Refreshed, even with a tankard of ale that was brought him, Richard arose at last, and followed Ben of Coventry to the sleeping place allotted him. None better was in the grange. If at any past day there had been more costly furniture, some hand had taken it away, and naught was left now but safe quarters for such men as Richard had seen.
It was but day dawning when a hunter's horn sounded a clear note at the door of the rude chamber.
"Hail, my Lord of Wartmont!" spoke Guy the Bow. "I pray thee hasten. Thy men will be ready for thee within the hour. They all have come, and they are eager to hear thee."
"On the moment!" shouted Richard. "I am ready. Tell them I come."
"God speed thee this day," said Guy. "Full many a good fellow is ready to free himself from peril of the sheriff of Warwickshire. Aye, and to draw the king's good pay and have chance for pillaging French towns. They like it well."
Great indeed was the astonishment of Richard when, after hurriedly breaking his fast in the great hall, he walked out with Guy and others like him to view the gathering in the open space beyond the palisades.
Women and children, score on score, kept at a little distance, but not beyond hearing. In the middle, however, were clustered fully a hundred brawny men, eager to hear the king's proclamation of free pardon and enlistment for the war in France. They all knew what it was to be from other tongues, but to them the young lord of Wartmont was the king's messenger, and there was no certainty in their minds until he had spoken.
Without too many words, but plainly and well, did he announce his message, and they answered him with loud shouting. To some of them it was as a promise of life from certain death, for the law was in search of them, and the judges of that day were pitiless concerning forestry and the protection of the king's deer and the earl's.
Short ceremony was needed, for man after man came forward to kneel and put his hands between those of Richard, in the old Saxon custom of swearing to be his men in camp and field, in fight and foray, in the inland and the outland, until the king's will should give them grace to come home again.
Born warriors were they all, and they laughed with glee in the hope of fighting the French under so good a leader as was Edward of England. Good captain, good success, they knew; and as for Richard, had they not known the knight, his father, and had not he himself slain the Club of Devon in single-handed combat? They were proud to serve under a Neville, and a man of their Saxon blood, who could order them in their own tongue.
"One hundred and one!" shouted Guy at last. "May I not bid them to horse, Lord Richard? Every man can have his own galloway, or another, that the road to the camp at Warwick may be shortened."
"Mount!" shouted Richard. His own gallant steed had been led to his side and in a moment more he was in the saddle.
John, Earl of Warwick, was also early upon his feet, for he was a man whose life had been spent much in camps, and he was wont to be out and using his eyes as a captain before breaking his fast.
"We may need it again some day," he said to himself. "There may be stormy times to come. May God prevent strife at home, but there be overproud hearts and over-cunning heads in this good land of ours. I will see to it that Wartmont shall be made stronger than ever. Glad am I that Sir Edward Neville hath left so brave a son to stand for our house."
Many and bitter were the jealousies of the high-hearted barons of England, and none could tell the days to come. Who should prophesy how long the reigning house might keep the throne, or between what claimants of the crown might be the next struggle, if, for example, King Edward or his son, or both of them, and their next of kin, should go down in battle or should die suddenly in their beds, as others of royal blood had died? The head of a great baronial house might well bethink himself of every advantage or possible peril.
"But for the poverty the war bringeth," he said, "I would have builders here within the week. As it is, I will have a garrison, and the good dame herself must bide at Warwick while her son is with the army in France. 'Twere shame to leave her here alone."
So said he to Lady Maud when they met in the castle, and she told him then how well prepared she was for a departure. Already was she aware of his reason for coming so far to meet the prince; but his anxiety was at an end, and he was willing to linger and make full his soldierly inspection of the castle.
"Good fort," he said, "and well was it held against Earl Mortimer. Glad am I that thy son hath so good control of the forest men. They are as clannish as are the Scotch, and they will come to their own chief when they will bide no other."
He understood them, but he was yet taken by surprise before the noon.
"Horsemen!" he exclaimed, standing in the gateway. "Rightly did I say there was imprudence in the small company of the prince. Yonder is a troop – yea, twain of them."
No lances were visible, but at the head of the foremost troop rode one who carried on a high staff a blue banneret, and the earl knew not as yet what its blazonry might be.
Truth to tell, it was nothing but an old flag of Sir Edward Neville's which had been stowed away in the crypts of the grange. Not all of these had been inspected by Richard, but he had seen a good smithy wherein galloways were shod, and spearheads and arrowheads and knife blades were hammered and tempered. Not only arrowsmiths were there among the forest men, but good bowyers, that they might not depend for their weapons upon any but themselves. Weaving, too, was done among the women and by skilled websters of the men; but shoemakers or cordwainers they had none, and but rough potters and smelters. So dwelt they as best they might, with cattle and sheep and swine, and the black cattle of the woods and the king's deer for their maintenance. They were not at any time in peril of starvation, for excellent also were the fishes in the pools and streams, and there was no end of skilled brewing of ale.
Four and four abreast rode on the mounted archers who had sworn to come to the king with Richard of Wartmont, and they came on right orderly. Well looked he also, in full armor, at their head.
"'Tis Richard, my lord the earl!" called out to him Lady Maud as they rode nearer. "'Tis my brave son and his men! Believest thou now that he can call the men of the woods? My boy! God bless him!"
"That say I!" loudly responded the earl, striding across the moat-bridge. "Ho, all! Get ready for the way. My lady, I pray thee to go in and lade thy pack beasts. We will even march for Warwick ere the day is an hour older."
Loud and hearty was his cousinly greeting to his young kinsman. Strong was his approval of the force he had enlisted, but he added:
"What shall we do with all these beasts? The king will have his archers on their own feet."
"That is provided for," replied Richard. "I pray thee trust me that the whole drove can go back to Arden, under good driving, as soon as there is no more need for them. I deemed it well to come quickly. Such was the word given me by Sir Walter de Maunay."
"Thou didst well to heed him," said the earl; but then he talked little more with Richard.
He bade the men dismount and get their noonday meal in the village and in the castle; but he had speech with many of them, for he was well pleased that such a company should come to the royal standard from among his own retaining.
Lady Maud had waited, but not all patiently, for her own greeting to her son. It was a joy to both of them that they were to go on to Warwick together, but most of all that a better day seemed to be dawning for them, and that the ruin wrought by the bad Earl Mortimer might be amended.
Not many men had been left behind in the hidden hold amid the forest, and such as had not marched with Richard had long since dispersed. Some had ridden gayly away on their stout ponies; others had gone to the fields. Some were in the smithy, the tannery, and the other workshops, and a few had restlessly snatched bows and arrows to hurry out into the woods as hunters.
No guards were set, except that a pair of bowmen lingered on the farther side of the causeway over the morass. There was little peril of intrusion now that the Lancashire Welsh thieves had been sorely smitten. Whatever might remain of them would not return to be shot down.
As for the secret character of the grange itself, there was small wonder that a few hundred acres, if so much there might be, of patches of farm land should be sheltered among those woods from any but such men as had been Sir Edward Neville. It might all be within the somewhat doubtful borders of his own manorial grant, given to his ancestors by the earlier kings and confirmed by Edward the First, to be lost under his son, the second Edward, and Earl Mortimer, and to be regained under Edward the Third and the house of Beauchamp.
It was said, indeed, that there were regions tenfold as wide, in some of the remoter baronies, whereof men knew but little, especially among the Scottish border counties and among the hills. Besides these were the unsearched fen districts on the coasts, the wild mountain parts of Wales, and worst of all were the highlands of Scotland and the seagirt isles of the Scottish coasts. As for Ireland, even the greater part of it was almost an unknown land to Englishmen, for nothing less than an army might venture inland too far with any hope of ever coming back again.
In the several parts of the grange itself, as in the cottages scattered beyond it, the women plied their tasks. Some of them spun with distaffs, and two or three looms were busy; more might have been but for the lack of wool. There was much raising of sheep in the more thickly settled parts of England in those days, but there was small room for them in Arden. Moreover, they, more than cattle or horses or swine, were sorely thinned by the wolves. It was a hundred and fifty years later that these fierce beasts disappeared from England, and the last of them in Scotland was slain yet a century later. So was it that so little cloth, even of homespun, was worn by the bowmen who rode behind Richard of Wartmont, in the gloom of that evening when he followed the Earl and his men-at-arms through the gate of Warwick town.
Long had been the journey, hard pushed and weary were beasts and men. There was small ceremony of arrival or reception for the greater part of the cavalcade, but the Lady Maud was conducted at once to the care of the Countess Eleanor of Warwick, her younger sister, the wife of the earl.
As for Richard, his men were cared for well, under direction of Sir Geoffrey de Harcourt, while their young captain was bidden to hasten with his great kinsman to meet once more the Prince of Wales and Sir Walter de Maunay.
This greeting, too, was brief, for the hour was late; but the prince said graciously:
"O thou of Wartmont, I will make thee my comrade in arms! In the morn I would fain see thy men. My father himself bade me gather as many deer stealers as I might, for, quoth he, the hand that can send a gray goose shaft to strike a stag at a hundred yards may fairly bring down a Frenchman at half that distance. Give me bowmen enough of the right sort, and I will train them to face anything that Philip of France can muster."
"O my Lord the Prince," replied Richard, "I have a hundred with me, of whom any man can send an arrow through a coat of mail at fifty yards. I like the king's notion right well."
"Go, now," said the prince; "go with thy kinsman, the earl. On the morrow I will tell thee what to do with thy men."
But these, for their part, were all of a merry heart that night. Not often had any of them visited Warwick, at least in later years, for therein was a jail, and they liked not so much as to look thereon, being in danger of being put within it. They had good quarters and good fare, with much ale, and they knew they were to see brave sights next day, and to have a word from even the Black Prince himself. Was not that enough of cheer for men of the woods who had seldom been out beyond the shadows of the oaks of Arden?
The stout earl and his nephew walked together from the presence of the prince toward the chamber allotted to Richard.
"Thou shalt be to me as a son!" exclaimed the earl, in the dim corridor through which they were pacing. "Thou hast won the prince. Now, if thou wilt go and win thy spurs with him, thy fortune is made. Thou wilt have broader lands than Wartmont, but wert thou even to win much gold, I bid thee bide by thine own keep and hold to thee thy Saxon men. If thou wilt do so, I can foresee the day when thou canst bring five hundred bowmen to the standard of thy house."
"I can bring but four more men-at-arms now," said Richard ruefully.
"And thy archers?" laughed the earl. "Didst thou not hear Geoffrey Harcourt say to Northampton, that if all the great barons of England would do as well as thou hast done, the array of the king would be gathered right speedily? Too many are afraid to leave their own domains lightly guarded, and, truth to tell, not a few are carrying slender purses. The drainings of these long wars have made us poor. I am myself in the hands of the Jews and the London Lombards for more debts than I can see how to pay. So is the king, and he is troubled in mind as to how he shall feed and pay his armies. Go to thy couch and arise right early. Beware that thou never keep the prince waiting. He is like his royal father, and he who would fail of meeting the king hath gone near to making him a sworn enemy. His temper is dangerous. See that thou arouse him not at any time. His hand is hard upon men, and so will any troops of his be disciplined as were never English troops since William won the island."
If that were to prove true, it might be one of the reasons why the king so firmly believed that he could bring the men so disciplined face to face with greater numbers of the disorderly levies of his rival, the King of France.
The stern counsel of the wise earl was hardly needed, so far as Richard's early rising was concerned, but he was up not any too soon in the morn. Nor was he any too mindful of his duty as a soldier of the king. He arose and put on his armor and walked out of his chamber, and before him stood an archer.
"The commands of the earl," he said bluntly. "Eat not, but hasten to thy men. They break their fast even now. Have thou them in line right speedily. I will be thy guide to their quarters."
"I obey the earl," said Richard, following.
It was not far to go, beyond the castle gate, and Richard turned for a moment to gaze back upon towers and battlemented walls which had resisted so many a stout assailing.
"They are held for the king now," he thought, "but they once were held against him, and oft against other kings. In yonder dungeon keep hath more than one proud earl been brought to the block, and men say that in it, even now, are prisoners of note that may never again see the day."
Dark and high and threatening was the aspect of the great keep of Warwick Castle, and there might be terrible secrets of state in its underground chambers.
He turned again to follow the archer, but when he came to the quarters of his troop, he found that the commands of the earl were there before him. The forest men were used to be up with the dawn, and it had been no surprise to them to find their tables ready spread. Also, they liked the fare, and they were in good heart when they came out to greet their young captain. They cheered him loudly; but a new thought flashed into his mind.
"Soldiers? Drilled?" he said to himself. "I see what the earl means. They all can shoot well, but they can neither form line nor move together, nor do they know the words of command. The prince – is he here thus early?"
Here he came, the heir of the crown of England and of the English claim to the crown of France. He was in his plain black armor, with his visor raised, but on his face was no smile of youthful familiarity – rather, something of the hard look that distinguished his father and that made men fear him; and the hardness was in his voice as well, when he shouted swift orders to Richard.
Low had been his obeisance, but he had a bitter feeling in his heart, for he knew not how to form his men. All he could do was to turn to them and shout:
"By fours! Spears in line!" added Guy the Bow, and more words in Saxon bade them hold their shields in front and step together.
Less shame felt Richard when he saw how well they came on, and the lips of the prince relaxed somewhat.
"Not a rabble," he muttered. "They will train well. I never saw new men move thus. The Neville doeth better than I thought. I will speak to the earl."
Other knights were with him, gallantly mounted all, and behind him they rode out to the broad common of Warwick, for there was to be a morning review of the earl's retainers and of levies which had arrived.
Never before had Richard seen together three thousand armed men, horse and foot, and greatly delighted by so rare a show were his woodsmen. In large part these forces had already been well trained by the officers of Earl Warwick, and the prince himself ordered them through many movements, such as might be needed upon a field of battle.
A rare man was Guy the Bow, for he and Ben of Coventry had been trained in their time, and they had instructed their comrades at the grange in days gone by, and the rest on the way as they came. So was it that when Richard of Wartmont led his two fifties hither and thither, he and they were a further surprise to the prince and to his captains and noble knights. They fell not into any confusion at any point, and again it was said of them, "No rabble," and "The Wartmont doeth well for a beginner."
After that, archery butts were set up and squads from several companies were picked, by lot only, and ordered to show their skill.
Right good was the shooting, as might have been expected, for there were prizes as well as praises to be won; but at the noon, when all was over, it was found that every best shot, save one, on all the butts had been made by the slayers of the king's deer in Arden.
"O thou of Wartmont," laughed Sir Walter de Maunay, "I think thou wert wise in asking so many pardons! Thy merry men are in good practice."
So laughed the prince, but there had been counseling that day and he now summoned Richard to himself. With him were the Earl of Warwick and four other earls, and Richard felt sorely abashed before he was spoken to.
"What sayest thou, John Beauchamp of Warwick?" he heard the prince demand. "What wouldst thou with the levies?"
"My Lord the Prince," responded the earl, "even as seems to me to have been said by the king. We must hear from Scotland. The king crosseth not the channel before winter. Neither will he keep too many thousands, at great cost and loss, in the Portsmouth camp."
"What then?" asked the prince.
"As for my nephew's men," said the earl, "they are too few – gathered in a day. Instead of one hundred, he will bring twain or more. Keep these for a week, and send them to recruit their fellows. Thou knowest the power of the Neville name among them. Send Richard to York."
"Good counsel!" exclaimed the prince. "Richard of Wartmont, select thee a dozen of thy trustiest men on thy best galloways. Be thou with them two hours hence, at the castle gate. Thou shalt be the king's post bearer to his Grace the Archbishop of York, and to the barons of the north counties."
Richard bowed low, flushing with pride and joy, for the spirit of travel and of adventure swelled high within him.
"Thanks to thee, O my Prince!" was all that he could say, and he went back among his men.