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HOW A CHAMPION CAME FORTH FROM THE EAST.
THE Bordeaux lists were, as has already been explained, situated upon the
plain near the river upon those great occasions when the tilting-ground in front
of the Abbey of St. Andrew's was deemed to be too small to contain the crowd.
On the eastern side of this plain the country-side sloped upwards, thick
with vines in summer, but now ridged with the brown bare enclosures.
Over the gently rising plain curved the white road which leads inland,
usually flecked with travellers, but now with scarce a living form upon it, so
completely had the lists drained all the district of its inhabitants.
Strange it was to see such a vast concourse of people, and then to look
upon that broad, white, empty highway which wound away, bleak and deserted,
until it narrowed itself to a bare streak against the distant uplands.
Shortly after the contest had begun, any one looking from the lists along
this road might have remarked, far away in the extreme distance, two brilliant
and sparkling points which glittered and twinkled in the bright shimmer of the
winter sun. Within an hour these had become clearer and nearer, until they might
be seen to come from the reflection from the head-pieces of two horsemen who
were riding at the top of their speed in the direction of Bordeaux.
Another half-hour had brought them so close that every point of their
bearing and equipment could be discerned. The
first was a knight in full armor, mounted upon a brown horse with a white blaze
upon breast and forehead. He was a
short man of great breadth of shoulder, with vizor closed, and no blazonry upon
his simple white surcoat or plain black shield. The other, who was evidently his
squire and attendant, was unarmed save for the helmet upon his head, but bore in
his right hand a very long and heavy oaken spear which belonged to his master.
In his left hand the squire held not only the reins of his own horse but
those of a great black war-horse, fully harnessed, which trotted along at his
side. Thus the three horses and
their two riders rode swiftly to the lists, and it was the blare of the trumpet
sounded by the squire as his lord rode into the arena which had broken in upon
the prize-giving and drawn away the attention and interest of the spectators.
"Ha, John!" cried the prince, craning h s neck, "who is
this cavalier, and what is it that he desires?"
"On my word, sire," replied Chandos, with the utmost surprise
upon his face, "it is my opinion that he is a Frenchman."
"A Frenchman!" repeated Don Pedro.
"And how can you tell that, my Lord Chandos, when he has neither
coat-armor, crest, or blazonry?"
"By his armor, sire, which is rounder at elbow and at shoulder than
any of Bordeaux or of England. Italian
he might be were his bassinet more sloped, but I will swear that those plates
were welded betwixt this and Rhine. Here
comes his squire, however, and we shall hear what strange fortune hath brought
him over the marches."
As he spoke the attendant cantered up the grassy enclosure, and pulling
up his steed in front of the royal stand, blew a second fanfare upon his bugle.
He was a raw-boned, swarthy-cheeked man, with black bristling beard and a
Having sounded his call, he thrust the bugle into his belt, and, pushing
his way betwixt the groups of English and of Gascon knights, he reined up within
a spear's length of the royal party.
"I come," he shouted in a hoarse, thick voice, with a strong
Breton accent, "as squire and herald from my master, who is a very valiant
pursuivant-of-arms, and a liegeman to the great and powerful monarch, Charles,
king of the French. My master has heard that there is jousting here, and prospect
of honorable advancement, so he has come to ask that some English cavalier will
vouchsafe for the love of his lady to run a course with sharpened lances with
him, or to meet him with sword, mace, battle-axe, or dagger.
He bade me say, however, that he would fight only with a true Englishman,
and not with any mongrel who is neither English nor French, but speaks with the
tongue of the one, and fights under the banner of the other."
"Sir!" cried De Clisson, with a voice of thunder, while his
countrymen clapped their hands to their swords.
The squire, however, took no notice of their angry faces, but continued
with his master's message.
"He is now ready, sire," he said, "albeit his destrier has
travelled many miles this day, and fast, for we were in fear lest we come too
late for the jousting."
"Ye have indeed come too late," said the prince, "seeing
that the prize is about to be awarded; yet I doubt not that one of these
gentlemen will run a course for the sake of honor with this cavalier of
"And as to the prize, sire," quoth Sir Nigel, "I am sure
that I speak for all when I say this French knight hath our leave to bear it
away with him if he can fairly win it."
"Bear word of this to your master," said the prince, "and
ask him which of these five Englishmen he would desire to meet.
But stay; your master bears no coat-armor, and we have not yet heard his
"My master, sire, is under vow to the Virgin neither to reveal his
name nor to open his vizor until he is back upon French ground once more."
"Yet what assurance have we," said the prince, "that this
is not some varlet masquerading in his master's harness, or some caitiff knight,
the very touch of whose lance might bring infamy upon an honorable
"It is not so, sire," cried the squire earnestly.
"There is no man upon earth who would demean himself by breaking a
lance with my master."
"You speak out boldly, squire," the prince answered; "but
unless I have some further assurance of your master's noble birth and gentle
name I cannot match the choicest lances of my court against him."
"You refuse, sire?"
"I do refuse."
"Then, sire, I was bidden to ask you from my master whether you
would consent if Sir John Chandos, upon hearing my master's name, should assure
you that he was indeed a man with whom you might yourself cross swords without
"I ask no better," said the prince.
"Then I must ask, Lord Chandos, that you will step forth.
I have your pledge that the name shall remain ever a secret, and that you
will neither say nor write one word which might betray it. The name is
----" He stooped down from his horse and whispered something into the old
knight's ear which made him start with surprise, and stare with much curiosity
at the distant Knight, who was sitting his charger at the further end of the
"Is this indeed sooth?" he exclaimed.
"It is, my lord, and I swear it by St. Ives of Brittany."
"I might have known it," said Chandos, twisting his mousetache,
and still looking thoughtfully at the cavalier.
"What then, Sir John?" asked the prince.
"Sire, this is a knight whom it is indeed great honor to meet, and I
would that your grace would grant me leave to send my squire for my harness, for
I would dearly love to run a course with him.
"Nay, nay, Sir John, you have gained as much honor as one man can
bear, and it were hard if you could not rest now.
But I pray you, squire, to tell your master that he is very welcome to
our court, and that wines and spices will be served him, if he would refresh
himself before jousting."
"My master will not drink," said the squire.
"Let him then name the gentleman with whom he would break a
"He would contend with these five knights, each to choose such
weapons as suit him best."
"I perceive," said the prince, "that your master is a man
of great heart and high of enterprise. But
the sun already is low in the west, and there will scarce be light for these
courses. I pray you, gentlemen, to
take your places, that we may see whether this stranger's deeds are as bold as
The unknown knight had sat like a statue of steel, looking neither to the
right nor to the left during these preliminaries. He had changed from the horse
upon which he had ridden, and bestrode the black charger which his squire had
led beside him. His immense breadth, his stern composed appearance, and the mode
in which he handled his shield and his lance, were enough in themselves to
convince the thousands of critical spectators that he was a dangerous opponent.
Aylward, who stood in the front row of the archers with Simon, big John,
and others of the Company, had been criticising the proceedings from the
commencement with the ease and freedom of a man who had spent his life under
arms and had learned in a hard school to know at a glance the points of a horse
and his rider. He stared now at the
stranger with a wrinkled brow and the air of a man who is striving to stir his
"By my hilt! I have seen the thick body of him before to-day. Yet I
cannot call to mind where it could have been.
At Nogent belike, or was it at Auray? Mark me, lads, this man will prove
to be one of the best lances of France, and there are no better in the
"It is but child's play, this poking game," said John.
"I would fain try my hand at it, for, by the black rood! I think that it might be amended."
"What then would you do, John?" asked several.
"There are many things which might be done," said the forester
thoughtfully. "Methinks that I
would begin by breaking my spear."
"So they all strive to do."
"Nay, but not upon another man's shield.
I would break it over my own knee."
"And what the better for that, old beef and bones?" asked Black
"So I would turn what is but a lady's bodkin of a weapon into a very
"And then, John?"
"Then I would take the other's spear into my arm or my leg, or where
it pleased him best to put it, and I would dash out his brains with my
"By my ten finger-bones! old John," said Aylward, "I would
give my feather-bed to see you at a spear-running.
This is a most courtly and gentle sport which you have devised."
"So it seems to me," said John seriously.
"Or, again, one might seize the other round the middle, pluck him
off his horse and bear him to the pavilion, there to hold him to ransom."
"Good!" cried Simon, amid a roar of laughter from all the
archers round. "By Thomas of
Kent I we shall make a camp-marshal of thee, and thou shalt draw up rules for
our jousting. But, John, who is it that you would uphold in this knightly and
"What mean you?"
"Why, John, so strong and strange a tilter must fight for the
brightness of his lady's eyes or the curve of her eyelash, even as Sir Nigel
does for the Lady Loring."
"I know not about that," said the big archer, scratching his
head in perplexity. "Since
Mary hath played me false, I can scarce fight for her."
"Yet any woman will serve."
"There is my mother then," said John.
"She was at much pains at my upbringing, and, by my soul!
I will uphold the curve of her eyelashes, for it tickleth my very
heart-root to think of her. But who is here?"
"It is Sir William Beauchamp. He
is a valiant man, but I fear that he is scarce firm enough upon the saddle to
bear the thrust of such a tilter as this stranger promises to be."
Aylward's words were speedily justified, for even as he spoke the two
knights met in the centre of the lists. Beauchamp
struck his opponent a shrewd blow upon the helmet, but was met with so frightful
a thrust that he whirled out of his saddle and rolled over and over upon the
ground. Sir Thomas Percy met with little better success, for his
shield was split, his vambrace torn and he himself wounded slightly in the side.
Lord Audley and the unknown knight struck each other fairly upon the
helmet; but, while the stranger sat as firm and rigid as ever upon his charger,
the Englishman was bent back to his horse's crupper by the weight of the blow,
and had galloped half-way down the lists ere he could recover himself.
Sir Thomas Wake was beaten to the ground with a battle-axe--that being
the weapon which he had selected--and had to be carried to his pavilion. These rapid successes, gained one after the other over four
celebrated warriors, worked the crowd up to a pitch of wonder and admiration.
Thunders of applause from the English soldiers, as well as from the
citizens and peasants, showed how far the love of brave and knightly deeds could
rise above the rivalries of race.
"By my soul! John," cried the prince, with his cheek flushed
and his eyes shining, "this is a man of good courage and great hardiness.
I could not have thought that there was any single arm upon earth which
could have overthrown these four champions."
"He is indeed, as I have said, sire, a knight from whom much honor
is to be gained. But the lower edge
of the sun is wet, and it will be beneath the sea ere long."
"Here is Sir Nigel Loring, on foot and with his sword," said
the prince. "I have heard that
he is a fine swordsman."
"The finest in your army, sire," Chandos answered.
"Yet I doubt not that he will need all his skill this day."
As he spoke, the two combatants advanced from either end in full armor
with their two-handed swords sloping over their shoulders. The stranger walked
heavily and with a measured stride, while the English knight advanced as briskly
as though there was no iron shell to weigh down the freedom of his limbs.
At four paces distance they stopped, eyed each other for a moment, and
then in an instant fell to work with a clatter and clang as though two sturdy
smiths were busy upon their anvils. Up
and down went the long, shining blades, round and round they circled in curves
of glimmering light, crossing, meeting, disengaging, with flash of sparks at
every parry. Here and there bounded
Sir Nigel, his head erect, his jaunty plume fluttering in the air, while his
dark opponent sent in crashing blow upon blow, following fiercely up with cut
and with thrust, but never once getting past the practised blade of the skilled
swordsman. The crowd roared with
delight as Sir Nigel would stoop his head to avoid a blow, or by some slight
movement of his body allow some terrible thrust to glance harmlessly past him.
Suddenly, however, his time came. The Frenchman, whirling up his sword,
showed for an instant a chink betwixt his shoulder piece and the rerebrace which
guarded his upper arm. In dashed
Sir Nigel, and out again so swiftly that the eye could not follow the quick play
of his blade, but a trickle of blood from the stranger's shoulder, and a rapidly
widening red smudge upon his white surcoat, showed where the thrust had taken
effect. The wound was, however, but
a slight one, and the Frenchman was about to renew his onset, when, at a sign
from the prince, Chandos threw down his baton, and the marshals of the lists
struck up the weapons and brought the contest to an end.
"It were time to check it," said the prince, smiling, "for
Sir Nigel is too good a man for me to lose, and, by the five holy wounds! if one
of those cuts came home I should have fears for our champion.
What think you, Pedro?"
"I think, Edward, that the little man was very well able to take
care of himself. For my part, I
should wish to see so well matched a pair fight on while a drop of blood
remained in their veins."
"We must have speech with him.
Such a man must not go from my court without rest or sup.
Bring him hither, Chandos, and, certes, if the Lord Loring hath resigned
his claim upon this goblet, it is right and proper that this cavalier should
carry it to France with him as a sign of the prowess that he has shown this
As he spoke, the knight-errant, who had remounted his warhorse, galloped
forward to the royal stand, with a silken kerchief bound round his wounded arm.
The setting sun cast a ruddy glare upon his burnished arms, and sent his
long black shadow streaming behind him up the level clearing.
Pulling up his steed, he slightly inclined his head, and sat in the stern
and composed fashion with which he had borne himself throughout, heedless of the
applauding shouts and the flutter of kerchiefs from the long lines of brave men
and of fair women who were looking down upon him.
"Sir knight," said the prince, "we have all marvelled this
day at this great skill and valor with which God has been pleased to endow you.
I would fain that you should tarry at our court, for a time at least,
until your hurt is healed and your horses rested."
"My hurt is nothing, sire, nor are my horses weary," returned
the stranger in a deep, stern voice.
"Will you not at least hie back to Bordeaux with us, that you may
drain a cup of muscadine and sup at our table?"
"I will neither drink your wine nor sit at your table,"
returned the other. "I bear no
love for you or for your race, and there is nought that I wish at your hands
until the day when I see the last sail which bears you back to your island
vanishing away against the western sky."
"These are bitter words, sir knight," said Prince Edward, with
an angry frown.
"And they come from a bitter heart," answered the unknown
knight. "How long is it since there has been peace in my hapless country?
Where are the steadings, and orchards, and vineyards, which made France fair?
Where are the cities which made her great?
From Providence to Burgundy we are beset by every prowling hireling in
Christendom, who rend and tear the country which you have left too weak to guard
her own marches. Is it not a
by-word that a man may ride all day in that unhappy land without seeing thatch
upon roof or hearing the crow of cock? Does
not one fair kingdom content you, that you should strive so for this other one
which has no love for you? Pardieu!
a true Frenchman's words may well be bitter, for bitter is his lot and bitter
his thoughts as he rides through his thrice unhappy country."
"Sir knight," said the prince, "you speak like a brave
man, and our cousin of France is happy in having a cavalier who is so fit to
uphold his cause either with tongue or with sword.
But if you think such evil of us, how comes it that you have trusted
yourselves to us without warranty or safe-conduct?"
"Because I knew that you would be here, sire.
Had the man who sits upon your right been ruler of this land, I had
indeed thought twice before I looked to him for aught that was knightly or
generous." With a soldierly salute, he wheeled round his horse, and,
galloping down the lists, disappeared amid the dense crowd of footmen and of
horsemen who were streaming away from the scene of the tournament.
"The insolent villain!" cried Pedro, glaring furiously after
him. "I have seen a man's tongue torn from his jaws for less.
Would it not be well even now, Edward, to send horsemen to hale him back? Bethink you that it may be one of the royal house of France,
or at least some knight whose loss would be a heavy blow to his master.
Sir William Felton, you are well mounted, gallop after the caitiff, I
"Do so, Sir William," said the prince," and give him this
purse of a hundred nobles as a sign of the respect which I bear for him; for, by
St. George! he has served his master this day even as I would wish liegeman of
mine to serve me." So saying,
the prince turned his back upon the King of Spain, and springing upon his horse,
rode slowly homewards to the Abbey of Saint Andrew's.
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