With the Black Prince
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Every plan had been well laid beforehand. Only an hour after sunset dense clouds covered the sky, insuring perfect darkness. Out, down the glen, swept David Griffith and his Welshmen, to seize all roads leading to the castle gate. Along the highway itself rode the prince and his mounted force – a hundred and thirty steel-clad horsemen. Behind them marched the greater part of the English foot; but by another path went Sir Henry of Wakeham, Richard Neville, and Sir Thomas Gifford. With them were the O'Rourke and two hundred Irish, and two hundred bowmen of Warwick and Kent. The scaling ladders were with these.
Away to the right, across fields and through vineyards, Giles Monson led the way. He was still unarmed, save for a stout "Sheffield whittle," a foot long, sheathed, in his belt. Hardly a word he spoke until his companions found themselves at the foot of a perpendicular crag.
"There is a break twenty feet up," he said, "and a flat place. From that point our peril beginneth. Silence, all!"
A ladder was placed, and up he went like a squirrel. A low whistle was heard as he reached the top of the ladder; the signal came from Richard, just behind him. Next came a clang of steel, for the heir of Wartmont had smitten down a half-slumbering sentinel.
Up poured the English, headed by Sir Henry; they brought a second ladder with them and others were placing it at the foot of the crag.
"A shorter ladder will do for this next mounting," whispered Giles Monson. "Then there is a wall, but sentries are seldom posted there."
Hardly had he spoken before a voice above them hailed in French:
"Who cometh there?"
A flight of arrows answered him, and no second question came down. Up went the ladder and on it the English climbed fast. The wall, when they reached it, was but a dozen feet high, and was hardly an obstacle. Beyond it Sir Henry halted until many men stood beside him. Then he spoke in a low tone.
"Pass the word," he said. "Pause not for aught, but follow me to the castle and the town gate. We must win that and let in the prince, though all die who are here."
He strode forward then, and ever in front of him went Giles Monson, his cap in his hand and his white hair flying.
Few lights were burning in any of the buildings, for it was long after curfew. There were no wayfarers along the narrow, winding streets through which, avoiding the middle of the town, Giles Monson guided the English. Hardly a weapon clanged, and no word was spoken, for every man knew that if an alarm were given too soon so small a force would be overwhelmed and all must die.
"Yon is the gate," whispered Giles at last. "'Tis a fort of itself, and it needs must have a strong guard."
"They are on the watch for foes from without," said Sir Henry. "Richard Neville, show thyself a good man-at-arms! Charge in at yonder portal with thy Irish, and we will form behind thee and press on to open the town gates and hold them."
The O'Rourke heard the command and he whistled shrilly to his men; still in front of Richard, through the deep gloom, flitted the white-haired guide, for the portal at which Sir Henry pointed; to the left was the open gate of the great tower, the donjon keep, the citadel of Bruyerre.A moat there was, but the bridge was in place, and the guards in armor were lolling lazily.
"Charge! For the king!" shouted Richard, as he sprang swiftly along the bridge; he dashed past the guards and was within the portal before they could draw their swords. Down they went under the Irish axes, and so the entrance to the keep was won. Then the fighting began, for there were many brave men in the citadel of Bruyerre and they were awaking. But they came out of their quarters in sudden bewilderment, singly or in squads, and in the dim light they at first hardly knew friend from foe. Scores were smitten in utter darkness by unseen hands, and everywhere were panic and confusion among the defenders.
"On!" shouted Giles Monson. "My Lord of Wartmont, I lead thee to the chamber of De Bruyerre!"
They were at the head of a flight of stairs, and before them was a long passage lighted by hanging lamps. Into the passage had rushed out – from the sleeping rooms on either side – a dozen swordsmen, and some of them had bucklers. Well was it for Richard then that Guy the Bow and the Longwood foresters had believed it their duty to follow their own young captain, for otherwise he had been almost alone. From the archers whizzed shaft after shaft, and hardly did he cross swords with any knight before the Frenchman's blade fell from his hand.
One towering form in a long blue robe was behind the others.
"Who are ye, in Heaven's name?" he had shouted. "St. Denis, they are fiends!"
"My Lord Raoul de Bruyerre," fiercely responded Giles Monson, "'tis the vengeance of Heaven upon thy false heart and thy cruelty. I am thy Sheffield man, thou robber!"
"Yield thee, my Lord of Bruyerre!" shouted Richard; but along the passage darted Giles Monson, bent on revenge.
"Thou art the traitor!" cried De Bruyerre, and drawing his sword he sprang to strike down the advancing Englishman. Too eager to heed his own safety, Giles Monson leaped upon the French knight and struck fiercely with his long dagger.
Both weapons reached their marks.
"Thou villain, thou hast slain the knight!" cried Richard. "He might have surrendered."
But Giles Monson had fallen beneath the sword of his victim, and would never speak more.
"Stay not here!" Richard commanded. "Follow me! The keep is not half taken."
It was but the truth, and yet the remaining fight was only to make all sure. One strong party of French soldiers was beaten because they rallied in the great hall and were helplessly penned in as soon as the massive doors were shut and braced on the outside.
"Rats in a trap!" said Ben o' Coventry, as he forced down a thick plank to hold a door. "We need not slay one of them."
"I would I knew how it fareth with the prince," said Richard. "Light every lamp and beacon. I will go to the portal."
Prince Edward and they who were with him were men certain to give a good account of themselves, but they had been none too many. The warders at the town-wall gate had been small hindrance. The moment the huge oaken wings swung back upon their hinges, up went the portcullis, out shot the bridge across the deep, black moat, and the blast of Sir Henry's horn was answered by the rapid thud of hoofs as the prince led on his men-at-arms.
"Straight for the middle square!" he shouted. "Onward to the keep!"
"It is ours if Richard Neville be still living," calmly returned the knight. "Hark! the shouts – the uproar!"
"Sir Thomas Gifford," commanded the prince, "go to him. Take ten men-at-arms. We must win the keep!"
On then he led his gallant men along the street, but when they reached the central square the French also were pouring into it from all sides. Save for their utter surprise they would have made a better fight, but at the first onset the English lances scattered their hasty array like chaff. Horsemen they had almost none, and their knights who fought on foot were but half-armored.
Now also David Griffith and his Welshmen had arrived within the walls, and it seemed to the defenders of Bruyerre that their foemen were a multitude. A band of mercenaries from Alsace, three hundred strong, penned in a side street, surrendered without a blow at the first whizzing of the English arrows.
Sir Thomas Gifford was standing at the portal of the castle, and he saw a man in armor come hastily out into a light that shone beyond.
"Richard Neville," he asked, "how is it with thee? Art thou beaten?"
"The keep is ours," called back Richard; "but I have too many prisoners. There were six hundred men."
"St. George for England!" cried the astonished knight. "Thou hast done a noble deed of arms!"
"But Raoul de Bruyerre is dead, and so is Giles Monson, he who guided us," continued Richard. "How fareth the prince?"
"Go thou to him with thy good news," replied Sir Thomas. "I will take command here and finish thy work."
"Let us not remain with Sir Thomas," exclaimed the O'Rourke, behind Richard, "if there is to be more fighting."
"Nay, thou and thy kerns are garrison of the keep," said Sir Thomas.
So the hot-headed Irish chieftain had to bide behind stone walls to his great chagrin, while Richard went out gladly, with but a small party, to hunt for the prince through the shadowy, tumultuous streets of the half-mad town of Bruyerre.
There were faces at window crevices, and there were men and women in half-opened doorways. Richard continually announced to them, as had been the general order of the prince:
"In! In! Quarter to all who keep their houses, and death to all who come out!"
Brave as might be the burghers of Bruyerre, not many of those who heard cared to rush out alone, to be speared or cut down.
Before this, nevertheless, enough had gathered at one point to feel some courage; and into this band Richard was compelled to charge.
With him were barely a dozen axemen and bowmen, yet he shouted in Norman French, as if to some larger force behind:
"Onward, men of Kent! forward quickly! Bid the Irish hasten! St. George for England! For the king!"
The burghers had no captain, and they hardly knew their own number in the gloom. 'Twas a hot rush of desperate men against those who were irresolute. The burghers broke and fled to their houses, and on went Richard, having lost only a few of his small force.
The garrison had rallied faster and faster, and now almost surrounded in the square were the prince and his knights. Little they cared. Indeed, Sir Henry of Wakeham had said:
"What do you advise, my Lord Prince? We might even cut our way back to the castle, if we were sure of it. If we have that, we have command of the town."
"Hold your own here," replied the prince; "I think they give way somewhat."
Just then a band of bowmen, who had cleared out a side street, came forth as Richard went by.
"With me!" he called to them. "Let us join the prince. Beware how ye send your shafts into yonder m?l?e, lest ye harm a friend!"
"Hark!" exclaimed Sir Henry. "It is Richard Neville! They have beaten him. Where can Sir Thomas be? I fear there is black tidings!"
"Fight on!" replied the prince. "At all events he bringeth us some help."
Closely aimed arrows, well-thrown spears, cleaving of sword and axe were help indeed; but better than all was the clear, ringing voice of Richard, in English first, and then in Norman French:
"My Lord the Prince, we have the keep and castle! Sir Thomas Gifford holdeth it. De Bruyerre is killed. His men are dead or taken. Bid these fools here surrender. They have naught for which to fight."
"God and St. George for England!" roared Sir Henry of Wakeham.
"Hail to thee, Richard Neville!" sang out the prince. "Victory! The town is ours! Bruyerre is taken!"
All the Frenchmen heard, as well as all the English. What was joy to one party was utter discouragement to the other.
"Surrender!" commanded the prince. "The fool who fighteth now hath his blood upon his own head!"
Spears were lowered, swords were sheathed, crossbows were dropped, brave men-at-arms gave their names to Sir Henry and his knights, and the peril in the great square was over.
"Well for us," coolly remarked Sir Henry. "The guards from the ramparts were arriving. My Lord of Cluse did not rightly number the garrison."
Nor had the English believed that so many townsmen could turn out so speedily. Nevertheless, when arms were given up the Frenchmen were no longer soldiers, and their numbers were of no more value.
"Richard Neville, I will well commend thee to my father! I think he will give thee thy spurs."
So spake the prince, with his hands on the shoulders of his friend, and looking into his face admiringly.
"Prince Edward," broke out the heir of Wartmont warmly, "I have done little. The taking of Bruyerre is thine. It was all thy plan."
"Mine? Nay," said the prince. "The best of it was prepared by Raoul de Bruyerre, when he held Giles Monson wickedly, that now an Englishman might be ready to let us in. So did his evil deed come back to his ruin."
"Aye," said Sir Henry; "but the dawn is in the sky, and the troops must be stationed fast. We will not stay to sack the town; but there are stores to gather, and there are knights of high degree to put to ransom. We have work to do."
So, quickly and wisely, went out the commands of the English captains, and the prize was made secure before the sun was an hour high.
Bitter enough was then the shame and wrath of knights and nobles of the garrison, as they learned by how small a force their great stronghold had been surprised and taken. It should have been held for a year, they said, against all the army of King Edward.
All that bright summer day the business of sending away the garrison and of securing the best plunder of Bruyerre went industriously forward; but it was not in the hands of the Black Prince. Hardly had he finished eating a good repast in the castle, after having had courteous speech with Madame of Bruyerre and her household, before he gave command:
"Sir Robert Clifton, I appoint thee to the care of this place until I send thee orders from the king. He is now twelve miles away, and I must give him a report of this affair. Sir Henry and Gifford and Neville will go with me."
It was to horse and mount, then, while Robert Clifton cared for Bruyerre. The sun was looking down upon the midday halting of King Edward's own division of his army, when his son and his companions stood before him to tell him what they had done, and how.
Close and searching, as became a good general, were the questions of the king; but when all was done Sir Henry of Wakeham spoke boldly:
"Sire, is it not to be said that thy son and Richard Neville have in this feat of arms well earned their spurs and chain of knighthood?"
"Truly!" came low but earnestly from Richard's uncle, the Earl of Warwick.
There was no smile upon the firm lips of the king, whatever his proud eyes might seem to say, and he replied:
"Not so, my good companion in arms. Think of thine own battles, many and hard fought. It were not well to forward them too fast. Neither my Edward nor Richard of Wartmont shall wear spurs until they have stood the brunt of one great passage of arms. Leave but a fair garrison in Bruyerre, for none will trouble them. We will march on to seek the field where we may meet the host of Philip of Valois. Word hath arrived that he is coming with all haste."
Forward, therefore, moved the forces of the king, and with them rode the two young companions in arms as simple squires; but the mighty field whereon they were to win their spurs was only a few days in the future.