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him from the keep; and this, perchance, he might have done, had not one of his sollerets slipped on a stone, so that he fell forward on his face right under the feet of his enemies. The esquire's prowess that day had made him a marked man. He was scarcely down, when some halfdozen were upon him, hacking and hewing with glaive and battleaxe; like woodmen riving the trunk and limbs of a tough felled oak.
This was the sight that checked the Free Companion in the act of his backward spring.
The passions of those who, from youth upward, have made fighting their trade, are not easily stirred by mere change of blows, howsoever hard; up to this time-save perchance, for a brief space during his combat with De Clisson-Ralph had kept himself perfectly calm and cool. But now the blood surged hotly through his veins, and mounted to his eyes. Only once before in all his life had the real Berserkyr fit possessed him; and then as now, it was at Hacquemont. He gnashed his teeth as he swore that, dead or alive, his old comrade should be with him to the last; and plunged headlong into the press, striking such blows that made all that he had heretofore dealt seem but boy'splay; and shouting the war-cry-disused now for many a day"Brakespeare! Brakespeare!"
Some two or three of the Bretons-brained before they were well aware-fell athwart Lanyon as he lay prone: the others recoiled, fairly appalled, crying out "Sorcery; "or that "the fiend was among them." Before this panic passed, the Free Companion had lifted his esquire in his arms, and borne him into the tower; the door of which was instantly barred behind him.
Without staggering or faltering, the knight carried his burden up into the presence-chamber, where all who survived the garrison were gathered together; and sat down on the ledge of the dais, supporting Lanyon's head on his knee.
"Unhelm him, one of ye―he must have air."
As Ralph spoke he threw back his own vizor. The esquire's armour was hacked almost to fragments; there was scarce a hand's breadth of body or limbs ungashed; and one sword-wound under the left arm-pit would have sufficed to let life out had there been none other. His cheeks were too deeply tanned altogether to lose their colour; but the brown was flecked and streaked with ashen-grey; and the lips were already contracting, so that the strong white teeth showed betwixt. Nevertheless, after a minute or so, there came a stir in the lower limbs and a gurgle in the throat; then Lanyon opened his eyes. Those eyes
were not so dim and hazy, but that they saw at once who leant over him, and whose hand held his own fast. For a second the dying man's glance wandered aside, to where his comrade stood, holding the black pennon-once so famous among the Free Lances: then it rested again on his master's face, and dwelt there.
"Farewell till our next meeting, old friend,"-the knight said, quietly-" and God requite thy true service better than I have done." Lanyon's lips began to work; and those who stood by heard a ghastly semblance of the surly chuckle, which showed that, after his own stolid fashion, he was relishing a jest. Then he gasped out these
words, one by one.
The last syllables mingled with the death rattle. A few seconds later, Brakespeare loosed very gently the clasp of the corpse's fingers.
"Draw him aside, so that he be not trampled on," the knight said, as he rose. His face had settled down again; and bore no sign of grief or pain, or even of the heat of battle. In the same measured voice, in which he had once before made brief oration to his garrison, he thus bespoke them.
"Good friends and followers: whilst we have brief breathing space -for the door below will yield to nought less than engine or bèlier-take counsel, I pray you, for your own safety. Hardily, thus far, have ye stood at my back; I render you hearty thanks therefor; but I now discharge each and every one of you from such duty-nay, I earnestly urge that ye will risk your lives no further. Too many lie dead without there already; to such as remain the French will surely show fair quarter. I am under a vow to fight here à outrance, but none such binds any of ye. Wherefore I counsel you to ascend to the platform up yonder, and make what terms ye will for your own selves with them below; leaving me here to do as seemeth me good: only let French hands, and none of yours, pluck down St. George's banner. And so shall ye be free of all shame or blood-guiltiness, in sight both of God and man."
The thing may sound incredible now-a-days; but in those timeswhether for good or evil-men acted not by our standard and rule. Amongst those who listened to the Free Companion, there was neither dispute nor doubt. They cried out with one accord-praying their captain to forbear such words; for they all were ready to stand by him to the death. Brakespeare, as he thought, had well nigh done with
earthly vanities: yet his heart swelled with soldierly pride at this last proof of his power, and his cheek flushed a little, as he bowed his head saying simply
"It is well."
Then he beckoned to the esquire De Marsan; who, all this while, had stood somewhat apart.
"Reach me down, I pray thee "--he said—“ yon epée d'armes that hangs behind thee on the wall."
Having unsheathed the weapon, the knight went on speaking: "Messire Gualtier; when on the morrow after Poitiers, Prince Edward gave me right to wear gold spurs, I was a poorer man than thou art—ay, and nameless to boot-yet had I not merited the grace so well as thou within these last days, hast done. Kneel down, then. is much blood on this hand of mine, yet nought that should disable it from bestowing accolade; and for this purpose I use the sword, long worn worthily by Philippe of Hacquemont, thy good lord and mine."
Drawing his breath so hard that it sounded like a sob, the esquire knelt reverently down; and Ralph laid the blade on his shoulder, saying
"Rise, Sir Gualtier de Marsan. Be brave and fortunate."
As the new-made knight gained his feet, the eyes of the two men met in a long steadfast gaze; and a great weight was lifted from Gualtier's soul; for he knew then of a surety that Odille's husband was aware of, and had forgiven all.
"I have one thing more to do "-the Free Companion said. "Bring hither my pennon."
When it was brought, he looked on the banderolle attentively, turning it over and over. Then he wrenched it off the staff; and tore it into shreds betwixt his strong fingers, as if it had been made of tissue. The bitter significance of the action escaped none who stood by; and with hearts sad, if not sinking, they waited for what was to follow.
All this while the besiegers had not been idle. When the door was first closed some few smote on it with mace and curtal-axe; but it was too strongly plated to yield to such puny weapons; so they were fain to wait for battering-ram. There was no lack of such things in their camp; and ere long there was brought a beam of about the thickness of a small ship's-mast, heavily shod with iron, and furnished throughout its length with rope beckets. A score of archers, standing ten on either side, laid hold of these, and with their full strength swung the ram
against the door. The first blow fell just as the last shred of the pennon fluttered down at Brakespeare's feet; and stroke followed stroke, till the door was fairly forced from its hinges and came clattering in.
Now the lowermost stair of the keep did not wind like the upper one; but came straight up into the presence-chamber. Yet it was both steep and narrow; so that the storming it could be no light matter. But the Bretons had waxed furious under repulse; and their leaders had spared neither reproaches nor gibes, while they waited without. If the foremost had hesitated to enter, they would have been thrust forward by their fellows; so the stairway was soon full, and echoing with the clash of steel. The assailants both within and without the tower, shouted their war-cries aloud: but the defenders answered never a word—they fought not the less savagely because they fought mute. It skills not to relate the incidents of that last passage of arms, which differed little from many that have gone before. It suffices to say, that after the foining had gone on for ten minutes or more, Ralph Brakespeare and Gualtier de Marsan, though both sorely wounded, still stood where they had first taken post-on the fourth step below the stairhead.
Despite of this, the event could not long have been doubtful. Sir Guiscard de Keroualles, of whom mention before has been made, was a very wary veteran. Casting his eyes around, as he stood in the courtyard, he soon devised a fresh mode of attack. The scaling-ladders that were tall enough for the battlements, were useless here; but two of these bound together, reached easily the top of the keep. Sir Guiscard himself mounted first, and many others followed unopposed, till the platform at the summit was crowded. Then the Bretons, who, by their captain's order, had hitherto kept silence, raised a great shout; and poured down the upper stairway, and through the open door at the upper end of the presence-chamber. Before the Hacquemont men were well aware, they found themselves taken in the rear.
There was a rush back from the stair-head instantly. Brakespeare and De Marsan, unsupported from behind, were borne back, perforce by the mere weight in their front; and the mellay recoiled to the body of the hall. This lasted not long; the sturdiest of the garrison saw that fighting on against such odds was mere self-slaughter; cries of “surrender" went up all round; and one after another cast down his weapon. Two men only, neither cried for quarter, nor ceased to smite-Brakespeare and De Marsan. But Gualtier was weak with loss of blood; and his sword-arm utterly weary, so he was soon borne down and lay in a swoon on the flagstones.
Yet was not the fray quite ended, nor Hacquemont quite won. For in the centre of the hall there still was turmoil and clash of steel, and medley of voices-some crying out to "slay," and some, but these were few, to "spare"-and in that mid eddy Ralph Brakespeare's mace still rose and fell. Twice he was beaten to his knee, and twice rose againhurling back his assailants, as a brave bull, though a-dying, shakes off the ban-dogs.
But, during the second struggle, the fastenings of his helmet burst; and, when his bare head rose again half a span above the sea of helmets, the crisp, grizzled brown hair was red-wet. He swept his left hand across his brow-for the blood well nigh blinded him-and whirled his mace round once more. His arm seemed not a whit less strong and dexterous than when, with one blow, it brained Geoffrey de Kerimel; and once again the assailants drew back from its sweep. For a second or two, the Free Companion stood almost solitary in their midst; reared to his full height, and with a great light in his steadfast It was a strange sight, that struck most there, either with wonder, pity, or fear; and something like a hush ensued; but almost immediately this was broken by a hoarse voice, crying
"Sus au sorcier!"
And a savage-looking archer stepped out of the throng in the knight's rear, and smote on his bare head with his gisarme.
Without a moan or a struggle, Ralph Brakespeare pitched forward -dead before his forehead touched the flagstones.
When De Clisson heard what had been done, he was very ill-pleased thereat. He averred that he had rather, than a thousand golden crowns, have taken the Free Companion alive, sith he had not slain him with his own hand. And very rueful waxed the knight's countenance, as he looked at the gaps in his muster-roll, and counted up the cost of the siege; for the booty found in Hacquemont hardly amounted to a month's pay of a hundred spearmen, and the castle itself, as a fortalice, was scarce worth the winning.
So De Clisson departed; leaving behind a force sufficient to guard and repair the place; and letting the old garrison go where they would -first binding them by oath not to bear arms against France. With him, too, went Gualtier De Marsan, but not as a prisoner: for the newmade knight-having satisfied his honour and discharged his duty as esquire was not minded to persist in bearing arms against his natural sovereign. He became liegeman of France again; and by dint of good service found favour both with King and Constable.