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In the Days of Chivalry by Evelyn Everett-Green

Part 8 out of 8

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A shout of joy and triumph rose from a hundred throats as this answer
was listened to by the Prince's knights, and the cheer was taken up and
echoed by every soldier in the camp. It was the signal, as all knew
well, that negotiation had failed; and the good Cardinal went
sorrowfully back to the French lines, whilst the English soldiers
redoubled their efforts at trenching the ground and strengthening their
position -- efforts which had been carried on ceaselessly all through
this and the preceding day, regardless of the negotiations for peace,
which many amongst them hoped would prove abortive.

Then up to the Prince's side stepped bold Sir James Audley, who had been
his counsellor and adviser during the whole of the campaign, and by
whose advice the coming battle was being arranged.

"Sire," he said, bending the knee before his youthful lord, "I long ago
vowed a vow that if ever I should find myself upon the field of battle
with the King of England or his son, I would be foremost in the fight
for his defence. Sire, that day has now dawned -- or will dawn with
tomorrow's sun. Grant me, I pray you, leave to be the first to charge
into yon host, and so fulfil the vow long registered before God."

"Good Sir James, it shall be even as thou wilt," answered the Prince,
extending his hand. "But if thou goest thus into peril, sure thou wilt
not go altogether alone?"

"I will choose out four knightly comrades," answered Sir James, "and
together we will ride into the battle. I know well that there will be no
lack of brave men ready and willing to fight at my side. Gaston de
Brocas has claimed already to be one, and his brother ever strives to be
at his side. But he has yet his spurs to win, and I may but take with me
those who are knights already."

"Raymond de Brocas's spurs unwon!" cried the Prince, with kindling eye,
"and he the truest knight amongst us! Call him hither this moment to me.
Shame upon me that I have not ere this rewarded such pure and lofty
courage as his by that knighthood he so well merits!"

And then and there upon the field of Poitiers Raymond received his
knighthood, amid the cheers of the bystanders, from the hands of the
Prince, on the eve of one of England's most glorious victories.

Gaston's eyes were shining with pride as he led his brother back to
their tent as the last of the September daylight faded from the sky.

"I had set my heart on sending thee back to thy Joan with the spurs of
knighthood won," he said, affectionately pressing his brother's hands.
"And truly, as they all say, none were ever more truly won than thine
have been, albeit thou wilt ever be more the saint than the warrior."

Raymond's eyes were bright. For Joan's sake rather than his own he
rejoiced in his new honour; though every man prided himself upon that
welcome distinction, especially when bestowed by the hand of King or
Prince. And the thought of a speedy return to England and his true love
there was as the elixir of life to Raymond, who was counting the days
and hours before he might hope to set sail for his native land again.

He had remained with his brother at Saut all through the past winter.
Gaston and Constanza had been married at Bordeaux very shortly after the
death of old Navailles; and they had returned to Saut, their future
home, and Raymond had gone with them. Greatly as he longed for England
and Joan, his duty to the Prince kept him beside him till he should
obtain his dismissal to see after his own private affairs. The Prince
needed his faithful knights and followers about him in his projected
expedition of the present year; and Gaston required his brother's help
and counsel in setting to rights the affairs of his new kingdom, and in
getting into better order a long-neglected estate and its people.

There had been work enough to fill their minds and hands for the whole
time the Prince had been able to spare them from his side; and an
interchange of letters between him and his lady love had helped Raymond
to bear the long separation from her. She had assured him of her
changeless devotion, of her present happiness and wellbeing, and had
bidden him think first of his duty to the Prince, and second of his
desire to rejoin her. They owed much to the Prince: all their present
happiness and security were the outcome of his generous interposition on
their behalf. Raymond's worldly affairs were not suffering by his
absence. Master Bernard de Brocas was looking to that. He would find all
well on his return to England; and it were better he should do his duty
nobly by the Prince now, and return with him when they had subdued their
enemies, than hasten at once to her side. In days to come it would
grieve them to feel that they had at this juncture thought first of
themselves, when King and country should have taken the foremost place.

So Raymond had taken the counsel thus given, and now was one of those to
be foremost in the field on the morrow. No thought of fear was in his
heart or Gaston's; peril was too much the order of the day to excite any
but a passing sense of the uncertainty of human life. They had come
unscathed through so much, and Raymond had so long been said to bear a
charmed life, that he and Gaston had alike ceased to tremble before the
issue of a battle. Well armed and well mounted, and versed in every art
of attack and defence, the young knights felt no personal fear, and only
longed to come forth with honour from the contest, whatever else their
fate might be.

Monday morning dawned, and the two opposing armies were all in readiness
for the attack. The fighting began almost by accident by the bold action
of a Gascon knight, Eustace d'Ambrecicourt, who rode out alone towards
what was called the "battle of the marshals," and was met by Louis de
Recombes with his silver shield, whom he forthwith unhorsed. This
provoked a rapid advance of the marshals' battle, and the fighting began
in good earnest.

The moment this was soon to have taken place, the brave James Audley,
calling upon his four knights to follow him, dashed in amongst the
French in another part of the field, giving no quarter, taking no
prisoners, but performing such prodigies of valour as struck terror into
the breasts of the foe. The French army (with the exception of three
hundred horsemen, whose mission was to break the ranks of the bowmen)
had been ordered, on account of the nature of the ground, all to fight
on foot; and when the bold knight and his four chosen companions came
charging in upon them, wheeling their battle-axes round their heads and
flashing through the ranks like a meteor, the terrified and
impressionable Frenchmen cried out that St. George himself had appeared
to fight against them, and an unreasoning panic seized upon them.

Flights of arrows from the dreaded English longbow added immeasurably to
their distress and bewilderment. The three hundred horsemen utterly
failed in their endeavour to approach these archers, securely posted
behind the hedges, and protected by the trenches they had dug. The
arrows sticking in the horses rendered them perfectly wild and
unmanageable, and turning back upon their own comrades, they threw the
ranks behind into utter confusion, trampling to death many of the
footmen, and increasing the panic tenfold.

Then seeing the utter confusion of his foes, the Prince charged in
amongst them, dealing death and destruction wherever he went. The terror
of the French increased momentarily; and the division under the Duke of
Normandy, that had not even taken any part as yet in the battle, rushed
to their horses, mounted and fled without so much as striking a blow.

The King of France, however, behaved with far greater gallantry than
either his son or the majority of his knights and nobles, and the battle
that he led was long and fiercely contested.

If, as the chronicler tells us, one-fourth of his soldiers had shown the
same bravery as he did, the fortunes of the day would have been vastly
different; but though personally brave, he was no genius in war, and his
fatal determination to fight the battle on foot was a gross blunder in
military tactics. Even when he and his division were being charged by
the Prince of Wales at full gallop, at the head of two thousand lances,
the men all flushed with victory, John made his own men dismount, and
himself did the same, fighting with his axe like a common soldier;
whilst his little son Philip crouched behind him, narrowly watching his
assailants, and crying out words of warning to his father as he saw
blows dealt at him from right or left.

The French were driven back to the very gates of Poitiers, where a great
slaughter ensued; for those gates were now shut against them, and they
had nowhere else to fly. The battle had begun early in the morning, and
by noon the trumpets were sounding to recall the English from the
pursuit of their flying foes.

Such a victory and such vast numbers of noble prisoners almost
bewildered even the victors themselves; and the Prince was anxious to
assemble his knights once more about him, to learn some of the details
of the issue of the day. That the French King had either been killed or
made prisoner appeared certain, for it was confidently asserted that he
had not left the field; but for some time the confusion was so great
that it was impossible to ascertain what had actually happened, and the
Prince, who had gone to his tent to take some refreshment after the
labours of the day, had others than his high-born prisoners to think for.

"Who has seen Sir James Audley -- gallant Sir James?" he asked, looking
round upon the circle of faces about him and missing that of the one he
perhaps loved best amongst his knights. "Who has seen him since his
gallant charge that made all men hold their breath with wonder? I would
fain reward him for that gallant example he gave to our brave soldiers
at the beginning of the day."

News was soon brought that Sir James had been badly wounded, and had
been carried by his knights to his tent. The Prince would have gone to
visit him there; but news of this proposal having been brought to the
knight, he caused himself to be transported to the Prince's tent by his
knights, all of whom had escaped almost unscathed from their gallant
escapade. Thus it came about that Gaston and Raymond stood within the
royal tent, whilst the Prince bent over his faithful knight, and
promised as the reward for that day's gallantry that he should remain
his own knight for ever, and receive five hundred marks yearly from the
royal treasury.

Then, when poor Sir James, too spent and faint to remain longer, had
been carried hence by some of the bystanders, the Prince turned to the
twin brothers and grasped them by the hand.

"I greatly rejoice that ye have come forth unhurt from that fierce
strife in the which ye so boldly plunged. What can I do for you, brave
comrades, to show the gratitude of a King's son for all your faithful
service?"

"Sire," answered Gaston, "since you have asked us to claim our guerdon,
and since your foes are at your feet, your rival a prisoner in your
royal hands (if he be not a dead corpse), and the whole land subject to
you; since there be no further need in the present for us to fight for
you, and a time of peace seems like to follow upon this glorious day,
methinks my brother and I would fain request your royal permission to
retire for a while each to his own home, to regulate our private
concerns, and dwell awhile each with the wife of his choice. Thou
knowest that I have a wife but newly made mine, and that my brother only
tarries to fly to his betrothed bride till you have no farther need of
his sword. If ever the day dawns when King or Prince of England needs
the faithful service of Gascon swords, those of Raymond and Gaston de
Brocas will not be wanting to him. Yet in the present --"

"Ay, ay, I understand well: in the present there be bright eyes that are
more to you than glittering swords, and a service that is sweeter than
that of King or Prince. Nay, blush not, boy; I like you the better for
that the softer passions dwell in your breast with those of sterner
sort. Ye have well shown many a day ere now that ye possess the courage
of young lions, and that England will never call upon you in vain. But
now that times of peace and quiet seem like to fall upon us, get you to
your homes and your wives. May Heaven grant you joy and happiness in
both; and England's King and Prince will over have smiles of welcome for
you when ye bring to the Court the sweet ladies of your choice. Do I not
know them both? and do I not know that ye have both chosen worthily and
well?"

A tumult without the tent now announced the approach of the French King,
those who brought him disputing angrily together whose prisoner he was.
The Prince stepped out to receive his vanquished foe with that winning
courtesy so characteristic of one who so longed to see the revival of
the truer chivalry, and in the confusion which ensued Gaston and Raymond
slipped away to their own tent.

"And now," cried Gaston, clasping his brother's hand, "our day of
service is for the moment ended. Now for a space of peaceful repose and
of those domestic joys of which thou and I, brother, know so little."

"At last!" quoth Raymond, drawing a long breath, his eyes glowing and
kindling as he looked into his brother's face and then far beyond it in
the direction of the land of his adoption. "At last my task is done; my
duty to my Prince has been accomplished. Now I am free to go whither I
will. Now for England and my Joan!"

CHAPTER XXXIII. "AT LAST!"

"At last, my love, at last!"

"Raymond! My own true lord -- my husband!"

"My life! my love!"

At last the dream had fulfilled itself; at last the long probation was
past. Raymond de Brocas and Joan Vavasour had been made man and wife by
good Master Bernard de Brocas in his church at Guildford, and in the
soft sunlight of an October afternoon were riding together in the
direction of Basildene, from henceforth to be their home.

Raymond had not yet seen Basildene. He had hurried to Joan's side the
moment that he left the ship which bore him from the shores of France,
and the marriage had been celebrated almost at once, there being no
reason for farther delay, and Sir Hugh being eager to be at the Court to
receive the triumphant young Prince when he should return to England
with his kingly captive.

All the land was ringing with the news of the glorious victory, of which
Raymond's vessel was the first to bring tidings. He himself, as having
been one of those who had taken part in the battle and having won his
spurs on the field of Poitiers, was regarded with no small admiration
and respect. But Raymond had thoughts of nothing but his beloved; and to
find her waiting for him, her loving heart as true to him as his was to
her, was happiness sweeter than any he had once dreamed could be his.

The time had flown by on golden wings. He scarce knew how to reckon its
flight. He and Joan lived in a world of their own -- a world that
reckons not time by our calendar, but has its own fashion of
computation; and hours that once had crept by leaden footed, now flew
past as if on wings. He and his love were together at last, soon to be
united in a bond that only death could sunder. And neither of them held
that it could be broken even by the stern cold hand of death. Such love
as theirs was not for time alone; it would last on and on through the
boundless cycles of eternity.

And now the holy vows had been spoken. At last the solemn ceremony was
over and past. Raymond and Joan were man and wife, and were riding side
by side through the whispering wood in the direction of Basildene.

Joan had not changed much since the day she and Raymond had plighted
their troth beside the dying bed of John de Brocas. As a young girl she
had looked older than her years; as a woman she looked scarce more.
Perhaps in those great dark eyes there was more of softness; weary
waiting had not dimmed their brightness, but had imparted just a touch
of wistfulness, which gave to them an added charm. The full, curved lips
were calmly resolute as of old, yet touched with a new sweetness and the
gracious beauty of a great happiness.

Raymond had changed more than she, having developed from the youth into
the man; retaining in a wonderful way the peculiar charm of his
boyhood's beauty, the ethereal purity of expression and slim grace of
figure, yet adding to these the dignity and purpose of a more advanced
age, and all the stateliness and power of one who has struggled and
suffered and battled in the world, and who has come forth from that
struggle with a stainless shield, and a name unsullied by the smallest
breath of slander.

Joan's eyes dwelt upon her husband's face with a proud, joyous light in
them. Once she laid her hand upon his as they rode, and said, in low
tones very full of feeling:

"Methinks I have found my Galahad at last. Methinks that thou hast found
a treasure as precious as the Holy Grail itself. Methinks no treasure
could be more precious than that which thou hast won."

He turned his eyes upon her tenderly.

"The treasure of thy love, my Joan?"

"I was not thinking of that," she answered; "we have loved each other so
long. I was thinking of that other treasure -- the love which has
enabled thee to triumph over evil, to forgive our enemies, to do good to
those that have hated us, to fight the Christian's battle as well as
that of England's King. I was thinking of that higher chivalry of which
in old days we have talked so much. Perchance we should give it now
another name. But thou hast been true and faithful in thy quest. Ah, how
proud I am of the stainless name of my knight!"

His fingers closed fast over hers, but he made no reply in words.
Raymond's nature was a silent one. Of his deepest feelings he spoke the
least. He had told his story to Joan; he knew that she understood all it
meant to him. It was happiness to feel that this was so without the need
of words. That union of soul was sweeter to him than even the possession
of the hand he held in his.

And so they rode on to Basildene.

But was this Basildene? Raymond passed his hand across his eyes, and
gazed and gazed again. Joan sat quietly in her saddle, watching him with
smiling eyes.

Basildene! yes, truly Basildene. There was the quaint old house with its
many gables and mullioned casements and twisted chimneys, its warm red
walls and timbered grounds around it; but where was the old look of
misery, decay, neglect, and blight? Who could look at that picturesque
old mansion, with its latticed casements glistening in the sun, and
think of aught but home-like comfort and peace? What had been done to
it? what spell had been at work? This was the Basildene of his boyhood's
dreams -- the Basildene that his mother had described to them. It was
not the Basildene of later years. How had the change come about?

"That has been our uncle's work these last two years," answered Joan,
who was watching the changes passing over her husband's face, and seemed
to read the unspoken thought of his heart. "He and I together have
planned it all, and the treasure has helped to carry all out. The hidden
hoard has brought a blessing at last, methinks, Raymond; for the chapel
has likewise been restored, and holy mass and psalm now ascend daily
from it. The wretched hovels around the gates, where miserable peasants
herded like swine in their sties, have been cleared away, and places fit
for human habitation have been erected in their stead. That fearful
quagmire, in which so many wretched travellers have lost their lives,
has been drained, and a causeway built across it. Basildene is becoming
a blessing to all around it; and so long as thou art lord here, my
Raymond, it will remain a blessing to all who come within shelter of its
walls."

He looked at her with his dreamy smile. His mind was going back in
review over all these long years since first the idea had formed itself
in his brain that they two -- Gaston and himself -- would win back
Basildene. How long those years seemed in retrospect, and yet how short!
How many changes they had seen! how many strange events in the checkered
career of the twin brothers!

"I would that Gaston were with me now; I would that he might see it."

"And so he shall, come next summer," answered Joan. "Is it not a promise
that he comes hither with his bride to see thy home and mine, Raymond,
and that we pass one of England's inclement winters in the softer air of
sunny France? You are such travellers, you brethren, that the journey is
but child's play to you; and I too have known something of travel, and
it hath no terrors for me. There shall be no sundering of the bond
betwixt the twin brothers of Basildene. Years shall only bind that bond
faster, for to their faithful love and devotion one to the other
Basildene owes its present weal, and we our present happiness."

"The twin brothers of Basildene," repeated Raymond dreamily, gazing
round him with smiling eyes, as he held Joan's hand fast in his. "My
mother, I wonder if thou canst see us now -- Gaston at Saut and Raymond
here at Basildene? Methinks if thou canst thou wilt rejoice in our
happiness. We have done what thou biddedst us. We have fought and we
have overcome. Thine own loved home has been won back by thine own sons,
and Raymond de Brocas is Lord of Basildene."

THE END.

i If any reader has taken the trouble to follow this story
closely, he may observe that the expedition of the Black Prince has been
slightly antedated. In order not to interrupt the continuity of the
fictitious narrative, the time spent in long-drawn and fruitless
negotiation at the conclusion of the truce has been omitted.

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