Part 7 out of 8
like a sparkling goblet of his own wine; and see the chuckling
delight of Austria, who thinks his quarrel is about to be avenged
without risk or trouble of his own. Hush! he approaches.--A
most grievous chance, most royal Austria, that these breaches in
the walls of our Zion--"
"If thou meanest this Crusade," replied the Duke, "I would it
were crumbled to pieces, and each were safe at home! I speak
this in confidence."
"But," said the Marquis of Montserrat, "to think this disunion
should be made by the hands of King Richard, for whose pleasure
we have been contented to endure so much, and to whom we have
been as submissive as slaves to a master, in hopes that he would
use his valour against our enemies, instead of exercising it upon
"I see not that he is so much more valorous than others," said
the Archduke. "I believe, had the noble Marquis met him in the
lists, he would have had the better; for though the islander
deals heavy blows with the pole-axe, he is not so very dexterous
with the lance. I should have cared little to have met him
myself on our old quarrel, had the weal of Christendom permitted
to sovereign princes to breathe themselves in the lists; and if
thou desirest it, noble Marquis, I will myself be your godfather
in this combat."
"And I also," said the Grand Master.
"Come, then, and take your nooning in our tent, noble sirs," said
the Duke, "and we'll speak of this business over some right
They entered together accordingly.
"What said our patron and these great folks together?" said Jonas
Schwanker to his companion, the SPRUCH-SPRECHER, who had used the
freedom to press nigh to his master when the Council was
dismissed, while the jester waited at a more respectful distance.
"Servant of Folly," said the SPRUCH-SPRECHER, "moderate thy
curiosity; it beseems not that I should tell to thee the counsels
of our master."
"Man of wisdom, you mistake," answered Jonas. "We are both the
constant attendants on our patron, and it concerns us alike to
know whether thou or I--Wisdom or Folly--have the deeper interest
"He told to the Marquis," answered the SPRUCH-SPRECHER, "and to
the Grand Master, that he was aweary of these wars, and would be
glad he was safe at home."
"That is a drawn cast, and counts for nothing in the game," said
the jester; "it was most wise to think thus, but great folly to
tell it to others--proceed."
"Ha, hem!" said the SPRUCH-SPRECHER; "he next said to them that
Richard was not more valorous than others, or over-dexterous in
"Woodcock of my side," said Schwanker, "this was egregious folly.
"Nay, I am something oblivious," replied the man of wisdom-- "he
invited them to a goblet of NIERENSTEIN."
"That hath a show of wisdom in it," said Jonas. "Thou mayest
mark it to thy credit in the meantime; but an he drink too much,
as is most likely, I will have it pass to mine. Anything more?"
"Nothing worth memory," answered the orator; "only he wished he
had taken the occasion to meet Richard in the lists."
"Out upon it--out upon it!" said Jonas; "this is such dotage of
folly that I am well-nigh ashamed of winning the game by it.
Ne'ertheless, fool as he is, we will follow him, most sage
SPRUCH-SPRECHER, and have our share of the wine of NIERENSTEIN."
Yet this inconstancy is such,
As thou, too, shalt adore;
I could not love thee, love so much,
Loved I not honour more. MONTROSE'S LINES.
When King Richard returned to his tent, he commanded the Nubian
to be brought before him. He entered with his usual ceremonial
reverence, and having prostrated himself, remained standing
before the King in the attitude of a slave awaiting the orders of
his master. It was perhaps well for him that the preservation of
his character required his eyes to be fixed on the ground, since
the keen glance with which Richard for some time surveyed him in
silence would, if fully encountered, have been difficult to
"Thou canst well of woodcraft," said the King, after a pause,
"and hast started thy game and brought him to bay as ably as if
Tristrem himself had taught thee. [A universal tradition
ascribed to Sir Tristrem, famous for his love of the fair Queen
Yseult, the laws concerning the practice of woodcraft, or
VENERIE, as it was called, being those that related to the rules
of the chase, which were deemed of much consequence during the
Middle Ages.] But this is not all--he must be brought down at
force. I myself would have liked to have levelled my hunting-spear at him. There are, it seems, respects
which prevent this.
Thou art about to return to the camp of the Soldan, bearing a
letter, requiring of his courtesy to appoint neutral ground for
the deed of chivalry, and should it consist with his pleasure, to
concur with us in witnessing it. Now, speaking conjecturally, we
think thou mightst find in that camp some cavalier who, for the
love of truth and his own augmentation of honour, will do battle
with this same traitor of Montserrat."
The Nubian raised his eyes and fixed them on the King with a look
of eager ardour; then raised them to Heaven with such solemn
gratitude that the water soon glistened in them; then bent his
head, as affirming what Richard desired, and resumed his usual
posture of submissive attention.
"It is well," said the King; "and I see thy desire to oblige me
in this matter. And herein, I must needs say, lies the
excellence of such a servant as thou, who hast not speech either
to debate our purpose or to require explanation of what we have
determined. An English serving man in thy place had given me his
dogged advice to trust the combat with some good lance of my
household, who, from my brother Longsword downwards, are all on
fire to do battle in my cause; and a chattering Frenchman had
made a thousand attempts to discover wherefore I look for a
champion from the camp of the infidels. But thou, my silent
agent, canst do mine errand without questioning or comprehending
it; with thee to hear is to obey."
A bend of the body and a genuflection were the appropriate answer
of the Ethiopian to these observations.
"And now to another point," said the King, and speaking suddenly
and rapidly--"have you yet seen Edith Plantagenet?"
The mute looked up as in the act of being about to speak--nay,
his lips had begun to utter a distinct negative--when the
abortive attempt died away in the imperfect murmurs of the dumb.
"Why, lo you there!" said the King, "the very sound of the name
of a royal maiden of beauty so surpassing as that of our lovely
cousin seems to have power enough well-nigh to make the dumb
speak. What miracles then might her eye work upon such a
subject! I will make the experiment, friend slave. Thou shalt
see this choice beauty of our Court, and do the errand of the
Again a joyful glance--again a genuflection--but, as he arose,
the King laid his hand heavily on his shoulder, and proceeded
with stern gravity thus: "Let me in one thing warn you, my sable
envoy. Even if thou shouldst feel that the kindly influence of
her whom thou art soon to behold should loosen the bonds of thy
tongue, presently imprisoned, as the good Soldan expresses it,
within the ivory walls of its castle, beware how thou changest
thy taciturn character, or speakest a word in her presence, even
if thy powers of utterance were to be miraculously restored.
Believe me that I should have thy tongue extracted by the roots,
and its ivory palace--that is, I presume, its range of teeth
--drawn out one by one. Wherefore, be wise and silent still."
The Nubian, so soon as the King had removed his heavy grasp from
his shoulder, bent his head, and laid his hand on his lips, in
token of silent obedience.
But Richard again laid his hand on him more gently, and added,
"This behest we lay on thee as on a slave. Wert thou knight and
gentleman, we would require thine honour in pledge of thy
silence, which is one especial condition of our present trust."
The Ethiopian raised his body proudly, looked full at the King,
and laid his right hand on his heart.
Richard then summoned his chamberlain.
"Go, Neville," he said, "with this slave to the tent of our royal
consort, and say it is our pleasure that he have an audience--a
private audience--of our cousin Edith. He is charged with a
commission to her. Thou canst show him the way also, in case he
requires thy guidance, though thou mayst have observed it is
wonderful how familiar he already seems to be with the purlieus
of our camp.--And thou, too, friend Ethiop," the King continued,
"what thou dost do quickly, and return hither within the half-hour."
"I stand discovered," thought the seeming Nubian, as, with
downcast looks and folded arms, he followed the hasty stride of
Neville towards the tent of Queen Berengaria--"I stand
undoubtedly discovered and unfolded to King Richard; yet I cannot
perceive that his resentment is hot against me. If I understand
his words--and surely it is impossible to misinterpret them--he
gives me a noble chance of redeeming my honour upon the crest of
this false Marquis, whose guilt I read in his craven eye and
quivering lip when the charge was made against him.--Roswal,
faithfully hast thou served thy master, and most dearly shall thy
wrong be avenged!--But what is the meaning of my present
permission to look upon her whom I had despaired ever to see
again? And why, or how, can the royal Plantagenet consent that I
should see his divine kinswoman, either as the messenger of the
heathen Saladin, or as the guilty exile whom he so lately
expelled from his camp--his audacious avowal of the affection
which is his pride being the greatest enhancement of his guilt?
That Richard should consent to her receiving a letter from an
infidel lover by the hands of one of such disproportioned rank
are either of them circumstances equally incredible, and, at the
same time, inconsistent with each other. But Richard, when
unmoved by his heady passions, is liberal, generous, and truly
noble; and as such I will deal with him, and act according to his
instructions, direct or implied, seeking to know no more than may
gradually unfold itself without my officious inquiry. To him who
has given me so brave an opportunity to vindicate my tarnished
honour, I owe acquiescence and obedience; and painful as it may
be, the debt shall be paid. And yet"--thus the proud swelling
of his heart further suggested--"Coeur de Lion, as he is called,
might have measured the feelings of others by his own. I urge an
address to his kinswoman! I, who never spoke word to her when I
took a royal prize from her hand--when I was accounted not the
lowest in feats of chivalry among the defenders of the Cross! I
approach her when in a base disguise, and in a servile habit--
and, alas! when my actual condition is that of a slave, with a
spot of dishonour on that which was once my shield! I do this!
He little knows me. Yet I thank him for the opportunity which
may make us all better acquainted with each other."
As he arrived at this conclusion, they paused before the entrance
of the Queen's pavilion.
They were of course admitted by the guards, and Neville, leaving
the Nubian in a small apartment, or antechamber, which was but
too well remembered by him, passed into that which was used as
the Queen's presence-chamber. He communicated his royal master's
pleasure in a low and respectful tone of voice, very different
from the bluntness of Thomas de Vaux, to whom Richard was
everything and the rest of the Court, including Berengaria
herself, was nothing. A burst of laughter followed the
communication of his errand.
"And what like is the Nubian slave who comes ambassador on such
an errand from the Soldan?--a negro, De Neville, is he not?" said
a female voice, easily recognized for that of Berengaria. "A
negro, is he not, De Neville, with black skin, a head curled like
a ram's, a flat nose, and blubber lips--ha, worthy Sir Henry?"
"Let not your Grace forget the shin-bones," said another voice,
"bent outwards like the edge of a Saracen scimitar."
"Rather like the bow of a Cupid, since he comes upon a lover's
errand," said the Queen.--"Gentle Neville, thou art ever prompt
to pleasure us poor women, who have so little to pass away our
idle moments. We must see this messenger of love. Turks and
Moors have I seen many, but negro never."
"I am created to obey your Grace's commands, so you will bear me
out with my Sovereign for doing so," answered the debonair
knight. "Yet, let me assure your Grace you will see something
different from what you expect."
"So much the better--uglier yet than our imaginations can fancy,
yet the chosen love-messenger of this gallant Soldan!"
"Gracious madam," said the Lady Calista, "may I implore you would
permit the good knight to carry this messenger straight to the
Lady Edith, to whom his credentials are addressed? We have
already escaped hardly for such a frolic."
"Escaped?" repeated the Queen scornfully. "Yet thou mayest be
right, Calista, in thy caution. Let this Nubian, as thou callest
him, first do his errand to our cousin--besides, he is mute too,
is he not?"
"He is, gracious madam," answered the knight.
"Royal sport have these Eastern ladies," said Berengaria,
"attended by those before whom they may say anything, yet who can
report nothing. Whereas in our camp, as the Prelate of Saint
Jude's is wont to say, a bird of the air will carry the matter."
"Because," said De Neville, "your Grace forgets that you speak
within canvas walls."
The voices sunk on this observation, and after a little
whispering, the English knight again returned to the Ethiopian,
and made him a sign to follow. He did so, and Neville conducted
him to a pavilion, pitched somewhat apart from that of the Queen,
for the accommodation, it seemed, of the Lady Edith and her
attendants. One of her Coptic maidens received the message
communicated by Sir Henry Neville, and in the space of a very few
minutes the Nubian was ushered into Edith's presence, while
Neville was left on the outside of the tent. The slave who
introduced him withdrew on a signal from her mistress, and it was
with humiliation, not of the posture only but of the very inmost
soul, that the unfortunate knight, thus strangely disguised,
threw himself on one knee, with looks bent on the ground and arms
folded on his bosom, like a criminal who expects his doom. Edith
was clad in the same manner as when she received King Richard,
her long, transparent dark veil hanging around her like the shade
of a summer night on a beautiful landscape, disguising and
rendering obscure the beauties which it could not hide. She held
in her hand a silver lamp, fed with some aromatic spirit, which
burned with unusual brightness.
When Edith came within a step of the kneeling and motionless
slave, she held the light towards his face, as if to peruse his
features more attentively, then turned from him, and placed her
lamp so as to throw the shadow of his face in profile upon the
curtain which hung beside. She at length spoke in a voice
composed, yet deeply sorrowful,
"Is it you? It is indeed you, brave Knight of the Leopard
--gallant Sir Kenneth of Scotland; is it indeed you?--thus
servilely disguised--thus surrounded by a hundred dangers."
At hearing the tones of his lady's voice thus unexpectedly
addressed to him, and in a tone of compassion approaching to
tenderness, a corresponding reply rushed to the knight's lips,
and scarce could Richard's commands and his own promised silence
prevent his answering that the sight he saw, the sounds he just
heard, were sufficient to recompense the slavery of a life, and
dangers which threatened that life every hour. He did recollect
himself, however, and a deep and impassioned sigh was his only
reply to the high-born Edith's question.
"I see--I know I have guessed right," continued Edith. "I marked
you from your first appearance near the platform on which I stood
with the Queen. I knew, too, your valiant hound. She is no true
lady, and is unworthy of the service of such a knight as thou
art, from whom disguises of dress or hue could conceal a faithful
servant. Speak, then, without fear to Edith Plantagenet. She
knows how to grace in adversity the good knight who served,
honoured, and did deeds of arms in her name, when fortune
befriended him.--Still silent! Is it fear or shame that keeps
thee so! Fear should be unknown to thee; and for shame, let it
remain with those who have wronged thee."
The knight, in despair at being obliged to play the mute in an
interview so interesting, could only express his mortification by
sighing deeply, and laying his finger upon his lips. Edith
stepped back, as if somewhat displeased.
What!" she said, "the Asiatic mute in very deed, as well as in
attire? This I looked not for. Or thou mayest scorn me, perhaps,
for thus boldly acknowledging that I have heedfully observed the
homage thou hast paid me? Hold no unworthy thoughts of Edith on
that account. She knows well the bounds which reserve and
modesty prescribe to high-born maidens, and she knows when and
how far they should give place to gratitude--to a sincere desire
that it were in her power to repay services and repair injuries
arising from the devotion which a good knight bore towards her.
Why fold thy hands together, and wring them with so much passion?
Can it be," she added, shrinking back at the idea, "that their
cruelty has actually deprived thee of speech? Thou shakest thy
head. Be it a spell--be it obstinacy, I question thee no
further, but leave thee to do thine errand after thine own
fashion. I also can be mute."
The disguised knight made an action as if at once lamenting his
own condition and deprecating her displeasure, while at the same
time he presented to her, wrapped, as usual, in fine silk and
cloth of gold, the letter of the Soldan. She took it, surveyed
it carelessly, then laid it aside, and bending her eyes once more
on the knight, she said in a low tone, "Not even a word to do
thine errand to me?"
He pressed both his hands to his brow, as if to intimate the pain
which he felt at being unable to obey her; but she turned from
him in anger.
"Begone!" she said. "I have spoken enough--too much--to one who
will not waste on me a word in reply. Begone!--and say, if I have
wronged thee, I have done penance; for if I have been the unhappy
means of dragging thee down from a station of honour, I have, in
this interview, forgotten my own worth, and lowered myself in thy
eyes and in my own."
She covered her eyes with her hands, and seemed deeply agitated.
Sir Kenneth would have approached, but she waved him back.
"Stand off! thou whose soul Heaven hath suited to its new
station! Aught less dull and fearful than a slavish mute had
spoken a word of gratitude, were it but to reconcile me to my own
degradation. Why pause you?--begone!"
The disguised knight almost involuntarily looked towards the
letter as an apology for protracting his stay. She snatched it
up, saying in a tone of irony and contempt, "I had forgotten--the
dutiful slave waits an answer to his message. How's this--from
She hastily ran over the contents, which were expressed both in
Arabic and French, and when she had done, she laughed in bitter
"Now this passes imagination!" she said; "no jongleur can show so
deft a transmutation! His legerdemain can transform zechins and
byzants into doits and maravedis; but can his art convert a
Christian knight, ever esteemed among the bravest of the Holy
Crusade, into the dust-kissing slave of a heathen Soldan--the
bearer of a paynim's insolent proposals to a Christian maiden--
nay, forgetting the laws of honourable chivalry, as well as of
religion? But it avails not talking to the willing slave of a
heathen hound. Tell your master, when his scourge shall have
found thee a tongue, that which thou hast seen me do"--so saying,
she threw the Soldan's letter on the ground, and placed her foot
upon it--"and say to him, that Edith Plantagenet scorns the
homage of an unchristened pagan."
With these words she was about to shoot from the knight, when,
kneeling at her feet in bitter agony, he ventured to lay his hand
upon her robe and oppose her departure.
"Heard'st thou not what I said, dull slave?" she said, turning
short round on him, and speaking with emphasis. "Tell the heathen
Soldan, thy master, that I scorn his suit as much as I despise
the prostration of a worthless renegade to religion and chivalry
--to God and to his lady!"
So saying, she burst from him, tore her garment from his grasp,
and left the tent.
The voice of Neville, at the same time, summoned him from
without. Exhausted and stupefied by the distress he had
undergone during this interview, from which he could only have
extricated himself by breach of the engagement which he had
formed with King Richard, the unfortunate knight staggered rather
than walked after the English baron, till they reached the royal
pavilion, before which a party of horsemen had just dismounted.
There were light and motion within the tent, and when Neville
entered with his disguised attendant, they found the King, with
several of his nobility, engaged in welcoming those who were
"The tears I shed must ever fall.
I weep not for an absent swain;
For time may happier hours recall,
And parted lovers meet again.
"I weep not for the silent dead.
Their pains are past, their sorrows o'er;
And those that loved their steps must tread,
When death shall join to part no more."
But worse than absence, worse than death,
She wept her lover's sullied fame,
And, fired with all the pride of birth,
She wept a soldier's injured name. BALLAD.
The frank and bold voice of Richard was heard in joyous
"Thomas de Vaux! stout Tom of the Gills! by the head of King
Henry, thou art welcome to me as ever was flask of wine to a
jolly toper! I should scarce have known how to order my battle-array, unless I had thy bulky form in mine
eye as a landmark to
form my ranks upon. We shall have blows anon, Thomas, if the
saints be gracious to us; and had we fought in thine absence, I
would have looked to hear of thy being found hanging upon an
"I should have borne my disappointment with more Christian
patience, I trust," said Thomas de Vaux, "than to have died the
death of an apostate. But I thank your Grace for my welcome,
which is the more generous, as it respects a banquet of blows, of
which, saving your pleasure, you are ever too apt to engross the
larger share. But here have I brought one to whom your Grace
will, I know, give a yet warmer welcome."
The person who now stepped forward to make obeisance to Richard
was a young man of low stature and slight form. His dress was as
modest as his figure was unimpressive; but he bore on his bonnet
a gold buckle, with a gem, the lustre of which could only be
rivalled by the brilliancy of the eye which the bonnet shaded.
It was the only striking feature in his countenance; but when
once noticed, it ever made a strong impression on the spectator.
About his neck there hung in a scarf of sky-blue silk a WREST as
it was called--that is, the key with which a harp is tuned, and
which was of solid gold.
This personage would have kneeled reverently to Richard, but the
Monarch raised him in joyful haste, pressed him to his bosom
warmly, and kissed him on either side of the face.
"Blondel de Nesle!" he exclaimed joyfully--"welcome from Cyprus,
my king of minstrels!--welcome to the King of England, who rates
not his own dignity more highly than he does thine. I have been
sick, man, and, by my soul, I believe it was for lack of thee;
for, were I half way to the gate of heaven, methinks thy strains
could call me back. And what news, my gentle master, from the
land of the lyre? Anything fresh from the TROUVEURS of Provence?
Anything from the minstrels of merry Normandy? Above all, hast
thou thyself been busy? But I need not ask thee--thou canst not
be idle if thou wouldst; thy noble qualities are like a fire
burning within, and compel thee to pour thyself out in music and
"Something I have learned, and something I have done, noble
King," answered the celebrated Blondel, with a retiring modesty
which all Richard's enthusiastic admiration of his skill had been
unable to banish.
"We will hear thee, man--we will hear thee instantly," said the
King. Then, touching Blondel's shoulder kindly, he added, "That
is, if thou art not fatigued with thy journey; for I would sooner
ride my best horse to death than injure a note of thy voice."
"My voice is, as ever, at the service of my royal patron," said
Blondel; "but your Majesty," he added, looking at some papers on
the table, "seems more importantly engaged, and the hour waxes
"Not a whit, man, not a whit, my dearest Blondel. I did but
sketch an array of battle against the Saracens, a thing of a
moment, almost as soon done as the routing of them."
"Methinks, however," said Thomas de Vaux, "it were not unfit to
inquire what soldiers your Grace hath to array. I bring reports
on that subject from Ascalon."
"Thou art a mule, Thomas," said the King--"a very mule for
dullness and obstinacy! Come, nobles--a hall--a hall--range ye
around him! Give Blondel the tabouret. Where is his harp-bearer?--or, soft, lend him my harp, his own
may be damaged by
"I would your Grace would take my report," said Thomas de Vaux.
"I have ridden far, and have more list to my bed than to have my
"THY ears tickled!" said the King; "that must be with a
woodcock's feather, and not with sweet sounds. Hark thee,
Thomas, do thine ears know the singing of Blondel from the
braying of an ass?"
"In faith, my liege," replied Thomas, "I cannot well say; but
setting Blondel out of the question, who is a born gentleman, and
doubtless of high acquirements, I shall never, for the sake of
your Grace's question, look on a minstrel but I shall think upon
"And might not your manners," said Richard, "have excepted me,
who am a gentleman born as well as Blondel, and, like him, a
guild-brother of the joyeuse science?"
"Your Grace should remember," said De Vaux, smiling, "that 'tis
useless asking for manners from a mule."
"Most truly spoken," said the King; "and an ill-conditioned
animal thou art. But come hither, master mule, and be unloaded,
that thou mayest get thee to thy litter, without any music being
wasted on thee. Meantime do thou, good brother of Salisbury, go
to our consort's tent, and tell her that Blondel has arrived,
with his budget fraught with the newest minstrelsy. Bid her come
hither instantly, and do thou escort her, and see that our
cousin, Edith Plantagenet, remain not behind."
His eye then rested for a moment on the Nubian, with that
expression of doubtful meaning which his countenance usually
displayed when he looked at him.
"Ha, our silent and secret messenger returned?--Stand up, slave,
behind the back of De Neville, and thou shalt hear presently
sounds which will make thee bless God that He afflicted thee
rather with dumbness than deafness."
So saying, he turned from the rest of the company towards De
Vaux, and plunged instantly into the military details which that
baron laid before him.
About the time that the Lord of Gilsland had finished his
audience, a messenger announced that the Queen and her attendants
were approaching the royal tent.--"A flask of wine, ho!" said
the King; "of old King Isaac's long-saved Cyprus, which we won
when we stormed Famagosta. Fill to the stout Lord of Gilsland,
gentles--a more careful and faithful servant never had any
"I am glad," said Thomas de Vaux, "that your Grace finds the mule
a useful slave, though his voice be less musical than horse-hair
"What, thou canst not yet digest that quip of the mule?" said
Richard. "Wash it down with a brimming flagon, man, or thou wilt
choke upon it. Why, so--well pulled!--and now I will tell thee,
thou art a soldier as well as I, and we must brook each other's
jests in the hall as each other's blows in the tourney, and love
each other the harder we hit. By my faith, if thou didst not hit
me as hard as I did thee in our late encounter! thou gavest all
thy wit to the thrust. But here lies the difference betwixt thee
and Blondel. Thou art but my comrade--I might say my pupil--in
the art of war; Blondel is my master in the science of minstrelsy
and music. To thee I permit the freedom of intimacy; to him I
must do reverence, as to my superior in his art. Come, man, be
not peevish, but remain and hear our glee."
"To see your Majesty in such cheerful mood," said the Lord of
Gilsland, "by my faith, I could remain till Blondel had achieved
the great romance of King Arthur, which lasts for three days."
"We will not tax your patience so deeply," said the King. "But
see, yonder glare of torches without shows that our consort
approaches. Away to receive her, man, and win thyself grace in
the brightest eyes of Christendom. Nay, never stop to adjust thy
cloak. See, thou hast let Neville come between the wind and the
sails of thy galley."
"He was never before me in the field of battle," said De Vaux,
not greatly pleased to see himself anticipated by the more active
service of the chamberlain.
"No, neither he nor any one went before thee there, my good Tom
of the Gills," said the King, "unless it was ourself, now and
"Ay, my liege," said De Vaux, "and let us do justice to the
unfortunate. The unhappy Knight of the Leopard hath been before
me too, at a season; for, look you, he weighs less on horseback,
"Hush!" said the King, interrupting him in a peremptory tone,
"not a word of him," and instantly stepped forward to greet his
royal consort; and when he had done so, he presented to her
Blondel, as king of minstrelsy and his master in the gay science.
Berengaria, who well knew that her royal husband's passion for
poetry and music almost equalled his appetite for warlike fame,
and that Blondel was his especial favourite, took anxious care to
receive him with all the flattering distinctions due to one whom
the King delighted to honour. Yet it was evident that, though
Blondel made suitable returns to the compliments showered on him
something too abundantly by the royal beauty, he owned with
deeper reverence and more humble gratitude the simple and
graceful welcome of Edith, whose kindly greeting appeared to him,
perhaps, sincere in proportion to its brevity and simplicity.
Both the Queen and her royal husband were aware of this
distinction, and Richard, seeing his consort somewhat piqued at
the preference assigned to his cousin, by which perhaps he
himself did not feel much gratified, said in the hearing of both,
"We minstrels, Berengaria, as thou mayest see by the bearing of
our master Blondel, pay more reverence to a severe judge like our
kinswoman than to a kindly, partial friend like thyself, who is
willing to take our worth upon trust."
Edith was moved by this sarcasm of her royal kinsman, and
hesitated not to reply that, "To be a harsh and severe judge was
not an attribute proper to her alone of all the Plantagenets."
She had perhaps said more, having some touch of the temper of
that house, which, deriving their name and cognizance from the
lowly broom (PLANTA GENISTA), assumed as an emblem of humility,
were perhaps one of the proudest families that ever ruled in
England; but her eye, when kindling in her reply, suddenly caught
those of the Nubian, although he endeavoured to conceal himself
behind the nobles who were present, and she sunk upon a seat,
turning so pale that Queen Berengaria deemed herself obliged to
call for water and essences, and to go through the other
ceremonies appropriate to a lady's swoon. Richard, who better
estimated Edith's strength of mind, called to Blondel to assume
his seat and commence his lay, declaring that minstrelsy was
worth every other recipe to recall a Plantagenet to life. "Sing
us," he said, "that song of the Bloody Vest, of which thou didst
formerly give me the argument ere I left Cyprus. Thou must be
perfect in it by this time, or, as our yeomen say, thy bow is
The anxious eye of the minstrel, however, dwelt on Edith, and it
was not till he observed her returning colour that he obeyed the
repeated commands of the King. Then, accompanying his voice with
the harp, so as to grace, but yet not drown, the sense of what he
sung, he chanted in a sort of recitative one of those ancient
adventures of love and knighthood which were wont of yore to win
the public attention. So soon as he began to prelude, the
insignificance of his personal appearance seemed to disappear,
and his countenance glowed with energy and inspiration. His
full, manly, mellow voice, so absolutely under command of the
purest taste, thrilled on every ear and to every heart. Richard,
rejoiced as after victory, called out the appropriate summons for
"Listen, lords, in bower and hall;"
while, with the zeal of a patron at once and a pupil, he arranged
the circle around, and hushed them into silence; and he himself
sat down with an air of expectation and interest, not altogether
unmixed with the gravity of the professed critic. The courtiers
turned their eyes on the King, that they might be ready to trace
and imitate the emotions his features should express, and Thomas
de Vaux yawned tremendously, as one who submitted unwillingly to
a wearisome penance. The song of Blondel was of course in the
Norman language, but the verses which follow express its meaning
and its manner.
THE BLOODY VEST.
'Twas near the fair city of Benevent,
When the sun was setting on bough and bent,
And knights were preparing in bower and tent,
On the eve of the Baptist's tournament;
When in Lincoln green a stripling gent,
Well seeming a page by a princess sent,
Wander'd the camp, and, still as he went,
Inquired for the Englishman, Thomas a Kent.
Far hath he far'd, and farther must fare,
Till he finds his pavilion nor stately nor rare,--
Little save iron and steel was there;
And, as lacking the coin to pay armourer's care,
With his sinewy arms to the shoulders bare,
The good knight with hammer and file did repair
The mail that to-morrow must see him wear,
For the honour of Saint John and his lady fair.
"Thus speaks my lady," the page said he,
And the knight bent lowly both head and knee,
"She is Benevent's Princess so high in degree,
And thou art as lowly as knight may well be--
He that would climb so lofty a tree,
Or spring such a gulf as divides her from thee,
Must dare some high deed, by which all men may see
His ambition is back'd by his hie chivalrie.
"Therefore thus speaks my lady," the fair page he said,
And the knight lowly louted with hand and with head,
"Fling aside the good armour in which thou art clad,
And don thou this weed of her night-gear instead,
For a hauberk of steel, a kirtle of thread;
And charge, thus attir'd, in the tournament dread,
And fight as thy wont is where most blood is shed,
And bring honour away, or remain with the dead."
Untroubled in his look, and untroubled in his breast,
The knight the weed hath taken, and reverently hath kiss'd.
"Now blessed be the moment, the messenger be blest!
Much honour'd do I hold me in my lady's high behest;
And say unto my lady, in this dear night-weed dress'd,
To the best armed champion I will not veil my crest;
But if I live and bear me well 'tis her turn to take the test."
Here, gentles, ends the foremost fytte of the Lay of the Bloody
"Thou hast changed the measure upon us unawares in that last
couplet, my Blondel," said the King.
"Most true, my lord," said Blondel. "I rendered the verses from
the Italian of an old harper whom I met in Cyprus, and not having
had time either to translate it accurately or commit it to
memory, I am fain to supply gaps in the music and the verse as I
can upon the spur of the moment, as you see boors mend a quickset
fence with a fagot."
"Nay, on my faith," said the King, "I like these rattling,
rolling Alexandrines. Methinks they come more twangingly off to
the music than that briefer measure."
"Both are licensed, as is well known to your Grace," answered
"They are so, Blondel," said Richard, "yet methinks the scene
where there is like to be fighting will go best on in these same
thundering Alexandrines, which sound like the charge of cavalry,
while the other measure is but like the sidelong amble of a
"It shall be as your Grace pleases," replied Blondel, and began
again to prelude.
"Nay, first cherish thy fancy with a cup of fiery Chios wine,"
said the King. "And hark thee, I would have thee fling away that
new-fangled restriction of thine, of terminating in accurate and
similar rhymes. They are a constraint on thy flow of fancy, and
make thee resemble a man dancing in fetters."
"The fetters are easily flung off, at least," said Blondel, again
sweeping his fingers over the strings, as one who would rather
have played than listened to criticism.
"But why put them on, man?" continued the King. "Wherefore thrust
thy genius into iron bracelets? I marvel how you got forward at
all. I am sure I should not have been able to compose a stanza
in yonder hampered measure."
Blondel looked down, and busied himself with the strings of his
harp, to hide an involuntary smile which crept over his features;
but it escaped not Richard's observation.
"By my faith, thou laughest at me, Blondel," he said; "and, in
good truth, every man deserves it who presumes to play the master
when he should be the pupil. But we kings get bad habits of
self-opinion. Come, on with thy lay, dearest Blondel--on after
thine own fashion, better than aught that we can suggest, though
we must needs be talking."
Blondel resumed the lay; but as extemporaneous composition was
familiar to him, he failed not to comply with the King's hints,
and was perhaps not displeased to show with how much ease he
could new-model a poem, even while in the act of recitation.
THE BLOODY VEST.
The Baptist's fair morrow beheld gallant feats--
There was winning of honour and losing of seats;
There was hewing with falchions and splintering of staves--
The victors won glory, the vanquish'd won graves.
Oh, many a knight there fought bravely and well,
Yet one was accounted his peers to excel,
And 'twas he whose sole armour on body and breast
Seem'd the weed of a damsel when bouned for her rest.
There were some dealt him wounds that were bloody and sore,
But others respected his plight, and forbore.
"It is some oath of honour," they said, "and I trow,
'Twere unknightly to slay him achieving his vow."
Then the Prince, for his sake, bade the tournament cease--
He flung down his warder, the trumpets sung peace;
And the judges declare, and competitors yield,
That the Knight of the Night-gear was first in the field.
The feast it was nigh, and the mass it was nigher,
When before the fair Princess low looted a squire,
And deliver'd a garment unseemly to view,
With sword-cut and spear-thrust, all hack'd and pierc'd through;
All rent and all tatter'd, all clotted with blood,
With foam of the horses, with dust, and with mud;
Not the point of that lady's small finger, I ween,
Could have rested on spot was unsullied and clean.
"This token my master, Sir Thomas a Kent,
Restores to the Princess of fair Benevent;
He that climbs the tall tree has won right to the fruit,
He that leaps the wide gulf should prevail in his suit;
Through life's utmost peril the prize I have won,
And now must the faith of my mistress be shown:
For she who prompts knights on such danger to run
Must avouch his true service in front of the sun.
"'I restore,' says my master, 'the garment I've worn,
And I claim of the Princess to don it in turn;
For its stains and its rents she should prize it the more,
Since by shame 'tis unsullied, though crimson'd with gore.'"
Then deep blush'd the Princess--yet kiss'd she and press'd
The blood-spotted robes to her lips and her breast.
"Go tell my true knight, church and chamber shall show
If I value the blood on this garment or no."
And when it was time for the nobles to pass,
In solemn procession to minster and mass,
The first walk'd the Princess in purple and pall,
But the blood-besmear'd night-robe she wore over all;
And eke, in the hall, where they all sat at dine,
When she knelt to her father and proffer'd the wine,
Over all her rich robes and state jewels she wore
That wimple unseemly bedabbled with gore.
Then lords whisper'd ladies, as well you may think,
And ladies replied with nod, titter, and wink;
And the Prince, who in anger and shame had look'd down,
Turn'd at length to his daughter, and spoke with a frown:
"Now since thou hast publish'd thy folly and guilt,
E'en atone with thy hand for the blood thou hast spilt;
Yet sore for your boldness you both will repent,
When you wander as exiles from fair Benevent'"
Then out spoke stout Thomas, in hall where he stood,
Exhausted and feeble, but dauntless of mood:
"The blood that I lost for this daughter of thine,
I pour'd forth as freely as flask gives its wine;
And if for my sake she brooks penance and blame,
Do not doubt I will save her from suffering and shame;
And light will she reck of thy princedom and rent,
When I hail her, in England, the Countess of Kent,"
A murmur of applause ran through the assembly, following
the example of Richard himself, who loaded with praises
his favourite minstrel, and ended by presenting him with a
ring of considerable value. The Queen hastened to
distinguish the favourite by a rich bracelet, and many of the
nobles who were present followed the royal example.
"Is our cousin Edith," said the King, "become insensible to the
sound of the harp she once loved?"
"She thanks Blondel for his lay," replied Edith, "but doubly the
kindness of the kinsman who suggested it."
"Thou art angry, cousin," said the King; "angry because thou hast
heard of a woman more wayward than thyself. But you escape me
not. I will walk a space homeward with you towards the Queen's
pavilion. We must have conference together ere the night has
waned into morning."
The Queen and her attendants were now on foot, and the other
guests withdrew from the royal tent. A train with blazing
torches, and an escort of archers, awaited Berengaria without the
pavilion, and she was soon on her way homeward. Richard, as he
had proposed, walked beside his kinswoman, and compelled her to
accept of his arm as her support, so that they could speak to
each other without being overheard.
"What answer, then, am I to return to the noble Soldan?" said
Richard. "The kings and princes are falling from me, Edith; this
new quarrel hath alienated them once more. I would do something
for the Holy Sepulchre by composition, if not by victory; and the
chance of my doing this depends, alas, on the caprice of a woman.
I would lay my single spear in the rest against ten of the best
lances in Christendom, rather than argue with a wilful wench who
knows not what is for her own good. What answer, coz, am I to
return to the Soldan? It must be decisive."
"Tell him," said Edith, "that the poorest of the Plantagenets
will rather wed with misery than with misbelief."
"Shall I say with slavery, Edith?" said the King. "Methinks that
is nearer thy thoughts."
"There is no room," said Edith, "for the suspicion you so grossly
insinuate. Slavery of the body might have been pitied, but that
of the soul is only to be despised. Shame to thee, King of merry
England. Thou hast enthralled both the limbs and the spirit of a
knight, one scarce less famed than thyself."
"Should I not prevent my kinswoman from drinking poison, by
sullying the vessel which contained it, if I saw no other means
of disgusting her with the fatal liquor?" replied the King.
"It is thyself," answered Edith, "that would press me to drink
poison, because it is proffered in a golden chalice."
"Edith," said Richard, "I cannot force thy resolution; but beware
you shut not the door which Heaven opens. The hermit of Engaddi
--he whom Popes and Councils have regarded as a prophet--hath
read in the stars that thy marriage shall reconcile me with a
powerful enemy, and that thy husband shall be Christian, leaving
thus the fairest ground to hope that the conversion of the
Soldan, and the bringing in of the sons of Ishmael to the pale of
the church, will be the consequence of thy wedding with Saladin.
Come, thou must make some sacrifice rather than mar such happy
"Men may sacrifice rams and goats," said Edith, "but not honour
and conscience. I have heard that it was the dishonour of a
Christian maiden which brought the Saracens into Spain; the shame
of another is no likely mode of expelling them from Palestine."
"Dost thou call it shame to become an empress?" said the King.
"I call it shame and dishonour to profane a Christian sacrament
by entering into it with an infidel whom it cannot bind; and I
call it foul dishonour that I, the descendant of a Christian
princess, should become of free will the head of a haram of
"Well, kinswoman," said the King, after a pause, "I must not
quarrel with thee, though I think thy dependent condition might
have dictated more compliance."
"My liege," replied Edith, "your Grace hath worthily succeeded to
all the wealth, dignity, and dominion of the House of
Plantagenet--do not, therefore, begrudge your poor kinswoman some
small share of their pride."
"By my faith, wench," said the King, "thou hast unhorsed me with
that very word, so we will kiss and be friends. I will presently
dispatch thy answer to Saladin. But after all, coz, were it not
better to suspend your answer till you have seen him? Men say he
is pre-eminently handsome."
"There is no chance of our meeting, my lord," said Edith.
"By Saint George, but there is next to a certainty of it," said
the King; "for Saladin will doubtless afford us a free field for
the doing of this new battle of the Standard, and will witness it
himself. Berengaria is wild to behold it also; and I dare be
sworn not a feather of you, her companions and attendants, will
remain behind--least of all thou thyself, fair coz. But come, we
have reached the pavilion, and must part; not in unkindness thou,
oh--nay, thou must seal it with thy lip as well as thy hand,
sweet Edith--it is my right as a sovereign to kiss my pretty
He embraced her respectfully and affectionately, and returned
through the moonlit camp, humming to himself such snatches of
Blondel's lay as he could recollect.
On his arrival he lost no time in making up his dispatches for
Saladin, and delivered them to the Nubian, with a charge to set
out by peep of day on his return to the Soldan.
We heard the Tecbir--so these Arabs call
Their shout of onset, when, with loud acclaim,
They challenge Heaven to give them victory. SIEGE OF DAMASCUS.
On the subsequent morning Richard was invited to a conference by
Philip of France, in which the latter, with many expressions of
his high esteem for his brother of England, communicated to him
in terms extremely courteous, but too explicit to be
misunderstood, his positive intention to return to Europe, and to
the cares of his kingdom, as entirely despairing of future
success in their undertaking, with their diminished forces and
civil discords. Richard remonstrated, but in vain; and when the
conference ended he received without surprise a manifesto from
the Duke of Austria, and several other princes, announcing a
resolution similar to that of Philip, and in no modified terms,
assigning, for their defection from the cause of the Cross, the
inordinate ambition and arbitrary domination of Richard of
England. All hopes of continuing the war with any prospect of
ultimate success were now abandoned; and Richard, while he shed
bitter tears over his disappointed hopes of glory, was little
consoled by the recollection that the failure was in some degree
to be imputed to the advantages which he had given his enemies by
his own hasty and imprudent temper.
"They had not dared to have deserted my father thus," he said to
De Vaux, in the bitterness of his resentment. "No slanders they
could have uttered against so wise a king would have been
believed in Christendom; whereas--fool that I am!--I have not
only afforded them a pretext for deserting me, but even a colour
for casting all the blame of the rupture upon my unhappy
These thoughts were so deeply galling to the King, that De Vaux
was rejoiced when the arrival of an ambassador from Saladin
turned his reflections into a different channel.
This new envoy was an Emir much respected by the Soldan, whose
name was Abdallah el Hadgi. He derived his descent from the
family of the Prophet, and the race or tribe of Hashem, in
witness of which genealogy he wore a green turban of large
dimensions. He had also three times performed the journey to
Mecca, from which he derived his epithet of El Hadgi, or the
Pilgrim. Notwithstanding these various pretensions to sanctity,
Abdallah was (for an Arab) a boon companion, who enjoyed a merry
tale, and laid aside his gravity so far as to quaff a blithe
flagon when secrecy ensured him against scandal. He was likewise
a statesman, whose abilities had been used by Saladin in various
negotiations with the Christian princes, and particularly with
Richard, to whom El Hadgi was personally known and acceptable.
Animated by the cheerful acquiescence with which the envoy of
Saladin afforded a fair field for the combat, a safe conduct for
all who might choose to witness it, and offered his own person as
a guarantee of his fidelity, Richard soon forgot his disappointed
hopes, and the approaching dissolution of the Christian league,
in the interesting discussions preceding a combat in the lists.
The station called the Diamond of the Desert was assigned for the
place of conflict, as being nearly at an equal distance betwixt
the Christian and Saracen camps. It was agreed that Conrade of
Montserrat, the defendant, with his godfathers, the Archduke of
Austria and the Grand Master of the Templars, should appear there
on the day fixed for the combat, with a hundred armed followers,
and no more; that Richard of England and his brother Salisbury,
who supported the accusation, should attend with the same number,
to protect his champion; and that the Soldan should bring with
him a guard of five hundred chosen followers, a band considered
as not more than equal to the two hundred Christian lances. Such
persons of consideration as either party chose to invite to
witness the contest were to wear no other weapons than their
swords, and to come without defensive armour. The Soldan
undertook the preparation of the lists, and to provide
accommodations and refreshments of every kind for all who were to
assist at the solemnity; and his letters expressed with much
courtesy the pleasure which he anticipated in the prospect of a
personal and peaceful meeting with the Melech Ric, and his
anxious desire to render his reception as agreeable as possible.
All preliminaries being arranged and communicated to the
defendant and his godfathers, Abdullah the Hadgi was admitted to
a more private interview, where he heard with delight the strains
of Blondel. Having first carefully put his green turban out of
sight, and assumed a Greek cap in its stead, he requited the
Norman minstrel's music with a drinking song from the Persian,
and quaffed a hearty flagon of Cyprus wine, to show that his
practice matched his principles. On the next day, grave and
sober as the water-drinker Mirglip, he bent his brow to the
ground before Saladin's footstool, and rendered to the Soldan an
account of his embassy.
On the day before that appointed for the combat Conrade and his
friends set off by daybreak to repair to the place assigned, and
Richard left the camp at the same hour and for the same purpose;
but, as had been agreed upon, he took his journey by a different
route--a precaution which had been judged necessary, to prevent
the possibility of a quarrel betwixt their armed attendants.
The good King himself was in no humour for quarrelling with any
one. Nothing could have added to his pleasurable anticipations
of a desperate and bloody combat in the lists, except his being
in his own royal person one of the combatants; and he was half in
charity again even with Conrade of Montserrat. Lightly armed,
richly dressed, and gay as a bridegroom on the eve of his
nuptials, Richard caracoled along by the side of Queen
Berengaria's litter, pointing out to her the various scenes
through which they passed, and cheering with tale and song the
bosom of the inhospitable wilderness. The former route of the
Queen's pilgrimage to Engaddi had been on the other side of the
chain of mountains, so that the ladies were strangers to the
scenery of the desert; and though Berengaria knew her husband's
disposition too well not to endeavour to seem interested in what
he was pleased either to say or to sing, she could not help
indulging some female fears when she found herself in the howling
wilderness with so small an escort, which seemed almost like a
moving speck on the bosom of the plain, and knew at the same time
they were not so distant from the camp of Saladin, but what they
might be in a moment surprised and swept off by an overpowering
host of his fiery-footed cavalry, should the pagan be faithless
enough to embrace an opportunity thus tempting. But when she
hinted these suspicions to Richard he repelled them with
displeasure and disdain. "It were worse than ingratitude," he
said, "to doubt the good faith of the generous Soldan."
Yet the same doubts and fears recurred more than once, not to the
timid mind of the Queen alone, but to the firmer and more candid
soul of Edith Plantagenet, who had no such confidence in the
faith of the Moslem as to render her perfectly at ease when so
much in their power; and her surprise had been far less than her
terror, if the desert around had suddenly resounded with the
shout of ALLAH HU! and a band of Arab cavalry had pounced on
them like vultures on their prey. Nor were these suspicions
lessened when, as evening approached, they were aware of a single
Arab horseman, distinguished by his turban and long lance,
hovering on the edge of a small eminence like a hawk poised in
the air, and who instantly, on the appearance of the royal
retinue, darted off with the speed of the same bird when it
shoots down the wind and disappears from the horizon.
"We must be near the station," said King Richard; "and yonder
cavalier is one of Saladin's outposts--methinks I hear the noise
of the Moorish horns and cymbals. Get you into order, my hearts,
and form yourselves around the ladies soldierlike and firmly."
As he spoke, each knight, squire, and archer hastily closed in
upon his appointed ground, and they proceeded in the most compact
order, which made their numbers appear still smaller. And to say
the truth, though there might be no fear, there was anxiety as
well as curiosity in the attention with which they listened to
the wild bursts of Moorish music, which came ever and anon more
distinctly from the quarter in which the Arab horseman had been
seen to disappear.
De Vaux spoke in a whisper to the King. "Were it not well, my
liege, to send a page to the top of that sand-bank? Or would it
stand with your pleasure that I prick forward? Methinks, by all
yonder clash and clang, if there be no more than five hundred men
beyond the sand-hills, half of the Soldan's retinue must be
drummers and cymbal-tossers. Shall I spur on?"
The baron had checked his horse with the bit, and was just about
to strike him with the spurs when the King exclaimed, "Not for
the world. Such a caution would express suspicion, and could do
little to prevent surprise, which, however, I apprehend not."
They advanced accordingly in close and firm order till they
surmounted the line of low sand-hills, and came in sight of the
appointed station, when a splendid, but at the same time a
startling, spectacle awaited them.
The Diamond of the Desert, so lately a solitary fountain,
distinguished only amid the waste by solitary groups of palm-trees, was now the centre of an encampment,
the embroidered flags
and gilded ornaments of which glittered far and wide, and
reflected a thousand rich tints against the setting sun. The
coverings of the large pavilions were of the gayest colours--
scarlet, bright yellow, pale blue, and other gaudy and gleaming
hues--and the tops of their pillars, or tent-poles, were
decorated with golden pomegranates and small silken flags. But
besides these distinguished pavilions, there were what Thomas de
Vaux considered as a portentous number of the ordinary black
tents of the Arabs, being sufficient, as he conceived, to
accommodate, according to the Eastern fashion, a host of five
thousand men. A number of Arabs and Kurds, fully corresponding
to the extent of the encampment, were hastily assembling, each
leading his horse in his hand, and their muster was accompanied
by an astonishing clamour of their noisy instruments of martial
music, by which, in all ages, the warfare of the Arabs has been
They soon formed a deep and confused mass of dismounted cavalry
in front of their encampment, when, at the signal of a shrill
cry, which arose high over the clangour of the music, each
cavalier sprung to his saddle. A cloud of dust arising at the
moment of this manoeuvre hid from Richard and his attendants the
camp, the palm-trees, and the distant ridge of mountains, as well
as the troops whose sudden movement had raised the cloud, and,
ascending high over their heads, formed itself into the fantastic
forms of writhed pillars, domes, and minarets. Another shrill
yell was heard from the bosom of this cloudy tabernacle. It was
the signal for the cavalry to advance, which they did at full
gallop, disposing themselves as they came forward so as to come
in at once on the front, flanks, and rear of Richard's little
bodyguard, who were thus surrounded, and almost choked by the
dense clouds of dust enveloping them on each side, through which
were seen alternately, and lost, the grim forms and wild faces of
the Saracens, brandishing and tossing their lances in every
possible direction with the wildest cries and halloos, and
frequently only reining up their horses when within a spear's
length of the Christians, while those in the rear discharged over
the heads of both parties thick volleys of arrows. One of these
struck the litter in which the Queen was seated, who loudly
screamed, and the red spot was on Richard's brow in an instant.
"Ha! Saint George," he exclaimed, "we must take some order with
this infidel scum!"
But Edith, whose litter was near, thrust her head out, and with
her hand holding one of the shafts, exclaimed, "Royal Richard,
beware what you do! see, these arrows are headless!"
"Noble, sensible wench!" exclaimed Richard; "by Heaven, thou
shamest us all by thy readiness of thought and eye.--Be not
moved, my English hearts," he exclaimed to his followers; "their
arrows have no heads--and their spears, too, lack the steel
points. It is but a wild welcome, after their savage fashion,
though doubtless they would rejoice to see us daunted or
disturbed. Move onward, slow and steady."
The little phalanx moved forward accordingly, accompanied on all
sides by the Arabs, with the shrillest and most piercing cries,
the bowmen, meanwhile, displaying their agility by shooting as
near the crests of the Christians as was possible, without
actually hitting them, while the lancers charged each other with
such rude blows of their blunt weapons that more than one of them
lost his saddle, and well-nigh his life, in this rough sport.
All this, though designed to express welcome, had rather a
doubtful appearance in the eyes of the Europeans.
As they had advanced nearly half way towards the camp, King
Richard and his suite forming, as it were, the nucleus round
which this tumultuary body of horsemen howled, whooped,
skirmished, and galloped, creating a scene of indescribable
confusion, another shrill cry was heard, on which all these
irregulars, who were on the front and upon the flanks of the
little body of Europeans, wheeled off; and forming themselves
into a long and deep column, followed with comparative order and
silence in the rear of Richard's troops. The dust began now to
dissipate in their front, when there advanced to meet them
through that cloudy veil a body of cavalry of a different and
more regular description, completely armed with offensive and
defensive weapons, and who might well have served as a bodyguard
to the proudest of Eastern monarchs. This splendid troop
consisted of five hundred men and each horse which it contained
was worth an earl's ransom. The riders were Georgian and
Circassian slaves in the very prime of life. Their helmets and
hauberks were formed of steel rings, so bright that they shone
like silver; their vestures were of the gayest colours, and some
of cloth of gold or silver; the sashes were twisted with silk and
gold, their rich turbans were plumed and jewelled, and their
sabres and poniards, of Damascene steel, were adorned with gold
and gems on hilt and scabbard.
This splendid array advanced to the sound of military music, and
when they met the Christian body they opened their files to the
right and left, and let them enter between their ranks. Richard
now assumed the foremost place in his troop, aware that Saladin
himself was approaching. Nor was it long when, in the centre of
his bodyguard, surrounded by his domestic officers and those
hideous negroes who guard the Eastern haram, and whose misshapen
forms were rendered yet more frightful by the richness of their
attire, came the Soldan, with the look and manners of one on
whose brow Nature had written, This is a King! In his snow-white
turban, vest, and wide Eastern trousers, wearing a sash of
scarlet silk, without any other ornament, Saladin might have
seemed the plainest-dressed man in his own guard. But closer
inspection discerned in his turban that inestimable gem which was
called by the poets the Sea of Light; the diamond on which his
signet was engraved, and which he wore in a ring, was probably
worth all the jewels of the English crown; and a sapphire which
terminated the hilt of his cangiar was not of much inferior
value. It should be added that, to protect himself from the
dust, which in the vicinity of the Dead Sea resembles the finest
ashes, or, perhaps, out of Oriental pride, the Soldan wore a sort
of veil attached to his turban, which partly obscured the view of
his noble features. He rode a milk-white Arabian, which bore him
as if conscious and proud of his noble burden.
There was no need of further introduction. The two heroic
monarchs--for such they both were--threw themselves at once from
horseback, and the troops halting and the music suddenly ceasing,
they advanced to meet each other in profound silence, and after a
courteous inclination on either side they embraced as brethren
and equals. The pomp and display upon both sides attracted no
further notice--no one saw aught save Richard and Saladin, and
they too beheld nothing but each other. The looks with which
Richard surveyed Saladin were, however, more intently curious
than those which the Soldan fixed upon him; and the Soldan also
was the first to break silence.
"The Melech Ric is welcome to Saladin as water to this desert. I
trust he hath no distrust of this numerous array. Excepting the
armed slaves of my household, those who surround you with eyes of
wonder and of welcome are--even the humblest of them--the
privileged nobles of my thousand tribes; for who that could claim
a title to be present would remain at home when such a Prince was
to be seen as Richard, with the terrors of whose name, even on
the sands of Yemen, the nurse stills her child, and the free Arab
subdues his restive steed!"
"And these are all nobles of Araby?" said Richard, looking
around on wild forms with their persons covered with haiks, their
countenance swart with the sunbeams, their teeth as white as
ivory, their black eyes glancing with fierce and preternatural
lustre from under the shade of their turbans, and their dress
being in general simple even to meanness.
"They claim such rank," said Saladin; "but though numerous, they
are within the conditions of the treaty, and bear no arms but the
sabre--even the iron of their lances is left behind."
"I fear," muttered De Vaux in English, "they have left them where
they can be soon found. A most flourishing House of Peers, I
confess, and would find Westminster Hall something too narrow for
"Hush, De Vaux," said Richard, "I command thee.--Noble Saladin,"
he said, "suspicion and thou cannot exist on the same ground.
Seest thou," pointing to the litters, "I too have brought some
champions with me, though armed, perhaps, in breach of agreement;
for bright eyes and fair features are weapons which cannot be
The Soldan, turning to the litters, made an obeisance as lowly as
if looking towards Mecca, and kissed the sand in token of
"Nay," said Richard, "they will not fear a closer encounter,
brother; wilt thou not ride towards their litters, and the
curtains will be presently withdrawn?"
"That may Allah
prohibit!" said Saladin, "since not an Arab looks on who would
not think it shame to the noble ladies to be seen with their
"Thou shalt see them, then, in private, brother," answered
"To what purpose?" answered Saladin mournfully. "Thy last
letter was, to the hopes which I had entertained, like water to
fire; and wherefore should I again light a flame which may indeed
consume, but cannot cheer me? But will not my brother pass to
the tent which his servant hath prepared for him? My principal
black slave hath taken order for the reception of the Princesses,
the officers of my household will attend your followers, and
ourself will be the chamberlain of the royal Richard."
He led the way accordingly to a splendid pavilion, where was
everything that royal luxury could devise. De Vaux, who was in
attendance, then removed the chappe (CAPA), or long riding-cloak,
which Richard wore, and he stood before Saladin in the close
dress which showed to advantage the strength and symmetry of his
person, while it bore a strong contrast to the flowing robes
which disguised the thin frame. of the Eastern monarch. It was
Richard's two-handed sword that chiefly attracted the attention
of the Saracen--a broad, straight blade, the seemingly unwieldy
length of which extended well-nigh from the shoulder to the heel
of the wearer.
"Had I not," said Saladin, "seen this brand flaming in the front
of battle, like that of Azrael, I had scarce believed that human
arm could wield it. Might I request to see the Melech Ric strike
one blow with it in peace, and in pure trial of strength?"
"Willingly, noble Saladin," answered Richard; and looking around
for something whereon to exercise his strength, he saw a steel
mace held by one of the attendants, the handle being of the same
metal, and about an inch and a half in diameter. This he placed
on a block of wood.
The anxiety of De Vaux for his master's honour led him to whisper
in English, "For the blessed Virgin's sake, beware what you
attempt, my liege! Your full strength is not as yet returned
--give no triumph to the infidel."
"Peace, fool!" said Richard, standing firm on his ground, and
casting a fierce glance around; "thinkest thou that I can fail in
The glittering broadsword, wielded by both his hands, rose aloft
to the King's left shoulder, circled round his head, descended
with the sway of some terrific engine, and the bar of iron rolled
on the ground in two pieces, as a woodsman would sever a sapling
with a hedging-bill.
"By the head of the Prophet, a most wonderful blow!" said the
Soldan, critically and accurately examining the iron bar which
had been cut asunder; and the blade of the sword was so well
tempered as to exhibit not the least token of having suffered by
the feat it had performed. He then took the King's hand, and
looking on the size and muscular strength which it exhibited,
laughed as he placed it beside his own, so lank and thin, so
inferior in brawn and sinew.
"Ay, look well," said De Vaux in English, "it will be long ere
your long jackanape's fingers do such a feat with your fine
gilded reaping-hook there."
"Silence, De Vaux," said Richard; "by Our Lady, he understands or
guesses thy meaning--be not so broad, I pray thee."
The Soldan, indeed, presently said, "Something I would fain
attempt--though wherefore should the weak show their inferiority
in presence of the strong? Yet each land hath its own exercises,
and this may be new to the Melech Ric." So saying, he took from
the floor a cushion of silk and down, and placed it upright on
one end. "Can thy weapon, my brother, sever that cushion?" he
said to King Richard.
"No, surely," replied the King; "no sword on earth, were it the
Excalibur of King Arthur, can cut that which opposes no steady
resistance to the blow."
"Mark, then," said Saladin; and tucking up the sleeve of his
gown, showed his arm, thin indeed and spare, but which constant
exercise had hardened into a mass consisting of nought but bone,
brawn, and sinew. He unsheathed his scimitar, a curved and
narrow blade, which glittered not like the swords of the Franks,
but was, on the contrary, of a dull blue colour, marked with ten
millions of meandering lines, which showed how anxiously the
metal had been welded by the armourer. Wielding this weapon,
apparently so inefficient when compared to that of Richard, the
Soldan stood resting his weight upon his left foot, which was
slightly advanced; he balanced himself a little, as if to steady
his aim; then stepping at once forward, drew the scimitar across
the cushion, applying the edge so dexterously, and with so little
apparent effort, that the cushion seemed rather to fall asunder
than to be divided by violence.
"It is a juggler's trick," said De Vaux, darting forward and
snatching up the portion of the cushion which had been cut off,
as if to assure himself of the reality of the feat; "there is
gramarye in this."
The Soldan seemed to comprehend him, for he undid the sort of
veil which he had hitherto worn, laid it double along the edge of
his sabre, extended the weapon edgeways in the air, and drawing
it suddenly through the veil, although it hung on the blade
entirely loose, severed that also into two parts, which floated
to different sides of the tent, equally displaying the extreme
temper and sharpness of the weapon, and the exquisite dexterity
of him who used it.
"Now, in good faith, my brother," said Richard, "thou art even
matchless at the trick of the sword, and right perilous were it
to meet thee! Still, however, I put some faith in a downright
English blow, and what we cannot do by sleight we eke out by
strength. Nevertheless, in truth thou art as expert in
inflicting wounds as my sage Hakim in curing them. I trust I
shall see the learned leech. I have much to thank him for, and
had brought some small present."
As he spoke, Saladin exchanged his turban for a Tartar cap. He
had no sooner done so, than De Vaux opened at once his extended
mouth and his large, round eyes, and Richard gazed with scarce
less astonishment, while the Soldan spoke in a grave and altered
voice: "The sick man, saith the poet, while he is yet infirm,
knoweth the physician by his step; but when he is recovered, he
knoweth not even his face when he looks upon him."
"A miracle!--a miracle!" exclaimed Richard.
"Of Mahound's working, doubtless," said Thomas de Vaux.
"That I should lose my learned Hakim," said Richard, "merely by
absence of his cap and robe, and that I should find him again in
my royal brother Saladin!"
"Such is oft the fashion of the world," answered the Soldan; "the
tattered robe makes not always the dervise."
"And it was through thy intercession," said Richard, "that yonder
Knight of the Leopard was saved from death, and by thy artifice
that he revisited my camp in disguise?"
"Even so," replied Saladin. "I was physician enough to know
that, unless the wounds of his bleeding honour were stanched, the
days of his life must be few. His disguise was more easily
penetrated than I had expected from the success of my own."
"An accident," said King Richard (probably alluding to the
circumstance of his applying his lips to the wound of the
supposed Nubian), "let me first know that his skin was
artificially discoloured; and that hint once taken, detection
became easy, for his form and person are not to be forgotten. I
confidently expect that he will do battle on the morrow."
"He is full in preparation, and high in hope," said the Soldan.
"I have furnished him with weapons and horse, thinking nobly of
him from what I have seen under various disguises."
"Knows he now," said Richard, "to whom he lies under obligation?"
"He doth," replied the Saracen. "I was obliged to confess my
person when I unfolded my purpose."
"And confessed he aught to you?" said the King of England.
"Nothing explicit," replied the Soldan; "but from much that
passed between us, I conceive his love is too highly placed to be
happy in its issue."
"And thou knowest that his daring and insolent passion crossed
thine own wishes?" said Richard.
"I might guess so much," said Saladin; "but his passion had
existed ere my wishes had been formed--and, I must now add, is
likely to survive them. I cannot, in honour, revenge me for my
disappointment on him who had no hand in it. Or, if this high-born dame loved him better than myself,
who can say that she did
not justice to a knight of her own religion, who is full of
"Yet of too mean lineage to mix with the blood of Plantagenet,"
said Richard haughtily.
"Such may be your maxims in Frangistan," replied the Soldan.
"Our poets of the Eastern countries say that a valiant camel-driver is worthy to kiss the lip of a fair Queen,
when a cowardly
prince is not worthy to salute the hem of her garment. But with
your permission, noble brother, I must take leave of thee for the
present, to receive the Duke of Austria and yonder Nazarene
knight, much less worthy of hospitality, but who must yet be
suitably entreated, not for their sakes, but for mine own honour
--for what saith the sage Lokman? 'Say not that the food is lost
unto thee which is given to the stranger; for if his body be
strengthened and fattened therewithal, not less is thine own
worship and good name cherished and augmented.'"
The Saracen Monarch departed from King Richard's tent, and having
indicated to him, rather with signs than with speech, where the
pavilion of the Queen and her attendants was pitched, he went to
receive the Marquis of Montserrat and his attendants, for whom,
with less goodwill, but with equal splendour, the magnificent
Soldan had provided accommodations. The most ample refreshments,
both in the Oriental and after the European fashion, were spread
before the royal and princely guests of Saladin, each in their
own separate pavilion; and so attentive was the Soldan to the
habits and taste of his visitors, that Grecian slaves were
stationed to present them with the goblet, which is the
abomination of the sect of Mohammed. Ere Richard had finished
his meal, the ancient Omrah, who had brought the Soldan's letter
to the Christian camp, entered with a plan of the ceremonial to
be observed on the succeeding day of combat. Richard, who knew
the taste of his old acquaintance, invited him to pledge him in a
flagon of wine of Shiraz; but Abdallah gave him to understand,
with a rueful aspect, that self-denial in the present
circumstances was a matter in which his life was concerned, for
that Saladin, tolerant in many respects, both observed and
enforced by high penalties the laws of the Prophet.
"Nay, then," said Richard, "if he loves not wine, that lightener
of the human heart, his conversion is not to be hoped for, and
the prediction of the mad priest of Engaddi goes like chaff down
The King then addressed himself to settle the articles of combat,
which cost a considerable time, as it was necessary on some
points to consult with the opposite parties, as well as with the
They were at length finally agreed upon, and adjusted by a
protocol in French and in Arabian, which was subscribed by
Saladin as umpire of the field, and by Richard and Leopold as
guarantees for the two combatants. As the Omrah took his final
leave of King Richard for the evening, De Vaux entered.
"The good knight," he said, "who is to do battle tomorrow
requests to know whether he may not to-night pay duty to his
"Hast thou seen him, De Vaux?" said the King, smiling; "and
didst thou know an ancient acquaintance?"
"By our Lady of Lanercost," answered De Vaux, "there are so many
surprises and changes in this land that my poor brain turns. I
scarce knew Sir Kenneth of Scotland, till his good hound, that
had been for a short while under my care, came and fawned on me;
and even then I only knew the tyke by the depth of his chest, the
roundness of his foot, and his manner of baying, for the poor
gazehound was painted like any Venetian courtesan."
"Thou art better skilled in brutes than men, De Vaux," said the
"I will not deny," said De Vaux, "I have found them ofttimes the
honester animals. Also, your Grace is pleased to term me
sometimes a brute myself; besides that, I serve the Lion, whom
all men acknowledge the king of brutes."
"By Saint George, there thou brokest thy lance fairly on my
brow," said the King. "I have ever said thou hast a sort of wit,
De Vaux; marry, one must strike thee with a sledge-hammer ere it
can be made to sparkle. But to the present gear--is the good
knight well armed and equipped?"
"Fully, my liege, and nobly," answered De Vaux. "I know the
armour well; it is that which the Venetian commissary offered
your highness, just ere you became ill, for five hundred
"And he hath sold it to the infidel Soldan, I warrant me, for a
few ducats more, and present payment. These Venetians would sell
the Sepulchre itself!"
"The armour will never be borne in a nobler cause," said De Vaux.
"Thanks to the nobleness of the Saracen," said the King, "not to
the avarice of the Venetians."
"I would to God your Grace would be more cautious," said the
anxious De Vaux. "Here are we deserted by all our allies, for
points of offence given to one or another; we cannot hope to
prosper upon the land; and we have only to quarrel with the
amphibious republic, to lose the means of retreat by sea!"
"I will take care," said Richard impatiently; "but school me no
more. Tell me rather, for it is of interest, hath the knight a
"He hath," answered De Vaux; "the hermit of Engaddi. who erst did
him that office when preparing for death, attends him on the
present occasion, the fame of the duel having brought him
"'Tis well," said Richard; "and now for the knight's request.
Say to him, Richard will receive him when the discharge of his
devoir beside the Diamond of the Desert shall have atoned for his
fault beside the Mount of Saint George; and as thou passest
through the camp, let the Queen know I will visit her pavilion--
and tell Blondel to meet me there."
De Vaux departed, and in about an hour afterwards, Richard,
wrapping his mantle around him, and taking his ghittern in his
hand, walked in the direction of the Queen's pavilion. Several
Arabs passed him, but always with averted heads and looks fixed
upon the earth, though he could observe that all gazed earnestly
after him when he was past. This led him justly to conjecture
that his person was known to them; but that either the Soldan's
commands, or their own Oriental politeness, forbade them to seem
to notice a sovereign who desired to remain incognito.
When the King reached the pavilion of his Queen he found it
guarded by those unhappy officials whom Eastern jealousy places
around the zenana. Blondel was walking before the door, and
touched his rote from time to time in a manner which made the
Africans show their ivory teeth, and bear burden with their
strange gestures and shrill, unnatural voices.
"What art thou after with this herd of black cattle, Blondel?"
said the King; "wherefore goest thou not into the tent?"
"Because my trade can neither spare the head nor the fingers,"
said Blondel, "and these honest blackamoors threatened to cut me
joint from joint if I pressed forward."
"Well, enter with me," said the King, "and I will be thy
The blacks accordingly lowered pikes and swords to King Richard,
and bent their eyes on the ground, as if unworthy to look upon
him. In the interior of the pavilion they found Thomas de Vaux
in attendance on the Queen. While Berengaria welcomed Blondel,
King Richard spoke for some time secretly and apart with his fair
At length, "Are we still foes, my fair Edith?" he said, in a
"No, my liege," said Edith, in a voice just so low as not to
interrupt the music; "none can bear enmity against King Richard
when he deigns to show himself, as he really is, generous and
noble, as well as valiant and honourable."
So saying, she extended her hand to him. The King kissed it in
token of reconciliation, and then proceeded.
"You think, my sweet cousin, that my anger in this matter was
feigned; but you are deceived. The punishment I inflicted upon
this knight was just; for he had betrayed--no matter for how
tempting a bribe, fair cousin--the trust committed to him. But I
rejoice, perchance as much as you, that to-morrow gives him a
chance to win the field, and throw back the stain which for a
time clung to him upon the actual thief and traitor. No!--future
times may blame Richard for impetuous folly, but they shall say
that in rendering judgment he was just when he should and
merciful when he could."
"Laud not thyself, cousin King," said Edith. "They may call thy
justice cruelty, thy mercy caprice."
"And do not thou pride thyself," said the King, "as if thy
knight, who hath not yet buckled on his armour, were unbelting it
in triumph--Conrade of Montserrat is held a good lance. What if
the Scot should lose the day?"
"It is impossible!" said Edith firmly. "My own eyes saw yonder
Conrade tremble and change colour like a base thief; he is
guilty, and the trial by combat is an appeal to the justice of
God. I myself, in such a cause, would encounter him without
"By the mass, I think thou wouldst, wench," said the King, "and
beat him to boot, for there never breathed a truer Plantagenet
He paused, and added in a very serious tone, "See that thou
continue to remember what is due to thy birth."
"What means that advice, so seriously given at this moment?"
said Edith. "Am I of such light nature as to forget my name--my
"I will speak plainly, Edith," answered the King, "and as to a
friend. What will this knight be to you, should he come off
victor from yonder lists?"
"To me?" said Edith, blushing deep with shame and displeasure.
"What can he be to me more than an honoured knight, worthy of
such grace as Queen Berengaria might confer on him, had he
selected her for his lady, instead of a more unworthy choice?
The meanest knight may devote himself to the service of an
empress, but the glory of his choice," she said proudly, "must be
"Yet he hath served and suffered much for you," said the King.
"I have paid his services with honour and applause, and his
sufferings with tears," answered Edith. "Had he desired other
reward, he would have done wisely to have bestowed his affections
within his own degree."
"You would not, then, wear the bloody night-gear for his sake?"
said King Richard.
"No more," answered Edith, "than I would have required him to
expose his life by an action in which there was more madness than
"Maidens talk ever thus," said the King; "but when the favoured
lover presses his suit, she says, with a sigh, her stars had
"Your Grace has now, for the second time, threatened me with the
influence of my horoscope," Edith replied, with dignity. "Trust
me, my liege, whatever be the power of the stars, your poor
kinswoman will never wed either infidel or obscure adventurer.
Permit me that I listen to the music of Blondel, for the tone of
your royal admonitions is scarce so grateful to the ear."
The conclusion of the evening offered nothing worthy of notice.
Heard ye the din of battle bray,
Lance to lance, and horse to horse? GRAY.
It had been agreed, on account of the heat of the climate, that
the judicial combat which was the cause of the present assemblage
of various nations at the Diamond of the Desert should take place
at one hour after sunrise. The wide lists, which had been
constructed under the inspection of the Knight of the Leopard,
enclosed a space of hard sand, which was one hundred and twenty
yards long by forty in width. They extended in length from north
to south, so as to give both parties the equal advantage of the
rising sun. Saladin's royal seat was erected on the western side
of the enclosure, just in the centre, where the combatants were
expected to meet in mid encounter. Opposed to this was a gallery
with closed casements, so contrived that the ladies, for whose
accommodation it was erected, might see the fight without being
themselves exposed to view. At either extremity of the lists was
a barrier, which could be opened or shut at pleasure. Thrones
had been also erected, but the Archduke, perceiving that his was
lower than King Richard's, refused to occupy it; and Coeur de
Lion, who would have submitted to much ere any formality should
have interfered with the combat, readily agreed that the
sponsors, as they were called, should remain on horseback during
the fight. At one extremity of the lists were placed the
followers of Richard, and opposed to them were those who
accompanied the defender Conrade. Around the throne destined for
the Soldan were ranged his splendid Georgian Guards, and the rest
of the enclosure was occupied by Christian and Mohammedan
Long before daybreak the lists were surrounded by even a larger
number of Saracens than Richard had seen on the preceding
evening. When the first ray of the sun's glorious orb arose
above the desert, the sonorous call, "To prayer--to prayer!" was
poured forth by the Soldan himself, and answered by others, whose
rank and zeal entitled them to act as muezzins. It was a
striking spectacle to see them all sink to earth, for the purpose
of repeating their devotions, with their faces turned to Mecca.
But when they arose from the ground, the sun's rays, now
strengthening fast, seemed to confirm the Lord of Gilsland's
conjecture of the night before. They were flashed back from many
a spearhead, for the pointless lances of the preceding day were
certainly no longer such. De Vaux pointed it out to his master,
who answered with impatience that he had perfect confidence in
the good faith of the Soldan; but if De Vaux was afraid of his
bulky body, he might retire.
Soon after this the noise of timbrels was heard, at the sound of
which the whole Saracen cavaliers threw themselves from their
horses, and prostrated themselves, as if for a second morning
prayer. This was to give an opportunity to the Queen, with Edith
and her attendants, to pass from the pavilion to the gallery
intended for them. Fifty guards of Saladin's seraglio escorted
them with naked sabres, whose orders were to cut to pieces
whomsoever, were he prince or peasant, should venture to gaze on
the ladies as they passed, or even presume to raise his head
until the cessation of the music should make all men aware that
they were lodged in their gallery, not to be gazed on by the
This superstitious observance of Oriental reverence to the fair
sex called forth from Queen Berengaria some criticisms very
unfavourable to Saladin and his country. But their den, as the
royal fair called it, being securely closed and guarded by their
sable attendants, she was under the necessity of contenting
herself with seeing, and laying aside for the present the still
more exquisite pleasure of being seen.
Meantime the sponsors of both champions went, as was their duty,
to see that they were duly armed and prepared for combat. The
Archduke of Austria was in no hurry to perform this part of the
ceremony, having had rather an unusually severe debauch upon wine
of Shiraz the preceding evening. But the Grand Master of the
Temple, more deeply concerned in the event of the combat, was
early before the tent of Conrade of Montserrat. To his great
surprise, the attendants refused him admittance.
"Do you not know me, ye knaves?" said the Grand Master, in great
"We do, most valiant and reverend," answered Conrade's squire;
"but even you may not at present enter--the Marquis is about to
"Confess himself!" exclaimed the Templar, in a tone where alarm
mingled with surprise and scorn--"and to whom, I pray thee?"
"My master bid me be secret," said the squire; on which the Grand
Master pushed past him, and entered the tent almost by force.
The Marquis of Montserrat was kneeling at the feet of the hermit
of Engaddi, and in the act of beginning his confession.
"What means this, Marquis?" said the Grand Master; "up, for
shame--or, if you must needs confess, am not I here?"
"I have confessed to you too often already," replied Conrade,
with a pale cheek and a faltering voice. "For God's sake, Grand
Master, begone, and let me unfold my conscience to this holy
"In what is he holier than I am?" said the Grand Master.
--"Hermit, prophet, madman--say, if thou darest, in what thou
"Bold and bad man," replied the hermit, "know that I am like the
latticed window, and the divine light passes through to avail
others, though, alas! it helpeth not me. Thou art like the iron
stanchions, which neither receive light themselves, nor
communicate it to any one."
"Prate not to me, but depart from this tent," said the Grand
Master; "the Marquis shall not confess this morning, unless it be
to me, for I part not from his side."
"Is this YOUR pleasure?" said the hermit to Conrade; "for think
not I will obey that proud man, if you continue to desire my
"Alas," said Conrade irresolutely, "what would you have me say?
Farewell for a while---we will speak anon."
"O procrastination!" exclaimed the hermit, "thou art a soul-murderer!--Unhappy man, farewell--not for a
while, but until we
shall both meet no matter where. And for thee," he added,
turning to the Grand Master, "TREMBLE!"
"Tremble!" replied the Templar contemptuously, "I cannot if I
The hermit heard not his answer, having left the tent.
"Come! to this gear hastily," said the Grand Master, "since thou
wilt needs go through the foolery. Hark thee--I think I know
most of thy frailties by heart, so we may omit the detail, which
may be somewhat a long one, and begin with the absolution. What
signifies counting the spots of dirt that we are about to wash
from our hands?"
"Knowing what thou art thyself," said Conrade, "it is blasphemous
to speak of pardoning another."
"That is not according to the canon, Lord Marquis," said the
Templar; "thou art more scrupulous than orthodox. The absolution
of the wicked priest is as effectual as if he were himself a
saint--otherwise, God help the poor penitent! What wounded man
inquires whether the surgeon that tends his gashes has clean
hands or no? Come, shall we to this toy?"
"No," said Conrade, "I will rather die unconfessed than mock the
"Come, noble Marquis," said the Templar, "rouse up your courage,
and speak not thus. In an hour's time thou shalt stand
victorious in the lists, or confess thee in thy helmet, like a
"Alas, Grand Master," answered Conrade, "all augurs ill for this
affair, the strange discovery by the instinct of a dog--the
revival of this Scottish knight, who comes into the lists like a
spectre--all betokens evil."
"Pshaw," said the Templar, "I have seen thee bend thy lance
boldly against him in sport, and with equal chance of success.
Think thou art but in a tournament, and who bears him better in
the tilt-yard than thou?--Come, squires and armourers, your
master must be accoutred for the field."
The attendants entered accordingly, and began to arm the Marquis.
"What morning is without?" said Conrade.
"The sun rises dimly," answered a squire.
"Thou seest, Grand Master," said Conrade, "nought smiles on us."
"Thou wilt fight the more coolly, my son," answered the Templar;
"thank Heaven, that hath tempered the sun of Palestine to suit
Thus jested the Grand Master. But his jests had lost their
influence on the harassed mind of the Marquis, and
notwithstanding his attempts to seem gay, his gloom communicated
itself to the Templar.
"This craven," he thought, "will lose the day in pure faintness
and cowardice of heart, which he calls tender conscience. I,
whom visions and auguries shake not---who am firm in my purpose
as the living rock--I should have fought the combat myself.
Would to God the Scot may strike him dead on the spot; it were
next best to his winning the victory. But come what will, he
must have no other confessor than myself--our sins are too much
in common, and he might confess my share with his own."
While these thoughts passed through his mind, he continued to
assist the Marquis in arming, but it was in silence.
The hour at length arrived; the trumpets sounded; the knights
rode into the lists armed at all points, and mounted like men who
were to do battle for a kingdom's honour. They wore their visors
up, and riding around the lists three times, showed themselves to
the spectators. Both were goodly persons, and both had noble
countenances. But there was an air of manly confidence on the
brow of the Scot--a radiancy of hope, which amounted even to
cheerfulness; while, although pride and effort had recalled much
of Conrade's natural courage, there lowered still on his brow a
cloud of ominous despondence. Even his steed seemed to tread
less lightly and blithely to the trumpet-sound than the noble
Arab which was bestrode by Sir Kenneth; and the SPRUCH-SPRECHER
shook his head while he observed that, while the challenger rode
around the lists in the course of the sun--that is, from right to
left--the defender made the same circuit WIDDERSINS--that is,
from left to right--which is in most countries held ominous.
A temporary altar was erected just beneath the gallery occupied
by the Queen, and beside it stood the hermit in the dress of his
order as a Carmelite friar. Other churchmen were also present.
To this altar the challenger and defender were successively
brought forward, conducted by their respective sponsors.
Dismounting before it, each knight avouched the justice of his
cause by a solemn oath on the Evangelists, and prayed that his
success might be according to the truth or falsehood of what he
then swore. They also made oath that they came to do battle in
knightly guise, and with the usual weapons, disclaiming the use
of spells, charms, or magical devices to incline victory to their
side. The challenger pronounced his vow with a firm and manly
voice, and a bold and cheerful countenance. When the ceremony
was finished, the Scottish Knight looked at the gallery, and bent
his head to the earth, as if in honour of those invisible
beauties which were enclosed within; then, loaded with armour as
he was, sprung to the saddle without the use of the stirrup, and
made his courser carry him in a succession of caracoles to his
station at the eastern extremity of the lists. Conrade also
presented himself before the altar with boldness enough; but his
voice as he took the oath sounded hollow, as if drowned in his