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The English Paragon:
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To my son MICHAEL
on entering St. Paul's School,
London, September 1929.
—"that flowre of English Knyghtehood,
the Lord Edward of England,
Prince of Wales and Aquitaine."
The Chronicles of Sir John Froissart.
THE following narrative deals, in a broad, impressionistic manner, with the last few years of the life of Edward Plantagenet, K.G., Prince of Wales, and his rule as Duke of Aquitaine in the provinces of Guienne and Gascony.
This very popular English Prince, the hero of the Hundred Years War and the victor of Crêcy, Poictiers and Najera, has been the central figure of (I believe) a vast number of romances. The present novel is not a biography or study of this famous Prince of Wales, but an impressionistic relation of the fatal Spanish campaign of 1366 and the subsequent revolt of Aquitaine in 1370, considered from many points of view.
The political events with which the story deals are the revolt of Don Enriquez of Transtamara against Don Pedro, and the intervention of France, Aragon, Navarre, England and the Pope in the quarrel which thus became the cause of the ruin of the English fortunes in France, and of a renewal of the war between Charles V and Edward III. Don Enriquez was one of nine natural children of Alfonso the Conqueror, by Eleanora de Guzman, and after regaining the throne of Castile in 1370 ruled long and prosperously.
Readers of historical novels are sometimes interested to know the authorities an author has used and the proportion of fact and fiction that has gone to the making of the narrative; it is easy to give the first information, difficult to supply the second.
The details of continental affairs are scattered over too wide a field to be given here, but Froissart is, of course, an entrancing, if sometimes untrustworthy guide to the ramifications of European intrigues and wars of the late fourteenth century.
Contemporary authorities (often unreliable or doubtful) are: The Chandos Herald, Froissart, Baker's Chronicle, Rymer's Foedera, and the Calendars of the Patent and Close Rolls. Three biographies of this Prince of Wales are in existence, that by G. P. R. James, that by Monsieur Moisant (dealing especially with Aquitaine), and that by R. P. Dunn-Pattison, M.A., which is succinct, impartial, provided with maps and plans, and contains nearly all that is known of this hero. The Life of John of Gaunt by Armitage Smith gives a detailed account of the Aquitaine disaster.
The magnificent tomb of the eldest son of Edward III in Canterbury Cathedral is well known as one of the finest treasures we have left to us of this period. Less familiar perhaps, is the small gilded effigy of him on the tomb of his father, Edward III, in Westminster Abbey.
A beautiful fresco portrait of this Prince (of which engravings remain) was on the wall of St. Stephen's Chapel, Westminster—it showed the Prince in his youth. This was destroyed by fire in 1835.
The sobriquet, "the Black Prince," has not been used in this work as the first mention of it is in Grafton's Chronicle, written in 1563, nearly two hundred years after the death of Edward of Woodstock. Camden's tale, associated with Edward of Plantagenet, of the three ostrich feathers and the blind King of Bohemia seems to be mere legend; the emblem of the three feathers in their original form, viz. separate, erect and uncurled, was used by many other princes and probably originated in the East. Even in ancient Egypt this symbol stood for authority and virtue.
For notes see end of book.
— Marjorie Bowen. Lancaster Gate, London, 1930.
NUNREDDIN lay at his ease and conversed with the slave Yussuf who had been appointed his attendant. He reclined on a mattress of bronze-coloured silk near the gilded alabaster window. Through the arch of this showed the moon-coloured air, high trees laden with early fruits and late blossom, and a crystal bright fountain jet falling into a basin lined with silver.
"Everyone in the palace," said Nunreddin softly, "is either drunk or asleep and we may converse quite freely."
But the other was timid. He cast his eyes frequently round the chamber, the proportions of which were hidden in shadow.
"How long," asked Nunreddin, "have you been a slave in this palace?"
Yussuf hardly knew. It was indeed useless for him to keep an account of time. He was young and had been born in slavery. He believed that his father had been a Persian of Thun.
Lying prone on his stomach and drawing himself a little nearer the feet of Nunreddin, Yussuf asked if it was possible for him to follow in the retinue of King Abu-Sa'ad when this left Seville?
"It is ill for a man to live out all his days in slavery and I have aspirations towards learning. I have heard that you are a very famous philosopher and wise."
"Even a slave has heard that?" smiled Nunreddin.
"But why do we talk of such trivial things? The night is so beautiful and it is not given to many of us to enjoy beautiful nights without number."
"Little is beautiful to him who languishes in captivity," sighed the slave mournfully.
Then he also was silent and the two dark faces turned towards the moonlight, which revealed the soft shape and colour of fruit and the chalices of flowers in the royal gardens below.
Some white peacocks, as if roused from their sleep by the brilliancy of the night, were walking round the silver basin into which the fountain jet splashed.
Bright citrons and lemons had fallen from the boughs and lay, greenish-yellow, on the marble pavement.
The philosopher and the slave both thought that they saw the shapes of birds with long tails like spun glass flying through the feathery fronds of the overgrown trees.
A creeping plant, with smooth tendrils like ropes of silk, hung beneath the balcony of the window and swung huge blossoms of wine-red colour.
"O Nunreddin, will you not have pity on me?" murmured the slave.
"And get you away from Seville?" smiled the philosopher. "It seems to me one of the most enchanting places in the world. Indeed, Yussuf," he added, "I should have little to offer did I help you from your captivity. For my life is a continual wandering."
"Tell me something of your life, master," urged the slave.
"I am of peasant origin and was born in Asia Minor. I learnt Arabic in Baghdad. I have studied, and with some zeal, the great philosophers. I have learnt logic at Harran from a Christian physician. I have studied medicine for thirty years and have some skill. In my searchings for philosophy I have journeyed into Syria, Egypt and now, as you see, into Spain."
"You have always been free!"
"Yes, for I have despised the world and been at no pains to collect wealth. The usages of society have never been anything to me," he added; "I have always found sufficient company in music, in nights like this and in my own reflections. And as much is open to you, even if you are a slave. So you see that, after all, there is very little I can offer you."
"They say you can speak seventy languages," murmured the slave.
He drew himself up to a sitting position and, clasping his brown hands round his knees, he smiled.
One of the peacocks rose with a scream from the fountain and disappeared like a silver flame among the delicate leaves of the pepper trees.
"Well," said the physician, using the dialect which was the only tongue familiar to the slave, "I know enough to converse with you and that is sufficient. Tell me something of your master—this King Pedro."
"Why should he interest you?" replied Yussuf sullenly. "He is a tyrant and there are many such in the world. Surely, O great philosopher! you who have penetrated the mysteries of transcendental philosophy, and know medicine and mathematics, are not interested in such as this Pedro of Castile—a lustful, cruel brute, set in a high place."
"But," mused Nunreddin, "it is true that to-night the King behaved himself quite well. My master Abu-Sa'ad was very pleased with his reception."
"Abu-Sa'ad," said the slave, "is a usurper and Pedro is an ally of Muhammed, the lawful King of Granada. What does he here?"
"O slave!" replied the doctor, smiling, "he hopes to so flatter this Christian Pedro that he will aid him to push his brother from the throne of Granada, and I believe that he has succeeded."
"It has none of it anything to do with me," sighed the slave, "unless, master, you can contrive that I escape with you when you return to-morrow."
A lovely stillness lay over the garden and the palace.
The festival which the King of Castile had given to the usurping King of Granada had been tedious, brilliant and noisy, and this long silence was very gracious to the ears of the doctor.
He drew over his thin brown chest his light saffron-coloured silk robe and moved nearer to the arched window, stretching his lean neck and opening his full lips as if he drank in a voluptuous draught combined of the moonlight, the heavy perfume of the ripening fruits and the dewy exhalations of the flowers.
The slave glanced at him in awe.
He was a man of fifty years, sleek, with a beard and turban that seemed one hue of dark ashy silver, and blood-shot, close-gazing eyes.
From his neck hung an amulet—a square of dark blue glass or crystal, set in a wooden frame suspended from a scarlet cord.
On the forefinger of his right hand was a seal with characters which the slave shuddered to behold.
His aspect and his manner were kind, even compassionate, but he could scarcely disguise how he despised the frailties and superstitions of mankind.
From behind a lattice of ebony and mother-o'-pearl he had watched the costly feast which the King of Castile had offered to Abu-Sa'ad.
The two Kings had sat side by side on a silken divan. The noble figure of the Moor had bowed before the Christian, so that the chains round his neck, of pearls, dyed rose and blue, and square lumps of gold as large as a walnut, had touched the mosaic floor.
King Pedro had brought out all his gilt and silver vessels to do honour to his royal guest.
But the Moor and his attendants had far outshone the Spanish pomp.
By midnight everyone had been drunk, drowsy, or exhausted. Luscious plums, bursting figs, overripe pears had been crushed under foot. Sweetmeats and scented wax tapers had melted together on the long table. The Christians had begun to boast insolently of their Faith, their power, their wealth, their warlike exploits and their women. The Moors had retained their dignity and courtesy.
Abu-Sa'ad had unwound from his waist a long scarf of green gauze hung with emerald tassels, and had passed it over the shoulders of Don Pedro.
Taking this as a signal, the other Moors had pressed some rich trifle from their person on to their Christian neighbours.
Pedro, standing in his place and speaking thickly, had sworn that he would forsake his ally Muhammed, the lawful King of Granada, and put in his place Abu-Sa'ad. That would mean another war.
Nunreddin the philosopher smiled at this recollection and gazed across the gracious garden.
A few milky clouds rose into the dark azure of the sky. The stars sparkled with an ice-blue radiance.
"How stupid they all are!" said Nunreddin, "like children."
The slave sighed, he had given up hope of release. Nunreddin, he believed, was indifferent to him and his fate.
The other white peacock rose and circled above the fountain, a silvery bird above the crystal spray. The dark purple-red chalices of the flowers beneath the balcony swayed in an intangible breeze. The more distant trees were a mere haze of hyacinth silver. Through them floated the pale shapes of two large owls.
The slave, who only lived by the quickness of his senses, drew himself silently to his feet.
"There is somebody moving outside," he said softly.
"It is very likely," agreed the doctor.
The stained whites of his eyes shone as he turned them.
"But they were all so drunk," muttered Yussuf in his fine ear. "Anyone who is awake to-night would be so of a purpose."
"I don't know."
A shrill, sobbing scream bubbled out of the violet-silver of the night.
"The owls have found their prey."
The doctor stretched his lean arm across his mattress and pulled a dagger from under his pillow.
"Slippered feet are outside," breathed Yussuf.
The doctor fastened the weapon to his belt.
"May not the Castilians move about their own palace, even in the night-time, O Yussuf?"
The slave repeated:
"They were so drunk."
The doctor crept to the wall, fumbling for the amber handle of the door in the shadowed portion of the chamber. This he found and pulled the door open on to a labyrinth of arched corridors shot by moonbeams and interlaced with varying depths of shadow.
There was a medley of sound coming from this medley of shade. Paddings, slow treadings of slippered feet, jingle of metal on metal, swish of silk against silk, dropping of heavy curtains into place, whispers dying into sighs, moans and gurgles dying into silence.
Through the silvery shiver of the moonbeams and the troubled rich shadows in the corridor these shufflings and these muted cries were many times repeated.
The wind wafted through the piercings of a high arch the odours of the ripening fruit in the gardens. Soon the moon gliding above even the highest trees and the gilded towers of the palace would be at her zenith and all these passages be filled with darkness.
The burden of strange happenings lay heavy on the spirit of the slave. He wished to creep away, but was afraid to leave the guardianship of the doctor. He no longer cherished any radiant thoughts of freedom or adventure, nor even of lying at length in the cool of the night on the tessellated floor of Nunreddin's chamber and listening to his tales of Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, Persia, and other distant lands where he had gained his famous and perhaps dangerous knowledge. The slave only desired to creep away to his own quarters, but he did not dare to do so for fear of what he might see on the way there.
The doctor stood alert, all his acute senses straining.
There came suddenly a sound of ripping and tearing, of heavy metal being dragged, of silk being rent.
Feeling his way by the wall, which was cold to his touch, the wise man slipped along the passage followed by the noiseless slave.
When they came to a turning they saw the red light of a lamp burning beneath the shrine of a saint—a contorted figure painted in rude colours which glowered from a niche.
Nunreddin turned, gently pulled at the creeping slave and laid his lips to his ear.
"Are those the apartments of Abu-Sa'ad?" he asked in a whisper, light as a sigh.
He saw the slave nod.
There was a tumult, vehement but hushed, of gathering footsteps.
The two Orientals drew back, and with a common instinct, hid behind a length of wall tapestry which hung behind them, and so concealed themselves.
Someone hurried past in the darkness. Someone who was easy-slippered with light foot, someone who was breathing hard.
Nunreddin slowly crept out of his concealment.
"Occasionally men are not as drunk as they feign to be," he thought to himself.
From some high, open, unseen window came a stir of colder wind.
The slave wriggled along behind the stiff tapestry, now and then peeping between the panels, the whites of his eyes and the saliva on his loose-hung lips gleamed in the red light of the sacred lamp.
"You had better look after yourself," muttered the doctor. "My company will only do you harm."
Yussuf nodded. He believed that those padding footsteps had gone to Nunreddin's chamber. His eyelids twitched; the sweat gathered on his low forehead.
Nunreddin marked curiously these signs of fear and cowardice.
"One would think you had very little to live for," he remarked in his lightest of whispers, and with a slantwise movement he crept away towards the red light.
This stood between two high doors screened by curtains of interchanged silk of green and yellow. Both had been dragged aside and one had been torn from the pole.
Nunreddin's sunken but flashing eyes glanced from one to the other of these entrances.
A few hours ago he had seen Abu-Sa'ad, the usurping King of Granada, pass behind one of these curtains, and the nobles of his retinue behind the other.
Poised lightly on his toes, Nunreddin listened.
From the high, open window, which had admitted the wind and the moonbeams, came the distant, mournful, harsh cry of the peacocks.
Nunreddin, not disturbing the torn curtain, stepped into the guest-chamber occupied by Abu-Sa'ad.
In sharp relief against the purple darkness of the apartment was the scarlet flame of an aromatic pastille burning on a brazier; thin spirals of acrid perfume rose from this slow fire.
Nunreddin glided into the chamber.
It was dome-shaped and had for summer pleasure a semicircle of small windows opening on to a colonnade. But all was dark. The moonlight had left this part of the palace.
With snake-like stealth Nunreddin returned to the passage and listened again.
The palace was silent.
He took the red lamp from the shrine and returned to the chamber of the usurping King of Granada. He held the small sacred flame high and peered about, careful how he trod. He saw what he had expected to see.
There were four murdered men in the room.
Abu-Sa'ad lay stretched naked on the black marble floor. His white night-robe was a bloodstained rag across his glistening body. His skull had been split to the teeth. The purple gashes were stiffening on his breast and arms. Near his feet his young brother was huddled, a knife through his back, the bodies of the King's chamberlain and equerry lay near the colonnaded window. It was obvious that they too had been slain in their sleep.
The room was in disorder. Nothing had been left to the Moors but some rags of linen.
Abu-Sa'ad's signet finger had been chopped off. His inlaid armour, jewelled weapons, the belts, helmets, scarves and bracelets—all the appointments and accoutrements of the usurping King of Granada and his suite had been taken.
Nunreddin moved carefully. He did not wish to leave a track of blood behind him. Without faltering he replaced the lamp above the shrine, then peered through the other door, his exquisite sensibilities needing no light.
Here was silence and a gross smell of blood and death.
All the Moors had been massacred by their host Don Pedro, King of Castile, and his knights.
"Because of their jewels and their splendid equipment," thought Nunreddin to himself. "They were foolish to come so gorgeously clad." Pedro would, of course, endeavour to murder him, too. Not that he had any riches to excite his envy, but he regarded him as a magician, and was afraid of his spells. Also, no doubt, Pedro had vowed, in a frenzy of religious fervour, to dispatch any heathen whom he might meet. "The Christian's hospitality is dangerous," smiled the doctor to himself. "Had I not stayed up gossiping with the slave and admiring the moon, I, too, had been murdered."
There were other Moors housed that night in the palace of Seville—servants, grooms and slaves.
No doubt by now these also would have been murdered for their arms and the sumptuously-apparelled horses in the stables, exquisite Arab and Turkish steeds, war-chargers and baggage-mules, with their harness of dyed leather, enriched with balls of silver and squares of Turkish amber. Yes, it was quite certain that the first Christian he chanced to meet would instantly slay him, despite all the compliments he had received last night, as to his wisdom and cunning, and the great extent of his learning.
Crouched up against the wall without the circle of light of the sacred lamp, he listened.
In the distance were those shuffling footsteps again and the light ring of metal on metal.
Above these sounds rose a wailing voice of rage.
"It was a crystal with a purple stain! I cannot find it! I have been robbed!"
Nunreddin recognized the thick voice, always either sullen or excited, of Pedro of Castile.
The doctor slipped back into the chamber of the murdered King of Granada. Death did not inspire him with fear nor corpses with disgust. Holding his silken robe about him he moved to the window and stood on the balcony behind one of the groups of clustered columns which supported the delicate uprising arch.
The moon had sunk behind the lowest tower of the palace. A grey pause that was neither light nor dark filled the night.
Nunreddin peered down to see how low the drop might be to the garden. He believed that he could let himself down by the thick fleshy tendrils of the wide-leaved creeper.
A flare of light filled the chamber behind; a Castilian had returned to see if the murderers had missed any spoils.
Nunreddin heard the King's voice again lamenting the loss of the purple-stained crystal. He had observed this jewel with sick eyes of envy, during the feast, when it had glowed with sombre flame in the deft folds of Abu-Sa'ad's bronze-tissue turban.
Among the scattered limbs of dead men, the blood and the torn bed-furnishings, the Castilian began to search for this jewel. The strong light of a great lantern fell over the hideous disorder of the guest-chamber and struck the armour of the huge soldier behind the King into specks of flame. The searchers quaked. They were afraid of the slim, brown dead men. They were afraid of the King, standing in front of the warrior with the lantern—now shouting, now raving for the purple-flushed crystal. They could not find this envied gem.
Pedro of Castile had a small axe in his hand. Blood and hair defaced the gleam of it. The veins on his neck and forehead seemed bursting, sweat glistened on to his eyebrows and ran down his face. His coat, stained with wine, slashed with gold, had been torn open on his shirt by some dying Moor's struggles. He had put on his helmet with the green African plumes; these added some three feet to his already gigantic height.
Like a phantom the doctor crouched on the balcony in that blue gloom which was not yet dawn, and raised his voice into a high, whispering falsetto:
"Shall he have peace who slew his guest?"
Don Pedro stood erect, rigid with superstitious fear. The stiff collar of his caftan rising to his ears framed a face as spent as ashes. He crossed himself and muttered:
Grovelling on the blood-stained floor among the dead men the Castilians fawned upon their patron saint to aid the search for the purple-flushed crystal.
The doctor called out in the same assumed, mocking voice:
"Perhaps this crystal contains the supreme secrets of hermetic philosophy which are hidden in the four elements and will only work harm to the ignorant and the evil."
"Spawn of the Devil!" muttered Pedro, and made a signal to his huddled men to attack the magician. But none of them dared raise a hand against Nunreddin, who appeared to them to be veritably under the protection of some terrible power.
Seeing that his men refused to move and that the figure of the doctor remained a shadow in the dawn-light behind the clustered pillars, the huge frame of Pedro began to quake and the befouled axe dropped to his side.
Nunreddin turned coolly away, leapt the balcony and, with agile fingers clinging to the stout creepers, lowered himself, light as a panther, to the marble pavement of the garden.
The rising wind was lifting the chalices of the trumpet-shaped flowers as if invisible hands carried them to invisible lips.
Nunreddin slipped in and out of the quince, pomegranate and pepper trees; with every second the light was strengthening. The gilded spires and minarets of the palace and the boughs of the highest trees where the doves chattered together were stained red by the first beams of the rising sun. Nunreddin came out by the stables.
The murdered Moorish grooms were lying along the walls. The Castilians were tearing the discs of gold from their leathern tunics.
Beneath a bough of white bell-flowers one of the coffers of Abu-Sa'ad had been broken open and pages were throwing right and left the contents—scarves, daggers, flat bags of vermilion silk, cedar-wood boxes full of spiced preserves. Many of these had been intended as presents to Don Pedro and his nobles.
STANDING apart by a fountain, which the light wind transformed into a veil of glittering drops, was a man whom Nunreddin knew, Don Gomez Carillo de Quintania, grand Chamberlain of Castile. He surveyed the plunderers with a look of contempt. His arms were folded on the breast of his caftan of radiant silk. A stiff turban in the Spanish fashion was bound round his frowning brows.
Nunreddin approached him.
"Was this massacre premeditated?" he asked coolly, "or was it caused by a sudden lust?"
"My master," replied the High Chamberlain, speaking as indifferently as he had been addressed, "intended to be the friend of this Abu-Sa'ad and to assist him with many knights to push his brother from the throne of Granada. But he was tempted," added the Castilian sarcastically, "by the sight of so many jewels and such rich appointments. He thought it was a lucky occasion also, for it happened to be the name-day of his patron saint."
"To such an end have the immense treasures of Abu-Sa'ad brought him," smiled Nunreddin.
The Chamberlain warned him that he had better be on his way.
"No Moor, Turk or Persian, save the slaves, will be left alive in the palace to-day."
Through the open doors of the stables could be seen the beautiful Arabian horses, glossy and shining, with mild eyes and gently-arched necks.
"Are you really a magician and an alchemist?" added Don Gomez Carillo. "You appear of an unparalleled coolness in this adventure. Perhaps you do know something of the secrets of the supernal triumph of alchemy? Perhaps," he continued, with a flash of eagerness, "you are familiar with the writings of the adept, Adfar, who was in the service of Kalid, the Sultan of Egypt? It is said that his writings, fine and curious, contained the secret of the Philosopher's Stone."
"Are you too nosing after gold?" asked the doctor. "Have you not to-night seen the ill-effects of possessing it? As for me, one must be a hermit to escape scenes like this. Your King is occupied for awhile at least. He is searching for a stone, a diamond or a crystal, which he envied in the turban of Abu-Sa'ad."
The baggage of the usurping King of Granada, which had been torn from the backs of the sumpter mules, was scattered round the fountain and against the walls of the royal stables.
Hauberks of mail, so fine that each jerkin contained thousands of small steel rings, agraffes of heron and ostrich with clasps of rubies and sapphires, robes of satin padded with cotton-wool and quilted, and scimitars with handles of white jade studded with chalcedony and firestone... these riches and treasures were scattered beneath the trees, hung with swelling figs, glistening pomegranates, with the feathery leaves and late scarlet fleshy blossoms of the pepper tree.
"The king," said the Chamberlain, looking at Nunreddin, "had nine misbegotten brothers, the sons of Eleanora de Guzman, who was a notable termagant. Six he has slain but three survive."
"For how long?" questioned Nunreddin.
"Castile," added the Chamberlain, "is a country to be coveted. The eldest of these bastards, who is Don Enriquez, the Duque de Transtamara, would give much to the man who would put Castile into his hands, as I put this into thine." He clutched a golden fig and laid it in the lean palm of Nunreddin. "Eat, you must have a parched throat after the events of this night, go your way and listen well to what you may hear on the high road."
The sun, now overtopping the palace, was full on the Castilian's lean, intelligent face, with the heavy-lidded eyes and the full lips.
"Perhaps," he smiled, "one day you and I, O Nunreddin, may be able in some interval of peace to discuss the secrets of mathematics, philosophy and alchemy."
The air, which had been so fragrantly cool, began to be tainted with the odour of mutilated dead flesh and dried blood.
The bodies of Abu-Sa'ad, his brothers and his attendants had been tossed from the balcony into the gardens below.
The corpse of the usurping King of Granada fell into the silver-lined basin of the fountain. His blood was caught up in the water and the lifting spray was stained red.
Nunreddin and the Chamberlain, prying through the oleanders, the roses, the trumpet-shaped lilies, observed this. Then the doctor, with a fastidious movement, dabbled his hands in the other fountain near the stables by which he stood. He had eaten the fig with relish.
Without speaking further to the High Chamberlain he went on his way, keeping cautiously in the shelter of the flowers and shrubs, which seemed to move and spread themselves voluptuously in the increasing heat of the sun.
A party of Castilian knights passed through the garden. Their heads were bare but their bodies armoured. The metal clanked as they carried some of the booty of the murdered Moors, which they intended to bury in a distant part of the garden, away from the jealous eyes of the King.
They pried about for the "magician" as they termed him. One had a spear ready to throw.
Nunreddin crept deeper into the bushes.
When they drew close he lay flat, pulling great fronds of ferns, curled and waving like a warrior's crest, over him. As he lay so, crouching on the warm, dry earth, something soft leapt into his breast—a white cat. The doctor turned and stared into two perfect green eyes, while the creature rubbed against him with delicate caresses. The Castilian knights passed. Their angry blasphemy silenced the cooing of the doves.
On the highest spire of the palace hung the heavy banner of Castile and Leon, sullen against the pole.
The sky took on a gold and burnished look. The day was fast becoming tawny red, the tops of trees were outlined sharply and edged with light.
Gathering the white cat into his bosom, and wrapping round it his light silk tunic, Nunreddin, as deft and lithe as the creature he carried, made his way through the shrubs, ferns and flowers, scarcely disturbing a leaf.
When he cleared the voluptuous growth of plants and trees he felt the bright light heavy on his skin. With his long easy stride he crossed an open space of paving where starry flowers and flowering agaves were set in sculptured pots.
From a stone peacote the coroneted heads and bronze necks of the birds, at once proud and foolish, flashed in the steady brilliance of the day. Some fowls behind an enclosure of silver net clucked. Far off, a drum beat.
Nunreddin, with the cat nestling close, climbed a low wall and stood without the palace looking on to a wide sweep of the Guadalquiver.
The river was without colour or shade in the clear vibrating light.
Nunreddin walked slowly. The heat began to be sweltry. His feet, clad in soft leather ankle-boots, were pierced by the thorns of the rank thicket of weeds, wild lilies and heath flowers, many of which bore red, swollen and gaping seed-pods. He regretted the mule which had been left behind in Don Pedro's stables on which he had ridden into Granada yesterday, with the harness of scarlet leather hung with little bells that had tinkled pleasantly as he leisurely travelled in the train of the usurping King of Granada.
Save for that distant drum-beat which was tremulous and troubled there was silence.
Nunreddin looked back at the palace and its crowning standard which seemed in the surrounding trees to be cut out of one solid piece of bright metal.
The cat curled close into his bosom. His sweat damped the pure fur. He felt his throat and lips dry and wished he had brought away more of the figs; slowly, saving his strength, he followed the road by the river. His narrowed eyes looked cunningly about. No one in sight. The whole landscape was metallic, even the river showed hard and solid. The walls, undulating about the city, appeared like a ribbon of bronze.
Lizards, lustrous green and yellow bloomed with bright blue, remained motionless in the stiff dry grasses by the roadside, as if petrified by the brilliancy of the sunshine.
In the distance were ranges of mountains. These too appeared hard and stiff.
Nunreddin espied a monastery. The smooth walls, from which the keen sunlight picked fine fluted columns, delicate tracery work and a roof of sharply-pointed arches, appeared to conceal emptiness or stagnation. But Nunreddin knew that it was swarming with eager and active life, just as the palace, which appeared now a thin shape cut out of metal stamped on to the sky, concealed all the tumult of war, rapine and murder.
Nunreddin knew there were treasures in that monastery which even Don Pedro would never dare to envy—mitres of white silk worked in heavy gold and precious jewels, pieces of gold tissue to cover the Sacred Host, coffers full of costly vestments, some of which had been sent, blessed and sanctified, from Rome—green silk, red silk and gold silk, copes and chasubles, encrusted with jewels, some of them weighing as heavily as a cuirass.
In that sacred building also was a tunic of most curious colours which had come from China, and there too was a skull of a virgin martyr which was kept perpetually crowned with white roses.
The monastery owned also a large chalice shaped like a delicate bell which gave a musical sound as it was raised aloft, above the tombs of kings, ancestors of Don Pedro son of Alfonso the Conqueror, warriors silent at last in stone and metal.
Nunreddin envied none of these things nor did he desire to glut his curiosity by looking at them, but he longed after the cool fountains he knew there were in the cloisters, splashing on to the paths of the herb garden and the leaves of citron and lemon trees.
He envied too the monks' hour of rest in the heat of the day, behind green lattices.
Nunreddin walked slowly till he came to a forest of cork trees; their shrivelled boughs gave a meagre shade. He sat down and counted out his treasures.
A purse of small Castilian money. A purse of money of the King of Granada. A small book, the leaves of which were made of the bark of a tree, covered in Arabic characters, and which was bound in silver. Two or three glass phials carefully stoppered, two small bones, one carved—and among all these the crystal, white flushed with purple, which Don Pedro had been searching for in the chamber of the murdered men.
Abu-Sa'ad had prized it so much that he had given it to the doctor for safe keeping on his retirement at night during their visit to the Castilian monarch.
"What next?" Nunreddin asked himself.
The cat leapt from his bosom and rubbed against his knees.
He moved on. Even in the cork forest small eddies of light dust stirred. By noon he had cleared the wood and come out on to a wayside inn with ragged boys playing in front of a vine-hung shelter. At the side drooped an elderberry bush, heavy with wine-dark fruit.
Nunreddin went in and with some of his money purchased a salad and two hard eggs and some goat's milk for the cat. Two men in the inn doorway were chaffering over the price of wool and almonds. The way ahead was steep, rugged and dreary, with narrow ledges of rock and an ill-made road. A bell tolled from the church and a procession of monks moved across the stubble of a sparse cornfield to the village near by. Beyond stretched the highlands of Sierra Morena. Nunreddin remained thoughtful under the vine, the white cat asleep at his feet.
The peasants who kept the inn regarded him with awe and suspicion, suspecting him for a heathen but fearful lest he was a magician as well.
He did not know where to go. He had counted on the success of Abu-Sa'ad's embassy to Castile and had intended to remain in the train of that monarch, who had promised him his support and protection while he made some curious and, maybe vital, experiments in alchemy. He certainly had not reckoned on the massacre.
It was impossible for him to return to Granada for the reigning and now undisputed King, Muhammed, was his enemy, who had shut him up once in a tower and threatened him with sharp torture if he did not produce large quantities of gold. It had taken all Nunreddin's adroitness to escape from that predicament.
By the side of the road was a huge painted crucifix. Nunreddin, eyeing it from the shadow of the withering vine, pondered on the mysteries of the Christian religion.
The ragged, flea-bitten children stopped their gambolling to stare at this man with the silvery turban, the silvery beard and the fine yellow face that appeared polished on the bridge of the nose and the high cheek-bones.
Nunreddin took no heed of them. He began to consider where and how he could dispose of the diamond—the purple-flushed crystal as Don Pedro had named the lovely jewel.
Of course the first man who knew that he had such a treasure would instantly murder him. But if he could get into a considerable city, Cordova for instance, he might find some Jew, or a man even of his own race, who would buy the gem of him for a moderate sum—a sum sufficient to secure to the philosopher an interval of leisure. But Cordova must be nearly a hundred miles away.
He again went into the inn. The shaded room had a faint, sour atmosphere. He asked for water. He spoke Castilian so well that they were reassured about his character and the woman of the inn, old and enormously fat, wiped the grease from her brow and asked him "where he had come from?"
When he said Seville, adding nothing to that information, she began to talk about the King Don Pedro. Cocks and hens cackled in the small, dry, straggling yard at the back of the building.
Across the distance a pinkish haze spread. Nunreddin could see this view through the small unglazed aperture.
The woman again talked of the King and the Queen, but he felt safe, for no one ever paid attention to a gossiping pot-wife.
"The Queen is dead," he commented.
"Ah yes, the King killed her! Shut her up in a tower and tortured her to death!"
Nunreddin laughed. "So the French say—that is because she was a Frenchwoman."
"It was because the King Don Pedro was bewitched by Maria de Padilla—she ought to be burnt. One day," she added viciously, "no doubt she will be burnt. A pity I live so far away, here one never sees any sights."
A man came in with a dead pheasant and a hare hanging on a stick over his shoulder. He had caught the last words of the talk. "Did you see Donna Maria de Padilla?" he asked Nunreddin in a tone of awe.
The doctor could truthfully answer "No." There had been no women at the festival last night, only behind a lattice which pierced the wall above the King's chair he thought he had caught the flash of monstrous eyes and the long line of a white neck.
"She has bewitched the King, worked spells on him," remarked the man gravely. "She made him murder his wife the Lady Blanche of Bourbon. That's why all the French are our enemies."
"But it is true," added the inn-woman with an air of justice, "that the Frenchwoman made a great deal of fuss. She never took anything quietly but was always complaining about every little thing he did, so that whenever he offended her she must run and tell her ladies and duennas." She shrugged her huge shoulders. "Well, one knows what happens to women like that."
"Well," said the man, flinging the dead bird and hare on the dirty table, disturbing the flies, "there was no need to have murdered a woman of that sort. Maria de Padilla will be the ruin of Don Pedro as Donna Eleanora de Guzman was the ruin of Alfonso his father, and if Don Enriquez," he added significantly, "were to make a try for the country, you would see that he got it."
Nunreddin looked at the dead hare flung over the corpse of the bird. So had he seen the dead bodies of the Moors look in the palace of Seville—one sight was just as horrible as another to the oriental philosopher.
The hare was more beautiful than Abu-Sa'ad and more harmless. There had not been one among his retinue who was so bright and swift and graceful as the bird. In each case it was brutal destruction to gratify a lust for gold, for food.
He left the foul air of the house and came on to the road again. The sun had a little abated of its violence. He thought that he would continue on the road. The shadows had begun to lengthen.
Among the metallic outlines of the distant mountains were flat, purple patches of shadows. The pink mist about the lower portion of the sky was tinged with saffron. And this too had a hard quality. The pupils of Nunreddin's eyes became fixed, his brows contracted, he stood rigid, listening intently.
Through the gossiping and quarrelling of the children and Christians round the cup-board of the wine-house his fine senses, almost supernaturally acute, could detect the sound of hastening horses. A cavalcade nearing swiftly—men riding in haste. Nunreddin picked up the white cat, returned to the inn and hastily informed the people of the approaching horsemen. At first they would not believe him, then they became terrified.
All crowded out into the porch, pushing back the children, and the men paled. When the sounds were unmistakable they looked at each other in the greatest uneasiness.
Drums began to beat and a trumpet blared harshly. Men of war! Perhaps a rebellion had broken out?—perhaps Don Pedro's brother, the Duque de Transtamara, was making an effort to snatch the land from him? In any case, honest, simple people were best away. The innwoman, her guests and her children rushed out of the inn by the back-door and ran over the reaped cornfield to the village.
Nunreddin and the cat went to an upper room. Spying through an aperture cautiously he saw the cavalcade arriving less hastily. Great warriors on monstrous warrior steeds with sumpter mules, baggage-waggons and a spreading retinue...
The foremost rider, a gigantic man, bestrode a huge steed, caparisoned in purple. This animal, drawn up sharply, caracoled before the inn door with trained, magnificent movements. The trappings flying out, showed the royal arms of Castile, the rider was Don Pedro armed in chain mail beneath the scarlet caftan. Many weapons were in his sash and round his neck hung some of the dyed pearls stolen from the murdered Abu-Sa'ad.
Nunreddin thought instantly: "He has been driven from Seville, he would not be here save on a desperate occasion."
The Castilian knights, grooms and pages clustered thick around the King who roared out "for someone to loosen his armour!"
Nunreddin withdrew from the window and looked round the room. It was dark and dirty, insects crawled over the filthy cracked plaster of the walls, straw and a few rags formed a bed in one corner. Across this was cast a monk's thick, filthy habit.
Nunreddin put off his turban and slipped the greasy brown over his light silk tunic. The cowl came well down over his face allowing only the tip of his beard to be seen.
On the wall was a small wooden crucifix. He hastily took this and laced it on the scarlet thread round his neck in place of the blue amulet which he concealed in his purse.
The King's horse continued his impatient capriole before the door of the building.
Don Pedro's face was suffused with rage because there was slow answer to his angry summons. The road was blocked with knights and squires, pages and baggage-waggons had come to a sudden halt. There could be no doubt that this was a flight, thought Nunreddin, and, pulling the cowl well over his eyes, he went downstairs. His movements were soft and easy as that of the white cat which followed him. Startled to see the sudden figure of a monk in the doorway Don Pedro ceased his blasphemies.
"There is no one in the inn, sire," said Nunreddin, bowing low.
"You know me?"
"Everyone knows Your Majesty."
"Not everyone, it appears," replied Don Pedro, with a sarcastic grin. "There are, it seems, since this morning two Kings. My bastard brother, monk, has thrown himself into Seville."
"May God curse him and the Devil harry him!" said Nunreddin, making the sign of the Cross on his bosom.
Don Pedro's black eyes flashed with pleasure. He swung in his saddle to shout out to his knights that the holy man had cursed Don Enriquez.
"The baseborn and the usurper must ever be cursed," added Nunreddin with emphasis. "Warriors will spring out of the very ground for the assistance of your knightly grace."
Don Pedro grinned more emphatically.
"Well," he admitted, "it is true that I already have had some luck. I got good warning of this villain's attempt and was able to bring off some of my men and treasures."
"A King so wise, clever and prudent must surely have been betrayed into disaster?" suggested Nunreddin.
Don Pedro swore foully.
"Betrayed," he stuttered, foam flecking his wide lips, "'twas that lousy knave, that cursed blackguard, Don Gomez Carillo my Lord High Chamberlain betrayed me. While I was spoiling the cursed heathen dogs he, on an arranged signal, let in the bastard and his men."
The King lifted up his hand, massive in a great war-glove which glittered against the fiery pink of the sky. He swore—"I will get him and," he swore, "treat Gomez Carillo as I treated Abu-Sa'ad."
Then Don Pedro regarded the tall, impressive monk with awe. Behind him the Castilian knights gesticulated and chattered together in their harsh language.
Nunreddin, peering under his cowl, espied a woman among the cortège of nobles, bachelors, squires and men-at-arms. This shameless one could be no other than Donna Maria de Padilla, for she rode astride like a man, wore silk trousers and knee-boots of leather, a turban with fringed ends, and carried a great cased knife in her belt.
So did she, who had yesterday peeped so shyly behind the lattice at the doomed Moors, flaunt herself, without discomposure, thus publicly in masculine attire.
She edged her fine Arabian jennet to the King's side and asked him anxiously "why he delayed?"
She had none of the beauty, the ardency, the gaiety of youth. This woman, for whom Don Pedro of Castile had murdered one wife and put aside another, was thin and tawny. Her eyes were monstrous and further enlarged by paint beneath and on the lids. She had a fierce, anxious air and was full of restless movements.
"A delay," said Don Pedro of Castile sullenly, "because I do not know the safest road and few seem to guide me."
Nunreddin stepped nearer the King's purple trappings. "Where, O King! do you wish to go?"
"Along a difficult route, monk," frowned the monarch. "I intend to go to Burgos, then perhaps to Bordeaux to ask help of the English Prince who is always ready to assist in a feat of arms."
"The first stage would be Cordova," said Nunreddin placidly. "I am quite able to guide you there." He added, "I was probably sent by heaven to do so. Sire, is not to-day the day of your patron saint, Santa Porphria?"
The King startled, his dark face all aflush.
But Maria de Padilla leant forward across the horns of her gilded saddle.
"I am a hermit," continued Nunreddin composedly.
"I was meditating among the cork trees yesterday when an angel appeared to me, and told me I was to be the instrument of good fortune to a mighty king. He bade me go to a certain grove and search beneath a certain tree, the seventh from the crest of a hill. There, he said, I should find a relic of Santa Porphria—I discovered this." Nunreddin scrabbled in his satchel. At the bottom of this lay the two small smooth bones. One had been polished and was in the shape of a small reed-pipe, the other was a knuckle end. "This, the Vision declared to me," added Nunreddin, holding out the latter, "is a bone of the holy Porphria's right hand."
He held it up, small and white in the dusky pinkish light. The King bowed his head in awe. The Castilian knights crossed themselves and began to chatter joyfully. Many of them had been on the point of turning back, fearful that they had taken the wrong side in this venture. Now they were reassured that God was indeed with Don Pedro.
"The Vision bade me," continued Nunreddin, "come to the inn. He said that your princely grace would arrive here at about the hour of this sunset. Did not this angel speak truth, Sire?"
Again Nunreddin fumbled in his satchel.
"I have another sign to give your princely grace. The holy Vision told me that you searched for something you could not find."
Don Pedro trembled in his saddle.
Maria de Padilla glanced quickly behind her at the expectant faces of the knights, crowding as close as their great war-horses could bring them.
"Among the bodies of foul heathen dogs," continued Nunreddin, "your princely grace was searching for a jewel that had taken your pleasure. This the angel put into my charge."
He brought out the diamond with the purple stain. The King flung himself from his horse and was on his knees in the dust, almost prostrate before the monk.
There was a clattering, a shouting, a calling up of pages, a rearing of impatient steeds, and all the Castilian knights were soon grovelling before the relic and the miracle.
Nunreddin suddenly recollected that he should have been barefoot. He had not had time to pull off his leather ankle-boots. He withdrew his feet under the hem of his robe, fearful that Don Pedro should observe them.
But that monarch, in a religious ecstasy, had no eyes for such a detail.
He flung himself flat on the road, his face in the dust, dirt on his lips and breast, his armour and his caftan disfigured and defiled by the refuse of the road.
Murmuring prayers to Santa Porphria, he worshipped the relic.
But Donna Maria de Padilla remained on her horse, disdainful of the prostration of all the men. Then Nunreddin fixed her with a glittering eye from under his hood and she at once flung her reins to a page, reluctantly dismounted and knelt in the dust.
For a moment the Oriental enjoyed this spectacle—the groaning Christians beating their breasts, awkwardly prostrate and kneeling in their armour, the dry, odd, barren country about them in the lurid, pinkish, fiery light.
Over-ripe and withered grapes dropped from the pergola in front of the pot-house. The fowls clucked near by. This sound could scarcely be distinguished from the mutterings and squeaks of the Christians at prayer.
Behind them rose the Crucifix at the roadside. It had a remote air of symbolizing something very different and very far from this scene.
"Rise, O King! Rise, O knights!" he commanded reverently.
When Don Pedro was in his seat again, wiping the sweat and dirt from his broad dark face, Nunreddin handed him the jewel and the relic with great awe and dignity—both of these the King kissed convulsively and thrust into his bosom.
"Let your pavilions be set up here to-night, O King!" said Nunreddin, "and to-morrow I will guide you stage by stage, even to Burgos."
The King gave his commands.
In the field beyond the Crucifix were arranged the pavilions of blue silk with scalloped edges raised on gilded poles, surmounted by the banners of Castile. Tables, stools, cooking-pots and cushions were hastily dragged from the baggage-waggons, many of which were laden with yesterday's pillage from the Moors.
Braziers of charcoal were lit, on which aromatic herbs were scattered, to keep off the flights of insects which rose with the setting of the sun.
Don Pedro did not concern himself with the thought of any possible pursuit. He now believed that he was under Divine protection. He sat at his ease in his pavilion.
The entrance was looped back and over it hung a fine gauze to keep out the flies and gnats.
Maria de Padilla, tawny and lean as a half-famished young lioness, lay stretched over the cushions with her fingers in a bowl of pure water. She was frowning and sullen.
It appeared that this man, to whom she had attached her fortunes, had lost the splendour and the power that made him desirable. She had not been reassured by the miracle.
"That monk," she remarked, "has much the appearance of the magician who came with the King of Granada but yesterday."
Don Pedro smiled. He felt quite gay and safe. Like a rosy mantle the protection of his patron saint encompassed him.
"The Devil," he said, "plays these tricks with our eyes."
In high good humour he sent for Nunreddin.
The Oriental had contrived, during the confusion of the camping, to slip away and improve his disguise; he had entangled his neat beard and rubbed dry earth on it so that it no longer shone silver; he had matted his hair with muddied water and pulled it over his eyes; this coating of filth made him appear much more like a Christian hermit.
When he lifted the gauze and came into the presence of the King he found that monarch absorbed in contemplating the relic and the purple-flushed diamond which lay on a small cushion in front of him. The moon began to make the landscape appear metallic and unreal. Even round the fires and the braziers the flies buzzed incessantly. The flat curve of the river glittered behind the dry trees.
Nunreddin ventured to push back his cowl and face the King with a formidable stare; he had a certain power of distorting and changing his features and he exercised this impressively.
Maria de Padilla looked at him sharply and continued to dabble her fingers in the bowl of cool scented water, then to draw them over her parched lips and hot brow.
The King, huge and gross, sat motionless. His silk caftan was open on his bare, glistening chest. He had flung off his helm, turban and coronet, and his black hair was curled upwards like a sweeping crest.
He said to the woman contemptuously:
"What foolish, drivelling talk is this?—saying that the holy man had a look of the foul magician of yesterday! In everything he is different."
"There was a white cat in the castle at Seville," remarked Maria de Padilla, and she eyed the small animal which crept in behind Nunreddin.
"Bah, there are white cats in many places," scowled Don Pedro.
Nunreddin added coldly:
"But this beast, Donna, was guarding the spot where I found the relic of Santa Porphria."
The moonlight filtered through the swaying gauze against which the insects buzzed in vain clouds, and it shone on the filthy brown habit, the tangled hair and beard and inscrutable face which seemed sculptured out of yellow soap stone.
Outside was the sound of grasshoppers and frogs in the region of the river, and the cook-men going about with their clanking pots, the sharp complaint of horses stung by gnats, and the monotonous rustle of dry leaves.
The King began to question Nunreddin as to the portents for the future.
He confided to him his hatred for his three brothers—Don Enriquez, Duque de Transtamara, Don Sancho and Don Tello. Would that he had slain them with the other six! These three bastards who had thrust him from his kingdom! Was it not possible to lay on them some malediction which would wither them at the very root?
Nunreddin preserved that inscrutable air so necessary to wise men and prophets; he threw himself along the line of the King's humour.
"It is best for the present that your princely grace pursued your journey. At Burgos you will surely find help," he declared solemnly. "In great triumph you will return to Castile. You will capture these three ruffians and be able to dismember their bodies as you dismembered those of the Moors last night."
"How does he know that?" cried Maria de Padilla suspiciously.
But the King was not troubled. His was of an unquestioning faith. He silenced the woman with a brutal look. He was convinced that the monk was possessed of supernatural powers. The crystal with the purple flush, miraculously carried through the air by angels from the castle of Seville to the forest on the banks of the Guadalquiver, had sufficiently proved that.
"Sire, I will play a hymn to Santa Porphria," said Nunreddin. He drew the other bone out of his satchel and put it to his lips.
A shrill yet plaintive whistle filled the tent.
The King and the woman were silent under the incantation of the melody which took up the song of the grasshoppers and the frogs and the buzz of the flies. Nunreddin's twinkling eyes held Don Pedro by a hypnotic stare.
The King's head began to droop on to his mighty chest. Maria de Padilla's painted lips fell wearily. Beyond the tents the night stretched in a vivid, interminable monotone of heat and moonlight; it appeared as if the sun would never rise again. Nunreddin continued to play on the small white bone. He eyed the other bone placed before the King—the sacred relic set beside the heathen stone. Both these bones had come from the same hare. Nunreddin felt that the animal thus revenged itself on those who had destroyed its beautiful body. The King's head nodded, his body bent, the saliva dripped from his thick lips on to his chest. The woman turned over and lay slack. The Oriental put away his small bone pipe and gathered up the white cat into his bosom; at this the soft creature thrust its face close to his, the doctor thought that those green eyes looked as if they knew a great deal about most things. Don Pedro and Donna Maria de Padilla slept.
With impressive majesty Nunreddin stepped out of the silk pavilion into the silver heat of the stifling night.
IN the lilac haze of morning, pursued by glittering clouds of ants, the Castilians resumed their march.
The short column made its way over the undulating ground in uneven files—now halting, now separating, now closing up. Heavy fringed standards dipped, sunk and were hoisted high.
The King, though still believing himself under divine protection, had discovered some uneasiness when it was put to him by his most trusted friend, Don Juan de Castro, that the mysterious monk might be misled or false.
Don Pedro did not believe this. The miracle of the crystal and the relic were sufficient for him, but he was impressed when the anxious knight urged on him the length and toilsomeness of the road to Aquitaine.
De Castro suggested that they should halt at Burgos and endeavour to gather an army there with which to return and fall upon Seville and the usurping Don Enriquez.
Don Pedro had not much faith in this course. He eyed the hazed landscape sullenly. He knew well enough how he was hated in his own kingdom. He feared also that both His Holiness the Pope and the King of France might be on the side of his brother who was a noble, generous knight unstained by any great crime.
His wish was still to push on to the Prince of Aquitaine, that great victor and hero of Poictiers and Crécy, eldest son of the King of England.
De Castro looked askance at his master.
"If we had enough money we might engage the Free Companies," he suggested, and he added that a halt at Burgos might result in amassing sufficient treasure from the people to buy the services of these famous mercenaries, who were without occupation since the last war.
"I shall be overbid by the ruffian bastard or the King of France," said Don Pedro, who was shrewd enough in matters of policy, and he added with bitter disdain, "that foul hypocrite Enriquez will get on the right side of the Pope." He scowled and pouted out his full lips as he added fiercely:
"The Pope is not everything. I do not need him when I have a holy hermit direct from heaven."
"More dangerous than the Pope is the King of France."
"He is a boy and a fool," replied Don Pedro contemptuously, flicking the flies from his horse's flank.
"He has good advisers," said De Castro.
"He has been defeated in a long war," persisted the King.
But the Castilian knight replied:
"He is still powerful. He too might engage the Free Companies—"
"If he did," interrupted Pedro, "and could find the money, who has he to command them?"
The Castilian knight replied with the name of the most famous captain in the world after the Prince of Aquitaine, "Bertrand du Guesclin."
But Pedro reminded him that Bertrand du Guesclin was in prison, having been captured by Sir John Chandos some time since in the Britanny affair, "And such a ransom is asked that no one is likely to be able to pay it, your mind is full of moody fancies this morning, Don Juan. I fear neither the Free Companies, the Pope, the King of France, nor Du Guesclin, and I am undecided whether I shall halt at Burgos and summon my array, or whether I shall go on to Bordeaux and put my cause before the English Prince."
Wishing for no more advice or discussion the King rode ahead, taking command of this small column, straggling through the increasing heat, which was all that was left to him of a powerful kingdom.
Maria de Padilla drooped in her saddle. She held one end of her light silk turban across her face to shield her from the heat. She stared at the broad back of Don Pedro riding ahead of her; she hated him as a man who had failed.
Nunreddin rode comfortably in one of the baggage-waggons, the white cat asleep on his knees. He was eating from a basket of ripe figs and kept his cowl pulled over his eyes to protect them from the dust of the road.
At the first halt the King hastily sent for him and moodily asked his advice as to whether they should halt at Burgos or push forward into Aquitaine?
The Oriental cared nothing for Don Pedro's plans. He thought that it would suit him, Nunreddin, very well to spend the winter in Burgos, where there were many learned men, good libraries and fellow-countrymen who would allow him to sink into obscurity as an eel into a mud-stream. Yet he thought it would be amusing to accompany this march for weeks and months across Spain and France to the city of Bordeaux which he had never yet seen, and into the presence of the English knight, The English Paragon as he was called, whom the Oriental was also curious to behold.
He said therefore that he must wait until his Vision further instructed him as to the proper course to pursue, but that, for the moment, it would undoubtedly be better to halt in Burgos and see which way fortune went.
"There is the King of Aragon, that flaunting young fool," mused Don Pedro, stroking his chin dubiously.
"He will join the bastard because I took those marsh lands from him."
"Count up these chances when you are in Burgos, O King!" advised Nunreddin.
The King ordered his standard to advance. A great bitterness overwhelmed him. It was intolerable that the bastard son of Eleanora de Guzman should thus be able to drive him ignominiously from his kingdom; he was glad that he had murdered that intolerable woman.
Other things were fortunate too, the King of France was only a boy—his country ruined by a long war, the Pope had been driven from Rome and must live at Avignon, Du Guesclin was a prisoner and not likely to be ransomed. And, highest fortune of all, he, Pedro of Castile, carried in his bosom a holy relic miraculously revealed.
The short straggling column, the men soon exhausted by the heat and the weight of their armour, moved forward through the thick lilac haze which appeared hard as the baked ground from which it rose. Trails of sparkling gnats and glittering insects hung like scarves round the banners and about the horses' heads and haunches whose swishing tails were in constant motion. Even the great warrior horses began to droop their heads.
Only Nunreddin and the cat travelled comfortably in the hooded baggage-waggon, protected from the sun and asleep.
HIS Holiness Pope Urban V gave audience to Mons. de Nolhac, the Ambassador of King Charles V, King of France.
The Pope, who had been a Benedictine monk, observed a very simple state. The mighty, sumptuous palace of his predecessors Clement VI and Innocent VI oppressed him. He felt himself an alien in those mighty apartments, and he had had constructed, according to his own tastes, a very modest lodging almost like the monastic cell in which he had lived the life of a simple monk. Everywhere possible he had ordered windows to be pierced. He spent most of his time out of doors or walking in open cloisters or colonnades.
In his poor secluded room he sat silent, his hands folded in his sleeves, listening to the Frenchman.
On his ascetic, aquiline face with the full drooping lids and thin lips was a look of serene ambition. He was a man who never doubted the strength of his own resolves. He was certain that one day he would return in triumph to Rome. Passion or cupidity were equally impossible to that composed face. He listened carefully to what the Ambassador was saying.
Monsieur de Nolhac was a small, dry, elderly man. His full robe with wide sleeves girdled round the waist and long-ended coif gave him a feminine appearance
"It would be well worth Your Holiness's while to ransom Du Guesclin from the English Prince," he concluded in a tired voice.
"How much money did you say?" asked the Pope.
The Frenchman named a sum which caused the Pope to smile.
"Is any man worth so much? That amount has been fixed in fantasy... A hundred thousand francs!"
De Nolhac declared that the great captain was worth that and more, and that if the Prince of Aquitaine had not allowed his chivalry to override his prudence, he would not have permitted him to go even for that immense treasure...
"But when this great sum is paid," asked the Pope, "the captain released, what will you do with him?"
"Put him at the head of the Free Companies," replied the Frenchman, "and send him to assist Don Enriquez, the present King of Castile, against his presumptuous and cruel brother Don Pedro, who is now at Burgos gathering a host."
"Yet it is unnatural and a bad precedent," replied the Pope calmly, "for a bastard to occupy a throne. It is true that I daily receive complaints of this Don Pedro and that he has refused to obey the commands of the Church, vexing the priests with tyranny, thieving their revenues, and even receiving my envoys with insult. But we must consider that he is the legitimate King of Castile."
The Ambassador patiently went over the crimes of Don Pedro.
"He murdered Eleanora de Guzman, his father's mistress. He murdered Blanche of France, his first wife. He is allying himself with heathen kings, such as the King of Granada, of Benamarine and Tremeçon. In brief, there are many odious crimes laid to his charge."
"No doubt," admitted Urban, "the man is a beast and a villain, but we must consider how we assist his brother and embroil Europe for a bastard. Tell me, sir, what is the King of France's count in this?"
"He wishes," replied the Ambassador, "to regain the Provinces of Guienne and Gascony."
"But those," the Pope said gently, "were ceded to England by the Peace of Bretigny."
"But the King, my master, was a child at the time. He need not ratify a Treaty which his father made under duress and in despair. Aquitaine is a French Province. It is most unjust that the English should hold it. People murmur under the rule of this Prince Edward. The King of France will pay half the ransom of Bernard du Guesclin."
The Pope's eyes sparkled at the thought of this possible deliverance for his beloved France. But there were many hindrances and difficulties in the way. His position was more delicate than that of any statesman in Europe. He must go cautiously.
"The King of Aragon," urged the French Ambassador, "is a young ardent knight—he will also fall upon Pedro with the least encouragement."
Urban pondered the case.
"What manner of precedent shall I give if I depose a lawful king and set a bastard in his place?"
De Nolhac urged the crimes, the low villainies and beastlinesses of Don Pedro, who lived in Burgos like a swine in its stye, and he had that cursed, shameless woman with him, Maria de Padilla.
"Do not despise my master because he is a youth," added the Ambassador earnestly. "King Charles is no boaster, ruffler or villain. He prefers study to the camp. His leisure goes in brooding over manuscripts or in consultation with the astrologer Thomas of Pisa who is full of curious learning. No foul words or lewd tales are allowed at his Court. None dare indulge in wantonness or gambling."
The Pope's comment on this panegyric was, with a slight inflection of contempt:
"A humble, simple scholar like myself."
"But like Your Holiness," replied the Ambassador quickly, "this same modest scholar is a clever statesman and an able administrator, and," added De Nolhac with emphasis, "above all, he longs to rid France of the Free Companies—those plagues of the Devil."
The Pope did not move, but his eyes flashed. The last sentence had touched him on a tender point. More than any king or potentate in Europe, more even than the Turk (whom the King of Hungary was combating in the East) did Urban loathe and dread the Free Companies—those bands of lawless mercenaries, who obeyed no king or priest, who were only faithful to their own self-chosen captains—who lived by plunder and pillage, who left desolation in their wake and spread terror before them—who had, since the Peace, settled on France like the locusts on Egypt, and whom no man could sway, overawe or disperse.
"Such is the child of war," muttered the Pope, "brutish, incendious, certainly of the Devil. The foulest spawn of the foulest ambitions of mankind. How are law or learning, order or beauty, to survive while such treat the earth as if it were their heritage, to be trampled underfoot or torn to pieces?"
"Would it not," put in the Ambassador eagerly, "be a good stroke to ransom Du Guesclin, place him at the head of these ruffians and send them into Spain to assist Don Enriquez to keep the throne of Castile?"
"But that will not occupy them for ever," smiled Urban, "and what shall we do with them when we have succeeded or failed—they must be disbanded again."
"No doubt," said the Ambassador dryly, "but they can be disbanded in Spain—not in France. If they fight for Don Enriquez, he will have to pay them. If he does not pay them, they will ravage his kingdom. If he does, possibly they may be induced to join the King of Hungary."
"If I support France," mused the Pope, "I shall make an enemy of England. I have heard that Don Pedro is likely to appeal for help to the Prince in Aquitaine."
"By denouncing Don Pedro for his crimes, Your Holiness will not be defying England," suggested the French Ambassador smoothly.
"But by helping to pay the ransom of Du Guesclin I certainly shall," smiled Urban.
Still, he admitted to himself that the plan had its advantages. The studious, shrewd, careful young King of France, Charles de Valois, appealed to him a great deal more than the old fighting warrior king of England and his warlike son, who had no thought of anything but these battles and that military glory which were, in the eyes of the Pope, so contemptible.
"Beasts!" he said to himself, "Beasts! all fighting, snarling—and this Don Pedro no worse than the others—none of them able to see beyond the chance medley of a fight or able to value anything save a plumed crest, gilded armour, or a silk rag on a pole. But, this youth in France now..." He broke off his thoughts to ask the Ambassador abruptly:
"Did your master, the King, suggest this scheme of getting rid of the Free Companies into Spain?"
"It was his own thought," replied De Nolhac, with pride. "He looked further than that. He believed that the Prince of Aquitaine would be embroiled, and so he might recover his provinces."
"It is true," reflected the Pope thoughtfully, "that Don Pedro has treated my envoys with insolence. He sits in Burgos like a fat, poisonous spider, sucking up the life-blood of the country round. He has attached to him some false monk who holds him by devilish arts, vain promises, satanic spells. And yet, Don Enriquez is a bastard..."
The Pope rose. He appeared a modest, almost a humble figure in his monastic garb, but he carried himself with an imposing majesty.
"Come into my garden," he said, with a sudden eagerness. "This talk becomes strangely tedious. I will show you what really interests me. When my mind has cleared I will give you my decision on your politics."
The Pope passed swiftly through a small side-door, screened only by a light curtain of thin linen. The Frenchman followed him.
"Here," said His Holiness, "is the abode of bliss, knowledge and beauty."
His small eager figure hurried down a few steps and he stood on the first parterres of the great gardens of Avignon. There were no gardens like them in the whole of the world.
Instead of spending his revenues as his predecessors had on mighty buildings, sumptuous apartments, gorgeous furniture and rich vestments, Urban had laid out all his money on gardens.
Everywhere he had let in light and air, piercing the ramparts, lowering walls and towers, planting woods, orchards, pleasaunces, allées and terraces with every known species of tree and flower.
It was April. The delicious softness of the South was in the faint breeze, in the milky, gauzy clouds that passed lightly over the tender azure of the sky. The sweetness of acres of bloom hung in the air.
The Pope had the plan of the gardens accurately in his head. He could point out with precision where a certain tree grew, or a certain bed of blooms had been planted. He knew the names of the different vines, peaches, nectarines and pears.
He declared that when he returned to Rome—and he spoke with the utmost confidence—he would make another such garden on the hill of the Vatican, thus glorifying the Eternal City. Among the trees and plants were many gardeners (indistinguishable at a first glance, but afterwards to be clearly perceived), kindly men absorbed in the kindly earth...
The Pope spoke rapidly:
"The true surroundings for a scholar and a poet! Men of letters are tired of telling the praises of so-called heroes who are in reality cut-throats. They are weary of fortresses and ramparts, houses bombarded against enemies. Yes, indeed, refined and ardent spirits full of idealism must have been always of that mind."
He mentioned again his scheme for laying out the Vatican gardens on the model of these at Avignon, or of those of the great poet—Petrarca at Vaucluse—when he was once more installed in Rome.
"How certain he is of returning!" thought the Ambassador, and he recalled the tale that the Benedictine had selected the name of "Urban" as a play on the word "urbanos," meaning that he intended some day once more to rule in Rome.
The Pope pointed out his new garden, or giriardium novum, especially reserved for the cultivation of flowers of rare or tender species. Experiments were made here with different soils and dressings. He went on to talk of the wood filled with the most uncommon trees which covered about two thousand square metres. This joy in the beauties of nature was something new, and De Nolhac was too old to share in this modern enthusiasm which he had noticed in his young master Charles V; he also was taking down frowning walls, grim towers and wide ramparts, the shielding deep ditches of his castles, and laying out gardens...
"It is," said the Pope, "as if beauty was being lent to the world to show that we are making a little advance from barbarism."
"Very little indeed," smiled the Ambassador, true to his point, "while monsters like Don Pedro are allowed to exist."
The Pope had paused before a bed of violets, sheltered by the low boughs and long, grey-green leaves of oleanders not yet in bloom.
The violets were of all hues that mingled red and blue can make—rosy pink faintly stained white, and all shades of lilac and purple to an azure pure as the Southern sky.
The Pope frowned. He did not wish to talk of Don Pedro. But the Ambassador insisted.
"It is said that he too is a bastard. That his mother, Maria of Portugal, was unfaithful to her husband with a Jew."
Urban shuddered. He detested these ugly stories. How impossible, incredible and grotesque seemed all these tumults, intrigues and brutalities of the world. Yet, how real they were, but how impossible to escape from them!
"It is really all so simple," he sighed. "If there were but a few men of sense in the world, these brutal appetites and stupid ambitions would be controlled. In gardens like this, Mons. de Nolhac, can be found happiness, beauty and a true communion with God."
"But the world is full of proud, presumptuous fighting men," urged the Frenchman, "like this Don Pedro and his brother Don Enriquez, the great captain Du Guesclin, Sir John Chandos and his master the Prince of Aquitaine, and the old King of England—men like these would see no beauty in Your Holiness's garden, they would even trample it under foot, cut down your trees and tear up your shrubs, as the Free Companies are demolishing the orchards and trampling the corn throughout France."
"Yes, yes," said the Pope in agitation, still looking down at his violets, "I must get rid of these beasts. But, do not let us talk of it now. Look how exquisite all this is—what order, what grace, what beauty! Yonder are the vineyards. I have over a hundred different varieties of vines. Orange and citron grow very well here, and soon we shall have pomegranate and perhaps the pepper tree."
There was no menagerie in the Pope's garden. He disliked to see anything in captivity and loathed the smell of the raw meat on which the beasts must be fed. But there was a superb aviary where the birds were lightly restrained behind fine wires and flew, almost at large, through the fronds of delicate trees.
"This is not of the world, but apart from it," thought the Ambassador, and he remembered that at the Pope's very door were filth and poverty, misery and suffering; the streets of Avignon were narrow and filthy; diseased people perished miserably in broken, foul hovels—hungry, despairing.
The Pope, seemingly quite absorbed in his favourite subject, continued to talk of gardens, of Petrarca, of his terraces at Vaucluse and the hill where his friends would gather on an afternoon, quite exposed to the sun; they sheltered from it under the boughs of high trees... of the river passing the garden, always rapid and cool. And of the perpetual glory of sunrise and sunset, of moon and star-shine, and of the laurel trees (with their memories of Daphne and Apollo), which Petrarca had celebrated as half a wind and half a woman—l'aura.
He tenderly handled the buds on many delicate plants which seemed to throb with expanding sweetness.
The April clouds gathered like dense incense around the high Tower of the Angels which watched over the modest apartments of the Pope; large as a barrack for an Emperor's army the palaces of the Vicars of Christ stretched before the mean city.
"Why," asked the Pope, "do so many problems trouble our conscience and hearts? Are these fantastic and dark events which we concern ourselves with leading towards any definite goal? Or do we live in a time when all will soon be extinguished in a universal decadence?"
He spoke with philosophic calm, but his eyes were ardent.
"It would be quite easy," thought the Ambassador, "for him to become a hermit or a simple monk again, did he so long to be in solitude. But he is careful to remain Pope and he is really very interested in the affairs of Europe. After all these gardens cost fabulous sums which we poor devils have to provide."
The Pope listened in ecstasy to the cooing of turtledoves the colour of mother-o'-pearl, as they flew across the milky blue of the sky. The Ambassador, glancing over the garden which stretched as far as eye could see to the very banks of the river, said dryly:
"It is possible that even this may pass away and leave no trace behind."
"It is possible," replied Urban, "but in Rome I will plant some trees whose shade and perfume will spread all over Europe."
The Ambassador endeavoured to lead him back to the point of his interview. He did this the more eagerly as he felt himself being overcome by the drowsy, sweet atmosphere of the delicious pleasaunces. It was certainly difficult in this spot to concern oneself with hard, brutal matters of fact. But De Nolhac reminded himself sarcastically that he was not the Pope of Rome that he could permit himself the luxury of dreaming, that he had to act for his master, Charles of France, who had a great responsibility in the shape of a defeated and impoverished kingdom on his slim young shoulders.
The Ambassador began again to talk of the misdeeds of the Free Companies. These hideous hordes of armed men who were so formidable because among themselves their discipline was so rigid, they were so obedient and faithful to their own officers, were making deep wounds in the face of France.
"Think of this garden," said De Nolhac, "think of these woods, terraces and allées that Your Holiness has delighted to plant—consider what they would be after the Free Companies had passed through Avignon!"
A spasm contorted the ascetic face of the Pope. It was all very distasteful. With crude beasts one must use crude expedients. He was becoming weary of the Frenchman. He was finding his company tedious. He longed to get away to talk to his gardeners and his architects. There were some things best decided quickly.
"Very well," he conceded, "I will excommunicate Don Pedro of Castile, and I will pay half the ransom of this ruffian Du Guesclin on condition that he leads the Free Companies to support Don Enriquez, and perhaps, if this Prince Edward of Aquitaine takes up the quarrel, it will be a chance for your master to get the Provinces back."
The Pope smiled agreeably, patted the Ambassador on the shoulder and walked away. He knew that the Frenchman would be quite content to have this dismissal once he had gained his point.
De Nolhac returned to the large apartment in the deserted palace of the Pope. A scribe sat ready at a high desk with ink, reed and parchment. The Ambassador dictated a long letter couched in careful and ambiguous terms to the King of France.
The day was so sweet with the overpowering sense of Spring that the Frenchman was scarcely conscious of the walls. The room seemed, even as he sat dictating his dry, official letter (which was, however, so important), to be invaded by fields of cyclamen, of jonquils, of daffodils, of violets and primroses, strawberry blooms and apple-blossom—all of an individual fragrance, blending into an indescribable perfume of delight.
Through these enchanted beds of fragrance he could see the little figure of the Pope in his modest Benedictine habit, moving cautiously as if he did not wish to disturb the scented breath of the flowers, talking to his busy, silent gardeners, who had keen, close-gazing eyes and earth-stained hands.
He should not have been thinking of such trifles for he had completed a bold stroke of policy.
It would be impossible for Don Pedro, however audacious and insulting that bad King was, to affront the bolt of excommunication. All, except his most villainous supporters, would fall away from him. If he had the impudence to remain in Burgos he would be soon ousted by Bertrand du Guesclin and the terrible Free Companies.
The Ambassador wondered who was going to pay these mercenaries. Nothing had been said about that. The Pope had promised half the ransom of Du Guesclin, and that was an immense fortune. It would be as much as Charles V could do to find the other half.
If Don Enriquez could not pay or would not pay these ruffians, they must be kept quiet as long as possible with pillage, booty and promises... After all, it did not very much matter what happened to them in the end. It would be a good stroke of policy to get them out of France.
The Ambassador rubbed his thin hands together. Men like himself, the Pope and the young King of France were the real rulers of the world. They always got the better of men of violence, of passion and uncontrolled lusts, even the dreaded mercenaries were but their instruments. Du Guesclin himself would do their dirty work for them.
And as for that Edward of Aquitaine, whose head was full of romance and stupid tales of the past, who considered himself a King Arthur or a Charlemagne, King Horn, or a Sir Lancelot—he, too, this English paragon, was a mere man of action, exulting in and boasting of the deeds of his body. A good fighter, no doubt, but he might be beguiled (as easily as Pedro of Castile) into defeat and ruin... The English Prince held Aquitaine in feoff for his father, the conquering King of England. Charles de Valois had set his heart on winning it back.
The final ratifications of the Treaty of Bretigny had never been exchanged, and the young King of France was prepared at the right moment to deny the Treaty and summon the lost Provinces back to their allegiance.
"They would return, of course, very willingly," thought the Ambassador, for in Guienne, Gascony and Aquitaine they hated the foreigner forced on them by a disastrous war.
When the Ambassador had finished his letter and directed a knight and two squires to take it to Paris he went out again into the pleasaunces of Avignon.
In spite of the care of the gardeners a spider had contrived to spin a web between the heads of four heavy-budded pinks.
Faintly buzzing in these silken strands were two flies, gleaming metallic blue and bronze, like knights in finely-polished black armour. De Nolhac, observing them, named them Pedro of Castile and Edward of England. There was a pleasant look on his face. He enjoyed the spectacle of the vain struggles of the great, stupid, glittering insects.
The spider was far away, in a remote corner of the web. His attitude was one of complete indifference.
The Ambassador thought he had something of the look of Urban V in his plain monastic robe, or even of his young master, Charles de Valois in his humble student's garb, sitting demurely over his books, or in consultation with his astrologer.
Neither the old Pope nor the young King made any pomp or parade, but like the spider, they knew quite well how to spin exquisite webs.
The Ambassador passed on, murmuring a few verses of Petrarca as a courtly salutation to the extreme beauty of the scene. Indeed the gardens were marvellous.
The Frenchman felt soothed, almost happy.
In the distance he could see the Pope down on his knees in the finely-raked earth, peering with tender joy at the first blue blossoms of a plant which had never been known before to flower in Avignon.
BERTRAND DU GUESCLIN brought the Free Companies to Avignon to receive the blessing of His Holiness the Pope.
This, as the French leader pointed out, could not justly be withheld, for they were undertaking an expedition against an excommunicated King and might be termed Crusaders embarking on a Holy War.
The Papal Legate had in vain represented to Du Guesclin that this delay was quite unnecessary and it would be far better for him to advance straight into Aragon, where the young King was waiting to welcome him. But Du Guesclin had listened to nothing of this, instead he had swept his hordes up to the very gates of the Papal palace.
This famous captain, who had been a prisoner since the skirmish at Auray, had been delighted to obtain his liberty and flattered at the high price paid for him by the Pope and the King of France. He was perfectly ready to fight for them in any cause they chose to uphold. He had had no difficulty in gathering together the Free Companies.
All the noted mercenaries, except Hawkwood, had answered his summons. It was a huge command that Du Guesclin halted outside the walls of Avignon.
These Free Companies were the result of the long wars with France. Hard pressed for men the King of England had made contracts whereby various gentry of means agreed to furnish him with a certain number of men-at-arms at fixed pay for a definite period; when the peace came these same contractors were quite willing to sell the services of their highly efficient troops to anyone who cared to pay the price, even to the previous opponents, but when they found no bidders they lived by pillage. Their organization was of extraordinary efficiency. Various troops or regiments were under the command of noted captains like Sir Hugh Calverley, Sir Walter Felton and Sir Matthew Gourney.
They consisted of every type of fighting man—heavy cavalry, or knights who were attended by squires, sergeants and serving men, mounted on Spanish steeds (the only chargers capable of carrying a knight in complete armour and war equipment), and the light cavalry who wore sleeveless coats of chain mail and carried lances; there were also hobelars mounted on small cobs and equipped with heavy padded doublets, iron helmets and swords. The infantry was the best in the world—Welsh spearmen and archers, in simple tunics and mantles, armed only with an iron cap and carrying a spear, the famous English archers carried six-feet bows and iron arrows. All these were well fed, equipped, and their arms in the finest possible condition. Though they lived by rapine, robbery and murder they were completely obedient to their officers.
From the window of his palace Pope Urban V watched parties of the Free Companies foraging the country. Their encampment stretched for acres. Their defilements for miles. The Pope trembled with rage.
He sent a priest to Du Guesclin.
"Tell that villain that unless he goes on the march immediately I will not give him my blessing."
The priest softened the message which Du Guesclin received quite good-humouredly.
He said, however, that it was impossible for him to remove his troops at once. They must have rest and diversion and he wished to pass them under review.
"He would endeavour," he added, "to restrain the pillaging as much as possible. But," he pointed out, "as the mercenaries have not as yet received any pay they are forced to live on whatever country they chance to be passing through."
The French Ambassador, still nervously anxious for the success of his policy and the schemes of his master, ventured to urge upon His Holiness that he should ask the great Captain to supper.
With a grimace of distaste the Pope acquiesced.
"If may be an opportunity to urge him to depart immediately."
The Pope made such preparations as he believed would please a man of the world. One of the disused apartments of the palace was opened. The tapestries were brushed. A service of silver was set out on the great cup-board, the long table was polished and arrayed with clean linen. The cook, long used to preparing simple dishes for His Holiness, was bid put some extravagance into the supper. Wine was fetched from cellars where it had long lain in store.
Surrounded by priests the Pope received Du Guesclin surrounded by men-at-arms.
It was a June night of flaming blue, moonless, the stars sparkling with a thousand colours. The famous gardens were at their climax of loveliness.
"A nightingale should be singing," said the Pope, "but these ruffians have frightened away my birds."
He received Du Guesclin with subtle courtesy. Then forgot his prejudiced dislike of the man, in sheer curiosity.
To the elderly, refined, philosophic scholar the French soldier was indeed of extraordinary interest. He named him, when he gave him his ring to kiss, "an odd beast."
As Captain and man-at-arms Bertrand du Guesclin had no rival in the world, save possibly the two Edwards of England, and this some disputed.
He was an enormous man of a height and bulk that appeared supernatural. Stout as were his slightly bowed legs, the enormous sweep of his shoulders and the huge arch of his chest seemed to overweigh them. In comparison his head was small and compact. His hair was shaven close and his features were flat as those of a frog, the bridge of his nose seemed broken. His eyes were very far apart, clear and yellowish. His mouth appeared gashed from ear to ear. His lips were the same healthy pallor as his cheeks. His whole countenance was sprinkled with large freckles.
"A frog," thought the Pope, fascinated, "yes, it is indeed a frog of which his face reminds me. His body is that of an ogre."
The great Captain's monstrous person was set out with all the parade of war. He had taken off his steel cap with its coif of chain-rings. His huge arms and neck were covered with clean glinting steel. A circlet drawn tightly round his huge body was embroidered with his arms. A gigantic sword was fastened by stout leathern thongs to his hip, while over this hard and gleaming panoply was twisted a scarf of light gold gauze, not the gift of his wife in Brittany.
He looked at the Pope without ill-will and sat himself with an air of good-fellowship at the board.
The Pope asked him jestingly why he came fully armed to a peaceful meal?
"I became weak and lazy," answered Du Guesclin simply, "when I was in prison and now must train myself to bear my armour again. Unless one can become unconscious of it, it is felt an encumbrance. Perhaps," he added, "Your Holiness feels like that about your robes of office? That is why you always go simply attired?"
His yellow eyes sparkled with an expression which caused the Pope to think: "He is no beast after all, but a man of courage, capacity and intelligence. How can he put himself at the head of those murdering hordes and fight in a quarrel that's nothing to do with him?"
But aloud he asked curiously:
"Do you never weary of war, Sire du Guesclin?"
The soldier replied:
"'Tis my way of life. It's as natural for me to be a soldier as for you to be a priest. If there were no quarrels in the world there would be no sin and no reason for you to pray to God."
He took off his heavy steel gloves, gave them to his page and began to eat with vivacity.
The Pope crumbled up a portion of maize bread by his plate.
"Besides," added Du Guesclin, "I go to fight against the man whom Your Holiness has excommunicated. Also this Don Pedro is a false knight, a murderer and a villain."
"So, you make your distinctions?" remarked the Pope dryly. "I should have thought you had murderers and villains in your command."
"Maybe," replied the Captain cheerfully, "but those are not knights or gentlemen, merely the common soldiers who must have a little life now and then."
"I hope you will be able to leave Avignon tomorrow, Sire du Guesclin?"
The soldier shook his head.
"No, nor the day after. I must beg the indulgence of Your Holiness, I am expecting reinforcements. I hope that Sir John Hawkwood will join and other knights who have come from Prince Edward's Court at Bordeaux."
The Pope's eyes twinkled.
"The English Prince then is favouring this expedition?"
"Well, I suppose," replied Du Guesclin, with his mouth full of food, "that he wishes to keep on good terms with the King of France. He doesn't want troubles fermented in Aquitaine, which is a difficult enough place to rule anyhow, so he's willing to oblige King Charles by allowing some of his knights to ride with me."
"Appoint another rendezvous for them," said the Pope with some sternness. "I do not wish you to delay any longer in Avignon."
With his knife suspended above his meat, Du Guesclin paused thoughtfully. He could not see why he should oblige the Pope. It was no part of his business to oblige anyone. If he listened to this sort of complaint he would never be able to halt the Free Companies anywhere. He knew quite well they were regarded as a visitation from Hell. He considered that at the moment his men were behaving very well, that the Pope was narrow-minded and ungenerous.
Urban waited for his reply.
Du Guesclin suddenly plunged his knife again into his meat and began chewing.
"I cannot do it," he said cheerfully. "The men must remain."
There was a movement of frightened disgust among the priests and monks gathered round the Papal board, and Urban, who thought he had forgotten what anger was, felt a thrill of wrath in his cool veins.
"If you linger here after to-morrow you will go without my blessing," he announced.
"Oh," said Du Guesclin, thrusting more meat into his mouth, "we will never move without that, Holy Father."
The Pope's nostrils dilated and his thin lips quivered. The sight of the gross, massive, powerful, armed man sickened him with a sense of offence. He was sorry now that he had listened to De Nolhac's plan which did not seem after all very likely to prove of service to France.
He was about to answer with bitter dignity, when some of the Papal servants hurried into the room with but little ceremony. They left the door open behind them and the faint sounds of a tumult could be heard without.
The Pope rose in his place.
But Du Guesclin went on feeding. If he had stopped at every alarm he would have died of starvation long since.
The other knights also calmly continued with their food. They had absolute trust in the men of the Free Companies and feared nothing.
"I expect it is only the soldiers amusing themselves," nodded Du Guesclin to one of his companions, "probably the Welsh."
It was indeed the Welsh.
The stammering Papal servants on their knees announced that the spearmen had got into the Pope's gardens. They were very drunk and trampling all over the flower-beds and hurling their spears at the young saplings.
The Pope was terribly moved. He eyed the impassive Du Guesclin with fury.
"If you do not call off these blackguards," he cried, "'twill be my curse, not my blessing, that will go with you!"
The great Captain remained good-humoured.
"Hey, now there's a to-do over nothing!" he smiled. "'Tis but a bit of sport. Why, Holy Father, one would think that every man in Avignon had had his throat slit and every woman been ravished!"
And Urban replied fiercely:
"Sooner that than that my gardens were laid waste!"
At which the knights laughed uproariously.
Rebuked by that coarse mockery the Pope beat his breast in humble repentance.
"I was wrong to say that," he muttered, troubled.
"I was wrong."
He came down from his dais and paced about, greatly distressed.
Du Guesclin eyed him and, seeing him old, small, feeble and pitiful, rose up and left his meal unfinished.
The tumult had increased, and the gardeners, some of the servants and a few archers who formed the Pope's bodyguard were endeavouring to drive off the drunken intruders.
A fight was taking place in the rose-garden. The boughs laden with flowers at their prime had been snapped off right and left. The petals were trampled underfoot into the fine mould. A gardener's boy, with a Welsh spear between his shoulder, moaned and cried on the ground. The spearmen laughed, blasphemed and fought. There appeared to be hundreds of them in the blue gloom of the starlit night springing up from every parterre as if it were an illustration of the old legend when Cadmus sowed the dragon's teeth and armed men leapt up from every ridge of earth.
Attracted by the sound of brawling, several bowmen came up from the camp to help their companions. They broke through the Pope's orchard, tearing down boughs as they passed, treading underfoot the dropped, unripe fruit. They dragged the green peaches and the hard pink blossoms from the walls.
Some of them blundered into the vineyard and clawed at the long trails of grapes which, solid as stone, were beginning to form beneath the leaves.
So used were they to destruction they could not stay their hands.
They rioted across the Pope's gardens, shouting to their companions. Some said that their master, Du Guesclin, had been ambushed and attacked—what had begun in a frolic seemed likely to end in a bloody affray. There were whispers of treachery—of hidden Spanish or English troops. A drunken spearman tore the fine wired netting of the Papal aviary. The delicate birds fled frightened into the night.
Du Guesclin, a torch held either side of him, strode out on to the balcony.
Through his cupped hands he sent out a shout as loud as a trumpet, telling the men to cease their rioting, and return immediately to camp.
The English knights who had followed him from their unfinished meal grumbled at this:
"Why should not the men bemuse themselves? They had hardships enough to come."
"This garden," said Du Guesclin, "is like a box of toys to the old man. Besides, if we affront him he will never give us his blessing—and you know what that will mean to the soldiers."
"He would soon give us his blessing," scowled Sir Hugh Calverley, "if he had my knife at his throat."
But Bertrand du Guesclin went down into the garden and sent his squires and bachelors here and there to order the men back to the camp.
In half an hour the garden was quiet, but when the Captain returned to the guest-chamber the Pope had gone.
The knights shrugged their shoulders at this discourtesy, but finished their meal, talking and jesting among themselves. Then they too returned to the camp of the Free Companies in the meadows beyond Avignon, their flaring red torches leaving a trail of thick smoke like mourning banners behind them.
Sir Robert Knolles, riding beside Du Guesclin, complained of the mean and paltry behaviour of the Pope. They were foolish to accept his entertainment.
"What could we expect, except rebuke and discourtesy?"
"The old man behaved according to his habits and his age," replied Du Guesclin indifferently. "He is very willing to get the Companies out of France into Spain. For that no one can have any wonder."
"I hope," replied the English mercenary sullenly, "we shall have as good harbouring in Spain as we have in France. Who is to pay us? Much has been undertaken and little done. The money sent by the King of France is already distributed. For the rest, we have nothing but promises."
"This Don Enriquez will pay us," replied Du Guesclin, still indifferent.
"And if he does not?" grumbled the Englishman.
"Then," said Du Guesclin, "we may even take his whole country and hold it to ransom."
Knolles—and here he was supported by other knights who rode close to him—grumbled and lamented that Spain was a poor country and by no means to be compared with the riches of France.
Sir Hugh Calverley's harsh voice came suddenly out of the dark.
"We might easy sack Avignon, put to flight this Pope and his rascally Cardinals, and help ourselves to their treasure. Then the old man might have something more worth crying over than a few beds of flowers."
The English began to complain among themselves about the behaviour of the Pope. He had, they declared, always been against them. When, by a sheer feat of arms, they had captured villages, towns and even forts, the Pope and the priests had stirred up the inhabitants and lords against them. When they had made prisoners and had allowed these out on parole to collect their ransom, the Pope had freed them of their obligation. So the Companies had lost much justly-earned money.
The Pope had even gone so far as to cry up a sort of Crusade against the Companies, giving indulgences to any knight, burgher or citizen who would take arms against them.
He had paid the Marquis of Montserrat to bribe them into Lombardy to help him with his wars there. There had been promises of a lump sum of three score thousand florins and great wages, and an assoilment of pena et culpa, but when they had got into Lombardy all had proved false. They had had their stomachful of fighting, no wages and little plunder, and so had returned to France.
Sir Robert Knolles reminded them of another plan the crafty old Pope had made to lure the Companions into Hungary so that they might lose their lives for nothing, fighting the heathen.
"Now, when we have him and his Cardinals, nay the whole College of Rome at our mercy, he raises a cry and a lament for a few weeds trampled underfoot."
Bertrand du Guesclin smiled in the summer dark.
"Seeing how you have killed and wasted, stolen great treasure, raped and despoiled," he remarked dryly, "it is little wonder that the Pope and the King of France combined to ransom me to lead you out of the country."
"Men must live," replied the Englishman, "and some men prefer to live by war. One old withered man cannot set the laws by which the world wags. We have been treated with great discourtesy, after holding our hand in the most discreet manner, and I am minded to burn Avignon about his ears."
"Remember," said Du Guesclin, "that you go on a holy Crusade and that we require the Pope's blessing."
"And it does not seem," grumbled Sir Hugh Calverley, "that we will get it after to-night."
"But I will not depart without it," replied Du Guesclin. "I am not a mercenary, but a Frenchman fighting for his King—a Christian knight setting out against one who has been excommunicated. Am I to go like a rascal without a blessing? Nay, sir, you must leave Avignon alone, and I shall hang several of the Welsh spearmen and string them up in the Pope's garden that he may see them in the morning."
Sir John Knolles objected:
"But how can we know who were the men who were in this affray?"
Du Guesclin replied:
"We cannot know. We will make the men cast lots. You may be quite sure that all of them have done something that deserves death."
"Well," agreed the English knight, though somewhat sullenly, "perhaps it would be better to have the blessing than to pillage Avignon, though I regret I cannot get my fingers into the treasure the old fox has no doubt hidden in that great palace of his. And I hope that in Spain we may find better entertainment."
"The King of Aragon," said Du Guesclin, "has promised to put all he possesses at our disposal."
They reached the quarters of the Free Companies. Thirty thousand men were encamped along the banks of the Rhone with that order and discipline which made them so terrible a weapon in the hands of their expert leaders.
There were Gascons and Germans among the Companies, but by far the greater number were Englishmen.
As Du Guesclin dismounted at the door of his pavilion he asked shrewdly if the King of England were cognizant of this enterprise against Don Pedro?
"For 'tis a curious thing to me," said the Frenchman, "if King Edward should uphold a bastard against a rightful sovereign and favour one who is favoured by the Pope."
Sir Robert Knolles replied with a grin that several of the English knights had received letters from England commanding them to their allegiance, but had taken no more heed of the mandate than they had before, when King Edward had bid them leave France.
"Why should they listen to the King of England? They no longer hold property in his realm nor draw wages from him. They follow where their living and liking are. Why, sire, concern yourself about this? You have every noted freelance in Europe under your command."
But Du Guesclin was still not quite satisfied.
"Supposing," he said, standing at the door of his dark red silk pavilion, "your Prince in Aquitaine were to take up the cause of Don Pedro, how many of you would leave me to follow him?"
"Sir, a great many, no doubt, but I do not think it likely that this Edward will draw his sword in the quarrel of so base a villain as Don Pedro."
"It is true," said Du Guesclin, "that he has done all in his power to expedite my adventure, but I have personal friends of his in my command. Yet Sir John Chandos, who is closest of all in the Prince's regard and is his Constable, would not come."
He spoke regretfully, for not only was Sir John Chandos the most famous knight but he was a cautious diplomat. His refusal to join the expedition seemed to the Frenchman as if he saw through the schemes of the King of France and the Pope, which were not really to aid Don Pedro, but to be rid of the Free Companies and to secure the return of Aquitaine to the Crown of France.
Leaving the English knights, Du Guesclin went into his pavilion.
He was not pleased with the field he led. He knew the reputation of the Free Companies too well. He did not intend they should be utterly cursed by Christendom for destroying Avignon, and perhaps murdering the Pope and the Cardinals.
He at once dispatched a messenger—a priest with an escort—to the palace, imploring Urban V to give the Free Companies his blessing. Then they should pass out of France—Du Guesclin bid the priest emphasize these words—in twenty-four hours' time.
He then, with his careful deliberation, issued orders for the breaking of camp and instant departure from Avignon.
He regretted the absence of Sir John Chandos—a man after his own heart—the knight who had captured him in the skirmish at Auray, that little broil over the affair of the Duke of Brittany when Du Guesclin, obeying the secret orders of the King of France, had been fighting for De Montford against Charles of Blois.
The great Breton leader did not sleep that night. When, in the early hours of dawn, his last orders had been given he took out his map and traced his route.
There was only one way that he could go, with thirty thousand men who must live on plunder.
To Aragon—to Saragossa—up the Ebro in the direction of Logrono—then the great high road to Burgos and Valladolid.
It might be quicker across the barren uplands, but that way there would be no sustenance for the men.
Du Guesclin wondered how Don Pedro—firmly established at Burgos as he was—would meet the invader. Would he flee from Galicia? Would he affront the enemy, or appeal to the Prince in Aquitaine for help? This last Du Guesclin hoped he would not. For if the English Prince were to take the field he (Du Guesclin) would lose a large number of the Companions who would prefer to fight under their famous native Commander.
The Breton's frog-like face became thoughtful. He played with his rude map.
Yet, if the Prince in Aquitaine were lured into this adventure and took with him his men-at-arms and treasure, it might be that that fair Province would revolt and return to its true allegiance.
Du Guesclin yawned and stretched his huge limbs.
His pavilion stood on rising ground in a grove of olive trees, apart from the noise and defilements of the vast camp. He could hear the rustling of the young leaves and of the river blended into one melodious sound. A tender colourless light flowed through the flaps of the tent. Du Guesclin quenched the harsh glow of the lamp.
He strode to the entry of the pavilion, gratefully drawing in the cool, refreshing air.
The breaking light showed the low-arched bridge stretching across the Rhone—a graceful span, strong and light through which the enclosed waters hurried. Beyond the outline of the town were the towers of the Pope's palace, the high-walled façade concealed the great courtyard and princely apartments.
Beyond again, unprotected, the magnificent gardens which the mercenaries had half-ruined the previous night.
"It was foolish of the old man," thought Du Guesclin, "to press so far beyond his walls and ramparts. This is no century for a man to lay his treasures in the open."
The morning mists suddenly divided and with a lively sparkle the sun rose radiantly over the exquisite plains of Comtat.
The great Captain thought of the old man somewhere behind those palace walls.
He sympathized with him and felt a compassion towards him. Du Guesclin himself was moderate and temperate, robust in health but controlled in his appetites, frugal and modest in his life.
Something about the austerity of the Papal chambers had pleased him. He had felt the fragrance of the old man's saintly, austere, philosophic existence. He regretted that the gardens had been devastated. He hoped that the Pope would give his blessing without further dispute, so that he might take the Free Companies away from Avignon before there was further mischief.
In the pure light of the rising sun the huge soldier stretched himself, standing at the door of his dark red silk pavilion.
A sudden wind touched his light standard and blew it out above the olive trees.
Du Guesclin's noble figure and ugly face were edged with light. Three gold rings that he wore on his right hand sparkled in their centres with three gold stars from the rays of the sun.
As the day brightened, darts and flashes of light showed (in between the long lines of tents) on armed men and horses.
In the ruined Papal gardens Urban V walked in his monk's modest habit. Its rifled sweetness gave out a last piteous perfume.
Unripe fruit and shedding blossom were flung together on the trampled ground.
The Pope looked sadly right and left. All to be done over again.
Several dead men had been carried away during the night. Several wounded had crawled through the parterres and along the neat paths.
The Pope went to look for the rare Persian flower which had just come to the climax of its bloom. His steps were feeble and he blinked in the power of the rising sun.
Everywhere he gazed was a favourite tree or a cherished plant damaged in the senseless brawl.
The Persian bell-flower had been plucked up by the roots. It lay limp and withered beneath the slashed boughs of the oleander which had sheltered its delicate grace. Close beside was the gardener's boy, whose pride it had been to tend the Pope's choicest experiment. He had died defending this treasure. A Welsh spear was through his shoulder. The Pope was bitterly ashamed of himself because his first thought was for the plant. In his remorse he went on his knees beside the dead boy.
"How long, O Lord, how long?" murmured the old man as his chill fingers rested in blessing on the bloodless brow of the youth.
The boy had been struck on the head, knocked down like a savage beast. A gentle, studious lad who had tried to learn Latin that he might understand the names the Pope gave the flowers...
The old man raised his eyes. Another radiant day, cool, gracious, serene, was dawning. How the heavenly sweet weather was wasted! How the slow, gentle hours were made foolish by intrigues and quarrels and bloody deeds!
The Pope detached the crucifix from his breast and laid it on the bosom of the gardener's boy.
He rose stiffly from his knees and walked with bowed head and hands clasped behind his habit down towards the river. On the other side of the swift-flowing stream he could see the movement and glitter of the camp of the Free Companions.
He thought of Du Guesclin, the monstrous armed man, who was leading these hordes of beasts. Du Guesclin's eyes were not the eyes of a beast. The exquisite breeze, which seemed a fitting herald for a day of merriment and delight, blew across the ruined orchard and rosary.
The Pope, walking with bent head, suddenly looked high enough to see a man's feet dangling before his eyes. He recoiled in sick alarm and glanced up.
Three men, whom he knew to be Welsh spearmen, were hanging from the upper boughs of a stout tree on the confines of the orchard.
The Pope understood. This was the way Du Guesclin, the man of blood, made amends.
The Pope turned away, bitterly ashamed for all mankind and greatly humiliated in himself.
Punctual to the pre-arranged hour the Free Companies rode out of France. The Pope, with his Cardinals behind him, stood at a balcony window of his palace and blessed them as they went past.
"So," he said to himself, "these cut-throats go on their way with the benediction of the Vicar of Christ on earth!"
In perfect array and maintaining the strictest discipline the Free Companions rode and marched past the palace at Avignon. A column, so long that it appeared endless, crossed the bridge in orderly squads—colours and heralds, drums and trumpets, knights, bachelors, squires, foot soldiers, pennons and standards, baggage-mules and baggage-waggons—the steady methodical marching past, while the weary old man stood on the balcony continually raising his hand in blessing.
When the last of the camp followers had gone, leaving a cloud of dust blowing in the road, the day was nearly spent.
Urban V leant wearily against the framework of the narrow window.
"What a lot of trouble," he muttered, "these rascals give themselves to find the road to Hell!"
JEAN POMMIERS was angry when he saw the four wayfarers coming up through the vineyard.
"That is the worst," he said to his daughter, "of living so near the high road. We have always travellers coming here for food or shelter."
The girl paused with a basket of grapes in her hand.
The vintage was late. There was fear of the first frosts before the last grapes were gathered. The work had been continuous all day in the flat vineyards under the cloudless blue sky.
The four travellers made their way cautiously among the stripped vines and baskets of high-piled grapes.
Jean Pommiers regarded them suspiciously; his daughter stared curiously.
The foremost was a knight. A long robe, girdled over his chain armour, bore arms unknown to the Gascon farmer. His face was lean, sallow and melancholy. By his side walked a monk, and behind them came two esquires.
It was the monk who, in a French very well understood by Jean Pommiers, explained their business. The knight was a Castilian. He himself was a Benedictine from the Convent of St. Matthew-At-The-End-of-the-World. The others were bachelors. They had left four horses on the high road, with servants and baggage-mules.
The farmer interrupted:
"Do you think I can give shelter to a crowd like that?" he asked, "and in the middle of the vintage, with half the grapes not plucked and none of them pressed?"
The monk replied with perfect composure:
"We can discover no inn. Your Gascon roads are very ill-provided. We are prepared to pay."
The farmer looked at the dark, gloomy face of the knight. "Who is he and why doesn't he speak for himself?"
"He is a Castilian," replied the monk, "and knows very little French. Come, don't hesitate. We require hardly anything of you. We bring our own food. We only want water, bedding for the horses and, perhaps, some shed or barn for ourselves. The nights begin to grow chilly."
Still grumbling that he was losing precious daylight by this conversation Jean Pommiers told his daughter to take the strangers to the old stables beyond the vineyard, and to give them what they wished with as little trouble to herself as possible.
Staring, the girl rubbed her hands, sticky with red juice, on her faded blue frock, and walked slowly across the vineyard away from the high road and the farm buildings.
She was glad to cease her labours. The day had been long and hot. Her back and arms ached.
She told the monk in a low voice that her name was Margaret and that he must not be angry with her father if he spoke brusquely. It had been a bad year, the crops poor, the grapes slow in ripening, the taxes higher and higher.
"It is the fault of the English," she added sullenly, "they eat up everything. Perhaps, though, you are English."
"No," replied the monk. "This knight is Spanish, so are the two bachelors, and I have really forgotten what nationality I am."
The girl made the sign of the cross.
"So men may forget who have devoted their lives to God."
She showed them the stable. A portion of it was occupied by a litter of black pigs. The straw on the ground was stale and foul. But there was an expanse of waste ground in front where, without harm to any, they might encamp.
The squires sent orders to the servants to bring the horses and the baggage.
The knight asked how far it was to Bordeaux?
"Not above three or four leagues," replied the girl.
"We often see the English knights passing up and down the road."
"I suppose they are very magnificent?" said the monk.
"They live with a splendour you would hardly believe," returned the farmer's daughter bitterly.
"You have never seen anything like it. The whole of Gascony, Guienne and Aquitaine are made to support them."
The bachelors returned with the travellers' train—horses and mules were stabled—provisions unpacked—a fire lit and water brought.
The night was chilly. In the paling sky appeared the first small star and the bright orb of Hesperus. Margaret, the farmer's daughter, sat on the hard ground outside the circle of the camp and watched the strangers. She was very fatigued and glad of the excuse not to return to her father, who would make her labour until there was no longer any light in the sky.
The travellers made no secret of their business.
The monk told her that the knight was Juan de Castro. That he had come from King Pedro of Castile on an embassy to the Prince of Aquitaine. He said that Don Pedro had been cast from his throne by his base-born brother. That they had come to appeal to the English Prince to assist a distressed king to regain his own.
The girl knew nothing of all these things. She understood very little of what the monk said. But she was quick to see that if the English Prince and his forces left Aquitaine the conquered Provinces might be free of their alien master.
In the patois that only the monk could understand she declaimed fiercely against the exactions of the hated English.
The monk said to the knight in Castilian:
"Everywhere it is the same. This paragon Prince is detested. People find his arm long and his hand heavy. They consider this pattern of chivalry a rapacious bloodsucker."
"What does that matter to me?" replied Juan de Castro wearily.
"It will matter a good deal, sire, to the success of your mission. This Prince only holds his government by a large armed force. Is he likely to take that out of the country on a fantastic notion of chivalry?"
Juan de Castro replied:
"From what I can hear of him he is. Neither his pride nor his courage will allow him to refuse the appeal of a king in distress."
"You forget," smiled the monk grimly, "that your master Don Pedro has many ugly crimes at his charge and he is besides excommunicate by the Pope, who has blessed the Free Companies who go to help Don Enriquez."
"That was merely to get them out of France," replied Juan de Castro, with an air of disgust.
"What does it matter to me whether this English Prince lose Aquitaine or not as long as he helps my master to regain Castile from the bastard? As to what these people say, what does that matter either? How can peasants judge a knight—?"
"Any more," added the monk sarcastically, "than the swine can judge the man who drags him out to have his throat cut. In both cases a little prejudice, eh?"
The farmer's daughter became disinterested in this long-continued conversation carried on in a language she did not understand.
She rose, stiff with fatigue. But she was good-natured and went off slowly to fetch clean straw and fresh bread for the travellers.
These had made themselves as comfortable as possible and would have been well at ease if it had not been for the companionship of the pigs who grunted, squealed, and gave off a horrible odour.
Juan de Castro took off his armour, rolled his cloak into a pillow and stretched himself on the ground beside the stable door.
The monk had thrown off his hood. His face, clean-shaven and spare-fleshed, at once ascetic and shrewd, was outlined against the darkening sky.
The bachelors and servants were already asleep. The songs, half-fatigued, half-triumphant, of the vintage gatherers sounded in the distance.
It was one of those peaceful evening hours that lighten what otherwise would be the intolerable fatigue, sordid miseries, laborious intrigues and hot cruelties of the day. Not only did the approaching night breathe peace and quiet, but there seemed something in that serene atmosphere which rendered trivial and even useless all the activities of mankind.
The monk turned to the recumbent knight.
"Why do you follow Don Pedro," he asked, "and take so much trouble to serve him? You yourself are honest as men go."
The Castilian knight replied gravely:
"I do not know. Maybe I serve my interests, maybe my loyalty. It is true I am faithful to one who has no faith—deal honourably with one who has no honour. But, at least, Don Pedro is the legitimate King of Castile. And he was betrayed, and foully, by the Chamberlain."
He raised himself on his elbow and added with meaning:
"But who are you? First you call yourself a hermit and then a monk from the Convent of St. Matthew-At-The-End-of-the-Earth. You know a great deal. Really, too much. Sometimes I think you are not a Christian. Sometimes, too, I think that Maria de Padilla was right, when she recognized in you the magician who came to Seville with the King of Granada."
Nunreddin replied impassively:
"I have been very likely all the things that you accuse me of. What does it matter?"
Juan de Castro smiled.
"Why do you, who are so wise, attach yourself to this Don Pedro whom you must despise?"
"My answer comes readily. He has been useful to me. I have had some pleasant quiet months in Burgos and made many interesting experiments."
"And one of them on Don Pedro, I think," smiled the knight sourly. "Have you not been striving to see how far human credulity could go with your miracles and amulets and prophecies?"
"I was well paid," said Nunreddin, "and gave good value for my wages. You cannot disprove anything I have said."
"You are not a Christian," insisted Juan de Castro.
"But as good a Christian as I have ever met," replied Nunreddin.
The Castilian knight sank back on his rude pillow.
"Well, it none of it matters. If you are a heathen, you will be damned for it, not I. Why did you come with us on this expedition," he asked lazily, "since you were enjoying yourself so well in Burgos?"
"I knew the place would be intolerable when the Free Companies came there. Besides, I was really quite attached to Don Pedro and felt it my duty to accompany him in his flight. And, for a third reason," smiled Nunreddin, looking in an amiable fashion at the Castilian, "I wished to see this English Prince—this paragon—this peerless knight—this Christian ideal of all that a man should be—a Charlemagne, an Arthur, a Caesar, an Alexander!"
"He is all that," said Juan de Castro, who suspected no sarcasm in the Oriental's words. "And you will see him quite soon. Also Sir John Chandos, his Constable, and Sir Thomas Felton, his Seneschal... Yes," continued the Castilian dreamily, "I would like to serve such an one—the noble, unconquerable hero, the mighty leader, the loyal friend, the pattern of manhood, grace and chivalry—"
"The oppressor of the poor," muttered Nunreddin.
"A luxurious, fast, easy liver. A wanton, extravagant man of sensual pleasures. Cruel, haughty, vain and obstinate. Do such heroes as he people your Christians' Paradise?"
But Juan de Castro did not hear him. Nunreddin had spoken almost under his breath and the Castilian was drowsing into sleep.
Offended by the odour of the swine and the horses in the stables, by the cries, moans and tossings of the sleeping, flea-bitten men, Nunreddin wandered away from the little encampment to the borders of the vineyard where the day's labours had at last ceased.
The perfume of the grapes that had fallen and been trampled underfoot in the hasty pluckings, permeated the chilliness of the cold blue night.
The white cat, with tail erect and purring softly, hurried over the hard earth and rubbed itself against the Oriental's dirty, ragged robe.
He picked up the soft beast and pressed it to his bosom; never had he found a human being so wholly to his taste, the cat neither intrigued, nor lied, nor repented of her sins, her love was frank and impetuous, her hate fierce and swift. The despoiled vines, waving in withered, crackling garlands from the poles, the heavy bunches of ungathered grapes, were one dusky colour in the clear hard light.
Some of the peasants, exhausted by toil, had fallen down and were heavily asleep on the bare earth. Their rags, the colour of clay, fluttered on their breast as, even in their sleep, their breath came hard with weariness.
From their labours and the labours of their like, from the patient toil of human being and horse and mule, came the gold which was spent with so lavish a magnificence at Bordeaux and Bayonne—the superb courts, gorgeous tourneys and a glittering costly array that held the world in amazement.
"What fools men are," thought the Oriental, walking between the vines, "to toil thus for another's benefit! It is true that when, driven desperate by ill-treatment, they revolt and are butchered, but, if they knew their own value and had someone to lead them, they would make all these pompous princes look very stupid."
Nunreddin felt a disgust for the West, a nostalgia for the East. He longed again for Egypt, Persia, Arabia, Mesopotamia.
Here the people were crude, childish and knew nothing. In the East only were great secrets to be learned and wise men to talk with. He would return to the East, but first he would see the English Paragon.
He lay down in a corner of the vineyard, festooned with untouched grapes which came between him and the starlight.
The white cat slept on a corner of his robe.
The night was so still that, even apart as he was from the others, he could hear their painful, eager breathing, as if they snatched greedily, these overspent toilers, at their few hours of repose.
The white cat slept in a different manner, without hurry or alarm. How much more preferable was her luxurious lot to that of the peasants!
By dawn the cavalcade was on its way again, by noon they had reached the gates of Bordeaux, where the English Prince, Duke of Aquitaine, lodged in the Abbey of St. Andrew. He kept such state as to be disdainful of surprise or alarm, and the Castilian knight, with the monk as interpreter, was admitted without difficulty into the Abbey.
Everything was most splendid. Never in the days of his highest pomp had Don Pedro lived with such grandeur. Nothing that the mind of man could devise or contrive for costliness of show, was missing from the appointments of the Duke of Aquitaine.
The English knights received the Castilian very courteously, they gave him and his retinue rest and refreshment, while Don Pedro's letter was sent in to the Prince.
Don Juan de Castro and Nunreddin (who passed without question for a learned Benedictine) were shown into a large apartment; the deep square beams of the ceiling were painted with bright colours, on heavy cup-boards of carved wood were set out gold and silver plate, ivory bottles, and crystal flagons, pots, basins, porringers and ladles; there was a winged shrine thrown open on to a bright picture of the Crucifixion. On the hood of the fireplace, which reached to the ceiling, were deep-cut the badges of the Prince, the three straight ostrich feathers, each an emblem of Justice, Truth and Honour, with his two mottoes—"Houmont" and "I serve."
After but a brief delay the Castilian was summoned into the presence of the Prince. Nunreddin followed him, coolly curious to see the most famous man in the world.
This inner chamber was even more sumptuous than the outer; the walls and ceiling were entirely covered with gold leaf and paint of a bright scarlet and a vivid blue. The hangings at windows and doors were of a curious heavy silk, of an interchanged weaving of red and gold, which were scattered with the Leopard of England and the Lily of France. Between the two tall windows was a triptych heavily framed in enamel and jewels.
A Persian carpet was on the floor. A few logs of orange-wood sprinkled with aromatic herbs burnt slowly on the hearth and gave out a drowsy perfume. Beside the hearth was a high narrow seat, on the back were pinnacles of carving that reached nearly to the ceiling.
In front of this was a table with a long white silk cloth on which stood a ewer, a basin and a glass.
Seated in this chair, with a letter in his hand, was Edward of Woodstock, Knight of the Blue Garter, Earl of Chester, Prince of Wales and Duke of Aquitaine, whose knightly renown shone brighter than that of any man since the days of the fabled heroes about whom he loved to read.
To the right of him stood a knight who was only second in fame to himself, his Constable, Sir John Chandos, Vicomte de St. Sauveur. To his left was his Seneschal, Sir Thomas Felton.
Juan de Castro fell on his knees and began ceremonious greetings from his master.
The Prince could not understand the Castilian. He turned again to the letter Nunreddin had written for Pedro in French.
He told Sir John Chandos to raise the Castilian and looked himself quickly at Nunreddin. He had a great respect for men of all religious orders.
The Oriental bent his head gravely. He was quite ready with his credentials, for which the Prince asked in Latin.
Edward seemed satisfied with Nunreddin's answers.
He bowed seriously and turned again to the letter.
The two messengers had ample leisure in which to indulge their curiosity as to the great hero's person. For 'Chandos and Felton stood erect and silent like two sentinels and took no heed of the newcomers, while the Prince thoughtfully kept his eyes on the letter—not so much reading as considering the contents.
The Prince was in the prime of life and of great build and stature, without being as monstrous as was Du Guesclin. For there was a fineness in all his limbs, his hands and feet were long and elegant.
His features showed him to be of the renowned House of Plantagenet, a true descendant of Fulk of Anjou. There was something in the contour of that famous face which reminded Nunreddin of a lion he had seen in the menagerie of the King of Granada—here were the same rounded, blunt contours, the flat cheeks, the short nose, the prominent chin and the upright carriage of the neck, so impressive and dignified; the tawny colouring of the Prince's short sleek hair and clear complexion, the same dark, bold look helped the likeness to the noble animal. His naturally fair skin was deeply tanned. His lips were beautifully shaped, his fargazing eyes had also that gold or tawny look. They were wide apart under serene, level brows and had a grand look, but one was disfigured by a drooping lid and a cast (that blemish which no Plantagenet wholly escaped, and which was supposed to be a heritage from some bargain Fulk of Anjou had made with the Devil), "Satan's squint" as the enemies of this great House named this hereditary defect.
The Prince wore a robe of yellow silk brocade that reached the ground and was girdled at the waist. His long sleeves touched his feet. His stiff collar came up to his ears, and round his head was twisted a violet silk coif with scalloped edges. Across his broad chest glittered the colour of the Blue Garter of St. George and several chains of rubies and sapphires. His tight inner velvet sleeves wrinkled almost to his fingers, which were rendered nearly useless by the quantity of heavy rings he wore. The ends of his shoes were turned up and fastened round his ankle. In his belt was a dagger—more as an excuse, as it seemed for a further display of jewellery, than for any practical reason.
He carried himself well, with both grace and dignity, yet something of his natural quickness and elegance were lost because of the extremely fashionable but unbecoming awkward richness of his attire.
Nunreddin glanced from the master to his two favourite friends.
Sir Thomas Felton was dark and heavy and dressed in a style too foppish for his sombre personality.
Sir John Chandos, now old, was very plainly attired and had something beautiful both in his face and his person.
The Prince asked Juan de Castro if he could speak French, and the knight replied that he had a little knowledge of the Court language, but none of the patois which the peasants spoke.
"But the monk, sire, is very learned. He knows seventeen languages."
"You and I," smiled Edward, "must contrive to manage with one." He added with what seemed a rising excitement, "Your master asks me to help him. You know his affairs, I doubt not?"
"I am, I believe," replied the Castilian, "the only faithful friend my master has left. He was forced to fly from Burgos as, more than a year ago, he was forced to fly from Seville. He took merchant ship from Corunna and made a difficult way by sea."
"What has he with him?" asked the Prince.
"A retinue of a few faithful knights and, God be thanked, a vast amount of treasure. Also his two young daughters—Constancia and Ysabella."
But Juan de Castro did not add that Don Pedro was also accompanied by Donna Maria de Padilla—the accursed woman who was the cause of all his misfortunes.
"Why did he not gather some forces at Burgos," asked Prince Edward, "and make a stand for his rights, instead of flying?"
"Sire, Bertrand du Guesclin and the Free Companies are marching on Burgos—thirty thousand strong. Don Enriquez, the cursed bastard, was in Seville with a mighty force. Du Guesclin had the insolence to send to my master and ask for a free passage for his troops, saying they were pilgrims on the way to Saragossa. The Companies were healthy and lusty and had been gorged with plunder and entertained by the King of Aragon, who is an enemy of my master."
"It seems to me," smiled Prince Edward, "that your master has nothing but enemies. The Pope has excommunicated him."
"The Pope," replied the Castilian, cunningly endeavouring to hit the English Prince in a tender spot, "is a pensioner of the King of France and does his will. They wish to get the Free Companies out of their country into Spain."
But the Prince did not jump at this bait. He replied:
"I have no wish to do a displeasure to the King of France. My royal father himself has commanded the Free Companies to depart. And the Pope had other reasons—he had, sir, many and bitter complaints against your master."
At which De Castro replied hastily:
"The King bade me remind you, sire, that there was a Treaty of Alliance between you and he a few years ago, and in the name of that he appeals to you for your help. I gave him that advice," added the Castilian proudly. "I said, 'Sire, give heed to me. Send straightway to the Prince of Aquitaine—a man so chivalrous and hardy and so strong in knights and men-at-arms that God alone can put him down. If you find him ready to help you, you will have Spain again in your hands before a year is over.'"
Nunreddin glanced shrewdly and covertly at the Englishman to see how he would take this bold flattery.
He seemed to receive it as no more than his due.
"Don Pedro asks a good deal," he said with dignity.
"It is true that I have been idle too long and should be very well pleased to embark on an adventure of arms. But there are reasons of state to be considered. I would have to consult my parliament here in Bayonne, and my father at Westminster."
"No one, sire," replied the Castilian, "can fail to commend your prudence, but in the meanwhile it is a pity that Bertrand du Guesclin will get the name of the best knight in the world and have the honour of conquering Castile and making a bastard King. And this by the aid of many Englishmen who would follow Your Highness if you but lifted your finger."
Nunreddin marked how the Prince's tawny eyes smouldered beneath the heavy lids, but he maintained his impressive calm which appeared good-humoured but inflexible.
"You do well to speak boldly for your master," he replied, "but I have many interests to consult and many reflections to make before I give you my answer. Meanwhile you and your retinue will not lack entertainment."
He held out his hand and De Castro kissed it, feeling on his lips the hard coldness of the jewelled rings.
The Castilian was not wholly dissatisfied with the impression he had made on the Prince.
Followed by Nunreddin, who gladly would have stayed to study this great hero, De Castro left the royal apartments.
As soon as they had gone, Edward turned with far more animation than he had allowed himself in the presence of the strangers to his two close friends.
"My lords, this is great news!" he exclaimed.
"Hear it again and, while I read, consider in your own hearts."
He then read carefully, word for word, the letter from Don Pedro, penned at Corunna in the misery and alarm of a hasty flight.
Folding up the letter, the Prince exclaimed:
"Sir John and Sir Thomas, you are my principal advisers in whom I have the greatest trust and confidence, tell me what I should do in this business?"
The two Englishmen exchanged a glance in silence.
On the noble face of Chandos was a shade of doubt and sorrow.
"Sirs," urged the Prince impatiently, "say boldly whatever you think." He rose and added impetuously: "You know how irksome to me has been this life in Aquitaine! How ill-fitted I am for this dull routine work of an administrator! And how I long again for a life of action."
It was at Chandos that he looked as he spoke and Chandos who replied; no man was dearer or nearer to the Prince's heart.
"We know that, sire. I think of the danger of your leaving Aquitaine and drawing off your force. I know, sire, the misery these people felt at leaving France and how they long to return to the allegiance of King Charles. They submit to us but they hate us."
"We keep the Provinces by force," said Felton, "a force that must not be relaxed for a moment. The frontier fortresses are still more French than English."
"You take it too heavily, Sir John," replied the Prince, not pleased at this counsel. "What does it matter to me if the people do hate us so long as they pay their taxes and obey my laws?"
"But the moment your back is turned," replied Chandos sadly, "they will cease to do either, sire."
"We are hated," agreed the Prince, "that is natural; conquered people will detest those who have overborne them. But," he added with superb self-assurance, "they are also afraid of us and no one will dare to raise a hand at my administration, whatever I undertake or wherever I go."
Both Chandos and Felton thought differently. They knew well enough that the English had done nothing to ingratiate themselves in the Provinces torn from France. The Prince's administration was careless and inefficient. The French people were suspicious that they could never obtain any justice under his rule, for his favourites and his relations filled all offices.
Around Bordeaux and in the vine-growing districts the situation was made even more tense and difficult, by commercial rivalries and jealousies between the French and the English.
Most important of all, to shrewd, astute and experienced men like Chandos and Felton, there was a huge deficit in the reyenue, and it was quite impossible for the Prince's magnificent extravagance to brook any manner of retrenchment.
Of all things he could not afford that most costly luxury—a war.
There were two other heavy drawbacks to interfering in the Castilian faction. The loyalty of the great feudal lords of Aquitaine was strongly suspected to lie towards the King of France, and the Free Companions, whose assistance was almost essential in any European warfare, and these were already engaged on the other side.
"Sire," broke out Chandos, "who is this Don Pedro? A man stained with many crimes, excommunicate by the Pope, against whom the hands of all Christians should be set."
"But he is an ancient ally of my father's," said Edward moodily, "and the other man is a bastard and has no right to take the kingdom as if it were his by legal inheritance. That, sirs, is a bad precedent."
He recalled, and the two Englishmen knew that he recalled, the fall of his grandfather.
"It is bad policy," he insisted, "to allow a disputed succession to a Crown. This Don Pedro, villain as he may be, is the legal King of Castile. He is in distress and he has appealed to me. At least, my lords, allow him to come to Bordeaux and plead his cause in person."
"Let him come," said Chandos sadly, "and he will be but a trouble and a burden, a cause for dispute, when we have dispute already. Sire, there is enough to give a man work to do day and night in Aquitaine, without embarking on another's bottomless quarrel."
The Prince turned on his old friend and cried out in a tone of reproach:
"Chandos! Chandos! I've known the time when you would have given me other advice, whether the cause was right or wrong!"
Chandos bent his head before this rebuke. He was a more far-seeing man than his master and one who did not so greatly crave for adventure and fame. Though in his youth he had been known only for his extravagant exploits of chivalry and glory, yet in his age he had become wise and shrewd—a man who could foretell and cast events. He was weary in Aquitaine. He would have liked the war to be renewed between England and France, or to have returned to England, but, for the honour of King Edward, the conquered provinces must be held and administered. How this could be done and the fantastical war for Castile undertaken as well, Chandos could not see.
"Our most crying need is money," he remarked.
"How, sire, will you get the money for this expedition if indeed you choose to undertake it?"
"Don Pedro brings treasure with him," replied the Prince, who was always impatient of even the mere mention of expense, for he had been used all his life to have whatever he wanted and never to count the cost.
Debts had encompassed and involved him since he was a youth. Bailiffs had sweated continuously to extort his heavy revenues from his rich estates, and his English tenantry cursed him as deeply for his extortions as did his subjects in Aquitaine.
Glorious as was his name and far-spreading as was his reputation, he was only loved by those who came into direct contact with his personality. To his friends, foolishly generous, indulgent and yielding, yet he had never done anything to make himself beloved or respected by those who did not come within reach of his voice, his look, his elegant and gallant person.
"Send me," he said to Chandos, putting a hand firmly on that knight's shoulder, "the monk who came with the Castilian. I wish to question him about a few matters. The Castilian will lie loyally for his master's sake, but the monk has a strange unworldly face. I believe he will tell me the truth."
So it came about that evening that Nunreddin, who the night before had been lodged with the sweating labourers sighing for weariness even in their sleep among the vines, was received by the Prince of Wales in his private apartment in the Abbey of St. Andrew.
It was after supper. Two minstrels sat in the window. Their instruments lay silent about their knees. Above their heads hung a sleeping singing-bird in a silver cage.
As Nunreddin entered noiselessly, his hands wrapped in his sleeves, he perceived Prince Edward half-reclining on a couch at the far end of the chamber.
He was without his formal splendour of the daytime. He looked taller and more manly in the plain white garment girdled round the waist, his tawny hair uncovered. As Nunreddin entered the Prince dismissed the musicians.
Nunreddin was alone with the formidable hero. The Oriental knew that if he were discovered to be a heathen masquerading as a Christian he was likely to receive swift and terrible punishment.
Prince Edward was a deeply religious man. He never missed his Masses and prayers, nor stinted in his lavish gifts to the Church, nor hesitated to undertake tedious and costly pilgrimages.
But the Oriental was not afraid of detection. He was wiser, more cunning and better educated than any men whom he met in Europe. He knew all the trick symbols and passwords with which Christians deceived each other.
He had shaved his silver beard and hair. The dark yellowish-brown of his complexion passed very well for a southern skin tanned by exposure.
"I have heard of you," said the Prince. "You are the monk who has been in the confidence of Don Pedro since he fled from Seville last autumn?"
Nunreddin bowed his head without replying. His attitude was respectful without being servile.
The Englishman studied him closely. He added in a tone touched with awe:
"I have even heard that you can prophesy and work miracles."
"Sire," replied Nunreddin, "I have some skill in abstruse sciences, and by these means am able sometimes to perform what seem miracles to the ignorant."
"Where did you acquire this learning?"
"Sire, I have wandered all over the known world. I have penetrated into the secrets of the philosophers, the learnings of the schoolmen. I know the teachings of the Assyrian, Turkish, and the Arabian philosophers."
Prince Edward crossed himself.
"But that is contrary to the will of God," he said sternly.
The Oriental did not reply, but stood serenely, though not meekly, with his arms folded.
Edward spoke again. His manner was less severe, even hesitating.
"Perhaps you have even endeavoured to discover the Philosopher's Stone or the Elixir of Life?"
"Sire," replied the Oriental, "the most curious and investigating of men must keep their lips sealed on some of these incredible secrets, until the time comes when it is the will of God to reveal all—the power of the elements, of the metals, of the principles of nature and of the intellect of humanity."
Edward frowned. He seemed slightly uneasy.
"How did you, a Christian monk, come to attach yourself to a man like Don Pedro of Castile?" he asked. "You know that he is excommunicate. How can a monk continue to pray for such a man?"
"How can a knight fight for such a man?" asked the Oriental. "Yet I think you, sire, do intend to fight for him."
"Do you think so, monk?" asked the Englishman, haughtily. "And why?"
"Because you are a man of action who has found it very irksome to live as ruler of a murmuring province. The government of peoples is as nothing to you. You wish to command thousands of armed men and to win battles. You were born and trained to do that. Sire, you do not greatly care whether you fight for an excommunicated cut-throat or not, as long as you have an opportunity to display to the world your resplendent prowess."
Prince Edward was half-startled out of his habitual and magnificent self-absorption. Never had anyone—not even Sir John Chandos—spoken to him so plainly. But he was above taking offence from a monk.
"What else is there in life for a knight," he replied, "but war and adventure? Clerks and lawyers, bailiffs and priests can govern. Tell me of Don Pedro. It was for that I asked you here. Is he, as some say, a madman?"
"He is more dangerous than a madman. He is not only sane, but able and cunning. He is ruthless, false and cruel. He was about to make an alliance with the usurping King of Granada, Abu-Sa'ad. Yet, tempted by the jewels he and his retinue wore, he had them, as guests, murdered in their apartments."
"They were heathens," remarked Prince Edward.
"Yes, sire, they were heathens. But many Christians have also been murdered by this Don Pedro. He has outraged and defiled professors and churches of his own faith. There is no good in him—a beast, with the cunning of a man. Will the English pattern of honour champion such?"
"It is strange for you," said the Englishman, "to persuade me against your master."
"I do not count him my master, sire. I am indifferent to him, to Don Enriquez, yourself, to all the rulers of mankind. I speak of what I see and know."
"Don Pedro has no friend, it seems to me, save myself. The King of France, the Pope, the King of Aragon, Bertrand du Guesclin, the Free Companions—all against him! It would be an excellent adventure to assist an oppressed King."
"Don Enriquez," said Nunreddin, "is a great honourable knight and much beloved by the Castilians. No one regrets Don Pedro."
Prince Edward raised his head suddenly, the droop in his lid seemed accentuated and the pronounced cast in his eye gave a sinister expression to a face otherwise noble and grand.
"If I took up this cause," he said, "it would not be for the sake of Don Pedro but for the sake of a principle. He is the legitimate King, the other but a bastard and a usurper."
The Oriental gave his faint smile.
"No doubt, sire, you are clever enough to do that. An adroit politician can always give his personal desires the air of a principle."
"You talk like a wise man," smiled Edward, suddenly rising to the full of his splendid height. "Give me your advice."
"It will be disregarded, sire. Yet, it takes no prophet to tell you that if you leave Aquitaine with all your armed force to help this scoundrel regain his throne, you will commit, not only an unworthy, but a foolish action. You will probably lose the French Provinces to England. Aquitaine will certainly revolt in your absence."
"And if it does," replied the Englishman, "I will conquer it again when I return."
Nunreddin looked at him very curiously.
"You are quite fearless, are you not, sire? You have never been set down or humiliated, or bent any manner of bow you could not spring."
Prince Edward did not think this worth answering.
He smiled, interested to hear what this strange creature would say next.
But Nunreddin merely added:
"'Tis true, I am something of a prophet, but I am also wise enough to keep my prophecies to myself."
Prince Edward paced up and down the room.
He had a soft padding tread, and the grace of a noble beast in the light swing of his carriage.
"We live in such base, degenerate times," he lamented. "These modern days are full of sordid dullness." His quick, sidelong glances seemed to despise the splendours by which he was surrounded.
"Everything is in decay. Chivalry is not what it was, nor knighthood, nor feats of arms. To know the pride of honour and adventure one must read the old books of past times. To gain any satisfaction one must lose oneself in a world of fancy."
"Have you never, sire," asked Nunreddin, "never felt in your moments of great triumph or resounding victory, complete happiness?"
Edward paused to stare at him moodily.
"Once perhaps, at Crécy," he answered half-sullenly, "and then I was but sixteen years old and that's twenty years ago. The world seems quite different now. Yes, there I won my spurs and proved myself a worthy Plantagenet, it was a good moment. I recall that once I was hurled to the ground and my standard-bearer, Richard de Beaumont, covered me with the great banner of Wales. I have known no such pleasure since."
"Yet the battle was senseless," said Nunreddin, "and the war a blunder."
"I cared not for that," replied Prince Edward musingly; then, as if he suddenly realized the import of what the Oriental said, he added fiercely:
"My father was in the right. England was in the right."
"How many archers and bowmen were slain at Crécy?" asked Nunreddin. "When the Genoese hesitated, being much fatigued, the French (who employed them) turned and rode them down with great slaughter. How many horses died, maddened with fright and the stings of arrows?"
"What does any of that matter?" replied Edward impatiently. "We lost only forty knights."
"No, it does not matter," agreed Nunreddin, "the poorer sorts only exist to fight and toil for great lords, knights and princes like yourself, sire. The animals only exist to toil and suffer for the benefit of mankind. So ordained an all-merciful God."
Prince Edward heard no sarcasm in these words. He continued to move about the room, his white robe flowing open as he walked and revealing the strength of his limbs.
Nunreddin peered forward and stared steadily up at that leonine face, which was pale in its proper complexion under the tan.
"Why are you uneasy, why not wholly satisfied, sire?" he asked. "Have you not everything that the world can offer—fame, wealth, power, a beautiful wife, a fair son, a loving father, valiant brothers, troops of noble friends, an admiring mother, armed men ready to press round your standard and, most valuable of all, a complacent God Who asks nothing but the few prayers and gifts which you can so easily bestow?"
The Prince paused in his movement and stared down at the speaker. His beautifully-shaped lips were certainly pale, the flat-cheeked generously-modelled face with the noble impressive lines had a look as if it had been suddenly chilled. Yet Nunreddin observed on the forehead beneath the heavy fringe of tawny hair small beads of sweat.
"How do you know I am uneasy and dissatisfied?" he asked in a thick voice.
"Sire, if you would tell me your trouble, I might assist you. I am a physician."
"A physician!" exclaimed the Prince. "What has a physician to do with me? Certainly," he added thoughtfully, "I had just now a spasm of pain, like the prick of an arrowhead in my side. But 'tis nothing, only once in weeks does it come. A physician! I have no need of a physician, monk."
Nunreddin did not speak.
The Prince's face assumed an expression of pride beyond vanity or haughtiness.
"I am the strongest man in the world—do you hear, monk? I have never met my equal at feats of arms, at the six-foot lance or the broadsword. Since I was a boy I have been accustomed to wear heavy armour. Nobody can ride in complete mail longer than I. I can endure fatigue or privation as well as any I have ever met. So much health and strength has God given me."
"Rejoice in it, boast of it, while you can, sire," replied the Oriental. "The days pass swiftly and the nights are brief."
Prince Edward looked at him without any faltering in his stare of serene pride.
"You speak of old age, monk. Before that comes to me I shall be dead in battle. Begone! You shall be well entertained. Before the month is over you shall know my decision with regard to your master."
As Nunreddin left the room, Prince Edward raised the curtain which led to an inner apartment. He was sorry he had wasted so much time on this monk, who had fascinated him with his lean, brown look, his impassive eyes and his slow careful utterance.
The Prince approached a bed, where the leopards woven in gold thread sparkled in the lamplight.
There lay Jeannette, his wife, her bodice of ermine unlaced on white silk, the pearl buckles of her girdle unfastened and flung aside, her yellow hair carefully combed into a gold net, her skirts of the most costly shot silk trailed over the edge of the bed to the floor.
Jeannette was two years older than her husband. Though he still appeared in the prime of youth she seemed a woman whose chief beauty was already overpast.
She had always been very clever in obtaining what she wanted, but her successes had not seemed so brilliant to her as they did to others. She was of the blood-royal of England, amorous, idle, selfish and extravagant beyond bounds.
Already her fair face, which had been acclaimed as the most beautiful in England, was marked with the petulant lines of one whose every desire has been gratified and who remains unsatisfied.
"What was this long tedious talk, Edward?" she asked pettishly.
"I had a mind to speak to the man, sweetheart. They say he has much learning."
"He would embroil you," protested the Princess impatiently, raising herself on her elbow, "in this Castilian expedition."
"Nay," smiled Edward, "he told me nothing but what was ill of his master, Don Pedro."
Jeannette looked relieved. She wished to keep her husband beside her. She was afraid, too, of the coffers. Though she was as spendthrift as her husband, she had not his indifference to money itself. It was his way to command things for her and expect obedience, regardless of what it might cost. But the Princess worried where the money was coming from and was always fearful lest her extravagances would have to be curbed.
"Do not help this Don Pedro," she insisted, "we cannot afford it. Every month the revenues grow less and the people complain more. Chandos and Felton continually come to me, grumbling about our household expenses. They say those bills for the tournament at Bayonne were beyond measure extravagant. Certainly none of them are paid yet."
"If I choose to undertake the expedition," replied Edward, who was always impatient when his wife talked of finance (this was a subject on which he did not listen with much relish to anyone), "Aquitaine must find the money."
"But why should you go? There is everything against it. The man is excommunicate, discredited. Every reputable knight in Europe has taken service with his rival. We cannot afford it and everyone is unwilling to have another war."
Edward took her little hand and stroked it. She had wooed and won him when she was another man's widow. Without her deliberate arts he had never looked her way. Yet he had loved her entirely since their marriage, nor had he allowed so much as a glance to stray to another woman. She wondered at this fidelity. It seemed to her to have a kind of stupidity in it, because she knew that it was she who had entangled him, and that he had not sought her out with impatient passion. This was, to her, the flaw in their happiness. But he knew of none. She was his wife, his cousin, his love, Jeannette, his lady, the mother of a noble little prince who would one day be King of England.
He looked at her with such tenderness that she thought he was going to ask some favour. She was careful never to show temper before him. To disguise her rising annoyance she smiled, studying him from under delicately painted lashes.
He was splendid to look at, the strong magnificent man with the white collar open on his massive throat and chest, his tawny hair, that in some places was darkened almost to a red colour, framing the blunt leonine face.
Jeannette loved him, but because he was the eldest son of the King of England, the most famous knight in the world, a man whom all other men envied and whom all other women admired, and perhaps hated because their lords were his inferiors.
She could not have made a more splendid match nor married a man who had given her so lavishly all her selfish, greedy soul desired.
But even as she gazed at him now, so wholly hers, so subservient to her in love and tenderness, there was that little prick of fear at her heart.
She was older than he, she was losing her youth and she knew she had never had anything but her beauty.
"The Fair Maid of Kent," people had called her, and with that fairness she had purchased the world's most splendid trophies and prizes. And if she lost that, by what could she hold him?
She turned her eyes away and her terrors deepened, for she thought he was gazing at her, marking the paint on her face and the wrinkles it hid. How could she hold him—the strong, powerful, sensual man, whose life before he met her had been one round of pleasure, of easy, wanton gaiety?
If he went to Spain! Her mind travelled over all the possibilities of the long journey far from her... this Don Pedro had two young daughters—brought up by that witch-woman, Maria de Padilla, witches themselves for all she knew, potent with charms and spells.
"Do not assist the King of Castile, Edward," she pleaded. "There is everything against it."
He tenderly pulled up the down pillows behind her head. There was more good in him than her shallow nature could judge. She might have been reassured. He would always be faithful to his wife. He would never deny anything to the mother of his little Edward. But this Jeannette would never understand.
She would always remember how easily she had ensnared him and dreaded that another woman would achieve the same success.
She exclaimed petulantly:
"How can you even consider going, Edward? Everyone is against it. Every circumstance and every reason are against it."
"All but one, Jeannette," he replied good-humouredly.
"And what is that?"
"That is, my own desire. Supposing, despite everyone and all these circumstances, Jeannette, opinions and reasons, I wish to go?"
THE new loaves had just come from the oven, and the smell of warm bread filled the small, dark shop.
Raynold the baker opened the upper shutter of his door and pushed out his puffy face, powdered with flour, peering into the street. He had been standing for hours over his brick fireplace and was glad of a breath of the frosty wintry air.
The heavy signs of the other shops in the narrow street—the smith, the perfumer, the haberdasher—sullenly clattered in a sharp wet east wind.
The cobbled street was empty, for it was yet early in the day. A thin layer of frost covered the foul water of the gutter running down the middle of the narrow way.
Raynold the baker leant heavily on the lower portion of his door and thought vaguely how monotonous was life. He heard occasionally of great deeds and exciting events in the outer world, but none of those came his way.
Even the war, so lately over, had seemed to make little difference to him, for ever since he could remember there had been scarcity and high taxes. It had had no effect on his daily life, though one brother had been slain at Crécy and another at Poictiers.
He had still continued to bake bread in his dark underground cellar, mixing the leaven with the flour, watching the loaves rise, standing by the steadily-glowing wood and charcoal, so grateful in winter and of such a suffocating heat in summer.
Nothing of interest seemed to pass down this narrow street, though it was so near the palace of the King.
Now and then an archer or man-at-arms came home, but he would seem to know very little about the war or when and where he had fought. Even when the soldiers were wounded they seemed inarticulate about the causes of their disasters.
The baker had heard his father talk of the days when there had been a Court in Paris and one could see, for a diversion, the lords and ladies riding past, or being carried in litters. And sometimes a tourney at which the poor folk might obtain admission, standing patiently for hours behind a rope to catch a glimpse of the silks and satins, the glittering steel and the gleaming horses. But that was all of the good old days—a thing of the past. The last King had been for years a prisoner in London and the country had been bled to pay his ransom. Now he was dead in captivity and there was this quiet young man on the throne whom few saw and who had none of the qualities which go to make a knight. Always there was scarcity, sometimes approaching famine. Always there were taxes to be paid, and Raynold the baker was too tired to complain.
Philippe Braye, the baker's lodger, looked down from his leaded window above the sign of the great painted loaf cut out of wood. He saw the baker, his hair white with flour, leaning over the half-door below, and he sighed. He too found life monotonous. The world seemed very stale and weary. Every day the same tedious round.
Eking a poor living as a scribe, satisfying oneself with bread and salads and water, sometimes a little acid wine, sometimes a few dreams when one was not so tired as to fall asleep immediately work was finished... what sort of life was this for a man? Every possible joy and pleasure, every possible opportunity, seemed to have been eaten up by that bestial, mad war. And now the peace had come everyone was exhausted.
France had opened the veins of her own life-blood to pay for her defence against the wanton attack by the King of England and to raise the enormous ransom demanded for the last King John of Valois. After all for no purpose, for he had died in captivity, and his son was a weakling.
Philippe Braye reflected bitterly on these things. There seemed no place, he thought, in the world for a man like himself, who detested war and cruelty, bloodshed and rapine, and was of no use at any feat-of-arms.
He had pitiful recollections of when he was a small boy and had a pleasant home near the sea by the great town of Calais. When the English landed they had burnt that little house and slaughtered everyone, save himself and an old swineherd, who had contrived to flee with his frightened charge and, ever keeping a little ahead of the advancing army, had come to Paris.
The child had been brought up at the Convent of Franciscans where they kept the old herdsman till he died.
But Philippe Braye had no wish to be a monk—that life was as distasteful to him as that of a soldier.
He had found employment with the Benedictines who were far more learned than the poor Franciscans and who had given him some sort of a liberal education.
He had attended lectures and studies at the Sorbonne and had heard many odds and ends of philosophies which had merely unsettled his soul.
He believed that he would find satisfaction in some sort of art, in carving statues like those round the porch of the great Cathedral, or in painting pictures like those on the altars which, precious as jewels, were locked up in their decorated cases save when the Mass was being said.
But he lacked skill and patrons. Everyone was absorbed in war or the results of war. No one cared about the arts. Materials too were costly and it was seldom that he could squeeze enough from the money he earned, laboriously copying monotonous documents for the doctors of law, to buy a few colours and a sheet of parchment from the apothecary at the end of the street who was cunning in mixing earth and oils.
Philippe Braye sighed. The east wind lifted the light hair on his pale forehead.
That breath of heaven, pure even over the foulness of the city, afflicted him with an almost unendurable nostalgia. Pleasantly came the smell of the new bread.
Philippe Braye felt hungry. The baker was good-natured and would give him a portion of new loaf, even when he owed his rent and had no sou in his wallet.
But he was tired too, for he had sat up far into the night by the light of his poor lamp, labouring at his neat rows of square black letters, adorned with curls and stiff flourishes, which his reed pen, dipped in black paint, had carefully formed on the legal parchment.
Therefore he continued to lean out of the window above the sign of the painted loaf.
A man in a long murray-coloured robe trimmed with shabby fur, a flat cap of worn velvet pulled over his brows, was coming down the street.
Philippe Braye surveyed him with curiosity. He knew everyone who lived near by, and this was a stranger. The young scholar felt an instant sympathy towards him. He had a grave and learned aspect. And he was delighted when this stranger paused (he seemed to smell the new loaves) and stopped to speak to the baker. Philippe Braye descended into the shop.
The baker had opened the lower portion of his door and the stranger had entered and was asking for a slice of new bread.
"It is cold," he said, in an agreeable voice, "and the glow from your furnace is pleasant." Seeing Philippe Braye enter he smiled and greeted him courteously.
The baker served them both with a large manchet of new bread.
High in the upper air, a few faint beams of light pierced the wintry clouds and fell with a pale glow down the narrow street into the dark shop.
"An early and a severe winter, I fear, messire," said the baker, standing respectfully before the stranger whom he guessed to be a man of quality.
"Yes," sighed the other, "there is no lack of misfortune in France. But we must have patience, my good fellow, and hope for better times."
"I have heard that said ever since I can remember," replied the baker. "Whether I have patience or not it seems to make very little difference. I must continue to bake my loaves and to try to sell them to collect my money and pay my taxes."
"Perhaps this winter," said the stranger, "we shall get the English out of France."
Neither the young scholar nor the tradesman appeared very interested in this. The new-comer, who was full of his subject, continued with animation:
"The English Prince, this paragon, Duke of Aquitaine, as he calls himself, has actually been persuaded to help put that rascal Don Pedro back on the throne of Castile and has declared that this very winter he will lead a force across the Pyrenees."
"I do not see," said the baker, "that that will make very much difference to us."
"It will make a great difference to you, my poor fellow, if we can get the English out of the country. It is certain that as soon as the Englishman's back is turned Aquitaine will revolt."
"Cross the Pyrenees in winter?" said Philippe Braye. "That seems the act of a madman, but then these soldiers all seem to be mad."
"They pursue glory," smiled the stranger.
"But Don Pedro is a blackguard, a cut-throat," said the scholar, "and excommunicate by His Holiness. Wherefore should this knight, who is considered the pattern of chivalry and called the English Paragon, assist him?"
"He pursues glory," replied the stranger again with a deepening smile. He looked shrewdly at the young clerk and said: "Perhaps you, sir, also pursue glory, but in a different manner? You look as if you had been sitting up all night, or at least till very late. Perhaps you are writing a book, a poem, a romance, or a philosophical treatise?"
Philippe Braye blushed and shook his head, nervously pulling at the slice of new bread.
"Nay, sir, nothing of the kind. I am but a miserable scribe and have been copying for a livelihood some wretched law documents."
The stranger looked round at the poor smoky house, to the ladder of steps to the upper story, and at the great shabbiness of the clerk's attire. He asked him if he wrote a fair hand and, maybe, knew how to decorate a book with pictures and borders?
Philippe Braye replied that he had learnt something of this but could find no employment.
"Maybe," remarked the stranger, "I can do you some service in that direction. It is curious," he added, "that I should have met you. I also had an ill night. My name is Peter of Blois. I am in charge of the clerks who work for the King. They are writing in painted books at the palace, and one of them has fallen ill with a disease in his leg which gives him no rest, so that he cannot work, and another has been overcast in his sight through too much application to his study and there has been some trouble to finish the book which was to be put before His Majesty to-morrow. So I have much to think of," he added with a smile. "Fetch me down your work and let me see if I may give you some employment."
Philippe Braye ran up the ladder eagerly and into the small room where lay his humble couch and where stood his humble table. He carried down some sheets of the law vellum and, trembling with excitement, showed them to Peter of Blois, who was still eating his new bread.
The scholar took the work to the window. The mournful sunlight was hidden by the high wintry clouds.
The lettering was neat, the flourishes exact, and Philippe Braye had put in a sheet of drawings which he had done for love in his short leisure when he was not too weary. It showed the Virgin in a robe of ultramarine blue, seated on a hill of Paradise, planted with little trees which were like those that Philippe thought he could remember on the farm near Calais which had been burnt by the English when he was a child. In the background was a sea of a paler blue, much, he believed, as he could recall of that beyond the great walled town before the English landed. Beside it, a palace of pinkish coloured stone with a standard above it, and a company of angels coming out white-robed, with violet cloaks, bordered and studded with brown, which would have been gold if Philippe Braye could have afforded that precious metal.
He stood trembling with eagerness while the great man examined his work. He believed that if nothing came of this chance he would hardly be able to endure the grey chill day...
Raynold the baker began to pile up his loaves on the wooden trestle. He too was rather excited. He thought that if the clerk got some better employment he would be able to pay him, perhaps, a higher rent.
"The work is good," said Peter of Blois gravely, "come with me at once to the palace."
Philippe Braye had no preparation to make. He was too agitated to finish his slice of new bread. But Peter of Blois had leisurely consumed all his portion. He laid a piece of white money on the board, and the two men passed out into the street, which now began to fill with people, apprentices opening the shutters of the shops and women going to and fro the chandlers and mongers.
Philippe Braye had often seen the palace and never taken much interest in it, for it seemed to him to belong to another world.
Now he was actually passing the sentries wearing the Valois colours who paced up and down and across the bleak neglected gardens where the ground was layed with frost and the bare trees hung forlorn boughs against the grey sky.
"All is ruined," said Peter of Blois sadly. "But if we can get the English out of France we will build it up again. Yes, we will once more see fountains and courtyards, statues and parterres of flowers."
Philippe Braye thought, "But the present King is not likely to accomplish this, he is but a weakling," and a sense of the great misfortune of his country overcast with sadness the joy he had felt at his own good luck.
They entered the palace which bore no signs whatever of magnificence.
A few worn hangings were on the walls. The floors were bare and cold. The furniture simple, as if it came from a poor monastery. Everything of value had been sold to pay the ransom of King John.
"The King," said Peter of Blois, "has no luxuries save his books."
The young clerk was trembling with expectation, nervous as to what he might be asked to do—supposing he was set some trial task too difficult for his skill?... Supposing that in this splendid opportunity he was to fail?
They entered a room that was very light even on this dull winter day. The walls had been lime-washed and the tall windows were unglazed.
Four men with rolled-back sleeves and tired eyes were sitting at a long bench-like table. At either end of this were upright desks with sloping fronts.
Philippe Braye's eyes glittered at the sight of the fine brushes, pens and pans of pigment, at the sheets of parchment and the shells of gold-leaf, at the fine knives for cutting, and the fine needles and threads for sewing.
Early as it was all these men were intent upon their work.
One was copying on the margin of a page of vellum before him a dead bee which, yesterday, had blundered out of some hiding-place and died on the frozen earth of the palace garden.
On a stool by the window sat a young man turning over the leaves of a volume already bound.
Philippe Braye was attracted to him for he had a remarkable appearance.
He was of slight build, and humbly attired in a plain robe of grey wool with a collar of lambskin which came up to his ears; a plain silver chain from which depended a medal hung on his breast. It was his face that arrested the instant attention of Philippe Braye—a peculiar, long, smooth countenance, a straight nose that overhung full lips curved into a perpetual smile. His eyes were half-closed, dark and slanting. His complexion very clear. His hands, as he turned over the leaves of the book, were white and as fine as those of a dainty woman. He was bareheaded and his dark hair hung in thin ringlets on to his collar. This personage had an extraordinary air of still dignity. The smile in his lips and eyes did not appear anything temporary but as if it was an integral part of the whole peculiar countenance.
"Your Majesty," said Peter of Blois, making a reverence.
Philippe Braye's knees trembled beneath him for he was in the presence of Charles of Valois, whom he had so often spoken of with contempt, and whom he had heard gossiped over with disdain, as a weakling, no knight, and no fit Prince for a country in the desperate state of France.
"Sire," added Peter of Blois, "by an odd chance I found this young clerk who can write a seemly hand and has some talent for painting. As we are short of two I have brought him to make a trial of his skill."
Without speaking or changing his smiling aspect Charles of Valois waved his hand towards the table.
"You can take your place without ceremony," said Peter of Blois, "and work as if His Princely Grace were not present—that is how he likes it. For the moment you will mix colours and prepare the parchment. Presently, I will give you further instructions.
The young clerk took the place assigned him. He was still trembling with awe at being in the presence of the King of France.
Yes, one might say what one would, but there was something at once peculiar and sacred about this Valois. He was different from all others, though he was attired with an almost ostentatious meanness and in his proper person insignificant...
A young man seated beside him gave Philippe Braye whispered instructions as to the pigments he was to mix in the little saucers and the constituency they were to be...
The King and Peter of Blois spoke together in undertones in the window-place.
Philippe Braye could not catch what they said.
Presently, the King rose. No one took any notice. They continued their work. They had long since been instructed to ignore the presence of Charles of Valois in the painting- and writing-room.
To Philippe Braye's trembling confusion the young King paused by his stool.
"What part of France do you come from, my son?"
This manner of address did not seem absurd from the grave young Prince who was no older than the clerk.
Philippe Braye stammered, blushed and would have risen and thrown himself on his knees, but Peter of Blois stayed him:
"Nay, remain where you are and answer His Princely Grace."
Philippe Braye then related what he could remember of his childhood.
"The English," said the young Valois, "ay, always the English. You are like me," he added, with a deepening of his peculiar smile, which had in it nothing gay or joyous, "you cannot remember a time when this country was not devastated and laid waste with fire and rapine by the King of England. But perhaps you, like myself, will live to see the time when all France has returned to one Sceptre again."
He paused and his half-closed eyes sent a drowsy glance round the young men diligently labouring at the book-making.
"Then perhaps, when we have got rid of these savage beasts from among us, we may begin to build and plant and have a fair library with pictures, furniture and hangings like our fathers used. What do you think of that, my son? Tell me your mind."
Stammering with embarrassment and hardly knowing what he said, Philippe Braye replied:
"How may this be got without fighting, sire?"
"Let us leave fighting to brutes," replied the young King. "Men must gain their ends by other means. What have you heard of me?" he added gently.
"Nay, do not stammer and blush so, my son, it is good to hear what my people think of me."
But Philippe Braye could not tell him to his face how he had heard him cried down as weakling, no knight, fool and even coward, one who shut himself up with his clerks and painters, and with Thomas of Pisa, his astrologer, and did nothing to help his land, now almost bleeding to death. Nor could he tell him it was said that the English Prince in Aquitaine treated him as a creature of no account and despised him too much even to mention him.
But the young King read his thoughts in his shamefaced silence.
"You have heard nothing good about me," he answered placidly. "It is said that I do not seek glory, that I do not know how to lead a battle of men-at-arms on the field of honour. It is quite true. Yet, without bloodshed, I hope to free France. When you go abroad again, my son, and hear contempt of me, tell them that the King has told you that."
"Sire," muttered Philippe Braye. "Sire, we must all have patience."
"We must all accept contempt and monotony," said the King. He made the sign of the Cross on his narrow chest. "Some men are born to destroy, some men to organize and administer. All may ruin a country in a few weeks, my son, and it may take centuries to build it up again." He paused again and then added, in his slow, sweet voice: "Do you love beauty, music and painting, and carvings in stone and marble?"
"Yes, sire," said Philippe Braye eagerly, "I would gladly give my life to these things."
"You are wise." Charles of Valois laid his hand on the arm of Peter of Blois. "I believe that in the service of beauty, and not in feats of arms, one may buy oneself a little place in Paradise."
He left the room with his dreamy look and his meek dignity, and Philippe Braye thought then that he had spoken with a man greater than a mere adventuring soldier like the English Prince in Aquitaine.
Charles of Valois went into his own small, private chamber where Thomas of Pisa worked.
The King felt happier than he had felt for months, for the news from Aquitaine was very good.
Prince Edward of England had summoned the Council of the conquered French Provinces, and they had opposed the Spanish war. Again and again he had appealed to them, but always their advice had been against the costly and perilous adventure.
But the Prince had become more obstinately set on his own desires and finally had published a manifesto in which he had said "that he was perfectly acquainted with the faults of Don Pedro, but he did not think it either decent or proper that a bastard should possess a kingdom. Therefore he intended to help him to the best of his power to recover Castile."
Don Pedro himself had arrived at the Abbey of St. Andrew and King Charles had learnt of that from his trusty spies; there were many knights and not a few lords in Aquitaine who seemed subservient to Prince Edward but were really faithful to King Charles and sent him careful information as to the proceedings in the conquered Provinces; Don Pedro had been extravagant in his promises.
The old King of England had sent from Westminster to say that he would support his son in his championship of King Pedro. He gave as his excuse his desire to protect a legitimate monarch against the usurper. But King Charles knew that the old warrior in London wished to have a hand in any quarrel where he might again have a cast of fortune with France.
Sir John Chandos had gone to the Basques to try to induce some of the Companies who had enlisted for Don Enriquez to return to the Prince, and in King Charles' last advices it was said that twelve thousand of these had agreed to return to Aquitaine.
Another English Prince, the Duke of Aquitaine's younger brother, John, Duke of Lancaster, had been sent from Westminster with six hundred men.
"All this will cost money," said Charles of Valois, "a great deal of money, and Prince Edward is in financial difficulties already." He smiled from one to another of his two strangely-chosen counsellors, the Italian who called himself an astrologer, and the Frenchman who appeared to be no more than a scholarly clerk. But both, beneath their air of simplicity, were acute, subtle men.
"Sire," said Thomas of Pisa, "the money you raised to help towards the ransom of Bertrand du Guesclin was well worth the effort."
"Will the King of Navarre open the passes across the Pyrenees?" mused Charles. "Whether he does or not, I think Prince Edward will find a difficulty in taking twenty thousand men over those mountains in mid-winter, for mid-winter it will be before his preparations are ready."
"Sire, the love of glory will inspire a man to do strange things," smiled Peter of Blois. "He is swollen up with pride and presumption with the vain promises of Don Pedro, who swears that he has brought many waggon-loads of gold and jewels, and that he will be responsible for the pay of the troops."
"But, meanwhile," said Charles of Valois, softly, "I have had advices from Bordeaux that the Prince has been forced to melt down some of his plate to obtain the money to give an earnest to the troops. He has called up all the fighting men of the Provinces and never reflected that he must keep and pay them all."
The young man was silent for a space and so out of respect were his two counsellors.
His lids lifted, showing their droop to be but an assumed trick, and his eyes sparkled brightly. He glanced across the room and out through the narrow window.
He could see nothing but a monotonous prospect of grey sky over Paris and the bare trees. But, with his mind, he beheld much more than this.
He saw the English Prince undertaking a foolhardy expedition, passing out of the French Provinces with all the flower of his chivalry, leaving them ready for the signal for revolt which he, Charles of Valois, would immediately give.
Though he was outwardly at peace with England, Charles did not see any treachery in this move. A beaten man himself he had a right to any subterfuge. Besides, the Treaty of Bretigny had never been ratified and Charles had been only waiting for the right moment to point this out to the Court at Westminster.
"My good Peter," said the King at last, his face flushed with the intensity of his vision, "how that great gross man despises me because I am small and weak and cannot wear armour, or manage a horse, or make men obey me in a battle! I believe he never mentions me without contempt, but now we shall see—we shall see! The Pope is very hopeful," he added. "He says the whole countryside has put on new life now that the Free Companions have gone. Pray God, Peter, and you, Ambrose, pray the good, just and merciful God to send His angels to destroy these violent, bloody, murdering men!"
The young King had never seen a country that had not been devastated by war. He had always known France scarred across and across with the track of a burning, pillaging and destroying army.
Fair village after fair village, beautiful town after beautiful town had been sacked and given to the flames by the implacable Plantagenet Prince; at Carcassone the inhabitants had offered a quarter of a million of gold crowns as a ransom for their lovely city...
The English Prince had refused even to listen to their appeal and the town had been razed to the ground.
Narbonne had shared this hideous fate. All Provence had been beneath the heel of the English. The Pope himself had shivered in Avignon.
All this to ruin the rich provinces from whom the King of France drew much of his revenue, to terrorize the Valois into kneeling and setting his crown at the feet of the Plantagenet.
Such expeditions and such deeds as these had made up the sum of King Charles' youth. Famine and drought he could remember too. The bitter frost which lasted from December to March. Revolt, starvation, misery.
But from his father, King John, Charles of Valois had heard of another France before it had been subjected to the systematic ravaging of the English. Then, his father had told him, France had been very rich with plenty. Barns full of wheat, and houses full of all manner of good plenishings, vessels of gold and silver, many wealthy burgesses and contented labourers, carts and waggons, horses, sheep, and the finest oxen in the world.
But the English had come and taken at their will all that they wanted.
And what was the cause of this most fearful war, which had caused the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives—men, women, children, infants at the breast?
Nothing but an unwarrantable claim on the part of Edward Plantagenet to the throne of France.
By the Salic law which he invoked, Charles of Navarre had a better right. There was nothing in it but nonsense of the clerks and the heralds trumping up a paper claim.
"I will not dismember France," said Charles of Valois, nervously rubbing his thin hands together.
"God and the Pope helping me, I will recover Aquitaine. Pray for me, Peter—pray for me, Thomas! Entreat God not to let me see how difficult it all is, lest I should lose heart."
Philippe Braye worked steadily through the long grey day. The other clerks were kind and encouraging. All of them, like himself, had come from homes which had been ruined by the English and had many horrible tales of the countryside laid waste by war and pestilence.
They felt themselves safe, these gentle, quiet souls, like birds in a tree in the light chamber of the neglected, poverty-stricken palace. In painting their flowers and insects, their pictures of saints and angels, they forgot the world about them.
For the first time in many months Philippe Braye had work so light, that he had leisure to dream.
The King was poor, the country was poor. The enemy were triumphantly insolent and insulting. But, maybe, there might come a time when France would be united again, great and even resplendent. There might be a long space in which it would be possible to paint pictures and write poems and build exquisite churches.
Peter of Blois approved the young man's work. The King had liked his drawings, though pointing out the lack of skill and experience in the detail. Philippe Braye might stay and work for the King and be paid a wage far higher than he had been earning as a copyist of legal documents.
The young man went home elated in the evening, through the dark Paris streets.
A little snow was falling and the shopkeepers were putting up their shutters. The signs creaked and swung in a rising wind. The ice was firm over the runnel of water in the gutter. Icicles were forming on the canopies of the shrines at the street corners, and the small lamps placed there in honour of the Virgin or a Saint, flickered and were blown out by the cold gusts of wind.
Philippe Braye was happy. He had found his vocation. Already his mind was planning design after design, picture after picture, complicated foliated borders, magnificent initial letters, and patterns in the precious gold-leaf which must be used so sparingly.
His face flayed by the cold, his hands thrust into his thin sleeves, but excited with his success, he turned into the dark, smoky little house of the baker.
It was late and Raynold was already mixing the flour and the leaven for the morrow's baking.
He tried to be sympathetic but was too oppressed by toil to feel much pleasure in anything. What difference did any of this make to him? Even if the young man was able to pay him a few white pieces more, it would all go in taxes.
"So you saw the King?" he remarked. "A poor weakling, they say he can't wear armour or guide a horse. God help us! this is not the manner of man we want in this pass."
"I think he is subtle and clever," said Philippe Braye. "Sometimes such are of more use in the world than great lusty beasts like this Prince of Aquitaine."
The baker shook his head mournfully. He did not believe that anything was any use in this period of the world's story save brute force and plenty of that...
"We want armed men and powerful horses, swords, spears, cannon and bombards." He sighed; what did any of it matter? He was getting an old man, he would certainly be dead before France was free of the English.
It was far more important to see that his dough was baked properly, so that his customers did not complain.
Philippe Braye went upstairs to his dirty little room, cast himself on his knees and timidly thanked God for his good fortune.
It was cold and he could not afford a fire. But he did not wish to follow his usual practice of sitting near the baker's furnace. To-night he wished to be alone with gorgeous thoughts of the future, so he drew round him his old coat, bed coverlets and, huddling into them, fell into delicious drowsy dreams.
Below, Raynold the baker went on steadily with his monotonous toil.
As another winter dawn broke over Paris, again the smell of new loaves filled the dirty street.
TWO little boys loitered about Westminster steps hoping to catch a glimpse of the King.
London was grim with winter. The wan sky seemed to press over the towers and roofs. The wide river had a sullen, heavy look.
Several times the pacing archers and men-at-arms had driven the boys off, but Wat and Williken had returned again and again with the steady persistence of childish curiosity. The men ceased to notice them or became weary of driving them away. They paced about to keep themselves warm and smote their great, chapped, red hands together, hunched up their shoulders and grumbled together at the long peace. They wished they had been chosen for the expedition that was to go to Spain, under the King's son, Prince John of Lancaster... The boys were cold too, but hardy, and did not much heed the chilly air and the grey light nor the deep, gloomy flow of the wide river beneath the steps.
They played, up and down the grey steps, little quarrelling games. Now and then they pried with quick curiosity up at the windows of the pale stone palace, with the Standard of England floating above, and beyond the church whose fine pinnacle seemed to pierce the low thick clouds.
They did not see the King or any of the young Princes or a great knight in armour, but presently they saw through the great gate a lady walking from the palace towards the river, followed by two women. She came heavily, for she was old and stout. Her straight, thick robes increased her bulk. She paused now and then to gather breath. Because of something uncommon and majestic about this lady the little boys stopped their play and looked at her, their lips parted.
The wind blew harder up the river from the sea. The archers, standing together, said "there would be snow, but likely it would not lie long." The clouds were breaking in a tinge of saffron round the afternoon sun.
The lady saw the two boys the other side of the gate and approached them. She had a very round smooth face framed in a plain white coif. Her eyes were blue, candid and still unwrinkled. Her complexion was a clear pink and white. The linen of the coif lay in even folds beneath her chin. Everything about her was precise and neat. There was nothing splendid or magnificent.
"Little boys," she said, "oh, little boys, what a cold day for you to be sitting on the steps above the river!"
They stood side by side stiff and shy, looking at the lady.
She beckoned to one of the attendant women to bid men-at-arms open the gate and let the little children in.
Wat whispered to his younger brother:
"It is the Queen."
The stout lady smiled.
"Yes, it is the Queen, come you with me, little boys." Hand in hand, for the eldest was no more than five years old, the children passed through the gateway. Queen Philippa looked at them shrewdly—sturdy, healthy, upright little boys, with hazel-coloured hair, fine as silk, eyes the colour of a bright nut too, and cheeks bitten with cold.
The youngest stared up at her, but the eldest kept his glance on the ground, then suddenly turned and caught her kirtle with both hands and hid his face in the folds of the robe.
Queen Philippa felt a queer pang as if a little dart had gone through her heart. She stood quite still. It was a good while now since her youngest son had clung like that. She had grandchildren now, but Philippa could not like Jeannette, she could only be sorry for her—a frivolous, shallow, greedy woman. And the elder boy, little Edward Plantagenet, was, to the Queen's mind, spoilt and pampered. Her own sons had been different, hardy and bold, like these here...
Well, well! she would never have little boys of her own again. The elder were great knights now, riding huge horses, clattering here and there, armed and noisy... even the youngest had been given to the men.
"Come into the palace, my children." She gave a hand to each. They ran and leapt beside her. No child was ever long embarrassed in the presence of Philippa of Hainault. No one had ever said an evil word of the Queen. Noble and simple, she had pleased all. A gentle, soft, meek woman but with an implacable strength when she was called upon for any effort in the cause of righteousness.
She had been not well of late and was easily tired. She moved heavily and had not her former fleet activity in all household matters for the comfort of others.
She took the boys into a room, which was the grandest place they had ever seen—so wide, so high, with such gay tapestries stretched on the walls, and such a huge ruddy fire on the hearth, and such a mighty sideboard gleaming with silver plate.
With a sigh the Queen seated herself at the side of the fire and drew the little boys down on stools before her. She laughed into their faces and they laughed back. Then she fumbled in her pouch and drew out two pieces of sweetmeat and gave one to each.
"Is not that good, is not that very good? Now, tell me who you are and why you were sitting on the steps this cold day? See how red your hands are, soon they will be chapped and that will be very painful. You must get your mother to put oil or ointment on them—see, too, where they have got wet in the river."
The elder boy, his mouth already sticky with the sweet, said that their father was a boatman, that he often took them travelling up and down the river. He left them sometimes to play on the steps. "But this time we entreated that we might be left on the palace steps, because we hoped we would see the King. Father will come back for us in an hour or so."
"Well, well," smiled Queen Philippa, "so you were left there in the wind and cold to see the King. Now you must do as I tell you and warm your hands and I will give you something hot to drink and some more sweets. Have you any toys?" she added.
The little boys shook their heads.
"I have some toys in a big chest—wooden knights, and horses, and swords, and drums."
Queen Philippa's treasured chest of toys was nearly empty. She so often gave some of them away to other children. Jeannette's little Prince was too grand for the humble puppets which had served the King's children.
Queen Philippa sighed again. She was usually very cheerful, even now she was smiling. But to-day she had not felt anything but ailing, nay, when she came to think of it, not for many days past. She sat heavily, her large white hands outspread on her knees. She had always been told, when she was a girl, that she would think differently when she was a grown woman, and differently still when she was old. Well, now her life must be nearly over. She did not think differently. Everything seemed the same to her as it had seemed when she had come out of Hainault to marry the King of England.
She had followed him everywhere, even on his French marches, even when she was bearing children. She had given him so many fine sons. She had been a Queen whom everyone had admired, a woman whom all had respected.
Now there seemed nothing much for her to do and, looking back on her life, she could not see that she had ever done anything worth while.
She called her woman and the toys were brought. The two little boys played with them on the hearth, moving about rapidly on hands and knees in the rich glow of the wide fire. So the Princes Edward, and Thomas, John and Lionel had once played at Queen Philippa's feet. Now they must have other diversions— war-horses, and men-at-arms, and gay ladies, and foreign expeditions, tourneys and arrays.
Well, well, she supposed it must be. Everyone was proud of them. They were famous knights. But she wished there were not so much fighting, sorrow and suffering in the world.
She could remember some of the things she had seen in France. Such useless weeping through weary nights for other women and other children! Such shudderings and turning away the eyes from sights by the roadside!
War must be, she knew, it was just and right, and fighting was the occupation of princes. But all that suffering!
The tears lay in her eyes as she looked at the two little boys. Such frank lovely faces, such thick hazel hair, such finely-turned little limbs and eager candid chatter!
Yes, those were her happiest days when she had sat in the nursery before the children were taken from her and given to the knights to train. How she had brushed their hair, how it had shone, cunningly curled into their necks! How she had tried them in their new doublets and coats, anxious as to the cut and fit, watched their faces when she gave them some little gift or indulgence. Almost it had been a pleasure—a wicked pleasure, Queen Philippa thought in her heart—when one of her little sons had some slight illness and had lain, heavy-headed, in her lap. Then he had seemed wholly hers and the utmost greed of love was satisfied.
Her large white hand went out timidly. She stroked the rough head of little Wat. He went on playing, not noticing her gesture.
So much suffering in the world! The priests and the nuns told her about it—sickness, starvation and discontent among the poor. And what could one woman do? Nothing it seemed. The world was like that.
But she was bewildered. God surely meant it all to be so different.
Her tender, generous spirit turned with the greatest joy to the thought of God. How one clung to that. God was always there, even if one did not understand, even if one became very bewildered. God was there and some day, surely, He would put things right.
The little boys pushed the toys, from which the paint had been chipped, to and fro on the noble hearth.
Queen Philippa smiled. Her brave days were over. The King was old, very old, and fallen into the hands of evil counsellors.
His faults had cost her many hours of sobbing prayer and supplication. He was cruel, he was obstinate, he was lustful. She had loved him from the moment she had first seen him. Tall, superb, splendid, a head and shoulders above all other men.
With meek devotion she had followed him in his wars and tried not to think his slayings and burnings crimes. She tried to say it was the way of men and God must understand. "The cause is just and that covers all."
But often she would lie awake by his side at night and wonder why he wanted another crown? Why all these fair cities must be burned, all these vineyards and orchards destroyed, and all these poor peasants driven from their homes or massacred? For the sake of another crown for one who was a great king already and had everything.
Queen Philippa had always been bewildered. "The only thing," she said to herself, "is to do one's duty and not to think."
This last war in Spain now—if one thought about that—a great campaign with the winter coming on, for the sake of Don Pedro of Castile. She had heard terrible stories of this man—if only half were true... She crossed herself in horror. Yet her sons would fight for him. They said that he was the rightful King and must be protected against a usurper. Another war, and in the winter!
The gentle Queen sighed. She thought of all that hardship. What things she had seen, what tales she had heard. Would there never be an end of these wars about nothing?
The old King had been so pleased that his sons were willing to engage on this adventure.
He had sent out Prince John with six hundred archers. Perhaps she would never see him again. Her heart yearned over John, although he was not loving, but hard, bold and independent, his head full of wilful schemes.
A tray of cakes and cups of hot spiced essences was brought in; Queen Philippa feasted the two little boys, and gravely wiped the crumbs from their lips, the sugar from their fingers, and patted their hazel-coloured hair again and again. She felt a temporary happiness. She would liked to have wandered all over the world making children and old and sick people happy, preparing food and drink, keeping up goodly fires, and arranging soft beds, seeing that clothes were aired and mended, wounds and sores carefully dressed, people wrapped warmly and well-fed. This was what would have given Queen Philippa the greatest happiness. She had been able to do very little. She dare not recall how much horror, misery and suffering she had seen.
The little boys were full of delight. When they had finished their feast they ran to her knees and kissed her, holding up their candid faces, fresh as English flowers, with the same confidence they would have used to their own mother.
Everyone was soon at ease with Queen Philippa. She was so placid, so gentle and never thought at all of herself.
She pulled the little boys' jerkins closer about their throat. They were well clothed, she was glad to mark. They must have a good, kind, careful mother. She fumbled in her pouch, and drew out two pieces of money, and gave them one each, then took each by the hand again, and walking heavily, labouring a little with her breathing, she led them out into the garden. The hour, which she had conscientiously marked, was nearly overpast.
"You must now go and wait for your father, little boys, and tell him that though you have not seen the King—for he is rather sick to-day—you have seen the Queen. Say she kissed you and blessed you, little boys, and that she hopes you will grow up to be fine Englishmen."
"Soldiers," said both the boys, and the elder added:
"I am to be an archer, but Williken would like to be a spearman."
"Oh, not soldiers," cried the Queen on a quick breath, "oh, dear no, not soldiers. You must think of something else. There are enough soldiers in the world. And perhaps," she added, without hope, "by the time you are grown up the wars will be over."
When she reached the steps a few flakes of light snow were falling. The saffron light had overspread the sky. The day was about to end fairly.
A boat came up to the palace steps. The two little boys ran down, leaping, and holding out their money to show to their father.
The Queen looked at them wistfully, then returned with her slow, ponderous gait to the palace. She sat down by the empty hearth. She wished she could have kept the two little boys. Strange that, old as she was, those early yearnings had not been satisfied, even after she had seen all her sons grow up. She was still eager for children to tend, to fondle and to watch. Life had become lonely with the old, fierce, embittered King. All her sons away or absorbed in their own lives. She felt so helpless. There was so much to be done in the world and she could do none of it, only pray, and she wondered if it was not presumptuous to suppose that God heard her prayers.
The King had lately seemed estranged from her; once she could do anything with him and had influenced him to many gentlenesses. But now he was moody and difficult to manage, and turned to others.
Even as she thought of him he passed along the gallery at the end of the apartment. A woman was with him in a very fashionable blue dress, too many jewels. Dame Alys Perrers, a comely clever creature who was often in the King's company. She seemed to know very well how to amuse him.
But he left her and came to where the Queen sat; Philippa rose at her lord's entry. She stood heavily and rather awkwardly, looking at him with eyes full of utter kindness and loyalty.
Edward Plantagenet was still a magnificent figure. Lean and tall, with tawny hair and beard mingled with grey, his golden eyes sunk in his head, and the droop in one of the lids exaggerated with age. Fierce, gaunt and proud as some old bird of prey who has lost his strength and the sheen of his feathers, but none of his dignity or arrogance.
When he had seated himself the Queen did so too and waited meekly for him to speak.
Passing his jewelled hand over the silky ripple of his beard Edward Plantagenet began to talk of the expedition into Castile.
"That gives me real pleasure and joy, to think that my sons are in the field again, and after this loathsome leisure they have a chance to demean themselves as men. Edward too has a sharp adversary in that Du Guesclin. 'Twill bring him much glory on the field of honour if he defeat the Frenchman."
The Queen said meekly:
"It seems a pity there need be another war for this Pedro of whom all speak so ill."
The King smiled compassionately. He was very tolerant with his wife's womanish weaknesses. Since she had bred so many warriors, it mattered little that she herself was so soft, nay, he even found it becoming in a woman.
"And they will try to cross those high mountains in the winter-time," sighed the Queen.
"'Twill be a famous feat of arms. I would to God I was there!" replied Edward Plantagenet. His hands twitched impatiently and his lips trembled.
She was quick to understand and sympathize with the enforced idleness of the ageing knight.
He regretted his horse, his sword and his men. And she regretted her children, their toys, their plays, and their little ailments.
"Edward will gain much honour," added the King fiercely. "Edward will show that he has not grown slothful nor his sword rusty in Aquitaine."
"Is it safe to leave Aquitaine and draw off all the armed force?" asked the Queen timidly. "They say the Province is seething with revolt."
"Let Aquitaine or any other of my French possessions dare to revolt!" exclaimed the King. "By my God and my soul I will smite them as I smote France before. Do you think that if I could overcome King John I cannot overcome this puny weakling who is his heir? I wish by God and St. George that I were ten years younger, and I would be beside Edward riding across the Pyrenees."
"I would the cause were juster," said Queen Philippa, with gentle obstinacy. "I do not like to think of even half the tales I have heard of this Don Pedro and he is excommunicate—"
Edward Plantagenet did not love the Pope, nor much respect the Papacy.
"Urban did that out of policy—to be rid of the Free Companies. He is secretly leagued with France. He had better beware."
"It will cost a great deal of money too," continued the Queen, meekly persistent, "and money is so scarce now. The people complain of the taxes. There is so much we need to do, Edward's debts are higher than ever. John, too, is extravagant."
The King was sullenly silent. He had not been able to send half the treasure he wished to his son in Aquitaine. It was astonishingly difficult. With every year it seemed harder to raise money. The Commons quibbled and haggled. Even the great Lords seemed reluctant to part with their money. Men-at-arms were greedy, clamorous for their pay. The peasants were continually revolting. The great fat burgesses and opulent city merchants clutched tighter than ever their pouches and their cash-bags.
"It shows," stormed Edward Plantagenet, "the mean, paltry times we live in, that money cannot be found for a feat of arms!"
Queen Philippa thought of the vast sums which had been wrested from France, of the huge ransom for King John, and of all the plunders and levies made on the conquered cities—all gone! in tourneys, in displays, in lavish gifts to friends, in costly suits of armour, in goldsmiths' and jewellers' work. How little pleasure any of that had given her! All that proud, wanton extravagance and waste. No, she had had no joy of any of it. It had made no difference to her that her husband was a famous King, a great conqueror, and had extracted huge sums from a defeated country; it had not affected the only hours she cared to remember—those brief enclosed hours with the little boys in the nursery.
The King rose impatiently. If only he could feel armour on his back again and a horse between his knees. As he grew older he became more and more impatient with his wife's meekness and gentleness. She had seemed of late dull or stupid; he thought her ailing, and that she looked stout and old.
He left her without further speech and again sought the company of Dame Alys Perrers, who flattered him and listened with awe and delight to his tales of past feats of arms, his accounts of the great battle of Crécy and Poictiers, of the burnings and slayings in France, when he had razed city after city—ramparted and citadeled—to the ground.
The still snowflakes ceased. The pale, mournful, yellow light fell into the room where Queen Philippa sat alone, her hands folded on her lap.
She tried to forget everything—to imagine again the little boys with the heads of hazel hair, the sticky mouths and the eager fingers playing with their toys on the hearth.
AFTER a long silence Charles of Navarre remarked that "it would take a really clever man to get out of this with credit."
His councillor and friend, Don Enriquez de la Cana, agreed.
The two sat private and secret in the palace at Pampeluna.
Frozen snow outlined the great arches of the windows. The King alternately turned to warm himself by the fire, and to arrange various coloured counters on the table. De la Cana looked on dubiously. He had come to the end of his advice.
"Yes," added the King thoughtfully, "one would need to be a very clever man."
"If there is such a man in Europe who could extricate himself from such a pass, it is Your Princely Grace," said the councillor without flattery.
Charles I of Navarre was a French Prince who had inherited Navarre from his mother. He had been involved in intrigues and broils with his royal kinsman of France all his life. He had even spent a good deal of time in a French prison. He had only contrived to hold his own by the most careful exercise of the most highly trained craft. There was no man in the world to surpass him in cunning. He took no shame to himself for this. He did not see how a King in his position could have existed on any other terms... wedged on the French frontiers between the Basques and Aragon.
"Let those whose frontiers are not in dispute and who have not an enemy either side of them, play at honesty," he would remark.
His kingdom lay directly between Aquitaine (where Edward of England was arming for his adventure into Castile) and Spain, where Don Enriquez of Transtamara and Bertrand du Guesclin were rallying their forces to resist the English-Gascon invasion.
If Charles of Navarre kept his passes closed there would be no war.
The King moved three red counters—to represent Enriquez the usurping King of Castile, Pedro the King of Aragon who had been won over to his side by the promise of Murcia, and Bertrand du Guesclin the Frenchman. There they waited, uncertain, at Burgos.
Charles made a chalk line across the table. That stood for the mountains, the Pyrenees, with the famous passes like that of Roncesvalles where the hero Roland had perished... the old story that Charles was tired of hearing about and which he found very stupid.
The other side of the chalk line he placed some green counters—one for the Prince of Wales, one for Sir John Chandos (who was well worth this distinction), and one for the young Duke of Lancaster, who had come from England with some archers.
Far away, beyond these, was a blue counter representing Charles V, the cunning Valois, watching from Paris with his eyes on the Provinces of Guienne, Gascony and Aquitaine.
To the south was a white counter—Urban V, also watching from Avignon.
"There they all are," said the King of Navarre in his supple, mellow voice; "there they all are, and may the Devil take the lot of them," he added reflectively.
De la Cana said that he did not see how setting out the counters on the table helped. One had already clearly in one's mind the relative positions of these princes.
"While my fingers move my brain is working," smiled the King.
He was under a treaty with Edward of England by which he was sworn to do him service if ever occasion arose. At the same time he had taken a hearty oath to Don Enriquez that he would not open the passes to the invading army. The question now before him was—how he should please both these powerful potentates and earn the bribes they severally offered?
For guarding the passes of the Pyrenees Don Enriquez of Transtamara had already paid the King of Navarre a substantial sum.
On the other hand, Pedro of Castile had offered the towns of Vittoria and Logrono as the price of a free passage.
De la Cana thought it indeed a difficult question. He had been racking his own brains in vain for a good many anxious days and nights.
"As Your Princely Grace has pocketed the money," remarked De la Cana with a sigh, "it seems to me that you will have to forego the towns."
"Yet apart from the towns," returned the King, "I do not wish to offend the English. I think that they are decidedly the stronger. Has not Sir Hugh Calverley, the last of those infernal Free Companies (as they call themselves) to leave Spain, sacked Miranda del Arga and Puenta la Reina?"
De la Cana, however, was of opinion that the destruction of the two cities had been but a mere playful flourish on the part of the returning mercenary and was by no means to be taken seriously.
But Charles of Navarre remained thoughtful.
"Urban V has declared Don Enriquez of Transtamara to be legitimate," he remarked.
"That is a queer piece of business," smiled De la Cana. "There never was the least talk of a marriage between Alfonso the Conqueror and Eleanora de Guzman."
"It is astonishing," said the King of Navarre, "how a successful man can gloss over anything. The Church is certainly very strongly behind Don Enriquez and Don Pedro has the worst of reputations. He has done a good many foolish things—the massacre of the King of Granada and his retinue, for instance, what was the sense of that? It is stupid to get a bad name for deeds of violence which earn one nothing."
He leant forward with his elbows on the table studying his counters.
"Have you," he demanded, "no advice to give me?"
De la Cana said reluctantly that he feared they must side with the English and open the passes to Prince Edward's army, which would mean foregoing Don Enriquez' bribe.
Charles of Navarre sat silent.
He was a fair, elegant, handsome man, with a smooth, carefully shaven face and thick blonde locks falling on to his shoulders. He was always cheerful, affable and good-humoured. Some called him "Charles the Fair," some "Charles the Bad," and all named him the trickiest double-dealer in Europe.
De la Cana watched him anxiously but not without hope. He had great faith in his master's ability to devise an expedient to extricate himself from even the most difficult of situations. After awhile Charles asked:
"Is Sir Oliver de Manny in the Palace?"
De la Cana said that he was.
The King bid this knight be brought to his presence.
Oliver de Manny was a French knight, cousin to Bertrand du Guesclin, who was always ready to turn his hand to anything for money. He attached himself mostly to the King of Navarre, who often gave him well-paid secret employment. Both the King and the knight were completely unscrupulous, and there was something in their dispositions that suited each other.
Sir Oliver de Manny came eagerly, expectant of a gainful adventure.
The King, still with his elbows on the table, his fine hands cupping his smooth face, smiled at the knight and bid him look at the counters on the table. He gave the names of them and remarked on his predicament.
"Good Sir Oliver, I would win the towns and the money too, and keep fair with all these braggarts. You know my sad situation. My cousin in France intrigues against me and the English only use me for their own ends. As for these devils of Spaniards, they think of nothing but getting at each other's throats. I must endeavour to protect myself from all of them, ay, and make my profit too."
"How is it to be done?" asked Sir Oliver keenly. De la Cana put in mournfully:
"Indeed, good Sir Oliver, I do not see how it can be done, even by one as quick-witted as His Princely Grace."
"You were not used to be so faint-hearted," smiled the King of Navarre. "Come, De la Cana, what makes you so downcast?"
"I am not downcast, sire, but I think 'twere better for you to keep faithful to the oath you swore to John Chandos at Dax—to open the passes and let these English through. After all, I am sure they are the stronger. The English Prince has never been defeated in battle yet."
"He had never," replied Charles of Navarre, "met Bertrand du Guesclin face to face. I should say it is even betting. Don Enriquez must have, with the mercenaries, a hundred thousand men. All Sir John Chandos's promises made in the Basques could only detach twelve thousand."
"Well, well," said De la Cana with some impatience, "if Your Princely Grace can see a way out—"
"I have seen a way out. And that is why I have sent for good Sir Oliver. Listen," said he, addressing that knight, who stood keen-eyed and wary, "you will take me prisoner as if in a sudden revolt or affray and hold me, as it were, to ransom in your castle of Borja."
He paused and Sir Oliver put in eagerly:
"And then, sire?"
"And then, of course," smiled the King, "it will be impossible for me to fulfil my obligations to Don Enriquez of defending the passes. Prince Edward and Don Pedro will get across the Pyrenees, unless they all perish of cold and hunger, in which case no one need trouble about them any more, and then you will release me. I shall demand the two towns from Don Pedro because he has passed the Pyrenees, and I shall demand the money from Don Enriquez because I would have defended the passes if I had not been captured."
De la Cana looked doubtful. He thought that this was almost too tricky, but Sir Oliver accepted the suggestion at once and began to haggle about the price.
"You should not require very much," said Charles, in his meek, mellow voice. "It is, after all, a perfectly easy thing for you to do, and it will be a great honour for you to have my company in your castle—"
"But I shall have to maintain you and your retinue."
"Oh, I shall only have a few knights with me, just enough to make a show of resistance when you capture me." Softly, but with an air of complete finality, he added: "I will pay you five thousand crowns—not a white piece more."
Sir Oliver made a wry face and glanced across at De la Cana, who remained impassive and stared blankly at the drifts of snow outlining the grey stone window-frame.
"It is not enough," protested Sir Oliver.
"It is all I will offer," said the King.
"But Your Princely Grace by my means will get two wealthy towns and a large sum of money, besides credit and the gratitude of both these opposing Princes."
Charles did not deny this. He merely said:
"If you will not undertake the business, Sir Oliver, there are many who will, and for even less than five thousand crowns."
He rose and moved gracefully nearer the fire.
Sir Oliver scowled at his lithe figure, his smooth, smiling face. In his ankle-length furred robe he looked almost womanish. But Sir Oliver knew well with whom he dealt.
"'Tis a bargain," he agreed sullenly, "and I would like Your Grace's hand and seal to it, and Don Enriquez de la Cana's as a witness."
Charles of Navarre made not the least objection to this. He agreed, then added pleasantly:
"This must be done at once. It should have a sudden air. I will ride out to-morrow as if I were hunting for a wolf. I will have no more than ten or twelve knights with me. You must have at least double that number."
"All this will be very expensive," grumbled Sir Oliver."
"Good night," remarked the King cheerfully, "I do dislike one who strikes a bargain and then laments it."
He spoke with almost lisping softness, but his large clear grey eyes looked hard as metal, and Sir Oliver de Manny was silent. He knew that it was difficult and dangerous to endeavour to cross Charles of Navarre. He had, however, secretly resolved to try to do so. He left the King without more ado. He set himself to work in a businesslike way to prepare for the capture on the morrow.
King Charles turned to De la Cana.
"You see, I can manage to earn both bribes," he remarked.
The councillor admitted that the scheme appeared brilliant but added dubiously:
"Can you trust De Manny?"
"Of course," replied Charles of Navarre, "I can trust nobody, not even you, my good counsellor."
But the plan was carried out without a hitch, and Charles of Navarre was taken prisoner to the lonely and formidable castle of Borja. He had with him his young son and two or three attendants. He would not, after all, take any knights, for he knew that he would have to pay De Manny heavily for their maintenance.
The King's smooth and cheerful disposition and his philosophic turn of mind allowed him to put through the winter days in the lonely castle without impatience.
He played with his counters, exercised in the courtyard and on the ramparts, and was civil to all.
At the end of two weeks he told De Manny that there was no longer any purpose in his continued captivity. The passes had been open quite long enough for any army to get through if they were to do it at all. He would be able now to return to his capital and declare, with a good grace, that he had been unable, owing to his sudden capture, to defend the passes of the Pyrenees, the which he had promised Don Enriquez.
"Have out my horse and my little son's horse and tell our squires and grooms to be ready, Sir Oliver, and give us an escort of knights."
Sir Oliver de Manny smiled grimly. He had been waiting for this moment, as a dog may wait for a bone, patient and hungry.
Charles of Navarre, appearing to take no notice of his host's hostile demeanour, gave him the five thousand crowns in a metal casket.
"You see, I am a man of my word, good Sir Oliver, here is your money."
"'Tis not enough," replied the French knight.
"I said so before."
"And I said that it was all you would get," smiled the King. "Come, let us go on our way. The snow is gathering again in the heavens and the wind is chill. I have no mind to be riding long in such weather."
"Nor need Your Princely Grace go abroad at all," grinned Sir Oliver, "for I intend to keep you here until you offer a far larger ransom than those paltry five thousand crowns. What! Do you put no greater value on yourself than that, King Charles? Is that a ransom for a royal knight?"
The King's clear grey eyes looked at him steadily.
"Perhaps the sum is somewhat small," he admitted. Sir Oliver laughed boisterously, with his hands on his hips, straddling his feet far apart, absorbed in coarse merriment.
"Did you really think, sire, that I was going to let you go on such a payment? Was it likely? You will now remain in my castle, which is tolerably strong and tolerably well fortified, until you have paid me four times that sum. And even that will be but a paltry ransom and shows my generosity—"
"Or your knowledge of my poverty," smiled the King of Navarre, not in the least abashed or put out by Sir Oliver's demands. "Indeed, I am so poor, as you should know, good Sir Oliver, that perhaps I would prefer to remain here to raising this money."
"No one will rescue you, sire," the French knight reminded him. "You are not greatly loved in Navarre and the King of France would be very glad to see you safely out of the way for ever. I dare say I might get a fair round sum from him for keeping you here as long as you live. Neither Prince Edward nor Don Enriquez will regret you either, sire. You have given them a great deal of trouble over this matter of the passes."
Charles of Navarre looked down at the ground and stroked his elegant face. He appeared meek, composed and thoughtful.
"All you say is quite true," he remarked, "and it does indeed now seem to me that the sum I offered you is not sufficient. Yes, you are quite right. I was guided by my own lack of money, not by your merits. Poor as I am, I can afford you a higher reward."
He looked up and his large eyes were blank of meaning.
"I will certainly pay whatever you ask if it is within my means to do so."
"I want twenty-five thousand crowns," said Sir Oliver sullenly.
He was a little abashed that the King made no difficulty about the increased ransom.
"It is well, I will pay that. But you must come with me to Tudela, where I have all I possess in the way of treasure. With me, as you may see for yourself—and I am in your power for you to search my person and my baggage—I have nothing but the five thousand crowns I brought wherewith to pay you."
The two men faced each other for a second in silence. Charles of Navarre still smiled. Sir Oliver de Manny still frowned.
"Very well, sire," said the knight at last, "I will come with you to Tudela, but you must leave the young boy, your son, here as an earnest of your good faith."
Not the slightest change showed in the King's smooth face. His smile was pleasant, his eyes without guile.
"That is but reasonable," he conceded. "I am sure you will take good care of the boy. Let us ride at once, Sir Oliver, and conclude this business."
The King of Navarre bade good-bye to his son without evincing the slightest emotion, though the boy was reluctant to remain behind, almost frightened at being separated from his father.
"Do you think I would forsake you in any peril, my son? All will be well, you shall be released in a day or so."
Through the stinging wind and the drab grey of winter they rode to the castle of Tudela.
At various pot-houses and stopping places they heard news.
The Count de Foix—nearly as slippery as Charles of Navarre himself—had gone into the camp of Prince Edward, where he was being fêted.
Don Jayme, the exiled King of Majorca, had also joined the English standard.
"Fools! to fight," said Charles of Navarre, shuddering into his fur-lined mantle, "when they might all be warm and comfortable at home. A little diplomacy would have arranged the whole quarrel. These feats of arms are senseless."
But Sir Oliver de Manny was thinking of the booty that might be gained in such a campaign as was about to be commenced. He had licked his lips already on hearing of the Free Companies who had been quartered in Aragon and been given leave by the King to plunder how they liked among his subjects. "There must have been a good picking there."
Then again in Castile, Don Enriquez had entertained them most lavishly. Nothing had been lacking for their complete enjoyment. Then again there were those who had returned to their old leader, Prince Edward. They too had been finely paid. Why, even a common archer got as much as a penny a day, and a captain a shilling. He wondered if he should not join one of these armies, and, if he did, which?
Du Guesclin was his cousin and he might look for some promotion here. On the other hand, Sir Bertrand disliked him. He accused him of unknightly and mercenary actions. He scorned his own association with the King of Navarre.
"The Prince of Wales," jeered Charles, as they rode along side by side through the wintry weather, "is not a wise man. Have you heard how he has treated the Seigneur d'Albret? He bid him come along with two thousand lances, all to be at his charge, and never thought what the cost would be. Then, when 'twas put to him by the Council, wrote and bid d'Albret come with but two hundred. With that my lord was so furious that he was minded to disobey him. But he was afraid of the Englishman's cruelty, he is most vindictive when roused, and so agreed at length to come with but the two hundred, yet he is his enemy for ever."
"He recks of nothing but what he calls glory," mocked Sir Oliver de Manny, "yet 'tis as well there are such in the world, for a wise, prudent man may make something out of following such."
"Well, out of this stupid war I shall have got two towns and a large sum of money," smiled Charles of Navarre. "And you, good Sir Oliver, will have done quite well too. The King of Aragon will have got Murcia. And the Devil, I doubt not, will have got for his share many poor souls that will come to him before their time."
Weary and chilled they arrived at Tudela, which was heavily garrisoned by the King of Navarre's soldiers.
Welcoming Sir Oliver de Manny with agreeable smiles, King Charles led him into a large chamber, where the fire burned and the lamps were lit and supper laid on the table.
"Will you have food with me, good Sir Oliver, and rest here the night, take your money and go in the morning? Or will you have the ransom at once and depart?"
Sir Oliver replied that he would depart at once.
"What! You have ridden so far through the cold," cried the King of Navarre, "and you would turn round at once and go back again to Borja?"
"I intend, I think, to join the English Prince," replied Sir Oliver de Manny. "I must find out where he camps and where I may catch him up."
This was not the real reason for his wishing a hasty departure with his booty. The castle was very strong and he was a man alone, with no more than his own arms.
The King of Navarre's soldiers stood about the doorways and the stairs.
Sir Oliver, carefully watching the King, from whom, indeed, he scarcely took his eyes, thought that he had turned aside for a second to whisper some command to an officer. Charles pulled off his great gloves that were partially frozen and moved his stiff fingers up and down, then threw off his furred mantle rimed with frost and stood graceful, elegant in his blue steel. His thick blonde hair, usually so carefully curled, was a little disarranged by the wind. His fair face nipped and coloured by the frost.
"It is the same to me," he smiled, "whether you decide to go or stay."
Sir Oliver de Manny straddled by the fireplace, sullen, ill at ease and eager to be gone.
Charles raised his hand in what seemed a careless manner.
Four soldiers came into the room, behind were others, so that the door was crowded.
"Kill me this man," said Charles of Navarre.
He no longer looked soft or agreeable or womanish. His face was hard with implacable cruelty. His eyes darkened and flashed like the steel on his breast.
The doomed man gave a horrible, raucous cry.
"Saint Mary! Holy Jesu! How could I have trusted the sly beast?"
Charles of Navarre leant against the table, flicking his great gloves against his cold hand and watching with zest while the strong armed man was overpowered and slain.
"A pity," he remarked, "that he had to play the fool, for he was useful, but I knew that one day he would become too insolent. Take him out and, when the ground becomes soft enough, bury him in a ditch. While the cold endures he will keep."
As the murdered man was dragged out, pages came in to wipe up the blood on the hearth.
Charles of Navarre called up one of his knights.
"Was he not a fool? See, he has lost his life and five thousand crowns, for I intended to pay him. Now I am that much richer. But my son is at Borja. We will ride at once, if you please, and release him."
"But, sire, shall we not go more cautiously? Perhaps Sir Oliver de Manny's men will do the child a harm."
"We will say that Sir Oliver is with us. We will send a message in his name, bidding them deliver up my son."
The knight said no more. His immediate followers always obeyed the King of Navarre.
Charles drank a cup of wine, swallowed a morsel of bread. He was, in such things, temperate.
He strode out of Tudela again, mounted and took the weary, winter road to the fortress where his little son was prisoner.
The stratagem was successful.
The King of Navarre reflected that he could not recall a stratagem of his that had not been successful.
Sir Oliver de Manny's men, alarmed at the armed force which surrounded the castle and by the message which said their lord bid them deliver up the little Prince, admitted the King and all his knights. Upon his stern revelation of the truth all, in alarm, swore allegiance to the King of Navarre.
Charles triumphantly greeted his boy, weary and spirit-broken but unharmed, who rushed to meet him.
The severity of the weather had rapidly increased. It was a terrible night. Wind and snow beat against the heavy walls of the castle of Borja, where Charles of Navarre sat snug over the fire. He was a man who liked to be alone, and since he asked company of none that evening, he was left solitary.
He had taken off his armour and all his heavy garments, and stretched himself, much at ease but not drowsy—for he was a man with a mind ever alert—before the delicious warmth of the beautiful tawny flames. He smiled to himself, drinking his hot wine.
How well everything had gone! How easy, after all, it was to have one's own way when one dealt with brutes or fools! He had sent messengers to the English camp, pointing out to Prince Edward that the passes had been left unguarded, but that it was not his fault; it was that of the good God that he had been unable to pass the Pyrenees in the winter. "Unless he is frozen to death, as he deserves to be, he will have to give me the two towns."
King Charles had also sent to Don Enriquez at Burgos, reminding him that he would have done his best to fulfil his promise to defend the passes had he not, unfortunately, been captured by the rebellious Sir Oliver de Manny, from whom, however, he had managed to escape and even to slay—"Yes, even to slay," said the King of Navarre, half aloud. "How well everything fits in!" Life was agreeable when things went well like this. It was very pleasant to be able to outwit other people. It was a good game when one won. The King of Navarre had begun to count on his luck in winning. He might get those disputed Provinces from the foxy Valois yet. On his other frontiers he might extend bit by bit, by the use of craft and cunning, mile after mile into Aragon. Without risking his life or giving himself great fatigue, like Don Enriquez, or Du Guesclin, or the English Prince, he might gain far more than they ever would. Why, it was almost certain that Edward would lose Aquitaine, Gascony and Guienne—they were only waiting the signal to return to France. He admired his namesake, Charles of Valois, small, insignificant, overlooked, in his Parisian palace, but working slowly, craftily, secretly, like he was working, for his own ends.
Charles of Navarre stretched himself luxuriously. He was glad that he was rid of Sir Oliver de Manny. There were other men who would do the work in which he had employed that knight, do it better and not demand so much pay, nor become so insolent. This would be a lesson to all of them.
He felt very pleased with himself. A good life, a good game. He could not think of any man in Europe who was likely to outwit him, unless it was that other King Charles in Paris, and even for him he felt himself a match. Some day he might even make a push for those French Provinces for which Charles and Edward quarrelled and contended. He had a better claim than the English King, and all just men knew it. Yes, perhaps some day he might find himself in that palace on the banks of the Seine, the most considerable monarch in Europe.
How pleasant and rosy the future seemed. How secure he was in his own good luck and his own sharp wits! He had great gifts and he knew the value of them. A pleasing person, a perfect command of his passions, an affable address, an ability to read the minds of men, a faculty of making others obey him, a hard heart and good health.
He smiled to himself. "What rubbish it was the priests spoke about God and the saints and angels! What a lot of old fables—stuff for the ears of idiots and children! Why, a man is sufficient in himself—at least a man like Charles of Navarre—and need not regard either Hell or Heaven."
He smiled in complete self-satisfaction.
A log fell out of the fire and rolled near his scarlet shoe. He stooped, his fair face still smiling with pleasure, and pushed the log by the yet unconsumed end back on to the hearth. Another log fell. The slight start he made caused his hand to catch the glowing part of the wood. He withdrew it with an exclamation, but not of pain. He had felt nothing on the palm of his hand. He stared at his own flesh, smooth, white and hard. He picked up a twig which had fallen free of the fire, thrust it into the flame and, when it flared, put it against his palm. He felt nothing.
Well did he, the self-confident man, indifferent to all his fellows, to God and the Devil, know what this meant.
"ON my faith!" said Edward of Wales, "we have done what all Europe said we could not do, and there is some satisfaction in that."
The English-Gascon army, to the number of thirty thousand, of which twenty thousand were fighting men, lay encamped round Pampeluna.
"A difficult thing," replied Chandos, "is always worth doing, sire, for its own sake. As a matter of common sense, it would have been better if we were delayed in passing the Pyrenees in the autumn, to have waited till the spring."
Prince Edward did not answer. He was endeavouring, somewhat sullenly, to suck what satisfaction he could from his extraordinary feat in having brought so many men in mid-winter over the Pyrenees. He knew that it would have been far better to have started in the easy days of autumn. But he had to wait the arrival of his brother, John of Lancaster, from England, who had not landed in the Cotentin until winter had already gripped the land.
Then there had been those wearisome negotiations with Charles of Navarre, Count de Foix, slippery and treacherous both of them, haggling over their price and delaying their decision to the last possible moment.
The Count de Foix had, finally, arranged for Prince Edward's forces to pass over his land, and Charles of Navarre had left the passes of the Pyrenees open.
But, when Edward had arrived in Navarre, he had been met by the news that the King had been captured by Sir Oliver de Manny, that therefore there were no orders for the provisioning of his troops.
Later news had related how the double-dealing King had killed Sir Oliver de Manny and ridden fast to the latter's castle at Borja to release his son, left there as hostage. After that there was no further tale of him. He was shut up in that fastness and would answer no messengers.
So the English-Gascon army ravaged Navarre at their will, but found little, for the weather was fierce.
"Still," persisted Edward, "by the grace of God we have gotten over the Pyrenees."
Sir John Chandos saw how he was endeavouring to hearten himself by the remembrance of that exploit, and so dwelt on it. Yes, it had been extraordinary. How had they done it? Thirty thousand men—ten thousand men-at-arms, ten thousand mounted archers, and ten thousand unarmed grooms. If the Prince had not been the greatest organizer in Europe it could not have been done. There had been a time when, in the most narrow of the passes, it seemed that they would all perish in the dense storms of snow and hail, blinded by the tempest, frozen by the intense cold, weighed down by their heavy armour.
How sharp and cutting had been the wind—how gloomy and cheerless those lofty passes, so high up in the sombre snow-clouds!
Sir John Chandos himself had passed first with the young Duke of Lancaster, for whom he acted as Chief-of-Staff.
With the Prince had come Don Pedro, the leaders of the Companies and Don Pedro's brother-in-law, the exiled King of Majorca, whom the Prince (already burdened with so many expenses) had yet taken under his protection. Well, many a heap of steel and bones had been left on the lonely passes, but the bulk of the army was down in Navarre and ready for battle.
"No one in Europe expected it," said the Prince. He stood before a small fire in a mean farmhouse. His comely face was chapped and frost-bitten. His flat cheeks flamed purple, his hands were red and cracked.
"Do you think this Don Enriquez will give us battle?" he asked.
"If he does not, we will advance and face him. But, first, we must get provisions, and it seems," he added gloomily, "that will be difficult."
Sir John Chandos thought that the whole affair was, like so many of the actions of men, not only difficult but ridiculous. Why had they left Aquitaine at the mercy of France? Why had they left their comfortable homes, their easy, pleasant days, for this misery and discomfort, this bottomless adventure where they might lose all, even credit, and become the laughter of Europe?
In his youth Sir John Chandos had been impetuous and eager for any wild affray that promised excitement. Now, he was often overborne by a sense of the futility of aimless violence, and he loathed Don Pedro. It seemed to him there could be no blessing on those who fought for such a man.
"How do the roads go to Burgos?" asked Edward.
"Tell me again, Sir John."
And Chandos repeated, tracing the lines with his finger on the rough walls of the farm:
"One passes through Guiciscoa and Avila over the mountains to Vittoria. At Miranda one may pass the Ebro. The other is south towards Logrono. There is a bridge. The way goes straight to Burgos. That, sire, is the way the two Feltons have taken with their scouting party."
"The last news," said Edward, still gloomy, "is that this Don Enriquez camps at San Domenico de la Calzada."
"That, sire, is our last advice. The whole country is deserted, for all—knights and peasants—have gone to join this bastard, who, it seems, is greatly beloved by the Castilians." Sir John Chandos spoke with some bitterness and his handsome face hardened, for he knew that the Castilians had every reason to love the usurper as he was called, and to detest the man for whom the English fought. For fear of disheartening his master, he said no word of this.
Prince Edward went to the door, opened it and looked out on to the wintry landscape. The snow was falling thickly on the tents of the Gascons and the English. All was arranged in very good order, the troops were in proper disposition ready to march, except for the unpacking of pots and barrels from the carts and lighting of fires under the orders of the marshals, each man had his helmet and bow in its place, lying on the ground.
The knights had raised their pennons and standards above their pavilions. These hung straight and colourless in the dun air.
The snow outlined tents, waggons and piled baggage, and lay on the saddles of the picketed horses and on the shoulders of the men moving about heavily from fatigue and the weight of their armour, for few had laid aside their mail, but held themselves in readiness for sudden orders to march.
The little feeble fires fluttering here and there made difficult way against the falling snow. Men built up shelters to protect them.
The distance was blocked by the storm-clouds. Edward could see no further than the edges of his own camp. He felt hemmed in and oppressed, as if he was in a besieged town, assaulted by invisible foes. In his mind he cursed the King of Navarre and Gaston de Foix whose treacherous delay had caused him to cross the Pyrenees in mid-winter. He even thought impatiently of his father, the old King, and his young and favourite brother, John of Lancaster, who had been so long in bringing the English archers to his assistance. He dwelt uneasily on how he was to feed all these men in this poor country which yielded so little plunder.
Chandos, looking at him anxiously, saw that he was on the verge of one of his fits of violent, fierce, cruel temper.
At this evil moment Don Pedro came spurring up through the snow, accompanied by two of his Castilian knights.
Prince Edward greeted him shortly. Chandos turned away to the fire without a salutation. Don Pedro did not appear to notice this coldness on the part of the two Englishmen.
He was a monstrous figure, wrapped in harsh, grey and black wolfskins over his chain-mail. A turban round his steel cap gave him, in the eyes of Chandos, a heathen appearance. Chains of jewels shone blue and red on his massive chest. His huge war-gloves were enamelled on the back. His teeth shone sharp and white as a beast's fangs. His flat, powerful face was whipped purple-bronze by the cold, the curled ends of his black hair were stiff with frost. His whole person was thickly powdered with snow.
Staring at Edward, he demanded why the army did not immediately advance, using a halting French that added to the peremptoriness of his tone.
"By my faith," replied Edward softly, "here we are gotten over the Pyrenees in mid-winter and with but little loss, and you ask why we do not advance! How am I to feed these men?"
"They will be well fed when we have taken Burgos," replied Don Pedro.
"Will the plunder of Burgos," asked Edward, with a dangerous smile, "feed my thirty thousand men and pay all my engagements? Nay, I believe to satisfy those obligations would strain the whole resources of Castile."
"It is not becoming," said Don Pedro, "to talk of money before we have come to any matter of battle or engagement."
Prince Edward flung himself on to a wooden stool by the table and thrust his cold knuckles into his frost-bitten cheek, while his tawny eyes glared angrily at the man whom he had undertaken to replace on the throne of Castile. He remembered all the atrocious tales he had heard of Don Pedro and how every man of honour had advised him not to undertake his cause. For this man's sake he had broken the peace of Europe and divided the knighthood of all countries. For, while all valiant men-at-arms had wished to follow him, the greatest leader of the moment, all men of justice and sense had known that every right, save that of name, was with Don Enriquez.
Speaking in a sullen voice, Prince Edward said:
"Don Pedro, I have undertaken to support you and to help you to recover the inheritance of your fathers, for I think it highly unbecoming for a bastard to hold a kingdom or to bear the name of King. But I would have you bear yourself quietly and not question me or my actions. Remember what I have undertaken for your sake, what lavish promises I have had to make to the Companies, what a heavy subsidy I have had to make to the Count de Foix, ay, and to promise to pay him double the value of any damage my troops do in passing through his lands," added the Prince with increasing bitterness. "On every side I have had to make hard bargains. This Charles of Navarre has seen much of my money, and every lance who serves with me serves at my expense."
"All this I know," said Don Pedro indifferently.
"You know also," returned Edward, "that I have had to melt down my plate to pay for this army gathered together to place you upon the throne of Castile. Ay, and it goes ill with me to take my personal effects—"
"Had you been more powerful in Aquitaine," replied Don Pedro insolently, "you could have taxed your subjects for these expenses."
Edward Plantagenet beat his clenched fist upon his mouth to keep back the fury of impetuous words with which he would have answered this insolence. But seldom even in his fury did he lose complete command of himself, and he reasoned, even now, that if he were to quarrel with the man whose cause he had so extravagantly championed, he would make himself the butt of the laughter even of fools.
But Sir John Chandos, turning, spoke for the first time, and with an impressive sternness.
"In the name of God, Don Pedro, conduct yourself gently towards my master. And consider how you stand towards him."
Don Pedro changed his demeanour. He never ventured far in arrogance towards Sir John Chandos. He at once adopted that tone of almost humble servility which was so detestable to the Englishmen.
"Sire, have I not undertaken to pay all these Companies, as long as my gold, my silver and my treasure last, which I have brought from Spain, but which is not so great by twenty times as that which I have left behind?"
"I have heard these promises before," said Edward Plantagenet. "This gold and silver of which you speak, that you had with you, Don Pedro, came to very little, and, for the rest, I have advanced you loan after loan. Did I not pay the two hundred thousand crowns to the King of Navarre? Have I not ever paid all solely on your pledge that you would repay when we reached Castile? On your name and your liability I advanced a further twenty-six thousand florins to the King of Navarre as the first month's pay for the contingent that he promised should meet us here at Pampeluna. He had the money but the men have not arrived, and the King himself is shut up in some distant fortress."
Still with his air of humility, but with a sly smile, Don Pedro replied:
"But you, sire, are most unbusinesslike. You pay away money far too easily." Then, checking himself as he caught the glare in the Englishman's tawny eye, he added: "Have I not bound myself under the most solemn oath to repay these huge sums, and did I not leave my two daughters at Bordeaux as hostages?"
Neither of the Englishmen answered and the Castilian looked furtively from one to the other.
"Have I not sworn to give you the provinces of Biscay and Castro Urdiales in free sovereignty? Have I not sworn that all your subjects shall be quit of payment of taxes and customs when in my dominion?"
Still the Englishmen did not speak. They had heard these promises so often.
"Have I not promised to mark my gratitude to the mighty King your father," continued Don Pedro, "that all the heirs of Plantagenet should have the right of leading the armies of Castile, and that if they be not there the Standard of England should be borne along beside mine own?"
There was a pause.
Prince Edward stared across the mean room at the huge flakes of snow falling against the window.
"All this you have promised," he remarked sombrely, "and I hope to God, Don Pedro, you be not forsworn."
"I hope," replied the King of Castile, "that you, sire, do not lose heart in the adventure. For it seems to me that idling here smacks of sloth, and that we should even push on to Burgos." Prince Edward rose.
"Whatever it seems to you, Don Pedro, I act on my own judgment." With a flash of haughty violence which almost broke control he added:
"Return, sire, to your pavilion, and do not importune me further."
Don Pedro's dark hand went swiftly round the dagger, studded with opals and rubies, thrust into his gilt leather belt.
"If any lesser man spoke so to me—" he began.
But Sir John Chandos flung himself in front of him and before the contempt in the Englishman's grey eyes the Castilian turned away, choking his curses back in his throat.
As he flung out of the doorway a young knight, who was just entering, passed him and, staring back at his angry figure, laughed.
"Brother, your royal ally is a rude, uncivil fellow. I would we had a better excuse for this quarrel."
This was so exactly Edward Plantagenet's own secret bitter thought that it inflamed his already exasperated humour and he turned in uncontrolled fury on his younger brother.
"Am I to be jeered at and questioned even by you? Would you had stayed in England and our father had sent another to lead the archers. If, on every excuse, I am to have these disloyal jeers and jests—"
The young Prince only smiled in reply. He had a serenity in his humour and a smoothness in his demeanour which were often exasperating to his elder, though Edward loved John well.
The Duke of Lancaster, Prince John, called John of Ghent, or Gaunt, as the English named the Flanders town where he was born, was a handsome and accomplished knight, a true Plantagenet for courage and extravagance, for obstinacy and cruelty, for generosity to friends and tyranny towards the poor, but not a Plantagenet in this that he had a composure in his manner and a secrecy in his designs which made men fear him more than they feared the open violence of Prince Edward. He was tall, slim and lissom, with a long smooth face and hair of a paler shade than Edward's, with well-set grey eyes, in which the squint inherited from Fulk of Anjou was scarcely noticeable. He dressed with great ostentation and lived very splendidly, yet his active and supple mind seemed little occupied with things of the moment, but ever to be casting ahead for future achievements.
Sir John Chandos, who did not like him, yet had to commend his patience with the Prince of Wales.
"Good Edward, do not shout at me and be angered. I come on business. There is a herald arrived from Don Enriquez calling himself Duque de Transtamara."
"Calling himself King of Castile," said Edward sullenly. "Has he the impudence to send me a herald? What is his message? I'll not see him."
"So I thought," said John of Lancaster serenely. "Therefore I questioned the fellow myself. And this was all he had to say, only a formal demand for the reason of our coming. For, says this bastard, he has never injured any Plantagenet. And he is quite ready to offer battle and wishes to know by what road you will advance—by Avila or Logrono."
"By the laws of chivalry," said Edward sullenly and with some uneasiness, "we should give him this information."
"But, by the laws of strategy, we should not," replied John of Lancaster serenely. "For that reason I have ordered the herald into captivity. Even if we send him back without the information he will be able to tell his master something of the disposition and the number of our troops."
"That was not well done. You took too much on yourself, John," replied Edward gloomily, pacing up and down.
The young Duke of Lancaster's cool grey eyes turned to Sir John Chandos.
"Did I do ill, Sir John?" he asked, with a fine deference to the opinion of an older man. "Can we afford to give this bastard any advantage? By St. George! little entertainment have we, for many there are who have neither bread nor wine already. Consider we are here in a strange and barren country in the worst season."
"It is true," said Sir John Chandos.
"Consider, too," urged the Duke of Lancaster, now looking at his brother, "that it may be a great feat of arms to bring thirty thousand men across the Pyrenees, but that is not sufficient. We must now use our utmost endeavours to gain a battle and reach Burgos, where we may hope for refreshment and plunder, and to keep this Don Pedro—whom I neither like nor trust—to his high promises."
"Do you think," asked Sir John, who had a great respect for the young Prince's sagacity, "that this Castilian will endeavour to evade those same promises?"
"By St. George!" replied John Plantagenet, "I believe nothing of what he says. I have no trust in his faith or his honour. But once we are in Burgos we may help ourselves from the treasury. I tell you, Sir John, that unless we take some such resolute action, we and all this great flower of knighthood that follows us are but lost and ruined, and there will be no more money come from England further than that little my father sent with me. And I hear that Edward may no more tax Aquitaine, nor have we any more plate to melt. And we know," he added with his cool smile, certain of his facts, "that in a few months the pay of the mercenaries amounts to five hundred and fifty thousand florins."
"You were ever cautious and prudent," replied Edward Plantagenet bitterly, "and ever in the right, no doubt. Let the herald be detained and let us break camp as soon as may be, penetrate the passes by Vittoria and cross the Ebro, so falling on this bastard who is so bold as to ask the reason of our coming." In a burst of irritation he added violently: "Would to God this snow would cease! 'Tis like a bewilderment to a man's senses to be so confused and put about by this foul weather."
"Many die of it," replied Prince John composedly, "and that is another good reason, Edward, for pressing on at once for Burgos."
"You talk so confidently of Burgos, John," replied Edward in an exasperated tone. "Don Enriquez with all Castile gathered under his banner lies between us and Burgos. But, come, we waste too much time in words. By St. George! I have stood here for an hour or more and talked of nothing but money."
Affectionately, but sadly, Sir John Chandos said:
"Full of the lust of adventure as you are, sire, you do not think enough of money, which is the basis even of famous feats of arms."
"Nay, Edward was never practical," added the young Duke of Lancaster serenely. "But I will get out of this affair with some credit. When a man is on the wrong side it behoves him to move carefully, for the least slip will make him ridiculous. Only a great and glorious victory can extricate us from the contempt of Europe."
"This to my face!" cried Edward furiously.
"This to any man's face," replied John of Lancaster, not in the least losing his composure. "Will you blind yourself to what manner of wretch Don Pedro of Castile is?"
"Yet you are willing to fight for him," stormed Edward.
John replied coolly:
"I am more than willing. I am eager to fight, for I see my own advantage in it. I also see the peril. I wish to be forearmed."
Edward studied his young brother's smooth, serene, proud face. He seemed checked in his own anger by another thought.
"What is it you aim for, John?" he asked in a musing tone.
The Duke of Lancaster smiled without replying and the elder brother felt a sudden stab of uneasiness, almost of dread, remembering his own two young sons. How many times had it been whispered to him that this brilliant and ambitious young Prince aimed at a Crown?
Sometimes, in the dark and dead of night, there had come to Prince Edward a great fear of dying while his sons were yet children. Who then would protect their heritage from John of Lancaster?
As if he guessed his brother's thoughts, the young Prince smiled, and smote his long hands lightly on his hips.
"There have been enough words for to-day," he said coolly, "but console yourself, Edward, apart from love and duty, loyalty and affection, maybe the Crown I hanker after is not that of England, but of Castile. This villain is heirless. Think of that, Edward, but say nothing of it. I will to my post," he added smoothly, ignoring Edward's stare of amazement. "It is good that the men should see us riding about, with bright and cheerful countenances—not shut up in houses in anxious consultation."
When he had left Edward broke out at Sir John Chandos:
"John is for ever scheming. He has not come here for the adventure, but to snatch at a kingdom."
"Why not?" said Sir John Chandos. "I have suspected it since he landed. It were better for you, sire, that he were in Castile than in England. In the name of God, let him become heir to Don Pedro."
Edward Plantagenet flung to the window. Like an animal savagely peering through the bars of his cage, he glared out at the monotony of the snow, blotting out the slow movements of the camp.
"Holy Mother of God! What is this?" he cried violently. "Why is such weather allowed? Have I not prayed and given good offerings? On all other occasions, have I not had fair weather for my enterprises? Holy Mother of God! Why am I treated like this?"
"It is the weather to be expected in mid-winter," remarked Sir John Chandos.
"But I," cried Edward impetuously, "demanded a miracle of Our Lady, and what has She done for me? To land me thus on the plains of Navarre in this damnable weather, which is no gift from Heaven, but seems rather as if the Devil had a hand in it."
He crossed to the fire and stood there lingering, with the air of a man who makes delays.
Sir John Chandos was surprised that he did not haste to arm himself and ride out.
Blacksmiths, pages, marshals, bachelors and knights were crowded in the outer room of the farmhouse.
But Prince Edward Plantagenet gave no summons to any of them. He stood with his hands pressed on his side and said at length:
"Sir John, I have again that pain which is at times of an intensity that seems to tear my very entrails. It brings with it a staggering in my senses, as if I could not rightly think or command myself. What may it be?"
The glance of the two friends met. Sir John Chandos made the sign of the Cross.
"I will see again," said Edward, "that monk who came with Don Pedro—that last medicine he gave me eased me."
"God help us," thought Sir John Chandos, with a sinking heart, "if you should become a sick man."
And Edward Plantagenet began instantly to speak of other things. He talked of the pass at Roncesvalles which they had come through when they had crossed the Pyrenees, and recalled the story of Roland.
"That was the Golden Age, Sir John; that was the blooming time of chivalry and knighthood. Would I had lived then—not in these days when all is business, and money, and intrigues."
He looked over his shoulder, glaring angrily at the snow beyond the small window.
"Would to God I had lived then!" he repeated.
Don Enriquez, Duque de Transtamara, by the will of the people of Castile, the Pope at Avignon and the King of France—King of Castile and Leon—read the letter which Prince Edward had sent him, after many weeks, by his long-detained herald.
With him were his two brothers, Don Sancho and Don Tello (whom he had lately created Counts), and Bertrand du Guesclin the French captain, who, anxiously and even desperately expected, had at last made his way up from Provence.
Don Enriquez sat in a pavilion of saffron-coloured silk.
It was early April. The fierce boisterousness of the winter had a little departed. There was pale sunshine in the air and the snow was melting in the valleys.
Don Enriquez turned his letter about, then read it aloud to the three men standing behind him, smiling a little sadly the while as a man who gets no more than he had expected, and not so much as he had hoped.
This was the letter that Edward Prince of Wales, Duke of Aquitaine, sent to the Castilian Pretender:
"Right-puissant and right-honoured Enriquez, who are called Duque de Tanstamara, also called in your present letter, King of Castile,—
We have well heard the contents of your noble letter that are both gracious and gentle of which the tenor is for the truth, that you would willingly know why we are in alliance and have pledged our faith with your enemy whom we hold as our friend. Know that we ought to do this to uphold the old alliances which have been in times past, and for love, and for pity, and to maintain the right, for you ought to understand in your heart that it is not right that a bastard should be King. Nor should men agree to the disinheriting of a rightful heir who is of lawful wedlock.
Let me advise you on another point, since you are so highly esteemed and held to be so valiant, that you should on each side come to terms to which I would willingly lend assistance and would agree, for my part, that in Castile you should have a share. But reason and justice demand that you should give up the Crown. Thus might then be fostered a good peace between you. And as to my entering Spain know that myself and my Company will, by the help of God, enter just in that place which it shall please us to enter without asking leave."
SAVE for the sudden arrogance of that last sentence, the letter was all courtesy and seemed to show moderation and a desire for peace. But Don Enriquez could not avoid remarking that Prince Edward had refrained from sending his reply until he had accomplished all his strategy and the two armies were face to face, so that no man with blood in his body could refuse to fight.
The Castilian sat silent and Don Sancho, his younger brother, picked up the letter and read it through to himself. The three young men were stung by the cruel reference to their birth, and Don Enriquez began to defend himself before Bertrand du Guesclin.
"The Pope has acknowledged that I am legitimate, and who is this Don Pedro? Everyone knows that he is but a Jew who calls himself King of Castile. Is he to be placed by foreign force on our throne? What say you to this?" And he turned round in his seat and looked sharply at the French knight.
Du Guesclin, who cared nothing for either of the pretenders to the Castilian throne, base-born or not, replied easily:
"What matters for what he puts in his letter, sire? Myself, who am a Frenchman and for all French knights who follow me, that has nothing to do with the matter. You know very well, sire, that it is only by chance we fight for Castile. Deep in our hearts is a long hatred of the English. This, for us, is but an episode in a war of many years. It is because of this that you have the assistance of so many French knights who are happy to serve you."
Don Enriquez sighed.
"What evil fortune have I had," he complained, "that this Pedro should receive such help from so valiant and determined a knight as the Prince of Wales, when he might have gone begging over all Europe and returned barehanded, finding none to second so vile a cause? What can be the motives of this high Prince?"
"Sire," replied Bertrand du Guesclin, "all Europe wonders as to his motives. Some say he does it for pure lust of adventure and weariness of his long inactivity in Aquitaine, and some," added the Frenchman with a deepening smile on his frog-like face and a brightening gleam in his small, intelligent eyes, "say he does it out of joy to have a trial of arms with me."
"He is crafty as well as valiant," mused Don Enriquez. "See how he has outmanoeuvred us and kept us under the watchful eyes of his scouts, and we have not been able to discover what are his devices. Not only has he been able to turn my line of passes, but he has menaced my communications with Burgos and made himself master of the most rich valleys of the Najerilla, where, by my faith! I think that his men will not lack good feeding and fair plunder."
"If I had joined you sooner, sire," remarked Bertrand du Guesclin with regret, "I would have warned you that while he seemed perpetually to be drawing himself up in battle array to tempt you he was secretly making preparations to surprise you. But now there is no need to talk further. We are face to face and must fight."
But Don Enriquez did not at once accede to this. He was not a man of war and a battle for battle's sake had no attraction for him.
It had been his keen desire to enjoy his crown in peace, to protect and improve his country, and to gain the love of his subjects by a wise ministration of the law.
Don Enriquez of Transtamara was just, wise, valiant and honourable, and it seemed to him horrible that this foreign Prince should endeavour to thrust upon Castile the bloody tyrant who had once with loathing been cast out. Well did he know—for often had Du Guesclin warned him—of the might and power of the Prince of Wales and of the rich flower of Gascon and English knighthood that followed him, and of the fame and force of the English bowmen and lancers, and he pondered what the result would be if the invincible Edward added one more victory to his record, and Don Pedro be again master in Castile.
Hideous and fell would be his revenge, and all who had supported Don Enriquez would expect a bloody death.
Therefore Don Enriquez, rising up between his two brothers, said slowly:
"Perhaps we might take this noble Prince's advice and try to come to some compromise which will spare devastation and the loss by war. I have no mind to see men slaughtered in my quarrel. Perhaps we can obtain from this villain, Don Pedro, such guarantees as will ease the country from his tyrannies in future."
The two young brothers, who were also earnest and conscientious and by no means avid for vainglory, gave a murmuring support to these views, but Bertrand du Guesclin laughed in the King's face.
"Have I come, spending myself in toilsome marches from Provence, have I wrung a blessing from the old Pope, have I engaged with extravagant promises the services of the Free Companies, to turn back in the face of the enemy? Sire, you do not think of what you say. No doubt you are downcast by the fame of the Prince of Wales. But, think you, sire, you have behind you the Pope of Rome, the King of France and myself. Your subjects love you and have all rallied to your standard."
"My cause, at least, is just," said Don Enriquez doubtfully, and crossed himself on brow and breast.
"Confound the justness of the cause," replied Du Guesclin good-humouredly. "What is more important is that your men outnumber his by several thousands, and if, with all these advantages, sire, you decide to resign your crown without a fight for it, why, I am sorry I put myself to the trouble of being ransomed to the help of such a Prince.
He spoke in a tone of rallying good-humour and Don Enriquez could not avoid smiling in return.
"We will offer battle, Du Guesclin," he conceded simply. "You know that I have always been guided by you in everything."
"You will consider, sire," replied Du Guesclin candidly and earnestly, "that I do not presage a complete victory. Nay, I would not be over-confident, but if we fail, it will at least be said that we have striven valiantly. Nay, bear witness," and he smiled into the faces of the three Princes, "that I would make no great boast, for well I know who rides with the Prince of Wales—in truth he has the flower of chivalry, the flower of bachelry, the best men-at-arms in the world."
"Would you make me fearful, Monsieur Bertrand, before we come to the proof?" smiled Don Enriquez.
And the Frenchman replied:
"It matters not if you are fearful or no, sire, for in honest truth you have no choice but to give this battle. None but a fool would be for a compromise. For whatever promises Don Pedro may make, well you know he would not keep them. Nay, not even with the Prince of Wales to overplead him. Therefore, we must even fight for it. And I would have it, sire, that we offer battle in front of the little river, Najerilla. For that reason I will put your army in battle array. Prince Edward's scouts watch us, and that keenly."
The French Captain left the three brothers and went about his work.
Don Enriquez turned to the other two and remarked:
"You see, we are as naught; it lies between Du Guesclin and Edward of Wales."
"It is no matter who gets the glory," said Don Sancho, "if Castile may be relieved of this tyrant."
They could scarce bring themselves to give Don Pedro his name, for it was accursèd on their lips, he having slain their mother, the beautiful Eleanora de Guzman, and many of their brethren, besides having committed deeds of so black a horror that scarcely they might be told in the light of day.
Well the three brothers knew what would be in store for them should they by the chance of battle fall into the hands of Don Pedro, who had even now with him the cursed witch-woman, Maria de Padilla, who, helped doubtless by the Devil, had survived even the perils of the icy passage across the Pyrenees.
They were handsome, slim, upright young men, full of grace and fire, with sensitive lips, hair and eyes black as the raven's wing.
All of them had spent the night in prayer to the amused disapproval of Bertrand du Guesclin, who said that on such an occasion—that is, the night before a battle—hours of good sleep served a man better than wearing out his strength upon his knees. And that if Almighty God had half the sense with which one might credit an average human being He would understand as much.
The three brothers embraced, not without sincere affection, and exchanged the amulets containing holy relics that hung round their necks, and swore on the hilt of their swords to be true to each other in the coming engagement, and each further vowed that if one fell to avenge him. Then they left the saffron silk pavilion and were comforted by the sweetness of the April air and the day which became warmer with the rising of the sun.
The fields and the orchards and the heath about them were fragrant with the first blooms. Tufts of flowers, small and exquisite, rose among the patches of dry grass and the still half-melted snow.
At daybreak the Castilian force crossed the little river and was drawn up by Du Guesclin in full battle array, two leagues before the small town of Najera. In the vaward Du Guesclin commanded fifteen hundred picked French knights and a fine body of Castilian men-at-arms, among which were the famous Knights of the Scarf under the command of Don Sancho, Enriquez's brother. This first line was supported by two thousand men-at-arms, with a strong detachment of Genoese bowmen, on the flank. The second line was under the command of Don Enriquez himself and was composed of three divisions of cavalry. To the left, under the King's other brother, Don Tello, were some thousand men-at-arms and two thousand genetors, or light horsemen.
Under Don Enriquez's own command were some fifteen hundred chosen knights, and the right division was led by the High Chamberlain of Castile, that Gomez Carillo de Quintania who had betrayed Don Pedro; he commanded a thousand men-at-arms and two thousand light horsemen.
The third line or reserve was composed of Spanish infantry at least ten thousand strong, but ill-trained and unreliable. This army was summoned to arms at midnight on the Friday, 2nd April, and at daybreak their advance commenced, for Du Guesclin was eager to get clear of the orchards, farms and undulating woods round Najera and out on to the open heath, so that his cavalry might have good scope for action.
The Spaniards were all in good fettle. Du Guesclin had ordered that the men be rationed well and rested. They were full fed, finely clothed and armed, the horsemen handsomely mounted on magnificent Spanish stallions; the silk cloth, velvet and gilded poles of the pennons, standards and banners made an imposing array with the devices of the chivalry of France, Castile and Leon, and those of the Free Companies.
The pale light of the feeble daybreak flashed from armour and helm. The Spaniards' mail was light, after the Moorish fashion. And their imposing ranks were rendered gay by the gauze and silk scarves worn by the knights, either tied across breast and shoulder over the jupon, or wound round the bottom of the helm.
Du Guesclin, mounted on a heavy grey war-horse (it was difficult to find a charger that could bear his full weight when he was in mail), looked a monstrous figure in the faint grey of dawn-light, as he rode ahead of the gallant pomp of France and Castile. The Breton was indifferent to his appearance. His armour, though well-cleaned and scoured, was dented and unornamented. He wore on his helm nothing but a wreath of his colours, but his gigantic size and majestic bearing well fitted him to lead this magnificent army, and all eyes turned to him with confidence.
Du Guesclin's heart was high and behind his vizor he smiled with pleasure as he thought of the conflict to come, when he should at last try conclusions with the famous Prince of Wales.
Pleasant in his nostrils was the fragrance of the budding orchard, the perfume of the heath and the odour of fresh green growing weeds in the fields near by—gracious and pleasant all this, although he was eager to destroy, in the tumult of a bloody conflict, all these fair evidences of a peaceful countryside offering rest, refreshment and joy to man.
Du Guesclin received from his scouts information of the movements of the Prince of Wales, who was advancing cautiously (his approach covered by parties of light horsemen), not along the direct road to Najera, but behind rolling heathland which screened his advance on the right of the highway.
The sun broke through veils of light chill clouds, a fair breeze passed through the blossoms of the trees in the orchards. Nearly all the snow had melted during the night, but here and there, in pits and hollows, thin crackles of ice remained. The scene was pale, peaceful and silent, save only for the tramp of men's feet and the noise of the advance of the armoured horsemen.
Du Guesclin, leaning forward in the saddle, peered through the slits in his vizor at the low swelling hills above which the enemy must appear.
He had dressed his ranks, and sent his marshals to bid all the knights adjust their armour. He had bid the banners advance and the trumpets sound. He was confident that Don Enriquez and Don Tello behind him would support him well, though he looked upon the ten thousand Spanish infantry as little better than useless, knowing them to be sudden and frantic in action, but soon discouraged.
Du Guesclin bid his standard-bearer lift higher the great banner of France which, side by side with that of Castile, rode a pace or two ahead of him. He wished the breeze were stronger to blow out defiantly the heavy folds of silk.
The light clouds suddenly dispersed about the sun. At that moment Du Guesclin saw, coming over the crest of the hill, the spearheads of the English banners and lances.
THE English Prince had maoeuvred most skilfully to bring his troops down from the bleak and barren uplands, into the flat valley by the river of Najerilla.
When he had seen that Don Enriquez could not be tempted from a position which was far too redoubtable to be attacked, he had broken up his camp at Vittoria and marched south, crossing the Sierra de Cantabria at La Guardia, and after forty-eight hours forced marching, had reached the Ebro at Viana. Hence he had moved to Logrono, crossed the river by the bridge, shaken off the Spanish scouts, encamped at his ease and in the position where he wished to be, at Navarette.
From there he had dispatched the long-imprisoned herald of Don Enriquez with his answer. When he received no reply he knew that the Castilian usurper, as he named him, meant to fight. The two armies took their brief rest but a couple of leagues apart, and all knew that there must be a great battle on the morrow.
It was during that short night that Prince Edward sent for the monk, who remained in close attendance on Don Pedro, and bade all men leave his tent while he interviewed the holy friar. For neither Edward Plantagenet nor any other had penetrated the disguise of Nunreddin, the Eastern doctor.
The Oriental traversed carefully the English camp where all was making ready for the morrow.
The men were eager to fight, for they were short of provisions, and shorter yet of drink, and each man stayed his appetite by thinking of the fighting and the plunder to come. For it was well known that the Spanish camp was rich in everything and that behind their lines lay a country richer still, with fine treasure at Burgos and ease and plunder throughout Seville and Aragon, to say nought of Don Pedro and his promises of lavish pay and rich preferment.
So the English and the Gascons, the Welsh and the Scotch, were high-hearted, despite their privations, and made them ready; the knights were buckling on and adjusting their armour and seeing to the defences of their great horses. The wisest of them oversaw this themselves, leaving nothing entirely to bachelors or pages.
The men-at-arms sharpened their arrowheads, tested their bows and put their steel caps in readiness.
Nunreddin looked above this grim human activity at the pale starry heavens which hung like a loose veil spangled with silver sequins above the sleeping orchards.
A cock crowed and a dog barked at a distant farm. Light clouds blew above the trees and seemed to struggle in the keen night breeze. Nunreddin heard the thin voices of monks chanting hymns, the rude lusty tones of archers and the men-at-arms joining in with zesty goodwill. The marshal who conducted him left him at the entrance of the Prince's pavilion, and when Nunreddin entered he was surprised to find that the Plantagenet was alone.
The Englishman sat on the low portable couch covered with silk rugs which formed his bed. He wore but a shirt which was open on his neck and chest, close breeched-hose and ankle-boots. The colour of his face was as grey as the handful of ashes of the spent fire on the hearth, and drops of sweat glistened on his low forehead.
When he saw Nunreddin he beckoned to him without speaking.
The Oriental met the Prince's tense, blank stare. He thought to himself, "So soon! I thought a man of his physique had resisted longer." In silence he approached the couch, placed his long, cool, brown fingers on the Englishman's massive wrist. He noticed that Edward's fingers clutched deeply into the silk coverlet and his teeth were set behind his pale, parted lips.
"You are in pain, sire?"
Edward Plantagenet nodded.
Nunreddin drew from his bosom the little wallet in which he carried his phial of medicine.
Prince Edward's tawny eyes turned to this, and he said in a low, yet steady, whisper:
"Give me something as you did before to a little ease me, for I must lead the action in a few hours."
Without replying Nunreddin turned to a small table where stood a small flare, cups, and bottles.
The Prince's whisper came insistently:
"You have told no one—you have kept this a secret?"
"Sire," replied Nunreddin, "do not bring yourself so low as to ask secrecy of such as I, who am but a dog for your service."
"I am come low indeed," came the whisper of Edward Plantagenet, "and since you know it, and you alone, you only can help me, I must even ask your grace for this secrecy."
Nunreddin mixed the medicine slowly and precisely. He heard a sigh from the obscure corner where Edward Plantagenet lay. When he turned with the draught the Prince snatched the glass and drank it at a gulp, then sank back on the coverlet, his limbs extended like one felled by a mighty blow.
Nunreddin with his delicate, soft tread crossed to the flap of the pavilion, and looked out on to the misty, star-strewn sky.
The usual sentries stood some way apart from the Prince's pavilions. Nunreddin could see the tall figure and white mantle of a knight standing close by the entrance, in the attitude of one who keeps guard. Nunreddin knew this noble outline for that of Sir John Chandos.
The knight came to the flaps of the tent, his face was deeply troubled.
"How is it with the Prince?" he asked, in the lowest of whispers. "There is but an hour or so. Can he mount? Can he arm?"
"The time has not yet come," replied Nunreddin, "when he will be unable to do any of these things."
Sir John Chandos replied earnestly and wistfully:
"Who are you that alone of all the surgeons have the power to give him ease?"
"I have learnt painfully," replied Nunreddin, "some skill in medicine."
"You must leave this Pedro of Castile," said Sir John, "and follow my master."
The Oriental did not reply. It was not his intention to attach his fortunes permanently to those of any other man, and he believed he preferred the life he might have with Don Pedro to that which he might have with Edward of Wales.
The knight laid his hand on the monk's coarse robe which disguised the Oriental and said earnestly:
"I, and I only, know the secret of the Prince's illness; even his brother, Prince John, is not aware of it. Do you be careful, monk, and keep this matter private."
"I exist by keeping matters private," replied Nunreddin, and returned to his patient.
The paroxysm of pain had passed.
The great frame of Edward Plantagenet lay stretched in an exhausted attitude on the silk coverlet. A slight colour had returned to his face, still scarred with frostbite, and his tawny eyes gleamed fiercely under the drooping lids.
"Will this cease, monk?" he muttered. "Shall I soon be cured?"
"All will cease," replied the Oriental; "all will in time be cured."
"Answer me not in riddles. Tell me if this illness of mine will pass."
"Prince, it will pass, together with all human disease and trouble."
Edward Plantagenet sat upright on the couch and with a large linen napkin wiped the sweat from his brow and face.
"Strange that you," he said bitterly, "a wretched monk in the train of this detested Pedro, should be the only one to surprise my secret and give me ease. But do not think that I shall fail to reward you."
"But I am a wanderer," smiled Nunreddin. "I pass from place to place and find my amusement watching the follies of mankind. It is difficult to reward such a one."
"You speak like a holy man," muttered Edward, crossing himself. "Sometimes I have doubts as to who you may be; but you must stay with me," he added with a rising vehemence, "for there is none other can give me relief when the pain seizes me. Tell me," he added, getting up from the couch and speaking imperiously, "this will pass—my illness? I shall be strong again? What is it, this horror that claws at my body and seems to sap my blood and break my bones? Am I under an enchantment? Has some devil got hold of me?"
"Question not the mysteries of God," replied Nunreddin. "For the while, Prince, you are cured and may lead your battle, and, whatever your fate, are you not the English Paragon who must bear all without lamentation? It is easier, Prince, to win battles and to endure bitter marches in winter and all the toilsome hardships of a campaign than in times of peace to bear the long withering of the body, the blasting of health in the prime of manhood."
"Is that to be my destiny?" asked the Prince.
"I have not said so, sire."
Edward Plantagenet crossed himself again.
"Nor have I done anything to deserve it," he muttered. "I have always been very humble and obedient before God. I have spent much treasure on Masses, on building churches and feeing priests, and clerks and singers for the glory of God. Nay, Our Lady and Her gentle Son would not deliver me so over to the Devil."
"It is good," said Nunreddin, "to be confident in the mercy of God. But, as I understand the mysteries of the Christian religion, the angels are not so busy in the protection of those who live with all the lust and pomp and extravagances of the world, who are swollen up with pride, consumed by vanity, exulted in their brief strength, their transient beauty and their passing power, in those who live, Prince, as you have lived."
"As I have lived," muttered the Plantagenet. "I have lived according to chivalry and wronged none."
Nunreddin laughed. The Prince looked at him in startled horror.
A monk laughing, and at such a moment! It seemed a devil's cackle in the obscurity of the pavilion.
"Chivalry," said Nunreddin, still smiling. "Was it not said that he who lived by the sword shall perish by the sword?"
"I would," replied the Prince moodily, "it might be so. I have confessed. I have forgiven all my enemies. I have repented all my sins. I would that to-morrow might be my last battle, rather than live to endure what I must endure if a long mortal disease grip me. But it is not possible," he added vehemently and impetuously, "I have ever been so strong. Do you know, monk, that I have never met a man who could bear the weight of steel that I could? Now throw the six-foot lance with such agility? Nay, none, unless it be Du Guesclin. But I have heard that even he tires sooner." Sir John Chandos entered the tent.
"Sire, we may not delay forming the attack. Prince John is already apparelled."
"I am prepared," said Prince Edward, dashing the thick yellow hair out of his eyes. "Now let no word of this go abroad, Sir John. Say I have been shut up with my confessor."
Sir John Chandos gazed at his friend and master with great relief, then flashed a glance of gratitude at Nunreddin, who waited no more for either of them but slipped out of the tent as the pages, armourers and bachelors came in to arm the Prince.
The night was very fair, the air chill and sweet. The light, swiftly moving clouds gave a misty tenderness to the sparkling stars.
Nunreddin picked his way through the half-hushed tumult and defilements of the camp, to an orchard some careful hand had uselessly planted which lay between the two armies.
The white cat came bounding out of the dusk and rubbed against his robe. As he picked it up and caressed it to his lean bosom, the trumpets sounded from the English camp.
In the faint reluctant dawn-light showed the timid pink of the apple-blossom, not yet unfolded from the pale leaf.
He moved swiftly away from the line of march and the open space of heath where the two armies designed to meet, penetrating deep into the orchard until he came to a deserted farmhouse which stood upon a little eminence that overlooked a wide prospect.
The house, which seemed to have belonged to prosperous people, had been left hastily. The men had ridden off to join Don Enriquez. What had become of the women and children Nunreddin did not need to ask himself.
There were wooden toys on the floor and women's garments across an unmade bed.
Pigeons cooed on the roof and at the back cocks and hens clucked. The barn had been overlooked by the soldiers.
There was food in the kitchen, the last of the winter stores in the cupboards.
Nunreddin made himself a breakfast of this, and fed the dainty white cat with small gobbets of dried meat. He then went upstairs and stared out from the highest window to watch across the orchard the advance of the English—a magnificent sight, no doubt, but to the Oriental the whole affair was one of unutterable folly. He had hardly been able to forbear laughing not long since when, with solemn pomp, the Prince of Wales had knighted Don Pedro and two hundred English and Gascon squires before the assembled ranks. To the Oriental, there had been something ludicrous in that ceremony. He had laughed, too, when Don Tello, the usurper's brother, had attempted to surprise the vaward of the English camp and fallen in with the convoys which Sir Hugh Calverley was escorting; the surprise had been nearly successful, many of the Prince's knights and squires were slain in their beds. But what had caused the amusement of Nunreddin was the young Prince John rushing out in his nightshirt, planting his standard on a hill, and there endeavouring in that strange garb to rally the flying English and Gascons. Yes, there had been something ridiculous and grotesque about that—the men half clothed rushing here and there, the startled sentries, the shouts, and the young Prince, unarmed and in his shirt, yelling up his disordered men.
But Nunreddin had not laughed when he had heard the news of the little scouting-party led by the two Feltons, only two hundred lancers and the same number of archers, being surrounded by Don Tello in his homeward ride on the little hill of Arniz, and for a hundred times hurling back the attacking-party which amounted to more than three times their number, and refusing to surrender till nearly every man of them was slain. It took a thousand mounted Spanish knights to overcome the handful of valiant Englishmen who had fallen, bitten through and through with lance and javelin, hail beating on them, a bitter wind biting them, and their blood freezing as it gushed forth.
"Futility," thought Nunreddin, "all for nothing. Yet there is something even in such an action which elevates mankind."
He now watched the English forces deploying over the slope. It would have been difficult to recognize in their leader the man he had attended an hour ago in the pavilion.
The Prince of Wales, like all the Plantagenets but to an excessive degree, valued pomp and magnificence, and well knew the effect of superb spectacle on the minds of men. He had never neglected anything in his person or his surroundings that would overawe or move to admiration those who beheld him. Much of his success and fame was due to the way in which he had enhanced his great qualities by imposing and extravagant display.
He always affected black armour, polished till it reflected a cold light like the gleam of midnight stars in dark water. In contrast, a princely coronet of finest gold, studded with rubies, pearls and sapphires, surrounded his steel helm. He had his vizor up now and the links of fine steel, so exquisitely wrought as to be supple as a veil of silk that formed his coif of mail, fell on to his shoulders, framed his face close to the corners of the eyes and lips. His close-fitting jupon bore the Leopards of England and the Lilies of France, silver and blue, gold and white, and was buckled low round the hips with a belt of massive plates of gold. At his breast was the label of the eldest son of England, the heavy chain of knots and roses of the Garter, on his shield the royal arms of England repeated. His herald rode beside him and on his standard again showed the Leopard and the Lily, so that the Prince blazed with his own famous coat-of-arms. The nobility and terror of his presence was further enhanced by the three upright plumes which rose from his helm and added another two feet to his stature. These were his favourite cognizance and were scattered again alternately with the royal arms on the flowing bardings of his horse. This was a gigantic beast, by name Dun Crump, one of the most beloved of the Prince's warrior-steeds, black as a raven, massive as a war-tower.
Man and horse loomed monstrous in the uncertain light. Man and animal both armoured, both trapped with the same devices, the same rich colours, appeared one creature, an embodiment of strength, might and power.
The Prince was a magnificent horseman and could manage his mighty steed so that even when both were, as now, fully equipped for war, they had an air of ease and grace.
Close behind the Prince came other splendid knights, his closest friends and companions of the Order of the Blue Garter, and his faithful Gascon lords, like the Captal de Buch.
"He is not thinking," said Nunreddin to himself, "of the cause for which he fights, nor of the results of this battle, but only of his personal honour and achievements. And that little King in Paris, who will never show his face on a field of battle, will beat him in the end."
The Oriental, descrying from the deserted farmhouse window, admitted however, that what the Prince did, he did very well. No man could have given a better example of a gallant knight-at-arms—an example of chivalry and princely accomplishments.
As the light strengthened and the army came more into view Nunreddin was able to observe the order of battle.
The condition of the Anglo-Gascon troops was by no means equal to that of those led by Du Guesclin. The perils of the icy crossing of the Pyrenees, disease, losses incurred through skirmishes and scouting-parties, had heavily reduced the numbers of Prince Edward's men. He had not under his command now more than twenty thousand—ten thousand less than with which he had set out from the Camp at Dax.
The veterans of the Free Companies (many of these had left Don Enriquez to return to their old leader, though some still remained with Castile), men-at-arms and archers, formed the first command which was under the young Prince John of Lancaster and Sir John Chandos. Prince Edward led the main body of some five thousand men-at-arms and five thousand archers. Under him were many famous leaders: Sir Thomas Percy, Sir Oliver de Clisson and Sir Walter Shewett. The rearguard was led by the King of Majorca and consisted of the remainder of the Free Companies under Sir Hugh Calverley.
Sir Perducas d'Albret led a large force of Gascons. The advance, still concealed by the undulating hill, the Prince drew up in battle array. Dismounting some of his horse, he ordered the chargers to the care of the King of Majorca.
Whilst this was being done Sir John Chandos came up to the Prince and craved the rank of Knight-banneret which had long been his due, but he had desired that it might be granted on the field of battle.
The Prince received the Chandos pennon and with his dagger cut off the end, so that it became the square banner of a knight-banneret.
As he returned this to the hand of his faithful friend he thought of the dark and loneliness but a few hours ago, when Sir John had faithfully watched with him in the tent, and he had been unmanned by pain.
"Sir John, I return you your banner. God give you strength and power to preserve it."
He then turned to King Pedro, who stood beside him, dark, half mocking, half sullen, blazing with Oriental splendour, and took the Spaniard's hand with a display of feeling unusual to his controlled pride.
"You shall soon see, sire, this very day you shall know whether you will have anything in the Kingdom of Castile or not."
The Castilian answered in a flattering tone:
"I have good hopes in the justice of my cause and in your prowess, Prince."
At that the Plantagenet dropped his hand and turned away again, making the sign of the Cross on his broad mailed breast. "Thus do I commend myself and my battle into the hands of God."
He looked up into the pale, sweet April sky, looked above the tops of the loftiest pennant, the highest standard, into the free untainted upper air.
"This battle may be the last battle."
He folded his hands, stiff in the stiff-jointed steel war-gloves, across the arms of England, and his head, massive with the steel helm and the huge upright feathers, drooped forward in an attitude of prayer.
The marshals rode up and reported that all was ready. So the Prince gave the order to advance in the Name of God and of St. George.
Du Guesclin, coming steadily across the heath, saw the spearheads and pennants appear above the slope of the little hill.
THE peace of the early day filled with the murmur of the breeze in the trees, the chatter of birds, and the ripple of the busy little stream was broken by the terrific clash as the two vawards of the armies hurled themselves together, Du Guesclin's crossbowmen and the English archers of Lancaster advanced with a force so great that the English reeled back the length of a lance.
"Forward!" shouted Lancaster, himself in the front of the fray.
And the English, quick as the spring forward of a wave after a recoil, hurled themselves again on the French and Castilians. A cruel, relentless struggle—breast to breast, knee to knee, arm to arm—followed. The men pressed close, the English ranks coming forward, whilst French and Castilians were standing firm round the huge bulk of Du Guesclin. Lancaster shouted when he saw Chandos down. A gigantic Spaniard had borne him, by sheer weight, to the ground. But Sir John had snatched a knife from his bosom and driven it home into the Castilian's side, shaken himself free from the writhing body of the dying man, and contrived, loaded as he was with mail, to stagger to his feet.
The Spanish men-at-arms then began to hurl large stones from slings, and at this unaccustomed mode of warfare the English were, for awhile, daunted and thrown into some confusion; but, immediately recovering, sent such a shower of arrows into the enemy's ranks that no more stones were hurled, nor was order kept in the Spanish ranks.
Thus, while the vaward was pressing an initial advantage, the light horsemen of Don Tello and the Grand Chamberlain Gomez Carillo were retreating from the field in piteous confusion before the onslaught of the Captal de Buch and Sir Thomas Percy.
These two great Captains, seeing the Spanish wings thus flying down the valley, made no effort to pursue them (they being already out of the battle), but turned their divisions inwards and pressed on the flanks at the centre led by Du Guesclin and Don Enriquez who had most dauntlessly flung himself forward to support the French, thrice leading his knights to the charge, thrice being beaten back, till he snatched the flag of Castile from the standard-bearer and, holding it aloft, cried desperately to his followers, reminding them of their oath of allegiance and the hatred they bore to Don Pedro the tyrant, ay, and of the fate that would be likely theirs were they not victors in this fight.
But the English arrows flew so thick there was no avoiding them.
Horse and man were pierced through and through, and the Spaniards could no longer advance, but must stand exposed to this strong attack, for they were surrounded by the men-at-arms in a gigantic circle of iron who pressed on them closer and closer, the Prince, the Duke, the Captal and Sir Thomas Percy bearing in with deadly persistency round Don Enriquez and Bertrand du Guesclin, who held their ground with a handful of French Bretons and Norman knights.
Du Guesclin saw himself surrounded, and though he killed many with his own hands his knights fell thickly about his feet, and he doubted if he might save the day.
He was defeated, bested in strategy and arms. But he remained good-humoured. He was never one to stake his all on a single battle, or to consider it a glorious thing to die fighting bravely.
War to him was not the sport it was to Edward of Wales—a game in which honour and glory and riches were the stakes. Bertrand du Guesclin fought for France.
He had in his mind the young King, watchful and quiet in Paris, who was so despised by the fighting English.
He had in his mind too those wasted devastated Provinces, the burnt mills and bridges, the destroyed towns, slain women and children, the ruined merchants, the confiscated revenues. Even in the midst of the heat and noise of battle Bertrand du Guesclin thought of these things, and he called out to his knights round him that they had better surrender and live to contest this cause on another field:
"For, by my faith, are we outmatched and outwitted, and these Spaniards have fled, it is no shame to surrender."
But the great Breton had pity for Don Enriquez who had made the most desperate efforts to rescue him. It was no fault of his that the day had gone ill for Castile.
But all had been for nothing.
Borne down by the showers of English arrows, even the stoutest ranks of Castilian chivalry had scattered and fled.
"Look ye," said Bertrand du Guesclin, resting for a second on his bloody sword, as a band of Bretons kept back the English charge, "'twere best you fled, Don Enriquez. Mount your horse and speed down the valley. I have seen Don Pedro riding here and there through the fray. There can be no doubt he searches for you."
"And I would meet him face to face," cried Don Enriquez, his dark countenance flushed with passion. "Am I not the cause of this battle and slaughter?"
Du Guesclin grinned.
"What mercy will you get in the hands of a murderer? Fly down the valley, Don Enriquez. It may be, on another occasion, we will make another try for the Crown of Castile."
But Don Enriquez gave no heed to this. He turned about and cried to the remaining knights:
"Sirs, in the name of God you have made me King and you have taken me an oath to assist me by your loyalty."
But Du Guesclin's voice shouted down his desperate appeal.
"See, we are being pressed back. They are forcing us to the banks of the river. I see that this day there will be many unfortunates slain. Don Enriquez, mount and fly."
The steady pressure of the English and the Gascons had indeed driven the Castilians to the Najerilla which was in spate and unfordable, being a narrow but deep and swift stream.
Mad panic which ever rides on the wings of defeat then struck the defeated Castilians as with a thousand stinging whips. One crying rout they pressed on to the bridge which soon was blocked, and the English men-at-arms, backed by the archers, drove forward into the river the heavy Spanish cavalry, the light horsemen and the rabble of infantry.
To escape the arrows, the lances and the swords the Castilians leapt into the river. The maddened horses followed them in many a desperate plunge, and by noon the wounded men had dyed the beautiful water crimson.
When the sun was at its highest Nunreddin, looking from his high window, saw the English Standard raised upon a hillock and the victors rallying round the unstained, untorn folds of gold, blue and crimson.
But over the plain roamed Don Pedro, in bloody furs, his Arab steed foam-flecked, searching here and there for his brother, wishing for nothing but to slay him with his own hand.
Nunreddin left the deserted farm and proceeded carefully through the orchards to the verge of the plain where the battle had been fought, and picked up from the first English archer he met, news of the great engagement.
Bertrand du Guesclin had been captured, so had Gomez Carillo, the Lord High Chamberlain of Castile...
No one knew what the English losses were as yet, but very small, less than a hundred, while thousands of the enemy lay choked, drowned and dying in the river, besides hundreds scattered upon the plain. "A great victory," remarked Nunreddin.
The English were well-pleased. Everything was as it should be. They now had plunder, wine, good provisions, and all that they expected after a battle, besides the prospect of a triumphant entry into Burgos and Castile, and the payment by Don Pedro of all the promises he had made when he had come as a supplicant to Bordeaux. Their losses had been small and their fatigue but slight. Their ease and content were the greater because it came after a time of scarcity and peril. Yesterday they had been approaching famine—now they had plenty of good entertainment.
Don Pedro, finding that his brother had escaped down the valley, returned reluctantly to where the Standard of England was set high above the victorious forces and, with some sullenness, thanked the Prince for the victory.
Edward Plantagenet had taken off his helm, his fair hair, dark with sweat, lay pressed close to his brow. His breath laboured a little as if he felt the weight of his armour. He looked at the Castilian coldly and replied:
"Sir, give your thanks to God. To Him alone belongs strength—this victory came from Him and not from me."
These words of conventional piety that masked boundless arrogance, disgusted Don Pedro who muttered in a tone that he scarcely troubled to render inaudible:
"You would not be pleased if I were to act on that."
But, smothering his impatience, he constrained himself to make a request.
"Dear cousin and fair lord, will you deliver up to me the traitors of Castile—my bastard brother Sancho and the others—that I may cut off their heads? They have done me much injury."
The Prince was about to answer him violently. But Sir John Chandos lightly laid his hand on his master's arm and whispered in his ear:
"My lord, have we not known from the first that we dealt with a savage? Be careful, and remember the loans you have made this Don Pedro, and how you must study to have them repaid."
Edward had turned aside to listen to Sir John, and it gave him a moment in which to curb his angry disgust.
Don Pedro waited impatiently on his graceful weary horse.
Edward Plantagenet exerted all that courtesy which had made him beloved among his intimates, indeed among all with whom he had dealings. He smiled and said:
"Don Pedro, you have thanked me just now for the victory which comes indeed from heaven, but we have fought together in fair fellowship, and if you have a wish to pleasure me I ask a favour of you and beg you, in the name of friendship, that you will not deny it."
Don Pedro was forced to reply in terms of conventional courtesy.
"My lord and fair cousin, whatever I have is yours," and he added under his breath, "and that is as true as your assertion that the victory is owing to God and you require no praise for it."
"Well then," urged Edward Plantagenet, with a certain fatigue behind his graciousness, "I beg and entreat of you to pardon all the ills which your rebellious subjects have done against you."
Pedro had been expecting something like this, and as he was a man on whom a promise rested lightly he agreed. It was by no means to his interest to quarrel with Edward Plantagenet.
Speaking in a quiet and gentle manner he begged that Gomez Carillo might be excepted from his mercy—"For he has played the traitor to me, he was my own Chamberlain, ay, in my confidence, in my palace, in the night-time he would have delivered me into the hands of the bastard." Edward Plantagenet glanced at Chandos, and Sir John said:
"My lord, it seems to me that such treachery ought to be punished and that we may deliver Gomez Carillo to the justice of King Pedro."
"Even though you entreat me for the others, sire, and for your interest Sir John, I feel I cannot pardon Gomez Carillo. He is the traitor who has done me the greatest dishonour."
"Well," said the Prince, with an air of weariness, "I so surrender to you the High Chamberlain of Castile."
At this and without waiting for more Don Pedro sped across the trampled plain to the guards' tent where the prisoners were dressing their wounds and being pleasantly and courteously entertained and refreshed.
Gomez Carillo was unarmed and standing in his fine silk jupon and hose, having his arm bound up by an esquire.
Don Pedro tore aside the flaps of the tent.
Four of his own personal attendants chosen for their size, unscrupulousness and ferocity, were close behind him, and to them he shouted:
"Drag out that accursed traitor!"
Seeing the contorted face of his betrayed master bearing down on him the Grand Chamberlain cried out and turned about for a weapon. But before as much as a knife could be put into his hand Pedro's men had dragged him out of the tent. The startled English and Gascons had no time to interfere. Pedro's men well understood their instructions. Before all the gathered troops the Chamberlain's throat was gashed from ear to ear, and his body flung at the feet of King Pedro who only waited to assure himself that his enemy was dead, before mounting a fresh horse and galloping off towards Burgos to enjoy his triumph.
When the news of the murder of the Grand Chamberlain was brought to Edward Plantagenet he fell into an anger against Don Pedro that Sir John Chandos could scarce restrain him—it was not for the cruelty of the thing, nor the cold-bloodedness, for many a murder and massacre had he witnessed—but this was an affront to the laws of chivalry, and seemed to make a mock of the promise he had obtained from the Castilian.
"We too will go to Burgos," he declared when he could control himself. "We will hold our court there and let all men know who has gotten this victory." "Ay, and who must be paid for it," added Sir John Chandos gravely. For he was one as prudent as valiant, and knew his master's reckless habit and thoughtless ways. He could foresee that they were as good as ruined if Don Pedro did not keep his promise to repay the money advanced to him and to satisfy the troops.
The following day was the festival of Easter and the morning was one of fair sunshine.
Nunreddin smiled in his cowl to see the Christian priest celebrating the Resurrection of the God of Love amid the corpses of the fallen and the writhing bodies of the dying, slain hideously by their fellow-creatures on a sweet day of Spring, for no reason whatever.
Most of all Nunreddin pitied the mangled horses who had had no choice in this quarrel.
The air was full of chants and bells, and Edward Plantagenet took his part in the holy service very piously.
THE councillors of Rodez looked at each other forlornly with the air of men at a loss, almost at the end of their resources.
At their modest council-board was a noble and unexpected visitor, the Count of Armagnac who, before the Treaty of Bretigny, had been the Lieutenant of the King of France in Languedoc. But, with the final delivery of Aquitaine to the English, this great noble and mighty baron had sworn allegiance to the Prince of Wales. He had then helped him in the Spanish campaign and been one of the captains at Najera. Now he had come to the council-chamber of the town of Rodez, and, cautious and prudent as he was, he was giving advice which did not seem to be the advice of a friend of the Prince of Wales.
"If you cannot pay such a tax," he said smiling, "you must say so."
"But the three estates have voted it," replied one of the councillors timidly.
Armagnac answered immediately:
"Yes, under pressure and fear of the Prince. They have to be convoked twice, and I myself and other of the great barons have entered a protest and said that we will not pay without further advice. Nay, Sir John Chandos, the Englishman himself, protested. I myself saw him entreat his master, with tears in his eyes, to forego this tax, and when the Plantagenet turned from him he asked leave, which was granted coldly enough, to visit his estates in the Cotentin. Sire," added Armagnac, with emphasis, "I tell you this tax will be resisted throughout the whole of Aquitaine—not only by the knights, but by the merchants and common people."
The tax of which Armagnac spoke was the hearth tax, or fouage, which the Prince had lain upon Aquitaine on his return from Castile, and which was even more bitterly unpopular than the Spanish war.
The councillors sat drooping, dubious, reluctant. How dare they offend this great Prince who had won three such glorious victories? Who everyone said was the mirror and pattern of chivalry! What did they know of all these underhand intrigues going on among the knights and barons? What indeed did they greatly care if they were governed by Charles of France or Edward of England? They dreaded war, but peace also seemed full of dangers and difficulties.
"Alack, sir," cried one, fixing his small timorous eyes on Armagnac, "how may one refuse a mighty Prince like this Edward Plantagenet? If we will not pay his taxes we may all go to prison."
Another, looking at the lord with deep respect, said:
"Sir, enlighten our dullness by a true state of the affair. You were with Prince Edward in Castile, perhaps you may tell us if it be true, as we have heard it asserted, that this Don Pedro will by no means repay the funds that were advanced him nor indeed any of his debts?"
"So much is true," replied Armagnac dryly. "Although he took oath in the great church at Burgos to repay every white piece which had been advanced to him, yet soon after he escaped to Seville and from there defied us all, saying he could pay nothing because the Free Companies were ravaging his country and had already attacked and overthrown three convoys of treasure he was sending to our camp. Sirs, it was a lie."
"We can expect then," lamented another councillor dismally, "nothing from this King, and there is no hope of obtaining from him any of the huge sums spent on this most accursed expedition?"
"There is none," said Armagnac definitely, "and we all hold ourselves deceived, inasmuch as we undertook to arm our men and place them at the disposal of Prince Edward for a given sum, which none of us have as yet received. And to tax the country to pay us is not what was in the bargain. It should come from other sources."
"But if Prince Edward has no other means?" objected one of the councillors, "they say he has no more gold or silver left in his household."
"But he goes very magnificently," sneered the Count, "nor does the Princess, his wife, stint herself with her jewels and display. It seems that he will keep up his reputation for being expensive and extravagant, even though we in Gascony have no beds to sleep on, nor anything but dry bread to put in our mouths. It was all very well when the old King governed us from Westminster, but since we have had this Paragon amongst us, things have gone very ill. And I tell you, sirs, for your better guidance in the paying of these taxes, that I and other of the barons mean to raise the question as to who is the actual suzerain of Aquitaine."
Biting their lips nervously the councillors glanced at each other. They well knew what this meant. The noblemen of Aquitaine and Gascony had entered into a secret negotiation with Charles of France. They had heard this already rumoured.
"No doubt," smiled Armagnac, "a certain quip made by Prince John of Lancaster has come to your notice, when he said there was nothing to be feared from Charles of Valois, that he was but a craven cowering in a castle, an advocate busy with scraps of paper. This reached the ears of Charles, and he replied, 'If I am an advocate I will dish up a cause that will make them smart.'"
One of the councillors ventured to laugh. But there was no merriment in the assembly.
"We are men of peace, not war, sire," protested one. "Though we, as Frenchmen, have a natural inclination towards the King of France, that is not the pressing question of the moment, but how we are to make our revenues meet our expenses."
"Such a question would not arise," declared Armagnac, "if we could be rid of this Prince of Wales."
At this bold declaration, coming from a knight who had fought with the English Prince, the councillors looked at each other nervously with an intensified dread in their eyes. It was all very well to talk of defying the Prince of Wales, but he was the man in possession, and they in his power.
Several speaking at once asked dismally, if there was not some hope still of squeezing from Don Pedro some of the huge loans advanced to him?
But Armagnac, rising, said: Certainly there was none. They dealt there with a villain and a traitor. It had been a great mistake to undertake his quarrel. He had no right or justice in him, nor it seemed any money either. It had been foolish to give him so much treasure without any guarantee. What were the three puling girls left behind in Bordeaux? No use to any man. The eldest who had been repudiated by the King of Portugal, her promised husband, had already gone into a convent...
"The treasure," ventured one councillor, "the treasure that Don Pedro brought with him—is that of no worth?"
"Not of half the worth he would have it valued at," replied Armagnac. "He swore even on the altar that it was of far higher worth than it proved to be when sold. Talk not, sirs, of Don Pedro. Let us dismiss him from our minds. Let us talk no more either of the honour of the Prince of Wales, who is the mirror of knighthood and the English Paragon and who has by personal prowess gained such victories! Let us rather consider other matters. Don Enriquez of Transtamara has gone to the Count of Foix and His Holiness the Pope Urban and brought them keenly to his side. Let us consider too that he has been secretly aided by Louis, Duke of Anjou, our lord King Charles's lieutenant in Langudoc, that he is collecting many mercenaries to harry Aquitaine from Bigorre."
To these evil tidings a councillor added more gloomy news.
"I have heard too that the Prince's army was laid waste in Spain. Fever and plague have destroyed whole companies."
"It is so," agreed Armagnac. "Edward of Wales would not be able again to gather together the forces he had led across the Pyrenees. If King Charles of Valois were to fall on Aquitaine—"
The councillors interrupted, they would not hear of this. With timorous gestures and excited words they stopped the Count... Dangerous talk... treason... eh, not for them!
"Well," said he smiling dryly, "'tis news you must hear presently. The King of Aragon too has deserted his old alliance with the Prince of Wales and he will be a useful friend to us."
Cool and thoughtful Armagnac looked round at the agitated faces of the councillors. He was an elegant man, precise and neat in his person, richly but not ostentatiously dressed, dark and of middle age, the lines of his worn face were hard, the close-cut hair iron grey.
"Do not pay these taxes," he urged. "Sirs, let us be rid of these English."
"But if we do not pay the Companies? They will not disband until they have their pay!" objected one councillor. "How are we to endure them? They overrun the country. No honest traveller may pass through the valley of the Dordogne. They are plundering and ravaging with shameless effrontery. Neither property nor life is safe from them."
"Let us be rid of them," said Armagnac, with narrowing eyes, "by force. Why should we pay these thieves and brigands to cease cutting our throats? Let us rather drive them out of the country."
"The King of France has no army," replied one of the councillors with a sigh. "He is burdened with the huge sum he has to pay for his father's ransom."
"Ay, money is at the bottom of it all," said Armagnac, "Money, money—always that. What is the good of this talk of chivalry and brave deeds, of the flaunting prowess of war, honour and glory? We come always to money, and therefore I say, sirs, do not pay this tax. Your example will be followed by other towns, and 'twill be the signal for which Charles of Valois waits."
"But his Princely Grace the King of France is no warrior," sighed one of the good men of Rodez. "He never goes fifty miles from Paris, but remains shut up with his clerks and books."
"He does not make the show of the Prince of Wales," replied the Count, "but he is a more useful man to serve. Do not despise him. He is very powerful, for all his books, his pieces of parchment, his clerks and his hymns and prayers. I know the English call him coward and craven, and say he is not to be feared. But surely you may trust me and the other knights of Aquitaine when we say we will serve this King—surely you believe that we would not put our fortunes behind any who is a fool?"
Still the council sat doubtful and irresolute, and Armagnac walked up and down the modest chamber.
Looking out with pleasure through the lancet-shaped window on to the spring greenery in the square below, still endeavouring to persuade these good, fat, timid, cautious burgesses to his way he told them that the sister of the Queen of France, Margaret of Bourbon, was to marry d'Albret, the great Aquitaine knight who had quarrelled with the Prince of Wales over the two thousand lancers that he was to lead into Castile.
"See how close that alliance brings us with the royal house of France. See too how this Prince of Wales puts himself in the wrong even with his own father, by allowing the Free Companies to commit the ravages they do. When they have exhausted Aquitaine they will begin to pour into France and lay waste right and left."
"If we do not pay the taxes," argued one of the councillors, "how can the Prince of Wales pay the Free Companies and so keep his bond with the King of France not to allow these ruffians to ravage his land?"
"'Tis all the better for us if he cannot do it," cried Armagnac, "but if by skilful treaty they put him in the wrong with his father. King Charles has very skilful Envoys at Westminster. He pays highly a woman, one Dame Alys Perrers, who has the doting old King in her power."
"But," cried one of the wealthiest and most important of the councillors, "all these deep intrigues and shiftings to and fro of policies and underhand dealings are not for plain men like us. With all the quarrels and treacheries of these great ones we have much ado to keep our roofs over our heads, meat in our bellies, and a few coins in our chests. The question remains, shall we or shall we not pay these taxes?"
"I'll put it clear," said Armagnac, striding to the head of the table. "If this hearth tax—which is surely the most odious ever imposed—is not paid, the Prince of Wales is ruined. He can get no more money from England, I am well assured. Gone are the days when he could boast 'I have my father's treasury behind me into which I may dip my hand when I will, I lack nothing.' Nay, I say there will be no money sent from England nor any men-at-arms, and as for this Prince John he hankers for a Crown. He pays his court to King Pedro's daughter, and sees himself enthroned in Castile and Leon. The third Prince, too, Edmund of Langley, has cast his eyes on the other Castilian princess. So now, when they are all much entangled with their own private ambitions, and the old King of England sinks into his dotage, is the time for us to cast them off."
"But," one of the councillors objected, "a revolt would be fiercely punished."
Armagnac answered haughtily and swiftly:
"Submission to the English will be fiercely punished." And with that he left them with an impressive abruptness, his spurs ringing on the narrow stone stairs.
The councillors sat silent and undecided.
Some pulled at the tags and buttons on their sleeves. Some drew designs with quills on the parchment before them. Some stroked their chins and stared at the table.
In their hearts they cursed all princes, men of war and politicians. They were peaceful traders, men who liked to live cosily and make their gains by labour, not through peril—men who enjoyed the thought of piling up fortunes for sons and daughters, of going to Mass regularly and feeing the priest generously, of perhaps endowing some hospital or chapel when they died and leaving money to pay for comfortable Masses to be said for their souls.
The Spanish campaign had seemed to all of them an act of stupid, futile folly, but none of them dared to say so. For was not Edward of Wales the Paragon of knighthood, did not everyone sing his praises?
They all liked their little town, the streets, the houses, the churches, the shops, the markets. They enjoyed their daily life there. Nothing seemed wrong to them but this perpetual intriguing and fighting of the great ones of the earth. Yet it seemed impossible for them to extricate themselves from the clutching claws of these same great ones who were always calling out for money, money, money!
If they revolted against the Prince of Wales and gave their allegiance to the King of France (to whom they were more naturally inclined) they would still have to pay, if not the hearth tax, another no doubt as odious.
"Unless," as one of them suggested, "they could drive a bargain with the Valois who seemed far more reasonable and sensible than Edward Plantagenet—to give them ten years free from any but the lightest taxes?"
For awhile they considered this suggestion hopefully, discussing among themselves how they would send a messenger after Armagnac and tell him they were resolute to refuse paying the taxes to the Prince of Wales.
Then fear overcame them again. Cruel, revengeful and unrestrained in his violence was this Plantagenet when he was opposed. Generous he might be to his friends and flatterers and make a great parade of munificence. When he had returned to Bordeaux, for instance, did they not all know how he had thanked the Gascon barons and the English knights when they had gone back to their governments or stewardships, making them splendid gifts of gold, silver and jewels, no doubt the very last he had in his coffers, and giving them the fairest words too?
"Good sirs, by my faith, with all my heart I ought to love you, for you have served me right well. From my heart I thank you." He had added oaths that though Don Pedro had not kept his engagements it was not becoming for him to act in like manner to those who had served him so valiantly.
Yet, the councillors reminded each other, what had these been but mere words, for while the Prince spoke so, he meditated the odious hearth tax to meet his obligations, and while he refused to economize in his own household he had left the Free Companions to pay themselves by battening upon poor honest men.
All very well to talk of honour, glory, chivalry—those were terms amongst the great ones of the earth, and no doubt were coins that were very readily exchanged among the nobility.
But for men like the councillors of Rodez they had no meaning.
A little dry man leaning forward spoke with a cunning, yet alarmed, air, as if he feared even the sound of his own words. "I have heard it said it is gossip, you too may have heard the rumour—" He paused. Leaning forward also the others urged him to continue.
"Well, it is said that this English Paragon is not so well in his health. Nay, it is even rumoured—I met one who came from Bordeaux and another from Bayonne—they had the same tale. It's got abroad so now that it may not be kept from the man in the street. He often spends the entire day in bed, he who was so active and used to boast so of his strength. They say that he caught some fever in Spain."
And the other councillors, in eager, furtive whispers, said:
"Yes, yes, we heard something of the kind. There was supposed to be a monk who came from Seville with Don Pedro and was attached to his person who would give him drugs."
"We know nothing," said another, "these are but tales."
"Still," urged the first speaker, "I believe King Charles's spies have put a report before him as to the health of this redoubtable Englishman, and they say he has some illness—a dropsy, or a fever, that he is not the man he was."
"That may not be true," said another doubtfully. The first speaker insisted:
"We know from the relation of all who come from Bordeaux that the Prince is no longer gay and courteous, therefore does not win so many hearts, but is often morose and moody. That he has lost his colour and seems to wear his armour very seldom, and does not any longer joust in the tourneys as was once his delight."
A large fat man interrupted and demanded impatiently:
"What would you with these hints? Do you mean that the Prince of Wales being ill it is safe for us to defy him?"
And the first speaker leant back in his chair and said:
"That is my meaning."
A look of relief passed over their faces. They wished it might be true. That this terrible man of war, this costly hero might really bear in his breast the seeds of some dreadful disease, which would render him weak, feeble, easy to be coped with, which would finally take him to his native land.
None of them had dared to mention the subject to the Count of Armagnac, but now that one had been bold enough to put the matter forward they discussed it freely.
If only they could be sure! As they talked eagerly among themselves they began, little by little, to be less afraid of the Prince of Wales.
By all accounts he was almost bankrupt. His old allies were falling away from him and he could no longer pay an army. His younger brother was ambitious and not likely to second him in any of his designs. The old man in Westminster, who had been so feared, was senile and fallen under the sway of a vile woman, who was no doubt in the pay of France. And then Charles V, instead of being a person to be despised, was showing himself careful and prudent, and full of a kingly wisdom. Yes, it might be considered safe to side with him. After all they were Frenchmen. Patriotism awoke in their placid breasts. It was absurd any longer to consider Aquitaine as a feoff or heritage of the Crown of England. They were French, and their hearts turned to Charles of Valois.
The result of their deliberations was a humble letter to the Prince at Aquitaine begging him to excuse them from paying the hearth tax, for the money could be by no means found. Yet, to placate him and escape from the effects of his wrath, they sent as a voluntary present six hundred crowns which was the best, they declared, they could do. It had been contributed from their private fortunes, since the poor had nothing. And to give a grace to this gift they added a pot of green ginger, hoping that the offering of this costly rarity might a little turn aside the wrath of the Plantagenet.
THE women chattered together about the affairs of the men.
They were half-spiteful, half-loving, at once critical of, and fearful for, their lords.
Matters went very ill for England in the French Provinces. Even the women who knew little of business and did not care to be concerned in such dull affairs sensed this and became uncomfortable.
For the men were distracted. There was much riding to and fro. There was a shortage of money. The tourneys, the festivals, the displays which had welcomed home the victor of Najera had ceased abruptly. There was even talk of a revolt. It was said that some of the towns had refused to pay the fouage or hearth tax. It was said that many of the Gascony baronies had a secret treaty with Charles V. It was known that Don Enriquez was hovering on the borders with a growing band of mercenaries. It was a fact too that the Free Companies were ravaging the country in a manner so fearful that women did not dare travel far from the confines of the city. The Companions had quite got out of hand, and refused to obey the authority of the Prince of Wales when he bade them respect property.
They had not been paid, that was their answer, and they must live. They had swept into France leaving desolation behind them, and the King of France had complained to Edward Plantagenet at Westminster. He regularly paid the instalments of his father's enormous ransom and the old King listened to his complaint, and sent angrily to his son, bidding him keep to the terms of the Treaty and restrain the Free Companies.
But Edward of Wales had no power to do this.
Money. Everything turned on that—the shortage of money.
Jeannette of Wales refused to economize in her household, and her husband supported her in her extravagance. But even she found here and there a pinch.
She grew listless and pettish, and she, like many of the other English ladies, would like to have snatched up her children and treasures and have returned to England.
But Edward of Wales had said that they must all stay, or it would look like a flight.
All these matters the women chatted over, finding relief in talk as men find relief in action.
The greatest grievance which evoked their loudest complaints was the behaviour of Don Pedro, who had so shamelessly and sacrilegiously broken all his promises, even those sworn before the High Altar in the cathedral at Burgos.
Jeannette prided herself on the fact that she had disliked the Castilian monarch from the first. Nay, she, who as a rule took no interest in such matters, had even endeavoured to persuade her husband against helping him.
"And see how right I was! The man is no better than a villain. And now through him we have lost Sir John who has left the Court because of the hearth tax!"
Sir John had been the Prince's best companion and wisest counsellor, and Jeannette spoke more truly than she knew.
She sighed and looked round the room for some diversion from her complaining idleness, but there was none. Even the bachelors, pages and esquires were away, kept busy on manly matters.
She smoothed down her full skirt of stiff interchanging silk which had cost an incredible price, and then fingered daintily the ermine bands on her bodice.
With every day she grew less beautiful and more costly. She piled up frantic defences against Time—luxurious garments and jewellery, perfumings, dyeings and paintings of hair and face. She had become more haggard since the birth of Richard at Bordeaux, and this exasperated her. It was a fine thing, no doubt, for her to have given England two princes, but this last was a sickly child, and the elder of late had been peevish and drooping, too.
"I want to return to England," pouted Jeannette, "it is stupid for us to remain here."
But one of the ladies reminded her that the Black Death was now abroad in England, that hideous plague which had already slain the Duchess Blanche and entered palaces as easily as it entered hovels.
"Everywhere we are unfortunate," complained Jeannette.
Queen Philippa, too, was lately dead, and though Jeannette had not loved her overmuch, she was annoyed because the loss had made her husband grieve so sorely. And, thinking of this grief of Edward Plantagenet, her small discontented face, still fine and exquisite, clouded with a deeper discontent.
The Prince was not well. He was not the man she had married, nor even the man of a year ago. It was as strange as hateful to see him surrounded by physicians, to know that some days he would not rise at all, that other days he sat inactive, gloomy, in a chair. He was moody and violent, he had lost much of his amiable courtesy which had made him so beloved.
She had been frightened, too, by his withdrawal from her. Sometimes for days together she had scarcely seen him. She believed, though she thrust this knowledge from her, that he suffered great pain, and the careless, shallow, selfish woman was terrified and impatient at the thought of pain or illness. She felt an unreasonable anger against her husband for thus losing the beauty, the strength and the power which she had so admired in him.
"Why need he have gone on that foolish Castilian campaign? He had taken some fever or disease there among the filth of the camp, or the fatigue of the marches."
Clasping her hands behind her head, close-bound with gold and silk, she thought of Westminster.
She wished the old senile King, so tiresome in his dotage, would die, then Edward would be King and she Queen.
Her lips curled cruelly as she went over in her mind how she would dismiss Dame Alys Perrers when she was mistress of England. That would solve everything—if the old King would die... They could then return to London with renewed pomp and dignity, and give up this tedious governorship of Aquitaine. John might have that—it would be as well to keep John at a distance. He loved Edward, no doubt, but he was quiet and cunning and ambitious.
Thinking of John, Jeannette's beautiful eyes stirred towards the tall dark girl who sat apart from all the other women in a brooding attitude. Jeannette viewed her with dislike.
This was Constancia, one of Don Pedro's daughters whom he had left as hostages in Bordeaux.
"A gesture of contempt to offer these three feeble, stupid women as hostages," Jeannette thought. She knew that they were useless, and that her husband would never harm them, nor would he, the savage Castilian, have been much afflicted if they had been put to death in return for his lack of faith.
The eldest, Beatrice, had already done what Jeannette thought was the wisest thing, she had gone into a convent.
But these two, Constancia and Ysabella, remained about her person—foreign, sullen, haughty, accepting charity and making themselves disagreeable.
"Pride," Jeannette thought, "ill became two dowerless maidens, two disinherited Princesses whose father had brought almost ruin, almost dishonour on the greatest knight in the world by his treacherous lying and loathsome breaking of promises."
But Constancia, in particular (Ysabella was of a meeker temper), though she must hear her father daily abused, yet bore herself with a fierce haughtiness ill-befitting her condition. She kept apart from the other women, and, though she had learnt English, refused to take part in their games, their gossip, or their work. She seemed to realize nothing, save that she was, by right, the last heiress of the House of Burgundy and should be the future Queen of Castile and Leon.
She was no beauty, but lean and swarthy, with her father's smoky-coloured black eyes and heavy tresses of harsh black hair, which she took little trouble to dress.
"Poor bait to catch any man's fancy," Jeannette had sneered. And yet she knew that Constancia had caught John of Lancaster, even in the first month of his widowerhood when he had lost his sweet Duchess Blanche to whom he claimed to be attached with such a tender and chivalrous affection.
Jeannette despised her young brother-in-law for that, but she knew what was the temptation that would make John of Lancaster overlook the sullenness, the swarthiness, the haughtiness of Constancia. If he married her he might hope to get the Crown in Europe he would never achieve in England. He might quarter the Castles and the Lion, give himself a regal style, term himself King of Castile and Leon...
Brooding over these things Jeannette became further discontented and annoyed.
How exasperating it was that John, for all his toilsome journeys to and fro England, the loss of his wife and the fatigues of war, remained in superb, easy health, while Edward daily failed. How irritating it was to have to sit there idle and watch John intrigue!
Edward swore that he was faithful and would listen to no word against him. But Jeannette was apt to believe the worst of everyone.
Out of a desire to torment and vent on another her own secret fears and griefs, the Princess called up the Spanish girl.
"Come here, Constancia, sit by me. Why are you so sullen and apart?"
Constancia looked round without rising.
"What do you wish, Madame? That I should come nearer the better that I may overhear abuse of my father? Indeed, Madame, I believe there is nothing new I can hear on that matter," she added rapidly. "How often have I not heard related the tale of his treachery, of the ruin it has brought on you all!"
"We are not ruined," said Jeannette, with a haughty smile. "Nay, nor even troubled. My husband did what he undertook to do—placed your father on the throne of Castile."
"That also I have heard before,' sneered Constancia. "Do you wish to remind me, Madame, that your husband—" The Spanish girl rose here and came towards the English Princess with the same catlike tread her father used—"Do you mean to remind me, Madame, that your husband was but a hired mercenary to my father, and now laments he cannot get his pay?"
This was the excuse Jeannette had for the last hour wanted. Her temper vented itself in action. She too rose, leaned forward and, with adroit precision, slapped the Spanish Princess across the face. The English ladies giggled, discreetly applauding their mistress.
Constancia, paling, said carefully:
"It is as fine an action, Madame, to maltreat a helpless captive as it is to break a knightly oath."
"But we are women," sneered Jeannette, "and are not bound by these laws of chivalry. If you speak against my husband again I will even more severely reprove your insolence!"
Constancia was not easily silenced.
"If the Prince helped my father because of the laws of chivalry," she remarked bitterly, "why is it we hear so much of this talk of money?"
On that word, John of Lancaster entered, coming into the women's apartment with an unheralded abruptness which Jeannette instantly reproved.
But the news was important. Edward was taken with a sudden fit of his illness. He wanted his wife. Jeannette stood startled. This was the first time since he had been stricken that he had asked for her while in his seizures. A thousand terrible possibilities crowded into her distracted mind.
The women went after their mistress, crying, gossiping, lamenting, but John of Lancaster remained with Constancia of Castile, who stood in the window-place, scornful of this emotion in which she had no part.
She looked at the young English Prince sullenly, yet he was her sole hope in her wretched position. Well she knew his secret ambition.
"Have you come to abuse my father to me, Sir John of Lancaster?"
"Nay," he gave her his cold smile, "I never waste time on words. I do hope yet to get something from this adventure."
"You have a mind to a Crown," said she slyly.
"Maybe, I alone," he replied composedly, "of my father's sons am worthy of it, save the Prince, and he is a sick man. I believe," he added, "I shall be offered his post of Governor of Aquitaine."
"Now, when the troubles come?" she exclaimed.
"He is a sick man," repeated John sombrely.
"You must have seen as much. When he was in Spain some foul disease seized on him. The doctors say he sickens of a dropsy and may never be able to mount a horse again. And, what is worse, the King of France knows as much."
"Your affairs go very ill," remarked Constancia, "and no doubt you blame my father for it all."
"You have no great cause to love your father," he smiled; "he has abandoned you here with little care for your future."
The dark girl replied with an angry flash:
"He is a man much wronged and hurried. Whatever his sins he is the true heir of the House of Burgundy and rightful King of Castile and Leon. Would to God he had killed the bastard on the field of Najera!"
"And you are the rightful Queen," declared Prince John, taking her hand, "and much distressed I think and will need a knight, one who is a good man-at-arms and a valiant leader to further your cause. Could you think of me?"
He made no disguise of his burning ambition, nor of his disinterest in her person, and she replied scornfully:
"Had you not a wife whom you greatly loved and who is but lately dead?"
His grey eyes held her steadily. He cared nothing for her contempt. His love for the dead Blanche was a thing apart from all this and not to be spoken of...
He was a man who was never stayed by private grief, but must go ever onwards, full of energy in the quick sweep of human activity.
"I would take you," he said, as if he discussed a business matter, "and Edmund who will never trouble any will take Ysabella, and then I shall be your father's heir, and may call myself King, without troubling England."
"I bring you no dowry," Constancia reminded him," and you will have to fight for your kingdom. But the bargain is a good one for me and I will take it. I have long sickened at being a pensioner on your brother's charity and the butt of his dame's complainings. As your wife, and one who may bring you a Crown, I hope I shall be better entreated."
"My wife," cried John of Lancaster, "will never lack state and respect. I swear, if God aid me, to slay this bastard Don Enriquez who troubles your father and Castile!"
"It is enough," said Constancia.
She gave him her hand, which he kissed with well-bred courtesy.
They were at one in nothing save ambition.
She had all the fierce pride of a wronged and outcast Princess, and he all the restlessness and discontent of a younger son. There was no affection between them, scarce even liking. But there was this bond, and it made them more than tolerant towards each other.
"Do not think," said John of Lancaster, "that I have come here wishing to supplant my brother. To him I am and ever must be loyal. But the King my father is no longer fit to govern, and there are great troubles about to roll over Aquitaine. We cannot trust Charles of France, he works underground. This last tax has been detested and mighty revolts are to be feared. My brother," he added proudly, "who was the greatest knight in the world, the paragon of chivalry, is no more able to deal with war and politics. But I am very well fitted to take his place."
"I believe you are," she replied. "I have admired you since first I saw you," she added dryly, "you are accomplished in many things and have your passions well in hand. I will do my part, such as a woman may, to help you. I will gladly sit on the throne of Castile, if my heritage ever comes to me, beside you."
And the embittered, disinherited woman, to whom no man had ever spoken words of love, turned away abruptly and went into an inner apartment, where her young sister yawned and idled away a heavy day.
John of Lancaster returned to his brother's chamber. The Prince had recovered from his paroxysm of pain and bid the women away again. He often lost his courtesy now, and showed temper even to Jeannette. She had left him weeping.
"The Devil take these doctors and their drugs!" he cried as his brother came into his chamber.
"None of them can ease my pain!"
The disease had now got such a hold on him that even Nunreddin's potions were of little use to help him in his agony and distress.
John of Lancaster loved his brother, and for all his cool composure there was misery and even terror in his eyes as he looked at the mighty Prince brought so low by this invisible foe.
Edward lay stretched on his couch, his hands hanging by his sides, a light silk coverlet over his limbs, two down pillows at his head, his tawny hair tangled on his brow, his face ash-coloured and furrowed, the droop of his lid and the cast in his eye appeared accentuated to the point of deformity.
Raging against his helplessness he broke out violently with many bitter lamentations and fierce oaths.
"Armagnac is at the bottom of this! He goes from town to town advising the Councils not to pay the taxes. What did I get from Rodez but a few florins and a pot of green ginger?" With a shaking finger he pointed to the sideboard on which stood the costly gift. "All the baronage and the knighthood of these provinces, yea, the very men who rode behind me across the Pyrenees are now in secret treaty with Charles of France! But I have this comfort, that de Valois is a craven. Never will he meet me in the field."
"Nor you any prince again," thought John of Lancaster mournfully. Aloud he said: "Do not despise de Valois because he is a coward, brother. Such know how to strike. Greatly I fear his cunning and dread his treachery. Why has he sent our father fifty pipes of wine and a magnificent embassage? Why does he flatter the old man, pay punctually his father's ransom, and ever complain of you and the ravages of the Free Companies?"
"Because he is afraid," said Edward of Wales—"afraid."
He sat up, put his hand to his side and fetched a groan.
"I am recovered now, John, I will go meet the Council."
The younger brother said firmly that this was useless and meant nothing but a loss of prestige and dignity.
"When we have no good news to give, let us be silent."
"But if Aquitaine breaks into revolt and King Charles supports the rebels?" asked Edward, with a flash from his blood-stained eyes.
John of Lancaster answered:
"We can fight. We do not lack knights or loyal English men-at-arms."
"I have offended Sir John Chandos, my truest friend," replied the Prince gloomily. "He was against the hearth tax—besides, he grows old. Chandos old and I sick! We are good lieutenants for England, John."
John of Lancaster, prudent as he was and eager to spare his brother any pain, could not forbear from exclaiming here against the imprudence of the Prince in, for the second time, allowing Bertrand du Guesclin to be ransomed.
"It was a hundred thousand crowns I got for him," said the Prince of Wales sombrely, "and with it I was able to pay at least some of the Free Companions."
"Not all," said John of Lancaster, "and far better had it been for us to have had Bertrand du Guesclin in our power than to pay even all of the Free Companions. Has he not gone straight to Don Enriquez? Is he not, after yourself, the greatest Captain in Europe?"
John spoke thus vehemently because he knew that Bertrand du Guesclin had for the second time played upon his brother's secret vanity and obtained his liberty by the old device—to John very transparent—by exclaiming that he must be indeed of inestimable value, and the Prince of Wales privately afeared of him if he would not accept a hundred thousand crowns for his release, and Edward's pride had clinched the bargain.
The King of France, Don Enriquez and the Pope had raised this sum with a briskness that had proved to John of Lancaster how they valued Bertrand du Guesclin. And he felt secretly infuriated every time he thought of what his loyalty could not prevent him from calling the folly of his brother. And John of Lancaster was the more angry that he had now this direct and personal interest in the fortunes of Pedro of Castile.
The last news had been that Du Guesclin and Don Enriquez were advancing through Aragon, whose King had now taken their side, and were about to fall on Don Pedro at Monthiel.
How he wished he had been able to deal with the cunning Breton as he deserved! With what annoyance he recalled the flat frog-like face when he had said, smiling with his complacent grin into the English Prince's face:
"They say in France, as they say in other countries, that you are so afraid of me, sire, that you dare not set me free."
And Edward's impetuous reply, as he fell straight into the trap:
"What, Sire Bertrand, do you imagine we keep you a prisoner for fear of your prowess? By St. George! it is not so. And, my good sire, if you will pay me one hundred thousand crowns you shall be free."
Then Bertrand, with the swiftness of a cat's blow upon a mouse, replying:
"My lord, through God's will, I will never pay a less sum."
The brothers were interrupted by the entry of one of the Prince's knights. He had a curious matter to report.
An embassy from Paris had arrived at Bordeaux. This consisted of but a knight and a lawyer who had put up at an inn. They had come yesterday at the hour of Vespers and now had presented themselves at the Abbey gates, declaring they were the ambassadors of the King of France.
John of Lancaster was alert, taut, wary on the instant.
He said incautiously:
"I will receive them."
Edward of Wales got instantly to his feet.
"I have not yet relegated my authority to you," he said impetuously. "I will receive France's embassy."
"In truth, brother, you are well able to do so," said John. "I spoke without thought. Indeed, it is better that you yourself should see these gentlemen, for I take it that they come with no less than a declaration of war. Now we shall see the true temper of Charles."
But Edward of Wales could not believe that the French King would dare defy him. Since he was a child he had got into the habit of thinking himself invincible, and neither his difficulties, his debts nor the state of his health could lower his superb confidence. He ordered the knight to have the two Envoys courteously treated and received. They were to be held in all respect and taken to the audience-chamber.
News of the arrival of this strange and unexpected embassy from Paris roused the Prince into a semblance of his usual strength and spirit.
"No doubt," he whispered to John, "Charles has heard some lies, for he has his spies everywhere, some tales that I am ill or even dying. But I will show him that I know how to receive his messengers."
It was a magnificent figure who an hour or so later walked into the audience-chamber where the knight and the lawyer stood by the wide fireplace.
The Prince's purple velvet, edged with ermine, was of the most costly description, and rich beyond valuation were the chains and girdles of gold and gems, rings, buckles and brooches. His great height was accentuated by a coif of folded azure and gold silk. His bright hair was smoothly combed and cunningly curled to meet the high collar that reached his ears. He held himself very upright with a most noble carriage. But he had not been able to disguise the sunken outline or the uncommon pallor of his face. This, John of Lancaster thought, looking at him with anxious affection, might pass for but a common fatigue or a slight sickness; at least these two Envoys would be able to report in Paris that Edward of Wales was not overthrown by illness.
The Embassy from Paris was lean enough, for Charles made rather a parade of his poverty, emphasizing at every turn the straits he was in to pay the instalments of his father's ransom and how his revenues were cramped by the devastations of the English in France and the seizure of his various provinces and towns.
Both the knight and the lawyer were men of middle age and insignificant appearance, shabbily attired, lightly armed, and unattended.
Edward greeted them with all his habitual affable courtesy and mounted the steps of the dais at the end of the room, taking his seat under a canopy rich with the arms of England and France. Round him were gathered the finest and most imposing of his knights and companions—the Captal de Buch, Sir Robert Knolles, Audeley, Sir Robert Felton and many English and loyal Gascons.
John of Lancaster stood close to his brother, watchful and anxious.
Both the Princes missed Sir John Chandos, to whom they usually looked on such occasions.
The French lawyer advanced and, bending one knee, presented to the Prince his credentials.
He remained kneeling while Edward read these, holding them carefully on his knee and turning them over as if he would not miss a word, but rather, John of Lancaster thought, to gain time than because he was doubtful of the contents of the documents.
At last he rolled them up, kept them in his hand like a baton, and said very civilly:
"You are both, sirs, welcome, as coming from the King of France. But I remain in doubt as to your message. Speak. Tell me what the King of France requires of me." And he made a sign for the lawyer to rise.
The knight now came forward to the foot of the dais. The two messengers from Charles of Valois stood humbly before the Prince of Wales.
"Great and honoured sir," said the lawyer, "here are letters which were given to us by our honoured lord the King of France, which letters we are engaged on our faith to publish in your presence as they mainly relate to you."
With that the dry, withered, mean-looking man took some documents from his pouch and the Prince glanced round at his knights and barons, who pressed closer round the dais, exchanging looks of amaze and apprehension.
John of Lancaster bit his lip and his long fine hands fell to his sword-hilt. He believed that Charles of Valois, who had been so long secretly working against them, was about to declare himself.
"Great sir," said the lawyer, bowing again, "it is a summons we have to read."
At that the Prince flushed, the blood darkening his face to the very temples; he seemed about to leap to his feet with some vehement reply, but restrained himself and merely said:
"Speak, speak, for good news we shall cheerfully hear."
At this the little lawyer, with the knight close behind him, began to read out in a shrill, almost piping, voice which seemed in ill-accordance with the gravity of his mission:
"Charles, by the Grace of God, King of France, to our nephew, the Princes of Wales and Aquitaine, health! Whereas, several prelates, barons, knights, universities, fraternities and colleges in the County and District of Gascony, residing and inhabiting upon the borders of our realm, together with many others in the County and Duchy of Aquitaine, have come before us in our Court to obtain justice for certain grievances and unjust oppressions which you, through weak counsel and foolish advice, have been induced to do them, and at which we are much astonished. Therefore, in order to obviate and remedy such things, we do take cognizance of their cause, inasmuch as we of our Royal Majesty and Sovereignty order and command you to appear in our city of Paris in person and that you show and present yourself before us in our Chamber of Peers to hear judgment pronounced on the complaints aforesaid and the grievances that are done by you to your subjects who claim to be heard and have the jurisdiction of our Court. Let there be no delay in obeying this summons. Set out as speedily as possible after hearing this Order read. In Witness whereof we have affixed our Seals to these presents.
"Given at Paris the twenty-sixth day of January, 1369."#
John of Lancaster had not dared to look at his brother while this letter was being read. In his own heart rage, shame and humiliation at this insolence struggled with a growing fear, for he was shrewd enough to realize Charles would never have dared this had he not been strong indeed in Gascony and Aquitaine.
When the lawyer had ceased, the indignation, which the knights and barons had felt waxing greater during the reading, could scarcely be restrained. They broke into angry murmurs.
The Prince rose from his seat and silenced them all.
In a loud, hoarse voice he cried, staring at the Frenchmen and shaking his head:
"We shall willingly attend on the appointed day at Paris since the King of France sends for us, but it will be with our helmet on our head and accompanied by sixty thousand men!"
His aspect was as terrible as that of a lion at bay. His pallor had become ghastly and there was a distortion on his features as if he had been struck by a convulsive fit. He stood erect and rigid, grasping the arms of his chair. The lawyer and the knight both fell on their knees, clasping their hands towards him in an attitude of supplication.
"Great sir, visit not your anger upon us! We are but the miserable instruments of the King of France and are bound to do his bidding!"
At this appeal to chivalry the Prince made a great effort over his amazed wrath. He was very careful to keep the only code in which he believed, that of knighthood.
"My anger," he muttered, in a trembling voice, "is not against you, but against he who sent you. Your King has been ill-advised to meddle in the affairs of Aquitaine and to make himself a judge of what he has nothing to do with, nor any right to interfere in. It shall be clearly demonstrated to him that when he gave possession and seizing of the whole Duchy of Aquitaine to our lord and father by his Commissioners, he surrendered also all jurisdiction."
His anger deepened and nearly got the better of him. He put his right hand to his heavy ermine collar and fumbled at the massive gold clasps of his mantle, as if he stifled for lack of air.
"All those," he cried, "who have appealed against us have no other court to apply to but England, that of our lord and father!" He paused and added with a violence he could by no means check: "It shall cost a hundred thousand lives before it shall be otherwise!"
John of Lancaster ventured to address his brother.
"Sir, is it your pleasure that I should question these men and get a little deeper into their designs?"
Edward of Wales seated himself, rested his elbow on the arm of his throne and his face in his hand.
"Ask what you will," he said briefly.
John of Lancaster then turned to the two trembling Envoys.
"The Count of Armagnac is behind this," he said sternly," as my brother can well perceive. Ay, and the Lord d'Albret, besides other treacherous and rebellious barons. You must be taken, not so much as the mouthpiece of the King of France, as theirs. To whom do you go to make your report when you leave Bordeaux?"
The lawyer replied that he was to go to the Duke of Anjou, who waited them at Toulouse.
"Ay, the Duke of Anjou is as impatient for war as I am," said John of Lancaster, "but will not have so good a cause to rejoice in the result. As for yourselves, you are mean-looking men to be thus bold. Know you not you have insulted my brother in his own palace?"
At these words of John of Lancaster, and several of the English knights, with bitter curses on the head of the King of France, Armagnac and the other rebelling barons, demanded that the ambassadors should be put to death immediately.
But the Prince silenced them and, rising again, looked at the two men whom Charles of Valois had thus chosen as the means of his humiliation.
"Get you to your inn," he said hoarsely. "Infringe no more on our hospitality. For the message you have given there shall be a fitting reply at a fitting time."
The knight and the lawyer turned and with undignified haste left the audience-chamber, thankful to have acquitted their dangerous mission, and again the English fiercely demanded that these two wretches should be killed.
"No," said the Prince, "that cannot be. They come as envoys in a time of peace."
He looked round at the angry faces of his friends and followers, and added with the deepest bitterness:
"Good sirs, by my faith, it seems from what I can see the French hold me as dead."
There were few of them who had the courage to meet his eye, for well they knew that in spite of the good front he had put on it to-day he was not the man of Crécy and Poictiers, nay, even of Najera.
"Chandos must return," muttered the Prince of Wales. "I will summon Chandos."
John of Lancaster put his hand over that of his brother's, which still rested on the arm of the chair, and said:
"What of these two messengers? They have gone without waiting to receive warrants. They declared that they would go to Toulouse to rejoice the Duke of Anjou, our enemy, with an account of how they have insulted you even in your house in Bordeaux."
The Prince replied moodily:
"It is not right that they should so easily leave our country to go and relate their prattle to Anjou who loves us little, as you say, John, and declare how they have summoned us personally in our own palace. Indeed, it seems to me that they are messengers from the Count of Armagnac, the Lord d'Albret, the Count of Perigord-Commines and Carmaign, rather than from the King of France."
He added with a deep sigh of rage and pain: "I will, for the vexation they have given us, that they be detained and thrown in prison."
Two of the knights instantly left the audience-room.
"'Tis Armagnac," burst out the Prince of Wales, with a furious bitterness. "Would I had left him languishing in the prison of the Count of Foix! He will cause war once again between England and France, which will be a greater ill than all the good he is ever likely to do in his life!"
"It is indeed Armagnac," said Prince John of Lancaster sombrely; "he is bold, unprincipled and cunning, but more important than he is this Charles of Valois."
Edward of Wales sat still, thinking of all the forces arrayed against him, of his father, old and bedridden in Westminster, and of his own body, day by day failing, and his sons who were but children. He gripped his brother's hand and said:
"Send for Sir John Chandos."
But John of Lancaster thought: "Chandos is also old and not the man he was."
Yet he left the room at once, active and alert as always, to send a messenger to fetch Sir John Chandos from his estates in the Cotentin, bidding him to come at once to Angoulême, bidding the Constable be prepared to take measures to meet a rebellion and possibly a renewal of the great war with France.
Without loss of time John of Lancaster also wrote to the old King at Westminster, bidding him not to be deceived by any smooth embassies from Charles of Valois, nor gifts of fifty pipes of wine, which indeed he would do well to return, since Edward had been grievously insulted by the King of France... But, on the other hand, he should send what aid he could to Aquitaine, in the way of men and money. "'Twere best that the Earl of Cambridge, the Earl of Pembroke and other great knights came at once."
John of Lancaster, ever quick and lively in his mind and in his person, began to cast about how the Free Companies might be engaged and brought back to their old allegiance to the Prince. It was true that few of them had been paid, but promises might again serve their turn. At least it would be as well to prevent them possibly joining the King of France.
Anjou and Berri, those Princes of the French blood royal, were both very cunning knights. John of Lancaster knew that he would need all his wits to prevail against them.
The energetic Prince had seen written, had signed and dispatched all these letters, and it was again the hour of Vespers. And, with the ringing of the church bells into the cold winter air, came more news, and this of the very worst.
There had been a great battle at Monthiel.
Du Guesclin and Don Enriquez had defeated Don Pedro. The latter had been captured and slain by his brother's own hand during a skirmish in the tent after the battle.
John of Lancaster crossed himself at the sound of the vesper bell. No doubt prayers and Masses could so something even for the soul of such as Don Pedro, the man of blood who had perished bloodily.
Then he flushed and forgot God and the vesper bell and the soul of Don Pedro, for he remembered that now Constancia was the rightful Queen of Castile and that he might call himself King and quarter the Castle and the Lion.
It fell to him to take this news to the Princess Constancia, his promised wife.
He found the dark, fierce girl with Jeannette, who was playing in a half-peevish, half-teasing fashion with her elder son.
Jeannette sprang up when the young Prince entered, demanding his news before he could say a word to Constancia.
"What is all this turmoil and trouble? I have been mewed up here all day and have heard nothing. Edward still refuses to see me. He is shut up again with the old monk who came with Don Pedro. Tell him not to do this, John; it is not liked. People talk of magic and a fiend in disguise."
She gave her silly shallow laugh, but her eyes were frightened.
"There is a great stirring abroad and trouble in the air," said the young Prince gravely, "and matters are not helped by chattering with women. But, for Constancia here, who is to be my wife, I have news—"
"But for me nothing," interrupted Jeannette. "Am I always to be left playing with children? Is Edward sick, or only moody? How do affairs go? Is it true there is to be a revolt, and even a war? I would I could return to Westminster."
John of Lancaster took no heed of any of this.
He turned to Constancia, took her small brown hand and said, with some kindness:
"Princess, there has been a battle between Du Guesclin and your father at Monthiel. I had the news half an hour ago. Don Pedro was slain."
Her swarthy face quivered a little and she drooped her lids over her huge dark eyes. But her manner had the calm of one who receives expected news.
"Did he die unshriven?" she asked.
"That I know not." John of Lancaster crossed himself. "I will expend much in Masses for his soul, Constancia."
"It would become you," replied the girl, "since you are his heir."
"By God," he swore, "and by St. George, I will make you Queen!"
Jeannette broke out bitterly:
"Ay, you were ever ambitious to be King before your brother, John. This galloping ambition is not becoming!" She wondered curiously if there would ever be a crown on her own head. If that old man at Westminster would not die and her husband sickened so the future looked dreary to Jeannette... Daughter-in-law of a king, descended from a king, mother of a king, but never a queen. She eyed the Spanish girl maliciously.
"Set me down as you will," John of Lancaster reminded her calmly, "it is as well there is one man in Aquitaine who is ready to bear himself valiantly for King Edward and England."
BROTHER FRANCIS had always intended to be a saint like his namesake of a hundred years ago, but found the times ill-suited to this ambition. He thought that the gentle monk of Assisi would not have made so fine a business of his saintship had he lived in a convent outside Angoulême during the revolt in Aquitaine.
Brother Francis had watched for many months now, parties of men-at-arms tramping or riding to and fro the Bourbonnais and the Limousine, and despite his efforts at pious abstraction, he had been very interested in these worldly matters.
As a good Frenchman he wished the dowry of Eleanor of Aquitaine and the provinces wrested from France by the Treaty of Bretigny to return to the King of France, and as a quiet scholarly man he wished that the other quiet scholarly man, Charles of Valois, would succeed in his struggle against these terrible boasting Plantagenets who were feared in France like ogres or monsters.
Brother Francis, in common with the other monks of his Order, had been often distracted from his prayers by news of the war which had become inevitable from the moment that Edward of Wales had arrested King Charles's ambassadors at Bordeaux.
Those two fiery knights and Princes—the Dukes of Anjou and Berri—had wished to declare war immediately after that. And Brother Francis had applauded the tact and cunning with which Charles of Valois had restrained them till he had, by his diplomatic machinations separated England from her ally.
But, without awaiting the authority of the King of France, the rebellious barons had commenced petty sallies and acts of warfare on their own authority... and the Count of Armagnac, safe in the fortified town of Rodez, had definitely flung down the gage when he captured Sir Thomas Wake, who was riding through the Garonne Valley...
With a shiver of excitement the monks had heard how Sir John Chandos, the English Prince's Constable, old as he was and hostile to the acts which had caused the rebellion, had hastened to the Prince's side, and assisted him in drawing up a scheme of the campaign.
In the church of the abbey, Brother Francis and his fellow-monks had listened to a recital of a copy of the Prince's manifesto which, addressed to the prelates, barons and commons of Aquitaine, had been read aloud by the Precentor. The point of this proclamation had been a bitter invective against the Count of Armagnac, who, said the Prince, in spite of all favours showered on him, had fermented a revolt and given an opportunity to the Princes of the blood of France, the Dukes of Anjou and Bern, to overrun Aquitaine, plunder and ravage the peaceful inhabitants...
The monks had looked at each other and laughed:
"It's a fine thing for the Prince of Wales to talk of plundering and ravaging when he has let loose the Free Companies unpaid on the country!"
And with a good deal of zest and relish they read the counter-proclamation which Armagnac immediately issued from Rodez.
In this the rebel claimed that he had sacrificed his person and his money to the Prince, and had spent no less than six hundred thousand golden florins on the fatal Spanish expedition, of which the Prince still owed him two hundred thousand. That as regards the ransom Edward had paid the Count of Foix, he had already reimbursed the Prince. He explained, too, that the principal officials in Rouergue had annexed his jurisdiction, and confiscated his possessions, and he complained vehemently of the fouage which he declared was impossible since the poor were so oppressed they had no means to pay it, and he added fiercely that he could not get justice either at Bordeaux or at Westminster, and therefore had appealed to his legitimate sovereign, the King of France.
The monks, although they tried to keep themselves detached from worldly affairs, could not but rejoice to know that a little more than a month after this manifesto nine hundred and twenty-one castles, towns or fortified places in the counties of Armagnac, Rodez, Limoges, Quercy and Agenais had deserted England and her lieutenant, Edward of Wales.
The Prince and Chandos remained immobile at their headquarters at Angoulême, while on the southwest the Duke of Berri overran Auvergne, invaded Rouergue, and took La Roche Valsergue, while the Duke of Anjou and the Count of Perigord flung themselves forward from their base at Toulouse and invaded Aquitaine and the valley of the Garonne. Along the North frontier of Poitou, Touraine and Anjou, Jean de Beuil, William des Bordes and Louis St. Julien succeeded in driving back the English.
The monks chattered over these events in much excitement. They were depressed when they heard that Chandos, the famous veteran, had re-established the English cause in the South, and delighted when they heard that the valiant Burley had been captured at La Roche Posay, which was a great vexation to the Prince of Wales who regarded him "as worth a hundred men."
Soon after this came a real disaster to the English cause, which Brother Francis, who was an enthusiast, was inclined to regard as an answer to his prayers.
After hastening to rescue the impetuous and foolish Earl of Pembroke from an ambuscade, Chandos had been surprised himself and slain at Chauvigny, at the bridge of Lussac.
The Abbot told the monks that, greatly as they might rejoice at the loss of this redoubtable enemy of France, they must regret "a noble man and a gentle knight, who was full of wisdom and devices, and might yet have found some means of establishing a peace between England and France."
"God hath his soul in keeping," added the Abbot, "for the sake of his goodness. For three hundred years past there was no one more gentle nor more distinguished by every noble virtue than he."
Yet, in his heart, Brother Francis was pleased that this great knight had been taken to heaven and left France to the French.
More good news came to the convent at Angoulême. Anjou and Berri came like a tempest into the Agenais and the Limousine, Anjou dashing to within five leagues of Bordeaux.
"The English Prince," chattered the monks to each other, "must be a very sick man, if he does not stir now!"
From January to September nothing but disaster had fallen on the English arms, and still the Prince of Wales lay, without making a sign, at Angoulême.
Brother Francis heard from the passers-by—the convent in those days often had to give refreshment and hospitality to hastening wayfarers, knights, squires and bachelors and citizens driven from their homes—that the two French Princes intended to make a march on Angoulême and capture this famous paragon of chivalry in his bed.
But this last misfortune seemed to put some new life into Prince Edward, and he was heartened by reinforcements from England which his brother John of Lancaster had gone to fetch, and began to concentrate his armies at Cognac.
Lancaster had brought with him but three hundred men-at-arms and five hundred archers. He had been entrusted by the old King at Westminster with orders to remit the hateful hearth tax, and to pardon all rebels who would submit at once. Also, to arrogate to himself all powers "which my eldest son," said the old King bitterly, "is not fit to exercise."
This was the fierce Plantagenet's last move to retain the escaping provinces.
England was again in a state of war with France, and the monks laughed among themselves in great amusement when they had heard how the King of France, throwing off the mask at last, had sent his defiance to Edward.
This was by the mouth of a scullion who travelled from Paris to Westminster with the Valois's defiance to the old Plantagenet!
The capture of Limoges by the Duke of Berri provided further excitement for the monks. Their abbey stood directly on the high road between Limoges and Cognac, the Prince of Wales' base.
This fine and handsome town had fallen easily to the French duke through the connivance of the Bishop Jean de Gros, and the Abbot was not pleased at this news, for the Bishop had been a friend, even an adviser, of the Prince of Wales, and he did not like his cause to prosper through treachery.
"You will see too," he said to Brother Francis as they walked together in the September evening, "that it will throw the English Prince into a very great rage and he will meditate some terrible vengeance."
And indeed the monks heard from the affrighted lips of travellers that the Prince on hearing of the surrender of Limoges had sunk into an apathy of rage. Then, when he had been able to speak, had sworn his most terrible oath "by the soul of his father," which he had never perjured, that he would have Limoges back again, that he would not attend to anything until he had done this! He would make the inhabitants pay dearly for their treachery!
On a beautiful autumn day the trembling monks gathered round their abbey walls and gates and saw the English force pass by to besiege Limoges... Three thousand men-at-arms, a thousand archers, a thousand footmen—English, Gascons, and veterans of the Free Companies.
The army took no heed of the monastery nor of the monks gathered about it, nor did they even pause to plunder the country-side, though it was their rule systematically to devastate all the lands through which they passed. But, on this occasion, they pushed forward with the relentless force of those fulfilling a relentless purpose.
The Prince of Wales had sworn an oath, and one that he had never been known to perjure.
The monks believed that Limoges would at once surrender when this terrible warrior in his wrath appeared before the gates.
And so indeed the Bishop and the poor townsfolk would have done, and rushed out and thrown themselves at his feet demanding mercy of their injured master.
But the French knights, Sir Jean de Villemar, Sir Hugh de la Roche, and Sir Roger de Beaufort refused what they called "these craven counsels." They said the town was well provided with food and with artillery, and that they would hold the fort until they were relieved by the Duke of Bern, who was hovering near with a considerable army.
As the days and weeks passed by and still the English did not take Limoges, the monks began to think that after all the dreaded Prince was not so terrible, that the town might hold out until the French King could succeed in hacking his way through the English lines.
Then, when the siege had endured for about a month, there came no further news from Limoges. For several days the long high road was bare of travellers. The monks seem isolated in their own world of the convent building, church and gardens set so agreeably in the pleasant autumn fields.
Brother Francis tried to write a chronicle of these events and all the stormy happenings of his times, but gave up the task with a sigh of despairing weariness, for what might he, a simple monk, know of the truth, when he heard first this rumour and then that and everything was contradicted and all was in a confusion? The events that he could see with his own eyes were so small and trifling, the large ones always enacted beyond his ken.
Through some mischance or stupidity of his own, for instance, he had not been able to see the Prince of Wales when that warrior had passed from Cognac to Limoges. No, not though he had hung for hours at the convent gate, studying eagerly all the passing company with their great bravery of pennon and banner, of armour and scarf. He could not even say whether Prince Edward had gone on horseback or in a litter... For, of the Prince's health there were many different stories told. Some said that he was a sick man for whom the doctors could do nothing more. Others declared he was well again. "I would like to see him," thought Brother Francis regretfully. "A man like that, whose fame has spread over the whole world, who is feared by his enemies and adored by his friends, who has all worldly power and valiancy. Yes, I should like to see this English Paragon."
He walked in the cloister garden with little Hugh—a boy the monks had rescued a year ago from the ruins of one of the burnt farms which had been destroyed in a foray.
The child was too young to know to the full his loss and his misery. He seemed happy with the monks, and would play for hours in the garden or in the long, whitewashed hall and cloisters.
But sometimes he would have a fit of crying for nothing, as it appeared, and often in the night he would wake and call out for his mother and his little sister, for his father and the elder brother whose bodies had long since been trampled into the soil they had so carefully tended.
There was a multitude of bright flowers in the convent garden, and the air was very sweet with that honey-like fragrance of autumn which is as delicious and more opulent than the fragrance of the spring.
The sky was a tender blue beyond the scarlet and amber of the autumn leaves. The sunshine was tawny and luscious, and warm without the fierceness of summer heat.
Brother Francis gathered herbs in the herb garden, putting his aromatic bunches into a flat rush-basket, while little Hugh sat on the path and made himself bows and arrows from hedgerow twigs and boughs.
The sun was setting in a soft haze of purple-gold, and it lacked about an hour to Vespers.
Brother Francis felt in a peaceful, happy mood. He looked with loving pleasure on the little child. He was pleased to think how fat and comely he had grown under his care, and how contented he was with his little mimic weapons. And then he was distressed that he had allowed the child to have these fierce toys, and not given him a gentler diversion. For Brother Francis did not care to think that little Hugh would grow to be a lusty savage man, even as those who had slain his father and burnt his home. He wished he could keep him always so happy and innocent among the flowers of the garden...
He crossed to the sun-flushed wall and picked a large ripe pear which, with a little device of muslin, he had guarded from wasps and flies, and gave it to the child, as he sat among his bows and arrows.
When little Hugh, with a clap of his hands, had dropped the sticks and seized the fruit, Brother Francis was pleased.
While he stood, with his basket of herbs on his arm, thoughtfully and pleasantly watching the child, another monk came hurrying out from the low buildings of the abbey, and on his pinched lips was breathless news.
"I have seen the vaward of the English army coming along the road, hastening with all speed back to Cognac!"
"Then Limoges has fallen," said Brother Francis.
"What else? It must be so," replied the other fearfully. "They had not a defeated air."
Brother Francis snatched up the child and carried him into the front of the garden and so to the gates of the monastery, where the other monks had crowded to watch the English go by again.
Edward of Wales's army marched as it had marched before, steadily, swiftly, without pause or glance to right or left.
The monks pointed out to each other the banners of England aloft and unstained, the bright armour of the knights, the splendid equipment of the archers and men-at-arms...
With excitement they singled out the noble figure of John of Lancaster in his costly mail on his magnificent black horse.
And then Brother Francis saw the English Paragon. A long litter carried by six mighty men who walked slowly. And on the litter one who seemed a giant in stature, whose hands were folded on his breast, who was covered with a mantle of violet and ermine, before whom went the Royal Standard of England.
The monks, shivering together in the warm autumn twilight, gazed after this terrible figure. For a few moments it was outlined against the sky—the gigantic man prone on the litter, the six tall men bearing the litter, the escort of knights and squires—and then it was gone, lost in the glittering winding of the broken column.
The monks chattered together.
"So he is ill—so he cannot mount a horse—what has happened at Limoges?"
No one took any heed of them. There was no one whom they dare ask. Brother Francis held little Hugh close to his breast. The Vesper bell brought them into the chapel. They said their prayers that day with a deeper fervency.
And when Brother Francis put the friendless orphan child in his bed he blessed him in a voice that shook with fear, and turned in passionate appeal to the crucifix on the white wall, imploring the Lord of mercy and of tenderness to have pity on these little ones...
Troubled in his mind and uneasy in his soul Brother Francis, later that evening, left the gate and looked up and down the long high road between Cognac and Limoges. He hoped that he might see some straggler from whom he could get news. But the great army had passed like a vision in a dream. The wide landscape lay placid and untroubled beneath the evening sky.
Yet presently Brother Francis heard a groan, a broken prayer, and, running eagerly along the highway, he found but a few paces from the abbey walls an English man-at-arms, who had dragged himself out of the line of march and fallen there overcome by his wounds.
Brother Francis quickly called for help, and four or five of the old and feeble monks were able to drag the heavy soldier into their holy sanctuary.
They bathed his wounds which were on breast and arms. It gave Brother Francis pleasure to wash away the blood and dirt and sweat.
They were not dangerous wounds, the man was not like to die of them. Yet he seemed as one stricken to death.
Even the monks' most cherished and prized cordials failed to put any life into him. He lay motionless on the pallet-bed, and when he found the strength to speak he begged them all in piteous tones to pray for him. Now and then strong shudders shook him, and he groaned and cried out like one oppressed by terrible sights and sounds.
At last the Abbot asked what disease plagued him, and bid him speak and unburden his spirit, for he thought that the man had done some fearful deed of war which lay heavy even upon a soldier's conscience.
At that the man-at-arms seemed to regain a little of his senses and asked them to raise him up, which they did, propping him with a rolled mattress.
"I have seen," he said, "the sack of Limoges."
"Limoges is taken then," the whisper went round the monks.
The man-at-arms, whose pale eyes stared from face to face, repeated:
The Abbot found the courage to ask:
"And what vengeance had the Prince of Wales?"
With a grin of anguish the English man-at-arms replied:
"We mined and they countermined. They had good artillery and brave knights. But the Duke of Lancaster blew up their defences. The Prince of Wales was carried across the breach. And there, sir Abbot, he redeemed his vow. Limoges was sacked. All were put to the sword. Ay, had you seen it... a piteous sight."
"All were put to the sword?" shuddered Brother Francis, thinking of little Hugh asleep upstairs beneath the crucifix.
"Men, women and children," whispered the English soldier, "even those poor helpless ones who had done no harm and knew nothing of the treason. All these poor creatures imploring mercy and finding it not. Although they threw themselves before the Prince of Wales with many tears and supplications, yet he ordered that they should be massacred. And so they were. And I, who have seen many sights, have seen none so terrible as this, which made me think of God and hell and vengeance—to see little children, old women, and mothers who had done no wrong thus foully slain and crying out in their torment!"
"They were martyrs," muttered the Abbot, crossing himself, "and by now in heaven."
"This," shivered Brother Francis, "is your English Paragon! This is your pattern of chivalry!"
"He had no mercy," said the man-at-arms, as if speaking to himself. "He had sworn his oath. He kept his vow. The Bishop was dragged before him. He eyed him terribly and would have had him put to death, but the Duke of Lancaster stayed him. The Duke would have stopped the massacre, but the Prince would have no mercy. No mercy," repeated the man-at-arms, monotonously.
"Did they never stop?" asked the Abbot. "Is there no living soul left in Limoges? God have mercy upon our souls!"
"It was stopped," said the man-at-arms, "through the Prince's chivalry. He regarded as nothing the poor folk, but when he heard that the French knights in the citadel were defending themselves with a last valiancy he was moved because of their condition and gentlehood and gave orders that the slaughter should cease."
The bowed Abbot again crossed himself:
"And you, my son, are a man of war yourself, and yet you were stirred by this?"
"It was as if God spoke to me," whispered the Englishman earnestly. "I come from Lincolnshire and my father was a peaceful man. I thought of the Fens and the labour we made to drain them and to grow there food and fruit. And it seemed to me that I had been nothing but the instrument of a tyrant's fury. I too am a poor man, humbly of the people. And I have slain at this Prince's bidding others of my kind. Yes, Father, it was as if the skies opened above all that blood and terror and I could see the scorn and pity of heaven."
He lay back on his pallet and the tears stood in his eyes.
"How may I make amends?" he muttered. "If I live, I too will be a monk. But I shall never forget Limoges."
"Terrible and vile are the powers of darkness," said the Abbot, "and so little may man do against them, yet always something! Here in this cloister we have one small child saved from a whole waste of war. And you have seen many children slain. Yet, if God gave you life it might be that you could also save one. Kindness, charity and pity find it difficult to take root in this world. Yet, like weeds in a hard stone wall, here and there they flower."
"Christ died to save such as they," sobbed the English man-at-arms, "so many hundred years ago—and still, this. Give me a crucifix."
When he had this in his hand he whispered strangely:
"Thank God for Christ!"
Brother Francis said:
"Shall we not all go pray for these poor souls who were murdered in Limoges?"
The Abbot replied:
"We will pray for them, but let us not forget the English Prince. It is the tyrant, not the oppressed, who stands most in need of pity. They whom he caused to be slain are at peace in Paradise, but he must live to take his punishment."
"He is a sick man," murmured the soldier. "Saw you not how he went by on a litter? He is punished."
The monks all said:
"God have mercy on Edward Prince of Wales and Duke of Aquitaine! God forgive his sins!"
NUNREDDIN the Oriental was weary of watching in the sick chamber and of the weight of his monk's habit. His lean, hollowed, yellow face, which had long since ceased to express any emotion, was sunk on his breast. His deep-set eyes with their impressive stare were hidden by the heavy lids.
He detested this cold. He longed for Egypt, for Persia, for Mesopotamia, where he could hold out his hands and feel heat, like waves flowing over them. He yearned for the harsh sand burnt to silver by the sun, for the crude green of dry palm trees, for the little white houses with the green blinds and shutters, so glaring without, so cool within.
He had had enough of Europe. He was weary even of his own skill which had proved so useless.
Edward of Wales he had known to be a dying man when he had first met him. Day by day he had watched his ruined body withering.
The effort which the English Paragon had made to wreak his vengeance on Limoges, had hastened his fatal disease. He could not stand upright even for half an hour of the day.
Nunreddin's drugs were no longer of any avail in his bouts of pain.
Nor had the Oriental been able to save the child. The youngest Edward Plantagenet had sickened suddenly of some foul disease engendered by war. The Oriental, disguised in his Christian monk's robe, had watched by the little Prince's bed for three days and three nights, and then he had died between his hands.
The mother, seeing her brightest hope thus snatched from her, her husband sick, nay even dying, and her other son but a babe in arms, had fallen into shrieking despair. Dishevelled, without her paint, in the bitter light of the winter daybreak, she had looked an old woman. She knew now she never would be Queen. Edward of Wales had not been near his dead son. When he had heard of the end of the illness he had said nothing.
And Nunreddin had mused:
"Does he think of all those other children slain in Limoges, and wonder that God should demand this one of him?"
Now he would leave for England without even waiting for his child's funeral rites.
By elaborate and stately ceremonies he had relegated all his authority to John of Lancaster. But, put what gloss on it the English could, the French Provinces were lost. Charles of Valois had triumphed.
This so-called craven and coward, who never left his palace on the Seine, but spent his time with astrologers, monks, and bookish scholars, had now by cunning diplomacy outwitted the famous Plantagenet.
Nunreddin looked out from a window of the Abbey of St. Andrew.
The day was so cold, so without radiance, it was difficult to believe that the sun would ever shine again. It was the very stillness of the depth of winter, when the heart of nature seems to stop.
The courtyard was full of men-at-arms and all the flaunting colours of the English chivalry, but these hung heavy and idle in the heavy air, ruffled now and then by a rising wind.
John of Lancaster was there predominant in great bravery. He was full of grief for his brother's sickness, for his brother's loss, and yet a man not discontent. He had authority. He was invested with all the remnants of English power in Aquitaine, Guienne and Gascony. With his dark, bitter wife, he had invested himself with the title of King of Castile and Leon.
Nunreddin guessed most of his thoughts, yes, and guessed still another, which he was sure lay deep in the young man's ambitious secret soul. Now that the young boy was dead, there was but a sickly infant between himself and the throne of England. Fourth son as he was, he named his brothers of little account. Six stout knights slowly bore out the litter of the sick Edward of Wales through the Abbey doorway.
Nunreddin peered curiously down at the man who had lost everything—his health, his reputation, his heir. Edward of Wales would never look splendid again until his effigy, encased in full armour, lay on his tomb in the great Cathedral at Canterbury.
Nothing remained of his magnificence, save his great height. His hands were folded on his breast in an attitude of fatigue, defeat and resignation. Fur and silk coverlets were piled over him to keep his shivering sick body from the sharp January air.
The Prince's litter halted amid his escort.
One of the knights, looking up and seeing Nunreddin at the window, beckoned to him to come down. The Prince had asked for him. The Oriental went reluctantly. He had already refused the Prince's invitation to return with him to England. He loathed the thought of that grey, distant, fogbound island, the senile King and his rapacious mistress.
He went slowly, halting on the stairs to allow the Princess Jeannette to pass, holding close to her the young Richard, England's heir, a puling child.
Arrived at the litter, Nunreddin bowed low and waited for the Prince to speak.
Edward exerted himself to turn his head on his pillow and look down at the man standing humbly in his monk's robe.
In a feeble voice he said that he wished to reward him for his services, for his attendance on the young Prince lately dead.
"I am not yet so poor but that I can pay those who serve me." And he added on a note of appeal:
"Come to England and I will entreat you well."
Nunreddin courteously refused.
"Sire, I must to Africa. I am under vows," he added, knowing that that would silence the Prince's importunities.
"You are a strange wandering man. I would pay you very well to stay by me. You know rarer secrets than any of my doctors. Perhaps," he added, "you have been bribed to go to the King of Navarre who, I hear, sickens daily. God help us all!" The prone man crossed himself. "They say he is smitten with the leprosy."
"No," said Nunreddin, "I do not go to the King of Navarre. Sire, I have had enough of Europe."
"Have you warrants?" asked the Prince courteously.
"I go by by-ways, by secret paths where no man demands authority," he replied.
"Your reward then? I would not leave you unfee'd."
Nunreddin considered if there was anything that he really wished for from Edward of Wales. Neither money nor treasure was of any use to him. He could make his way anywhere, get his living either honestly or by cunning. He was always sure of shelter and good companionship.
"There is nothing, sire," he replied sincerely.
But Edward of Wales could not endure, on top of all the other affronts and stings of fortune, to be in the debt of an inferior. He pulled a large ruby ring off his finger and dropped it over the side of the litter.
"Farewell," he said abruptly, and turned his head aside.
John of Lancaster, who was watching him anxiously, took this as a signal and the cavalcade moved off to the stately clatter of the hoofs of war-horses, the rise and fall of beautiful standards and pennants, the clank of armour and weapons.
Nunreddin picked up the ruby ring from the cobbles. It was of great value.
A malformed beggar was creeping about the gateway, exposing his filthy sores and disgusting rags to the departing knights and whining for alms.
Nunreddin flung to him the jewel and, returning to his apartments, picked up the white cat of Seville which was sleeping in a voluptuous attitude of ease before the small brazier.
"Come, my beauty, come, my sweet," smiled Nunreddin, "we will away from these sorry happenings. Into the sunshine, my friend, where you can sleep and I can muse for hours, with nothing to do."
The soft creature snuggled into his bosom behind the coarse folds of the monk's garment.
"You are not troubled," said Nunreddin, "with sins or penances, triumph or failure. You are the best company in the world."
He went down to the harbour where the great ships, some of the most proud and lovely of the works of man, rested on the sullen ocean; the violent colours of the English Standard were vivid against the bitter ash-hued sky.
Very gorgeous and magnificently manned was the mighty vessel which had come to carry Edward of Wales home to die.
Nunreddin watched the splendid knights embark. He waited till the litter bearing the English Paragon went slowly and painfully across the gangway. For a moment the huge and superbly-apparelled figure of the dying man prone on his litter was outlined against the sad grey of winter. A few flakes of snow fell.
Nunreddin turned away, his face set towards the East. The sudden wind blew slantwise the snowflakes and filled out the sails, radiant with the English Leopards.
John of Lancaster sat his black horse amid his knights on the quayside, he was dim-eyed at this sad parting from his brother.
Nunreddin went on his way gladly, leaving all these things behind him. He caressed the white cat which lay snug in his bosom and seemed content.
What is now known as the Kingdom of Spain, at this time was divided into the Moorish realm of Granada and the kingdoms of Aragon, Castile, Leon and Navarre, this last was ruled by a French Prince, Charles I, who inherited through his mother, Jeanne II. Edward of Wales ruled in his father's name the Provinces ceded to England at the Treaty of Bretigny, 1360, which gave to Edward III Guienne, Gascony, Ponthieu and Calais; Aquitaine already belonged (nominally) to England through the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine with Henry II; since that period the Kings of England had been Dukes of Aquitaine.
By the Treaty of Bretigny, Edward III waived his claims to the Crown of France and his feudal rights over Normandy, etc., this caused a break or truce in the Hundred Years War.
Urban V was one of the last of the French Popes to reside in Avignon under the protection of France. On 16th October, 1367, Urban made his public entry into Rome before the wondering gaze of multitudes of eager spectators. For nearly sixty-five years no pope had been seen in the Eternal City and only the aged among the spectators could recall the memory of Benedict XI. The Pope rode on a white mule, and was attended in the procession by about four thousand cavalry, a great number of infantry and over two thousand bishops, abbots and clergy of all ranks.
At the end of his life he returned to Avignon on the plea that he desired to negotiate for peace between the Kings of France and England. Some writers suppose that Urban, knowing himself to be in failing health, wished to die in his own country.
On reaching Avignon where he was received with great joy, Pope Urban sent messages to the Kings of France and England, inviting them to an interview. Meantime, however, his illness increased and he caused himself to be carried to the church of St. Peter in Avignon. There, in front of the high altar, he died on 19th December, 1370. He was buried in the cathedral at Avignon, but two years later his remains were translated to the church of St. Victor at Marseilles, where he had been abbot.
It is recorded of Pope Urban V that he encouraged learning, and during his pontificate he maintained at his own expense and supplied with books, a thousand poor students at the universities. (See A Chronicle of the Popes by A. E. McKilliam, M.A., 1912.
The splendours of Papal Avignon came to an end under the last Avignon Pope, Benedict XIII (Pietro de Luna), during the siege of 1411, when the gorgeous palaces of Clement VI and Benedict XII and the superb gardens of Urban V were reduced to ruins.
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