It was a gay sight, the lances and the pennons that rode out with the van. Next came the royal standard, and under it, in full armor and with his crowned helmet on, full knightly rode the king.
"Poissy!" he said. "Their last bridge, and it shall be for me, although they have broken it down. Where is that London shipwright? Ha, man, look yonder! What sayest thou?"
A short man, sturdy of build, was the shipwright, for he had already been brought.
"My Lord the King," he responded, "I did go on with the young Neville and that man of his from Coventry. The bridge is good enough. The French took off the planks and some timbers, but they forgot to burn."
"Where are the timbers?" asked the king.
"Little on this side the river, but much on the other," said the shipwright. "All that is lacking we can make from these trees."
"Time!" exclaimed the king. "I must have the bridge forthwith! To your axes!"
"Boats first," said the shipwright. "There be many on the far bank."
"Sire," interposed the Earl of Warwick, "I pray thee have patience. Richard of Wartmont hath sent word to me concerning boats. I shall hear again shortly."
"See that he fail not," said the king hardly, for ever did his temper grow stern and unmerciful in such an hour as was this.
The army had now been led to the very place where all the plan of the king was to be tested, for winning or for losing, and here, mayhap, might his life or his crown be cast away.
Barely an hour earlier, however, lower down the river side, Richard Neville and a party of his men had been scouting, by command of Sir Thomas Holland. With him was the O'Rourke, and it was the Irish chief whose keen eyes were the first to discern an important prize.
"Richard of Wartmont," he shouted, "Seest thou? Boats on the other shore! They are not even guarded."
"I could not swim this water," replied Richard. "Can any of them?"
"Aye, were it thrice – ten times as wide," said the O'Rourke. "I myself."
"Off with thy armor and axe!" cried Richard. "Call thy best swimmers. Bring me those boats. Guy the Bow, send a good runner to Sir Thomas Holland or Sir Peter Legh. Bid them, from me, to tell the earl or Sir Geoffrey I want a force to hold with on the other shore."
Before he had finished speaking, the Irish chief and a dozen of his kerns were in the flood, swimming as if they had been so many water fowl; but each man's long skein dagger knife was in his belt, and in his left hand was a short spear, like those of the Welsh. They would not land unarmed.
"God speed them!" shouted Richard. "At no place heretofore have we seen a boat that we might hope to obtain."
'Twas a swiftly running river, and too wide for any but such swimmers as were these; but they made light of it. Ere they could cross, their coming was seen by men on the other shore, but none who were armed met them as they came out of the water. Surely it had been grave negligence of King Philip's officers to leave there so many as four fishing boats, even if these were small.
"They are out of arrow shot," said Richard to those who were with him; "we could give them no aid."
Even as he spoke, the glint of spears might be seen above bushes at no great distance down the opposite bank. No doubt there were horsemen coming. The Irish had been unwise to shout, but boat after boat was slipping into the stream.
"Haste! haste!" groaned Richard, "they will be lost, and the boats with them!"
A score of lances in rest – a score of galloping horses – loud shouts of angry men-at-arms – one moment of deadly peril – but then the brave kerns with the last of the boats were springing into it, and the French riders drew rein at the water's edge under a shower of javelins, only to know that they were too late.
It was just then, moreover, that Sir Thomas Holland, having listened eagerly to a Longwood archer, was shouting loudly, "To horse, brave knights all! The Neville hath found boats!" and orders followed to all foot soldiery within call.
"They come," said Richard, waiting his gallant kerns, "but yonder boats will hold only eight men each, well crowded. We can gain no landing against men-at-arms. Yonder, above, is a steeper bank, where horsemen can not reach the brink – O'Rourke, on! Up stream!"
It was not far to go, and the French lancers could do no more than follow as best they might, over rough ground and through dense undergrowth. They were even out of sight, by reason of the clifflike bank, when Richard Neville and some of his bowmen made the boats full almost to sinking, and were swiftly ferried over.
"Haste now, indeed!" he ordered, but not loudly, as he stepped ashore. "A few boat loads more and we can hold our own."
Whoever commanded the Frenchmen believed his enemies to be going on up the river, for he and his appeared on the bank again a full half mile above. Again and again had the wherries borne their English passengers, and now they were going back for Sir Thomas Holland and the knights who dismounted with him.
"Is the Neville mad?" he exclaimed. "He is forming his archery on the hill. Look! 'Tis not ill done. There come King Philip's men-at-arms! Heaven help him! We are too late!"
"But the boy is not mad at all," replied Sir Peter Legh. "The French horses go down. There are not enough of them."
On the height, truly, had Richard formed his threescore or more of kerns and bowmen, with others fast arriving, but it was behind a thick, low hedge of old thorn bushes, fit to break a rush of cavalry. Here, therefore, was shattered the line of the French men-at-arms; and while they strove to force their horses through the thorns, they were good marks for the arrows of Arden. Their horses were but lost animals, and the good knights who rolled upon the ground surrendered rather than have Irish spears driven between the bars of their helmets. So rapid, so deadly was this killing of horses that not one did get away.
"I told thee!" said Sir Peter to Sir Thomas, in the boat that bore them. "We shall find that he hath done a brave deed this day."
More loudly did they both aver that thing when they came to the scene of the skirmish.
"Knights of ransom!" exclaimed Sir Thomas. "Did any escape?"
"I know not," said Richard, "but if more boats be at hand, above or below, they are to be sought for. May not these four ply here, while we march up the stream?"
"No use to scout below," replied Sir Thomas. "We are now twenty men-at-arms, on foot, and near a hundred of thy kerns and bowmen. March! We may all die, but we may win the bridge head."
On the other bank they could see the columns of Earl Warwick's men, sent hurriedly to re-enforce them, and shortly the O'Rourke shouted, "Another boat, and yet another twice larger, at the bank."
"That may save us," said Sir Peter, "but I would we were more in number."
So said the king himself, as he sat upon his palfrey and gazed across the Seine, not long thereafter. The French had not left the bridge without a guard, even if they had broken it down. Men of all arms were there, with many crossbowmen, and at first they had but laughed and derided what they supposed to be the utter disappointment of King Edward.
"Sire," exclaimed Sir Geoffrey of Harcourt, "the earl is right! Yonder are Richard of Wartmont and his men."
"Too few! Too few!" muttered the king. "He is over rash. He hath lost all."
All had been lost, indeed, but for the swift plying of the larger boats and the manner of their packing with brave men.
Sir Thomas Holland had now been joined by Gifford and Wakeham and good swords not a few, and the archers had swarmed into all boats like bees; with them were their stings, moreover, and most of all, mayhap, they came upon the French at the bridge as a surprise.
Loudly were they jeering, and the crossbowmen were even hurling a few useless bolts that fell halfway, as if to show the king what error he had made. There were many unarmed also, that crowded closely, mocking at the English.
Not upon these, but upon spearmen and crossbowmen, there suddenly fell a flight of cloth-yard shafts, doing deadly work. In a moment the unarmed mob was tangled with the soldiery, and all these were in confusion. How many English were coming they knew not, for Sir Henry of Wakeham had cunningly stretched out his line full widely, and it looked like a strong force. There were a few good French knights who set their spears in rest and charged rashly, to be unhorsed and taken, but the mixed mass behind them surged away from the bridge head. Here, too, had been a fort, not strong, but good enough for an occasion, and it was not at all broken.
"Richard Neville," had said Sir Peter, "follow me. If we can gain yonder tower and those palisades, the bridge is won."
Who would have deemed that a man in armor of proof could run so well! But Sir Peter was even shoulder to shoulder with Guy the Bow and Richard when they rushed into the empty fortalice.
"Won!" shouted Sir Peter. "Let in our own, but the French will rally; they will be back upon us quickly enough."
Sir Henry and the rest had a sharp fight of many minutes ere they could break through, but now the place was garrisoned, and the boats could come in safety to the wharf below, behind the line of palisades.
"Sire," said Sir Geoffrey, "I will myself go over and care for the matter."
"Thou wilt not," replied the king. "I will not risk thy head in that cage until more men-at-arms may be with thee. There! 'tis Sir Henry of Wakeham's own banner! I knew it not. The boy and his outlaws have gained our crossing. Go, Sir Geoffrey, and take with thee the bridge-builders."
It was well for him and them, nevertheless, that their headlong rashness had not cost them their lives, as it would have done, but for the promptness and power of their re-enforcements.
"Wakeham," said Sir Geoffrey, in the bridgehead fort, "I may hardly trust my eyes. Here could Philip have given us vast trouble, and now we have none. We will have a camp here quickly, with ten thousand men in it, lest we lose this advantage."
There were boats enough now, and the forces on that bank were growing fast. They were pushing out, moreover, and they were skirmishing briskly with sundry parties of the enemy who seemed to be without a general. Therein was the secret of this matter. Philip of France had been taken unawares by the bold, swift dash of Edward's army. Its vanguard had reached Poissy, mayhap, two days before the French captains had deemed it possible for it to get there.
The night came and went, and it was the next midday when Richard Neville stood on the wharf, watching the London shipwrights ply their tools and swing the timbers into place.
"A man who would move an army," he said aloud, "must needs learn how to build a bridge. I can row a boat, but I must swim better. Those Irish are as nimble as fishes in the water."
A deep voice hailed him at the moment, and he quickly turned.
"Sir Geoffrey!" he exclaimed.
"This to the king," said the marshal, holding out a very small parcel, like a letter. "Come thou not back, save by the king's command, till thou hast carried this also to the earl. Take with thee only a boat load of thy men, but go not alone, for thy errand must not miscarry."
So happened it, then, that only David Griffith and a dozen Welshmen went with him, whose tongue he spoke not; but on the other shore his boat was waited for by the Earl of Warwick and none other, by chance.
"Glad am I," said Richard, giving him Sir Geoffrey's parcel, and the earl read hastily.
"To the king!" he shouted. "I go with thee. The good knight reasons well. We must harry and burn to the Paris streets, that we may know what power is there. He hath word that the allies and the levies of Philip of France are very near to come."
"The bridge buildeth fast," said Richard. "Ben of Coventry saith that by the morrow there will be a footway for twain abreast."
"Aye," replied the earl, "but not for horses nor for wains. Three days more for them."
The English army was now holding both sides of the stream, and the quarters of the king were in the old chateau of Poissy, not far from the bridge. Small was his care for state, however, and plain was his ordering, as of a soldier in the field. None hindered the earl marshal, and the king's officer of the house, that day, was Sir John of Chandos, good knight and true.
A greeting, a courteous reverence from Sir John to the earl, a word or so of command, and Richard was before the king in the audience hall of the chateau.
Cold, hard, and stern, like iron and like ice, was the face of his Majesty, as he opened and read the letter from Sir Geoffrey.
"Neville," said he to Richard, "hast thou spoken to any but the earl?"
"Not so, Sire," said Richard. "I did meet him at the river bank."
"Thou art young," said the king; "be prudent also, on thy head. Tell no man, high or low, that Philip hath already forty thousand men in Paris. If thou shalt betray that matter, thou diest."
"He useth not his tongue overmuch," said the earl, for the king's word pleased him not. "But he hath somewhat more to say."
"Let him say on," growled the king, for it was shown that he was sore wroth ere they came.
"If it please the King," said Richard boldly, "a peasant whom I saw not fled from the city and had speech with some of the Welshmen. He was of Brittany, and their language was like to their understanding of each other. He saith not forty thousand, but less than half, only that they are mostly men-at-arms, with few horses to ride upon. There be many foot soldiers from Brittany. I would go around the city in one night, if David Griffith and another might go with me. Do not I speak French as do those I am to meet?"
"Wilt thou let him go, Warwick?" said the king. "It were death if he were taken."
"Richard, go thou!" said the earl. "If any question thee, tell that thou art Richard de la Saye, for I now give thee that estate of mine in Brittany. Thou wilt not speak falsely. – Sire, hath he not earned La Saye?"
"Verily, if he keep his head and bring back true tidings, he will have earned a manor or so," said the king less hardly. "I were in better mood with better news, but I have word from York. The archbishop is calling out all forces, for the Scottish clans are mustering and their host will march for the border forthwith. Moreover, our barons are sluggards, and our own re-enforcements do not come. We must even beat the French with what we have. Not a man more than we landed with at La Hague."
"I will retire, then," said the earl. "I will send Richard speedily."
Out they did go, but Sir John of Chandos shook his head and looked ruefully at Richard.
"Heed him not!" said the earl. "Keep thy heart strong. Make thou the circuit of Paris and come again. It will be the easier because I shall this night attack with a strong force the suburb and castle of St. Germain, near the city."
Many other things he said, but Richard sent for David Griffith, and they talked long together. Two more of Griffith's clansmen were called in, and both agreed with no murmuring.
On foot, clad in full armor, with his helmet closed, armed with but sword and dagger, attended only by the three Welshmen, as if they were armed serving men, did Richard at the gloaming walk slowly along the St. Germain road. By another way, he knew, the earl marshal was at that hour pushing forward his force, but the sound of the combat had not yet begun.
"We shall soon reach an outpost of the foe," he was thinking, when in a shadowed hollow beyond him he heard one speak in French:
"Who cometh, in the king's name?"
"Normandy, with a countersign."
"Advance, Normandy, with the sign."
"For Philip the King, Guienne!"
"And all is well, Guienne," replied the sentry.
There was a slight clank of armor, for the French outpost was but changing sentries, and the officer rode away.
"Now we know sign and countersign," said Richard, and he carefully instructed his companions.
Hardly had he done so before a glare of red light, not far to the right, told of hayricks set on fire by Warwick's men. There came sounds of trumpets also, and of shouting, for the attack had begun.
"Forward, now," said Richard; "we are safe, if once within their lines."
Loud and angry was the summons of the French vidette, startled sorely.
"De la Saye, Normandy, with a countersign," responded Richard.
"Advance, De la Saye and Normandy, with a sign," replied the sentry.
"To Philip the King, Guienne," said Richard, "and I bid thee save thy neck. The English are charging in."
"The Count d'Ivry," began the sentry.
"Cease thy chatter!" exclaimed Richard. "Go tell the count, from De la Saye, that Earl Warwick is upon him. Bid him, from me, to send word speedily to the king, lest he lose his head."
"Aye, Sieur de la Saye," spoke yet another voice from one who sat upon a horse in the road. "Thou hast scouted far and well. I am the Count de la Torre, of Provence. I will report well of thee to the king. Our other scouts are worthless. What force sawest thou with the earl?"
"A thousand men-at-arms, about three thousand foot, in the advance. What more behind them knoweth no man. But there surely is no need to lose St. Germain this night."
Fiercely loud were the sayings of the count concerning the carelessness and bad management of the French captains. They had lost the bridge of Poissy. They were keeping but poor guard elsewhere. Now, but for this Sieur de la Saye, of Brittany, naught would have been known of Warwick's dash upon the city.
Therefore forward marched Richard and his Welshmen, and for a distance De la Torre rode beside them, questioning right soldierly concerning all that they had seen. But he spoke not, he said, the tongue of the peasants of Brittany.
"Were we all born in Paris," said David, after the count left him, "we could hardly be safer than we now are. But our peril will come in getting out."
"Great will it be," said Richard, "if we escape not before they change the countersign. We will walk fast and work while we may."
There were many camps to look upon, by their camp fires, and not too nearly. Richard himself had speech of even knights and men-at-arms, all of them disturbed in mind by the sudden advance of Earl Warwick. Each in turn, as it were, upbraided the slow arriving of King Philip's allies and levies, and especially of certain large bodies of mercenaries from the low countries and from Italy.
The Welshmen found no troops from Brittany until near the dawn, and then it was but at an outpost. Sleepy and dull were the half score of pikemen who were rudely aroused to hear the Sieur de la Saye scolding their brigadier for carelessness, and compelling him to repeat the countersign more correctly.
Griffith and his two men spake, and then they were silent, suddenly.
"On, my Lord of Wartmont!" whispered David hoarsely. "On, for thy head! Some of these men came from within two leagues of La Saye. One cometh to the brigadier."
A few quick paces and they were beyond the camp firelight. It was a place of trees and bushes. Sharp voices heard they contending and inquiring.
"Some one else hath come," said Richard. "The officer of the guard, with horsemen. Into the forest! Haste!"
Down dropped they behind cover, but men-at-arms went charging down the road, for one of the peasant pikemen had told to the brigadier, and then to a knight:
"The ch?teau La Saye is a heritage of the English Earl Warwick, and it hath no French owner."
"Go! a spy!" roared the knight. "We will teach him a lesson!"
A youth brought up near Longwood and three Welshmen from the hills were not men easily to be found in a forest; surely not by heavily armed French cavalry. It was high noon, nevertheless, when Richard marched wearily into an encampment over which floated the flag of Sir Thomas Gifford.
Free was his welcome; but when he stood before his good friend the knight he did but put a finger to his lips, and say:
"Sir Thomas, the king, and him only!"
"Speak thou no other word!" exclaimed Sir Thomas. "Come with me speedily. The earl told me of thy going. Glad am I to see thee again alive."
No other was allowed to question them as they went; but Sir Geoffrey of Harcourt, and not Earl Warwick, was with King Edward when his young spy of Paris stood before him.
"Speak thou slowly and with care," he said, and Richard told his tale.
"Three days, and Philip's main host will be within striking distance?" murmured the king at last. "Chandos, go thou to Warwick and bid him smite fast and hard, burning tower and hamlet. Harcourt, move every man and horse across the bridge as fast as it will bear them. Our five days here will be enough for rest. On the sixth we must be a full day's march in advance of this huge mob of French, Germans, Bohemians, Italians, and what not. Now, my lords and gentlemen, for a great battlefield and for the taking of Calais. Our barons of the north counties must deal with David of Scotland and his overtreacherous raid."
Out went all orders speedily, but the prince, with half the army, was already on the farther bank of the Seine. Richard's men were there also, and he was sent to join them; but bitter and destructive was the work done by the earl marshal in the outskirts of Paris, while the bridge was finishing, and while the army moved on, out of camp after camp.