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moment consented to it. But the shame shall not hang upon the escutcheon of Hubert of Gloucester that he stood still when such foul means were tried. I pray you, by our long friendship, and for the sake of your own honour as a knight, to desist from this endeavour. If this lady be guilty, as she well may be, of aiding her son in his assaults upon the soldiers of Prince John, then let her be tried, and doubtless the court will confiscate her estates. But let her son be told that her life is in no danger, and that he is free to go, being assured that harm will not come to her.”

“And if I refuse to consent to allow my enemy, who is now almost within my hand, to escape,” Sir Rudolph said, “what then?”

“Then,” said the knight, “I and my following will at once leave your walls, and will clear ourselves to the brave young knight yonder of all hand in this foul business.”

A murmur of agreement from several of those standing round showed that their sentiments were in accordance with those of Sir Hubert.

“I refuse,” said Rudolph passionately. “Go, if you will. I am master of my actions, and of this castle.”

Without a word, Sir Hubert and two others of the knights present turned, and briefly ordering their men-at-arms to follow them, descended the staircase to the courtyard below. Their horses were brought out, the men fell into rank, and the gates of the castle were thrown open.

“Stand to arms!” Sir Cuthbert shouted to the archers. “They are going to attempt a sortie.” And hastily he retired to the main body of his men.

CHAPTER XXIII.

THE FALSE AND PERJURED KNIGHT.

As the band of knights and their retainers issued from the gate, a trumpeter blew a parley, and the three knights advanced alone towards the group of archers.

“Sir Cuthbert de Lance,” Sir Hubert said, “in the name of myself and my two friends here we ask your pardon for having so far taken part in this foul action. We did so believing only that Sir Rudolph intended the capture of your lady mother as a threat. Now that we see he was in earnest, we wash our hands of the business; and could we in any way atone for our conduct in having joined him, we would gladly do so, consistently only with our allegiance to the Prince Regent.”

Cuthbert bowed courteously.

“Thanks for your words, Sir Hubert. I had always heard yourself and the knights here spoken of as brave and gallant gentlemen, whose sole fault was that they chose to take part with a rebel prince, rather than with the King of England. I rejoice that you have cleared your name of so foul a blot as this would have placed upon it, and I acknowledge that your conduct now is knightly and courteous. But I can no more parley. The sun is within a few minutes of twelve, and I must surrender, to meet such fate as may befall me.”

So saying, with a bow he left them, and again advanced to the castle gate.

“Sir Rudolph,” he shouted, “the hour is at hand. I call upon you to deliver, outside the gate, the lady, my mother. Whether she wills it or not, I call upon you to place her beyond the gate, and I give you my knightly word that as she leaves it I enter it.”

Dame Editha would then have attempted resistance; but she saw that it would be useless. With a pale face she descended the steps, accompanied by the men-at-arms. She knew that any entreaty to Sir Rudolph would be vain, and with the courage of her race she mentally vowed to devote the rest of her life to vengeance for her son.

As the gate opened and she was thrust forth, for a moment she found herself in the arms of her son.

“Courage, mother!” he whispered; “all may yet be well.”

Cnut was waiting a few paces behind, and offering his hand to Dame Editha, he led her to the group of archers, while Cuthbert, alone, crossed the drawbridge, and entered the portal, the heavy portcullis falling after him.

Cnut immediately ordering four of his men to escort Dame Editha to the wood with all speed, advanced with his men towards the walls. All had strung their bows and placed their arrows on the ground in front of them in readiness for instant use. Cnut himself, with two others carrying the rope, advanced to the edge of the moat. None observed their doings, for all within the castle were intent upon the proceedings there.

In the courtyard Sir Rudolph had taken his post, with the captain of the mercenaries beside him, and the men-at-arms drawn up in order. He smiled sardonically as Cuthbert entered.

“So, at last,” he said, “this farce is drawing to an end. You are in my power, and for the means which I have taken to capture you, I will account to the prince. You are a traitor to him; you have attacked and slaughtered many of my friends; you are an outlaw defying the law; and for each of these offences your head is forfeited.”

“I deny,” Cuthbert said, standing before him, “your right to be my judge. By my peers only can I be tried. As a knight of England and as rightful lord of this castle, I demand to be brought before a jury of my equals.”

“I care nothing for rights or for juries,” said Sir Rudolph. “I have the royal order for your execution, and that order I shall put into effect, although all the knights and barons in England objected.”

Cuthbert looked round to observe the exact position in which he was standing. He knew, of course, every foot of the castle, and saw that but a short distance behind a single row of armed men was the staircase leading to the battlements.

“False and perjured knight,” he said, taking a step forward, “I may die; but I would rather a thousand deaths than such a life as yours will be when this deed is known in England. But I am not yet dead. For myself, I could pardon you; but for the outrage to my mother–” and with a sudden movement he struck Sir Rudolph in the face with all his strength, with his mailed hand.

With the blood gushing from his nostrils, the knight fell backwards, and Sir Cuthbert, with a bound, before the assembly could recover from their astonishment at the deed, burst through the line of men-at-arms, and sprang up the narrow staircase. A score of men-at-arms started in pursuit; but Sir Cuthbert gained the battlements first, and without a moment’s hesitation sprang upon them and plunged forward, falling into the moat fifty feet below. Here he would have perished miserably, for in his heavy armour he was of course unable to swim a stroke, and his weight took him at once into the mud of the moat. At its margin, however, Cnut stood awaiting him, with one end of the rope in his hand. In an instant he plunged in, and diving to the bottom, grasped Cuthbert by the body, and twisted the rope round him. The two archers on the bank at once hauled upon it, and in a minute Sir Cuthbert was dragged to the bank.

By this time a crowd of men-at-arms appeared upon the battlements. But as they did so the archers opened a storm of arrows upon them, and quickly compelled them to find shelter. Carried by Cnut and the men with him–for he was insensible–Sir Cuthbert was quickly conveyed to the centre of the outlaws, and these at once in a compact body began their retreat to the wood. Cuthbert quickly recovered consciousness, and was soon able to walk. As he did so, the gates of the castle were thrown open, and a crowd of men-at-arms, consisting of the retainers of the castle and the mercenaries of Prince John, sallied forth. So soon as Cuthbert was able to move, the archers started at a brisk run, several of them carrying Cuthbert’s casque and sword, and others assisting him to hurry along. The rear ranks turned as they ran and discharged flights of arrows at the enemy, who, more heavily armed and weighted, gained but slowly upon them.

Had not Sir Rudolph been stunned by the blow dealt him by Cuthbert, he would himself have headed the pursuit, and in that case the foresters would have had to fight hard to make their retreat to their fastness. The officer in command of the mercenaries, however, had no great stomach for the matter. Men were hard to get, and Prince John would not have been pleased to hear that a number of the men whom he had brought with such expense from foreign parts had been killed in a petty fray. Therefore after following for a short time he called them off, and the archers fell back into the forest.

Here they found Dame Editha, and for three days she abode among them, living in a small hut in the centre of the forest. Then she left, to take up her abode, until the troubles were past, with some kin who lived in the south of Gloucestershire.

Although the lady abbess had assured Cuthbert that the retreat of Lady Margaret was not likely to be found out, he himself, knowing how great a stake Sir Rudolph had in the matter, was still far from being easy. It would not be difficult for the latter to learn through his agents that the lady superior of the little convent near Hereford was of kin to her of St. Anne’s, and, close as a convent is, yet the gossiping of the servants who go to market was certain to let out an affair so important as the arrival of a young lady to reside under the charge of the superior. Cuthbert was not mistaken as to the acuteness of his enemy. The relationship between the two lady superiors was no secret, and after having searched all the farmhouses and granges near the forest, and being convinced that the lady abbess would have sent her charge rather to a religious house than to that of a franklin, Sir Rudolph sought which of those within the circuit of a few miles would be likely to be the one selected. It was not long before he was enabled to fix upon that near Hereford, and spies going to the spot soon found out from the countrypeople that it was a matter of talk that a young lady of rank had been admitted by the superior. Sir Rudolph hesitated whether to go himself at the head of a strong body of men and openly to take her, or to employ some sort of device. It was not that he himself feared the anathema of the church; but he knew Prince John to be weak and vacillating, at one time ready to defy the thunder of the pope, the next cringing before the spiritual authority. He therefore determined to employ some of his men to burst into the convent and carry off the heiress, arranging that he himself, with some of his men-at-arms, should come upon them in the road, and make a feigned rescue of her, so that, if the lady superior laid her complaint before the pope’s legate, he could deny that he had any hand in the matter, and could even take credit for having rescued her from the men who had profaned the convent. That his story would be believed mattered but little. It would be impossible to prove its falsity, and this was all that he cared for.

This course was followed out. Late one evening, the lady superior was alarmed by a violent knocking at the door. In reply to questions asked through the grill, the answer was given, “We are men of the forest, and we are come to carry the Lady Margaret of Evesham off to a secure hiding-place. The lord of Evesham has discovered her whereabouts, and will be here shortly, and we would fain remove her before he arrives.”

“From whom have you warrant?” the lady superior said. “I surrender her to no one, save to the lady abbess of St. Anne’s. But if you have a written warrant from Sir Cuthbert, the rightful lord of Evesham, I will lay the matter before the Lady Margaret, and will act as it may seem fit to her.”

“We have no time for parleying,” a rough voice said. “Throw open the gate at once, or we will break it down.”

“Ye be no outlaws,” the lady superior said, “for the outlaws are men who fear God and respect the church. Were ye what ye say, ye would be provided with the warrants that I mention. I warn you, therefore, that if you use force, you will be excommunicated, and placed under the ban of the church.”

The only answer was a thundering assault upon the gate, which soon yielded to the blows. The sisters and novices ran shrieking through the corridors at this rude uproar. The lady superior, however, stood calmly awaiting the giving way of the gate.

“Where is the Lady Margaret?” the leader of the party, who were dressed in rough garb, and had the seeming of a band of outlaws, demanded.

“I will say nothing,” she said, “nor do I own that she is here.”

“We will soon take means to find out,” the man exclaimed. “Unless in five minutes she is delivered to us, we will burn your place to the ground.”

The lady abbess was insensible to the threat; but the men rushing in, seized some sisters, who, terrified out of their wits by this irruption, at once gave the information demanded, and the men made their way to the cell where the Lady Margaret slept.

The girl had at once risen when the tumult commenced, doubting not in her mind that this was another attempt upon the part of her enemy to carry her off. When, therefore, she heard heavy footsteps approaching along the gallery–having already hastily attired herself–she opened the door and presented herself.

“If you seek the Lady Margaret of Evesham,” she said calmly, “I am she. Do not harm any of the sisters here. I am in your power, and will go with you at once. But I beseech you add not to your other sins that of violence against holy women.”

The men, abashed by the calm dignity of this young girl, abstained from laying hands upon her, but merely motioned to her to accompany them. Upon their way they met the man who appeared to be their leader, and he, well pleased that the affair was over, led the way to the courtyard.

“Farewell, my child,” the abbess exclaimed. “God will deliver you from the power of these wicked men. Trust in Him, and keep up your courage. Wickedness will not be permitted to triumph upon the earth; and be assured that the matter shall be brought to the ears of the pope’s legate, and of Prince John himself.”

She could say no more, for the men closing round the weeping girl, hurried her out from the convent. A litter awaited them without, and in this the young lady was placed, and, borne upon the shoulders of four stout men, she started at a fast pace, surrounded closely by the rest of the band.

It was a dark night, and the girl could not see the direction in which she was being taken; but she judged from the turn taken upon leaving the convent, that it was towards Evesham. They had proceeded some miles, when a trampling of horses was heard, and a body of armed men rode up. For a moment Lady Margaret’s heart gave a leap, for she thought that she had been rescued by her friends. There was a loud and angry altercation, a clashing of swords, and a sound of shouting and cries outside the litter. Then it was placed roughly on the ground, and she heard the sound of the footsteps of her first captors hurrying away. Then the horsemen closed round the litter, and the leader dismounted.

“I am happy indeed, Lady Margaret,” he said approaching the litter, “to have been able to save you from the power of these villains. Fortunately, word came to me that the outlaws in the forest were about to carry you off, and that they would not hesitate even to desecrate the walls of the convent. Assembling my men-at-arms, I at once rode to your rescue, and am doubly happy to have saved you, first, as a gentleman, secondly, as being the man to whom our gracious prince has assigned you as a wife. I am Sir Rudolph, Earl of Evesham.”

As from the first the girl had been convinced that she had fallen into the power of her lawless suitor, this came upon her as no surprise.

“Whether your story is true, Sir Rudolph,” she said, “or not, God knows, and I, a poor weak girl, will not pretend to venture to say. It is between you and your conscience. If, as you say, you have saved me from the power of the outlaws, I demand that, as a knight and a gentleman, you return with me at once to the convent from which I was taken by force.”

“I cannot do that,” Sir Rudolph said. “Fortune has placed you in my hands, and has enabled me to carry out the commands of the prince. Therefore, though I would fain yield to your wishes and so earn your goodwill, which above all things I wish to obtain, yet my duty towards the prince commands me to utilize the advantage which fate has thrown in my hands.”

“You must do as you will, Sir Rudolph,” the girl said with dignity. “I believe not your tale. You sought before, in person, to carry me off, but failed, and you have now employed other means to do so. The tale of your conduct to Dame Editha has reached my ears, and I hold you a foresworn knight and a dishonoured man, and as such I would rather die than become your wife, although as yet I am but a child, and have no need to talk of weddings for years to come.”

“We need not parley here,” the knight said coldly. “We shall have plenty of time when at my castle.”

The litter was now lifted, placed between two horses, and proceeded rapidly on its journey. Although the hope was but faint, yet until the gates of the castle closed upon them the Lady Margaret still hoped that rescue might reach her. But the secret had been too well kept, and it was not until the following day that the man who had been placed in a cottage near the convent arrived in all haste in the forest, to say that it was only in the morning that he had learnt that the convent had been broken open by men disguised as archers, and the Lady Margaret carried off.

Four days elapsed before Sir Rudolph presented himself before the girl he had captured. So fearfully was his face bruised and disfigured by the blow from the mailed hand of Cuthbert three weeks before, that he did not wish to appear before her under such unfavourable circumstances, and the captive passed the day gazing from her casement in one of the rooms in the upper part of the keep, towards the forest whence she hoped rescue would come.

Within the forest hot discussions were going on as to the best course to pursue. An open attack was out of the question, especially as upon the day following the arrival there of Lady Margaret, 300 more mercenaries had marched in from Worcester, so that the garrison was now raised to 500 men.

“Is there no way,” Cnut exclaimed furiously, “by which we might creep into this den, since we cannot burst into it openly?”

“There is a way from the castle,” Cuthbert said, “for my dear lord told me of it one day when we were riding together in the Holy Land. He said then that it might be that he should never return, and that it were well that I should know of the existence of this passage, which few beside the earl himself knew of. It is approached by a very heavy slab of stone in the great hall. This is bolted down, and as it stands under the great table passes unnoticed, and appears part of the ordinary floor. He told me the method in which, by touching a spring, the bolts were withdrawn and the stone could be raised. Thence a passage a quarter of a mile long leads to the little chapel standing in the hollow, and which, being hidden among the trees, would be unobserved by any party besieging the castle. This of course was contrived in order that the garrison, or any messenger thereof, might make an exit in case of siege.”

“But if we could escape,” Cnut asked, “why not enter by this way?”

“The stone is of immense weight and strength,” Cuthbert replied, “and could not be loosed from below save with great labour and noise. There are, moreover, several massive doors in the passage, all of which are secured by heavy bolts within. It is therefore out of the question that we could enter the castle by that way. But were we once in, we could easily carry off the lady through this passage.”

The large force which Sir Rudolph had collected was not intended merely for the defence of the castle, for the knight considered that with his own garrison he could hold it against a force tenfold that which his rival could collect. But he was determined if possible to crush out the outlaws of the forest, for he felt that so long as this formidable body remained under an enterprising leader like Sir Cuthbert, he would never be safe for a moment, and would be a prisoner in his own castle.

Cuthbert had foreseen that the attack was likely to be made and had strengthened his band to the utmost. He felt, however, that against so large a force of regularly armed men, although he might oppose a stout resistance and kill many, yet that in the end he must be conquered. Cnut, however, suggested to him a happy idea, which he eagerly grasped.

“It would be rare sport,” Cnut said, “when this armed force comes out to attack us, if we could turn the tables by slipping in, and taking their castle.”

“The very thing,” Cuthbert exclaimed. “It is likely that he will use the greater portion of his forces, and that he will not keep above fifty or sixty men, at the outside, in the castle. When they sally out we will at first oppose a stout resistance to them in the wood, gradually falling back. Then, at a given signal, all save twenty men shall retire hastily, and sweeping round, make for the castle. Their absence will not be noticed, for in this thick wood it is difficult to tell whether twenty men or two hundred are opposing you among the bushes; and the twenty who remain must shoot thick and fast to make believe that their numbers are great, retiring sometimes, and leading the enemy on into the heart of the wood.”

“But supposing, Sir Cuthbert, that they should have closed the gates and lifted the drawbridge? We could not gain entrance by storming, even if only twenty men held the walls, until long after the main body would have returned.”

Cuthbert thought for some time, and then said, “Cnut, you shall undertake this enterprise. You shall fill a cart high with faggots, and in it shall conceal a dozen of your best men. You, dressed as a serf, shall drive the oxen, and when you reach the castle shall say, in answer to the hail of the sentry, that you are bringing in the tribute of wood of your master the franklin of Hopeburn. They will then lower the drawbridge and open the gates; and when you have crossed the bridge and are under the portcullis, spring out suddenly, cut loose the oxen so that they will not draw the cart further in, cut the chains of the drawbridge so that it cannot be drawn off, and hold the gate for a minute or two until we arrive.”

“The plan is capital,” Cnut exclaimed. “We will do the proud Norman yet. How he will storm when he finds us masters of his castle. What then will you do, Sir Cuthbert?”

“We can hold the castle for weeks,” Cuthbert said, “and every day is in our favour. If we find ourselves forced to yield to superior numbers, we can at last retire through the passage I have spoken of, and must then scatter and each shift for himself until these bad days be past.”

CHAPTER XXIV

THE SIEGE OF EVESHAM CASTLE.

Upon the day before starting out to head the expedition against the outlaws, Sir Rudolph sent word to the Lady Margaret that she must prepare to become his wife at the end of the week. He had provided two tiring maids for her by ordering two of the franklins to send in their daughters for that purpose, and these mingled their tears with Margaret’s at the situation in which they were placed. She replied firmly to the messenger of the knight that no power on earth could oblige her to marry him. He might drive her to the altar; but though he killed her there, her lips should refuse to say the words which would unite them.

The following morning, early, the castle rang with the din of preparation. The great portion of the mercenaries were encamped in tents outside the walls, for, spacious as it was, Evesham could hardly contain 400 men in addition to its usual garrison. The men-at-arms were provided with heavy axes to cut their way through the bushes. Some carried bundles of straw, to fire the wood should it be found practicable to do so; and as it was now summer and the wind was blowing high, Sir Rudolph hoped that the dry grass and bushes would catch, and would do more even than his men-at-arms in clearing the forest of those whom he designated the villains infesting it. They had, too, with them several fierce dogs trained to hunting the deer, and these, the knight hoped, would do good service in tracking the outlaws. He and the knights and the men-at-arms with him were all dismounted, for he felt that horses would in the forest be an encumbrance, and he was determined himself to lead the way to the men-at-arms.

When they reached the forest, they were saluted by a shower of arrows; but as all were clad in mail, these at a distance effected but little harm. As they came closer, however, the clothyard arrows began to pierce the coarse and ill-made armour of the foot soldiers, although the finer armour of the knight kept out the shafts which struck against it. Sir Rudolph and his knights leading the way, they entered the forest, and gradually pressed their invisible foe backwards through the trees. The dogs did good service, going on ahead and attacking the archers; but, one by one, they were soon shot, and the assailants left to their own devices. Several attempts were made to fire the wood. But these failed, the fire burning but a short time and then dying out of itself. In addition to the fighting men, Sir Rudolph had impressed into the service all the serfs of his domain, and these, armed with axes, were directed to cut down the trees as the force proceeded, Sir Rudolph declaring that he would not cease until he had levelled the whole forest, though it might take him months to do so.

The assailants gained ground steadily, the resistance being less severe than Sir Rudolph had anticipated. Several small huts and clearings in the forest which had been used by the outlaws, and round which small crops had been planted, were destroyed, and all seemed to promise well for the success of the enterprise.

It was about two hours after they had left the castle, when a heavy cart filled with faggots was seen approaching its gates. The garrison, who had not the least fear of any attack, paid no attention to it until it reached the edge of the moat. Then the warder, seeing that it contained faggots, lowered the drawbridge without question, raised the portcullis, and opened the gates.

“From whom do you bring this wood?” he asked, as the man driving the oxen began to cross the bridge.

“From the franklin of Hopeburn.”

“It is well,” said the warder, “for he is in arrear now, and should have sent in the firewood two months since. Take it to the wood-house at the other end of the court.”

The heavy-waggon crossed the drawbridge, but as it was entering the gate it came suddenly to a stop. With a blow of his ox goad Cnut levelled the warder to the ground, and cutting the cords of the bullocks, drove them into the yard ahead. As he did so the pile of faggots fell asunder, and twelve men armed with bow and pike leaped out. The men-at-arms standing near, lounging in the courtyard, gave a shout of alarm, and the garrison, surprised at this sudden cry, ran to their arms. At first they were completely panic-stricken. But seeing after a time how small was the number of their assailants, they took heart and advanced against them. The passage was narrow, and the twelve men formed a wall across it. Six of them with their pikes advanced, the other six with bent bows standing behind them and delivering their arrows between their heads. The garrison fought stoutly, and although losing many, were pressing the little band backwards. In vain the assistant-warder tried to lower the portcullis, or to close the gates. The former fell on to the top of the waggon, and was there retained. The gates also were barred by the obstacle. The chains of the drawbridge had at once been cut. Cnut encouraged his followers by his shouts, and armed with a heavy axe, did good service upon the assailants. But four of his party had fallen, and the rest were giving way, when a shout was heard, and over the drawbridge poured Cuthbert and 150 of the outlaws of the forest. Struck with terror at this attack, the garrison drew back, and the foresters poured into the yard. For a few minutes there was a fierce fight; but the defenders of the castle, disheartened and taken by surprise, were either cut down or, throwing down their arms, cried for quarter.

Ten minutes after the waggon had crossed the drawbridge, the castle was safely in possession of Sir Cuthbert. The bridge was raised, the waggon removed, the portcullis lowered, and to the external eye all remained as before.

Cuthbert at once made his way to the chamber where the Lady Margaret was confined, and her joy at her deliverance was great indeed. So unlimited was her faith in Sir Cuthbert that she had never lost confidence; and although it did not seem possible that in the face of such disparity of numbers he could rescue her from the power of Sir Rudolph, yet she had not given up hope. The joy of the farmers’ daughters who had been carried off to act as her attendants was little inferior to her own; for once in the power of this reckless baron, the girls had small hopes of ever being allowed to return again to their parents.

The flag of Sir Rudolph was thrown down from the keep, and that of the late earl hoisted in its stead; for Cuthbert himself, although he had assumed the cognizance which King Richard had granted him, had not yet any flag or pennon emblazoned with it.

No words can portray the stupefaction and rage of Sir Rudolph when a man who had managed to slip unobserved from the castle at the time of its capture, bore the news to him in the forest. All opposition there had ceased, and the whole of the troops were engaged in aiding the peasants in cutting wide roads through the trees across the forest, so as to make it penetrable by horsemen in every direction. It was supposed that the outlaws had gradually stolen away through the thickets and taken to the open country, intending to scatter to their homes, or other distant hiding-places; and the news that they had by a ruse captured the castle, came as a thunderclap.

Sir Rudolph’s first impulse was to call his men together and to march towards the castle. The drawbridge was up, and the walls bristled with armed men. It was useless to attempt a parley; still more useless to think of attacking the stronghold without the proper machines and appliances. Foaming with rage, Sir Rudolph took possession of a cottage near, camped his men around and prepared for a siege.

There were among the mercenaries many men accustomed to the use of engines of war. Many, too, had aided in making them; and these were at once set to work to construct the various machines in use at that time. Before the invention of gunpowder, castles such as those of the English barons were able to defy any attack by an armed force for a long period. Their walls were so thick that even the balistas, casting huge stones, were unable to breach them except after a very long time. The moats which surrounded them were wide and deep, and any attempt at storming by ladders was therefore extremely difficult; and these buildings were consequently more often captured by famine than by other means. Of provisions, as Sir Rudolph knew, there was a considerable supply at present in the castle, for he had collected a large number of bullocks in order to feed the strong body who had been added to the garrison. The granaries, too, were well stored; and with a groan Sir Rudolph thought of the rich stores of French wines which he had collected in his cellars.

After much deliberation with the knights with him and the captain of the mercenaries, it was agreed in the first instance to attempt to attack the place by filling up a portion of the moat and ascending by scaling ladders. Huge screens of wood were made, and these were placed on waggons; the waggons themselves were filled with bags of earth, and a large number of men getting beneath them shoved the ponderous machines forward to the edge of the moat. The bags of stones and earth were then thrown in, and the waggons pushed backwards to obtain a fresh supply. This operation was of course an exceedingly slow one, a whole day being occupied with each trip of the waggons. They were not unmolested in their advance, for, from the walls, mangonels and other machines hurled great stones down upon the wooden screens, succeeding sometimes, in spite of their thickness, in crashing through them, killing many of the men beneath. The experiment was also tried of throwing balls of Greek fire down upon the wood; but as this was green and freshly felled it would not take fire, but the flames dropping through, with much boiling pitch and other materials, did grievously burn and scald the soldiers working below it. Upon both sides every device was tried. The cross-bow men among the mercenaries kept up a fire upon the walls to hinder the defenders from interfering with the operations, while the archers above shot steadily, and killed many of those who ventured within range of their bows.

After ten days’ labour, a portion of the moat some twenty yards in length was filled with bags of earth, and all was ready for the assault. The besiegers had prepared great numbers of strong ladders, and these were brought up under shelter of the screens. Then, all being ready, the trumpets sounded for the assault, and the troops moved forward in a close body, covering themselves with their shields so that no man’s head or body was visible, each protecting the one before him with his shield held over him. Thus the body presented the appearance of a great scale-covered animal. In many respects, indeed, the warfare of those days was changed in no way from that of the time of the Romans. In the 1200 years which had elapsed between the siege of Jerusalem and the days of the crusades there had been but little change in arms or armour, and the operations which Titus undertook for the reduction of the Jewish stronghold differed but little from those which a Norman baron employed in besieging his neighbour’s castle.

Within Evesham Castle all was contentment and merriment during these days. The garrison had no fear whatever of being unable to repel the assault when it should be delivered. Huge stones had been collected in numbers on the walls, cauldrons of pitch, beneath which fires kept simmering, stood there in readiness. Long poles with hooks with which to seize the ladders and cut them down were laid there; and all that precaution and science could do was prepared.

Cuthbert passed much of the day, when not required upon the walls, chatting with the Lady Margaret, who, attended by her maidens, sat working in her bower. She had learnt to read from the good nuns of the convent–an accomplishment which was by no means general, even among the daughters of nobles; but books were rare, and Evesham boasted but few manuscripts. Here Margaret learnt in full all the details of Cuthbert’s adventures since leaving England, and the fondness with which as a child she had regarded the lad grew gradually into the affection of a woman.

The courage of the garrison was high, for although they believed that sooner or later the castle might be carried by the besiegers, they had already been told by Cnut that there was a means of egress unknown to the besiegers, and that when the time came they would be able to escape unharmed. This, while it in no way detracted from their determination to defend the castle to the last, yet rendered their task a far lighter and more agreeable one than it would have been had they seen the gallows standing before them as the end of the siege. As the testudo, as it was called in those days, advanced towards the castle, the machines upon the walls–catapults, mangonels, and arbalasts–poured forth showers of stones and darts upon it, breaking up the array of shields and killing many; and as these openings were made, the archers, seizing their time, poured in volleys of arrows. The mercenaries, however, accustomed to war, advanced steadily, and made good their footing beneath the castle wall, and proceeded to rear their ladders. Here, although free from the action of the machines, they were exposed to the hand missiles, which were scarcely less destructive. In good order, and with firmness, however, they reared the ladders, and mounted to the assault, covering themselves as well as they could with their shields. In vain, however, did they mount. The defenders poured down showers of boiling pitch and oil, which penetrated the crevices of their armour, and caused intolerable torment. Great stones were toppled over from the battlements upon them; and sometimes the ladders, seized by the poles with hooks, were cast backwards, with all upon them, on the throng below. For half-an-hour, encouraged by the shouts of Sir Rudolph and their leaders, the soldiers strove gallantly; but were at last compelled to draw off, having lost nigh 100 men, without one gaining a footing upon the walls.

That evening another council of war was held without. Already some large machines for which Sir Rudolph had sent had arrived. In anticipation of the possibility of failure, two castles upon wheels had been prepared, and between these a huge beam with an iron head was hung. This was upon the following day pushed forward on the newly-formed ground across the moat. Upon the upper part of each tower were armed men who worked machines casting sheaves of arrows and other missiles. Below were those who worked the ram. To each side of the beam were attached numerous cords, and with these it was swung backwards and forwards, giving heavy blows each stroke upon the wall. The machines for casting stones, which had arrived, were also brought in play, and day and night these thundered against the walls; while the ram repeated its ceaseless blows upon the same spot, until the stone crumbled before it.

Very valiantly did the garrison oppose themselves to these efforts. But each day showed the progress made by the besiegers. Their forces had been increased, Prince John having ordered his captain at Gloucester to send another 100 men to the assistance of Sir Rudolph. Other towers had now been prepared. These were larger than the first, and overtopped the castle walls. From the upper story were drawbridges, so formed as to drop from the structures upon the walls, and thus enable the besiegers to rush upon them. The process was facilitated by the fact that the battlements had been shot away by the great stones, and there was a clear space on which the drawbridges could fall. The attack was made with great vigour; but for a long time the besieged maintained their post, and drove back the assailants as they poured out across the drawbridges on to the wall. At last Cuthbert saw that the forces opposed to him were too numerous to be resisted, and gave orders to his men to fall back upon the inner keep.

Making one rush, and clearing the wall of those who had gained a footing, the garrison fell back hastily, and were safely within the massive keep before the enemy had mustered in sufficient numbers upon the wall to interfere with them. The drawbridge was now lowered, and the whole of the assailants gained footing within the castle. They were still far from having achieved a victory. The walls of the keep were massive and strong, and its top far higher than the walls, so that from above a storm of arrows poured down upon all who ventured to show themselves. The keep had no windows low enough down for access to be gained; and those on the floors above were so narrow, and protected by bars, that it seemed by scaling the walls alone could an entry be effected. This was far too desperate an enterprise to be attempted, for the keep rose eighty feet above the courtyard. It was upon the door, solid and studded with iron, that the attempt had to be made.

Several efforts were made by Sir Rudolph, who fought with a bravery worthy of a better cause, to assault and batter down the door. Protected by wooden shields from the rain of missiles from above, he and his knights hacked at the door with their battle-axes. But in vain. It had been strengthened by beams behind, and by stones piled up against it. Then fire was tried. Faggots were collected in the forest, and brought; and a huge pile having been heaped against the door, it was lighted. “We could doubtless prolong the siege for some days, Lady Margaret,” said Cuthbert, “but the castle is ours; and we wish not, when the time comes that we shall again be masters of it, that it should be a mere heap of ruins. Methinks we have done enough. With but small losses on our side, we have killed great numbers of the enemy, and have held them at bay for a month. Therefore, I think that tonight it will be well for us to leave the place.”

Lady Margaret was rejoiced at the news that the time for escape had come, for the perpetual clash of war, the rattling of arrows, the ponderous thud of heavy stones, caused a din very alarming to a young girl; and although the room in which she sat, looking into the inner court of the castle, was not exposed to missiles, she trembled at the thought that brave men were being killed, and that at any moment a shot might strike Cuthbert, and so leave her without a friend or protector.

Content with having destroyed the door, the assailants made no further effort that evening, but prepared in the morning to attack it, pull down the stones filled behind it, and force their way into the keep. There was, with the exception of the main entrance, but one means of exit, a small postern door behind the castle, and throughout the siege a strong body of troops had been posted here, to prevent the garrison making a sortie.

Feeling secure therefore that upon the following day his enemies would fall into his power, Sir Rudolph retired to rest.

An hour before midnight the garrison assembled in the hall. The table was removed, and Cuthbert having pressed the spring, which was at a distance from the stone and could not be discovered without a knowledge of its existence, the stone turned aside by means of a counterpoise, and a flight of steps was seen. Torches had been prepared. Cnut and a chosen band went first; Cuthbert followed, with Lady Margaret and her attendants; and the rest of the archers brought up the rear, a trusty man being left in charge at last with orders to swing back the stone into its place, having first hauled the table over the spot, so that their means of escape should be unknown.

The passage was long and dreary, the walls were damp with wet, and the massive doors so swollen by moisture that it was with the greatest difficulty they could be opened. At last, however, they emerged into the little friary in the wood. It was deserted, the priest who usually dwelt there having fled when the siege began. The stone which there, as in the castle, concealed the exit, was carefully closed, and the party then emerged into the open air. Here Cuthbert bade adieu to his comrades. Cnut had very anxiously begged to be allowed to accompany him and share his fortunes, and Cuthbert had promised him that if at any time he should again take up arms in England, he would summon him to his side, but that at present as he knew not whither his steps would be turned, it would be better that he should be unattended. The archers had all agreed to scatter far and wide through the country, many of them proceeding to Nottingham and joining the bands in the forest of Sherwood.

Cuthbert himself had determined to make his way to the castle of his friend, Sir Baldwin, and to leave the Lady Margaret in his charge. Cnut hurried on at full speed to the house of a franklin, some three miles distant. Here horses were obtained and saddled, and dresses prepared; and when Cuthbert with Lady Margaret arrived there, no time was lost. Dressed as a yeoman, with the Lady Margaret as his sister, he mounted a horse, with her behind him on a pillion. The other damsels also mounted, as it would not have been safe for them to remain near Evesham. They therefore purposed taking refuge in a convent near Gloucester for the present. Bidding a hearty adieu to Cnut, and with thanks to the franklin who had aided them, they set forward on their journey. By morning they had reached the convent, and here the two girls were left, and Cuthbert continued his journey. He left his charge at a convent a day’s ride distant from the castle of Sir Baldwin, as he wished to consult the knight first as to the best way of her entering the castle without exciting talk or suspicion.

Sir Baldwin received him with joy. He had heard something of his doings, and the news of the siege of Evesham had been noised abroad. He told him that he was in communication with many other barons, and that ere long they hoped to rise against the tyranny of Prince John, but that at present they were powerless, as many, hoping that King Richard would return ere long, shrank from involving the country in a civil war. When Cuthbert told him that the daughter of his old friend was at a convent but a day’s ride distant, and that he sought protection for her, Sir Baldwin instantly offered her hospitality.

“I will,” he said, “send my good wife to fetch her. Some here know your presence, and it would be better therefore that she did not arrive for some days, as her coming will then seem to be unconnected with yourself. My wife and I will, a week hence, give out that we are going to fetch a cousin of my wife’s to stay here with her; and when we return no suspicion will be excited that she is other than she seems. Should it be otherwise, I need not say that Sir Baldwin of B,thune will defend his castle against any of the minions of Prince John. But I have no fear that her presence here will be discovered. What think you of doing in the meantime?”

“I am thinking,” Cuthbert said, “of going east. No news has been obtained of our lord the king save that he is a prisoner in the hands of the emperor; but where confined, or how, we know not. It is my intent to travel to the Tyrol, and to trace his steps from the time that he was captured. Then, when I obtain knowledge of the place where he is kept, I will return, and consult upon the best steps to be taken. My presence in England is now useless. Did the barons raise the standard of King Richard against the prince, I should at once return and join them. But without land or vassals, I can do nothing here, and shall be indeed like a hunted hare, for I know that the false earl will move heaven and earth to capture me.”

Sir Baldwin approved of the resolution; but recommended Cuthbert to take every precaution not to fall himself into the hands of the emperor; “for,” he said, “if we cannot discover the prison of King Richard, I fear that it would be hopeless indeed ever to attempt to find that in which a simple knight is confined.”

CHAPTER XXV.

IN SEARCH OF THE KING.

The following day, with many thanks Cuthbert started from the castle, and in the first place visited the convent, and told Lady Margaret that she would be fetched in a few days by Sir Baldwin and his wife. He took a tender adieu of her, not without many forebodings and tears upon her part; but promising blithely that he would return and lead her back in triumph to her castle, he bade adieu and rode for London.

He had attired himself as a merchant, and took up his abode at a hostelry near Cheapside. Here he remained quietly for some days, and, mixing among the people, learnt that in London as elsewhere the rapacity of Prince John had rendered him hateful to the people, and that they would gladly embrace any opportunity of freeing themselves from his yoke. He was preparing to leave for France, when the news came to him that Prince John had summoned all the barons faithful to him to meet him near London, and had recalled all his mercenaries from different parts of the country, and was gathering a large army; also, that the barons faithful to King Richard, alarmed by the prospect, had raised the royal standard, and that true men were hurrying to their support. This entirely destroyed the plans that he had formed. Taking horse again, and avoiding the main road, by which he might meet the hostile barons on their way to London, he journeyed down to Nottingham. Thence riding boldly into the forest, he sought the outlaws, and was not long ere he found them. At his request he was at once taken before their leader, a man of great renown both for courage and bowmanship, one Robin Hood. This bold outlaw had long held at defiance the Sheriff of Nottingham, and had routed him and all bodies of troops who had been sent against him. With him Cuthbert found many of his own men; and upon hearing that the royal standard had been raised, Robin Hood at once agreed to march with all his men to join the royal force. Messengers were despatched to summon the rest of the forest band from their hiding places, and a week later Cuthbert, accompanied by Robin Hood and 300 archers, set out for the rendezvous. When they arrived there they found that Sir Baldwin had already joined with his retainers, and was by him most warmly received, and introduced to the other barons in the camp, by whom Cuthbert was welcomed as a brother. The news that Prince John’s army was approaching was brought in, a fortnight after Cuthbert had joined the camp, and the army in good order moved out to meet the enemy.

The forces were about equal. The battle began by a discharge of arrows; but Robin Hood and his men shot so true and fast that they greatly discomfited the enemy; and King John’s mercenaries having but little stomach for the fight, and knowing how unpopular they were in England, and that if defeated small mercy was likely to be shown to them, refused to advance against the ranks of the loyal barons, and falling back declined to join in the fray. Seeing their numbers so weakened by this defection, the barons on the prince’s side hesitated, and surrounding the prince advised him to make terms with the barons while there was yet time. Prince John saw that the present was not a favourable time for him, and concealing his fury under a mask of courtesy, he at once acceded to the advice of his followers, and despatched a messenger to the barons with an inquiry as to what they wanted of him. A council was held, and it was determined to demand the dismissal of the mercenaries and their despatch back to their own country; also that John would govern only as his brother’s representative; that the laws of the country should be respected; that no taxes should be raised without the assent of the barons; that all men who had taken up arms against his authority should be held free; and that the barons on Prince John’s side should return peaceably home and disband their forces. Seeing, under the circumstances, that there was no way before him but to yield to these demands, Prince John accepted the terms. The mercenaries were ordered to march direct to London, and orders were given that ships should be at once prepared to take them across to Normandy, and the barons marched for their homes.

Satisfied, now that the mercenaries were gone, that they could henceforth hold their ground against Prince John, the royal barons also broke up their forces. Robin Hood with his foresters returned to Sherwood; and Cuthbert, bidding adieu to Sir Baldwin, rode back to London, determined to carry out the plan which he had formed. He was the more strengthened in this resolution, inasmuch as in the royal camp he had met a friend from whom he parted last in the Holy Land. This was Blondel, the minstrel of King Richard, whose songs and joyous music had often lightened the evening after days of fighting and toil in Palestine. To him Cuthbert confided his intention, and the minstrel instantly offered to accompany him.

“I shall,” he said, “be of assistance to you. Minstrels are like heralds. They are of no nationality, and can pass free where a man at arms would be closely watched and hindered. Moreover, it may be that I might aid you greatly in discovering the prison of the king. So great is the secrecy with which this has been surrounded, that I question if any inquiries you could make would enable you to trace him. My voice, however, can penetrate into places where we cannot enter. I will take with me my lute, and as we journey I will sing outside the walls of each prison we come to one of the songs which I sang in Palestine. King Richard is himself a singer and knows my songs as well as myself. If I sing a verse of some song which I wrote there and which, therefore, would be known only to him, if he hears it he may follow with the next verse, and so enable us to know of his hiding place.”

Cuthbert at once saw the advantages which such companionship would bring him, and joyfully accepted the minstrel’s offer, agreeing himself to go as serving man to Blondel. The latter accompanied him to London. Here their preparations were soon made, and taking ship in a merchantman bound for the Netherlands, they started without delay upon their adventure.

The minstrels and troubadours were at that time a privileged race in Europe, belonging generally to the south of France, although produced in all lands. They travelled over Europe singing the lays which they themselves had composed, and were treated with all honour at the castles where they chose to alight. It would have been considered as foul a deed to use discourtesy to a minstrel as to insult a herald. Their persons were, indeed, regarded as sacred, and the knights and barons strove to gain their good will by hospitality and presents, as a large proportion of their ballads related to deeds of war; and while they would write lays in honour of those who courteously entertained them, they did not hesitate to heap obloquy upon those who received them discourteously, holding them up to the gibes and scoffs of their fellows. In no way, therefore, would success be so likely to attend the mission of those who set out to discover the hiding place of King Richard as under the guise of a minstrel and his attendant. No questions would be asked them; they could halt where they would, in castle or town, secure of hospitality and welcome. Blondel was himself a native of the south of France, singing his songs in the soft language of Languedoc. Cuthbert’s Norman French would pass muster anywhere as being that of a native of France; and although when dressed as a servitor attention might be attracted by his bearing, his youth might render it probable that he was of noble family, but that he had entered the service of the minstrel in order to qualify himself some day for following that career. He carried a long staff, a short sword, and at his back the lute or small harp played upon by the troubadour. Blondel’s attire was rich, and suitable to a person of high rank.

They crossed to the Scheldt, and thence travelled by the right bank of the Rhine as far as Mannheim, sometimes journeying by boat, sometimes on foot. They were also hospitably entertained, and were considered to more than repay their hosts by the songs which Blondel sang. At Mannheim they purchased two horses, and then struck east for Vienna. The journey was not without danger, for a large portion of this part of Europe was under no settled government, each petty baron living in his own castle, and holding but slight allegiance to any feudal lord, making war upon his neighbour on his own account, levying blackmail from travellers, and perpetually at variance with the burghers of the towns. The hills were covered with immense forests, which stretched for many leagues in all directions, and these were infested by wolves, bears, and robbers. The latter, however, although men without pity or religion, yet held the troubadours in high esteem, and the travellers without fear entered the gloomy shades of the forest.

They had not gone far when their way was barred by a number of armed men.

“I am a minstrel,” Blondel said, “and as such doubt not that your courtesy will be extended to me.”

“Of a surety,” the leader said, “the gay science is as much loved and respected in the greenwood as in the castle; and moreover, the purses of those who follow it are too light to offer any temptation to us. We would pray you, however, to accompany us to our leader, who will mightily rejoice to see you, for he loves music, and will gladly be your host so long as you will stay with him.”

Blondel, without objection, turned his horse’s head and accompanied the men, followed by Cuthbert. After half an hour’s travelling, they came to a building which had formerly been a shrine, but which was now converted to the robbers’ headquarters. The robber chief on hearing from his followers the news that a minstrel had arrived, came forward to meet him, and courteously bade him welcome.

“I am Sir Adelbert, of Rotherheim,” he said, “although you see me in so poor a plight. My castle and lands have been taken by my neighbour, with whom for generations my family have been at feud. I was in the Holy Land with the emperor, and on my return found that the baron had taken the opportunity of my absence, storming my castle and seizing my lands. In vain I petitioned the emperor to dispossess this traitorous baron of my lands, which by all the laws of Christendom should have been respected during my absence. The emperor did indeed send a letter to the baron to deliver them up to me; but his power here is but nominal, and the baron contemptuously threw the royal proclamation into the fire, and told the messenger that what he had taken by the sword he would hold the sword; and the emperor, having weightier matters on hand than to set troops in motion to redress the grievances of a simple knight, gave the matter no further thought. I have therefore been driven to the forest, where I live as best I may with my followers, most of whom were retainers upon my estate, and some my comrades in the Holy Land. I make war upon the rich and powerful, and beyond that do harm to no man. But, methinks,” he continued, “I know your face, gentle sir.”

“It may well be so, Sir Adelbert,” the minstrel said, “for I too was in the Holy Land. I followed the train of King Richard, and mayhap at some of the entertainments given by him you have seen my face. My name is Blondel.”

“I remember now,” the knight said. “It was at Acre that I first saw you, and if I remember rightly you can wield the sword as well as the lute.”

“One cannot always be playing and singing,” Blondel said, “and in lack of amusement I was forced to do my best against the infidel, who indeed would have but little respected my art had I fallen into his hands. The followers of the prophet hold minstrels but in slight reverence.”

“What is the news of King Richard?” the knight said. “I have heard that he was lost on the voyage homewards.”

“It is not so,” Blondel said. “He landed safely on the coast, and was journeying north with a view of joining his sister at the Court of Saxony, when he was foully seized and imprisoned by the Archduke John.”

“That were gross shame indeed,” the knight said, “and black treachery on the part of Duke John. And where is the noble king imprisoned?”

“That,” said Blondel, “no man knows. On my journey hither I have gathered that the emperor claimed him from the hand of the Archduke, and that he is imprisoned in one of the royal fortresses; but which, I know not. And indeed, sir knight, since you are well disposed towards him, I may tell you that the purport of my journey is to discover if I can the place of his confinement. He was a kind and noble master, and however long my search may be, I will yet obtain news of him.”

The knight warmly applauded the troubadour’s resolution, and was turning to lead him into his abode, when his eye fell upon Cuthbert.

“Methinks I know the face of your attendant as well as your own; though where I can have seen him I know not. Was he with you in the Holy Land?”

“Yes,” Blondel said, “the youth was also there; and doubtless you may have noticed him, for he is indeed of distinguished and of good family.”

“Then let him share our repast,” the knight said, “if it seems good to you. In these woods there is no rank, and I myself have long dropped my knightly title, and shall not reassume it until I can pay off my score to the Baron of Rotherheim, and take my place again in my castle.”

The minstrel and Cuthbert were soon seated at the table with the knight and one or two of his principal companions. A huge venison pasty formed the staple of the repast, but hares and other small game were also upon the table. Nor was the generous wine of the country wanting.

The knight had several times glanced at Cuthbert, and at last exclaimed, “I have it now. This is no attendant, sir minstrel, but that valiant young knight who so often rode near King Richard in battle. He is, as I guess, your companion in this quest; is it not so?”

“It is,” Cuthbert replied frankly. “I am like yourself, a disinherited knight, and my history resembles yours. Upon my return to England I found another in possession of the land and titles that belonged to the noble I followed, and which King Richard bestowed upon me. The Earl of Evesham was doubtless known to you, and before his death King Richard, at his request, bestowed upon me as his adopted son–although but a distant connexion–his title and lands and the hand of his daughter. Prince John, who now rules in England, had however granted these things to one of his favourites, and he having taken possession of the land and title, though not, happily, of the lady, closed his door somewhat roughly in my face. I found means, however, to make my mark upon him; but as our quarrel could not be fought out to the end, and as the false knight had the aid of Prince John, I am forced for a while to postpone our settlement, and meeting my good friend the minstrel, agreed to join him in his enterprise to discover our lord the king.”

The knight warmly grasped Cuthbert’s hand.

“I am glad,” he said, “to meet so true and valiant a knight. I have often wondered at the valour with which you, although so young, bore yourself; and there were tales afloat of strange adventures which you had undergone in captivity for a time among the infidels.”

At Sir Adelbert’s request, Cuthbert related the story of his adventures among the Saracens; and then Blondel, tuning his lute, sang several canzonets which he had composed in the Holy Land, of feats of arms and adventure.

“How far are you,” Cuthbert asked presently, when Blondel laid his lute aside, “from the estates which were wrongfully wrested from you?”

“But twenty leagues,” the knight said. “My castle was on the Rhine, between Coblentz and Mannheim.”

“Does the baron know that you are so near?” Cuthbert asked.

“Methinks that he does not,” the knight replied, “but that he deems me to have gone to the court of the emperor to seek for redress–which, he guesses, I shall certainly fail to obtain.”

“How many men have you with you?” Cuthbert asked.

“Fifty men, all good and true,” the knight said.

“Has it never entered your thoughts to attempt a surprise upon his castle?” Cuthbert said.

The knight was silent for a minute.

“At times,” he said at length, “thoughts of so doing have occurred to me; but the castle is strong, and a surprise would be difficult indeed.”

“If the baron is lulled in security at present,” Cuthbert said, “and deems you afar off, the watch is likely to be relaxed, and with a sudden onslaught you might surely obtain possession. Blondel and myself are not pressed for time, and the delay of a few days can make but little difference. If, therefore, you think we could be of assistance to you in such an attempt, my sword, and I am sure that of my friend, would be at your disposal.”

The knight sat for some time in silence.

“Thanks, generous knight,” he said at last, “I am sorely tempted to avail myself of your offer; but I fear that the enterprise is hopeless. The aid, however, of your arm and knowledge of war would greatly add to my chances, and if it pleases you we will ride to-morrow to a point where we can obtain a sight of the baron’s castle. When you see it, you shall judge yourself how far such an enterprise as you propose is possible.”

“Is your own castle intact?” Cuthbert asked.

“The walls are standing,” he said; “but a breach has been made in them, and at present it is wholly deserted.”

“Do you think,” Cuthbert asked, “that if you succeeded in surprising and defeating the garrison of the castle that you could then regain your own, and hold it against your enemy?”

“I think that I could,” Sir Adelbert said. “The baron’s domains are but little larger than my own. Many of my retainers still live upon the estate, and would; I am sure, gladly join me, if I were to raise my flag. The baron, too, is hated by his neighbours, and could I inflict a crushing blow upon him, methinks it would be so long a time before he could assemble a force, that I might regain my castle and put it in an attitude of defence before he could take the field against me.”

“If,” Cuthbert said, “we could surprise the castle, it might well be that the baron would fall into your hands, and in that case you might be able to make your own terms with him. How strong a force is he likely to have in his castle?”

“Some fifty or sixty men,” the knight replied; “for with such a force he could hold the castle against an attack of ten times their number, and he could in twelve hours call in his retainers, and raise the garrison to 300 or 400 men.”

Blondel warmly assented to Cuthbert’s scheme, and it was settled that at daybreak they should start to view the Castle of Rotherheim. At early dawn they were in the saddle, and the three rode all day, until towards sunset they stood on the crest of a hill looking down into the valley of the Rhine.

The present aspect of that valley affords but a slight idea of its beauty in those days. The slopes are now clad with vineyards, which, although picturesque in idea, are really, to look at from a distance, no better than so many turnip fields. The vines are planted in rows and trained to short sticks, and as these rows follow the declivities of the hillside, they are run in all directions, and the whole mountain side, from the river far up, is cut up into little patches of green lines. In those days the mountains were clad with forests, which descended nearly to the river side. Here and there, upon craggy points, were situate the fortalices of the barons. Little villages nestled in the woods, or stood by the river bank, and a fairer scene could not be witnessed in Europe.

“That is Rotherheim,” the knight said, pointing to a fortress standing on a crag, which rose high above the woods around it; “and that,” he said, pointing to another some four miles away, similarly placed, “is my own.”

Cuthbert examined closely the fortress of Rotherheim. It was a large building, with towers at the angles, and seemed to rise almost abruptly from the edge of the rock. Inside rose the gables and round turrets of the dwelling-place of the baron; and the only access was by a steep winding path on the river side.

“It is indeed a strong place,” Cuthbert said, “and difficult to take by surprise. A watch no doubt is always kept over the entrance, and there we can hope for no success. The only plan will be to scale the wall by means of a ladder; but how the ladder is to be got to so great a height, I own at present passes my comprehension.” After much thought, Cuthbert went on, “It might, methinks, be practicable for an archer to approach the walls, and to shoot an arrow over the angle of the castle so that it would pass inside the turret there, and fall in the forest beyond. If to this arrow were attached a light cord, it could be gained by one on the other side, and a stronger cord hauled over. To this could be attached a rope ladder, and so this could be raised to the top of the wall. If a sentinel were anywhere near he might hear the rope pulled across the battlements; but if as we may hope, a watch is kept only over the entrance, the operation might be performed without attracting notice.”

The knight was delighted with the project, which seemed perfectly feasible, and it was agreed that the attempt should be made.

“It will need,” Sir Adelbert said, “an archer with a strong arm indeed to shoot an arrow with a cord attached to it, however light, over the corner of the castle.”

“Methinks,” Cuthbert said, “that I can do that, for as a lad I was used to the strong bows of my country. The first thing, however, will be to obtain such a bow; but doubtless one can be purchased in one of the towns, which, if not so strong as those to which I was accustomed, will at any rate suffice for us.”

The party bivouacked in the woods for the night, for the horses had already done a very long journey, and needed rest before starting back for the Black Forest. At daybreak, however, they started, and at nightfall rejoined their band. These were delighted when they heard the scheme that had been set on foot, and all avowed their eagerness to join in the attempt to restore their lord to his rights.

Two days later they set out, having already procured from the nearest town a strong bow, some arrows, a very light rope, and a stronger one from a portion of which they manufactured a rope ladder capable of reaching from the top of the wall to the rock below. The journey this time occupied two days, as the men on foot were unable to march at the pace at which the mounted party had traversed the ground. The evening of the second day, however, saw them in sight of the castle. By Cuthbert’s advice, Sir Adelbert determined to give them twenty-four hours of rest, in order that they might have their full strength for undertaking the task before them. During the day, Cuthbert, guided by the knight, made his way through the woods to the foot of the rocks on which the castle stood. They were extremely steep, but could be mounted by active men if unopposed from above. Cuthbert measured the height with his eye from the top of the castle wall to the place which he selected as most fitting from which to shoot the arrow, and announced to the knight that he thought there would be no difficulty in discharging an arrow over the angle.

At nightfall the whole party made their way silently through the woods. Three men were sent round to the side of the castle opposite that from which Cuthbert was to shoot. The length of light string was carefully coiled on the ground, so as to unwind with the greatest facility, and so offer as little resistance to the flight of the arrow as might be. Then, all being in readiness, Cuthbert attached the end to an arrow, and drawing the bow to its full compass, let fly the arrow. All held their breath; but no sound followed the discharge. They were sure, therefore, that the arrow had not struck the wall, but that it must have passed clear over it. Half-an-hour elapsed before they felt that the cord was pulled, and knew that the men upon the other side had succeeded in finding the arrow and string attached. The stronger cord was now fastened to that which the arrow had carried, and this gradually disappeared in the darkness. A party now stole up the rock, and posted themselves at the foot of the castle wall. They took with them the coil of rope-ladder and the end of the rope. At length the rope tightened, and to the end they attached the ladder. This again ascended until the end only remained upon the ground, and they knew that it must have reached the top of the wall. They now held fast, and knew that those on the other side, following the instructions given them, would have fastened the rope to a tree upon the opposite side. They were now joined by the rest of the party, and Sir Adelbert leading the way, and followed by Cuthbert and Blondel, began cautiously to ascend the rope ladder.

All this time no sound from the castle proclaimed that their intention was suspected, or that any alarm had been given, and in silence they gained the top of the wall. Here they remained quiet until the whole band were gathered there, and then made their way along until they reached the stairs leading to the courtyard. These they descended, and then, raising his war cry, Sir Adelbert sprang upon the men who, round a fire, were sitting by the gate. These were cut down before they could leap to their feet, and the party then rushed at the entrance to the dwelling-house. The retainers of the castle, aroused by the sudden din, rushed from their sleeping places, but taken completely by surprise, were unable to offer any resistance whatever to the strong force which had, as if by magic, taken possession of the castle. The surprise was complete, and with scarce a blow struck they found themselves in possession. The baron himself was seized as he rose from his bed, and his rage at finding himself in the power of his enemy was so great as for some time to render him speechless. Sir Adelbert briefly dictated to him the conditions upon which only he should desist from using his power to hang him over his own gate. The baron was instantly to issue orders to all his own retainers and tenantry to lend their aid to those of Sir Adelbert in putting the castle of the latter into a state of defence and mending the breach which existed. A sum of money, equal to the revenues of which he had possessed himself, was to be paid at once, and the knight was to retain possession of Rotherheim and of the baron’s person until these conditions were all faithfully carried out. The baron had no resource but to assent to these terms, and upon the following day Cuthbert and Blondel departed upon their way, overwhelmed with thanks by Sir Adelbert, and confident that he would now be able to regain and hold the possession of his estate.

CHAPTER XXVI.

KING RICHARD’S RETURN TO ENGLAND.

Journeying onward, Blondel and his companion stopped at many castles, and were everywhere hospitably entertained. Arriving at Vienna they lingered for some time, hoping there to be able to obtain some information of the whereabouts of King Richard. Blondel in his songs artfully introduced allusions to the captive monarch and to the mourning of all Christendom at the imprisonment of its champion. These allusions were always well received, and he found that the great bulk of the nobles of the empire were indignant and ashamed at the conduct of the emperor in imprisoning his illustrious rival. The secret of his prison place, however, appeared to have been so well kept that no information whatever was obtainable.

“We must carry out our original plan,” he said at length, “and journey into the Tyrol. In one of the fortresses there he is most likely to be confined.”

Leaving the capital they wandered up into the mountains for weeks, visiting one castle after another. It was no easy matter in all cases to get so near to these prisons as to give a hope that their voice might be heard within, or an answer received without. More than once cross-bow bolts were shot at them from the walls when they did not obey the sentinel’s challenge and move further away. Generally, however, it was in the day time that they sang. Wandering carelessly up, they would sit down within earshot of the castle, open their wallets, and take out provisions from their store, and then, having eaten and drunk, Blondel would produce his lute and sing, as if for his own pleasure. It needed, however, four visits to each castle before they could be sure that the captive was not there; for the song had to be sung on each side. Sometimes they would cheat themselves with the thought that they heard an answering voice; but it was not until the end of the fourth week, when singing outside the castle of Diernstein, that a full rich voice, when Blondel ceased, sang out the second stanza of the poem. With difficulty Blondel and Cuthbert restrained themselves from an extravagant exhibition of joy. They knew, however, that men on the prison wall were watching them as they sat singing, and Blondel, with a final strain taken from a ballad of a knight who, having discovered the hiding place of his ladylove, prepared to free her from her oppressors, shouldered his lute, and they started on their homeward journey.

There was no delay now. At times they sang indeed at castles; but only when their store was exhausted, for upon these occasions Blondel would be presented with a handsome goblet or other solid token of the owner’s approval, and the sale of this at the next city would take them far on their way. They thought it better not to pass through France, as Philip, they knew, was on the watch to prevent any news of King Richard reaching England. They therefore again passed through Brabant, and so by ship to England.

Hearing that Longchamp, Bishop of Ely, one of Richard’s vicegerents, was over in Normandy, and rightly deeming him the most earnest of his adherents, they at once recrossed the sea, and found the warlike prelate at Rouen. Greatly delighted was he at hearing that Richard’s hiding-place had been discovered. He at once sent across the news to England, and ordered it to be published far and wide, and himself announced it to the barons of Normandy. Then with a gorgeous retinue, including Cuthbert and Blondel, he started for Vienna, and arriving there demanded an interview with the emperor.

The news that it was now certain that Richard was imprisoned in a castle of the emperor, had already spread through Europe, and the bishop had been received everywhere with tokens of sympathy; and so great was the feeling shown by the counts and barons of the empire, that the Emperor Henry felt that he could no longer refuse to treat for the surrender of his captive. Therefore he granted the interview which Longchamp demanded. The English envoy was received by the emperor surrounded by his nobles. The prelate advanced with great dignity.

“I come,” he said, “in the name of the people of England to demand the restoration of King Richard, most unjustly and unknightly detained a prisoner in his passage through your dominions.”

“King Richard was my foe,” the emperor said, “open and secret, and I was justified in detaining one who is alike my enemy and a scourge to Europe as a prisoner, when fortune threw him in my hands. I am, however, willing to put him to a ransom, and will upon the payment of 150,000 marks allow him to go free.”

“I deny your right to detain him or to put him to ransom,” the bishop said. “But as you have the power, so my denial is useless. England is poor, impoverished with war and by the efforts which she made in the service of our holy religion. Nevertheless, poor as she is, she will raise the sum you demand. There is not an Englishman who will not furnish all he can afford for the rescue of our king. But once again, in the presence of your nobles, I denounce your conduct as base and unkingly.”

The emperor could with difficulty restrain his passion; but the sight of the sombre visages of his nobles showed that they shared in no slight degree the feelings which the English envoy had so boldly announced.

“Before, however,” the emperor said, “I surrender King Richard, he must be tried by my peers of many and various crimes of which he is accused. Should he be found guilty of these, no gold can purchase his release. Should he, however, be acquitted, then as my word is given so shall it be.”

“Although,” the prelate said, “I deny your right to try our king, and believe that he himself will refuse to accept your jurisdiction, yet I fear not the result if our lord be left in the hands of the nobles of the empire and not in yours. I can trust their honour and courtesy.”

And turning upon his heel, without another word he quitted the apartment.

An hour later the bishop and his following took horse and rode with all speed to the north coast, and thence sailed for England. The news of the amount of ransom filled the people with consternation; but preparations were at once made for collecting the sum demanded. Queen Eleanor was unceasing in her efforts to raise the money for the release of her favourite son. The nobles contributed their jewels and silver; the people gave contributions of goods, for money was so scarce in England that few had the wherewithal to pay in coin. Prince John placed every obstacle in the way of the collection; but the barons had since their successful stand obtained the upper hand, and it was by intrigue only that he could hinder the collection.

In the meantime, popular opinion throughout Europe was strong upon the side of King Richard. The pope himself wrote to the emperor on his behalf. The barons of the empire were indignant at the shame placed upon their country; and the emperor, although he would fain have thrown further delays in the way, was obliged at last to order the first step to be taken.

A solemn diet was ordered to assemble at Worms. Here were collected all the nobles of the empire, and before them King Richard was brought. It was a grand assembly. Upon a raised throne on the dais sat the emperor himself, and beside him and near him were the great feudatories of the empire, and along the sides of the walls were ranged in long rows the lesser barons. When the doors were opened and King Richard entered, the whole assembly, save the emperor, rose in respect to the captive monarch. Although pale from his long confinement, the proud air of Richard was in no way abated, and the eyes that had flashed so fearlessly upon the Saracens looked as sternly down the long lines of the barons of Germany. Of splendid stature and physique, King Richard was unquestionably the finest man of his time. He was handsome, with a frank face, but with a fierce and passionate eye. He wore his moustache with a short beard and closely-cut whisker. His short curly hair was cropped closely to his head, upon which he wore a velvet cap with gold coronet, while a scarlet robe lined with fur fell over his coat of mail, for the emperor had deemed it imprudent to excite the feeling of the assembly in favour of the prisoner by depriving him of the symbols of his rank.

King Richard strode to the place prepared for him, and then turning to the assembly he said, in a voice which rang through the hall,–

“Counts and lords of the Empire of Germany, I, Richard, King of England, do deny your right to try me. I am a king, and can only be tried by my peers and by the pope, who is the head of Christendom. I might refuse to plead, refuse to take any part in this assembly, and appeal to the pope, who alone has power to punish kings. But I will waive my rights. I rely upon the honour and probity of the barons of Germany. I have done no man wrong, and would appear as fearlessly before an assembly of peasants as before a gathering of barons. Such faults as I may have, and none are without them, are not such as those with which I am charged. I have slain many men in anger, but none by treachery. When Richard of England strikes, he strikes in the light of day. He leaves poison and treachery to his enemies, and I hurl back with indignation and scorn in the teeth of him who makes them the charges brought against me.”

So saying King Richard took his seat amidst a murmur of applause from the crowded hall.

The trial then commenced. The accusations against Richard were of many kinds. Chief among them was the murder of Conrad of Montferat; but there were charges of having brought the crusade to naught by thwarting the general plans, by his arrogance in refusing to be bound by the decision of the other leaders, and by having made a peace contrary to the interests of the crusaders. The list was a long one; but the evidence adduced was pitiably weak. Beyond the breath of suspicion, no word of real evidence connecting him with the murder of Conrad of Montferat was adduced, and the other charges were supported by no better evidence. Many of the German barons who had been at the crusades themselves came forward to testify to the falsity of these charges, and the fact that Richard had himself placed Conrad of Montferat upon the throne, and had no possible interest in his death, was alone more than sufficient to nullify the vague rumours brought against him. Richard himself in a few scornful words disposed of this accusation. The accusation that he, Richard of England, would stoop to poison a man whom he could have crushed in an instant, was too absurd to be seriously treated.

“I am sure,” the king said, “that not one person here believes this idle tale. That I did not always agree with the other leaders is true; but I call upon every one here to say whether, had they listened to me and followed my advice, the crusade would not have had another ending. Even after Phillip of France had withdrawn; even after I had been deserted by John of Austria, I led the troops of the crusaders from every danger and every difficulty to within sight of the walls of Jerusalem. Had I been supported with zeal, the holy city would have been ours; but the apathy, the folly, and the weakness of the leaders brought ruin upon the army. They thought not of conquering Jerusalem, but of thwarting me; and I retort upon them the charge of having sacrificed the success of the crusade. As to the terms of peace, how were they made? I, with some fifty knights and 1000 followers alone remained in the Holy Land. Who else, I ask, so circumstanced, could have obtained any terms whatever from Saladin? It was the weight of my arm alone which saved Jaffa and Acre, and the line of seacoast, to the Cross. And had I followed the example set me by him of Austria and the Frenchman, not one foot of the Holy Land would now remain in Christian hands.”

The trial was soon over, and without a single dissentient the King of England was acquitted of all the charges brought against him. But the money was not yet raised, and King Richard was taken back into the heart of Germany. At length, by prodigious exertions, half the amount claimed was collected, and upon the solicitations of the pope and of the counts of his own empire, the emperor consented to release Richard upon, receipt of this sum and his royal promise that the remainder should be made up.

Not as yet, however, were the intrigues at an end. Prince John and King Phillip alike implored the emperor to retain his captive, and offered to him a larger sum than the ransom if he would still hold him in his hands. Popular opinion was, however, too strong. When the news of these negotiations became bruited abroad, the counts of the empire, filled with indignation, protested against this shame and dishonour being brought upon the country. The pope threatened him with excommunication; and at last the emperor, feeling that he would risk his throne did he further insist, was forced to open the prison gates and let the king free. Cuthbert, Blondel, and a few other trusty friends were at hand, and their joy at receiving their long-lost sovereign was indeed intense. Horses had been provided in readiness, and without a moment’s delay the king started, for even at the last moment it was feared that the emperor might change his mind. This indeed was the case. The king had not started many hours, when the arrival of fresh messengers from Phillip and John induced the emperor once more to change his intentions, and a body of men were sent in pursuit of the king. The latter fortunately made no stay on the way, but changing horses frequently–for everywhere he was received with honour and attention–he pushed forward for the coast of the North Sea, and arrived there two or three hours only before his oppressors. Fortunately it was night, and taking a boat he embarked without a moment’s delay; and when the emissaries of the emperor arrived the boat was already out of sight, and in the darkness pursuit was hopeless.

On landing at Dover, the first to present himself before him was Prince John, who, in the most abject terms besought pardon for the injuries he had inflicted. King Richard waved him contemptuously aside.

“Go,” he said, “and may I forget your injuries as speedily as you will forget my pardon.”

Then taking horse, he rode on to London, where he was received with the most lively acclamation by his subjects.

The first step of King Richard was to dispossess all the minions of John from the castles and lands which had been taken from his faithful adherents. Some of these resisted; but their fortresses were speedily stormed. Sir Rudolph was not one of these. Immediately the news of King Richard’s arrival in England reached him, feeling that all was now lost, he rode to the seacoast, took ship, and passed into France, and Cuthbert, on his arrival at Evesham, found himself undisputed lord of the place. He found that the hiding-place of his mother had not been discovered, and, after a short delay to put matters in train, he, attended by a gallant retinue, rode into Wiltshire to the castle of Sir Baldwin of B,thune. Here he found the Lady Margaret safe and sound, and mightily pleased to see him. She was now seventeen, and offered no objections whatever to the commands of King Richard that she should at once bestow her hand upon the Earl of Evesham. By the king’s order, the wedding took place at London, the king himself bestowing the bride upon his faithful follower, whom we may now leave to the enjoyment of the fortune and wife he had so valiantly won.

THE END.