her father. "These knights are in doubt
"Now for the coup de grace," muttered Wulf.
"My cousins," began Rosamund in a low, quiet voice, as though she
were saying a lesson,"as to the matter of which you spoke to me
yesterday, I have taken counsel with my father and with my own
heart. You did me great honour, both of you, in asking me to be
the wife of such worthy knights, with whom I have been brought
up and have loved since childhood as a sister loves her brothers.
I will be brief as I may. Alas! I can give to neither of you the
answer which you wish."
"Coup de grace indeed," muttered Wulf,"through hauberk, gambeson,
and shirt, right home to the heart."
But Godwin only turned a trifle paler and said nothing.
Now there was silence for a little space, while from beneath his
bushy eyebrows the old knight watched their faces, on which the
light of the tapers fell.
Then Godwin spoke:"We thank you, Cousin. Come, Wulf, we have our
answer; let us be going."
"Not all of it," broke in Rosamund hastily, and they seemed to
"Listen," she said;"for if it pleases you, I am willing to make a
promise which my father has approved. Come to me this time two
years, and if we all three live, should both of you still wish
for me to wife, that there may be no further space of pain or
waiting, I will name the man whom I shall choose, and marry him
"And if one of us is dead?" asked Godwin.
"Then," replied Rosamund, "if his name be untarnished, and he has
done no deed that is not knightly, will forthwith wed the other."
"Pardon me--" broke in Wulf.
She held up her hand and stopped him, saying: "You think this a
strange saying, and so, perhaps, it is; but the matter is also
strange, and for me the case is hard. Remember, all my life is at
stake, and I may desire more time wherein to make my choice, that
between two such men no maiden would find easy. We are all of us
still young for marriage, for which, if God guards our lives,
there will be time and to spare. Also in two years I may learn
which of you is in truth the worthier knight, who to-day both
seem so worthy."
"Then is neither of us more to you than the other?" asked Wulf
Rosamund turned red, and her bosom heaved as she replied:
"I will not answer that question."
"And Wulf should not have asked it," said Godwin."Brother, I read
Rosamund's saying thus: Between us she finds not much to choose,
or if she does in her secret heart, out of her kindness--since
she is determined not to marry for a while--she will not suffer
us to see it and thereby bring grief on one of us. So she says,
'Go forth, you knights, and do deeds worthy of such a lady, and
perchance he who does the highest deeds shall receive the great
reward.' For my part, I find this judgment wise and just, and I
am content to abide its issue. Nay, I am even glad of it, since
it gives us time and opportunity to show our sweet cousin here,
and all our fellows, the mettle whereof we are made, and strive
to outshine each other in the achievement of great feats which,
as always, we shall attempt side by side."
"Well spoken," said Sir Andrew."And you, Wulf?"
Then Wulf, feeling that Rosamund was watching his face beneath
the shadow of her long eyelashes, answered:
"Before Heaven, I am content also, for whatever may be said
against it, now at least there will be two years of war in which
one or both of us well may fall, and for that while at least no
woman can come between our brotherhood. Uncle, I crave your leave
to go serve my liege in Normandy."
"And I also," said Godwin.
"In the spring; in the spring," replied Sir Andrew hastily;"when
King Henry moves his power. Meanwhile, bide you here in all good
fellowship, for, who knows--much may happen between now and then,
and perhaps your strong arms will be needed as they were not long
ago. Moreover, I look to all three of you to hear no more of this
talk of love and marriage, which, in truth, disturbs my mind and
house. For good or ill, the matter is now settled for two years
to come, by which time it is likely I shall be in my grave and
beyond all troubling.
"I do not say that things have gone altogether as I could have
wished, but they are as Rosamund wishes, and that is enough for
me. On which of you she looks with the more favour I do not know,
and be you content to remain in ignorance of what a father does
not think it wise to seek to learn. A maid's heart is her own,
and her future lies in the hand of God and His saints, where let
it bide, say I. Now we have done with all this business.
Rosamund, dismiss your knights, and be you all three brothers and
sister once more till this time two years, when those who live
will find an answer to the riddle."
So Rosamund came forward, and without a word gave her right hand
to Godwin and her left to Wulf, and suffered that they should
press their lips upon them. So for a while this was the end of
their asking of her in marriage.
The brethren left the solar side by side as they had come into
it, but changed men in a sense, for now their lives were afire
with a great purpose, which bade them dare and do and win. Yet
they were lighter-hearted than when they entered there, since at
least neither had been scorned, while both had hope, and all the
future, which the young so seldom fear, lay before them.
As they descended the steps their eyes fell upon the figure of a
tall man clad in a pilgrim's cape, hood and low-crowned hat, of
which the front was bent upwards and laced, who carried in his
hand a palmer's staff, and about his waist the scrip and
"What do you seek, holy palmer?" asked Godwin, coming towards
him. "A night's lodging in my uncle's house?"
The man bowed; then, fixing on him a pair of beadlike brown eyes,
which reminded Godwin of some he had seen, he knew not when or
where, answered in the humble voice affected by his class:
"Even so, most noble knight. Shelter for man and beast, for my
mule is held without. Also--a word with the lord, Sir Andrew
D'Arcy, for whom I have a message."
"A mule?" said Wulf."I thought that palmers always went afoot?"
"True, Sir Knight; but, as it chances, I have baggage. Nay, not
my own, whose earthly gear is all upon my back--but a chest, that
contains I know not what, which I am charged to deliver to Sir
Andrew D'Arcy, the owner of this hall, or should he be dead, then
to the lady Rosamund, his daughter."
"Charged? By whom?" asked Wulf.
"That, sir," said the palmer, bowing,"I will tell to Sir Andrew,
who, I understand, still lives. Have I your leave to bring in the
chest, and if so, will one of your servants help me, for it is
"We will help you," said Godwin. And they went with him into the
courtyard, where by the scant light of the stars they saw a fine
mule in charge of one of the serving men, and bound upon its back
a long-shaped package sewn over with sacking. This the palmer
unloosed, and taking one end, while Wulf, after bidding the man
stable the mule, took the other, they bore it into the hall,
Godwin going before them to summon his uncle. Presently he came
and the palmer bowed to him.
"What is your name, palmer, and whence is this box?" asked the
old knight, looking at him keenly.
"My name, Sir Andrew, is Nicholas of Salisbury, and as to who
sent me, with your leave I will whisper in your ear." And,
leaning forward, he did so.
Sir Andrew heard and staggered back as though a dart had pierced
"What?" he said. "Are you, a holy palmer, the messenger of--" and
he stopped suddenly.
"I was his prisoner, answered the man, "and he--who at least ever
keeps his word--gave me my life--for I had been condemned to
die-- at the price that I brought this to you, and took back your
answer, or hers, which I have sworn to do."
"Answer? To what?"
"Nay, I know nothing save that there is a writing in the chest.
Its purport I am not told, who am but a messenger bound by oath
to do certain things. Open the chest, lord, and meanwhile, if you
have food, I have travelled far and fast."
Sir Andrew went to a door, and called to his men-servants, whom
he bade give meat to the palmer and stay with him while he ate.
Then he told Godwin and Wulf to lift the box and bring it to the
solar, and with it hammer and chisel, in case they should be
needed, which they did, setting it upon the oaken table.
"Open," said Sir Andrew. So they ripped off the canvas, two folds
of it, revealing within a box of dark, foreign looking wood bound
with iron bands, at which they laboured long before they could
break them. At length it was done, and there within was another
box beautifully made of polished ebony, and sealed at the front
and ends with a strange device. This box had a lock of silver, to
which was tied a silver key.
"At least it has not been tampered with," said Wulf, examining
the unbroken seals, but Sir Andrew only repeated:
"Open, and be swift. Here, Godwin, take the key, for my hand
shakes with cold."
The lock turned easily, and the seals being broken, the lid rose
upon its hinges, while, as it did so, a scent of precious odours
filled the place. Beneath, covering the contents of the chest,
was an oblong piece of worked silk, and Iying on it a parchment.
Sir Andrew broke the thread and seal, and unrolled the parchment.
Within it was written over in strange characters. Also, there was
a second unsealed roll, written in a clerkly hand in Norman
French, and headed, "Translation of this letter, in case the
knight, Sir Andrew D'Arcy, has forgotten the Arabic tongue, or
that his daughter, the lady Rosamund, has not yet learned the
Sir Andrew glanced at both headings, then said:
"Nay, I have not forgotten Arabic, who, while my lady lived,
spoke little else with her, and who taught it to our daughter.
But the light is bad, and, Godwin, you are scholarly; read me the
French. We can compare them afterwards.
At this moment Rosamund entered the solar from her chamber, and
seeing the three of them so strangely employed, said:
"Is it your will that I go, father?"
"No, daughter. Since you are here, stay here. I think that this
matter concerns you as well as me. Read on, Godwin."
So Godwin read:
"In the Name of God, the Merciful and Compassionate! I,
Salah-ed-din, Yusuf ibn Ayoub, Commander of the Faithful, cause
these words to be written, and seal them with my own hand, to the
Frankish lord, Sir Andrew D'Arcy, husband of my sister by another
mother, Sitt Zobeide, the beautiful and faithless, on whom Allah
has taken vengeance for her sin. Or if he be dead also, then to
his daughter and hers, my niece, and by blood a princess of Syria
and Egypt, who among the English is named the lady Rose of the
"You, sir Andrew, will remember how, many years ago, what we were
friends, you, by an evil chance, became acquainted with my sister
Zobeide, while you were a prisoner and sick in my father's house.
How, too, Satan put it into her heart to listen to your words of
love, so that she became a Cross-worshipper, and was married to
you after the Frankish custom, and fled with you to England. You
will remember also, although at the time we could not recapture
her from your vessel, how I sent a messenger to you, saying that
soon or late I would yet tear her from your arms and deal with
her as we deal with faithless women. But within six years of that
time sure news reached me that Allah had taken her, therefore I
mourned for my sister and her fate awhile, and forgot her and
"Know that a certain knight named Lozelle, who dwelt in the part
of England where you have your castle, has told me that Zobeide
left a daughter, who is very beautiful. Now my heart, which loved
her mother, goes out towards this niece whom I have never seen,
for although she is your child and a Cross-worshipper at
least--save in the matter of her mother's theft--you were a brave
and noble knight, of good blood, as, indeed, I remember your
brother was also, he who fell in the fight at Harenc.
"Learn now that, having by the will of Allah come to great estate
here at Damascus and throughout the East, I desire to lift your
daughter up to be a princess of my house. Therefore I invite her
to journey to Damascus, and you with her, if you live. Moreover,
lest you should fear some trap, on behalf of myself, my
successors and councillors, I promise in the Name of God, and by
the word of Salah-ed-din, which never yet was broken, that
although I trust the merciful God may change her heart so that
she enters it of her own will, I will not force her to accept the
Faith or to bind herself in any marriage which she does not
desire. Nor will I take vengeance upon you, Sir Andrew, for what
you have done m the past, or suffer others to do so, but will
rather raise you to great honour and live with you in friendship
as of yore.
"But if my messenger returns and tells me that my niece refuses
this, my loving offer, then I warn her that my arm is long, and I
will surely take her as I can.
"Therefore, within a year of the day that I receive the answer of
the lady, my niece, who is named Rose of the World, my emissaries
will appear wherever she may be, married or single, to lead her
to me, with honour if she be willing, but still to lead her to me
if she be unwilling. Meanwhile, in token of my love, I send
certain gifts of precious things, and with them my patent of her
title as Princess, and Lady of the City of Baalbec, which title,
with its revenue and prerogatives, are registered in the archives
of my empire in favour of her and her lawful heirs, and declared
to be binding upon me and my successors forever.
"The bearer of this letter and of my gifts is a certain
Cross-worshipper named Nicholas, to whom let your answer be
handed for delivery to me. This devoir he is under oath to
perform and will perform it, for he knows that if he fails
therein, then that he must die.
"Signed by Salah-ed-din, Commander of the Faithful, at Damascus,
and sealed with his seal, in the spring season of the year of the
"Take note also that this writing having been read to me by my
secretary before I set my name and seal thereunto, I perceive
that you, Sir Andrew, or you, Lady Rose of the World, may think
it strange that I should be at such pains and cost over a maid
who is not of my religion and whom I never saw, and may therefore
doubt my honesty in the matter. Know then the true reason. Since
I heard that you, Lady Rose of the World, lived, I have thrice
been visited by a dream sent from God concerning you, and in it I
saw your face.
"Now this was the dream--that the oath I made as regards your
mother is binding as regards you also; further, that in some way
which is not revealed to me, your presence here will withhold me
from the shedding of a sea of blood, and save the whole world
much misery. Therefore it is decreed that you must come and bide
in my house. That these things are so, Allah and His Prophet be
Chapter Five: The Wine Merchant
Godwin laid down the letter, and all of them stared at one
another in amazement.
"Surely," said Wulf, "this is some fool's trick played off upon
our uncle as an evil jest."
By way of answer Sir Andrew bade him lift the silk that hid the
contents of the coffer and see what lay there. Wulf did so, and
next moment threw back his head like a man whom some sudden light
had blinded, as well he might, for from it came such a flare of
gems as Essex had rarely seen before. Red, green and blue they
sparkled; and among them were the dull glow of gold and the white
sheen of pearls.
"Oh, how beautiful! how beautiful!" said Rosamund.
"Ay," muttered Godwin; "beautiful enough to maze a woman's mind
till she knows not right from wrong."
Wulf said nothing, but one by one drew its treasures from the
chest--coronet, necklace of pearls, breast ornaments of rubies,
girdle of sapphires, jewelled anklets, and with them veil,
sandals, robes and other garments of gold-embroidered purple
silk. Moreover, among these, also sealed with the seals of
Salah-ed-din, his viziers, officers of state, and secretaries,
was that patent of which the letter spoke, setting out the full
titles of the Princess of Baalbec; the extent and boundaries of
her great estates, and the amount of her annual revenue, which
seemed more money than they had ever heard of.
"I was wrong," said Wulf."Even the Sultan of the East could not
afford a jest so costly."
"Jest?" broke in Sir Andrew; "it is no jest, as I was sure from
the first line of that letter. It breathes the very spirit of
Saladin, though he be a Saracen, the greatest man on all the
earth, as I, who was a friend of his youth, know well. Ay, and he
is right. In a sense I sinned against him as his sister sinned,
our love compelling us. Jest? Nay, no jest, but because a vision
of the night, which he believes the voice of God, or perhaps some
oracle of the magicians has deeply stirred that great soul of his
and led him on to this wild adventure."
He paused awhile, then looked up and said,"Girl, do you know what
Saladin has made of you? Why, there are queens in Europe who
would be glad to own that rank and those estates in the rich
lands above Damascus. I know the city and the castle of which
he speaks. It is a mighty place upon the banks of Litani and
Orontes, and after its military governor--for that rule he would
not give a Christian--you will be first in it, beneath the seal
of Saladin--the surest title in all the earth. Say, will you go
and queen it there?"
Rosamund gazed at the gleaming gems and the writings that made
her royal, and her eyes flashed and her breast heaved, as they
had done by the church of St. Peter on the Essex coast. Thrice
she looked while they watched her, then turned her head as from
the bait of some great temptation and answered one word
"Well spoken," said her father, who knew her blood and its
longings. "At least, had the 'nay' been 'yea,' you must have gone
alone. Give me ink and parchment, Godwin."
They were brought, and he wrote:
"To the Sultan Saladin, from Andrew D'Arcy and his daughter
"We have received your letter, and we answer that where we are
there we will bide in such state as God has given us.
Nevertheless, we thank you, Sultan, since we believe you honest,
and we wish you well, except in your wars against the Cross. As
for your threats, we will do our best to bring them to nothing.
Knowing the customs of the East, we do not send back your gifts
to you, since to do so would be to offer insult to one of the
greatest men in all the world; but if you choose to ask for them,
they are yours--not ours. Of your dream we say that it was but an
empty vision of the night which a wise man should forget.-- Your
servant and your niece."
Then he signed, and Rosamund signed after him, and the writing
was done up, wrapped in silk, and sealed.
"Now," said Sir Andrew, "hide away this wealth, since were it
known that we had such treasures in the place, every thief in
England would be our visitor, some of them bearing high names, I
So they laid the gold-embroidered robes and the priceless sets of
gems back in their coffer, and having locked it, hid it away in
the great iron-bound chest that stood in Sir Andrew's sleeping
When everything was finished, Sir Andrew said: "Listen now,
Rosamund, and you also, my nephews. I have never told you the
true tale of how the sister of Saladin, who was known as
Zobeide, daughter of Ayoub, and afterwards christened into our
faith by the name of Mary, came to be my wife. Yet you should
learn it, if only to show how evil returns upon a man. After the
great Nur-ed-din took Damascus, Ayoub was made its governor; then
some three-and-twenty years ago came the capture of Harenc, in
which my brother fell. Here I was wounded and taken prisoner.
They bore me to Damascus, where I was lodged in the palace of
Ayoub and kindly treated. Here too it was, while I lay sick, that
I made friends with the young Saladin, and with his sister
Zobeide, whom I met secretly in the gardens of the palace. The
rest may be guessed. Although she numbered but half my years, she
loved me as I loved her, and for my sake offered to change her
faith and fly with me to England if opportunity could be found,
which was hard.
"Now, as it chanced, I had a friend, a dark and secret man named
Jebal, the young sheik of a terrible people, whose cruel rites no
Christian understands. They are the subjects of one Mahomet, in
Persia, and live in castles at Masyaf, on Lebanon. This man had
been in alliance with the Franks, and once in a battle I saved
his life from the Saracens at the risk of my own, whereon he
swore that did I summon him from the ends of the earth he would
come to me if I needed help. Moreover, he gave me his signet-ring
as a token, and, by virtue of it, so he said, power in his
dominions equal to his own, though these I never visited. You
know it," and holding up his hand, Sir Andrew showed them a heavy
gold ring, in which was set a black stone, with red veins running
across the stone in the exact shape of a dagger, and beneath the
dagger words cut in unknown characters.
"So in my plight I bethought me of Jebal, and found means to send
him a letter sealed with his ring. Nor did he forget his promise,
for within twelve days Zobeide and I were galloping for Beirut on
two horses so swift that all the cavalry of Ayoub could not
overtake them. We reached the city, and there were married,
Rosamund There too your mother was baptised a Christian. Thence,
since it was not safe for us to stay in the East, we took ship
and came safe home, bearing this ring of Jebal with us, for I
would not give it up, as his servants demanded that I should do,
except to him alone. But before that vessel sailed, a man
disguised as a fisherman brought me a message from Ayoub and his
son Saladin, swearing that they would yet recapture Zobeide, the
daughter of one of them and sister of the other.
"That is the story, and you see that their oath has not been
forgotten, though when in after years they learned of my wife's
death, they let the matter lie. But since then Saladin, who in
those days was but a noble youth, has become the greatest sultan
that the East has ever known, and having been told of you,
Rosamund, by that traitor Lozelle, he seeks to take you in your
mother's place, and, daughter, I tell you that I fear him."
"At least we have a year or longer ;n which to prepare ourselves,
or to hide," said Rosamund."His palmer must travel back to the
East before my uncle Saladin can have our answer."
"Ay," said Sir Andrew;"perhaps we have a year."
"What of the attack on the quay?" asked Godwin, who had been
thinking."The knight Lozelle was named there. Yet if Saladin had
to do with it, it seems strange that the blow should have come
before the word."
Sir Andrew brooded a while, then said:
"Bring in this palmer. I will question him."
So the man Nicholas, who was found still eating as though his
hunger would never be satisfied, was brought in by Wulf. He bowed
low before the old knight and Rosamund, studying them the while
with his sharp eyes, and the roof and the floor, and every other
detail of the chamber. For those eyes of his seemed to miss
"You have brought me a letter from far away, Sir Palmer, who are
named Nicholas," said Sir Andrew.
"I have brought you a chest from Damascus, Sir Knight, but of its
contents I know nothing. At least you will bear me witness that
it has not been tampered with," answered Nicholas.
"I find it strange," went on the old knight,"that one in your
holy garb should be chosen as the messenger of Saladin, with whom
Christian men have little to do."
"But Saladin has much to do with Christian men, Sir Andrew. Thus
he takes them prisoner even in times of peace, as he did me."
"Did he, then, take the knight Lozelle prisoner?"
"The knight Lozelle?" repeated the palmer."Was he a big,
red-faced man, with a scar upon his forehead, who always wore a
black cloak over his mail?"
"That might be he."
"Then he was not taken prisoner, but he came to visit the Sultan
at Damascus while I lay in bonds there, for I saw him twice or
thrice, though what his business was I do not know. Afterwards he
left, and at Jaffa I heard that he had sailed for Europe three
months before I did."
Now the brethren looked at each other. So Lozelle was in
England. But Sir Andrew made no comment, only he said:"Tell me
your story, and be careful that you speak the truth."
"Why should I not, who have nothing to hide?" answered Nicholas.
"I was captured by some Arabs as I journeyed to the Jordan upon a
pilgrimage, who, when they found that I had no goods to be
robbed of, would have killed me. This, indeed, they were about to
do, had not some of Saladin's soldiers come by and commanded
them to hold their hands and give me over to them. They did so,
and the soldiers took me to Damascus. There I was imprisoned,
but not close, and then it was that I saw Lozelle, or, at least,
a Christian man who had some such name, and, as he seemed to be
in favour with the Saracens, I begged him to intercede for me.
Afterwards I was brought before the court of Saladin, and having
questioned me, the Sultan himself told me that I must either
worship the false prophet or die, to which you can guess my
answer. So they led me away, as I thought, to death, but none
offered to do me hurt.
"Three days later Saladin sent for me again, and offered to spare
my life if I would swear an oath, which oath was that I should
take a certain package and deliver it to you, or to your daughter
named the Lady Rosamund here at your hall of Steeple, in Essex,
and bring back the answer to Damascus. Not wishing to die, I said
that I would do this, if the Sultan passed his word, which he
never breaks, that I should be set free afterwards."
"And now you are safe in England, do you purpose to return to
Damascus with the answer, and, if so, why?"
"For two reasons, Sir Andrew. First, because I have sworn to do
so, and I do not break my word any more than does Saladin.
Secondly, because I continue to wish to live, and the Sultan
promised me that if I failed in my mission, he would bring about
my death wherever I might be, which I am sure he has the power to
do by magic or otherwise. Well, the rest of the tale is short.
The chest was handed over to me as you see it, and with it money
sufficient for my faring to and fro and something to spare. Then
I was escorted to Joppa, where I took passage on a ship bound to
Italy, where I found another ship named the Holy Mary sailing for
Calais, which we reached after being nearly cast away. Thence I
came to Dover in a fishing boat, landing there eight days ago,
and having bought a mule, joined some travellers to London, and
so on here."
"And how will you return?"
The palmer shrugged his shoulders.
"As best I may, and as quickly. Is your answer ready, Sir
"Yes; it is here," and he handed him the roll, which Nicholas hid
away in the folds of his great cloak. Then
Sir Andrew added,"You say you know nothing of all the business in
which you play this part?"
"Nothing; or, rather, only this--the officer who escorted me to
Jaffa told me that there was a stir among the learned doctors and
diviners at the court because of a certain dream which the Sultan
had dreamed three times. It had to do with a lady who was half of
the blood of Ayoub and half English, and they said that my
mission was mixed up with this matter. Now I see that the noble
lady before me has eyes strangely like those of the Sultan
Saladin." And he spread out his hands and ceased.
"You seem to see a good deal, friend Nicholas."
"Sir Andrew, a poor palmer who wishes to preserve his throat
unslit must keep his eyes open. Now I have eaten well, and I am
weary. Is there any place where I may sleep? I must be gone at
daybreak, for those who do Saladin's business dare not tarry, and
I have your letter."
"There is a place," answered Sir Andrew. "Wulf, take him to it,
and to-morrow, before he leaves, we will speak again. Till then,
farewell, holy Nicholas."
With one more searching glance the palmer bowed and went. When
the door closed behind him Sir Andrew beckoned Godwin to him, and
"To-morrow, Godwin, you must take some men and follow this
Nicholas to see where he goes and what he does, for I tell you I
do not trust him--ay, I fear him much! These embassies to and
from Saracens are strange traffic for a Christian man. Also,
though he says his life hangs on it, I think that were he honest,
once safe in England here he would stop, since the first priest
would absolve him of an oath forced from him by the infidel."
"Were he dishonest would he not have stolen those jewels?" asked
Godwin. "They are worth some risk. What do you think, Rosamund?"
"I?" she answered."Oh, I think there is more in this than any of
us dream. "I think," she added in a voice of distress and with an
involuntary wringing motion of the hands,"that for this house and
those who dwell in it time is big with death, and that sharp-eyed
palmer is its midwife. How strange is the destiny that wraps us
all about! And now comes the sword of Saladin to shape it, and
the hand of Saladin to drag me from my peaceful state to a
dignity which I do not seek; and the dreams of Saladin, of whose
kin I am, to interweave my life with the bloody policies of Syria
and the unending war between Cross and Crescent, that are, both
of them, my heritage." Then, with a woeful gesture, Rosamund
turned and left them.
Her father watched her go, and said:
"The maid is right. Great business is afoot in which all of us
must bear our parts. For no little thing would Saladin stir
thus--he who braces himself as I know well, for the last struggle
in which Christ or Mahomet must go down. Rosamund is right. On
her brow shines the crescent diadem of the house of Ayoub, and at
her heart hangs the black cross of the Christian and round her
struggle creeds and nations. What, Wulf, does the man sleep
"Like a dog, for he seems outworn with travel."
"Like a dog with one eye open, perhaps. I do not wish that he
should give us the slip during the night, as I want more talk
with him and other things, of which I have spoken to Godwin."
"No fear of that, uncle. I have locked the stable door, and a
sainted palmer will scarcely leave us the present of such a
"Not he, if I know his tribe," answered Sir Andrew. "Now let us
sup and afterwards take counsel together, for we shall need it
before all is done."
An hour before the dawn next morning Godwin and Wulf were up, and
with them certain trusted men who had been warned that their
services would be needed. Presently Wulf, bearing a lantern in
his hand, came to where his brother stood by the fire in the
"Where have you been?" Godwin asked. "To wake the palmer?"
"No. To place a man to watch the road to Steeple Hill, and
another at the Creek path; also to feed his mule, which is a very
fine beast-- too good for a palmer. Doubtless he will be stirring
soon, as he said that he must be up early."
Godwin nodded, and they sat together on the bench beside the
fire, for the weather was bitter, and dozed till the dawn began
to break. Then Wulf rose and shook himself, saying:
"He will not think it uncourteous if we rouse him now," and
walking to the far end of the hall, he drew a curtain and called
out, "Awake, holy Nicholas! awake! It is time for you to say your
prayers, and breakfast will soon be cooking."
But no Nicholas answered.
"Of a truth," grumbled Wulf, as he came back for his lantern,
"that palmer sleeps as though Saladin had already cut his
throat." Then having lit it, he returned to the guest place.
"Godwin," he called presently,"come here. The man has gone!"
"Gone?" said Godwin as he ran to the curtain."Gone where?"
"Back to his friend Saladin, I think," answered Wulf."Look, that
is how he went." And he pointed to the shutter of the
sleeping-place, that stood wide open, and to an oaken stool
beneath, by means of which the sainted Nicholas had climbed up to
and through the narrow window slit.
"He must be without, grooming the mule which he would never have
left," said Godwin.
"Honest guests do not part from their hosts thus," answered Wulf;
"but let us go and see."
So they ran to the stable and found it locked and the mule safe
enough within. Nor--though they looked-- could they find any
trace of the palmer--not even a footstep, since the ground was
frostbound. Only on examining the door of the stable they
discovered that an attempt had been made to lift the lock with
some sharp instrument.
"It seems that he was determined to be gone, either with or
without the beast," said Wulf. "Well, perhaps we can catch him
yet," and he called to the men to saddle up and ride with him to
search the country.
For three hours they hunted far and wide, but nothing did they
see of Nicholas.
"The knave has slipped away like a night hawk, and left as little
trace," reported Wulf. "Now, my uncle, what does this mean?"
"I do not know, save that it is of a piece with the rest, and
that I like it little," answered the old knight anxiously."Here
the value of the beast was of no account, that is plain. What the
man held of account was that he should be gone in such a fashion
that none could follow him or know whither he went. The net is
about us, my nephews, and I think that Saladin draws its string."
Still less pleased would Sir Andrew have been, could he have seen
the palmer Nicholas creeping round the hall while all men slept,
ere he girded up his long gown and ran like a hare for London.
Yet he had done this by the light of the bright stars, taking
note of every window slit in it, more especially of those of the
solar; of the plan of the outbuildings also, and of the path that
ran to Steeple Creek some five hundred yards away.
>From that day forward fear settled on the place--fear of some
blow that none were able to foresee, and against which they could
not guard. Sir Andrew even talked of leaving Steeple and of
taking up his abode in London, where he thought that they might
be safer, but such foul weather set in that it was impossible to
travel the roads, and still less to sail the sea. So it was
arranged that if they moved at all--and there were many things
against it, not the least of which were Sir Andrew's weak health
and the lack of a house to go to--it should not be till after New
Thus the time went on, and nothing happened to disturb them. The
friends of whom the old knight took counsel laughed at his
forebodings. They said that so long as they did not wander about
unguarded, there was little danger of any fresh attack upon them,
and if one should by chance be made, with the aid of the men they
had they could hold the Hall against a company until help was
summoned. Moreover, at heart, none of them believed that Saladin
or his emissaries would stir in this business before the spring,
or more probably until another year had passed. Still, they
always set guards at night, and, besides themselves, kept twenty
men sleeping at the Hall. Also they arranged that on the lighting
of a signal fire upon the tower of Steeple Church their
neighbours should come to succour them.
So the time went on towards Christmas, before which the weather
changed and became calm, with sharp frost.
It was on the shortest day that Prior John rode up to the Hall
and told them that he was going to Southminster to buy some wine
for the Christmas feast. Sir Andrew asked what wine there was at
Southminster. The Prior answered that he had heard that a ship,
laden amongst other things with wine of Cyprus of wonderful
quality, had come into the river Crouch with her rudder broken.
He added that as no shipwrights could be found in London to
repair it till after Christmas, the chapman, a Cypriote, who was
in charge of the wine, was selling as much as he could in
Southminster and to the houses about at a cheap rate, and
delivering it by means of a wain that he had hired.
Sir Andrew replied that this seemed a fair chance to get fine
liquor, which was hard to come by in Essex in those times. The
end of it was that he bade Wulf, whose taste in strong drink was
nice, to ride with the Prior into Southminster, and if he liked
the stuff to buy a few casks of it for them to make merry with at
Christmas--although he himself, because of his ailments, now
drank only water.
So Wulf went, nothing loth. In this dark season of the year when
there was no fishing, it grew very dull loitering about the Hall,
and since he did not read much, like Godwin, sitting for long
hours by the fire at night watching Rosamund going to and fro
upon her tasks, but not speaking with her overmuch. For
notwithstanding all their pretense of forgetfulness, some sort of
veil had fallen between the brethren and Rosamund, and their
intercourse was not so open and familiar as of old. She could not
but remember that they were no more her cousins only, but her
lovers also, and that she must guard herself lest she seemed to
show preference to one above the other. The brethren for their
part must always bear in mind also that they were bound not to
show their love, and that their cousin Rosamund was no longer a
simple English lady, but also by creation, as by blood, a
princess of the East, whom destiny might yet lift beyond the
reach of either of them.
Moreover, as has been said, dread sat upon that rooftree like a
croaking raven, nor could they escape from the shadow of its
wing. Far away in the East a mighty monarch had turned his
thoughts towards this English home and the maid of his royal
blood who dwelt there, and who was mingled with his visions of
conquest and of the triumph of his faith. Driven on by no dead
oath, by no mere fancy or imperial desire, but by some spiritual
hope or need, he had determined to draw her to him, by fair means
if he could; if not, by foul. Already means both foul and fair
had failed, for that the attack at Death Creek quay had to do
with this matter they could no longer doubt. It was certain also
that others would be tried again and again till his end was won
or Rosamund was dead--for here, if even she would go back upon
her word, marriage itself could not shield her.
So the house was sad, and saddest of all seemed the face of the
old knight, Sir Andrew, oppressed as he was with sickness, with
memories and fears. Therefore, Wulf could find pleasure even in
an errand to Southminster to buy wine, of which, in truth, he
would have been glad to drink deeply, if only to drown his
So away he rode up Steeple Hill with the Prior, laughing as he
used to do before Rosamund led him to gather flowers at St.
Asking where the foreign merchant dwelt who had wine to sell,
they were directed to an inn near the minster. Here in a back
room they found a short, stout man, wearing a red cloth cap, who
was seated on a pillow between two kegs. In front of him stood a
number of folk, gentry and others, who bargained with him for his
wine and the silks and embroideries that he had to sell, giving
the latter to be handled and samples of the drink to all who
asked for them.
"Clean cups," he said, speaking in bad French, to the drawer who
stood beside him. "Clean cups, for here come a holy man and a
gallant knight who wish to taste my liquor. Nay, fellow, fill
them up, for the top of Mount Trooidos in winter is not so cold
as this cursed place, to say nothing of its damp, which is that
of a dungeon," and he shivered, drawing his costly shawl closer
"Sir Abbot, which will you taste first--the red wine or the
yellow? The red is the stronger but the yellow is the more costly
and a drink for saints in Paradise and abbots upon earth. The
yellow from Kyrenia? Well, you are wise. They say it was my
patron St. Helena's favourite vintage when she visited Cyprus,
bringing with her Disma's cross."
"Are you a Christian then?" asked the Prior. "I took you for a
"Were I not a Christian would I visit this foggy land of yours to
trade in wine--a liquor forbidden to the Moslems?" answered the
man, drawing aside the folds of his shawl and revealing a silver
crucifix upon his broad breast. "I am a merchant of Famagusta in
Cyprus, Georgios by name, and of the Greek Church which you
Westerners hold to be heretical. But what do you think of that
wine, holy Abbot?"
The Prior smacked his lips.
"Friend Georgios, it is indeed a drink for the saints," he
"Ay, and has been a drink for sinners ere now--for this is the
very tipple that Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, drank with her Roman
lover Antony, of whom you, being a learned man, may have heard.
And you, Sir Knight, what say you of the black stuff--'Mavro,' we
call it--not the common, but that which has been twenty years in
"I have tasted worse," said Wulf, holding out his horn to be
"Ay, and will never taste better if you live as long as the
Wandering Jew. Well, sirs, may I take your orders? If you are
wise you will make them large, since no such chance is likely to
come your way again, and that wine, yellow or red, will keep a
Then the chaffering began, and it was long and keen. Indeed, at
one time they nearly left the place without purchasing, but the
merchant Georgios called them back and offered to come to their
terms if they would take double the quantity, so as to make up a
cartload between them, which he said he would deliver before
Christmas Day. To this they consented at length, and departed
homewards made happy by the gifts with which the chapman clinched
his bargain, after the Eastern fashion. To the Prior he gave a
roll of worked silk to be used as an edging to an altar cloth or
banner, and to Wulf a dagger handle, quaintly carved in olive
wood to the fashion of a rampant lion. Wulf thanked him, and then
asked him with a somewhat shamed face if he had more embroidery
for sale, whereat the Prior smiled. The quick-eyed Cypriote saw
the smile, and inquired if it might be needed for a lady's wear,
at which some neighbours present in the room laughed outright.
"Do not laugh at me, gentlemen," said the Eastern;"for how can I,
a stranger, know this young knight's affairs, and whether he has
mother, or sisters, or wife, or lover? Well here are broideries
fit for any of them." Then bidding his servant bring a bale, he
opened it, and began to show his goods, which, indeed, were very
beautiful. In the end Wulf purchased a veil of gauze-like silk
worked with golden stars as a Christmas gift for Rosamund.
Afterwards, remembering that even in such a matter he must take
no advantage of his brother, he added to it a tunic broidered
with gold and silver flowers such as he had never seen--for they
were Eastern tulips and anemones, which Godwin would give her
also if he wished.
These silks were costly, and Wulf turned to the Prior to borrow
money, but he had no more upon him. Georgios said, however, that
it mattered nothing, as he would take a guide from the town and
bring the wine in person, when he could receive payment for the
broideries, of which he hoped to sell more to the ladies of the
He offered also to go with the Prior and Wulf to where his ship
lay in the river, and show them many other goods aboard of her,
which, he explained to them, were the property of a company of
Cyprian merchants who had embarked upon this venture jointly with
himself. This they declined, however, as the darkness was not far
off; but Wulf added that he would come after Christmas with his
brother to see the vessel that had made so great a voyage.
Georgios replied that they would be very welcome, but if he could
make shift to finish the repairs to his rudder, he was anxious to
sail for London while the weather held calm, for there he looked
to sell the bulk of his cargo. He added that he had expected to
spend Christmas at that city, but their helm having gone wrong in
the rough weather, they were driven past the mouth of the Thames,
and had they not drifted into that of the Crouch, would, he
thought, have foundered. So he bade them farewell for that time,
but not before he had asked and received the blessing of the
Thus the pair of them departed, well pleased with their purchases
and the Cypriote Georgios, whom they found a very pleasant
merchant. Prior John stopped to eat at the Hall that night, when
he and Wulf told of all their dealings with this man. Sir Andrew
laughed at the story, showing them how they had been persuaded by
the Eastern to buy a great deal more wine than they needed, so
that it was he and not they who had the best of the bargain. Then
he went on to tell tales of the rich island of Cyprus, where he
had landed many years before and stayed awhile, and of the
gorgeous court of its emperor, and of its inhabitants. These
were, he said, the cunningest traders in the world--so cunning,
indeed, that no Jew could overmatch them; bold sailors, also,
which they had from the Phoenicians of Holy Writ, who, with the
Greeks, were their forefathers, adding that what they told him of
this Georgios accorded well with the character of that people.
Thus it came to pass that no suspicion of Georgios or his ship
entered the mind of any one of them, which, indeed, was scarcely
strange, seeing how well his tale held together, and how plain
were the reasons of his presence and the purpose of his dealings
in wines and silks.
Chapter Six: The Christmas Feast at Steeple
The fourth day after Wulf's visit to Southminster was Christmas
morning, and the weather being bad, Sir Andrew and his household
did not ride to Stangate, but attended mass in Steeple Church.
Here, after service, according to his custom on this day, he gave
a largesse to his tenants and villeins, and with it his good
wishes and a caution that they should not become drunk at their
Yuletide feast, as was the common habit of the time.
"We shall not get the chance," said Wulf, as they walked to the
Hall, "since that merchant Georgios has not delivered the wine,
of which I hoped to drink a cup to-night."
"Perhaps he has sold it at a better price to someone else; it
would be like a Cypriote," answered Sir Andrew, smiling.
Then they went into the hall, and as had been agreed between
them, together the brethren gave their Christmas gifts to
Rosamund. She thanked them prettily enough, and much admired the
beauty of the work. When they told her that it had not yet been
paid for, she laughed and said that, however they were come by,
she would wear both tunic and veil at their feast, which was to
be held at nightfall.
About two o'clock in the afternoon a servant came into the hall
to say that a wain drawn by three horses and accompanied by two
men, one of whom led the horses, was coming down the road from
"Our merchant--and in time after all," said Wulf, and, followed
by the others, he went out to meet them.
Georgios it was, sure enough, wrapped in a great sheepskin cloak
such as Cypriotes wear in winter, and seated on the head of one
of his own barrels.
"Your pardon, knights," he said as he scrambled nimbly to the
ground. "The roads in this country are such that, although I have
left nearly half my load at Stangate, it has taken me four long
hours to come from the Abbey here, most of which time we spent in
mud-holes that have wearied the horses and, as I fear, strained
the wheels of this crazy wagon. Still, here we are at last, and,
noble sir," he added, bowing to Sir Andrew,"here too is the wine
that your son bought of me."
"My nephew," interrupted Sir Andrew.
"Once more your pardon. I thought from their likeness to you that
these knights were your sons."
"Has he bought all that stuff?" asked Sir Andrew-- for there were
five tubs on the wagon, besides one or two smaller kegs and some
packages wrapped in sheepskin.
"No, alas!" answered the Cypriote ruefully, and shrugging his
shoulders. "Only two of the Mavro. The rest I took to the Abbey,
for I understood the holy Prior to say he would purchase six
casks, but it seems that it was but three he needed."
"He said three," put in Wulf.
"Did he. sir?" Then doubtless the error was mine, who speak your
tongue but ill. So I must drag the rest back again over those
accursed roads," and he made another grimace. "Yet I will ask
you, sir," he added to Sir Andrew, "to lighten the load a little
by accepting this small keg of the old sweet vintage that grows
on the slopes of Trooidos."
"I remember it well," said Sir Andrew, with a smile;"but, friend,
I do not wish to take your wine for nothing."
At these words the face of Georgios beamed.
"What, noble sir," he exclaimed,"do you know my land of Cyprus?
Oh, then indeed I kiss your hands, and surely you will not
affront me by refusing this little present? Indeed, to be frank,
I can afford to lose its price, who have done a good trade, even
here in Essex."
"As you will," said Sir Andrew. "I thank you, and perhaps you
have other things to sell."
"I have indeed; a few embroideries if this most gracious lady
would be pleased to look at them. Some carpets also, such as the
Moslems used to pray on in the name of their false prophet,
Mahomet," and, turning, he spat upon the ground.
"I see that you are a Christian," said Sir Andrew. "Yet, although
I fought against them, I have known many a good Mussulman. Nor do
I think it necessary to spit at the name of Mahomet, who to my
mind was a a great man deceived by the artifice of Satan."
"Neither do I," said Godwin reflectively. "Its true servants
should fight the enemies of the Cross and pray for their souls,
not spit at them."
The merchant looked at them curiously, fingering the silver
crucifix that hung upon his breast. "The captors of the Holy City
thought otherwise," he said,"when they rode into the Mosque El
Aksa up to their horses' knees in blood, and I have been taught
otherwise. But the times grow liberal, and, after all, what right
has a poor trader whose mind, alas! is set more on gain than on
the sufferings of the blessed Son of Mary," and he crossed
himself,"to form a judgment upon such high matters? Pardon me, I
accept your reproof, who perhaps am bigoted."
Yet, had they but known it, this "reproof" was to save the life
of many a man that night.
"May I ask help with these packages?" he went on, "as I cannot
open them here, and to move the casks? Nay, the little keg I will
carry myself, as I hope that you will taste of it at your
Christmas feast. It must be gently handled, though I fear me that
those roads of yours will not improve its quality." Then twisting
the tub from the end of the wain onto his shoulder in such a
fashion that it remained upright, he walked off lightly towards
the open door of the hall.
"For one not tall that man is strangely strong," thought Wulf,
who followed with a bale of carpets.
Then the other casks of wine were stowed away in the stone cellar
beneath the hall.
Leaving his servant--a silent, stupid-looking, dark-eyed fellow
named Petros--to bait the horses, Georgios entered the hall and
began to unpack his carpets and embroideries with all the skill
of one who had been trained in the bazaars of Cairo, Damascus, or
Nicosia. Beautiful things they were which he had to show;
broideries that dazzled the eye, and rugs of many hues, yet soft
and bright as an otter's pelt. As Sir Andrew looked at them,
remembering long dead days, his face softened.
"I will buy that rug," he said, "for of a truth it might be one
on which I lay sick many a year ago in the house of Ayoub at
Damascus. Nay, I haggle not at the price. I will buy it." Then he
fell to thinking how, whilst Iying on such a rug (indeed,
although he knew it not, it was the same), looking through the
rounded beads of the wooden lattice-work of his window, he had
first seen his Eastern wife walking in the orange garden with her
father Ayoub. Afterwards, still recalling his youth, he began to
talk of Cyprus, and so time went on until the dark was falling.
Now Georgios said that he must be going, as he had sent back his
guide to Southminster, where the man desired to eat his Christmas
feast. So the reckoning was paid--it was a long one--and while
the horses were harnessed to the wain the merchant bored holes in
the little cask of wine and set spigots in them, bidding them all
be sure to drink of it that night. Then calling down good fortune
on them for their kindness and liberality, he made his salaams in
the Eastern fashion, and departed, accompanied by Wulf.
Within five minutes there was a sound of shouting, and Wulf was
back again saying that the wheel of the wain had broken at the
first turn, so that now it was Iying upon its side in the
courtyard. Sir Andrew and Godwin went out to see to the matter,
and there they found Georgios wringing his hands, as only an
Eastern merchant can, and cursing in some foreign tongue.
"Noble knights," he said, "what am I to do? Already it is nearly
dark, and how I shall find my way up yonder steep hill I know
not. As for the priceless broideries, I suppose they must stay
here for the night, since that wheel cannot be mended till
"As you had best do also," said Sir Andrew kindly. "Come, man, do
not grieve; we are used to broken axles here in Essex, and you
and your servant may as well eat your Christmas dinners at
Steeple as in Southminster."
"I thank you, Sir knight; I thank you. But why should I, who am
but a merchant, thrust myself upon your noble company? Let me
stop outside with my man, Petros, and dine with your people in
that barn, where I see they are making ready their food."
"By no means," answered Sir Andrew. "Leave your servant with my
people, who will look after him, and come you into the hall, and
tell me some more of Cyprus till our food is ready, which will be
soon. Do not fear for your goods; they shall be placed under
"All unworthy as I am, I obey," answered the obsequious Georgios.
"Petros, do you understand? This noble lord gives us hospitality
for the night. His people will show you where to eat and sleep,
and help you with your horses."
This man, who, he explained, was a Cypriote--a fisherman in
summer and a muleteer in winter--bowed, and fixing his dark eyes
upon those of his master, spoke in some foreign tongue.
"You hear what he says, the silly fellow?" said Georgios."What?
You do not understand Greek--only Arabic? Well, he asks me to
give him money to pay for his dinner and his night's lodging. You
must forgive him, for he is but a simple peasant, and cannot
believe that anyone may be lodged and fed without payment. I will
explain to him, the pig!" And explain he did in shrill, high
notes, of which no one else could understand a word.
"There, Sir Knight, I do not think he will offend you so again.
Ah! look. He is walking off--he is sulky. Well, let him alone; he
will be back for his dinner, the pig! Oh, the wet and the wind! A
Cypriote does not mind them in his sheepskins, in which he will
sleep even in the snow."
So, Georgios still declaiming upon the shortcomings of his
servant, they went back into the hall. Here the conversation soon
turned upon other matters, such as the differences between the
creeds of the Greek and Latin churches--a subject upon which he
seemed to be an expert --and the fear of the Christians in Cyprus
lest Saladin should attempt to capture that island.
At length five o'clock came, and Georgios having first been taken
to the lavatory--it was but a stone trough-- to wash his hands,
was led to the dinner, or rather to the supper-table, which stood
upon a dais in front of the entrance to the solar. Here places
were laid for six--Sir Andrew, his nephews, Rosamund, the
chaplain, Matthew, who celebrated masses in the church and ate at
the hall on feast-days, and the Cypriote merchant, Georgios
himself. Below the dais, and between it and the fire, was another
table, at which were already gathered twelve guests, being the
chief tenants of Sir Andrew and the reeves of his outlying lands.
On most days the servants of the house, with the huntsmen,
swineherds, and others, sat at a third table beyond the fire. But
as nothing would stop these from growing drunken on the good ale
at a feast, and though many ladies thought little of it, there
was no sin that Rosamund hated so much as this, now their lord
sent them to eat and drink at their ease in the barn which stood
in the courtyard with its back to the moat.
When all had taken their seats, the chaplain said grace, and the
meal began. It was rude but very plentiful. First, borne in by
the cook on a wooden platter, came a great codfish, whereof he
helped portions to each in turn, laying them on their
"trenchers"-- that is, large slices of bread--whence they ate
them with the spoons that were given to each. After the fish
appeared the meats, of which there were many sorts, served on
silver spits. These included fowls, partridges, duck, and, chief
of all, a great swan, that the tenants greeted by knocking their
horn mugs upon the table; after which came the pastries, and with
them nuts and apples. For drink, ale was served at the lower
table. On the dais however, they drank some of the black wine
which Wulf had bought--that is, except Sir Andrew and Rosamund,
the former because he dared not, and the latter because she had
always hated any drink but water--a dislike that came to her,
doubtless, with her Eastern blood.
Thus they grew merry since their guest proved himself a cheerful
fellow, who told them many stories of love and war, for he seemed
to know much of loves, and to have been in sundry wars. At these
even Sir Andrew, forgetting his ailments and forebodings, laughed
well, while Rosamund, looking more beautiful than ever in the
gold-starred veil and the broidered tunic which the brethren had
given her, listened to them, smiling somewhat absently. At last
the feast drew towards its end, when suddenly, as though struck
by a sudden recollection, Georgios exclaimed:
"The wine! The liquid amber from Trooidos! I had forgotten it.
Noble knight, have I your leave to draw?"
"Ay, excellent merchant," answered Sir Andrew. "Certainly you can
draw your own wine."
So Georgios rose, and took a large jug and a silver tankard from
the sideboard where such things were displayed. With these he
went to the little keg which, it will be remembered, had been
stood ready upon the trestles, and, bending over it while he drew
the spigots, filled the vessels to the brim. Then he beckoned to
a reeve sitting at the lower table to bring him a leather jack
that stood upon the board. Having rinsed it out with wine, he
filled that also, handing it with the jug to the reeve to drink
their lord's health on this Yule night. The silver vessel he bore
back to the high table, and with his own hand filled the horn
cups of all present, Rosamund alone excepted, for she would touch
none, although he pressed her hard and looked vexed at her
refusal. Indeed, it was because it seemed to pain the man that
Sir Andrew, ever courteous, took a little himself, although, when
his back was turned, he filled the goblet up with water. At
length, when all was ready, Georgios charged, or seemed to
charge, his own horn, and, lifting it, said:
"Let us drink, everyone of us here, to the noble knight, Sir
Andrew D'Arcy, to whom I wish, in the phrase of my own people,
that he may live for ever. Drink, friends, drink deep, for never
will wine such as this pass your lips again.
Then, lifting his beaker, he appeared to drain it in great
gulps--an example which all followed, even Sir Andrew drinking a
little from his cup, which was three parts filled with water.
There followed a long murmur of satisfaction.
"Wine! It is nectar!" said Wulf.
"Ay," put in the chaplain, Matthew; "Adam might have drunk this
in the Garden," while from the lower table came jovial shouts of
praise of this smooth, creamlike vintage.
Certainly that wine was both rich and strong. Thus, after his sup
of it, a veil as it were seemed to fall on the mind of Sir Andrew
and to cover it up. It lifted again, and lo! his brain was full
of memories and foresights. Circumstances which he had forgotten
for many years came back to him altogether, like a crowd of
children tumbling out to play. These passed, and he grew suddenly
afraid. Yet what had he to fear that night? The gates across the
moat were locked and guarded. Trusty men, a score or more of
them, ate in his outbuildings within those gates; while others,
still more trusted, sat in his hall; and on his right hand and on
his left were those two strong and valiant knights, Sir Godwin
and Sir Wulf. No, there was nothing to fear--and yet he felt
afraid. Suddenly he heard a voice speak. It was Rosamund's; and
"Why is there such silence, father? A while ago I heard the
servants and bondsmen carousing in the barn; now they are still
as death. Oh, and look! Are all here drunken? Godwin--"
But as she spoke Godwin's head fell forward on the board, while
Wulf rose, half drew his sword, then threw his arm about the neck
of the priest, and sank with him to the ground. As it was with
these, so it seemed with all, for folk rocked to and fro, then
sank to sleep, everyone of them, save the merchant Georgios, who
rose to call another toast.
"Stranger," said Sir Andrew, in a heavy voice, "your wine is very
"It would seem so, Sir Knight," he answered;"but I will wake them
from their wassail." Springing from the dais lightly as a cat, he
ran down the hall crying, "Air is what they need. Air!" Now
coming to the door, he threw it wide open, and drawing a silver
whistle from his robe, blew it long and loud. "What," he laughed,
"do they still sleep? Why, then, I must give a toast that will
rouse them all," and seizing a horn mug, he waved it and
"Arouse you, ye drunkards, and drink to the lady Rose of the
World, princess of Baalbec, and niece to my royal master, Yusuf
Salah-ed-din, who sends me to lead her to him!"
"Oh, father," shrieked Rosamund,"the wine was drugged and we are
As the words passed her lips there rose a sound of running feet,
and through the open door at the far end of the halI burst in a
score or over of armed men. Then at last Sir Andrew saw and
With a roar of rage like that of a wounded lion, he seized his
daughter and dragged her back with him down the passage into the
solar where a fire burned and lights had been lit ready for their
retiring, flinging to and bolting the door behind them.
"Swift!" he said, as he tore his gown from him, "there is no
escape, but at least I can die fighting for you. Give me my
She snatched his hauberk from the wall, and while they thundered
at the door, did it on to him--ay, and his steel helm also, and
gave him his long sword and his shield.
"Now," he said,"help me." And they thrust the oak table forward,
and overset it in front of the door, throwing the chairs and
stools on either side, that men might stumble on them.
"There is a bow," he said,"and you can use it as I have taught
you. Get to one side and out of reach of the sword sweeps, and
shoot past me as they rush; it may stay one of them. Oh, that
Godwin and Wulf were here, and we would still teach these Paynim
dogs a lesson!"
Rosamund made no answer but there came into her mind a vision of
the agony of Godwin and of Wulf should they ever wake again to
learn what had chanced to her and them. She looked round. Against
the wall stood a little desk, at which Godwin was wont to write,
and on it lay pen and parchment. She seized them, and as the door
gave slowly inwards, scrawled:
"Follow me to Saladin. In that hope I live on.-- Rosamund."
Then as the stout door at length crashed in Rosamund turned what
she had written face downwards on the desk, and seizing the bow,
set an arrow to its string. Now it was down and on rushed the mob
up the six feet of narrow passage. At the end of it, in front of
the overturned table, they halted suddenly. For there before
them, skull-emblazoned, shield on arm, his long sword lifted, and
a terrible wrath burning in his eyes, stood the old knight, like
a wolf at bay, and by his side, bow in hand, the beauteous lady
Rosamund, clad in all her festal broideries.
"Yield you!" cried a voice. By way of answer the bowstring
twanged, and an arrow sped home to its feathers through the
throat of the speaker, so that he went down, grabbing at it, and
spoke no more for ever.
As he fell clattering to the floor, Sir Andrew cried in a great
"We yield not to pagan dogs and poisoners. A D'Arcy! A D'Arcy!
Meet D 'Arcy, meet Death!"
Thus for the last time did old Sir Andrew utter the warcry of his
race, which he had feared would never pass his lips again. His
prayer had been heard, and he was to die as he had desired.
"Down with him! seize the Princess!" said a voice. It was that of
Georgios, no longer humble with a merchant's obsequious whine,
but speaking in tones of cold command and in Arabic. For a moment
the swarthy mob hung back, as well they might in face of that
glittering sword. Then with a cry of "Salah-ed-din!
Salah-ed-din!" on they surged, with flashing spears and
scimitars. The overthrown table was in front of them, and one
leapt upon its edge, but as he leapt, the old knight, all his
years and sickness forgotten now, sprang forward and struck
downwards, so heavy a blow that in the darkling mouth of the
passage the sparks streamed out, and where the Saracen's head had
been, appeared his heels. Back Sir Andrew stepped again to win
space for his sword-play, while round the ends of the table broke
two fierce-faced men. At one of them Rosamund shot with her bow,
and the arrow pierced his thigh, but as he fell he struck with
his keen scimitar and shore the end off the bow, so that it was
useless. The second man caught his foot in the bar of the oak
chair which he did not see, and went down prone, while Sir
Andrew, taking no heed of him, rushed with a shout at the crowd
who followed, and catching their blows upon his shield, rained
down others so desperate that, being hampered by their very
number, they gave before him, and staggered back along the
"Guard your right, father!" cried Rosamund. He sprang round, to
see the Saracen, who had fallen, on his feet again. At him he
went, nor did the man wait the onset, but turned to fly, only to
find his death, for the great sword caught him between neck and
shoulders. Now a voice cried: "We make poor sport with this old
lion, and lose men. Keep clear of his claws, and whelm him with
But Rosamund, who understood their tongue, sprang in front of
him, and answered in Arabic:
"Ay, through my breast; and go, tell that tale to Saladin!"
Then, clear and calm was heard the command of Georgios. "He who
harms a hair of the Princess dies. Take them both living if you
may, but lay no hand on her. Stay, let us talk."
So they ceased from their onslaught and began to consult
Rosamund touched her father and pointed to the man who lay upon
the floor with an arrow through his thigh. He was struggling to
his knee, raising the heavy scimitar in his hand. Sir Andrew
lifted his sword as a husbandman lifts a stick to kill a rat,
then let it fall again, saying:
"I fight not with the wounded. Drop that steel, and get you back
to your own folk."
The fellow obeyed him--yes, and even touched the floor with his
forehead in salaam as he crawled away, for he knew that he had
been given his life, and that the deed was noble towards him who
had planned a coward's stroke. Then Georgios stepped forward, no
longer the same Georgios who had sold poisoned wine and Eastern
broideries, but a proud-looking, high-browed Saracen clad in the
mail which he wore beneath his merchant's robe, and in place of
the crucifix wearing on his breast a great star-shaped jewel, the
emblem of his house and rank.
"Sir Andrew," he said, "hearken to me, I pray you. Noble was that
act," and he pointed to the wounded man being dragged away by his
fellows, "and noble has been your defence--well worthy of your
lineage and your knighthood. It is a tale that my master," and he
bowed as he said the word, "will love to hear if it pleases Allah
that we return to him in safety. Also you will think that I have
played a knave's trick upon you, overcoming the might of those
gallant knights, Sir Godwin and Sir Wulf, not with sword blows
but with drugged wine, and treating all your servants in like
fashion, since not one of them can shake off its fumes before
to-morrow's light. So indeed it is--a very scurvy trick which I
shall remember with shame to my life's end, and that perchance
may yet fall back upon my head in blood and vengeance. Yet
bethink you how we stand, and forgive us. We are but a little
company of men in your great country, hidden, as it were, in a
den of lions, who, if they saw us, would slay us without mercy.
That, indeed, is a small thing, for what are our lives, of which
your sword has taken tithe, and not only yours, but those of the
twin brethren on the quay by the water?"
"I thought it," broke in Sir Andrew contemptuously. "Indeed, that
deed was worthy of you--twenty or more men against two."
Georgios held up his hand.
"Judge us not harshly," he said, speaking slowly, who, for his
own ends wished to gain time, "you who have read the letter of
our lord. See you, these were my commands: To secure the lady
Rose of the World as best I might, but if possible without
bloodshed. Now I was reconnoitring the country with a troop of
the sailors from my ship who are but poor fighters, and a few of
my own people, when my spies brought me word that she had ridden
out attended by only two men, and surely I thought that already
she was in my hands. But the knights foiled me by strategy and
strength, and you know the end of it. So afterwards my messenger
presented the letter, which, indeed, should have been done at
first. The letter failed also, for neither you, nor the
Princess"--and he bowed to Rosamund--"could be bought. More, the
whole country was awakened; you were surrounded with armed men,
the knightly brethren kept watch and ward over you, and you were
about to fly to London, where it would have been hard to snare
you. Therefore, because I must, I--who am a prince and an emir,
who also, although you remember it not, have crossed swords with
you in my youth; yes, at Harenc--became a dealer in drugged
"Now hearken. Yield you, Sir Andrew, who have done enough to make
your name a song for generations, and accept the love of
Salah-ed-din, whose word you have, the word that, as you know
well, cannot be broken, which I, the lord El-Hassan--for no
meaner man has been sent upon this errand--plight to you afresh.
Yield you, and save your life, and live on in honour, clinging
to your own faith, till Azrael takes you from the pleasant fields
of Baalbec to the waters of Paradise-- if such there be for
infidels, however gallant.
"For know, this deed must be done. Did we return without the
princess Rose of the World, we should die, every one of us, and
did we offer her harm or insult, then more horribly than I can
tell you. This is no fancy of a great king that drives him on to
the stealing of a woman, although she be of his own high blood.
The voice of God has spoken to Salah-ed-din by the mouth of his
angel Sleep. Thrice has Allah spoken in dreams, telling him who
is merciful, that through your daughter and her nobleness alone
can countless lives be saved; therefore, sooner than she should
escape him, he would lose even the half of all his empire. Outwit
us, defeat us now, capture us, cause us to be tortured and
destroyed, and other messengers would come to do his bidding--
indeed, they are already on the way. Moreover, it is useless to
shed more blood, seeing it is written in the Books that this
lady, Rose of the World, must return to the East where she was
begot, there to fulfil her destiny and save the lives of men."
"Then, emir El-Hassan, I shall return as a spirit," said Rosamund
"Not so, Princess," he answered, bowing, "for Allah alone has
power over your life, and it is otherwise decreed. Sir Andrew,
the time grows short, and I must fulfil my mission. Will you take
the peace of Salah-ed-din, or force his servants to take your
The old knight listened, resting on his reddened sword; then he
lifted his head, and spoke:
"I am aged and near my death, wine-seller Georgios, or prince
El-Hassan, whichever you may be. In my youth I swore to make no
pact with Paynims, and in my eld I will not break that vow. While
I can lift sword I will defend my daughter, even against the
might of Saladin. Get to your coward's work again, and let things
go as God has willed them."
"Then, Princess," answered El-Hassan, "bear me witness throughout
the East that I am innocent of your father's blood. On his own
head be it, and on yours," and for the second time he blew upon
the whistle that hung around his neck.
Chapter Seven: The Banner of Saladin
As the echoes of Hassan's whistle died away there was a crash
amongst the wooden shutters of the window behind them, and down
into the room leaped a long, lithe figure, holding an axe aloft.
Before Sir Andrew could turn to see whence the sound came, that
axe dealt him a fearful blow between the shoulders which,
although the ringed mail remained unshorn, shattered his spine
beneath. Down he fell, rolled on to his back, and lay there,
still able to speak and without pain, but helpless as a child.
For he was paralysed, and never more would move hand or foot or
In the silence that followed he spoke in a heavy voice, letting
his eyes rest upon the man who had struck him down.
"A knightly blow, truly; one worthy of a Christian born who does
murder for Paynim pay! Traitor to God and man, who have eaten my
bread and now slaughter me like an ox on my hearth-stone, may
your own end be even worse, and at the hands of those you
The palmer Nicholas, for it was he, although he no longer wore
the palmer's robe, slunk away muttering, and was lost among the
crowd in the passage. Then, with a sudden and a bitter cry,
Rosamund swooped forward, as a bird swoops, snatched up the
sword her sire would never lift again, and setting its hilt upon
the floor, cast herself forward. But its point never touched her
breast, for the emir sprang swiftly and struck the steel aside;
then, as she fell, caught her in his arms. "Lady," he said,
loosing her very gently. "Allah does not need you yet. I have
told you that it is not fated. Now will you pass me your
word--for being of the blood of Salah-ed-din and D'Arcy, you,
too, cannot lie--that neither now nor afterwards you will attempt
to harm yourself? If not, I must bind you, which I am loth to
do--it is a sacrilege to which I pray you will not force me."
"Promise, Rosamund," said the hollow voice of her father, "and go
to fulfil your fate. Self-murder is a crime, and the man is
right; it is decreed. I bid you promise."
"I obey and promise," said Rosamund. "It is your hour, my lord
He bowed deeply and answered:
"I am satisfied, and henceforth we are your servants. Princess,
the night air is bitter; you cannot travel thus. In which chamber
are your garments?"
She pointed with her finger. A man took a taper, and, accompanied
by two others, entered the place, to return presently with their
arms full of all the apparel they could find. Indeed, they even
brought her missal and the silver crucifix which hung above her
bed and with it her leathern case of trinkets.
"Keep out the warmest cloak," said Hassan," and tie the rest up
in those carpets."
So the rugs that Sir Andrew had bought that day from the merchant
Georgios were made to serve as travelling bags to hold his
daughter's gear. Thus even in this hour of haste and danger
thought was taken for her comfort.
"Princess," said Hassan, bowing, "my master, your uncle, sent you
certain jewels of no mean value. Is it your wish that they should
Without lifting her eyes from her dying father's face, Rosamund
"Where they are, there let them bide. What have I to do with
"Your will is my law," he said, "and others will be found for
you. Princess, all is ready; we wait your pleasure."
"My pleasure? Oh, God, my pleasure?" exclaimed Rosamund in the
same drear voice, still staring at her father, who lay before her
on the ground.
"I cannot help it," said Hassan, answering the question in her
eyes, and there was grief in his tone."He would not come, he
brought it on himself; though in truth I wish that accursed Frank
had not struck so shrewdly. If you ask it, we will bear him with
you; but, lady, it is idle to hide the truth--he is sped. I have
studied medicine, and I know."
"Nay," said Sir Andrew from the floor, "leave me here. Daughter,
we must part awhile. As I stole his child from Ayoub, so Ayoub's
son steals my child from me. Daughter, cling to the faith--that
we may meet again."
"To the death," she answered.
"Be comforted," said Hassan. "Has not Salah-ed-din passed his
word that except her own will or that of Allah should change her
heart, a Cross-worshipper she may live and die? Lady, for your
own sake as well as ours, let this sad farewell be brief. Begone,
my servants, taking these dead and wounded with you. There are
things it is not fitting that common eyes should see."
They obeyed, and the three of them remained alone together. Then
Rosamund knelt down beside her father, and they whispered into
each other's ears. Hassan turned his back upon them, and threw
the corner of his cloak over his head and eyes that he might
neither see nor hear their voices in this dread and holy hour of
It would seem that they found some kind of hope and consolation
in it--at least when Rosamund kissed him for the last time, Sir
Andrew smiled and said:
"Yes, yes; it may all be for the best. God will guard you, and
His will be done. But I forgot. Tell me, daughter, which?"
Again she whispered into his ear, and when he had thought a
moment, he answered:
"Maybe you are right. I think that is wisest for all. And now on
the three of you--aye, and on your children's children's
children--let my blessing rest, as rest it shall. Come hither,
Hassan heard him through his cloak, and, uncovering, came.
"Say to Saladin, your master, that he has been too strong for me,
and paid me back in my own coin. Well, had it been otherwise, my
daughter and I must soon have parted, for death drew near to me.
At least it is the decree of God, to which I bow my head,
trusting there may be truth in that dream of his, and that our
sorrows, in some way unforeseen, will bring blessings to our
brethren in the East. But to Saladin say also that whatever his
bigot faith may teach, for Christian and for Paynim there is a
meeting-place beyond the grave. Say that if aught of wrong or
insult is done towards this maiden, I swear by the God who made
us both that there I will hold him to account. Now, since it must
be so, take her and go your way, knowing that my spirit follows
after you and her; yes, and that even in this world she will find
"I hear your words, and I will deliver them," answered Hassan.
"More, I believe that they are true, and for the rest you have
the oath of Salah-ed-din--ay, and my oath while she is in my
charge. Therefore, Sir Andrew D'Arcy, forgive us, who are but the
instruments of Allah, and die in peace."
"I, who have so much to be forgiven, forgive you," answered the
old knight slowly.
Then his eyes fixed themselves upon his daughter's face with one
long, searching look, and closed.
"I think that he is dead," said Hassan. "May God, the Merciful
and Compassionate, rest his soul!" And taking a white garment
from the wall, he flung it over him, adding, "Lady, come."
Thrice Rosamund looked at the shrouded figure on the floor; once
she wrung her hands and seemed about to fall. Then, as though a
thought struck her, she lifted her father's sword from where it
lay, and gathering her strength, drew herself up and passed like
a queen down the blood-stained passage and the steps of the
solar. In the hall beneath waited the band of Hassan, who bowed
as she came--a vision of despairing loveliness, that held aloft a
red and naked sword. There, too, lay the drugged men fallen this
way and that, and among them Wulf across the table, and Godwin on
the dais. Rosamund spoke.
"Are these dead or sleeping?"
"Have no fear," answered Hassan. "By my hope of paradise, they do
but sleep, and will awake ere morning."
Rosamund pointed to the renegade Nicholas--he that had struck
down her father from behind--who, an evil look upon his face,
stood apart from the Saracens, holding in his hand a lighted
"What does this man with the torch?" she asked.
"If you would know, lady," Nicholas answered with a sneer, "I
wait till you are out of it to fire the hall."
"Prince Hassan," said Rosamund, "is this a deed that great
Saladin would wish, to burn drugged men beneath their own roof?
Now, as you shall answer to him, in the name of Saladin I, a
daughter of his House, command you, strike the fire from that
man's hand, and in my hearing give your order that none should
even think of such an act of shame."
"What?" broke in Nicholas, "and leave knights like these, whose
quality you know"--and he pointed to the brethren--"to follow in
our path, and take our lives in vengeance? Why, it is madness!"
"Are you master here, traitor, or am I?" asked Hassan in cold
contempt. "Let them follow if they will, and I for one shall
rejoice to meet foes so brave in open battle, and there give them
their revenge. Ali," he added, addressing the man who had been
disguised as a merchant's underling, and who had drugged the men
in the barn as his master had drugged those in the hall, and
opened the moat gate to the band, "Ali, stamp upon the torch and
guard that Frank till we reach the boat lest the fool should
raise the country on us with his fires. Now, Princess, are you
"Ay, having your word," she answered. "One moment, I pray you. I
would leave a token to my knights."
Then, while they watched her with wondering eyes, she unfastened
the go!d cross and chain that hung upon her bosom, and slipping
the cross from the chain, went to where Godwin lay, and placed it
on his breast. Next, with a swift movement, she wound the chain
about the silver hilt of Sir Andrew's sword, and passing to Wulf,
with one strong thrust, drove the point between the oak boards of
the table, so that it stood before him--at once a cross, a brand
of battle, and a lady's token.
"His grandsire bore it,'' she said in Arabic, "when he leapt on
to the walls of Jerusalem. It is my last gift to him." But the
Saracens muttered and turned pale at these words of evil omen.
Then taking the hand of Hassan, who stood searching her white,
inscrutable face, with never a word or a backward look, she swept
down the length of the long hall, and out into the night beyond.
"It would have been well to take my counsel and fire the place,
or at least to cut the throats of all within it," said the man
Nicholas to his guard Ali as they followed with the rest. "If I
know aught of these brethren, cross and sword will soon be hard
upon our track, and men's lives must pay the price of such soft
folly." And he shivered as though in fear.
"It may be so, Spy," answered the Saracen, looking at him with
sombre, contemptuous eyes."It may be that your life will pay the
Wulf was dreaming, dreaming that he stood on his head upon a
wooden plank, as once he had seen a juggler do, which turned
round one way while he turned round the other, till at length
some one shouted at him, and he tumbled off the board and hurt
himself. Then he awoke to hear a voice shouting surely
enough--the voice of Matthew, the chaplain of Steeple Church.
"Awake!" said the voice. "In God's name, I conjure you, awake!"
"What is it?" he said, lifting his head sleepily, and becoming
conscious of a dull pain across his forehead.
"It is that death and the devil have been here, Sir Wulf."
"Well, they are often near together. But I thirst. Give me
A serving-woman, pallid, dishevelled, heavy-eyed, who was
stumbling to and fro, lighting torches and tapers, for it was
still dark, brought it to him in a leathern jack, from which he
"That is better," he said. Then his eye fell upon the bloody
sword set point downwards in the wood of the table before him,
and he exclaimed, "Mother of God! what is that? My uncle's
silver-hilted sword, red with blood, and Rosamund's gold chain
upon the hilt! Priest, where is the lady Rosamund?"
"Gone," answered the chaplain in a voice that sounded like a
groan. "The women woke and found her gone, and Sir Andrew lies
dead or dying in the solar--but now I have shriven him--and oh!
we have all been drugged. Look at them!" and he waved his hand
towards the recumbent forms. "I say that the devil has been
Wulf sprang to his feet with an oath.
"The devil? Ah! I have it now. You mean the Cyprian chapman
Georgios. He who sold wine."
"He who sold drugged wine," echoed the chaplain, "and has stolen
away the lady Rosamund."
Then Wulf seemed to go mad.
"Stolen Rosamund over our sleeping carcases! Stolen Rosamund with
never a blow struck by us to save her! O, Christ, that such a
thing should be! O, Christ, that I should live to hear it!" And
he, the mighty man, the knight of skill and strength, broke down
and wept like a very child. But not for long, for presently he
shouted in a voice of thunder:
"Awake, ye drunkards! Awake, and learn what has chanced to us.
Your lady Rosamund has been raped away while we were lost in
At the sound of that great voice a tall form arose from the
floor, and staggered towards him, holding a gold cross in its
"What awful words are those my brother?" asked Godwin, who, pale
and dull-eyed, rocked to and fro before him. Then he, too, saw
the red sword and stared, first at it and next at the gold cross
in his hand. "My uncle's sword, Rosamund's chain, Rosamund's
cross! Where, then, is Rosamund?"
"Gone! gone! gone!" cried Wulf."Tell him, priest."
So the chaplain told him all he knew.
"Thus have we kept our oaths," went on Wulf."Oh, what can we do
now, save die for very shame?"
"Nay," answered Godwin, dreamingly; "we can live on to save her.
See, these are her tokens--the cross for me, the blood-stained
sword for you, and about its hilt the chain, a symbol of her
slavery. Now both of us must bear the cross; both of us must
wield the sword, and both of us must cut the chain, or if we
fail, then die."
"You rave," said Wulf; "and little wonder. Here, drink water.
Would that we had never touched aught else, as she did, and
desired that we should do. What said you of my uncle, priest?
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