The White Company
Arthur Conan Doyle
Part 8 out of 9
"And from Lymington!"
"And a little one from Brockenhurst!" shouted a huge-limbed
fellow who sprawled beneath a tree.
"By my hilt! lads," cried Aylward, jumping upon the fallen trunk,
"I think that we could not look the girls in the eyes if we let
the prince cross the mountains and did not pull string to clear a
path for him. It is very well in time of peace to lead such a
life as we have had together, but now the war-banner is in the
wind once more, and, by these ten finger-bones! if he go alone,
old Samkin Aylward will walk beside it."
These words from a man as popular as Aylward decided many of the
waverers, and a shout of approval burst from his audience.
"Far be it from me," said Sir Claude Latour suavely, "to persuade
you against this worthy archer, or against Sir Nigel Loring; yet
we have been together in many ventures, and perchance it may not
be amiss if I say to you what I think upon the matter."
"Peace for the little Gascon!" cried the archers. "Let every man
have his word. Shoot straight for the mark, lad, and fair play
"Bethink you, then," said Sir Claude, "that you go under a hard
rule, with neither freedom nor pleasure--and for what? For
sixpence a day, at the most; while now you may walk across the
country and stretch out either hand to gather in whatever you
have a mind for. What do we not hear of our comrades who have
gone with Sir John Hawkwood to Italy? In one night they have
held to ransom six hundred of the richest noblemen of Mantua.
They camp before a great city, and the base burghers come forth
with the keys, and then they make great spoil; or, if it please
them better, they take so many horse-loads of silver as a
composition; and so they journey on from state to state, rich and
free and feared by all. Now, is not that the proper life for a
"The proper life for a robber!" roared Hordle John, in his
"And yet there is much in what the Gascon says," said a swarthy
fellow in a weather-stained doublet; "and I for one would rather
prosper in Italy than starve in Spain."
"You were always a cur and a traitor, Mark Shaw," cried Aylward.
"By my hilt! if you will stand forth and draw your sword I will
warrant you that you will see neither one nor the other."
"Nay, Aylward," said Sir Nigel, "we cannot mend the matter by
broiling. Sir Claude, I think that what you have said does you
little honor, and if my words aggrieve you I am ever ready to go
deeper into the matter with you. But you shall have such men as
will follow you, and you may go where you will, so that you come
not with us. Let all who love their prince and country stand
fast, while those who think more of a well-lined purse step forth
upon the farther side."
Thirteen bowmen, with hung heads and sheepish faces, stepped
forward with Mark Shaw and ranged themselves behind Sir Claude.
Amid the hootings and hissings of their comrades, they marched
off together to the Gascon's hut, while the main body broke up
their meeting and set cheerily to work packing their possessions,
furbishing their weapons, and preparing for the march which lay
before them. Over the Tarn and the Garonne, through the vast
quagmires of Armagnac, past the swift-flowing Losse, and so down
the long valley of the Adour, there was many a long league to be
crossed ere they could join themselves to that dark war-cloud
which was drifting slowly southwards to the line of the snowy
peaks, beyond which the banner of England had never yet been
HOW THE ARMY MADE THE PASSAGE OF RONCESVALLES.
The whole vast plain of Gascony and of Languedoc is an arid and
profitless expanse in winter save where the swift-flowing Adour
and her snow-fed tributaries, the Louts, the Oloron and the Pau,
run down to the sea of Biscay. South of the Adour the jagged
line of mountains which fringe the sky-line send out long granite
claws, running down into the lowlands and dividing them into
"gaves" or stretches of valley. Hillocks grow into hills, and
hills into mountains, each range overlying its neighbor, until
they soar up in the giant chain which raises its spotless and
untrodden peaks, white and dazzling, against the pale blue wintry
A quiet land is this--a land where the slow-moving Basque, with
his flat biretta-cap, his red sash and his hempen sandals, tills
his scanty farm or drives his lean flock to their hill-side
pastures. It is the country of the wolf and the isard, of the
brown bear and the mountain-goat, a land of bare rock and of
rushing water. Yet here it was that the will of a great prince
had now assembled a gallant army; so that from the Adour to the
passes of Navarre the barren valleys and wind-swept wastes were
populous with soldiers and loud with the shouting of orders and
the neighing of horses. For the banners of war had been flung to
the wind once more, and over those glistening peaks was the
highway along which Honor pointed in an age when men had chosen
her as their guide.
And now all was ready for the enterprise. From Dax to St. Jean
Pied-du-Port the country was mottled with the white tents of
Gascons, Aquitanians and English, all eager for the advance. From
all sides the free companions had trooped in, until not less than
twelve thousand of these veteran troops were cantoned along the
frontiers of Navarre. From England had arrived the prince's
brother, the Duke of Lancaster, with four hundred knights in his
train and a strong company of archers. Above all, an heir to the
throne had been born in Bordeaux, and the prince might leave his
spouse with an easy mind, for all was well with mother and with
The keys of the mountain passes still lay in the hands of the
shifty and ignoble Charles of Navarre, who had chaffered and
bargained both with the English and with the Spanish, taking
money from the one side to hold them open and from the other to
keep them sealed. The mallet hand of Edward, however, had
shattered all the schemes and wiles of the plotter. Neither
entreaty nor courtly remonstrance came from the English prince;
but Sir Hugh Calverley passed silently over the border with his
company, and the blazing walls of the two cities of Miranda and
Puenta de la Reyna warned the unfaithful monarch that there were
other metals besides gold, and that he was dealing with a man to
whom it was unsafe to lie. His price was paid, his objections
silenced, and the mountain gorges lay open to the invaders. From
the Feast of the Epiphany there was mustering and massing, until,
in the first week of February--three days after the White Company
joined the army--the word was given for a general advance through
the defile of Roncesvalles. At five in the cold winter's morning
the bugles were blowing in the hamlet of St. Jean Pied-du-Port,
and by six Sir Nigel's Company, three hundred strong, were on
their way for the defile, pushing swiftly in the dim light up the
steep curving road; for it was the prince's order that they
should be the first to pass through, and that they should remain
on guard at the further end until the whole army had emerged from
the mountains. Day was already breaking in the east, and the
summits of the great peaks had turned rosy red, while the valleys
still lay in the shadow, when they found themselves with the
cliffs on either hand and the long, rugged pass stretching away
Sir Nigel rode his great black war-horse at the head of his
archers, dressed in full armor, with Black Simon bearing his
banner behind him, while Alleyne at his bridle-arm carried his
blazoned shield and his well-steeled ashen spear. A proud and
happy man was the knight, and many a time he turned in his saddle
to look at the long column of bowmen who swung swiftly along
"By Saint Paul! Alleyne," said he, "this pass is a very perilous
place, and I would that the King of Navarre had held it against
us, for it would have been a very honorable venture had it fallen
to us to win a passage. I have heard the minstrels sing of one
Sir Roland who was slain by the infidels in these very parts."
"If it please you, my fair lord," said Black Simon, "I know
something of these parts, for I have twice served a term with the
King of Navarre. There is a hospice of monks yonder, where you
may see the roof among the trees, and there it was that Sir
Roland was slain. The village upon the left is Orbaiceta, and I
know a house therein where the right wine of Jurancon is to be
bought, if it would please you to quaff a morning cup."
"There is smoke yonder upon the right."
"That is a village named Les Aldudes, and I know a hostel there
also where the wine is of the best. It is said that the inn-keeper
hath a buried treasure, and I doubt not, my fair lord, that if
you grant me leave I could prevail upon him to tell us where he
hath hid it."
"Nay, nay, Simon," said Sir Nigel curtly, "I pray you to forget
these free companion tricks. Ha! Edricson, I see that you stare
about you, and in good sooth these mountains must seem wondrous
indeed to one who hath but seen Butser or the Portsdown hill."
The broken and rugged road had wound along the crests of low
hills, with wooded ridges on either side of it over which peeped
the loftier mountains, the distant Peak of the South and the vast
Altabisca, which towered high above them and cast its black
shadow from left to right across the valley. From where they now
stood they could look forward down a long vista of beech woods
and jagged rock-strewn wilderness, all white with snow, to where
the pass opened out upon the uplands beyond. Behind them they
could still catch a glimpse of the gray plains of Gascony, and
could see her rivers gleaming like coils of silver in the
sunshine. As far as eye could see from among the rocky gorges
and the bristles of the pine woods there came the quick twinkle
and glitter of steel, while the wind brought with it sudden
distant bursts of martial music from the great host which rolled
by every road and by-path towards the narrow pass of
Roncesvalles. On the cliffs on either side might also be seen
the flash of arms and the waving of pennons where the force of
Navarre looked down upon the army of strangers who passed
through their territories.
"By Saint Paul!" said Sir Nigel, blinking up at them, "I think
that we have much to hope for from these cavaliers, for they
cluster very thickly upon our flanks. Pass word to the men,
Aylward, that they unsling their bows, for I have no doubt that
there are some very worthy gentlemen yonder who may give us some
opportunity for honorable advancement."
"I hear that the prince hath the King of Navarre as hostage,"
said Alleyne, "and it is said that he hath sworn to put him to
death if there be any attack upon us."
"It was not so that war was made when good King Edward first
turned his hand to it," said Sir Nigel sadly. "Ah! Alleyne, I
fear that you will never live to see such things, for the minds
of men are more set upon money and gain than of old. By Saint
Paul! it was a noble sight when two great armies would draw
together upon a certain day, and all who had a vow would ride
forth to discharge themselves of it. What noble spear-runnings
have I not seen, and even in an humble way had a part in, when
cavaliers would run a course for the easing of their souls and
for the love of their ladies! Never a bad word have I for the
French, for, though I have ridden twenty times up to their array,
I have never yet failed to find some very gentle and worthy
knight or squire who was willing to do what he might to enable me
to attempt some small feat of arms. Then, when all cavaliers had
been satisfied, the two armies would come to hand-strokes, and
fight right merrily until one or other had the vantage. By Saint
Paul! it was not our wont in those days to pay gold for the
opening of passes, nor would we hold a king as hostage lest his
people come to thrusts with us. In good sooth, if the war is to
be carried out in such a fashion, then it is grief to me that I
ever came away from Castle Twynham, for I would not have left my
sweet lady had I not thought that there were deeds of arms to be
"But surely, my fair lord," said Alleyne, "you have done some
great feats of arms since we left the Lady Loring."
"I cannot call any to mind," answered Sir Nigel.
"There was the taking of the sea-rovers, and the holding of the
keep against the Jacks."
"Nay, nay," said the knight, "these were not feats of arms, but
mere wayside ventures and the chances of travel. By Saint Paul!
if it were not that these hills are over-steep for Pommers, I
would ride to these cavaliers of Navarre and see if there were
not some among them who would help me to take this patch from
mine eye. It is a sad sight to see this very fine pass, which my
own Company here could hold against an army, and yet to ride
through it with as little profit as though it were the lane from
my kennels to the Avon."
All morning Sir Nigel rode in a very ill-humor, with his Company
tramping behind him. It was a toilsome march over broken ground
and through snow, which came often as high as the knee, yet ere
the sun had begun to sink they had reached the spot where the
gorge opens out on to the uplands of Navarre, and could see the
towers of Pampeluna jutting up against the southern sky-line.
Here the Company were quartered in a scattered mountain hamlet,
and Alleyne spent the day looking down upon the swarming army
which poured with gleam of spears and flaunt of standards through
the narrow pass.
"Hola, mon gar.," said Aylward, seating himself upon a boulder by
his side. "This is indeed a fine sight upon which it is good to
look, and a man might go far ere he would see so many brave men
and fine horses. By my hilt! our little lord is wroth because we
have come peacefully through the passes, but I will warrant him
that we have fighting enow ere we turn our faces northward again.
It is said that there are four-score thousand men behind the King
of Spain, with Du Guesclin and all the best lances of France, who
have sworn to shed their heart's blood ere this Pedro come again
to the throne."
"Yet our own army is a great one," said Alleyne.
"Nay, there are but seven-and-twenty thousand men. Chandos hath
persuaded the prince to leave many behind, and indeed I think
that he is right, for there is little food and less water in
these parts for which we are bound. A man without his meat or a
horse without his fodder is like a wet bow-string, fit for
little. But voila, mon petit, here comes Chandos and his
company, and there is many a pensil and banderole among yonder
squadrons which show that the best blood of England is riding
under his banners."
Whilst Aylward had been speaking, a strong column of archers had
defiled through the pass beneath them. They were followed by a
banner-bearer who held high the scarlet wedge upon a silver field
which proclaimed the presence of the famous warrior. He rode
himself within a spear's-length of his standard, clad from neck
to foot in steel, but draped in the long linen gown or parement
which was destined to be the cause of his death. His plumed
helmet was carried behind him by his body-squire, and his head
was covered by a small purple cap, from under which his snow-white
hair curled downwards to his shoulders. With his long beak-like
nose and his single gleaming eye, which shone brightly from under
a thick tuft of grizzled brow, he seemed to Alleyne to have
something of the look of some fierce old bird of prey. For a
moment he smiled, as his eye lit upon the banner of the five
roses waving from the hamlet; but his course lay for Pampeluna,
and he rode on after the archers.
Close at his heels came sixteen squires, all chosen from the
highest families, and behind them rode twelve hundred English
knights, with gleam of steel and tossing of plumes, their harness
jingling, their long straight swords clanking against their
stirrup-irons, and the beat of their chargers' hoofs like the low
deep roar of the sea upon the shore. Behind them marched six
hundred Cheshire and Lancashire archers, bearing the badge of the
Audleys, followed by the famous Lord Audley himself, with the
four valiant squires, Dutton of Dutton, Delves of Doddington,
Fowlehurst of Crewe, and Hawkestone of Wainehill, who had all won
such glory at Poictiers. Two hundred heavily-armed cavalry rode
behind the Audley standard, while close at their heels came the
Duke of Lancaster with a glittering train, heralds tabarded with
the royal arms riding three deep upon cream-colored chargers in
front of him. On either side of the young prince rode the two
seneschals of Aquitaine, Sir Guiscard d'Angle and Sir Stephen
Cossington, the one bearing the banner of the province and the
other that of Saint George. Away behind him as far as eye could
reach rolled the far-stretching, unbroken river of steel--rank
after rank and column after column, with waving of plumes,
glitter of arms, tossing of guidons, and flash and flutter of
countless armorial devices. All day Alleyne looked down upon the
changing scene, and all day the old bowman stood by his elbow,
pointing out the crests of famous warriors and the arms of noble
houses. Here were the gold mullets of the Pakingtons, the sable
and ermine of the Mackworths, the scarlet bars of the Wakes,
the gold and blue of the Grosvenors, the cinque-foils of the
Cliftons, the annulets of the Musgraves, the silver pinions of
the Beauchamps, the crosses of the Molineaux, the bloody chevron of
the Woodhouses, the red and silver of the Worsleys, the swords of
the Clarks, the boars'-heads of the Lucies, the crescents of the
Boyntons, and the wolf and dagger of the Lipscombs. So through
the sunny winter day the chivalry of England poured down through
the dark pass of Roncesvalles to the plains of Spain.
It was on a Monday that the Duke of Lancaster's division passed
safely through the Pyrenees. On the Tuesday there was a bitter
frost, and the ground rung like iron beneath the feet of the
horses; yet ere evening the prince himself, with the main battle
of his army, had passed the gorge and united with his vanguard at
Pampeluna. With him rode the King of Majorca, the hostage King
of Navarre, and the fierce Don Pedro of Spain, whose pale blue
eyes gleamed with a sinister light as they rested once more upon
the distant peaks of the land which had disowned him. Under the
royal banners rode many a bold Gascon baron and many a hot-blooded
islander. Here were the high stewards of Aquitaine, of Saintonge,
of La Rochelle, of Quercy, of Limousin, of Agenois, of Poitou,
and of Bigorre, with the banners and musters of their provinces.
Here also were the valiant Earl of Angus, Sir Thomas Banaster
with his garter over his greave, Sir Nele Loring, second cousin
to Sir Nigel, and a long column of Welsh footmen who marched under
the red banner of Merlin. From dawn to sundown the long train
wound through the pass, their breath reeking up upon the frosty air
like the steam from a cauldron.
The weather was less keen upon the Wednesday, and the rear-guard
made good their passage, with the bombards and the wagon-train.
Free companions and Gascons made up this portion of the army to
the number of ten thousand men. The fierce Sir Hugh Calverley,
with his yellow mane, and the rugged Sir Robert Knolles, with
their war-hardened and veteran companies of English bowmen,
headed the long column; while behind them came the turbulent
bands of the Bastard of Breteuil, Nandon de Bagerant, one-eyed
Camus, Black Ortingo, La Nuit and others whose very names seem to
smack of hard hands and ruthless deeds. With them also were the
pick of the Gascon chivalry--the old Duc d'Armagnac, his nephew
Lord d'Albret, brooding and scowling over his wrongs, the giant
Oliver de Clisson, the Captal de Buch, pink of knighthood, the
sprightly Sir Perducas d'Albret, the red-bearded Lord d'Esparre,
and a long train of needy and grasping border nobles, with long
pedigrees and short purses, who had come down from their hill-side
strongholds, all hungering for the spoils and the ransoms of Spain.
By the Thursday morning the whole army was encamped in the Vale
of Pampeluna, and the prince had called his council to meet him
in the old palace of the ancient city of Navarre.
HOW THE COMPANY MADE SPORT IN THE VALE OF PAMPELUNA.
Whilst the council was sitting in Pampeluna the White Company,
having encamped in a neighboring valley, close to the companies
of La Nuit and of Black Ortingo, were amusing themselves with
sword-play, wrestling, and shooting at the shields, which they
had placed upon the hillside to serve them as butts. The younger
archers, with their coats of mail thrown aside, their brown or
flaxen hair tossing in the wind, and their jerkins turned back to
give free play to their brawny chests and arms, stood in lines,
each loosing his shaft in turn, while Johnston, Aylward, Black
Simon, and half-a-score of the elders lounged up and down with
critical eyes, and a word of rough praise or of curt censure for
the marksmen. Behind stood knots of Gascon and Brabant
crossbowmen from the companies of Ortingo and of La Nuit, leaning
upon their unsightly weapons and watching the practice of the
"A good shot, Hewett, a good shot!" said old Johnston to a young
bowman, who stood with his bow in his left hand, gazing with
parted lips after his flying shaft. "You see, she finds the
ring, as I knew she would from the moment that your string
"Loose it easy, steady, and yet sharp," said Aylward. "By my
hilt! mon gar., it is very well when you do but shoot at a
shield, but when there is a man behind the shield, and he rides
at you with wave of sword and glint of eyes from behind his
vizor, you may find him a less easy mark."
"It is a mark that I have found before now," answered the young
"And shall again, camarade, I doubt not. But hola! Johnston, who
is this who holds his bow like a crow-keeper?"
"It is Silas Peterson, of Horsham. Do not wink with one eye and
look with the other, Silas, and do not hop and dance after you
shoot, with your tongue out, for that will not speed it upon its
way. Stand straight and firm, as God made you. Move not the bow
arm, and steady with the drawing hand!"
"I' faith," said Black Simon, "I am a spearman myself, and am
more fitted for hand-strokes than for such work as this. Yet I
have spent my days among bowmen, and I have seen many a brave
shaft sped. I will not say but that we have some good marksmen
here, and that this Company would be accounted a fine body of
archers at any time or place. Yet I do not see any men who bend
so strong a bow or shoot as true a shaft as those whom I have
"You say sooth," said Johnston, turning his seamed and grizzled
face upon the man-at-arms. "See yonder," he added, pointing to a
bombard which lay within the camp: "there is what hath done scath
to good bowmanship, with its filthy soot and foolish roaring
mouth. I wonder that a true knight, like our prince, should
carry such a scurvy thing in his train. Robin, thou red-headed
lurden, how oft must I tell thee not to shoot straight with a
quarter-wind blowing across the mark?"
"By these ten finger-bones! there were some fine bowmen at the
intaking of Calais," said Aylward. "I well remember that, on
occasion of an outfall, a Genoan raised his arm over his mantlet,
and shook it at us, a hundred paces from our line. There were
twenty who loosed shafts at him, and when the man was afterwards
slain it was found that he had taken eighteen through his
"And I can call to mind," remarked Johnston, "that when the great
cog `Christopher,' which the French had taken from us, was moored
two hundred paces from the shore, two archers, little Robin
Withstaff and Elias Baddlesmere, in four shots each cut every
strand of her hempen anchor-cord, so that she well-nigh came upon
"Good shooting, i' faith rare shooting!" said Black Simon. "But I
have seen you, Johnston, and you, Samkin Aylward, and one or two
others who are still with us, shoot as well as the best. Was it
not you, Johnston, who took the fat ox at Finsbury butts against
the pick of London town?"
A sunburnt and black-eyed Brabanter had stood near the old
archers, leaning upon a large crossbow and listening to their
talk, which had been carried on in that hybrid camp dialect which
both nations could understand. He was a squat, bull-necked man,
clad in the iron helmet, mail tunic, and woollen gambesson of his
class. A jacket with hanging sleeves, slashed with velvet at the
neck and wrists, showed that he was a man of some consideration,
an under-officer, or file-leader of his company.
"I cannot think," said he, "why you English should be so fond of
your six-foot stick. If it amuse you to bend it, well and good;
but why should I strain and pull, when my little moulinet will do
all for me, and better than I can do it for myself?"
"I have seen good shooting with the prod and with the latch,"
said Aylward, "but, by my hilt! camarade, with all respect to you
and to your bow, I think that is but a woman's weapon, which a
woman can point and loose as easily as a man."
"I know not about that," answered the Brabanter, "but this I
know, that though I have served for fourteen years, I have never
yet seen an Englishman do aught with the long-bow which I could
not do better with my arbalest. By the three kings! I would
even go further, and say that I have done things with my arbalest
which no Englishman could do with his long-bow."
"Well said, mon gar.," cried Aylward. "A good cock has ever a
brave call. Now, I have shot little of late, but there is
Johnston here who will try a round with you for the honor of the
"And I will lay a gallon of Jurancon wine upon the long-bow,"
said Black Simon, "though I had rather, for my own drinking, that
it were a quart of Twynham ale."
"I take both your challenge and your wager," said the man of
Brabant, throwing off his jacket and glancing keenly about him
with his black, twinkling eyes. "I cannot see any fitting mark,
for I care not to waste a bolt upon these shields, which a
drunken boor could not miss at a village kermesse."
"This is a perilous man," whispered an English man-at-arms,
plucking at Aylward's sleeve. "He is the best marksman of all
the crossbow companies and it was he who brought down the
Constable de Bourbon at Brignais, I fear that your man will come
by little honor with him."
"Yet I have seen Johnston shoot these twenty years, and I will
not flinch from it. How say you, old war-hound, will you not have
a flight shot or two with this springald?"
"Tut, tut, Aylward," said the old bowman. "My day is past, and
it is for the younger ones to hold what we have gained. I take
it unkindly of thee, Samkin, that thou shouldst call all eyes
thus upon a broken bowman who could once shoot a fair shaft. Let
me feel that bow, Wilkins! It is a Scotch bow, I see, for the
upper nock is without and the lower within. By the black rood!
it is a good piece of yew, well nocked, well strung, well waxed,
and very joyful to the feel. I think even now that I might hit
any large and goodly mark with a bow like this. Turn thy quiver
to me, Aylward. I love an ash arrow pierced with cornel-wood for
a roving shaft."
"By my hilt! and so do I," cried Aylward. "These three gander-winged
shafts are such."
"So I see, comrade. It has been my wont to choose a saddle-backed
feather for a dead shaft, and a swine-backed for a smooth
flier. I will take the two of them. Ah! Samkin, lad, the eye
grows dim and the hand less firm as the years pass."
"Come then, are you not ready?" said the Brabanter, who had
watched with ill-concealed impatience the slow and methodic
movements of his antagonist.
"I will venture a rover with you, or try long-butts or hoyles,"
said old Johnston. "To my mind the long-bow is a better weapon
than the arbalest, but it may be ill for me to prove it."
"So I think," quoth the other with a sneer. He drew his moulinet
from his girdle, and fixing it to the windlass, he drew back the
powerful double cord until it had clicked into the catch. Then
from his quiver he drew a short, thick quarrel, which he placed
with the utmost care upon the groove. Word had spread of what
was going forward, and the rivals were already surrounded, not
only by the English archers of the Company, but by hundreds of
arbalestiers and men-at-arms from the bands of Ortingo and La
Nuit, to the latter of which the Brabanter belonged.
"There is a mark yonder on the hill," said he; "mayhap you can
"I see something," answered Johnston, shading his eyes with his
hand; "but it is a very long shoot."
"A fair shoot--a fair shoot! Stand aside, Arnaud, lest you find
a bolt through your gizzard. Now, comrade, I take no flight
shot, and I give you the vantage of watching my shaft."
As he spoke he raised his arbalest to his shoulder and was about
to pull the trigger, when a large gray stork flapped heavily into
view skimming over the brow of the hill, and then soaring up into
the air to pass the valley. Its shrill and piercing cries drew
all eyes upon it, and, as it came nearer, a dark spot which
circled above it resolved itself into a peregrine falcon, which
hovered over its head, poising itself from time to time, and
watching its chance of closing with its clumsy quarry. Nearer
and nearer came the two birds, all absorbed in their own contest,
the stork wheeling upwards, the hawk still fluttering above it,
until they were not a hundred paces from the camp. The Brabanter
raised his weapon to the sky, and there came the short, deep
twang of his powerful string. His bolt struck the stork just
where its wing meets the body, and the bird whirled aloft in a
last convulsive flutter before falling wounded and flapping to
the earth. A roar of applause burst from the crossbowmen; but at
the instant that the bolt struck its mark old Johnston, who had
stood listlessly with arrow on string, bent his bow and sped a
shaft through the body of the falcon. Whipping the other from
his belt, he sent it skimming some few feet from the earth with
so true an aim that it struck and transfixed the stork for the
second time ere it could reach the ground. A deep-chested shout
of delight burst from the archers at the sight of this double
feat, and Aylward, dancing with joy, threw his arms round the old
marksman and embraced him with such vigor that their mail tunics
"Ah! camarade," he cried, "you shall have a stoup with me for
this! What then, old dog, would not the hawk please thee, but
thou must have the stork as well. Oh, to my heart again!"
"It is a pretty piece of yew, and well strung," said Johnston
with a twinkle in his deep-set gray eyes. "Even an old broken
bowman might find the clout with a bow like this."
"You have done very well," remarked the Brabanter in a surly
voice. "But it seems to me that you have not yet shown yourself
to be a better marksman than I, for I have struck that at which I
aimed, and, by the three kings! no man can do more."
"It would ill beseem me to claim to be a better marksman,"
answered Johnston, "for I have heard great things of your skill.
I did but wish to show that the long-bow could do that which an
arbalest could not do, for you could not with your moulinet have
your string ready to speed another shaft ere the bird drop to the
"In that you have vantage," said the crossbowman. "By Saint
James! it is now my turn to show you where my weapon has the
better of you. I pray you to draw a flight shaft with all your
strength down the valley, that we may see the length of your
"That is a very strong prod of yours," said Johnston, shaking his
grizzled head as he glanced at the thick arch and powerful
strings of his rival's arbalest. "I have little doubt that you
can overshoot me, and yet I have seen bowmen who could send a
cloth-yard arrow further than you could speed a quarrel."
"So I have heard," remarked the Brabanter; "and yet it is a
strange thing that these wondrous bowmen are never where I chance
to be. Pace out the distances with a wand at every five score,
and do you, Arnaud, stand at the fifth wand to carry back my
bolts to me."
A line was measured down the valley, and Johnston, drawing an
arrow to the very head, sent it whistling over the row of wands.
"Bravely drawn! A rare shoot!" shouted the bystanders.
"It is well up to the fourth mark."
"By my hilt! it is over it," cried Aylward. "I can see where
they have stooped to gather up the shaft."
"We shall hear anon," said Johnston quietly, and presently a
young archer came running to say that the arrow had fallen twenty
paces beyond the fourth wand.
"Four hundred paces and a score," cried Black Simon. "I' faith,
it is a very long flight. Yet wood and steel may do more than
flesh and blood."
The Brabanter stepped forward with a smile of conscious triumph,
and loosed the cord of his weapon. A shout burst from his
comrades as they watched the swift and lofty flight of the heavy
"Over the fourth!" groaned Aylward. "By my hilt! I think that it
is well up to the fifth."
"It is over the fifth!" cried a Gascon loudly, and a comrade came
running with waving arms to say that the bolt had pitched eight
paces beyond the mark of the five hundred.
"Which weapon hath the vantage now?" cried the Brabanter,
Strutting proudly about with shouldered arbalest, amid the
applause of his companions.
"You can overshoot me," said Johnston gently.
"Or any other man who ever bent a long-bow," cried his victorious
"Nay, not so fast," said a huge archer, whose mighty shoulders
and red head towered high above the throng of his comrades. "I
must have a word with you ere you crow so loudly. Where is my
little popper? By sainted Dick of Hampole! it will be a strange
thing if I cannot outshoot that thing of thine, which to my eyes
is more like a rat-trap than a bow. Will you try another flight,
or do you stand by your last?"
"Five hundred and eight paces will serve my turn," answered the
Brabanter, looking askance at this new opponent.
"Tut, John," whispered Aylward, "you never were a marksman. Why
must you thrust your spoon into this dish?"
"Easy and slow, Aylward. There are very many things which I
cannot do, but there are also one or two which I have the trick
of. It is in my mind that I can beat this shoot, if my bow will
but hold together."
"Go on, old babe of the woods!" "Have at it, Hampshire!" cried
the archers laughing.
"By my soul! you may grin," cried John. "But I learned how to
make the long shoot from old Hob Miller of Milford." He took up a
great black bow, as he spoke, and sitting down upon the ground he
placed his two feet on either end of the stave. With an arrow
fitted, he then pulled the string towards him with both hands
until the head of the shaft was level with the wood. The great
bow creaked and groaned and the cord vibrated with the tension.
"Who is this fool's-head who stands in the way of my shoot?" said
he, craning up his neck from the ground.
"He stands on the further side of my mark," answered the
Brabanter, "so he has little to fear from you."
"Well, the saints assoil him!" cried John. "Though I think he is
over-near to be scathed." As he spoke he raised his two feet,
with the bow-stave upon their soles, and his cord twanged with a
deep rich hum which might be heard across the valley. The
measurer in the distance fell flat upon his face, and then
jumping up again, he began to run in the opposite direction.
"Well shot, old lad! It is indeed over his head," cried the
"Mon Dieu!" exclaimed the Brabanter, "who ever saw such a shoot?"
"It is but a trick," quoth John. "Many a time have I won a
gallon of ale by covering a mile in three flights down Wilverley
"It fell a hundred and thirty paces beyond the fifth mark,"
shouted an archer in the distance.
"Six hundred and thirty paces! Mon Dieu! but that is a shoot!
And yet it says nothing for your weapon, mon gros camarade, for
it was by turning yourself into a crossbow that you did it."
"By my hilt! there is truth in that," cried Aylward. "And now,
friend, I will myself show you a vantage of the long-bow. I pray
you to speed a bolt against yonder shield with all your force.
It is an inch of elm with bull's hide over it."
"I scarce shot as many shafts at Brignais," growled the man of
Brabant; "though I found a better mark there than a cantle of
bull's hide. But what is this, Englishman? The shield hangs not
one hundred paces from me, and a blind man could strike it." He
screwed up his string to the furthest pitch, and shot his quarrel
at the dangling shield. Aylward, who had drawn an arrow from his
quiver, carefully greased the head of it, and sped it at the same
"Run, Wilkins," quoth he, "and fetch me the shield."
Long were the faces of the Englishmen and broad the laugh of the
crossbowmen as the heavy mantlet was carried towards them, for
there in the centre was the thick Brabant bolt driven deeply into
the wood, while there was neither sign nor trace of the
"By the three kings!" cried the Brabanter, "this time at least
there is no gainsaying which is the better weapon, or which the
truer hand that held it. You have missed the shield,
"Tarry a bit! tarry a bit, mon gar.!" quoth Aylward, and turning
round the shield he showed a round clear hole in the wood at the
back of it. "My shaft has passed through it, camarade, and I
trow the one which goes through is more to be feared than that
which bides on the way."
The Brabanter stamped his foot with mortification, and was about
to make some angry reply, when Alleyne Edricson came riding up to
the crowds of archers.
"Sir Nigel will be here anon," said he, "and it is his wish to
speak with the Company."
In an instant order and method took the place of general
confusion. Bows, steel caps, and jacks were caught up from the
grass. A long cordon cleared the camp of all strangers, while
the main body fell into four lines with under-officers and
file-leaders in front and on either flank. So they stood, silent
and motionless, when their leader came riding towards them, his
face shining and his whole small figure swelling with the news
which he bore.
"Great honor has been done to us, men," cried he: "for, of all
the army, the prince has chosen us out that we should ride
onwards into the lands of Spain to spy upon our enemies. Yet, as
there are many of us, and as the service may not be to the liking
of all, I pray that those will step forward from the ranks who
have the will to follow me."
There was a rustle among the bowmen, but when Sir Nigel looked up
at them no man stood forward from his fellows, but the four lines
of men stretched unbroken as before. Sir Nigel blinked at them
in amazement, and a look of the deepest sorrow shadowed his face.
"That I should live to see the day!" he cried, "What! not one----"
"My fair lord," whispered Alleyne, "they have all stepped
"Ah, by Saint Paul! I see how it is with them. I could not think
that they would desert me. We start at dawn to-morrow, and ye
are to have the horses of Sir Robert Cheney's company. Be ready,
I pray ye, at early cock-crow."
A buzz of delight burst from the archers, as they broke their
ranks and ran hither and thither, whooping and cheering like boys
who have news of a holiday. Sir Nigel gazed after them with a
smiling face, when a heavy hand fell upon his shoulder.
"What ho! my knight-errant of Twynham!" said a voice, "You are
off to Ebro, I hear; and, by the holy fish of Tobias! you must
take me under your banner."
"What! Sir Oliver Buttesthorn!" cried Sir Nigel. "I had heard
that you were come into camp, and had hoped to see you. Glad and
proud shall I be to have you with me."
"I have a most particular and weighty reason for wishing to go,"
said the sturdy knight.
"I can well believe it," returned Sir Nigel; "I have met no man
who is quicker to follow where honor leads."
"Nay, it is not for honor that I go, Nigel."
"For what then?"
"Yes, for the rascal vanguard have cleared every hen from the
country-side. It was this very morning that Norbury, my squire,
lamed his horse in riding round in quest of one, for we have a
bag of truffles, and nought to eat with them. Never have I seen
such locusts as this vanguard of ours. Not a pullet shall we see
until we are in front of them; so I shall leave my Winchester
runagates to the care of the provost-marshal, and I shall hie
south with you, Nigel, with my truffles at my saddle-bow."
"Oliver, Oliver, I know you over-well," said Sir Nigel, shaking
his head, and the two old soldiers rode off together to their
HOW SIR NIGEL HAWKED AT AN EAGLE.
To the south of Pampeluna in the kingdom of Navarre there
stretched a high table-land, rising into bare, sterile hills,
brown or gray in color, and strewn with huge boulders of granite.
On the Gascon side of the great mountains there had been running
streams, meadows, forests, and little nestling villages. Here, on
the contrary, were nothing but naked rocks, poor pasture, and
savage, stone-strewn wastes. Gloomy defiles or barrancas
intersected this wild country with mountain torrents dashing and
foaming between their rugged sides. The clatter of waters, the
scream of the eagle, and the howling of wolves the only sounds
which broke upon the silence in that dreary and inhospitable
Through this wild country it was that Sir Nigel and his Company
pushed their way, riding at times through vast defiles where the
brown, gnarled cliffs shot up on either side of them, and the sky
was but a long winding blue slit between the clustering lines of
box which fringed the lips of the precipices; or, again leading
their horses along the narrow and rocky paths worn by the
muleteers upon the edges of the chasm, where under their very
elbows they could see the white streak which marked the _gave_
which foamed a thousand feet below them. So for two days they
pushed their way through the wild places of Navarre, past Fuente,
over the rapid Ega, through Estella, until upon a winter's
evening the mountains fell away from in front of them, and they
saw the broad blue Ebro curving betwixt its double line or
homesteads and of villages. The fishers of Viana were aroused
that night by rough voices speaking in a strange tongue, and ere
morning Sir Nigel and his men had ferried the river and were safe
upon the land of Spain.
All the next day they lay in a pine wood near to the town of
Logrono, resting their horses and taking counsel as to what
they should do. Sir Nigel had with him Sir William Felton,
Sir Oliver Buttesthorn, stout old Sir Simon Burley, the Scotch
knight-errant, the Earl of Angus, and Sir Richard Causton, all
accounted among the bravest knights in the army, together with
sixty veteran men-at-arms, and three hundred and twenty archers.
Spies had been sent out in the morning, and returned after
nightfall to say that the King of Spain was encamped some
fourteen miles off in the direction of Burgos, having with him
twenty thousand horse and forty-five thousand foot.
A dry-wood fire had been lit, and round this the leaders
crouched, the glare beating upon their rugged faces, while the
hardy archers lounged and chatted amid the tethered horses, while
they munched their scanty provisions.
"For my part," said Sir Simon Burley, "I am of opinion that we
have already done that which we have come for. For do we not now
know where the king is, and how great a following he hath, which
was the end of our journey."
"True," answered Sir William Felton, "but I have come on this
venture because it is a long time since I have broken a spear in
war, and, certes, I shall not go back until I have run a course
with some cavalier of Spain. Let those go back who will, but I
must see more of these Spaniards ere I turn."
"I will not leave you, Sir William," returned Sir Simon Burley;
"and yet, as an old soldier and one who hath seen much of war, I
cannot but think that it is an ill thing for four hundred men to
find themselves between an army of sixty thousand on the one side
and a broad river on the other."
"Yet," said Sir Richard Causton, "we cannot for the honor of
England go back without a blow struck."
"Nor for the honor of Scotland either," cried the Earl of Angus.
"By Saint Andrew! I wish that I may never set eyes upon the water
of Leith again, if I pluck my horse's bridle ere I have seen this
camp of theirs."
"By Saint Paul! you have spoken very well," said Sir Nigel, "and
I have always heard that there were very worthy gentlemen among
the Scots, and fine skirmishing to be had upon their border.
Bethink you, Sir Simon, that we have this news from the lips of
common spies, who can scarce tell us as much of the enemy and of
his forces as the prince would wish to hear."
"You are the leader in this venture, Sir Nigel," the other
answered, "and I do but ride under your banner."
"Yet I would fain have your rede and counsel, Sir Simon. But,
touching what you say of the river, we can take heed that we
shall not have it at the back of us, for the prince hath now
advanced to Salvatierra, and thence to Vittoria, so that if we
come upon their camp from the further side we can make good our
"What then would you propose?" asked Sir Simon, shaking his
grizzled head as one who is but half convinced.
"That we ride forward ere the news reach them that we have
crossed the river. In this way we may have sight of their army,
and perchance even find occasion for some small deed against
"So be it, then," said Sir Simon Burley; and the rest of the
council having approved, a scanty meal was hurriedly snatched,
and the advance resumed under the cover of the darkness. All
night they led their horses, stumbling and groping through wild
defiles and rugged valleys, following the guidance of a
frightened peasant who was strapped by the wrist to Black Simon's
stirrup-leather. With the early dawn they found themselves in a
black ravine, with others sloping away from it on either side,
and the bare brown crags rising in long bleak terraces all round
"If it please you, fair lord," said Black Simon, "this man hath
misled us, and since there is no tree upon which we may hang him,
it might be well to hurl him over yonder cliff."
The peasant, reading the soldier's meaning in his fierce eyes and
harsh accents dropped upon his knees, screaming loudly for mercy.
"How comes it, dog?" asked Sir William Felton in Spanish. "Where
is this camp to which you swore that you would lead us?"
"By the sweet Virgin! By the blessed Mother of God!" cried the
trembling peasant, "I swear to you that in the darkness I have
myself lost the path."
"Over the cliff with him!" shouted half a dozen voices; but ere
the archers could drag him from the rocks to which he clung Sir
Nigel had ridden up and called upon them to stop.
"How is this, sirs?" said he. "As long as the prince doth me the
honor to entrust this venture to me, it is for me only to give
orders; and, by Saint Paul! I shall be right blithe to go very
deeply into the matter with any one to whom my words may give
offence. How say you, Sir William? Or you, my Lord of Angus?
Or you, Sir Richard?"
"Nay, nay, Nigel!" cried Sir William. "This base peasant is too
small a matter for old comrades to quarrel over. But he hath
betrayed us, and certes he hath merited a dog's death."
"Hark ye, fellow," said Sir Nigel. "We give you one more chance
to find the path. We are about to gain much honor, Sir William,
in this enterprise, and it would be a sorry thing if the first
blood shed were that of an unworthy boor. Let us say our morning
orisons, and it may chance that ere we finish he may strike upon
With bowed heads and steel caps in hand, the archers stood at
their horse's heads, while Sir Simon Burley repeated the Pater,
the Ave, and the Credo. Long did Alleyne bear the scene in
mind--the knot of knights in their dull leaden-hued armor, the
ruddy visage of Sir Oliver, the craggy features of the Scottish
earl, the shining scalp of Sir Nigel, with the dense ring of
hard, bearded faces and the long brown heads of the horses, all
topped and circled by the beetling cliffs. Scarce had the last
deep "amen" broken from the Company, when, in an instant, there
rose the scream of a hundred bugles, with the deep rolling of
drums and the clashing of cymbals, all sounding together in one
deafening uproar. Knights and archers sprang to arms, convinced
that some great host was upon them; but the guide dropped upon
his knees and thanked Heaven for its mercies.
"We have found them, caballeros!" he cried. "This is their
morning call. If ye will but deign to follow me, I will set them
before you ere a man might tell his beads."
As he spoke he scrambled down one of the narrow ravines, and,
climbing over a low ridge at the further end, he led them into a
short valley with a stream purling down the centre of it and a
very thick growth of elder and of box upon either side. Pushing
their way through the dense brushwood, they looked out upon a
scene which made their hearts beat harder and their breath come
In front of them there lay a broad plain, watered by two winding
streams and covered with grass, stretching away to where, in the
furthest distance, the towers of Burgos bristled up against the
light blue morning sky. Over all this vast meadow there lay a
great city of tents--thousands upon thousands of them, laid out
in streets and in squares like a well-ordered town. High silken
pavilions or colored marquees, shooting up from among the crowd
of meaner dwellings, marked where the great lords and barons of
Leon and Castile displayed their standards, while over the white
roofs, as far as eye could reach, the waving of ancients, pavons,
pensils, and banderoles, with flash of gold and glow of colors,
proclaimed that all the chivalry of Iberia were mustered in the
plain beneath them. Far off, in the centre of the camp, a huge
palace of red and white silk, with the royal arms of Castile
waiving from the summit, announced that the gallant Henry lay
there in the midst of his warriors.
As the English adventurers, peeping out from behind their
brushwood screen, looked down upon this wondrous sight they could
see that the vast army in front of them was already afoot. The
first pink light of the rising sun glittered upon the steel caps
and breastplates of dense masses of slingers and of crossbowmen,
who drilled and marched in the spaces which had been left for
their exercise. A thousand columns of smoke reeked up into the
pure morning air where the faggots were piled and the camp-kettles
already simmering. In the open plain clouds of light horse
galloped and swooped with swaying bodies and waving javelins,
after the fashion which the Spanish had adopted from their
Moorish enemies. All along by the sedgy banks of the rivers
long lines of pages led their masters' chargers down to water,
while the knights themselves lounged in gayly-dressed groups
about the doors of their pavilions, or rode out, with their
falcons upon their wrists and their greyhounds behind them,
in quest of quail or of leveret.
"By my hilt! mon gar.!" whispered Aylward to Alleyne, as the
young squire stood with parted lips and wondering eyes, gazing
down at the novel scene before him, "we have been seeking them
all night, but now that we have found them I know not what we are
to do with them."
"You say sooth, Samkin," quoth old Johnston. "I would that we
were upon the far side of Ebro again, for there is neither honor
nor profit to be gained here. What say you, Simon?"
"By the rood!" cried the fierce man-at-arms, "I will see the
color of their blood ere I turn my mare's head for the mountains.
Am I a child, that I should ride for three days and nought but
words at the end of it?"
"Well said, my sweet honeysuckle!" cried Hordle John. "I am with
you, like hilt to blade. Could I but lay hands upon one of those
gay prancers yonder, I doubt not that I should have ransom enough
from him to buy my mother a new cow."
"A cow!" said Aylward. "Say rather ten acres and a homestead on
the banks of Avon."
"Say you so? Then, by our Lady! here is for yonder one in the red
He was about to push recklessly forward into the open, when Sir
Nigel himself darted in front of him, with his hand upon his
"Back!" said he. "Our time is not yet come, and we must lie here
until evening. Throw off your jacks and headpieces, least their
eyes catch the shine, and tether the horses among the rocks."
The order was swiftly obeyed, and in ten minutes the archers were
stretched along by the side of the brook, munching the bread and
the bacon which they had brought in their bags, and craning their
necks to watch the ever-changing scene beneath them. Very quiet
and still they lay, save for a muttered jest or whispered order,
for twice during the long morning they heard bugle-calls from
amid the hills on either side of them, which showed that they had
thrust themselves in between the outposts of the enemy. The
leaders sat amongst the box-wood, and took counsel together as to
what they should do; while from below there surged up the buzz of
voices, the shouting, the neighing of horses, and all the uproar
of a great camp.
"What boots it to wait?" said Sir William Felton. "Let us ride
down upon their camp ere they discover us."
"And so say I," cried the Scottish earl; "for they do not know
that there is any enemy within thirty long leagues of them."
"For my part," said Sir Simon Burley, "I think that it is
madness, for you cannot hope to rout this great army; and where
are you to go and what are you to do when they have turned upon
you? How say you, Sir Oliver Buttesthorn?"
"By the apple of Eve!" cried the fat knight, "it appears to me
that this wind brings a very savory smell of garlic and of onions
from their cooking-kettles. I am in favor of riding down upon
them at once, if my old friend and comrade here is of the same
"Nay," said Sir Nigel, "I have a plan by which we may attempt
some small deed upon them, and yet, by the help of God, may be
able to draw off again; which, as Sir Simon Burley hath said,
would be scarce possible in any other way."
"How then, Sir Nigel?" asked several voices.
"We shall lie here all day; for amid this brushwood it is ill for
them to see us. Then when evening comes we shall sally out upon
them and see if we may not gain some honorable advancement from
"But why then rather than now?"
"Because we shall have nightfall to cover us when we draw off, so
that we may make our way back through the mountains. I would
station a score of archers here in the pass, with all our pennons
jutting forth from the rocks, and as many nakirs and drums and
bugles as we have with us, so that those who follow us in the
fading light may think that the whole army of the prince is upon
them, and fear to go further. What think you of my plan, Sir
"By my troth! I think very well of it," cried the prudent old
commander. "If four hundred men must needs run a tilt against
sixty thousand, I cannot see how they can do it better or more
"And so say I," cried Felton, heartily. "But I wish the day were
over, for it will be an ill thing for us if they chance to light
The words were scarce out of his mouth when there came a clatter
of loose stones, the sharp clink of trotting hoofs, and a
dark-faced cavalier, mounted upon a white horse, burst through
the bushes and rode swiftly down the valley from the end which
was farthest from the Spanish camp. Lightly armed, with his
vizor open and a hawk perched upon his left wrist, he looked
about him with the careless air of a man who is bent wholly upon
pleasure, and unconscious of the possibility of danger.
Suddenly, however, his eyes lit upon the fierce faces which
glared out at him from the brushwood. With a cry of terror, he
thrust his spurs into his horse's sides and dashed for the narrow
opening of the gorge. For a moment it seemed as though he would
have reached it, for he had trampled over or dashed aside the
archers who threw themselves in his way; but Hordle John seized
him by the foot in his grasp of iron and dragged him from the
saddle, while two others caught the frightened horse.
"Ho, ho!" roared the great archer. "How many cows wilt buy my
mother, if I set thee free?"
"Hush that bull's bellowing!" cried Sir Nigel impatiently. "Bring
the man here. By St. Paul! it is not the first time that we have
met; for, if I mistake not, it is Don Diego Alvarez, who was once
at the prince's court."
"It is indeed I," said the Spanish knight, speaking in the French
tongue, "and I pray you to pass your sword through my heart, for
how can I live--I, a caballero of Castile--after being dragged
from my horse by the base hands of a common archer?"
"Fret not for that," answered Sir Nigel. "For, in sooth, had he
not pulled you down, a dozen cloth-yard shafts had crossed each
other in your body."
"By St. James! it were better so than to be polluted by his
touch," answered the Spaniard, with his black eyes sparkling with
rage and hatred. "I trust that I am now the prisoner of some
honorable knight or gentleman."
"You are the prisoner of the man who took you, Sir Diego,"
answered Sir Nigel. "And I may tell you that better men than
either you or I have found themselves before now prisoners in the
hands of archers of England."
"What ransom, then, does he demand?" asked the Spaniard.
Big John scratched his red head and grinned in high delight when
the question was propounded to him. "Tell him," said he, "that I
shall have ten cows and a bull too, if it be but a little one.
Also a dress of blue sendall for mother and a red one for Joan;
with five acres of pasture-land, two scythes, and a fine new
grindstone. Likewise a small house, with stalls for the cows,
and thirty-six gallons of beer for the thirsty weather."
"Tut, tut!" cried Sir Nigel, laughing. "All these things may be
had for money; and I think, Don Diego, that five thousand crowns
is not too much for so renowned a knight."
"It shall be duly paid him."
"For some days we must keep you with us; and I must crave leave
also to use your shield, your armor, and your horse."
"My harness is yours by the law of arms," said the Spaniard,
"I do but ask the loan of it. I have need of it this day, but it
shall be duly returned to you. Set guards, Aylward, with arrow
on string, at either end of the pass; for it may happen that some
other cavaliers may visit us ere the time be come." All day the
little band of Englishmen lay in the sheltered gorge, looking
down upon the vast host of their unconscious enemies. Shortly
after mid-day, a great uproar of shouting and cheering broke out
in the camp, with mustering of men and calling of bugles.
Clambering up among the rocks, the companions saw a long rolling
cloud of dust along the whole eastern sky-line, with the glint
of spears and the flutter of pennons, which announced the
approach of a large body of cavalry. For a moment a wild hope
came upon them that perhaps the prince had moved more swiftly
than had been planned, that he had crossed the Ebro, and that
this was his vanguard sweeping to the attack.
"Surely I see the red pile of Chandos at the head of yonder
squadron!" cried Sir Richard Causton, shading his eyes with his
"Not so," answered Sir Simon Burley, who had watched the
approaching host with a darkening face. "It is even as I feared.
That is the double eagle of Du Guesclin."
"You say very truly," cried the Earl of Angus. "These are the
levies of France, for I can see the ensigns of the Marshal
d'Andreghen, with that of the Lord of Antoing and of Briseuil,
and of many another from Brittany and Anjou."
"By St. Paul! I am very glad of it," said Sir Nigel. "Of these
Spaniards I know nothing; but the French are very worthy
gentlemen, and will do what they can for our advancement."
"There are at the least four thousand of them, and all men-at-arms,"
cried Sir William Felton. "See, there is Bertrand himself, beside
his banner, and there is King Henry, who rides to welcome him.
Now they all turn and come into the camp together."
As he spoke, the vast throng of Spaniards and of Frenchmen
trooped across the plain, with brandished arms and tossing
banners. All day long the sound of revelry and of rejoicing from
the crowded camp swelled up to the ears of the Englishmen, and
they could see the soldiers of the two nations throwing
themselves into each other's arms and dancing hand-in-hand round
the blazing fires. The sun had sunk behind a cloud-bank in the
west before Sir Nigel at last gave word that the men should
resume their arms and have their horses ready. He had himself
thrown off his armor, and had dressed himself from head to foot
in the harness of the captured Spaniard.
"Sir William," said he, "it is my intention to attempt a small
deed, and I ask you therefore that you will lead this outfall
upon the camp. For me, I will ride into their camp with my
squire and two archers. I pray you to watch me, and to ride
forth when I am come among the tents. You will leave twenty men
behind here, as we planned this morning, and you will ride back
here after you have ventured as far as seems good to you."
"I will do as you order, Nigel; but what is it that you propose
"You will see anon, and indeed it is but a trifling matter.
Alleyne, you will come with me, and lead a spare horse by the
bridle. I will have the two archers who rode with us through
France, for they are trusty men and of stout heart. Let them
ride behind us, and let them leave their bows here among the
bushes for it is not my wish that they should know that we are
Englishmen. Say no word to any whom we may meet, and, if any
speak to you, pass on as though you heard them not. Are you
"I am ready, my fair lord," said Alleyne.
"And I," "And I," cried Aylward and John.
"Then the rest I leave to your wisdom, Sir William; and if God
sends us fortune we shall meet you again in this gorge ere it be
So saying, Sir Nigel mounted the white horse of the Spanish
cavalier, and rode quietly forth from his concealment with his
three companions behind him, Alleyne leading his master's own
steed by the bridle. So many small parties of French and Spanish
horse were sweeping hither and thither that the small band
attracted little notice, and making its way at a gentle trot
across the plain, they came as far as the camp without challenge
or hindrance. On and on they pushed past the endless lines of
tents, amid the dense swarms of horsemen and of footmen, until
the huge royal pavilion stretched in front of them. They were
close upon it when of a sudden there broke out a wild hubbub from
a distant portion of the camp, with screams and war-cries and all
the wild tumult of battle. At the sound soldiers came rushing
from their tents, knights shouted loudly for their squires, and
there was mad turmoil on every hand of bewildered men and
plunging horses. At the royal tent a crowd of gorgeously dressed
servants ran hither and thither in helpless panic for the guard
of soldiers who were stationed there had already ridden off in
the direction of the alarm. A man-at-arms on either side of the
doorway were the sole protectors of the royal dwelling.
"I have come for the king," whispered Sir Nigel; "and, by Saint
Paul! he must back with us or I must bide here."
Alleyne and Aylward sprang from their horses, and flew at the two
sentries, who were disarmed and beaten down in an instant by so
furious and unexpected an attack. Sir Nigel dashed into the
royal tent, and was followed by Hordle John as soon as the horses
had been secured. From within came wild screamings and the clash
of steel, and then the two emerged once more, their swords and
forearms reddened with blood, while John bore over his shoulder
the senseless body of a man whose gay surcoat, adorned with the
lions and towers of Castile, proclaimed him to belong to the
royal house. A crowd of white-faced sewers and pages swarmed at
their heels, those behind pushing forwards, while the foremost
shrank back from the fierce faces and reeking weapons of the
adventurers. The senseless body was thrown across the spare
horse, the four sprang to their saddles, and away they thundered
with loose reins and busy spurs through the swarming camp.
But confusion and disorder still reigned among the Spaniards for
Sir William Felton and his men had swept through half their camp,
leaving a long litter of the dead and the dying to mark their
course. Uncertain who were their attackers, and unable to tell
their English enemies from their newly-arrived Breton allies, the
Spanish knights rode wildly hither and thither in aimless fury.
The mad turmoil, the mixture of races, and the fading light, were
all in favor of the four who alone knew their own purpose among
the vast uncertain multitude. Twice ere they reached open ground
they had to break their way through small bodies of horses, and
once there came a whistle of arrows and singing of stones about
their ears; but, still dashing onwards, they shot out from among
the tents and found their own comrades retreating for the
mountains at no very great distance from them. Another five
minutes of wild galloping over the plain, and they were all back
in their gorge, while their pursuers fell back before the rolling
of drums and blare of trumpets, which seemed to proclaim that the
whole army of the prince was about to emerge from the mountain
"By my soul! Nigel," cried Sir Oliver, waving a great boiled ham
over his head, "I have come by something which I may eat with my
truffles! I had a hard fight for it, for there were three of
them with their mouths open and the knives in their hands, all
sitting agape round the table, when I rushed in upon them. How
say you, Sir William, will you not try the smack of the famed
Spanish swine, though we have but the brook water to wash it
"Later, Sir Oliver," answered the old soldier, wiping his grimed
face. "We must further into the mountains ere we be in safety.
But what have we here, Nigel?"
"It is a prisoner whom I have taken, and in sooth, as he came
from the royal tent and wears the royal arms upon his jupon, I
trust that he is the King of Spain."
"The King of Spain!" cried the companions, crowding round in
"Nay, Sir Nigel," said Felton, peering at the prisoner through
the uncertain light, "I have twice seen Henry of Transtamare, and
certes this man in no way resembles him."
"Then, by the light of heaven! I will ride back for him," cried
"Nay, nay, the camp is in arms, and it would be rank madness.
Who are you, fellow?" he added in Spanish, "and how is it that
you dare to wear the arms of Castile?"
The prisoner was bent recovering the consciousness which had been
squeezed from him by the grip of Hordle John. "If it please
you," he answered, "I and nine others are the body-squires of the
king, and must ever wear his arms, so as to shield him from even
such perils as have threatened him this night. The king is at the
tent of the brave Du Guesclin, where he will sup to night. But I
am a caballero of Aragon, Don Sancho Penelosa, and, though I be
no king, I am yet ready to pay a fitting price for my ransom."
"By Saint Paul! I will not touch your gold," cried Sir Nigel. "Go
back to your master and give him greeting from Sir Nigel Loring
of Twynham Castle, telling him that I had hoped to make his
better acquaintance this night, and that, if I have disordered
his tent, it was but in my eagerness to know so famed and
courteous a knight. Spur on, comrades! for we must cover many a
league ere we can venture to light fire or to loosen girth. I had
hoped to ride without this patch to-night, but it seems that I
must carry it yet a little longer."
HOW SIR NIGEL TOOK THE PATCH FROM HIS EYE.
It was a cold, bleak morning in the beginning of March, and the
mist was drifting in dense rolling clouds through the passes of
the Cantabrian mountains. The Company, who had passed the night
in a sheltered gully, were already astir, some crowding round the
blazing fires and others romping or leaping over each other's
backs for their limbs were chilled and the air biting. Here and
there, through the dense haze which surrounded them, there loomed
out huge pinnacles and jutting boulders of rock: while high above
the sea of vapor there towered up one gigantic peak, with the
pink glow of the early sunshine upon its snow-capped head. The
ground was wet, the rocks dripping, the grass and ever-greens
sparkling with beads of moisture; yet the camp was loud with
laughter and merriment, for a messenger had ridden in from the
prince with words of heart-stirring praise for what they had
done, and with orders that they should still abide in the
forefront of the army.
Round one of the fires were clustered four or five of the leading
men of the archers, cleaning the rust from their weapons, and
glancing impatiently from time to time at a great pot which
smoked over the blaze. There was Aylward squatting cross-legged
in his shirt, while he scrubbed away at his chain-mail
brigandine, whistling loudly the while. On one side of him sat
old Johnston, who was busy in trimming the feathers of some
arrows to his liking; and on the other Hordle John, who lay with
his great limbs all asprawl, and his headpiece balanced upon his
uplifted foot. Black Simon of Norwich crouched amid the rocks,
crooning an Eastland ballad to himself, while he whetted his
sword upon a flat stone which lay across his knees; while beside
him sat Alleyne Edricson, and Norbury, the silent squire of Sir
Oliver, holding out their chilled hands towards the crackling
"Cast on another culpon, John, and stir the broth with thy
sword-sheath," growled Johnston, looking anxiously for the
twentieth time at the reeking pot.
"By my hilt!" cried Aylward, "now that John hath come by this
great ransom, he will scarce abide the fare of poor archer lads.
How say you, camarade? When you see Hordle once more, there will
be no penny ale and fat bacon, but Gascon wines and baked meats
every day of the seven."
"I know not about that," said John, kicking his helmet up into
the air and catching it in his hand. "I do but know that whether
the broth be ready or no, I am about to dip this into it."
"It simmers and it boils," cried Johnston, pushing his hard-lined
face through the smoke. In an instant the pot had been plucked
from the blaze, and its contents had been scooped up in half a
dozen steel head-pieces, which were balanced betwixt their
owners' knees, while, with spoon and gobbet of bread, they
devoured their morning meal.
"It is ill weather for bows," remarked John at last, when, with a
long sigh, he drained the last drop from his helmet. "My strings
are as limp as a cow's tail this morning."
"You should rub them with water glue," quoth Johnston. "You
remember, Samkin, that it was wetter than this on the morning of
Crecy, and yet I cannot call to mind that there was aught amiss
with our strings."
"It is in my thoughts," said Black Simon, still pensively
grinding his sword, "that we may have need of your strings ere
sundown. I dreamed of the red cow last night."
"And what is this red cow, Simon?" asked Alleyne.
"I know not, young sir; but I can only say that on the eve of
Cadsand, and on the eve of Crecy, and on the eve of Nogent, I
dreamed of a red cow; and now the dream has come upon me again,
so I am now setting a very keen edge to my blade."
"Well said, old war-dog!" cried Aylward. "By my hilt! I pray
that your dream may come true, for the prince hath not set us out
here to drink broth or to gather whortle-berries. One more fight,
and I am ready to hang up my bow, marry a wife, and take to the
fire corner. But how now, Robin? Whom is it that you seek?"
"The Lord Loring craves your attendance in his tent," said a
young archer to Alleyne.
The squire rose and proceeded to the pavilion, where he found the
knight seated upon a cushion, with his legs crossed in front of
him and a broad ribbon of parchment laid across his knees, over
which he was poring with frowning brows and pursed lips.
"It came this morning by the prince's messenger," said he, "and
was brought from England by Sir John Fallislee, who is new come
from Sussex. What make you of this upon the outer side?"
"It is fairly and clearly written," Alleyne answered, "and it
signifies To Sir Nigel Loring, Knight Constable of Twynham
Castle, by the hand of Christopher, the servant of God at the
Priory of Christchurch."
"So I read it," said Sir Nigel. "Now I pray you to read what is
set forth within."
Alleyne turned to the letter, and, as his eyes rested upon it,
his face turned pale and a cry of surprise and grief burst from
"What then?" asked the knight, peering up at him anxiously.
"There is nought amiss with the Lady Mary or with the Lady
"It is my brother--my poor unhappy brother!" cried Alleyne, with
his hand to his brow. "He is dead."
"By Saint Paul! I have never heard that he had shown so much
love for you that you should mourn him so."
"Yet he was my brother--the only kith or kin that I had upon
earth. Mayhap he had cause to be bitter against me, for his land
was given to the abbey for my upbringing. Alas! alas! and I
raised my staff against him when last we met! He has been
slain--and slain, I fear, amidst crime and violence."
"Ha!" said Sir Nigel. "Read on, I pray you."
"`God be with thee, my honored lord, and have thee in his holy
keeping. The Lady Loring hath asked me to set down in writing
what hath befallen at Twynham, and all that concerns the death of
thy ill neighbor the Socman of Minstead. For when ye had left
us, this evil man gathered around him all outlaws, villeins, and
masterless men, until they were come to such a force that they
slew and scattered the king's men who went against them. Then,
coming forth from the woods, they laid siege to thy castle, and
for two days they girt us in and shot hard against us, with such
numbers as were a marvel to see. Yet the Lady Loring held the
place stoutly, and on the second day the Socman was slain--by his
own men, as some think--so that we were delivered from their
hands; for which praise be to all the saints, and more especially
to the holy Anselm, upon whose feast it came to pass. The Lady
Loring, and the Lady Maude, thy fair daughter, are in good
health; and so also am I, save for an imposthume of the toe-joint,
which hath been sent me for my sins. May all the saints
"It was the vision of the Lady Tiphaine," said Sir Nigel, after a
pause. "Marked you not how she said that the leader was one with
a yellow beard, and how he fell before the gate. But how came
it, Alleyne, that this woman, to whom all things are as crystal,
and who hath not said one word which has not come to pass, was
yet so led astray as to say that your thoughts turned to Twynham
Castle even more than my own?"
"My fair lord," said Alleyne, with a flush on his weather-stained
cheeks, "the Lady Tiphaine may have spoken sooth when she said
it; for Twynham Castle is in my heart by day and in my dreams by
"Ha!" cried Sir Nigel, with a sidelong glance.
"Yes, my fair lord; for indeed I love your daughter, the Lady
Maude; and, unworthy as I am, I would give my heart's blood to
"By St. Paul! Edricson," said the knight coldly, arching his
eyebrows, "you aim high in this matter. Our blood is very old."
"And mine also is very old," answered the squire.
"And the Lady Maude is our single child. All our name and lands
centre upon her."
"Alas! that I should say it, but I also am now the only
"And why have I not heard this from you before, Alleyne? In
sooth, I think that you have used me ill."
"Nay, my fair lord, say not so; for I know not whether your
daughter loves me, and there is no pledge between us."
Sir Nigel pondered for a few moments, and then burst out a-laughing.
"By St. Paul!" said he, "I know not why I should mix in the matter;
for I have ever found that the Lady Maude was very well able to
look to her own affairs. Since first she could stamp her little
foot, she hath ever been able to get that for which she craved;
and if she set her heart on thee, Alleyne, and thou on her, I do
not think that this Spanish king, with his three-score thousand
men, could hold you apart. Yet this I will say, that I would see
you a full knight ere you go to my daughter with words of love.
I have ever said that a brave lance should wed her; and, by my
soul! Edricson, if God spare you, I think that you will acquit
yourself well. But enough of such trifles, for we have our work
before us, and it will be time to speak of this matter when we
see the white cliffs of England once more. Go to Sir William
Felton, I pray you, and ask him to come hither, for it is time
that we were marching. There is no pass at the further end of the
valley, and it is a perilous place should an enemy come upon us."
Alleyne delivered his message, and then wandered forth from the
camp, for his mind was all in a whirl with this unexpected news,
and with his talk with Sir Nigel. Sitting upon a rock, with his
burning brow resting upon his hands, he thought of his brother,
of their quarrel, of the Lady Maude in her bedraggled riding-dress,
of the gray old castle, of the proud pale face in the armory,
and of the last fiery words with which she had sped him on his way.
Then he was but a penniless, monk-bred lad, unknown and unfriended.
Now he was himself Socman of Minstead, the head of an old stock,
and the lord of an estate which, if reduced from its former size,
was still ample to preserve the dignity of his family. Further,
he had become a man of experience, was counted brave among brave
men, had won the esteem and confidence of her father, and, above
all, had been listened to by him when he told him the secret of
his love. As to the gaining of knighthood, in such stirring times
it was no great matter for a brave squire of gentle birth to aspire
to that honor. He would leave his bones among these Spanish
ravines, or he would do some deed which would call the eyes of
men upon him.
Alleyne was still seated on the rock, his griefs and his joys
drifting swiftly over his mind like the shadow of clouds upon a
sunlit meadow, when of a sudden he became conscious of a low,
deep sound which came booming up to him through the fog. Close
behind him he could hear the murmur of the bowmen, the occasional
bursts of hoarse laughter, and the champing and stamping of their
horses. Behind it all, however, came that low-pitched, deep-toned
hum, which seemed to come from every quarter and to fill the whole
air. In the old monastic days he remembered to have heard such a
sound when he had walked out one windy night at Bucklershard, and
had listened to the long waves breaking upon the shingly shore.
Here, however, was neither wind nor sea, and yet the dull murmur
rose ever louder and stronger out of the heart of the rolling sea
of vapor. He turned and ran to the camp, shouting an alarm at the
top of his voice.
It was but a hundred paces, and yet ere he had crossed it every
bowman was ready at his horse's head, and the group of knights
were out and listening intently to the ominous sound.
"It is a great body of horse," said Sir William Felton, "and they
are riding very swiftly hitherwards."
"Yet they must be from the prince's army," remarked Sir Richard
Causton, "for they come from the north."
"Nay," said the Earl of Angus, "it is not so certain; for the
peasant with whom we spoke last night said that it was rumored
that Don Tello, the Spanish king's brother, had ridden with six
thousand chosen men to beat up the prince's camp. It may be that
on their backward road they have come this way."
"By St. Paul!" cried Sir Nigel, "I think that it is even as you
say, for that same peasant had a sour face and a shifting eye, as
one who bore us little good will. I doubt not that he has
brought these cavaliers upon us."
"But the mist covers us," said Sir Simon Burley. "We have yet
time to ride through the further end of the pass."
"Were we a troop of mountain goats we might do so," answered Sir
William Felton, "but it is not to be passed by a company of
horsemen. If these be indeed Don Tello and his men, then we must
bide where we are, and do what we can to make them rue the day
that they found us in their path."
"Well spoken, William!" cried Sir Nigel, in high delight. "If
there be so many as has been said, then there will be much honor
to be gained from them and every hope of advancement. But the
sound has ceased, and I fear that they have gone some other way."
"Or mayhap they have come to the mouth of the gorge, and are
marshalling their ranks. Hush and hearken! for they are no great
way from us."
The Company stood peering into the dense fog-wreath, amidst a
silence so profound that the dripping of the water from the rocks
and the breathing of the horses grew loud upon the ear. Suddenly
from out the sea of mist came the shrill sound of a neigh,
followed by a long blast upon a bugle.
"It is a Spanish call, my fair lord," said Black Simon. "It is
used by their prickers and huntsmen when the beast hath not fled,
but is still in its lair."
"By my faith!" said Sir Nigel, smiling, "if they are in a humor
for venerie we may promise them some sport ere they sound the
mort over us. But there is a hill in the centre of the gorge on
which we might take our stand."
"I marked it yester-night," said Felton, "and no better spot
could be found for our purpose, for it is very steep at the back.
It is but a bow-shot to the left, and, indeed, I can see the
shadow of it."
The whole Company, leading their horses, passed across to the
small hill which loomed in front of them out of the mist. It was
indeed admirably designed for defence, for it sloped down in
front, all jagged and boulder-strewn, while it fell away in a
sheer cliff of a hundred feet or more. On the summit was a small
uneven plateau, with a stretch across of a hundred paces, and a
depth of half as much again.
"Unloose the horses!" said Sir Nigel. "We have no space for
them, and if we hold our own we shall have horses and to spare
when this day's work is done. Nay, keep yours, my fair sirs, for
we may have work for them. Aylward, Johnston, let your men form
a harrow on either side of the ridge. Sir Oliver and you, my
Lord Angus, I give you the right wing, and the left to you, Sir
Simon, and to you, Sir Richard Causton. I and Sir William Felton
will hold the centre with our men-at-arms. Now order the ranks,
and fling wide the banners, for our souls are God's and our
bodies the king's, and our swords for Saint George and for
Sir Nigel had scarcely spoken when the mist seemed to thin in the
valley, and to shred away into long ragged clouds which trailed
from the edges of the cliffs. The gorge in which they had camped
was a mere wedge-shaped cleft among the hills, three-quarters of
a mile deep, with the small rugged rising upon which they stood
at the further end, and the brown crags walling it in on three
sides. As the mist parted, and the sun broke through, it gleamed
and shimmered with dazzling brightness upon the armor and
headpieces of a vast body of horsemen who stretched across the
barranca from one cliff to the other, and extended backwards
until their rear guard were far out upon the plain beyond. Line
after line, and rank after rank, they choked the neck of the
valley with a long vista of tossing pennons, twinkling lances,
waving plumes and streaming banderoles, while the curvets and
gambades of the chargers lent a constant motion and shimmer to
the glittering, many-colored mass. A yell of exultation, and a
forest of waving steel through the length and breadth of their
column, announced that they could at last see their entrapped
enemies, while the swelling notes of a hundred bugles and drums,
mixed with the clash of Moorish cymbals, broke forth into a proud
peal of martial triumph. Strange it was to these gallant and
sparkling cavaliers of Spain to look upon this handful of men
upon the hill, the thin lines of bowmen, the knots of knights and
men-at-arms with armor rusted and discolored from long service,
and to learn that these were indeed the soldiers whose fame and
prowess had been the camp-fire talk of every army in Christendom.
Very still and silent they stood, leaning upon their bows, while
their leaders took counsel together in front of them. No clang
of bugle rose from their stern ranks, but in the centre waved the
leopards of England, on the right the ensign of their Company
with the roses of Loring, and on the left, over three score of
Welsh bowmen, there floated the red banner of Merlin with the
boars'-heads of the Buttesthorns. Gravely and sedately they
stood beneath the morning sun waiting for the onslaught of their
"By Saint Paul!" said Sir Nigel, gazing with puckered eye down
the valley, "there appear to be some very worthy people among
them. What is this golden banner which waves upon the left?"
"It is the ensign of the Knights of Calatrava," answered Felton.
"And the other upon the right?"
"It marks the Knights of Santiago, and I see by his flag that
their grand-master rides at their head. There too is the banner
of Castile amid yonder sparkling squadron which heads the main
battle. There are six thousand men-at-arms with ten squadrons of
slingers as far as I may judge their numbers."
"There are Frenchmen among them, my fair lord," remarked Black
Simon. "I can see the pennons of De Couvette, De Brieux, Saint
Pol, and many others who struck in against us for Charles of
"You are right," said Sir William, "for I can also see them.
There is much Spanish blazonry also, if I could but read it. Don
Diego, you know the arms of your own land. Who are they who have
done us this honor?"
The Spanish prisoner looked with exultant eyes upon the deep and
serried ranks of his countrymen.
"By Saint James!" said he, "if ye fall this day ye fall by no
mean hands, for the flower of the knighthood of Castile ride
under the banner of Don Tello, with the chivalry of Asturias,
Toledo, Leon, Cordova, Galicia, and Seville. I see the guidons
of Albornez, Cacorla, Rodriguez, Tavora, with the two great
orders, and the knights of France and of Aragon. If you will
take my rede you will come to a composition with them, for they
will give you such terms as you have given me."
"Nay, by Saint Paul! it were pity if so many brave men were drawn
together, and no little deed of arms to come of it. Ha! William,
they advance upon us; and, by my soul! it is a sight that is
worth coming over the seas to see."
As he spoke, the two wings of the Spanish host, consisting of the
Knights of Calatrava on the one side and of Santiago upon the
other, came swooping swiftly down the valley, while the main body
followed more slowly behind. Five hundred paces from the English
the two great bodies of horse crossed each other, and, sweeping
round in a curve, retired in feigned confusion towards their
centre. Often in bygone wars had the Moors tempted the hot-blooded
Spaniards from their places of strength by such pretended flights,
but there were men upon the hill to whom every ruse an trick of
war were as their daily trade and practice. Again and even nearer
came the rallying Spaniards, and again with cry of fear and
stooping bodies they swerved off to right and left, but the
English still stood stolid and observant among their rocks.
The vanguard halted a long bow shot from the hill, and with
waving spears and vaunting shouts challenged their enemies to
come forth, while two cavaliers, pricking forward from the
glittering ranks, walked their horses slowly between the two
arrays with targets braced and lances in rest like the
challengers in a tourney.
"By Saint Paul!" cried Sir Nigel, with his one eye glowing like
an ember, "these appear to be two very worthy and debonair
gentlemen. I do not call to mind when I have seen any people who
seemed of so great a heart and so high of enterprise. We have our
horses, Sir William: shall we not relieve them of any vow which
they may have upon their souls?"
Felton's reply was to bound upon his charger, and to urge it down
the slope, while Sir Nigel followed not three spears'-lengths
behind him. It was a rugged course, rocky and uneven, yet the
two knights, choosing their men, dashed onwards at the top of
their speed, while the gallant Spaniards flew as swiftly to meet
them. The one to whom Felton found himself opposed was a tall
stripling with a stag's head upon his shield, while Sir Nigel's
man was broad and squat with plain steel harness, and a pink and
white torse bound round his helmet. The first struck Felton on
the target with such force as to split it from side to side, but
Sir William's lance crashed through the camail which shielded
the Spaniard's throat, and he fell, screaming hoarsely, to the
ground. Carried away by the heat and madness of fight, the
English knight never drew rein, but charged straight on into the
array of the knights of Calatrava. Long time the silent ranks
upon the hill could see a swirl and eddy deep down in the heart
of the Spanish column, with a circle of rearing chargers and
flashing blades. Here and there tossed the white plume of the
English helmet, rising and falling like the foam upon a wave,
with the fierce gleam and sparkle ever circling round it until at
last it had sunk from view, and another brave man had turned from
war to peace.
Sir Nigel, meanwhile, had found a foeman worthy of his steel for
his opponent was none other than Sebastian Gomez, the picked
lance of the monkish Knights of Santiago, who had won fame in a
hundred bloody combats with the Moors of Andalusia. So fierce was
their meeting that their spears shivered up to the very grasp,
and the horses reared backwards until it seemed that they must
crash down upon their riders. Yet with consummate horsemanship
they both swung round in a long curvet, and then plucking out
their swords they lashed at each other like two lusty smiths
hammering upon an anvil. The chargers spun round each other,
biting and striking, while the two blades wheeled and whizzed and
circled in gleams of dazzling light. Cut, parry, and thrust
followed so swiftly upon each other that the eye could not follow
them, until at last coming thigh to thigh, they cast their arms
around each other and rolled off their saddles to the ground.
The heavier Spaniard threw himself upon his enemy, and pinning
him down beneath him raised his sword to slay him, while a shout
of triumph rose from the ranks of his countrymen. But the fatal
blow never fell, for even as his arm quivered before descending,
the Spaniard gave a shudder, and stiffening himself rolled
heavily over upon his side, with the blood gushing from his
armpit and from the slit of his vizor. Sir Nigel sprang to his
feet with his bloody dagger in his left hand and gazed down upon
his adversary, but that fatal and sudden stab in the vital spot,
which the Spaniard had exposed by raising his arm, had proved
instantly mortal. The Englishman leaped upon his horse and made
for the hill, at the very instant that a yell of rage from a
thousand voices and the clang of a score of bugles announced the
But the islanders were ready and eager for the encounter. With
feet firmly planted, their sleeves rolled back to give free play
to their muscles, their long yellow bow-staves in their left
hands, and their quivers slung to the front, they had waited in
the four-deep harrow formation which gave strength to their
array, and yet permitted every man to draw his arrow freely
without harm to those in front. Aylward and Johnston had been
engaged in throwing light tufts of grass into the air to gauge
the wind force, and a hoarse whisper passed down the ranks from
the file-leaders to the men, with scraps of advice and
"Do not shoot outside the fifteen-score paces," cried Johnston.
"We may need all our shafts ere we have done with them."
"Better to overshoot than to undershoot," added Aylward. "Better
to strike the rear guard than to feather a shaft in the earth."
"Loose quick and sharp when they come," added another. "Let it be
the eye to the string, the string to the shaft, and the shaft to
the mark. By Our Lady! their banners advance, and we must hold
our ground now if ever we are to see Southampton Water again."
Alleyne, standing with his sword drawn amidst the archers, saw a
long toss and heave of the glittering squadrons. Then the front
ranks began to surge slowly forward, to trot, to canter, to
gallop, and in an instant the whole vast array was hurtling
onward, line after line, the air full of the thunder of their
cries, the ground shaking with the beat of their hoots, the
valley choked with the rushing torrent of steel, topped by the
waving plumes, the slanting spears and the fluttering banderoles.
On they swept over the level and up to the slope, ere they met
the blinding storm of the English arrows. Down went the whole
ranks in a whirl of mad confusion, horses plunging and kicking,
bewildered men falling, rising, staggering on or back, while ever
new lines of horsemen came spurring through the gaps and urged
their chargers up the fatal slope. All around him Alleyne could
hear the stern, short orders of the master-bowmen, while the air
was filled with the keen twanging of the strings and the swish
and patter of the shafts. Right across the foot of the hill
there had sprung up a long wall of struggling horses and stricken
men, which ever grew and heightened as fresh squadrons poured on
the attack. One young knight on a gray jennet leaped over his
fallen comrades and galloped swiftly up the hill, shrieking
loudly upon Saint James, ere he fell within a spear-length of the
English line, with the feathers of arrows thrusting out from
every crevice and joint of his armor. So for five long minutes
the gallant horsemen of Spain and of France strove ever and again
to force a passage, until the wailing note of a bugle called them
back, and they rode slowly out of bow-shot, leaving their best
and their bravest in the ghastly, blood-mottled heap behind them.
But there was little rest for the victors. Whilst the knights
had charged them in front the slingers had crept round upon
either flank and had gained a footing upon the cliffs and behind
the outlying rocks. A storm of stones broke suddenly upon the
defenders, who, drawn up in lines upon the exposed summit,
offered a fair mark to their hidden foes. Johnston, the old
archer, was struck upon the temple and fell dead without a groan,
while fifteen of his bowmen and six of the men-at-arms were
struck down at the same moment. The others lay on their faces to
avoid the deadly hail, while at each side of the plateau a fringe
of bowmen exchanged shots with the slingers and crossbowmen
among the rocks, aiming mainly at those who had swarmed up the
cliffs, and bursting into laughter and cheers when a well-aimed
shaft brought one of their opponents toppling down from his lofty
"I think, Nigel," said Sir Oliver, striding across to the little
knight, "that we should all acquit ourselves better had we our
none-meat, for the sun is high in the heaven."
"By Saint Paul!" quoth Sir Nigel, plucking the patch from his
eye, "I think that I am now clear of my vow, for this Spanish
knight was a person from whom much honor might be won. Indeed, he
was a very worthy gentleman, of good courage, and great
hardiness, and it grieves me that he should have come by such a
hurt. As to what you say of food, Oliver, it is not to be
thought of, for we have nothing with us upon the hill."
"Nigel!" cried Sir Simon Burley, hurrying up with consternation
upon his face, "Aylward tells me that there are not ten-score
arrows left in all their sheaves. See! they are springing from
their horses, and cutting their sollerets that they may rush upon
us. Might we not even now make a retreat?"
"My soul will retreat from my body first!" cried the little
knight. "Here I am, and here I bide, while God gives me strength
to lift a sword."
"And so say I!" shouted Sir Oliver, throwing his mace high into
the air and catching it again by the handle.
"To your arms, men!" roared Sir Nigel. "Shoot while you may, and
then out sword, and let us live or die together!"
HOW THE WHITE COMPANY CAME TO BE DISBANDED.
Then up rose from the hill in the rugged Cantabrian valley a sound
such as had not been heard in those parts before, nor was again,
until the streams which rippled amid the rocks had been frozen by
over four hundred winters and thawed by as many returning
springs. Deep and full and strong it thundered down the ravine,
the fierce battle-call of a warrior race, the last stern welcome
to whoso should join with them in that world-old game where the
stake is death. Thrice it swelled forth and thrice it sank away,
echoing and reverberating amidst the crags. Then, with set
faces, the Company rose up among the storm of stones, and looked
down upon the thousands who sped swiftly up the slope against
them. Horse and spear had been set aside, but on foot, with
sword and battle-axe, their broad shields slung in front of them,
the chivalry of Spain rushed to the attack.
And now arose a struggle so fell, so long, so evenly sustained,
that even now the memory of it is handed down amongst the
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