« ZurückWeiter »
The esquire shifted from one foot to the other, a little uneasily. "Not altogether alone," he grumbled. "I"-He stopped, looking back over his shoulder.
Glancing in the same direction, Brakespeare saw, framed in the dark doorway leading to the stair, the white face of Gualtier de Marsan; who stood there bareheaded, with his helmet in his hand. The Free Companion frowned in surprise or displeasure; nevertheless he beckoned the other to approach.
Didst thou not com
"How cometh this about, Messire Gualtier? prehend it was thy duty to watch over the safety of my lady Odille, and do her bidding as heretofore, till thou wert relieved of the trust ?" The esquire advanced, till he stood close to the dais, looking his lord full in the face; and this time his eyes did not quail.
"Noble seigneur "—he said—“I crave your pardon humbly, if I have gainsaid your wishes or misconceived mine own duty. After my poor judgment I did right; and as alone it would beseem my father's The gracious Lady Odille, even from her childhood, hath been watched and ministered unto by true honest folk-not by faitours and cowards. Foulest of such should I have been had I tarried yonder, discharging page's office, whilst you were in deadly peril; for my fellow esquire here could not make but half confession when I questioned him straitly. So, when I had seen the Lady Odille and her household safely bestowed, I joined myself to him forthwith; and we rode back together. If it be your pleasure to send me forth again, I will depart instantly. But, in such case, I swear by the most Holy Trinity, that not to the morning light will I outlive such shame." "Questioning!"-Lanyon grumbled - "Marry; if questioning were all! Well I must bear the blame of bewraying my lord's confidence. I wax soft-hearted so I wax old: years agone I had not been thus beguiled."
"I blame neither of ye overmuch "-Brakespeare answered, his countenance clearing. "Yea indeed, Gualtier; for once thou wert right in following thy conscience rather than thy mere duty. Mayhap, when thou art old, thou wilt remember these words of mine. Go now, and disarm and refresh yourselves speedily; ye must have made good speed on your homeward ride.”
"Such speed"- Lanyon retorted "that my stout destrere is utterly foundered, I fear; and his is scarce in better case. But 'tis partly your lordship's fault; you bade me not spare horseflesh."
"Tush!"—Brakespeare answered-" thou art excused, mon vieuz
routier. What matters horseflesh, to such as are couped within four walls? There will be more destreres in the stalls than men to back them, before all is done here. Get thee gone now: I will speak with thee anon."
About ten of the clock on the following morning, the scouts returned again; and reported the head of the French column to be scarce more than a league distant. An hour or so later, a clump of spears-in the midst of which was borne the guidon of a knightbanneret-filed out of the woodland on to the narrow plateau. From the midst of these, so soon as they had halted, a herald rode out; and -having thrice sounded his trumpet-cried aloud that Sir Olivier de Clisson desired to hold parley with the seigneur of Hacquemont.
When Sir Ralph Brakespeare showed himself on the battlements of the barbican, which he did almost instantly, the leader of the party beneath stretched forth his right hand ungauntleted. Under this knight's raised vizor might be discerned one of those rough-hewn faces that, in repose, are wont to look something stolid or stern; but when lighted up, are far from forbidding. His voice was very clear and sonorous, though marked with a strong provincial accent.
"Valiant sir"-he began-"I am charged by my lord the Constable, to entreat you to consider, whether ye will not repent yourself while there yet is time, of the message ye sent him but lately. And for mine own part-though I am little apt to show favour to thy countrymen-I do earnestly back this, his prayer. I would have you know that there followeth me, such an armament-fully provided with all matters necessary for siege-as ye may not hope long to withstand. Those of your party in Bordeaux and thereabouts, have enow to do to hold their own, without sending succour to any; and, unless rescue arrive in force far superior to mine own, I stir not from before this castle till it be rendered. Once more I renew the fair proffer set down in my lord Constable's letter: yourself could hardly crave more gracious one. Had ye been for these years past King Edward's soldier and liegeman, instead of warring with high renown, as I must needs confess-all these years, for your own hand, ye were not bound in honour to hold this place against such odds. Furthermore, under your pleasure, it were better surely to abate somewhat of prejudice rather than expose the fair and gentle lady whom ye wedded to the perils and hardships of siege; albeit at our hands she need fear naught. So I beseech you, give me now your last answer-being well aware that if ye continue stubborn, ye need look for no further mercy or grace.
Without pause or hesitation, Ralph Brakespeare made answer.
"Sir Olivier de Clisson, I cannot choose but thank the lord Constable, and yourself to boot, for your kindly proffers; of the which, nevertheless, I may in no wise avail myself. To what I have written I hold. As for the lady whereof ye spake, though she might safelycome the worst-rely on your courtesy, she need not be beholden to it as yet; for she is safely bestowed, far out of harm's way, beyond the sound of French trumpets. There are no women or weaklings within these walls; but only men-at-arms, with whom ye may deal as ye list -when ye have the power. So set on, and spare not, when ye will. And God defend the right!"
Clisson shut his vizor; and drew on his gauntlet, muttering as he turned away
"His blood be on his own head. 'Tis a shrewd pity, too. A hardy knight, I warrant him; and never yet saw I Free Lance who bore himself so stately."
Even while the parley was proceeding, more and more spears had come gleaming up through the woodland: but, before the plateau on the summit grew crowded, De Clisson ordered his trumpets to sound the halt, whilst, with two or three others, he took survey.
The castle of Hacquemont, as hath been aforesaid, crowned an eminence steep and rocky in most parts, though not exceeding high. Round such a place it was not easy to draw regular siege lines; andexcept on one side-there was no space broad or level enough for the working of all ordinary battering engines. But it was not for naught, that the Breton captain had already become famous in this especial line of warfare. He was endowed with the quick eye and mechanical instinct of a born engineer, and made light of obstacles that would have puzzled others; whilst he could use, to the uttermost, the faintest vantage of ground.
Within an hour, many axes were ringing in the woodland, and tree after tree came tumbling down before the sturdy pioneers. Others cleared away the brushwood; binding it as it was felled into faggots and bundles. This work had a double object—the clearing of the ground for the manoeuvres of attack, and the providing of huts and booths to shelter man and beast. So deftly was it performed, that when night closed in the little hill was almost bare; and nearly all the besieging force was housed in some sort of fashion; though only the knights and their esquires lodged in tents or pavilions. The French had marched some distance that day; and De Clisson was too wise a
captain to overtax the strength of his soldiers. Though the moon was bright, he deferred the heavy task of bringing up his battering engines and bombards till the morrow; and remained quiet through the night -only keeping under arms a force sufficient to guard against surprise or sally.
Early on the morrow there came to De Clisson's tent three of his knights; and the chiefest of them-Sir Yvon de Laconnet by namethus bespoke him :
"Noble sir; we entreat you to consider, that it will scarce redound to your honour or ours, to lie long before so mean a castle-which must needs be poorly garrisoned-when towns and fortresses-such as Civerolles, Becherel, Niort, Sancerre, Brest and Montaigne-have gone down quickly before your arms. Wherefore we beseech you that, before sitting down here with all your battering train, you will give us licence to try open assault. The ditch is not deep, and may easily be filled, so as to give holding-ground for the ladders. An' we have leave to advance our banners, we doubt not to give good account of the castle ere noon."
Sir Olivier pondered awhile. He was by no means so confident as to the chance of open assault: but-himself a born Breton-he knew well with what stubborn intractable characters he had to deal; and felt that it was better to risk somewhat than to provoke discontent amongst his subalterns. So, rather sullenly and ungraciously, he gave the required permission; insisting only on prompt obedience-should he think fit to sound the recall.
Up to this time very few of the defenders had shown themselves on the towers or battlements. Every now and then, the figure of a knight in bright steel armour and a plain helmet, bearing no crest or plume, might be seen passing along the walls, or leaning forth to watch the preparations below. Partly from his great size and stature, partly from his bearing, the besiegers soon came to recognize Sir Ralph Brakespeare, and many had tales to tell more or less wild or improbable, as they pointed out to their fellows the terrible Free Companion.
About nine of the clock, the French trumpets sounded; and their storming parties, under the several pennons of Yvon de Laconnet, Alain de Beaumanoir, and Geoffrey de Kerimel-the knights who had sought and obtained of their leader that perilous honour-marched up the hill to the assault in echellon order; choosing for the point of attack the north-west angle of the castle walls, where the plateau was wide enough to allow one company at least to form on level ground.
In the front rank, a few paces in advance of the head of the column, came the pavisors, bearing long triangular shields, intended to shelter the cross-bowmen, whilst by aid of windlass and lever they bent the ponderous arbalest or discharged the quarrel; then came the cross-bowmen-harnessed after their fashion in steel salade, shoulder and thigh plates, and thick, wide-sleeved haqueton; then the more completely equipped mounted archers, who only on such occasions fought a-foot; lastly, the knights and esquires in full armour of plate and mail. In the rear of each division marched pioneers and pavylers-some bearing scaling ladders; others, fascines and rude hurdles for filling up the ditch.
Even now, when the assault was imminent, there seemed little stir within the castle walls: only, at rare intervals, a helmet showed itself at a crenelle and withdrew again speedily. But it might have been noticed, that just here, the dark beams that betokened the presence of trebuchet and petrary were most frequent; as if the captain of the besieged had known of a certainty where the first assault would be made. On the very verge of the moat the pavises were planted; and from behind these the arbalestriers made ready to sweep the battlements with their quarrels. The men-at-arms halted; whilst those who bore the fascines advanced on either flank, and began to construct a sort of causeway athwart the moat, which here was but moderately deep, and scarce half full of water.
This work went on steadily, and still the garrison within made no hostile sign; only, ever and anon, the knight in bright armour leaned forth from a certain crenelle, and watched the progress of things below. On each of these occasions Ralph Brakespeare was the mark of many quarrels but these-though they rattled on helmet, gorgering, and breast-plate-glanced off, scarcely dinting the steel. That plain harness, whereon was neither graving, boss, nor damascene, was a very masterpiece of the armourer's art, and even in Milan was worth a banneret's ransom.
So Sir Yvon de Laconnet, under whose pennon was ranged the leading company of stormers, was fain to wait patiently, till the causeway was completed; much marvelling in himself at the strange supineness of those within, and half suspecting stratagem. At length the fascines were level with the bank; and, when the hurdles were laid thereon, there was foundation firm enough not only to support the assailants, but to give fair foothold for their scaling-ladders. Then, without further delay-crying aloud "St. Yves Laconnet"-the men