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In the Days of Chivalry by Evelyn Everett-Green

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In the Days of Chivalry

A Tale of the Times of the Black Prince

by Evelyn Everett-Green.

CHAPTER I. THE TWIN EAGLETS.

Autumn was upon the world -- the warm and gorgeous autumn of the south
-- autumn that turned the leaves upon the trees to every hue of russet,
scarlet, and gold, that transformed the dark solemn aisles of the
trackless forests of Gascony into what might well have been palaces of
fairy beauty, and covered the ground with a thick and soundless carpet
of almost every hue of the rainbow.

The sun still retained much of its heat and power, and came slanting in
between the huge trunks of the forest trees in broad shafts of quivering
light. Overhead the soft wind from the west made a ceaseless, dreamy
music and here and there the solemn silence of the forest was broken by
the sweet note of some singing bird or the harsh croak of the raven. At
night the savage cry of the wolf too often disturbed the rest of the
scattered dwellers in that vast forest, and made a belated traveller
look well to the sharpness of his weapons and the temper of his
bowstring; but by day and in the sunlight the forest was beautiful and
quiet enough -- something too quiet, perhaps, for the taste of the two
handsome lads who were pacing the dim aisles together, their arms
entwined and their curly heads in close proximity as they walked and talked.

The two lads were of exactly the same height, and bore a strong likeness
one to the other. Their features were almost identical, but the
colouring was different, so that no one who saw them in a good light
would be likely to mistake or confuse them. Both had the oval face and
delicate regular features which we English sometimes call
"foreign-looking;" but then again they both possessed the broad
shoulders, the noble height, the erect carriage, and frank, fearless
bearing which has in it something distinctively English, and which had
distinguished these lads from their infancy from the children of the
country of their adoption. Then, though Raymond had the dark, liquid
eyes of the south, Gaston's were as blue as the summer skies; and again,
whilst Gaston's cheek was of a swarthy hue, Raymond's was as fair as
that of an English maiden; and both had some golden gleams in their
curly brown hair --- hair that clustered round their heads in a thick,
waving mass, and gave a leonine look to the bold, eager faces. "The lion
cubs" had been one of the many nicknames given to the brothers by the
people round, who loved them, yet felt that they would not always keep
them in their quiet forest. "The twin eaglets" was another such name;
and truly there was something of the keen wildness of the eagle's eye in
the flashing blue eyes of Gaston. The eager, delicate features and the
slightly aquiline noses of the pair added, perhaps, to this resemblance;
and there had been many whispers of late to the effect that the eaglets
would not remain long in the nest now, but would spread their wings for
a wider flight.

Born and bred though they had been at the mill in the great forest that
covered almost the whole of the district of Sauveterre, they were no
true children of the mill. What had scions of the great house of the De
Brocas to do with a humble miller of Gascony? The boys were true sons of
their house -- grafts of the parent stock. The Gascon peasants looked at
them with pride, and murmured that the day would come when they would
show the world the mettle of which they were made. Those were stirring
times for Gascony -- when Gascony was a fief of the English Crown,
sorely coveted by the French monarch, but tenaciously held on to by the
"Roy Outremer," as the great Edward was called; the King who, as was
rumoured, was claiming as his own the whole realm of France. And
Gascony, it must be remembered, did not in those days hold herself to be
a part of France nor a part of the French monarchy. She held a much more
important place than she would have done had she been a mere fief of the
French Crown. She had a certain independence of her own -- her own
language, her own laws, her own customs and she saw no humiliation in
owning the sovereignty of England's King, since she bad passed under
English rule through no act of conquest or aggression on England's part,
but by the peaceful fashion of marriage, when nearly two centuries ago
Eleanor of Aquitaine had brought to her lord, King Henry the Second, the
fair lands of which Gascony formed a part. Gascony had grown and
flourished apace since then, and was rich, prosperous, and content. Her
lords knew how important she might be in days to come, when the
inevitable struggle between the rival Kings of France and England should
commence; and like an accomplished coquette, she made the most of her
knowledge, and played her part well, watching her opportunity for
demanding an increase of those rights and privileges of which she had
not a few already.

But it was not of their country's position that the twin brothers were
so eagerly talking as they wandered together along the woodland paths.
It was little indeed that they knew of what was passing in the wide
world that lay beyond their peaceful home, little that they heard of the
strife of party or the suspicious jealousy of two powerful monarchs --
jealousy which must, as all long-sighted men well knew, break into open
warfare before long. It was of matters nearer to their own hearts that
the brothers spoke as they sauntered through the woodland paths
together; and Gaston's blue eyes flashed fire as he paused and tossed
back the tangled curls from his broad brow.

"It is our birthright -- our land, our castle. Do they not all say that
in old days it was a De Brocas, not a Navailles, that ruled there?
Father Anselm hath told us a thousand times how the English King issued
mandate after mandate bidding him give up his ill-gotten gains, and
restore the lands of his rival; and yet he failed to do it. I trow had I
been in the place of our grandsire, I would not so tamely have sat down
beneath so great an affront. I would have fought to the last drop of my
blood to enforce my rights, and win back my lost inheritance Brother,
why should not thou and I do that one day? Canst thou be content for
ever with this tame life with honest Jean and Margot at the mill? Are we
the sons of peasants? Does their blood run in our veins? Raymond, thou
art as old as I -- thou hast lived as long. Canst thou remember our dead
mother? Canst thou remember her last charge to us?"

Raymond had nodded his head at the first question; he nodded it again
now, a glance of strange eagerness stealing into his dark eyes. Although
the two youths wore the dress of peasant boys -- suits of undyed
homespun only very slightly finer in make than was common in those parts
-- they spoke the English tongue, and spoke it with purity and ease. It
needed no trained eye to see that it was something more than peasant
blood that ran in their veins, albeit the peasant race of Gascony in
those days was perhaps the freest, the finest, the most independent in
the whole civilized world.

"I remember well," answered Raymond quickly; "nay, what then?"

"What then? Spoke she not of a lost heritage which it behoved us to
recover? Spoke she not of rights which the sons of the De Brocas had
power to claim -- rights which the great Roy Outremer had given to them,
and which it was for them to win back when the time should come? Dost
thou remember? dost thou heed? And now that we are approaching to man's
estate, shall we not think of these things? Shall we not be ready when
the time comes?"

Raymond gave a quick look at his brother. His own eyes were full of
eager light, but he hesitated a moment before asking:

"And thinkest thou, Gaston, that in speaking thus our mother would fain
have had us strive to recover the castle and domain of Saut?"

"In good sooth yea," answered Gaston quickly. "Was it not reft from our
grandsire by force? Has it not been kept from him ever since by that
hostile brood of Navailles, whom all men hate for their cruelty and
oppression? Brother, have we not heard of dark and hideous deeds done in
that same castle -- deeds that shame the very manhood of those that
commit them, and make all honest folk curse them in their hearts?
Raymond, thou and I have longed this many a day to sally forth to fight
for the Holy Sepulchre against the Saracens; yet have we not a crusade
here at home that calls us yet more nearly? Hast thou not thought of it,
too, by day, and dreamed of it by night? To plant the De Brocas ensign
above the walls of Saut -- that would indeed be a thing to live for.
Methinks I see the banner already waving over the proud battlements."

Gaston's eyes flashed and glowed, and Raymond's caught an answering
gleam, but still he hesitated awhile, and then said:

"I fain would think that some day such a thing might be; but, Brother,
he is a powerful and wily noble, and they say that he is high in favour
with the Roy Outremer. What chance have two striplings like ourselves
against so strong a foe? To take a castle, men must be found, and money
likewise, and we have neither; and all men stand in deadly terror of the
wrath of the Sieur de Navailles. Do they not keep even our name a secret
from him, lest he should swoop down upon the mill with his armed
retainers and carry us off thence -- so hates he the whole family that
bears the name of De Brocas? What could we do against power such as his?
I trow nothing. We should be but as pygmies before a giant."

Gaston's face had darkened. He could not gainsay his brother's reluctant
words, but he chafed beneath them as a restive horse beneath the curb
rein tightly drawn.

"Yet our mother bid us watch and be ready. She spoke often of our lost
inheritance, and she knew all the peril, the danger."

Raymond's eyes sought his brother's face. He looked like one striving to
recall a dim and almost lost memory.

"But thinkest thou, Gaston, that in thus speaking our mother was
thinking of the strong fortress of Saut? I can scarce believe that she
would call that our birthright. For we are not of the eldest branch of
our house. There must be many whose title would prove far better than
our own. We might perchance win it back to the house of De Brocas by act
of conquest; but even so, I misdoubt me if we should hold it in peace.
We have proud kinsfolk in England, they tell us, whose claim, doubtless,
would rank before ours. They care not to cross the water to win back the
lands themselves, yet I trow they would put their claim before the King
did tidings reach them that their strong and wily foe had been ousted
therefrom. We win not back lands for others to hold, nor would we
willingly war against our own kindred. Methinks, my Brother, that our
mother had other thoughts in her mind when she spoke of our rightful
inheritance."

"Other thoughts! nay, now, what other thoughts?" asked Gaston, with
quick impatience. "I have never dreamed but of Saut. I have called it in
my thoughts our birthright ever since we could walk far enow to look
upon its frowning battlements perched upon yon wooded crag."

And Gaston stretched out his hand in the direction in which the Castle
of Saut lay, not many leagues distant.

"We have heard naught save of Saut ever since we could run alone. What
but that could our mother's words have boded? Sure she looked to us to
recover yon fortress as our father once meant to do?"

"I know not altogether, and yet I can scarce believe it was so. Would
that our father had left some commands we might have followed. But,
Brother, canst thou not recall that other name she spoke so many a time
and oft as she lay a-dying? Sure it was some such name as Basildon or
Basildene -- the name of some fair spot, I trow, where she must once
have lived. Gaston, canst thou remember the day when she called us to
her, and joined our hands together, and spoke of us as 'the twin
brothers of Basildene'? I have scarce thought of it from that hour to
this, but it comes back now clearly to my mind. In sooth, it might well
have been of Basildene she was thinking when she gave us that last
charge. What could she have known or cared for Saut and its domain? She
had fled hither from England, I know not why. She knew but little of the
ways and the thoughts of those amongst whom she had come to dwell. It
might well have been of her own land that she was thinking so oft. I
verily believe that Basildene is our lost inheritance."

"Basildene!" said Gaston quickly, with a start as of recollection
suddenly stirred to life; "sure I remember the name right well now that
thy words bring it back to mind. Yet it is years since I have heard it
spoke. Raymond, knowest thou where is this Basildene?"

"In England, I well believe," was the answer of the other brother.
"Methinks it was the name of our mother's home. I seem to remember how
she told us of it -- the old house over the sea, where she had lived.
Perchance it was once her own in very sooth, and some turbulent baron or
jealous kinsman drove her forth from it, even as we of the house of De
Brocas have been ousted from the Castle of Saut. Brother, if that be so,
Basildene is more our inheritance than yon gloomy fortress can be. We
are our mother's only children, and when she joined our hands together
she called us the twins of Basildene. I trow that we have an inheritance
of our very own, Gaston, away over the blue water yonder."

Gaston's eyes flashed with sudden ardour and purpose.

Often of late had the twins talked together of the future that lay
before them, of the doughty deeds they would accomplish; yet so far
nothing of definite purpose had entered into their minds. Gaston's
dreams had been all of the ancient fortress of Saut, now for long years
passed into the hands of the hostile family, the terrible and
redoubtable Sieur de Navailles, who was feared throughout the length and
breadth of the country round about his house. Raymond had been dimly
conscious of other thoughts and purposes, but memory was only gradually
recalling to his mind the half-forgotten days of childhood, when the
twin eaglets had stood at their mother's knee to talk with her in her
own tongue of the land across the water where was her home -- the land
to which their father had lately passed, upon some mission the children
were too young to understand.

Now the faint dim memories had returned clear and strong. The long
silence was broken. Eagerly the boys strove to recall the past, and bit
by bit things pieced themselves together in their minds till they could
not but marvel how they had so long forgotten. Yet it is often so in
youth. Days pass by one after the other unnoticed and unmarked. Then all
in a moment some new train of thought or purpose is awakened, a new
element enters life, making it from that day something different; and by
a single bound the child becomes a youth -- the youth a man.

Some such change as this was passing over the twin brothers at this
time. A deep-seated dissatisfaction with their present surroundings had
long been growing up in their hearts. They were happy in a fashion in
the humble home at the mill, with good Jean the miller, and Margot his
wife who had been their nurse and a second mother to them all their
lives; but they knew that a great gulf divided them from the Gascon
peasants amongst whom they lived -- a gulf recognized by all those with
whom they came in contact, and in nowise bridged by the fact that the
brothers shared in a measure the simple peasant life, and had known no
other.

Their very name of De Brocas spoke of the race of nobles who had long
held almost sovereign rights over a large tract of country watered by
the Adour and its many tributary streams; and although at this time, the
year of grace 1342, the name of De Brocas was no more heard, but that of
the proud Sieur de Navailles who now reigned there instead, the old name
was loved and revered amongst the people, and the boys were bred up in
all the traditions of their race, till the eagle nature at last asserted
itself, and they felt that life could no longer go on in its old
accustomed groove. Had they not been taught from infancy that a great
future lay before them? and what could that future be but the winning
back of their old ancestral lands and rights?

Perhaps they would have spoken more of this deeply-seated hope had it
not been so very chimerical -- so apparently impossible of present
fulfilment. To wrest from the proud and haughty Sieur de Navailles the
vast territory and strong castle that had been held by him in open
defiance of many mandates from a powerful King, was a task that even the
sanguine and ambitious boys knew to be a hundred times too hard for
them. If they had dreamed of it in their hearts, they had scarce named
the hope even to each other. But today the brooding silence had been
broken. The twins had taken counsel one with the other; and now burning
thoughts of this other fair inheritance were in the minds of both. What
golden possibilities did not open out before them? How small a matter it
seemed to cross the ocean and claim as their own that unknown Basildene!
Both were certain that their mother had held it in her own right. Sure,
if there were right or justice in the kingdom of the Roy Outremer, they
would but have to show who and what they were, to become in very fact
what their mother had loved to call them -- the twin brothers of Basildene.

How their young hearts swelled with delighted expectation at the thought
of leaving behind the narrow life of the mill, and going forth into the
wide world to seek fame and fortune there! And England was no such
foreign land to them, albeit they had never been above ten leagues from
the mill where they had been born and brought up. Was not their mother
an Englishwoman? Had she not taught them the language of her country,
and begged them never to forget it? And could they not speak it now as
well as they spoke the language of Gascony -- better than they spoke the
French of the great realm to which Gascony in a fashion belonged?

The thought of travel always brings with it a certain exhilaration,
especially to the young and ardent, and thoughts of such a journey on
such a quest could not but be tinged with all the rainbow hues of hope.

"We will go; we will go right soon!" cried Gaston. "Would that we could
go tomorrow! Why have we lingered here so long, when we might have been
up and doing years ago?"

"Nay, Brother, we were but children years ago. We are not yet sixteen.
Yet methinks our manhood comes the faster to us for that noble blood
runs in our veins. But we will speak to Father Anselm. He has always
been our kindest friend. He will best counsel us whether to go forth, or
whether to tarry yet longer at home --"

"I will tarry no longer; I pant to burst my bonds," cried the impetuous
Gaston; and Raymond was in no whit less eager, albeit he had something
more of his mother's prudence and self-restraint.

"Methinks the holy Father will bid us go forth," he said thoughtfully.
"He has oft spoken to us of England and the Roy Outremer, and has ever
bidden us speak our mother's tongue, and not forget it here in these
parts where no man else speaks it. I trow he has foreseen the day when
we should go thither to claim our birthright. Our mother told him many
things that we were too young to hear. Perchance he could tell us more
of Basildene than she ever did, if we go to him and question him thereupon."

Gaston nodded his head several times.

"Thou speakest sooth, Brother," said he. "We will go to him forthwith.
We will take counsel with him, albeit --"

Gaston did not finish his sentence, for two reasons. One was that his
brother knew so well what words were on his lips that speech was
well-nigh needless; the other, that he was at that moment rudely
interrupted. And although the brothers had no such thought at the time,
it is probable that this interruption and its consequences had a very
distinct bearing upon their after lives, and certainly it produced a
marked effect upon the counsel they subsequently received from their
spiritual father, who, but for that episode, might strongly have
dissuaded the youths from going forth so young into the world.

The interruption came in the form of an angry hail from a loud and gruff
voice, full of impatience and resentment.

"Out of my path, ye base-born peasants!" shouted a horseman who had just
rounded the sharp angle taken by the narrow bridle path, and was brought
almost to a standstill by the tall figures of the two stalwart youths,
which took up the whole of the open way between the trees and their
thick undergrowth. "Stand aside, ye idle loons! Know ye not how to make
way for your betters? Then, in sooth, I will teach you a lesson;" and a
thick hide lash came whirling through the air and almost lighted upon
the shoulders of Gaston, who chanced to be the nearer.

But such an insult as that was not to be borne. Even a Gascon peasant
might well have sprung upon a solitary adversary of noble blood had he
ventured to assault him thus, without support from his train of
followers. As for Gaston, he hesitated not an instant, but with flashing
eyes he sprang at the right arm of his powerful adversary, and had
wrested the whip from him and tossed it far away before the words were
well out of the angry lord's mouth.

With a great oath the man drew his sword; but the youth laughed him to
scorn as he stepped back out of reach of the formidable weapon. He well
knew his advantage. Light of foot, though all unarmed, he could defy any
horseman in this wooded spot. No horse could penetrate to the right or
left of the narrow track. Even if the knight dismounted, the twin
brothers, who knew every turn and winding of these dim forest paths,
could lead him a fine dance, and then break away and let him find his
way out as best he could. Fearless and impetuous as Gaston ever was, at
this moment his fierce spirit was stirred more deeply within him than it
had ever been before, for in this powerful warrior who had dared to
insult both him and his brother, ay, and their mother's fair fame too --
he recognized the lineaments of the hated Sieur de Navailles.

The more cautious Raymond had done the same, and now he spoke in low
though urgent accents.

"Have a care, Brother! Knowest thou who it be?"

"Know? ay, that I do. It is he who now holds by force and tyranny those
fair lands which should be ours -- lands which our forefathers held from
generation to generation, which should be theirs now, were right and
justice to be had, as one day it may be, when the Roy Outremer comes in
person, as men say he will one day come, and all men may have access to
his royal presence. And he, the tyrant, the usurper, dares to call us
base born, to call us peasants, we who own a nobler name than he!

"The day will come, proud man, when thou shalt rue the hour when thou
spakest thus to me -- to me who am thy equal, ay, and more than thy
equal, in birth, and who will some day come and prove it to thee at the
sword's point!"

Many expressions had flitted over the rider's face as these bold words
had been spoken -- anger, astonishment, then an unspeakable fury, which
made Gaston look well to the hand which held the shining sword; last of
all an immense astonishment of a new kind, a perplexity not unmixed with
dismay, and tinged with a lively curiosity. As the youth ceased speaking
the knight sheathed his sword, and when he replied his voice was pitched
in a very different key.

"I pray you pardon, young sirs," he said, glancing quickly from one
handsome noble face to the other. "I knew not that I spoke to those of
gentle birth. The dress deceived me. Tell me now, good youths, who and
whence are ye? You have spoken in parables so far; tell me more plainly,
what is your name and kindred?"

Raymond, who had heard somewhat of the enmity of the Sieur de Navailles,
and knew that their identity as sons of the house of De Brocas had
always been kept from his knowledge, here pressed his brother's arm as
though to suggest the necessity for caution; but Gaston's hot blood was
up. The talk they had been holding together had strung his nerves to the
utmost pitch of tension. He was weary of obscurity, weary of the peasant
life. He cared not how soon he threw off the mask. Asked a downright
question, even by a foe, it was natural to him to make a straightforward
answer, and he spoke without fear and without hesitation.

"We are the sons of Arnald de Brocas. De Brocas is our name; we can
prove it whenever such proof becomes needful. Our fathers held these
fair lands long ere you or yours did. The day may come when a De Brocas
may reign here once more, and the cursed brood of Navailles be rooted
out for ever."

And without waiting to see the effect produced by such words upon the
haughty horseman, the two brothers dashed off into the wood, and were
speedily lost to sight.

CHAPTER II. FATHER ANSELM.

The mill of Sainte-Foi, which was the home of the twin brothers of the
De Brocas line, was situated upon a tributary stream of the river Adour,
and was but a couple of leagues distant from the town of Sauveterre --
one of those numerous "bastides" or "villes Anglaises" built by the
great King Edward the First of England during his long regency of the
province of Gascony in the lifetime of his father. It was one of those
so-called "Filleules de Bordeaux" which, bound by strong ties to the
royal city, the queen of the Garonne, stood by her and played so large a
part in the great drama of the Hundred Years' War. Those cities had been
built by a great king and statesman to do a great work, and to them were
granted charters of liberties such as to attract into their walls large
numbers of persons who helped originally in the construction of the new
townships, and then resided there, and their children after them, proud
of the rights and immunities they claimed, and loyally true to the cause
of the English Kings, which made them what they were.

It is plain to the reader of the history of those days that Gascony
could never have remained for three hundred years a fief of the English
Crown, had it not been to the advantage of her people that she should so
remain. Her attachment to the cause of the Roy Outremer, her willing
homage to him, would never have been given for so long a period of time,
had not the people of the land found that it was to their own
advancement and welfare thus to accord this homage and fealty.

Nor is the cause for this advantage far to seek. Gascony was of immense
value to England, and of increasing value as she lost her hold upon the
more northerly portions of France. The wine trade alone was so
profitable that the nobility, and even the royal family of England,
traded on their own account. Bordeaux, with its magnificent harbour and
vast trade, was a queen amongst maritime cities. The vast "landes" of
the province made the best possible rearing ground for the chargers and
cavalry horses to which England owed much of her warlike supremacy;
whilst the people themselves, with their strength and independence of
character, their traditions of personal and individual freedom which can
be clearly traced back to the Roman occupation of the province, and
their long attachment to England and her King, were the most valuable of
allies; and although they must have been regarded to a certain extent as
foreigners when on English soil, they still assimilated better and
worked more easily with British subjects than any pure Frenchman had
ever been found to do.

Small wonder then that so astute a monarch as the First Edward had taken
vast pains to draw closer the bond which united this fair province to
England. The bold Gascons well knew that they would find no such
liberties as they now enjoyed did they once put themselves beneath the
rule of the French King. His country was already overgrown and almost
unmanageable. He might cast covetous eyes upon Gascony, but he would not
pour into it the wealth that flowed steadily from prosperous England. He
would not endow it with charters, each one more liberal than the last,
or bind it to his kingdom by giving it a pre-eminence that would but
arouse the jealousy of its neighbours. No: the shrewd Gaseous knew that
full well, and knew when they were well off. They could often obtain an
increase of liberty and an enlarged charter of rights by coquetting with
the French monarch, and thus rousing the fears of the English King; but
they had no wish for any real change, and lived happily and prosperously
beneath the rule of the Roy Outremer; and amongst all the freemen of the
Gascon world, none enjoyed such full privileges as those who lived
within the walls of the "villes Anglaises," of which Sauveterre was one
amongst the smaller cities.

The construction of these towns (now best seen in Libourne) is very
simple, and almost always practically the same -- a square in the centre
formed by the public buildings, with eight streets radiating from it,
each guarded by a gate. An outer ditch or moat protected the wall or
palisade, and the towns were thus fortified in a simple but effective
manner, and guarded as much by their own privileges as by any outer
bulwarks. The inhabitants were bound together by close ties, and each
smaller city looked to the parent city of Bordeaux, and was proud of the
title of her daughter.

Sauveterre and its traditions and its communistic life were familiar
enough, and had been familiar from childhood to the twin brothers.

Halfway between the mill and the town stood a picturesque and scattered
hamlet, and to this hamlet was attached a church, of which a pious
ecclesiastic, by name Father Anselm, had charge. He was a man of much
personal piety, and was greatly beloved through all the countryside,
where he was known in every hut and house for leagues around the doors
of his humble home. He was, as was so frequently the case in those
times, the doctor and the scribe, as well as the spiritual adviser, of
his entire flock; and he was so much trusted and esteemed that all men
told him their affairs and asked advice, not in the confessional alone,
but as one man speaking to another in whom he has strong personal
confidence.

The twin brothers knew that during the years when their dead mother had
resided at the mill with honest Jean and Margot (they began greatly to
wonder now why she had so lived in hiding and obscurity), she had been
constantly visited by the holy Father, and that she had told him things
about herself and her history which were probably known to no other
human being beside. Brought up as the youths had been, and trained in a
measure beneath the kindly eye of the priest, they would in any case
have asked his counsel and blessing before taking any overt step in
life; but all the more did they feel that they must speak to him now,
since he was probably the only person within their reach who could tell
them anything as to their own parentage and history that they did not
know already.

"We will go to him upon the morrow," said Gaston with flashing eyes. "We
will rise with the sun -- or before it -- and go to him ere his day's
work is begun. He will surely find time to talk with us when he hears
the errand upon which we come. I trow now that when he has sat at our
board, and has bent upon our faces those glances I have not known how to
read aright, he has been wondering how long it would be ere we should
awake to the knowledge that this peasant life is not the life of the De
Brocas race, guessing that we should come to him for counsel and
instruction ere we spread our wings to flee away. They call us eaglets
in sooth; and do eaglets rest for ever in their mountain eyry? Nay, they
spread their wings as strength comes upon them, and soar upwards and
onwards to see for themselves the great world around; even as thou and I
will soar away, Brother, and seek other fortunes than will ever be ours
here in Sauveterre."

With these burning feelings in their hearts, it was no wonder that the
twins uttered a simultaneous exclamation of satisfaction and pleasure
when, as they approached the mill, they were aware of the familiar
figure of Father Anselm sitting at the open door of the living house,
engaged, as it seemed, in an animated discussion with the worthy miller
and his good wife.

The look which the Father bent upon the two youths as they approached
betrayed a very deep and sincere affection for them; and when after
supper they asked to speak with him in private, he readily acceded to
their request, accepting the offer of a bed from the miller's wife, as
already the sun had long set, and his own home was some distance away.

The faces of Jean and Margot were grave with anxious thought, and that
of the priest seemed to reflect something of the same expression; for
during the course of the simple meal which all had shared together,
Gaston had told of the unlooked-for encounter with the proud Sieur de
Navailles in the forest, and of the defiance he had met with from the
twin eaglets. As the good miller and his wife heard how Gaston had
openly declared his name and race to the implacable foe of his house,
they wrung their hands together and uttered many lamentable
exclamations. The present Lord of Saut was terribly feared throughout
the neighbourhood in which he dwelt. His fierce and cruel temper had
broken forth again and again in acts of brutality or oppression from
which there was practically no redress. Free as the Gascon peasant was
from much or the serfdom and feudal servitude of other lands, he was in
some ways worse off than the serf, when he chanced to have roused the
anger of some great man of the neighbourhood. The power of the nobles
and barons -- the irresponsible power they too often held -- was one of
the crying evils of the age, one which was being gradually extinguished
by the growing independence of the middle classes. But such changes were
slow of growth, and long in penetrating beyond great centres; and it was
a terrible thing for a brace of lads, unprotected and powerless as these
twin brothers, to have brought upon themselves the hostility and
perchance the jealousy of a man like the Sieur de Navailles. If he
wished to discover their hiding place, he would have small difficulty in
doing so; and let him but once find that out, and the lives of the boys
would not be safe either by night or day. The retainers of the proud
baron might swoop down at any moment upon the peaceful mill, and carry
off the prey without let or hindrance; and this was why the secret of
their birth and name had been so jealously kept from all (save a few who
loved the house of De Brocas) by the devoted miller and his wife.

But Gaston little recked of the threatened peril. The fearless nature of
his race was in him, and he would have scorned himself had he failed to
speak out boldly when questioned by the haughty foe of his house. If the
De Brocas had been ruined in all else, they had their fearless honour
left them still.

But the priest's face was grave as he let the boys lead him into the
narrow bedchamber where they slept -- a room bare indeed of such things
as our eyes would seek, but which for the times was commodious and
comfortable enough. He was pondering in his mind what step must now be
taken, for it seemed to him as though the place of safety in the mill in
which their mother had left her sons could hide them no longer. Go they
must, of that he felt well assured; but where? That was a question less
easily answered offhand.

"Father," began Gaston eagerly, so soon as the door had closed behind
the three, and Raymond had coaxed the dim taper into its feeble flicker
-- "Father, we have come to thee for counsel -- for help. Father, chide
us not, nor call us ingrate; but it has come to this with us -- we can
no longer brook this tame and idle life. We are not of the peasant
stock; why must we live the peasant life? Father, we long to be up and
doing -- to spread our wings for a wider flight. We know that those who
bear our name are not hiding their heads in lowly cots; we know that our
sires have been soldiers and statesmen in the days that are past. Are we
then to hide our heads here till the snows of age gather upon them? Are
we, of all our race, to live and die obscure, unknown? Father, we cannot
stand it; it shall not be! To thee we come to ask more of ourselves than
yet we know. To thee our mother commended us in her last moments; to
thee she bid us look in days to come when we needed guidance and help.
Wherefore to thee we have come now, when we feel that there must surely
be an end to all of this. Tell us, Father, of our sire; tell us of our
kinsfolk. Where be they? Where may we seek them? I trow thou knowest
all. Then tell us, I beseech thee tell us freely all there is to know."

The good priest raised his eyes and thoughtfully scanned the faces of
the two eager youths. Gaston was actually shivering with repressed
excitement; Raymond was more calm, but not, as it seemed, one whit less
interested. What a strong and manly pair they looked! The priest's eyes
lighted with pride as they rested on the stalwart figures and noble
faces. It was hard to believe that these youths were not quite sixteen,
though man's estate was then accounted reached at an age which we should
call marvellously immature in these more modern days.

"My children," said the good old man, speaking slowly and with no small
feeling, "I have long looked for this day to come -- the day when ye
twain should stand thus before me and put this selfsame question."

"You have looked for it!" said Gaston eagerly; "then, in very sooth,
there is something to tell?"

"Yes, my children, there is a long story to tell; and it seemeth to me,
even as it doth to you, that the time has now come to tell it. This day
has marked an era in your lives. Methinks that from this night your
childhood will pass for ever away, and the life of your manhood
commence. May the Holy Mother of God, the Blessed Saints, and our
gracious Saviour Himself watch over and guard you in all the perils and
dangers of the life that lies before you!"

So solemn were the tones of the Father that the boys involuntarily sank
upon their knees, making the sign of the Cross as they did so. The
priest breathed a blessing over the two, and when they had risen to
their feet, he made them sit one on each side of him upon the narrow
pallet bed.

"The story is something long -- the story which will tell ye twain who
and what ye are, and why ye have been thus exiled and forced to dwell
obscure in this humble home; but I will tell all I know, and ye will
then see something of the cause.

"My children, ye know that ye have a noble name -- that ye belong to the
house of De Brocas, which was once so powerful and great in these fair
lands around this home of yours. I wot that ye know already some thing
of the history of your house, how that it was high in favour with the
great King of England, that first Edward who so long dwelt amongst us,
and made himself beloved by the people of these lands. It was in part
fidelity to him that was the cause of your kinsfolk's ruin: for whilst
they served him in other lands, following him across the sea when he was
bidden to go thither, the treacherous foe of the house of Navailles
wrested from them, little by little, all the lands they had owned here,
and not even the many mandates from the Roy Outremer sufficed to gain
them their rights again. It might have been done had the great Edward
lived; but when he died and his son mounted the throne, men found at
once how weak were the hands that held the sovereign power, and the
Sieur de Navailles laughed in his beard at commands he knew there was no
power to enforce. But listen again, my sons; that feeble King, despite
many and great faults, was not without some virtues also; and he did not
forget that the house of De Brocas had ruined itself in the cause of
himself and his father."

"Did he do aught to show his gratitude?"

"Thou shalt hear, my son. The younger Edward had not been many years
upon his father's throne before a great battle was fought by him against
the Scottish race his father had vanquished and subdued. These rebel
subjects revolted from under his hand, and he fought with them a battle
on the field of Bannockburn, in which he was overthrown and defeated,
and in which your grandsire, Arnald de Brocas, lost his life, fighting
gallantly for England's King."

"Our grandsire?" cried both the boys in a breath. "Tell us more of him."

"It is little that I know, my children, save what I have just said. He
served the King faithfully in life and death, and his sons reaped some
reward for their father's fidelity. At first, whilst they were quite
young, his three sons (of whom your father was the third) were sent to
dwell with their mother's relatives -- the De Campaines of Agen, of
whom, doubtless, ye have heard; but as they grew to man's estate, they
were recalled to the English Court, and received offices there, as many
another noble Gascon has done before them."

"Have we then uncles in England?" asked Raymond eagerly. "Then, if we
find but our way across the water, we may find a home with one of them?
Is it not so, good Father?"

The priest did not exclaim at the idea of the boys journeying forth
across the seas alone, but he shook his head thoughtfully as he
continued his narrative as if there had been no interruption.

"The English King was not unmindful of the service done him by the
father of these youths, and he promoted them to places of honour about
his Court. First, they were all made serviens of his own royal person,
and were brought up with his son, who is now the King; then, as I have
heard, they greatly endeared themselves to the Prince by loyalty and
faithful service. When he ascended the throne, and purged the Court of
the false favourites from this and other lands who had done so much ill
to that country, he was ably helped in the task before him by thy father
and thy two uncles; and I can well believe that this was so, seeing that
they were speedily advanced to posts of honour in the royal service."

"What posts?" asked the eager youths.

"The head of your branch of this noble house," continued the priest, "is
your uncle Sir John de Brocas, who is the King's Master of the Horse,
and the lord of many fair Manors and wide lands in England, and high in
favour with his master. Second in the line is your uncle Master Bernard
de Brocas, a clerk, and the Rector (as it is called in the realm of
England) of St. Nicholas, in or near a town that is called Guildford --
if I can frame my lips aright to the strange words. He too is high in
favour with the Roy Outremer, and, as I have heard, is oft employed by
him in these parts to quell strife or redress grievances; but I know not
how that may be. It is of thy father that I would fain speak to thee,
Gaston, for thou art heir to his name and estate if thou canst make good
the claim, as in time thou mayest yet. Listen whilst I tell all that I
know. Thy father -- Arnald -- was the youngest of the three sons of him
who died on the field of Bannockburn, and to him was given the post of
Master of the Horse to Prince John of Eltham. I misdoubt me if that
Prince is living yet; but of that I cannot speak with certainty. He was
also valettus or serviens to the King, and might have carved out for
himself as great a career as they, had it not been that he estranged
himself from his kindred, and even offended the King himself, by the
marriage that he made with Mistress Alice Sanghurst of Basildene."

The brothers exchanged quick glances as the name passed the priest's
lips. Their memory had not then played them false.

"But why were they thus offended? Was not our mother rightful owner of
Basildene? and is it not a fair heritage?"

"The reason for the ill will, my sons, I know not. Your mother did not
fully understand it, and from her lips it was I heard all this tale.
Perchance some nobler alliance was wished by the family and by the King
himself, perchance the young man acted something hastily, and gave
umbrage that might have been spared. I know not how that may have been.
All I for certainty know is that your father, Arnald, brought hither his
wife, flying from some menaced peril, fearful of capture and discovery;
and that here in this lonely mill, amongst those who had ever loved the
name of De Brocas, the sweet lady was able to hide her head, and to find
a place of safe refuge. Jean, then a youth, had been in the service of
Arnald, having been seized with a love of wandering in his boyhood,
which had led him to cross the sea to England, where he had fallen in
with your father and attached himself to his person. The elder Jean, his
father, was miller then and right glad was he to welcome back his son,
and give a shelter to the lady in her hour of need. Good Margot, as you
know, was your nurse when you were born; she had married Jean a short
time back, and her own babe had died the very week before you came into
the world. She has always loved you as her own, and though your mother
was taken from you, you have never lost a mother's love. Do not forget
that, my children, in the years to come; and if the time should ever be
when you can requite the faithful attachment of these two honest hearts,
be sure that you let not the chance slip."

"We will not," answered the boys in a breath. "But the rest of your
story, good Father."

"You shall hear it all, my sons. It was in the year of grace 1329 that
your father first brought his wife here, and in the following year you
twain were born. Your father stayed till he could fold you in his arms,
and bestow upon you the blessing of a father; but then his duties to his
master called him to England, and for a whole long year we heard no news
of him. At the end of that time a messenger arrived with despatches for
his lady. She sent to ask my help in reading these; and together we made
out that the letter contained a summons for her to join her lord in
England, where he would meet her at the port of Southampton, into which
harbour many of our vessels laden with wine put in for safe anchorage.
As for the children, said the letter, she must either bring or leave
them, as seemed best to her at the time; and after long and earnest
debate we resolved that she should go alone, and that you should be left
to good Margot's tender care. I myself escorted our gentle lady to
Bordeaux, and there it was easy to find safe and commodious transport
for her across the sea. She left us, and we heard no more until more
than a year had passed by, and she returned to us, sorely broken down in
mind and body, to tell a sorrowful tale."

"Sorrowful? Had our proud uncles refused to receive her?" asked Gaston,
with flashing eyes. "I trow if that be so --"

But the Father silenced him by a gesture.

"Wait and let me tell my tale, boy. Thou canst not judge till thou
knowest all. She came back to us, and to me she told all her tale, piece
by piece and bit by bit, not all at once, but as time and opportunity
served. And this is what I learned. When your father summoned her back
to join him, it was because her one brother was dead -- dead without
leaving children behind -- and her father, now growing old, wished to
see her once again, and give over to her before he died the fair domain
of Basildene, which she would now inherit, but to which she had had no
title when she married your father. It seemed like enow to both of them
that if Arnald de Brocas could lead a well-dowered bride to his
brothers' halls, all might be well between them and so it came about
when the old man died, and the lady had succeeded to the lands, that he
started forth to tell the news, not taking her, as the weather was
inclement, and she somewhat suffering from the damp and fog which they
say prevail so much in England, but faring forth alone on his embassy,
trusting to come with joy to fetch her anon."

"And did he not?" asked the boys eagerly.

"I will tell you what chanced in his absence. You must know that your
grandsire on your mother's side had a kinsman, by name Peter Sanghurst,
who had long cast covetous eyes upon Basildene. He was next of kin after
your mother, and he, as a male, claimed to call the property his. He had
failed to make good his claim by law; but so soon as he knew your mother
to be alone in the house, he came down upon it with armed retainers and
drove her forth ere she well knew what had befallen; and she, not
knowing whither her lord had gone, nor how to find him, and being in
sore danger from the malice of the wicked man who had wrested from her
the inheritance, and would gladly have done her to death, knew not what
better to do than to fly back here, leaving word for her lord where she
was to be found; and thus it came that ere she had been gone from us a
year, she returned in more desolate plight than at the first."

Gaston's face was full of fury, and Raymond's hands were clenched in an
access of rage.

"And what did our father then? Sure he waged war with the vile usurper,
and won back our mother's lands for her! Sure a De Brocas never rested
quiet under so foul an insult!"

"My sons, your father had been taught patience in a hard school. He
returned to Basildene, not having seen either of his brothers, who were
both absent on the King's business, to find his wife fled, and the place
in the firm grasp of the wily man, who well knew how to strengthen
himself in the possession of ill-gotten gains. His first care was for
your mother's safety, and he followed her hither before doing aught
else. When he found her safe with honest Jean and Margot, and when they
had taken counsel together, he returned to England to see what could be
done to regain the lost inheritance and the favour of his kinsmen who
had been estranged. You were babes of less than three summers when your
father went away, and you never saw him more."

"He did not come again?"

"Nay, he came no more, for all too soon a call which no man may disobey
came for him, and he died before the year was out."

"And had he accomplished naught?"

"So little that it must needs come to naught upon his death. He sent a
trusty messenger -- one of his stout Gascon henchmen -- over to us with
all needful tidings. But there was little of good to tell. He had seen
his brother, Sir John, the head of the family, and had been received not
unkindly by him; but in the matter of the recovery of Basildene the
knight had but shaken his head, and had said that the King had too many
great matters on hand just then to have leisure to consider so small a
petition as the one concerning a Manor of no repute or importance. If
Arnald had patience to wait, or to interest Prince John in the matter,
something might in time be done; but Peter Sanghurst would strive to
make good his claim by any means bad or good, and as he held possession
it might be difficult indeed to oust him. The property belonged to one
who had been a cause of much offence, and perchance that weighed with
Sir John and made him less willing to bestir himself in the matter. But
be that as it may, nothing had been done when Arnald de Brocas breathed
his last; and his wife, when she heard the tale, looked at you two young
children as you lay upon the grass at play, and she said with a sigh and
a smile, 'Father, I will wait till my boys be grown, for what can one
weak woman do alone? and then we will go together to the land that is
mine by birth, and my boys shall win back for me and for themselves the
lost inheritance of Basildene.'"

"And so we will!" cried Gaston, with flashing eyes; "and so we will!
Here as I stand I vow that we will win it back from the false and coward
kinsman who holds it now."

"Ay," answered Raymond, with equal ardour and enthusiasm, "that,
Brother, will we do; and we will win for ourselves the name that she
herself gave to us -- The Twin Brothers of Basildene."

CHAPTER III. THE UNKNOWN WORLD.

So that was the story of their past. That was why they two, with the
blood of the De Brocas running in their veins, had lived all their past
lives in the seclusion of a humble mill; why they had known nothing of
their kinsfolk, albeit they had always known that they must have kindred
of their own name and race; and why their mother upon her deathbed had
spoken to them not of any inheritance that they might look to claim from
descent through their father, but of Basildene, which was theirs in very
right, as it had been hers before, till her ambitious and unscrupulous
kinsman had driven her forth.

And now what should they do? Whither should they go; and what should be
the object of the lives -- the new lives of purpose and resolve which
had awakened within them?

Gaston had given voice to this feeling in vowing them to the attempt to
recover their lost heritage of Basildene, and Father Anselm did not
oppose either that desire or the ardent wish of the youths to fare forth
into the great world alone.

"My sons," he said a few days later, when he had come to see if the
twins held yet to their first resolve. "You are something young as yet
to sally forth into the unknown world and carve for yourselves your
fortunes there; but nevertheless I trow the day has come, for this place
is no longer a safe shelter for you. The Sieur de Navailles, as it is
told me, is already searching for you. It cannot be long before he finds
your hiding place, and then no man may call your lives safe by night or
day. And not only would ye yourselves be in peril, but peril would
threaten good Jean and Margot; and methinks you would be sorely loath
that harm should come to them through the faithful kindness they have
ever shown to you and yours."

"Sooner would we die than that one hair of their head should be
touched!" cried both the boys impetuously; "and Margot lives in fear and
trembling ever since we told her of the words we spoke to yon tyrant and
usurper of Saut. We told her for her comfort that he would think us too
poor and humble and feeble to vent his rage on us; but she shook her
head at that, and feared no creature hearing the name of De Brocas would
be too humble to be a mark for his spite. And then we told her that we
would sally forth to see the world, as we had ever longed to do and
though she wept to think that we must go, she did not bid us stay. She
said, as thou hast done, good Father, that she had known that such day
would surely come; and though it has come something early and something
suddenly, she holds that we shall be safer facing the perils of the
unknown world, than living here a mark for the spite and malice of the
foe of our house. If no man holds us back, why go we not forth tomorrow?"

The priest's face was grave and even sorrowful, but he made no objection
even to so rapid a move.

"My sons, if this thing is to be, it is small use to tarry and linger. I
would not that the Sieur de Navailles should know that you have hidden
your heads here so long; and a secret, however faithfully kept, that
belongs to many, may not be a secret always. It is right that you should
go, and with the inclement winter season hard upon us, with its dangers
from heavy snows, tempests at sea, and those raids from wolves that make
the peril of travellers when the cold once sets in, it behoves you, if
go ye must, to go right speedily. And in the belief that I should find
your minds made up and your preparations well-nigh complete, I have
brought to you the casket given into my charge by your mother on her
dying bed. Methinks that you will find therein gold enough to carry you
safe to England, and such papers as shall suffice to prove to your proud
kinsmen at the King's Court that ye are in very truth the sons of their
brother, and that it is of just and lawful right that you make your
claim to Basildene."

The brothers looked eagerly at the handsome case, wrought and inlaid
with gold, in which certain precious parchments had lain ever since they
had been carried in haste from England. The boys looked at these with a
species of awe, for they had but very scant knowledge of letters, and
such as they had acquired from the good Father was not enough to enable
them to master the contents of the papers. Learning was almost entirely
confined to the ecclesiastics in those days, and many were the men of
birth and rank who could scarce read or write their own name.

But the devices upon the parchments told a tale more easily understood.
There was the golden lion rampant upon the black ground -- the arms of
the De Brocas family, as the Father told them; whilst the papers that
referred to Basildene were adorned with a shield bearing a silver stag
upon an azure ground. They would have no difficulty in knowing the deeds
apart; and good Margot sewed them first into a bag of untanned leather,
and then stitched them safely within the breast of Gaston's leathern
jerkin. The golden pieces, and a few rings and trinkets that were all
that remained to the boys of their lost inheritance, were sewn in like
manner into Raymond's clothing, and there was little more to be done ere
the brothers went forth into the unknown world.

As for their worldly possessions, they were soon numbered, and comprised
little more than their clothing, their bows and arrows, and the poniards
which hung at their girdles. As they were to proceed on foot to
Bordeaux, and would probably journey in the same simple fashion when
they reached the shores of England, they had no wish to hamper
themselves with any needless encumbrances, and all that they took with
them was a single change of under vest and hose, which they were easily
able to carry in a wallet at their back. They sallied forth in the dress
they commonly wore all through the inclement winter season -- an
under-dress of warm blue homespun, with a strong jerkin of leather, soft
and well-dressed, which was as long as a short tunic, and was secured by
the girdle below the waist which was worn by almost all ranks of the
people in that age. The long hose were likewise guarded by a species of
gaiter of the same strong stuff. And a peasant clad in his own leather
garments was often a match for a mailed warrior, the tough substance
turning aside sword point or arrow almost as effectually as a coat of
steel, whilst the freedom and quickness of motion allowed by the simpler
dress was an immense advantage to the wearer in attack or defence.

The good Father looked with tender glances at the brave bright boys as
they stood forth on the morning of their departure, ready to sally out
into the wide world with the first glimpse of dawn. He had spent the
previous night at the mill, and many words of fatherly counsel and good
advice had he bestowed upon the lads, now about to be subjected to
temptations and perils far different from any they had known in their
past life. And his words had been listened to with reverent heed, for
the boys loved him dearly, and had been trained by him in habits of
religious exercise, more common in those days than they became, alas in
later times. They had with them an English breviary which had been one
of their mother's most valued possessions, and they promised the Father
to study it with reverent heed; for they were very familiar with the
petitions, and could follow them without difficulty despite their
rudimentary education. So that when they knelt before him for his last
blessing, he was able to give it with a heart full of hope and tender
confidence; and he felt sure that whether the lads went forth for weal
or woe, he should (if they and he both lived through the following
years) see their faces again in this selfsame spot. They would not
forget old friends -- they would seek them out in years to come; and if
fate smiled upon their path, others would share in the sunshine of their
good fortune.

And so the boys rose to their feet again to meet a proud, glad smile
from the eyes of the kind old man; and though Margot's face was buried
in her apron, and honest Jean was not ashamed to let the tears run down
his weatherbeaten face, there was no attempt made to hinder or to sadden
the eager lads. They kissed their good nurse with many protestations of
love and gratitude, telling her of the days to come when they would
return as belted knights, riding on fine horses, and with their esquires
by their side, and how they would tell the story of how they had been
born and bred in this very mill, and of all they owed to those who had
sheltered them in their helpless infancy.

The farewells once over, with the inevitable sadness that such scenes
must entail, the boys' spirits rose with wonderful celerity. True, they
looked back with fond glances at the peaceful homestead where their
childhood had been passed, as they reached the ridge of the undulating
plain from which the last glimpse of the red roofs and tumbling water
was to be had. Raymond even felt a mist rise before his eyes as he stood
and gazed, and Gaston dashed his hand impatiently across his eyes as
though something hindered his vision; but his voice was steady and full
of courage as he waved his right arm and cried aloud:

"We will come back! we will see this place again! Ah, Raymond, methinks
I shall love it better then than I do today; for though it has been a
timely place of shelter, it has not been -- it never could be -- our
true home. Our home is Basildene, in the fair realm of England's King. I
will rest neither day nor night until I have looked upon the home our
mother dwelt in, and have won the right to call that home our own."

Then the brothers strode with light springy steps along the road which
would in time lead them to the great seaport city of Bordeaux, towards
which all the largest roads of the whole province converged.

The royal city of the Garonne was full forty leagues away -- over a
hundred British miles -- and the boys had never visited it yet, albeit
their dream had long been to travel thither on their feet, and see the
wonders of which travellers spoke. A day's march of ten leagues or more
was as nothing to them. Had the days been longer they would have done
more, but travelling in the dark through these forest-clad countries was
by no means safe, and the Father had bid them promise that they would
always strive to seek shelter ere the shades of night fell; for great
picks of wolves ravaged the forests of Gascony until a much later date,
and though the season of their greatest boldness and fierceness had not
yet come, they were customers not to be trifled with at any time, and a
hunting knife and a crossbow would go but a small way in defence if a
resolute attack were to be made by even half-a-dozen of the fierce beasts.

But the brothers thought not of peril as they strode through the clear
crisp air, directing their course more by the sun than by any other
guide, as they pursued their way engrossed in eager talk. They were
passing through the great grazing pastures, the Landes of Gascony, which
supplied England with so many of her best horses, and walking was easy
and they covered the ground fast. Later on would come dark stretches of
lonely forest, but here were smiling pasture and bright sunshine and the
brothers talked together of the golden future before them, of their
proud kinsmen at the King's Court, of the Roy Outremer himself, and of
Basildene and that other treacherous kinsman there. As they travelled
they debated within themselves whether it were better to seek first the
countenance of their uncles on their father's side, or whether to make
their way first to Basildene and see what manner of place it was, and
what likelihood there seemed of ousting the intruder.

How to decide this point themselves the brothers did not know; but as it
chanced, fortune was to decide it for them in her own fashion, and that
before many suns had set.

Two days of travel had passed. The brothers had long left behind them
every trace of what had been familiar to them in the old life. The
evening of the third day was stealing fast upon them, and they were yet,
as it seemed, in the heart of the vast forest which they had entered
soon after noon, and which they had hoped to pass completely through
before the daylight waned. They had been told that they might look, if
they pushed on fast, to reach the town of Castres by nightfall; but the
paths through the forest were intricate: they had several times felt
uncertain as to whether they were going right. Now that the darkness was
coming on so fast they were still more uncertain, and more than once
they had heard behind and before them the unmistakable howl of the wolf.

The hardy twins would have thought nothing of sleeping in the open air
even at this somewhat inclement season; but the proximity of the wolves
was unpleasant. For two days the cold had been sharp, and though it was
not probable that it had yet seriously interfered with the supplies of
the wild beasts, yet it was plain that they had emerged from their
summer retreats in the more remote parts of the forest, and were
disposed to venture nearer to the habitable world on the outskirts. If
the brothers slept out of doors at all, it would have to be in the fork
of some tree, and in that elevated position they would be likely to feel
the cold rather keenly, though down below in some hollow trunk they
could make themselves a warm nest enough. Mindful of their promise to
the priest, they resolved to try yet to reach some hut or place of
shelter, however rude, before the night absolutely closed in, and
marched quickly forward with the practised tread of those born to forest
life.

Suddenly Gaston, who was a couple of paces in the front, paused and laid
a hand upon his brother's arm.

"Hist!" he said below his breath. "Methought I heard a cry."

Raymond stopped short and listened, too. Yes; there was certainly some
tumult going on a little distance ahead of them. The brothers
distinguished the sound of human voices raised in shrill piercing cries,
and with that sound was mingled the fierce baying note that they had
heard too often in their lives to mistake at any time.

"It is some traveller attacked by wolves!" cried the brothers in a
breath, and without a single thought of their own peril the gallant boys
tore headlong through the dark wood to the spot whence the tumult proceeded.

Guided by the sound of shouts, cries, and the howling of the beasts, the
brothers were not long in nearing the scene of the strife.

"Shout aloud!" cried Gaston to his brother as they ran. "Make the
cowardly brutes believe that a company is advancing against them. It is
the best, the only chance. They will turn and fly if they think there be
many against them."

Raymond was not slow to act upon this hint. The next moment the wood
rang again to the shouts and calls of the brothers, voice answering to
voice till it seemed as though a score of men were approaching. The
brothers, moreover, knew and used the sharp fierce call employed by the
hunters of the wolves in summoning their dogs to their aid -- a call
that they knew would be heard and heeded by the savage brutes, who would
well know what it meant. And in effect the artifice was perfectly
successful; for ere they had gained the spot upon which the struggle had
taken place, they heard the breaking up of the wolf party, as the
frightened beasts dashed headlong through the coverts, whilst their
howling and barking died away in the distance, and a great silence
succeeded.

"Thank Heaven for a timely rescue!" they heard a voice say in the
English tongue; "for by my troth, good Malcolm, I had thought that thou
and I would not live to tell this tale to others. But where are our good
friends and rescuers? Verily, I have seen nothing, yet there must have
been a good dozen or more. Light thy lantern, an thou canst, and let us
look well round us, for by the mass I shall soon think we have been
helped by the spirits of the forest."

"Nay, fair sir, but only by two travellers," said Gaston, advancing from
the shadow of the giant trees, his brother closely following him. "We
are ourselves benighted in this forest, having by some mischance lost
our road to Castres, which we hoped to have sighted ere now. Hearing the
struggle, and the shouts with which you doubtless tried to scare off the
brutes, we came to see if we might not aid, and being well acquainted
with the calls of the hunters of the wolves, succeeded beyond our hopes.
I trust the cowardly and treacherous beasts have done you no injury?"

"By my troth, it is strange to hear my native tongue in these parts, and
so fairly spoken withal. I trust we are not bewitched, or the sport of
spirits. Who art thou, brave boy? and whence comest thou? How comes it
that thou, being, as it seems, a native of these parts, speakest so well
a strange language?"

"It was our mother's tongue," answered Gaston, speaking nevertheless
guardedly, for he had been warned by the Father not to be too ready to
tell his name and parentage to all the world. "We are bound for
Bordeaux, and thence to England, to seek our mother's kindred, as she
bid us ere she died."

"If that be so, then let us join forces and travel on together," said he
whom they had thus succoured, a man well mounted on a fine horse, and
with a mounted servant beside him, so that the brothers took him for a
person of quality, which indeed he was, as they were soon to learn.
"There is safety in numbers, and especially so in these inhospitable
forest tracks, where so many perils beset the traveller. I have lost my
other stout fellows in the windings of the wood, and it were safer to
travel four than two. Riding is slow work in this gloom. I trow ye will
have no trouble in keeping pace with our good chargers."

The hardy Gascon boys certainly found no difficulty about that. Gaston
walked beside the bridle rein of the master, whilst Raymond chatted
amicably to the man, whose broad Scotch accent puzzled him a little, and
led in time to stories of Border warfare, and to the tale of
Bannockburn, told from a Scotchman's point of view; to all of which the
boy listened with eager interest. As for Gaston, he was hearing of the
King's Court, the gay tourneys, the gallant feats of arms at home and
abroad which characterized the reign of the Third Edward. The lad drank
in every item of intelligence, asking such pertinent questions, and
appearing so well informed upon many points, that his interlocutor was
increasingly surprised, and at last asked him roundly of his name and
kindred.

Now the priest had warned the boys at starting not to speak with too
much freedom to strangers of their private affairs, and had counselled
them very decidedly not to lay claim at starting to the name of De
Brocas, and thus draw attention to themselves at the outset. There was
great laxity in the matter of names in ages when penmanship was a
recondite art, and even in the documents of the period a name so well
known as that of De Brocas was written Broc and Brook, Brocaz and
Brocazt, and half-a-dozen more ways as well. Wherefore it mattered the
less what the lads called themselves, and they had agreed that Broc,
without the De before it, would be the best and safest patronymic for
them in the present.

"We are twin brothers, may it please you, fair sir; English on our
mother's side, though our father was a Gascon. Our father was much in
England likewise, and, as we hear, held some office about the Court,
though of its exact nature we know not. Both our parents died many long
years since; but we have never ceased to speak the tongue of England,
and to dream of one day going thither. Our names are Gaston and Raymond
Broc, and we are going forth at last in search of the adventures which
men say in these warlike days may be found by young and old, by rich and
poor. Our faces are set towards England. What may befall us there kind
Fortune only knows."

Something in the frank and noble bearing of the lad seemed to please the
knightly stranger. He laid a friendly hand on Gaston's shoulder as the
youth paced with springy strides beside him.

"I trow thou art a mettlesome knave, and I owe thee and thy brother
something more than fair words for the service ye have rendered me this
night. I have lost three or four of my followers by disease and accident
since I left the shores of England. Boy, what sayest thou to taking
service with me for a while -- thou and thy brother likewise -- and
journeying to fair England as two of my young esquires? I like you well,
and in these days it is no small thing to rank in one's train those to
whom the language of Gascony is familiar. I trow ye be able to speak the
French tongue likewise, since ye be so ready with our foreign English?"

"Ay, we can both speak and understand it," answered Gaston, whose cheeks
had crimsoned with eager delight; "but we speak English better. Good
Sir, we could desire nothing better than to follow you to the world's
end; but we have not been trained to the use of arms, nor to knightly
exercises. I know not if we could make shift to please you, be our
service never so faithful."

"In such a case as that, sure I should be a hard master to please,"
returned the other, and Gaston knew from his voice that he was smiling.
"But we need not settle it all out here in this dark wood. You must wait
awhile to see what manner of man it is you speak of serving. And you may
at least be my companions of voyage across the sea, though once on
English shores you shall please yourselves whether or not you serve me
farther. As for my name, it is James Audley, and I am one of the King's
knights. I am now bound for Windsor -- thou hast doubtless heard of
Windsor, the mighty fortress where the King holds his Court many a time
and oft. Well, it hath pleased his Majesty of late to strive to bring
back those days of chivalry of which our bards sing and of which we hear
from ancient legend -- days that seem to be fast slipping away, and
which it grieves our most excellent King to see die out in his time.
Hast heard, boy, of the great King Arthur of whom men wrote and sung in
days gone by? Has his fame reached as far as thy Gascon home?"

"Yea, verily," answered Gaston eagerly. "Our mother in long-past days
would speak to us of that great King, and of his knights, and of the
Round Table at which they sat together, their King in their midst --"

"Ay, truly thou knowest well the tale, and it is of this same Round
Table I would speak. The King has thought good to hold such a Round
Table himself, and has sent forth messages to numbers of his knights to
hold themselves in readiness to attend it early in the year which will
soon be upon us. Men say that he is building a wondrous round tower at
his fortress of Windsor, wherein his Round Table will be placed and the
feast celebrated. I know not with what truth they rumour this, but it is
like enough, for his Majesty hath the love of his people and a kingly
mind; and what he purposes he makes shift to carry out, and that right
speedily. But be that as it may, there is no mistaking his royal summons
to his Round Table, and I am hastening back across the water to be at
Windsor on the appointed day; and if it will pleasure you twain to
journey thither with me, I trow you will see things the like of which
you have never dreamed before; and sure a better fashion of entering
life could scarce be found than to follow one of the King's knights to
one of the fairest assemblies of chivalry that the world has ever locked
upon."

And indeed Gaston thought so too. His breath was taken away by the
prospect. He was dazzled by the very thought of such a thing, and his
words of eager thanks were spoken with the falterings of strong emotion.

The road had widened out here, and the travellers had got free of the
forest. Lights sparkled pleasantly in front of them, and Raymond had
come up in time to hear the offer just made. The eager delight of the
two lads seemed to please the brave Sir James, who was not much more
than a youth himself, as we should reckon things now, though
four-and-twenty appeared a more advanced age then.

As the travellers at last found themselves within the precincts of a
fairly comfortable hostelry, and the horsemen dismounted at the door and
entered the inn, Sir James pushed the two lads into the lighted room
before him, and looked them well over with a pair of searching but
kindly blue eyes. He was himself a fine man, of noble stature and
princely hearing. His face was pleasant, though it could be stern too on
occasion, and the features were regular and good. The boys had never
seen such a kingly-looking man, and their hearts went out to him at
once. As for him, he looked from one bright face to the other, and
nodded his head with a smile.

"Methinks you will make a pair of gallant squires," he said. "So long as
it pleases you to remain in my service, you may call yourselves my men,
and receive from my hands what my other servants do."

CHAPTER IV. THE MASTER OF THE HORSE.

What a wonderful experience it was for the twin brothers to find
themselves for the first time in their lives upon the great ocean of
which they had so many times heard! As the little vessel, with her cargo
of wine, plunged merrily through the white-crested waves, bearing her
freight northward through the stormy Bay of Biscay to the white shores
of Albion, the brothers loved to stand in the pointed prow of the brave
little craft, feeling the salt spray dashing in their faces, and
listening to the swirl of water round the ship's sides as she raced
merrily on her way. Now indeed, were they well embarked upon a career of
adventure and glory. Were they not habited like the servants of an
English knight -- their swords by their sides (if need be), their
master's badge upon their sleeves? Were they not bound for the great
King's Court -- for the assembly of the Round Table, of which, as it
seemed, all men were now talking? Would they not see their own kinsmen,
feel their way perhaps to future friendship with those who bore their
own name? For the present they were dubbed Brook by the English servants
with whom they associated, though more frequently they went by their
Christian names alone.

It was the fashion in these times to think well of the Gascon race. The
King set the example, knowing how useful such men were like to be to him
in days to come; and these lads, who spoke English almost as their
mother tongue, and were so full of spirit, grace, and vivacity, rapidly
rose in favour both with Sir James himself and with his retinue. No
auspices could well have been more favourable for the lads upon their
first entrance into the great world, and they only wished that Father
Anselm could hear of their good fortune.

They had settled now to let the visit to Basildene stand over for a
time. They had but the vaguest idea where to seek their mother's home.
The priest could not help them to any information on this point, and the
way to Windsor was open. Their kinsfolk there could possibly give them
news of Basildene, even did they decide to keep their own true name a
secret for a time. There could be no doubt as to the wisdom of learning
something of their mother's country and the ways of its sons before they
launched themselves upon a difficult and possibly dangerous quest.

With what strange feelings did the brothers first set eyes upon the
shores of England, as the little sloop slid merrily into the smoother
Solent, after a rough but not unpleasant passage! How they gazed about
them as they neared the quays of Southampton, and wondered at the
contrast presented by this seaport with the stately and beautiful city
of Bordeaux, which they had seen a fortnight back! Certainly this
English port could not compare with her a single moment, yet the boys'
hearts bounded with joyful exhilaration as they first set foot on
English soil. Was not the first step of their wild dream safely and
prosperously accomplished? Might they not augur from this a happy and
prosperous career till their aim and object was accomplished?

Their master had some business to transact in and about Southampton
which detained him there many days; but the Gaston lads found no fault
with this arrangement, for everything they saw was new and full of
interest; they were well lodged and well fed without cost to themselves,
and had full license to go where they would and do what they would, as
their master had no present use for their services.

Gaston and Raymond had no desire to idle away their time without profit
to themselves, and after taking counsel with honest Malcolm, who had a
great liking for the boys, they put themselves under the instruction of
a capable swordsman, who undertook to teach them the art of using those
weapons with skill and grace. As their natural quickness of eye and
strength of hand made them quickly proficient in this exercise, they
became anxious to try their skill at the more difficult sport of
tilting, then so much in vogue with both knights and gentlemen -- a
sport which the King greatly encouraged as likely to be excellent
training for those charges of his picked horsemen which so often turned
the fortunes of the day in his favour in the sterner game of war.

Both the Gascon youths were good horsemen; not that they had ever owned
a horse themselves, or had ridden upon a saddle after the fashion of
knights and their esquires, but they had lived amongst the droves of
horses that were bred upon the wide pasture lands of their own country,
and from childhood it had been their favourite pastime to get upon the
back of one of these beautiful, unbroken creatures, and go careering
wildly over the sweeping plain. That kind of rough riding was as good a
training as they could have had, and when once they had grown used to
the feel of a saddle between their knees, and had learned the right use
of rein and spur, they became almost at once excellent and fearless
riders, and enjoyed shivering a lance or carrying off a ring or a
handkerchief from a pole as well as any of their comrades. So that the
month they passed in the seaport town was by no means wasted on them,
and when they took to horse once again to accompany Sir James on his way
to Windsor, they felt that they had made great strides, and were very
different from the country-bred Gascon youths of two months back.

There was one more halt made in London, that wonderful city of which
time fails us to speak here; and in that place a new surprise awaited
the young esquires, for they and their comrades who wore Sir James
Audley's livery were all newly equipped in two new suits of clothes, and
these of such a sumptuous description as set the boys agape with wonder.

Truly as we read of the bravery in which knights and dames and their
servants of old days were attired, one marvels where the money came from
to clothe them all. It could have been no light thing to be a great man
in such times, and small wonder was it that those who lived in and about
the Court, whose duty it was to make a brave show in the eyes of
royalty, were so often rewarded for trifling services by the gifts of
Manors, benefices, or wardships; for the cost of keeping up such state
as was required was great indeed, and could not have been done without
some adequate compensation.

Sir James had always been a favourite with the King, as he was with the
Prince of Wales -- the Black Prince of the days to come. He had at
various times received marks of the royal favour by substantial grants,
and was resolved to appear at this festival of the Round Table in such
guise as should be fitting to his rank and revenues.

Thus it came about that the Gascon youths found themselves furnished
with tunics of blue and silver, richly embroidered with their master's
cognizances, and trimmed with costly fur, with long mantles of blue
cloth fastened with golden clasps, with rich girdles, furnished with
gipciere and anelace, and hose and long embroidered shoes, such as they
began to see were the fashion of the day in England. Their stout nags,
which had carried them bravely thus far, were now exchanged for handsome
animals of a better breed, horses trained to knightly exercises, and
capable of carrying their masters bravely through any game of battle or
tourney such as the King loved to organize when he had his knights round
him. It was often that the esquires as well as the knights competed in
these contests of skill and strength, or followed their masters into
some great melee, and it was a point of honour with the latter that
their followers should be well and suitably equipped for the sport.

"By my faith, but I wish good Margot and the holy Father could see us
now," quoth Gaston, laughing, as Sir James and his followers sallied
forth one bright December morning to take their last stage on the
journey to Windsor.

They had traversed the main distance the day previously, for Sir James
had no wish to arrive weary and travel stained at the King's Court.
Orders had been given for every man to don his best riding dress and
look well to the trappings of his steed, and it was a gallant-looking
company indeed that sallied out from the door of the wayside hostelry
and took the road towards the great Castle, glimpses of which began from
time to time to be visible through the trees.

"I trow they would scarce know us! There be moments, Raymond, when I
scarce know myself for the same. It seems as though years had passed
since we left the old home, and by the Mass I feel as though I were a
new being since then!"

"Yea, verily, and I also," answered Raymond, looking round him with
eager eyes. "Gaston, look well about thee; for by what Malcolm says,
these very woods through which we shall pass, and the Manor of old
Windsor hard by, are the property of our uncle Sir John de Brocas, the
King's Master of the Horse; and by what I hear, methinks we shall see
him in the flesh ere the day has passed."

"Ha!" exclaimed Gaston, with interest; "if that be so let us heed him
well, for much of our future may hang on him. He is in the King's
favour, they say, and if he did but plead our cause with the Roy
Outremer, we might well look to call Basildene our home ere long."

"We must call him no longer the Roy Outremer," said Raymond, with a
smile. "If we are to be the brothers of Basildene, we must be English
subjects and he our liege lord."

"True," answered Gaston readily; "and methinks, if he be what all men
say, it will be no hardship to own ourselves his subjects. I would ten
thousand times sooner call myself so than be servant to yon weak and
treacherous King of France."

At that moment an interruption occurred to delay the little cavalcade
for a few moments. The road they were traversing led them past a solid
gateway, which showed that upon one side at least the property was that
of a private individual; and just as they were approaching this gateway
the portal swung open, and out of it rode a fine-looking man of middle
age and imposing aspect, followed by three youths richly attired, and by
some dozen mounted attendants. The leader of the party wore a dress that
was evidently the livery of some office -- a tunic of blue and a cape of
white Brussels cloth. His cap was of white and blue, and the King's
badge of a silver swan was fastened in the front.

As he rode out, the esquires round Gaston and Raymond drew rein and
whispered one to another:

"It is the King's Master of the Horse!"

Eagerly and curiously the two lads gazed at the face and figure of the
kinsman now before them, whilst Sir James spurred his horse forward, a
smile lighting up the grave face of the King's servant.

"Marry well met, good Sir James!" was the hearty greeting of the latter,
as the two men grasped hands. "I warrant you will be welcome at the
Castle, whither, I doubt not, your steps are bent. It was but two days
since that his Majesty was asking news of you, no man knowing rightly
whither you had gone, nor upon what errand. There be fine musterings
already at the Court, and every day brings some fresh faces to the
gathering assembly. I trow that such a sight as will shortly be
witnessed within those walls has scarce been seen by England before."

"Nay, nor since the days of good King Arthur, if all be true that I have
heard," answered Sir James. "Be these gallant youths your sons, Sir
John? Verily time flies! I have not been in these parts for full three
years. I scarce know them once again."

"Yes, these be my three sons," answered the father, with a proud glance
at the handsome youths, who came up at a sign from him to be presented
to the knight. "It may well be many long years since you saw them, for
they have often been away from my side, travelling in foreign parts with
my good brother, and learning the lessons of life as I have been able to
see occasion. This is John, my first born. Oliver and Bernard follow
after him. I trust in years to come they will live to win their spurs in
the King's service. They are often about the Court, and the Prince has
chosen them amongst his serviens. But they have not yet seen war, albeit
I trow they will not be missing when the day for fighting shall come,
which I verily believe will not be long now."

The youths made their salute to the knight, and then dropped behind. Sir
James rode in advance, still in earnest converse with the Master of the
Horse; whilst the attendants of the two bands, some of whom were
acquainted, mixed together indiscriminately, and rode after their
masters in amicable converse.

Sir John's three sons rode a few paces behind the knights, and as it
chanced the Gascon brothers were the next behind them, studying these
cousins of theirs with natural interest and curiosity. They had heard
their names distinctly as their father had presented them to his friend,
and gladly would they have fallen into converse with them had they felt
certain that the advance would be taken in good part. As it was, they
were rather fearful of committing breaches of good manners, and
restrained themselves, though their quick, eager glances towards each
other betrayed what they were feeling.

All of a sudden something unseen by the rider caused Gaston's horse to
take fright. It was a very spirited and rather troublesome animal, which
had been passed on by two or three riders as too restive for them, and
had been ridden more successfully by Gaston than by any of its former
masters. But the creature wanted close watching, and Gaston had been for
a time off his guard. The knowing animal had doubtless discovered this,
and had hoped to take advantage of this carelessness to get rid of his
rider and gain the freedom of the forest himself. With a sudden plunge
and hound, which almost unseated Gaston, the horse made a dash for the
woodland aisles; and when he felt that his rider had regained his seat
and was reining him in with a firm and steady hand, the fiery animal
reared almost erect upon his hind legs, wildly pawing the air, and
uttering fierce snorts of anger and defiance. But Gaston's blood was up
now, and he was not going to be mastered by his steed, least of all in
presence of so many witnesses. Shouting to Raymond, who had dismounted
and appeared about to spring at the horse's head, to keep away, he
brought the angry creature down by throwing himself upon his neck; and
though there were still much plunging and fierce kicking and struggling
to be encountered before the day was won, Gaston showed himself fully
equal to the demands made upon his horsemanship; and before many moments
had passed, had the satisfaction of riding the horse quietly back to the
little cavalcade, which had halted to witness the struggle.

"That was good riding, and a fine animal," remarked the Master of the
Horse, whose eyes were well trained to note the points of any steed. "I
trow that lad will make a soldier yet. Who is he, good Sir James?"

"One Gaston Brook, a lad born and brought up in Gascony, together with
his twin brother who rides by his side. They came to my help in the
forest round Castres; and as I was in need of service, and they were
faring forth to seek their fortunes, I bid them, an it pleased them,
follow me. One parent was a native of Gascony, their mother I trow,
since their name is English. I did hear somewhat of their simple tale,
but it has fled my memory since."

"They are proper youths," said Sir John, not without a passing gleam of
interest in any persons who hailed from his own country. "Half Gascon
and half English makes a fine breed. The lads may live to do good
service yet."

Meantime the three sons of Sir John had entered into conversation with
the two youthful esquires, and were making friends as fast as
circumstances would allow. They were some years older than the Gascon
brothers -- that is to say that John was close upon twenty, and Oliver
and Bernard followed, each a year younger than his predecessor. They had
seen far more of the world than these country-bred lads, and had been
reared more or less in the atmosphere of the Court; still they were
bright, high spirited, and unaffected youths, who were ready enough to
make advances to any comrades of their own standing across whose path
they might be thrown.

Gaston and Raymond had about them an air of breeding which won them
notice wherever they went. Their speech was refined for the times, and
their handsome figures and faces gained them speedy and favourable
attention. Very soon the five youths were chatting and laughing together
as though they were old friends. The sons of Sir John heard all about
the encounter in the forest, and how the wolves had been scared away;
whilst the Gascon brothers, on their side, heard about the vast round
tower built by the King for his Round Table to assemble at, and how
busily everybody had been employed in hastening on the work and getting
everything in readiness for the great festival that was at hand.

"Shall we see the feast?" asked Gaston eagerly. "Men say it will be a
sight not to be forgotten."

"We shall see it like enough," answered John, "but only belted knights
will sit at the board. Why, even the Prince of Wales himself will not
sit down at the table, but will only stand to serve his father; for his
spurs are not yet won, though he says he will not be long in winning
them if kind fortune will but give him the chance he craves. A great
assembly of esquires will be in attendance on their masters, and I trow
ye twain might well be amongst these, as we hope ourselves to be. Your
master is one of the bidden knights, and will sit not very far from the
King himself. If you can make shift to steal in through the press and
stand behind his chair, I doubt not but what ye will see all right well;
and perchance the King himself may take note of you. He has a marvellous
quick eye, and so has the Prince; and he is ever on the watch for
knightly youths to serve him as valettus -- as we do."

"We are going to win our spurs together," cried Bernard, who in some
ways was the leading spirit amongst the brothers, as he was afterwards
the most noted man of his house. "We have talked of it a thousand times,
and the day will come ere long. The King has promised that when next he
is called forth to fight the recreant King of France, he will take the
Prince with him, and he has promised that we shall go with him. The day
will come when he will lay claim once more to that crown of France which
by rights is his to wear, and we shall all sally forth to drive the
coward Louis from the throne, and place the crown on Edward's royal brow."

Bernard's eyes flashed fire at the bare thought of the unchecked career
of victory he saw for England's arms when once she had set foot on the
long-talked-of expedition which was to make Edward king over the realm
of France.

"And we will fight for him too!" cried Gaston and Raymond in a breath;
"and so, I trow, will all Gascony. We love the English rule there. We
love the Roy Outremer, as he is called there. If he would but come to
our land, instead of to treacherous Flanders or feeble, storm-torn
Brittany, for his soldiers and for his starting place, I trow his arms
would meet with naught but victory. The Sieur d'Albret, men whisper, has
been to the Court, and has looked with loving eyes upon one of the
King's daughters for his son. That hope would make him faithful to the
English cause, and he is the greatest Lord in Gascony, where all men
fear his name."

"Thou shalt tell all that to the King or to the Prince," said John in a
low tone to Raymond, as they fell a little behind, for the road grew
rough and narrow. "I trow he will be glad to learn all he may from those
who know what the people of the land speak and think -- the humbler
folks, of whom men are growing now to take more account, at least here
in England, since it is they, men now say, who must be asked ere even
the King himself may dare to go to war. For money must be found through
them, and they will not always grant it unless they be pleased with what
has already been done. The great nobles say hard things of them they
call the 'Commons;' they say that England's doom will surely come if she
is to be answerable to churls and merchant folk for what her King and
barons choose to do. But for my part it seems but just that those who
pay the heavy burden of these long wars should know somewhat about them,
and should even have the power to check them did they think the country
oppressed beyond what she could bear. A bad king might not care for the
sufferings of his people. A weak king might be but the tool of his
barons -- as we have heard the King's father was -- and hear nothing but
what they chose for him to know. For my own part, I think it right and
just enough that the people should have their voice in these things.
They always grant the King a liberal supply; and if they demand from him
the redress of grievances and the granting of certain privileges in
return, I can see in that naught that is unfair; nor would England be
happier and more prosperous, methinks, were she governed by a tyrant who
might grind her down to the dust."

John de Brocas was a very thoughtful youth, very different in appearance
from his younger brothers, who were fine stalwart young men, well versed
in every kind of knightly exercise, and delighting in nothing so much as
the display of their energies and skill. John was cast in quite a
different mould, and possibly it was something of a disappointment to
the father that his first born should be so unlike himself and his other
sons. John had had weak health from his cradle, which might account in
part for his studious turn of mind; and the influence of his uncle's
training may have had still greater effect. As the damp air of Windsor
did not appear to agree with the boy, he had been sent, when seven years
old, to his uncle's Rectory of St. Nicholas, and brought up in the more
healthy and bracing air of Guildford. Master Bernard de Brocas, though
by no means a man of exclusively scholarly tastes, was for the days he
lived in a learned man, and feeling sure that his eldest nephew would
never make a soldier, he tried to train him for a statesman and for an
ecclesiastic -- the two offices being in those days frequently combined.
The great statesmen were nearly always men in the Church's employ, and
the scholarship and learning of the age were almost entirely in their
keeping.

John showed no disposition to enter the Church -- probably the hope of
winning his spurs was not yet dead within him; but he took very kindly
to book lore, and had often shown a shrewdness and aptness in diplomatic
negotiation which had made Master Bernard prophesy great things for him.

Raymond had never heard such matters discussed before, and knew little
enough about the art of government. He looked with respect at his
companion, and John, catching the glance, smiled pleasantly in reply.

"I trow thou wouldest sooner be with the rest, hearing of the King's
Round Table and the knightly jousts to follow. Let me not weary thee
with my graver words. Go join the others an thou wilt."

"Nay, I will stay with thee," answered Raymond, who was greatly
attracted by John's pale and thoughtful face, and could not but pity him
for his manifest lack of strength and muscle. The youth was tall and
rode well, but he was slight to the verge of attenuation, and the hollow
cheek and unnaturally bright eyes sunk in deep caverns told a tale that
was not hard to read. Young De Brocas might make a student, a clerk, a
man of letters, but he would never be a soldier; and that in itself
appeared to Raymond the greatest deprivation that could befall a man.
But he liked his companion none the less for this sense of pity.

"I would fain hear more of England -- England's laws, England's ways. I
have heard that in this land men may obtain justice better than in any
other. I have heard that justice is here administered to poor as well as
rich. I would learn more of this. I would learn more of you. Tell me
first of yourself. I know well the name of De Brocas. We come from the
very place where once you held sway. The village (as you would call it)
of Brocas was not so very far away. Tell me of yourself, your father,
your uncle. I know all their names right well. I would hear all that you
can tell."

John's face lighted with interest. He was willing enough to tell of
himself, his two brothers, two sisters, and their many homes in and
about the Castle of Windsor. Besides his post as Master of the Horse,
John explained to Raymond, his father held the office of Chief Forester
of Windsor Forest (equivalent to the modern Ranger), and besides the
Manor of Old Windsor, possessed property and Manors at Old and New Bray,
Didworth and Clewer. He was high in the King's favour and confidence,
and, as may well be believed, led a busy and responsible life. Upon him
devolved the care of all those famous studs of horses on which the King
relied when he sent his armies into the field; and if his expenditure in
these matters has been condemned in more recent days, the best answer
will be found in the disasters and the ruinous expenditure of the later
campaigns of the reign, when the King, thinking that he had reduced his
French possessions to complete order, and that his magnificent cavalry
would not longer be wanted to career over the plains of France, broke up
and sold off his studs; so that when his calculation as to the future
proved mistaken, he had no longer any organized supply of war horses to
draw upon.

Raymond's interest in John's talk so won the heart of that youth that a
warm friendship sprang up rapidly between them, whilst the younger
brothers appeared to take almost the same liking for Gaston. By-and-by
it became known that the Castle was crowded almost beyond its capacity
for accommodation; and as much of the responsibility of seeing to the
lodging of guests fell upon Sir John de Brocas, he gave up his house at
Clewer for the time being for the use of some of the guests of humbler
rank, his son John acting as host there; and to this house the Gaston
brothers were asked, amongst many other youthful esquires of like
degree. Thus it came about that the merry yuletide season was spent by
them actually beneath their uncle's roof, although he had no idea that
he was entertaining kinsmen unawares.

Mindful of the good priest's warning, and knowing their ignorance of the
new life and the new people amongst whom their fortunes had led them,
the twins still carefully preserved the secret of their identity. They
knew too little of the cause of estrangement between their father and
his brothers to have any confidence how his sons would be received. They
were both of opinion that by far their wisest course was to wait quietly
and patiently, and watch what befell them; and the only question which
Raymond ever dared to put to John in the days that followed which
savoured of their own affairs, was an inquiry as to whether he had ever
heard of a place called Basildene.

"Basildene?" repeated John slowly. "Yes, I have heard the name. It is
the name of a Manor not very many miles from my uncle's house in
Guildford. Dost thou know aught of it?"

"Nay; I knew not rightly if there were such a spot. But I have heard the
name. Knowest thou to whom it belongs?"

"Yes, I know that too. It belongs to one Peter Sanghurst, of whom no man
speaks aught but evil."

CHAPTER V. THE KING AND THE PRINCE.

King Edward's assembly of knights that met at his first Round Table was
as typical a gathering as could well have been found of that age of
warlike chivalry. The King's idea was likewise typical of the age he
lived in. He had begun to see something of that decline of chivalry
which was the natural outcome of a real advance in general civilization,
and of increasing law and order, however slow its progress might be.
Greatly deploring any decay in a system so much beloved and cherished by
knights and warriors, and not seeing that its light might merely be
paling in the rise of something more truly bright and beneficent, the
King resolved to do everything in his power to give an impetus to all
chivalrous undertakings by assembling together his knights after the
fashion of the great King Arthur, and with them to take counsel how the
ways and usages of chivalry might best be preserved, the old spirit kept
alive, and the interests of piety and religion (with which it should
ever be blended) be truly considered.

How far this festival succeeded in its object can scarcely be told now.
The days of chivalry (in the old acceptation of the term) were drawing
to a close, and an attempt to galvanize into life a decaying institution
is seldom attended with any but very moderate success. From the fact
that we hear so little of the King's Round Table, and from the few times
it ever met, one is led to conclude that the results were small and
disappointing. But the brilliance of the first assembly cannot be
doubted; and for the twins of Gascony it was a wonderful day, and marked
an epoch in their lives; for on that occasion they saw for the first
time the mighty King, whose name had been familiar to them from
childhood, and had actual speech with the Prince of Wales, that hero of
so many battlefields, known to history as the Black Prince.

So great was the crowd of esquires who waited upon the knights sitting
around the huge Round Table, that the Gascon brothers only struggled for
a few minutes into the gay assemblage to look at what was going on
there. The table was itself a curiosity -- a huge ring round which, in
beautifully carved seats, the knights sat, each seat fitting into the
next, with an arm to divide them, the backs forming a complete circle
round the table. The King's seat was adorned with a richer carving, and
had a higher back, than the others, but that was its only distinction.
Within the circle of the table were pages flitting about, attending on
the guests; and the esquires who thronged the corridors or supplemented
the attentions of the pages were considerably more numerous than the
occasion required, so that these were to be seen gathering in groups
here and there about the building in the vicinity of the feast,
discussing the proceedings or talking of public or private matters.

Very wonderful was all this to Gaston and Raymond, but not quite so
bewildering as it would have been a month ago. They had been about the
Court some little time now, and were growing used to the fine dresses,
the English ways of speech, and the manners and customs which had
perplexed them not a little at first. They were greatly entertained by
watching the shifting throng of courtiers, and their one glimpse at the
royal countenance of the King had been fraught with keen pleasure and
satisfaction; but so far as they knew it, they had not yet seen the
Prince of Wales, and they had not caught sight either of their cousins
Oliver or Bernard, though they had found John sitting in the embrasure
of a window in the corridor, watching the scene with the same interest
which they felt in it themselves.

When they saw him they joined him, and asked the names of some of the
gay personages flitting about. John good-naturedly amused them with a
number of anecdotes of the Court; and as the three were thus chatting
together, they were suddenly joined by another group of three, who
advanced along the corridor talking in low tones but with eager excitement.

"Here comes the Prince," said John, rising to his feet, and the twin
brothers turned eagerly round.

They knew in an instant which of the three was the Prince, for his
companions were John's two brothers, Oliver and Bernard. Young Edward
was at that time not quite fourteen, but so strong, so upright, so well
grown, and of such a kingly presence, that it was hard to believe he had
scarcely left his childhood behind. His tunic was of cloth of gold, with
the royal arms embroidered upon it. He wore a golden collar round his
neck, and his golden girdle held a dagger with a richly-jewelled hilt. A
short velvet mantle lined with ermine hung over his shoulder, and was
fastened by a clasp richly chased and set with rubies. His face was
flushed as if with some great purpose, and his eyes shone brightly with
excitement.

"It shall never be true -- I will not believe it!" he was saying, in
urgent accents. "Let chivalry once die out, and so goes England's glory.
May I die ere I live to see that day! Better a thousand times death in
some glorious warfare, in some knightly deed of daring, than to drag out
a life of ease and sloth with the dying records of the glorious past
alone to cheer and sustain one. Good John, thou art a man of letters --
thou canst read the signs of the times -- prithee tell me that there be
no truth in this dark whisper. Sure the days of chivalry are not half
lived through yet!"

"Nor will be so long as you are spared to England, gentle Prince,"
answered John, with his slight peculiar smile. "You and your royal Sire
together will keep alive the old chivalry at which was dealt so sore a
blow in your grandsire's days. A reign like that of weakness and folly
and treachery leaves its mark behind; but England's chivalry has lived
through it --"

"Ay, and she shall awake to new and fuller life!" cried the ardent boy.
"What use in being born a prince if something cannot thus be done to
restore what has been lost? And why should princes stand idle when the
world is all in arms? Comrades, do ye long as I do to show the world
that though we have not yet won our knighthood's spurs, we are yet ready
and willing to sally forth, even as did the knights of old, upon some
quest of peril or adventure? Why is it that I, who should by rights be
one to show what may be done by a boy's arm with a stout heart behind,
am ever held back from peril and danger, have never seen fighting save
in the tilt yard, or wound worse than what splintered spear may chance
to inflict? I burn to show the world what a band of youths can do who go
forth alone on some errand of true chivalry. Comrades, give me your
ears. Let me speak to you of the purpose in my heart. This day has my
father, in the hearing of all men, lamented the wane of chivalry, has
spoken brave words of encouragement to those who will strive with him to
let it be no hollow name amongst us. Then who more fit than his own son
to go forth now -- at once, by stealth if need be -- upon such a quest
of peril and glory? nay, not for the glory -- that may or may not be
ours -- but upon a mission of chivalrous service to the weak and
helpless? This thing I purpose to do myself, together with some few
chosen comrades. Brothers of Brocas, will ye go with me?"

"We will! we will!" cried the three brothers in a breath.

"We will!" echoed the twins of Gascony, forgetting all but their eager
desire to share the peril and the glory of the Prince's enterprise,
whatever it might be.

Young Edward heard the sound of the strange voices, and turned a quick
glance of inquiry upon the youths. He saw that they wore the livery of
Sir James Audley, who was a great favourite even then with the Prince.
The true kingly courtesy of the Plantagenets was ingrained in the nature
of this princely boy, and he looked with a smile at the two eager faces
before him.

"And who be ye, fair gentlemen?" he asked. "Methinks the badge you wear
is answer almost enough. I know your good lord well, and love him well,
and sure there be none of his esquires, be they never so young, who
would disgrace their master by fleeing in an hour of peril. Wherefore if
ye would fain be of the band I seek to muster round me, I will bid you
ready welcome. I seek none that be above twenty years of age.

"Good John, you shall be the wise man of our party. These lads have not
lived many more years than I have myself, or I am much mistaken."

"We are twin brothers," said Gaston frankly, "and we are nigh upon
sixteen. We have been with Sir James a matter of two months. We --"

"They met him in the woods of Gascony," cried Oliver, "and rescued him
from the attacks of a pack of fierce wolves. I trow they would bear
themselves bravely be your quest what it may."

"Are you Gascons?" asked the Prince, looking with keener interest at the
two youths; for he shared some of his father's instincts of government,
and was always well disposed towards Gascon subjects.

"We are half Gascon and half English, may it please you, fair Prince,"
answered Gaston readily, "and we will follow you to the death."

"I well believe it, my good comrades," answered the Prince quickly; "and
right glad shall we be of your company and assistance. For our errand
lies amidst dark forests with their hidden perils and dangers, and I wot
that none know better what such dangers are nor how they may be escaped
than our brethren of Gascony."

"Then you know on what quest we are bent, sweet Prince?"

Edward nodded his head as he looked over his shoulder. "Ay, that I do
right well, and that will I tell you incontinently if no eavesdroppers
be about. Ye know that of late days brave knights and gentlemen have
been mustering to our Court from all parts of this land? Now amongst
these is one Sir Hugh Vavasour, who comes from his house of Woodcrych,
not half a day's ride from our Royal Palace of Guildford; and with him
he has brought his son, one Alexander, with whom I yestere'en fell into
converse. I say not that I liked the youth himself. He seemed to me
something over bold, yet lacking in those graces of chivalry that are so
dear to us. Still it was in talking with him that I heard this thing
which has set my blood boiling in my veins."

"What thing is that, fair Prince?" asked John.

And then the young Edward told his tale. It was such a tale as was only
too often heard in olden days, though it did not always reach the ears
of royalty. The long and expensive, and as yet somewhat fruitless, wars
in which Edward had been engaged almost ever since he came to the
throne, had greatly impoverished his subjects, and with poverty there
arose those other evils inseparable from general distress -- robbery,
freebooting, crime in its darkest and ugliest aspects; bands of hungry
men, ruined and beggared, partly perhaps through misfortune, but partly
through their own fault, wandering about the country ravaging and
robbing, leaving desolation behind them, and too often, if opposed,
committing acts of brutal cruelty upon defenceless victims, as a warning
to others.

A band such as this was just now scouring the woods around Guildford.
Young Vavasour had heard of depredations committed close against the
walls of his own home, and had heard of many outrages which had been
suffered by the poor folks around. Cattle had been driven off, their
hardly-gathered fuel had vanished in the night; sometimes lonely houses
were attacked, and the miserable inhabitants, if they offered
resistance, stabbed to the heart by the marauders. One or two girls had
been missed from their homes, and were said to have fallen a prey to the
robber band. All these things, and the latter item especially, stirred
the hot blood in the young Prince's veins, and he was all on fire to do
some doughty deed that should at once exterminate such evildoers from
the face of the earth, strike terror into the hearts of other bands, and
show that the spirit of chivalry was yet alive in the kingdom, and that
the King's son was the first to fly to the succour of the distressed and
the feeble.

"For I will go myself and hunt these miscreants as though they were dogs
or wolves -- beasts of prey that needs must be put down with a strong
hand. I will not tell my father the tale, else might he appoint warriors
of his own to see to the matter, and the glory be theirs and not ours.

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