"To the prince! To the prince!" shouted Richard Neville, as the space in front of him was cleared somewhat of foemen. "Follow me!" Forward he went, and loudly rang out behind him the battle shouts of his men. They were fewer than at the beginning, but boldly and loyally they had closed up shoulder to shoulder.
Richard's horse was slain under him by a thrust from a German pike; but the rider was lifted to his feet in time to meet the rush of the King of Bohemia and his friends. Their horses were sadly hampered by that hitching together of bridles, and were rearing, plunging, unmanageable. More than one blow had the old, blind hero given that day, as he had willed. None knew now by whose arrows his horse and those of his comrades went down, but after they were unhorsed the wild tide of the battle passed over them, for none of them rose again.
"To the prince!" shouted Richard fiercely. "I saw his crest go down!"
The arrows and darts flew fast as the young hero of Wartmont fought his way in amid the crash of swords and lances.
"Now, Heaven be praised!" he cried out, "I see the prince! He liveth!"
He said no more, for before him stood a tall knight with a golden wing upon his helmet, and wielding a battle-axe.
Clang, clang, followed blow on blow between those twain. It had been harder for Richard but that his foe was wearied with the heat and the long combat. Well and valorously did each hold his own, but a blow from another blade fell upon Richard's bosom, cleaving his breastplate. Then, even as he sank, across him strode what seemed some giant, and a wild cry in the Irish tongue went up as the O'Rourke poleaxe fell upon the shoulder of the knight of the golden wing.
"On!" shouted the furious chief. "On, men of the fens! Forward, Connaught and Ulster! Vengeance for our young lord! Down with the French!"
Hundreds of strong Irish had followed their leader, and timely indeed was their coming, for the sun was sinking, and need was to win the victory speedily.
"Alas!" said Guy the Bow, as he bent over Richard. "I pray thee, tell me, art thou deadly hurt, my lord?"
"Lift me!" gasped Richard. "Put me upon my feet. I would fight on and fall with the prince."
Quickly they lifted him, but he staggered faintly and leaned upon Guy the Bow.
"I fear he is sore hurt," muttered Guy.
But at that moment there arose a great shouting. It began among the reserves who were with the king on the slope of the hill.
"They fly! The foe are breaking! The day is ours! The field is won! God and St. George for England, and for the king!"
It was true, for the army of the King of France could bear no more. All things were against them. They could neither fight in ranks nor flee from the cloth-yard shafts.
The prince came near the group around Richard, and, pausing from giving swift orders to his knights, he stepped forward.
"'Tis Richard of Wartmont!" he exclaimed.
Straight up stood Richard, raising his visor. He was ghastly pale, but his voice had partly come back to him.
"I think not, Prince Edward," he faltered. "But I thank Heaven that thou art safe!"
"Courage!" said the prince. "The field is ours, and thou hast won honor this day. Bear him with me to the king."
Here and there brave fragments of what had been the mighty host of France held out and still fought on; but they were not enough. All others sought to save themselves as best they might from the pitiless following of the English. Those in the rear who fled at once were safe enough, and the sunset and the evening shadows were good friends to many more of the French. Most fortunate were such horsemen as had not been able to get into the harrow, for only about twelve hundred knights were slain. With them, however, fell eleven princes and the King of Bohemia, and thirty thousand footmen. The King of France himself was a fugitive that night, seeking where he might hide his head.
From his place on the hill King Edward of England watched the closing of the great day of Cr?cy, and now before him stood a strange array. Shorn plumes, cloven crests or none, battered and bloody armor, broken swords, shivered lances, battle-worn faces, lighted somewhat by pride of victory, were arrayed before him. All were on foot, and each man bowed the knee.
Few, but weighty and noble with thanks and honor, were the words of the king. More he would say, he told them, when he should better know each man's meed of praise.
At length the Black Prince came forward, and he knelt before his father, to rise a knight, for he had won his spurs.
"Richard of Wartmont!" cheerily spoke the king. "Come thou!"
"Sore wounded, Sire," said Sir Henry of Wakeham; "but I will aid."
"Not so," exclaimed the prince. "I will bring him myself."
When Richard was brought before King Edward, he heard but faintly the words that made him a knight:
"Arise, Sir Richard of Wartmont!"
All strength and life that were yet in Richard had helped him to lean upon the prince's arm, to kneel, to rise again, and to hear, almost without hearing, the good words of the king. Then he stepped backward, and Guy the Bow put an arm around him and said lovingly:
"Sir Richard of Wartmont, proud will thy lady mother be! I trow the war is over. When thy wounds are well healed we will take thee home to her."
Long after the sun went down strong detachments of King Edward's army were busily at work gathering in the fruits of the victory. Not that there was any effort to take prisoners of the common men, but that many knights who could pay good ransom lay upon the field sore wounded or encumbered with their armor. Moreover, there was great spoil of arms, and of other matters of war and peace.
Heavily slumbered Richard Neville, and a careless watcher might have thought him dead; but those who were with him watched lovingly, listening for every breath, and moving him with care at times.
"He waketh!" whispered Guy the Bow, as the light began to come in through the high window of the room in the ch?teau La Broye. "The leech will soon be here."
Even as he spoke there entered a small, slight man in the black dress of the king's physicians. No word he spoke, but he bent low over the sword mark upon Richard's ribs, removing its cover.
"Is this all?" he asked of Guy.
"Save bruises," said Guy, "no other hurt have we found."
"The youth will do well," replied the leech. "He fell rather from heat and exhaustion of the long fray than from this blow. Not a rib is cut through."
He gave simple directions only, and he passed out, but he heard from Ben of Coventry:
"That man hath good sense. My Lady of Wartmont will not lose her son."
"But the leech did it not," said Guy. "More was done by the thickness of yonder cloven breastplate. He will need long rest."
So did the army, but the king gave it no more than was needful. Before the close of that day all knew that the King of France himself had been taken, and that the war had no more great battles in it.
All news was brought to Richard by his friends, for among them came Earl Warwick and Sir Geoffrey and the Earl of Arundel, and many another whose coming was high honor to the young Knight of Wartmont.
Only the third day thence, and Richard stood almost firmly upon his feet, for Sir John Chandos entered the room.
"The king," he said, "and with him is the prince."
In a moment more it was to Richard as if he had gained sudden strength, for before him stood the two royal warriors.
"Nay, man, sit thee down!" commanded the king; but the Black Prince stepped forward and grasped his hand.
"I heard thee, Richard Neville," he said most graciously – "I heard thee in the fray, when thou didst bid thy men fight on and die with thee and me. I will trust thee!"
The king had looked kindly into Richard's face, and now he spoke again:
"Neville of Wartmont, whether or not thou goest to the seashore in a litter, thou wilt set out to-morrow. Haste is not needed so much as a trusty messenger. Thy packet will be ready for thee, and thou wilt also have in thy mind unwritten words for the Archbishop of York. Rest thou to-night. The prince will come to thee, not I; so will the earl."
Not long were ever the speeches of the king, but Sir John Chandos now came in again, for he had left them, and with him he brought a sword with a silver hilt and cross.
"This is for thee, Richard Neville," said the prince, "for thine own was broken. Wear it bravely thou wilt. It was found among the baggage of the King of France, and they say it hath been carried by more than one crowned head. It is my token of good will, and the king's."
Richard knelt low to take the sheathed blade, but as he arose they departed. A little later it was as if all the archers of Longwood felt that the royal sword had been given to them, so proud were they of their young knight and captain.
Full a hundred of them, moreover, were permitted to return by ship with Richard. Much spoil went with them, and more had gone before them, and each man went with a promise and a command to return with many men like himself to aid the king before the walls of Calais.
Not in a litter would Richard travel the next day, after long converse with the prince, but upon an ambling palfrey whose paces pained him not.
It was a small seaport to which the prince's order sent him. Even three long days were wasted before the arrival of the craft that was to bear Richard and his men across the Channel. Rough, not smooth, was their passage to Portsmouth, but the sea was clear of all foemen.
It was well on in September, therefore, when a column of bowmen, with Richard at their head, rode through the gate of Warwick town. The tidings of Cr?cy had reached the whole land much earlier, but the people poured out of all the houses to see the first returning of the men who had won the great day.
Richard now rode a good horse and wore his armor, with the crested helmet of a knight, with a gold chain and spurs, and he was girded with the king's gift sword.
There was great shouting, and the Mayor met him, bidding him to a feast at the Town Hall, where many knights and gentlemen and rich burghers were to welcome him, and to hear whatever he could tell of the war in France.
This, too, he well knew, was of the will of the king, to stir the loyalty of his lieges at home and to content them concerning the taxes he yet must levy.
But on rode Richard to the castle gateway, and therein were many noble women.
"I see her!" he thought. "Is she not beautiful in her long white robe and with the pearls in her white hair?"
Down sprang the young knight, as if he had had never a wound, but ere his feet were on the earth his mother's arms were around him.
"I have thee again!" she exclaimed. "Thou art like thy father, O my son!"
She was silent then, and her eyes were closed, but her lips moved a little. If it were a prayer of thanks, its words were heard only by Him who is above.
The Countess of Warwick came next, and many that were Nevilles or Beauchamps, or of kindred houses, and they led him on into the castle.
"Mother," he said, "it is almost like a dream!"
"Thou wilt rest thee here," she said, after he told under what duty he was bound. "I can not let thee go at once."
"The king bade me make no haste," he replied, "but rather to be his newsman to all who would inquire of the army and of its deeds. So shall there be better content."
It was a grand feasting at the Town Hall. The archers from Cr?cy field were feasted by themselves ere they set out for home, and many a stout bowman who saw how well they were and heard their tales, was eager to march with them whenever the king again might send to bid them muster.
Of necessity the resting at Warwick was but brief, and then Sir Richard Neville and a party of men-at-arms rode northward. Not in haste, like his first journey, was this he was making now. Hard was it to pass by or to get away from any tower or town to which he came; but everywhere he did the errand upon which the king had sent him, and everywhere were all men readier than before in their loyalty and their service of the crown, whether they were barons or commons.
Even more than to the king was the praise they were willing to give the prince.
Once again, as he drew near, did Richard wonder at the spire of York Cathedral, and once more was he led on into the audience hall, and then into the oratory of the archbishop, that he might deliver privately the letters and the messages of the king. Pale somewhat was the face of the good prelate, but very calmly he read and he listened.
"My son," he said at last, "all is well. We will give God praise for the good news from France, but thou knowest that the Scottish host is in England?"
"I have heard much," said Richard.
"Then know also that ere this they are face to face with our own lines. A battle as great as that of Cr?cy – "
Loud shouts were heard in the street without, and then in the great hall.
"My son!" exclaimed the archbishop, listening with lifted hand.
Open swung the door, and a barefooted friar rushed in.
"My Lord Archbishop! A knight from the battle! The Scottish host is defeated – "
But close behind him strode a man in armor, covered with dust, unhelmeted, and marked by a fresh sword cut on his face.
"I waited not, my Lord Archbishop," he said. "King David of Scotland is a prisoner! His army is routed! He hath lost his crown! – What, Richard, art thou here?"
"Praise be to Heaven, Sir Robert Johnstone!" responded the archbishop. "He cometh from the king's victory at Cr?cy – "
"Knighted!" exclaimed Sir Robert. "Then I will tell thee, Sir Richard Neville of Wartmont, this victory of our English bowmen over the clans and the men-at-arms of Scotland hath been won at the field of Neville's Cross. All the king's counsel hath prevailed, and his realm is safe!"
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