"Truly," he said low-voiced, "the youth and his people are wiser than I knew! Herein is a point of statecraft fit to be an heirloom of the British kings. I will wear it. The king of the people hath no need to fear the power of his barons. I have seen it long. There shall be more and larger parliaments henceforth, and the Commons may speak their will freely. I am less at the bidding of my proud earls. I have henceforth no fear of Philip of France, but I must win Calais, if only for the good of my merchantmen. We will march thither speedily, as soon as I shall have smitten hard this huge mustering of Philip the unwise."
The prince came not back, nor did he afterward give to Richard the words of the king; but the writers who in due season recorded the history of those times had many things to write concerning the kindly relations that grew up between Edward and the Commons, especially all merchants and artisans and seafaring men.
There were days of seeming rest for the army, but these were largely spent in good training, lest discipline should have been injured on the march. On one of these days came a summons from Sir Geoffrey of Harcourt to Richard Neville, and when he obeyed it he found the two marshals together. Earl Warwick was the first to speak.
"Good news for thee, Richard," he said. "Thy gateway fort was a fine trap for thy fortune. The king hath purchased of Sir Thomas Holland, Sir Peter Legh, and the knights and thee, the ransom of the Constable of France and Lord Tancarville. He payeth twenty thousand rose nobles of gold, and thy share will be made good. All thy other prizes will be sure to thee in my own hand, for I send all to thy mother at Warwick. Thou wilt be richer than was ever thy father, if thou shalt hold on as thou hast begun."
Great was the joy of Richard, and earnest were his thanks to the kindly earl; but he had now to hear from his commander.
"Hearken thou well," he said. "Take thou thine own companies and such as shall be named to thee by Sir Peter Legh. March out at the northern gate and follow the road he will name to thee. Speak not to any concerning thy errand, and thou thyself hast need to know no more. But if any stranger shall attempt to march with thee, slay thou him on the spot."
"See that thou obey in silence," added the earl. "I trust in God that I shall see thee again, but do thou thy duty utterly caring not for thy blood or thy life."
Richard bowed low, for his heart was dancing within him at the prospect of new adventure, and he did but say:
"God save the king! And I pray thee, tell my mother I did my duty utterly."
"Go thou," said the earl.
"Haste thee also," came from Sir Geoffrey, "for thine is the vanguard."
O what pride for one so young – to be ordered to the front of a secret foray!
Nevertheless, in the very street, as Richard rode to the camp of his bowmen, he was met and halted by the prince.
"Richard of Wartmont," he said, but not loudly, "thou hast thy orders?"
Richard bowed low.
"So have I mine!" exclaimed the prince.
It had been ill to answer in words, but Richard bowed again and rode onward.
It was at the gate that he met Sir Peter Legh with further instructions. A good knight was Sir Peter and broad in the shoulders, but he stood a fathom and half a handbreadth in his stature – a sore antagonist for any man to face in field or tourney, and having experience of many a hard-fought field.
"Thou of Wartmont," he said dryly, "since I am to have company of thee and thine, well. It is De Harcourt's word to me. He is my commander. Thou mayest lead older and better men fairly enough. I will tell thee what to do."
"I was ahead of all but thee in the gate of Caen," responded Richard a little freely, for he was but young in temper. "Thou wilt not find me a pace behind thee if so be there is fighting or climbing to be done."
"That there will be," growled Sir Peter. "Thou art nimble enough, but other men are bigger in the bones. But it is said of thee that thou hast good fortune, and that is a grand thing in a fray. I will go to thy men with thee and learn what timber I am to build with."
So strong in the minds of all men was the belief that even more than lance or sword or counsel was the thing they called fortune. But better for the army and for the taking of Calais were the long preparation and the subtle wisdom of Edward the Third.
Few were the words of Sir Peter as they twain rode onward, save to give his youthful comrade full and clear directions as to the road by which he was to march. He knew, however, that the burly knight eyed him keenly from time to time, as if he were trying to read what value he might have as a soldier.
Then came they to the camp, and Sir Peter turned his eyes in like manner upon Guy the Bow and the men of Longwood.
"I ask the marshal's pardon," he grumbled testily. "If their chief be only a boy, his clansmen are long in the legs. Every man a pardoned outlaw, I am told, and half of kin to the Neville. Look you!" he spoke loudly to Guy the Bow, "ye all are to march with Richard of Wartmont."
"Aye, Sir Peter," said Guy. "He is our captain. We have fought for him ere this, shoulder to shoulder."
"Thou art malapert!" exclaimed Sir Peter. "Guard thou thy tongue, lest I teach thee a lesson thou needest. The lash is near thee!"
Hot as fire glowed the brown cheeks of Guy the Bow, and he strode one pace nearer.
"I know thee, Sir Peter Legh," he said. "Thou art a good lance enough, but who gave thee the ill wisdom to speak of the lash to the free archers of Arden?"
Right well astonished was Sir Peter, for at every side, as he looked beyond Guy, did the tall foresters spring to their feet, and full a score of them had arrows on the string. He heard rough speaking in a tongue which he did not fully understand, but one voice that was louder than the rest was of ordinary English.
"We are not dogs, nor serfs, nor villains," it declared, "that we should be whipped for free speech. We are free men. If yonder man-at-arms layeth but a finger upon Guy the Bow or upon my Lord of Wartmont, I will send this shaft through his midriff."
"Richard Neville, what meaneth this?" exclaimed Sir Peter Legh. "Whose men are these?"
"We belong to the Wartmont, under the Earl of Warwick," spoke out Ben of Coventry, "and through the earl we are the king's men. Look thou well to that."
"Sir Peter," said Richard sturdily, "there was no cause of offense to thee."
"These, then, are yeomen?" asked Sir Peter, with a grim smile that meant much.
"Never was collar of serf upon the neck of an archer of Arden," replied Richard. "Free they were born, and free they will die. And I swear to thee that my father's son will die here with them ere they are harmed."
The knight was wiser than he had seemed, for he did but laugh loudly.
"I have no quarrel to pick with Earl Warwick or with thee, or with thy deerstealers," he said. "Bring them along. These were with thee when thou didst take La Belle Calaise? Pirates every man. But they are what thou wilt need to have with thee if thou art to follow Sir Thomas Holland and me. The old one-eyed Saracen fighter will lead where none but brave hearts may go."
All the men heard him, and bows were promptly lowered. Said Guy the Bow:
"My speech was not malapert for such as I am, Sir Knight. Thou didst ill to threaten freemen. But it may be, if thou art in a press, thou wilt be pleased to hear at thy side the twanging of the good bows of Longwood and Wartmont."
"That will I, merry men all," said Sir Peter heartily. "Well do I know now why ye were chosen by Harcourt. Ye are of the old midland breed of wolves that die silent but biting. 'Tis your proverb."
More did he say as he walked among them; but he inspected their weapons, as became a captain, and there came also pack beasts laden with sheaves of arrows, that every quiver might be full.
"Richard of Wartmont," he said at parting, "there is naught but good will between me and thee. English am I, and greatly do I like thy men. We were but a lost people if our yeomanry were no higher spirited than are the slavish rabble that will swarm behind the nobles of France and their unwise, cunning king. As for him, he will find that the double tongue fitted to cheat by an embassage is of small value in the right handling of an army. He may learn something yet from our Edward of England. Unless Geoffrey of Harcourt is a false witness, and unless the king's plan goeth too far astray, Calais will ere long be but an English port. Meet thou me as I bade thee, for I must go."
Even so he did, but Richard remained to complete the right ordering of his command. Anxious indeed was he, and he brought to mind every lesson of war that he had learned in England or on the march. Who could tell, he thought darkly, what desperate venture might be at hand? Careless captains do but throw away what heedful men might win. Above all was it heavy upon his mind that on this occasion he and his had been chosen to guard the prince himself, as being such as the king could rely upon to the very death.
"So, if he dieth," said he, "I and mine will not return to face the king. Where lieth his body, there will mine be found, and all the men of Arden and Longwood with me."
Also in like manner responded the archers themselves when he arrayed them and told them, passing the word from man to man:
"We are the Black Prince's comrades, this day and night. It is the king's trust."
"We will keep trust," they said.
Splendid to look upon was the advance of King Edward's army from Caen, with its banners, its mailclad horsemen, its winding rivers of shields, and the flashing of the sunlight on the helmets and on the points of polished steel.
The roads were dusty, but their dryness gave good footing, and all wagon wheels rolled well. There was a hindrance in the narrowness of all the Normandy highways and byways, for it compelled Edward to divide his forces and send them forward by several lines of march. His being there could now be known to Philip of France at once, but the great French army was still in Gascony, beleaguering the stout Earl of Derby and his forces. There was therefore no power to block the progress of the English invaders, although each of their divisions had somewhat to contend with. There were walled towns and there were fortresses. In some of these were not only garrisons, but much plunder, and their taking would be required by the military plans of the king. His generalship was greatly exhibited in this, that by landing so unexpectedly in Normandy, and by then marching straight across country, as if his aim were to take Paris, he compelled Philip to loosen his grip upon the army of the Earl of Derby, and to march his mighty host with all speed to the saving of his own capital.
Town after town had surrendered to Edward, and many castles had opened their gates without a fight, yet not all. The country people had suffered sorely, for the army required much in the way of provisions, but the scourge of war fell most heavily upon the rich, and on such as made resistance.
Richard Neville was now honored with the command of a goodly detachment. With him, as before on the Golden Horn, were men-at-arms and footmen of every kind, for so had the king ordered for all parts of his advance.
The heir of Wartmont was this day so far separated from the main body of the king's army that it was almost as if he were invading that part of Normandy by himself, in command of a small army of his own.
"My Lord," said a man-at-arms who rode at his side, "if thou wilt permit the question, art thou sure of thy direction? Were we to stray too far, we might meet with reproof, or worse."
"This is the road that Sir Geoffrey Harcourt bade me take," replied Richard. "But I would we had a guide."
They were well in advance of their little column, and they rode out over the brow of a low hill and from under the shadow of overarching trees.
"My Lord of Wartmont," loudly exclaimed the man-at-arms, "look yonder! Shall we not push forward?"
Before them lay a deep, narrow valley, with many cots and vineyards scattered up and down the stream which wandered through it. Directly across the hollow, however, there was a sight worth seeing. High and rock-bordered was that northward hillside, but on its crown was a fortress that was half a church, with a walled town beyond the foot of the castle. High and precipitous were the granite cliffs, high were the towers of the castle, but into the sunset light above them all arose the cross-tipped steeple of the church.
On this side of the outer wall of the town on the hill was a great gate, and over it floated, as also on the donjon keep of the castle, near the town gate, the golden lilies of the royal standard of France, streaming out against the sky.
"We will not go forward," said Richard. "We will halt, rather. No force like ours can do aught with a fort like that. Nor shall we now surprise them. Some captain of high rank is in command, for there is the fleur-de-lis flag."
"My Lord, there was the blast of a horn!" said Ben o' Coventry, from the archer ranks.
"Thou hast keen hearing," Richard replied, as again the mellow music came faintly up the road; "that horn calleth us to wait for the force that followeth."
At the word of command, the horsemen drew rein and the footmen stood at rest. They had not long to wait.
A splendid black horse, and on him a rider in black armor, came spurring along the narrow highway accompanied only by a page.
"It is the prince!" exclaimed Richard. "What doeth he here alone?"
So loudly was it spoken, and so near was the young royal hero of England, that the answer came from his own lips.
"Not alone am I, Richard Neville, but I have outridden Wakeham to speed on and warn thee not to show thyself beyond the ridge, lest thou warn the warders of Bruyerre that we are at hand. Halt, thou and thine!"
"My Lord Prince Edward, we are halted, with that very thought in mind," respectfully answered Richard. "But is yonder place Bruyerre?"
"It is, indeed," said the prince. "'Tis a stronghold since the days of Norman Rollo. Duke Robert also was besieged there once."
"How, then, shall we take it?" came regretfully from Richard's lips. "It were not well to leave it untaken."
"That will we not," said the Prince, "and glad am I have to thee with me. For that end we sent thee ahead. Sir Henry and I had few enough of men, and they are mostly men-at-arms. We need thy Irish kerns,11
The kern was a light-armed foot soldier, who usually carried a spear and knife.
[Закрыть] and thy Welsh, and thy bowmen."
"Here they come, my Lord!" Guy the Bow announced from among the archers. "They all are riding hard as if for a charge."
A brave array of knights and gentlemen in full armor came fast through the dust clouds of their own raising. Beside the foremost horseman rode one who carried no arms at all. On his head was the plain cap of a tradesman, and from under it long white hair came down to his shoulders. He rode firmly despite his years, however, and there was a kind of eager light upon his deeply wrinkled face.
"All is well!" he exclaimed. "My Lord of Wakeham, the prince reached them in time, and they are halted."
"Aye, and I would there were more of them," replied Sir Henry. "Our own footmen are long miles behind, and the day is waning."
"We need night, not day, for the taking of Bruyerre," said the old man gloomily. "Even now we were wise to get into some safe hiding. There is a forest glen to the right of where the prince is waiting."
In a few minutes more Sir Henry rode to the side of the prince and held out a hand to Richard.
"Thy men are in good condition," he said; "and that is as it should be, for they have sharp work before them."
"Ready are we," said Richard, but his eyes were upon the face of the white-haired man.
He sat in silence, gazing across the valley at the towers and walls of the fortress, and he seemed moved by strong emotions.
"What sayest thou, Giles Monson?" asked the prince. "Are there changes?"
"In me, my Prince," responded Giles, "but not in yonder town. A Christian man am I this day, and it is not given me to judge, but I am a true Englishman. With an honest heart and in good faith did I bring steel wares from Sheffield to the wicked Lord of Bruyerre. False and cruel was he, a robber and a villain. He laughed at me when once I was in his power. Fourteen years was I a prisoner in yonder keep, and I grew old before my time. Behold the scars of fetters on my wrists. Then was I a beggar and a starveling in the town for three years more, watched always and beaten oft. But I learned every inch of yonder hill, and at last I made my escape. By the path along which I left Bruyerre can I guide this army in. But there must be ladders stronger than the cord I came down upon."
"A dozen are with our own foot soldiers," said Sir Henry. "But haste now, lest we be discovered from the castle."
All riders were dismounting, and Richard went into the woods with his forest men to seek the glen spoken of by Giles. It was not far to find, and it led on down into the valley.
The forest growth was old and dense, and, once the soldiery marched well in, they were completely hidden. Only a strong guard waited at the wayside to intercept all passengers, and here at last came Richard, just as the sun went down.
"The prince's foot soldiers will arrive soon," said the young leader to Guy the Bow. Ben o' Coventry was peering over the ridge of the hill, and he came back hastily.
"Men from the castle, my Captain!" he exclaimed. "A knight, I should say by his crest, and four esquires, with, mounted serving men a half dozen. The knight, I noted, rideth with visor up."
"Thinking not of any foe," Richard answered. "We will hide under the trees and let them go by. Then will we close behind them."
"We could smite them as they come," said Guy.
"Nay," replied Richard, "lest even so much as one on horseback escape to warn the town."
Word was sent to the prince, and soon he was there, having posted his troops in the glen, and with him came Sir Henry of Wakeham. It was no moment for speech, for the French cavalcade came gayly over the hill.
Silent and motionless, the English in their ambush almost held their breath until the party from Bruyerre was a bowshot past them. Then out into the road they poured as silently, and the trap was set.
"They will meet our foot right soon," said Sir Henry, "but they will not risk a charge upon five hundred men. They will come back."
"Sir Thomas Gifford will render a good account of them, if they do not," replied the prince.
Not more than half a mile down the road and around a bend of it, at that hour, pressed on the English foot. At their head rode one knight only, with a few men-at-arms, and not far behind him strode a brawny, red-haired man, who shouted back to those behind him, in Irish:
"Forward now, ye men of the fens, of Connaught and of Ulster! Yet a little, and we shall be with our brave boy of the Golden Horn and of La Belle Calaise, and with the prince and Sir Henry."
It was the O'Rourke himself, promoted to a better command, with full leave to arm his giants with axes, in honor of his feats in the sea fight. In like manner the rear guard was led by David Griffith, and the weapons of the Welshmen were such as those with which their ancestors had fought the Roman legions of C?sar and the Saxons of Harold the King.
"Who cometh?" exclaimed Sir Thomas, for at that moment the party of French from Bruyerre had seen his banner and his ranks, and they had promptly turned round to speed back to the castle.
"The English!" they shouted. "The pirates of Albion! Back to the town!"
They had no dreams of aught but a swift, unhindered escape; and the greater was their astonishment to find their way blocked below the hill ridge by a dense mass of pikemen and bowmen, in front of whom stood a dozen armored knights. There was no use in either flight or fighting; and their leader reversed his lance and rode forward.
"Yield thee!" rang out in English. "I am Sir Henry of Wakeham."
"Needs must!" responded the knight in Norman French. "I am Guilbert, Sieur de Cluse. I had visited with Raoul de Bruyerre, my kinsman, and I was but riding homeward. Alas, the day!"
He and his party dismounted and were disarmed. They were doubly astonished at meeting the prince himself with what seemed so small a force, and the Sieur de Cluse remarked with something of bitterness:
"Little ye know of the nut ye think to crack. De Bruyerre hath gathered three thousand men, and he is provisioned for a siege."
"Not more than that?" exclaimed the prince. "Glad am I of thy news. I had feared he had greater force. We have almost half that number of our own. The castle and the town are ours!"
The prisoners were led under the trees, and now the night came on, and it was fairly sure that there would be no more wayfarers. Little more could be learned, except that all the townspeople were as well armed and ready as the garrison.