The prince was but a youth, although of good stature and strongly made. From his cradle up he had been trained under the care of the stout king, his father, and of knights who were chosen from the best swords and bravest hearts in England. Assured was he that only a hardy soldier and a good general might safely keep the crown. The barons of the realm – half kings in their own domains – had proved the ruin of the second Edward, and only by deep cunning and ruthless force had the third of the name broken loose from a like thraldom. Much blood had been shed before the scepter was firmly in his grasp; and a fiercely royal self-will had been instilled into the Prince of Wales as one of the safeguards of his kingship. Therefore, when sent to Warwick to confer concerning the mustering of the forces, he had come there to command as well as to take counsel.
"My Lord of Harcourt," he said with much dignity to that noble warrior, "I have listened well to all that hath been said. Plain is it that the earl is right. There will be no crossing to France with King David of Scotland threatening the border counties. We must hear from the Archbishop of York. I will send the Wartmont. He will go and come right speedily."
There was he now in front of the castle gate, with Guy the Bow and ten more of the archers of Arden. To Richard himself had been given a fresh horse and good, with two pack beasts well laden, for the king's especial post might make a good show at any castle or town he should come to on his way. So was it with his merry men all, for their buff coats were new and they covered each a doublet of green cloth. All their galloways were saddled and bridled, with fair housings, and one of them carried a lance and a pennon, whereon were blazoned a white star and cross, and over them a gilded crown, in token of their errand. Woe to any who should dare to hinder a messenger of the king, or fail to speed him on the king's errand!
Not that Richard himself knew the meaning of the letters that were in his pouch, nor that matters of state were in his head. But a proud band and merry were the bowmen who rode behind him out of the town gate and up the highway to the northward.
"O my Lord of Wartmont!" said Guy the Bow. "This is better than I had hoped. I had not so much cared to see the outland folk, but I had hungered for a look at more of England."
"Thou art out of the woods now," replied Richard, "and so am I, but there is little more for us than riding from sleep to sleep, and caring well for our beasts. We may not pause under any roof longer than to break our fast and let the galloways rest."
"We can see as we go," said Ben of Coventry. "A man learneth much by what he seeth. But half the archers of Arden would come at the king's call, if they knew how well they would be taken in hand."
That truly was the wisdom of the prudent Earl of Warwick, and it suited the humor of the prince, for from all the land the levies had been slow in gathering.
Well went it with the Lady Maud after she had spoken a short farewell to her son that day, for she was now housed with kindred and with many noble ladies, and was hearing tidings of the world that could not have reached her at Wartmont. Moreover, there were new fashions of dress and equipage that all women love to learn, and the stately dame herself had brought with her goodly fabrics ready for shaping by the skilled needlewomen of her sister, the countess. It was better than being cooped almost alone in the gloomy old keep at Wartmont.
A day and a night, and a day and then another night, lingered the prince. His main business seemed to be with the levies, and he said to himself:
"I will know them man by man, and so will the king, my father. I will measure with care the force wherewith we are to meet Philip of France. The king is most of all wary concerning his bowmen. I like well the Wartmont's tall deer stealers. They are worth a pardon. We must have more of them. I, too, must be seen in Wales. Would that I could drain out of it the most unruly spirits and the fiercest outlaws. So is the king's command concerning Ireland. If any rogue there is worse than another, let him be brought in and put in training."
Deep was the craft of the king, therefore, and of the prince, for if any wild man came at their call, and they liked not the promise of his thews and sinews, him they took not, after testing him, for he might be no better than one of the peasants of the King of France, fitter to dig than to carry sword and buckler.
The summer days went by, even as Richard had told his men. Steadily, even hastily, they pressed their northward way, and tower and town gave them hearty welcome. There were those who unduly asked what their errand might be, but to noble or simple there was but one reply:
"Ask thou the king, if thou wilt meddle with his business."
There were earls and barons, of course, to whom was due great courtesy of speech, and, indeed, to all ears there was much free news to tell. Ever, as they went farther on, they heard more rumors of the doubtful state of things upon the Scottish border.
"There was never peace there," said the Earl of Arundel, at the gate of a castle where Richard met with him and other noble lords. "King David will be in England within a week from the sailing of the English fleet. Young sir, tell thou this from me to the good archbishop. Bid him send few levies to the king from the north counties, but hold a force in waiting that shall be as good as any the king may convey to France. Else we shall see the thistles of Scotland halfway to London town before he can meet the lilies of France in any field beyond the sea."
Richard bowed low, for he was abashed before so grand a company; but he had not ridden far before he heard Ben of Coventry assuring Guy the Bow, with his usual freedom:
"Right wise was yonder earl, thou fat-head. But doth he deem that the king hath forgotten Scotland? Trust thou him for that. Ah me, that we must go and come and never kill a Scot!"
"Or be killed by them," said Guy. "Keep thy head for the French to hack at. Thou wilt get knocks enough."
"Mayhap," said Ben; "but I say one thing: Never did twelve men from Arden fare so well for no harder work than riding. It payeth me to serve the king. We have been feasted all the way."
"Wert thou in Scotland," laughed Guy, "it were otherwise. They eat but oatmeal cakes, and they know not of ale. I wonder much if they have deer in such a land where all is fog and mist, and where the days are short at both ends. But the Scotch fight hard, and sorely would they harry England were a chance given them."
They seemed to be at peace at that time, but King Edward and his advisers had rightly read the state of affairs in the kingdom over which David the Bruce was but half a king. No check had as yet been given to the power of the great Scottish baronial houses. They were beyond the control of any man, and David had inherited his father's valor without either the generalship or the prudence of the great Robert the Bruce.
It was at last in the morning of a fair, warm day that Richard and his archers rode out from under a dense wood to shout together as one man for what they saw.
"Aye, here we are!" said Richard, "and yonder is the spire of York Cathedral. One hour more and we are at our journey's end."
Never before had any man among them journeyed so far, but they showed small signs of wear or weariness. Nevertheless, at Richard's command they gave goodly attention to their apparel and their weapons, and to the coats of their beasts, before presenting themselves at the gate of the ancient cathedral city.
"I have heard tell," said Richard to Guy, "that here was a town in the old days of the Romans. There hath been many a battle and leaguer before these walls."
"The Romans?" replied Guy. "I was told of them by a Cornish man. There were giants in Cornwall in those days. God grant they are all gone their way; but the Cornish men say they at times find the long bones and the big, hollow skulls."
"The gates are well guarded," was the next thought of Richard. "Can there be bad news from the north?"
Guards there were, and none went out or in without notice to discern well whom they might be, as if, perchance, there were spies in the land.
"In the king's name!" shouted Richard, at the gate, "Richard of Wartmont. From Earl Warwick and the king's duty to his Grace the Archbishop."
"In the king's name, enter!" as loudly responded a crested knight who had advanced before the sentries. "Follow thou me to the archbishop. The warders will care for thy men. I am Robert Johnstone of the Hill. Art thou not a Neville, and my kinsman?"
"That am I," said Richard. "My father was Sir Edward Neville."
"Good knight and true," responded Sir Robert. "I have fought at his side. There must needs be a rare message when thy uncle the earl chose thee for his postboy."
"Words must be few," said Richard, "but now I know who thou art, I will tell – "
"Tell not!" interrupted the knight. "Do I not discern thy pennon? Name not any who were with the earl until thou hast emptied thy postbag. Thou art but young, and these be treacherous times. A brave band are thy men – "
"Archers of my own company," said Richard, a little proudly. "Every man from the forests of Arden."
"And every man a born retainer of Sir Edward Neville's house," laughed Johnstone. "Do I not know thee and thine? We will have speech together soon, where there may be no other ears. The Johnstones are as thou art, the chiefs of old clans that the new men can do naught with."
Great then was the surprise of the young messenger when his sudden acquaintance talked to him in Saxon, bidding him also not to use that speech except among his own, and telling him that the north counties contained more than did the midlands of such men as had preserved jealously the memories of the days of Harold the Saxon.
"'Tis a tough race," said the knight. "It is a good foundation for thy house to rest upon. Aye, or for the king's throne. Now, if thou wilt dismount, yonder esquire will care for thy horse."
Sir Robert appeared to be acting as captain of warders, and none questioned or hindered him as he and Richard walked on, side by side, toward the castlelike palace which served as the residence of the archbishop. The town was the largest, and its buildings were the best that Richard yet had seen. He knew, moreover, that the learned prince of the Church before whom he was about to stand was also accounted second to none among the statesmen of England, with rare capacity for affairs of war as well as of peace. He was a man, therefore, to whom might be intrusted the safety of a realm in the absence of its king, and in him had Edward the Third unshaken confidence as being loyal and true.
Word of their coming had gone on before them swift-footed, and they were ushered with all haste into the great hall where his Grace was already present, for the reception of they knew not what or whom.
At the upper end of the hall, upon a raised dais of three steps, was a throne chair, carved richly with emblems of the Church, and surmounted by a high cross that seemed of silver. In front of this, clad gorgeously in flowing robes, stood the archbishop, and before him knelt a knight in splendid armor, but bareheaded, just on the point of rising. The quick eyes of the prelate flashed keenly, and he turned to an attendant monk.
"Anselmus," he said in Latin, "bring hither yonder messenger. I must read his letters before I have further speech with Douglas."
"He hath summoned thee," whispered Sir Robert to Richard. "Speak not at all to him, lest thou err greatly. Yon is the knight of Liddesdale, the prowest spear of Scotland. His presence bodeth no good to England, I fear."
The monk came and touched Richard's arm and led him forward. Glad was he of his injunction not to speak, for he was greatly awed to be in that presence. He walked onward with bowed head, and on the dais he knelt before the archbishop.
"Thy letters, my son," said the prelate.
Not a word spoke Richard, but he silently presented three sealed missives. One he knew was from the prince, one from the Earl of Warwick, and the third was to him a secret. Nevertheless he heard the archbishop mutter:
"The king's own hand?"
Then he said aloud:
"Wait thou here, my son. Rise; I will return presently. My Lord Douglas, come thou with me into my cabinet."
Richard arose and stood in his place, but it seemed not long before the archbishop strode back again, and with him came the knight of Liddesdale.
"Your Grace," said the latter, "I ride within the hour."
"Peace go with thee," responded the archbishop. "Peace be with thee and thine; with thy king and my king; with Scotland and with England! Amen!"
Then from all who were present came a responsive Amen, as the knight knelt for a parting blessing and rose to depart.
"Come thou, my son Richard," said the archbishop. "I would hear thee."
It was strange fortune for a youth so inexperienced to find himself mingling in affairs so tremendous, and Richard hardly breathed until he was alone with the great man in a kind of oratory wherein was an altar.
"Speak!" said the archbishop. "Tell all."
First, then, Richard told of the prince and De Maunay at Wartmont, and the archbishop answered not save to mutter:
"So! thou hast slain that wolf, the Club of Devon. Thou art like thy father."
Then told Richard not of the grange in the woods, but of his going to Warwick with his archers, and again he heard the prelate mutter, but in Saxon:
"Saxons, all! How we of the old blood do cling together! He doeth well."
All the words of the prince and of those with him were repeated, but no comment was made. After that told Richard the saying of the Earl of Arundel, and he had finished.
"Well for thee, my son," said the archbishop. "Thou hast seen Lord Douglas. He is for peace. Mark me, I will write letters. Thou wilt bear them. Wait in York till they are given thee. Come not to me unless I summon thee. I note that thou rememberest clearly, and canst carry that which may not be written. This, then, say to the king or to the prince, but not to another save John Beauchamp the earl, lest thou die. Bid the king from me that Douglas and his friends will fail in their counsels for peace. David of Scotland is for war, and waiteth but opportunity. He must now have one. Edward the King will not but seem to drain of force these northern counties, that the Scottish lords may deem them unguarded. He will gather an army for his war in France. Such another will we prepare to meet the Scottish invasion. Let the king be sure that when he saileth for France the Scottish host will march for the English border. Edward will prove too much for so rash a man, with all his cunning, as is Philip of France. In like manner we will prove too much for David of Scotland, who despiseth the warnings of men like Douglas of Liddesdale. We will crush the Scottish invasion, taking the unwise in a snare. Go!"
Deep was the reverence with which Richard turned to depart. More words were given him, however, and much was his wonder at a man who seemed to know the thoughts of the hearts of other men, and to read the forces of the kingdoms as if he were counting pennies.
A good monk led the young messenger out of the hall and gave him into the care of Sir Robert Johnstone.
"Say not too much to me," said the knight. "I talked with Liddesdale, and heavy of heart is he. A wise man as well as a good captain; but the Scots must learn a lesson. How long tarriest thou in York?"
"For letters only," said Richard.
"Then bide with me, and let thy men rest and their beasts. I will show thee the town and the castle and the cathedral. 'Tis a grand old town. I like it well."
"I shall like well to see," said Richard. "But how great is the archbishop! Never before have I looked into the face of such a man."
"Wait, then, until thou hast seen the king," replied Sir Robert. "Try if thou canst read him. Thou wilt be with the prince."
Out they went, and Richard's eyes were so busy that he found small use for his tongue. Nor was there great need, save for a question here and there, for the knight had taken a liking to him and was willing to instruct him.
"Some day," he said, "thou mayest lead thy archery hitherward. Spare not to learn aught that might serve thee if thou wert a captain, in whatever land thou shalt at any time visit."
At the close of the day, when the vespers were ringing sweetly in the cathedral tower, Richard was with his men, and they gathered around him gladly, telling how well they had fared.
"Guy the Bow," laughed Richard, "tell me truly, now, of those who have been with thee. Hast thou broken thy jaws with French or north English, or hast thou chattered in Saxon?"
The laugh was echoed from man to man, and Guy the Bow responded:
"Now, my lord, knowest thou this already? There be more of the old sort here than in Warwickshire. They tell that there be many Nevilles hereaway, and it seemed right to them that one of thy house should be our captain. But I hear that the bowmen of these parts are to be kept at home."
"Say not too much of that to any man," said Richard, for at once he remembered the words of the archbishop.
"The king," he thought, "will deal with the Scots as with the French. They must get their teaching from the longbow and the cloth-yard arrow."
Rest came well that night after so long a journey. The next day, and the next, were but spent in seeing sights and in waiting for orders. On the third day, however, before the sun was a half hour high, came Sir Robert Johnstone to greet his young friend.
"Up, Richard of Wartmont!" he gayly shouted. "Take thou this pouch and keep it with thy life until thou shalt deliver it to the king's hand. Thine uncle the earl, or the prince, shall be to thee as the king, but on thy life and on thy head give it to no other."
The parcel was small and it was tightly bound in dressed deerskin. It could be hidden under a coat of mail, and there did Richard at once conceal it.
"I will but break my fast," he said. "Then we will mount and ride."
"Beware of overhaste," said the knight. "Safety is more than speed in such a case as this. A day more or less will not matter. Thou wilt know enough not to talk loosely by the way, but it is from his Grace himself that thou shalt speak only of peace with Scotland. Baron or earl or common, all must rest assured that the Scots are weary of war. Well they might be, were there wisdom in them. I would their king were older. We shall beat them the more easily because he putteth aside such captains as the Knight of Liddesdale, and listeneth to hot-headed young chiefs that never yet saw a thousand spears in line."
"Thou wilt be here?" said Richard.
"That will I," replied the Johnstone. "The king will hear a good report of his north country bowmen. If thou speakest of it to the prince, say this from me, that in his own camp there shall be no better discipline nor closer archery."
Rapid was their talking, but when they summoned Richard's men there was a shout. They had seen enough of York already, and they were eager for the road. To them all it was more like a long junketing than aught else.
"All Arden would list," said Ben of Coventry, "for this sort of war service. But I had hoped somewhat for a brush with the Scots. Not an arrow hath sped since we set forth from Warwick."
"Thou wilt have archery enough before thou art done with the king's war," replied Richard.
"Mind thou thy galloway, Ben," interrupted Guy the Bow. "What knowest thou of the Scots? They are many a league away."
"Aye, man," said Ben, "and all the Yorkshire men know that Douglas of Liddesdale was here. All Scotland may march behind him some day."
"Then I may say to thee," said Richard, "and to every man of this company, speak not upon the way one word of the Knight of Liddesdale. Closed lips, safe head. We are on the king's errand."
"Even so!" exclaimed Ben. "I was right. I deemed the Scottish captain a bird of ill omen. Thou mayest trust thy men, Lord Richard of Wartmont. We of the greenwood are well used to keeping a silent tongue. Else were our necks worth but little."
Richard said no more; but it was well that he had with him none but trusty companions, for all their journey homeward would be beset by shrewd questioners eager to get the latest tidings from the north.
"I will take another road," he thought, "than that by which I came. There are roads plenty. The Earl of Arundel will be at Warwick when I get there, or at London."
Hearty was the farewell of Sir Robert Johnstone at the city gate, and gay was the setting forth of Richard and his men. But it was even according to the saying of wise Ben of Coventry, that an esquire and eleven archers were riding a holiday with nothing to do but to ride and to be hailed at every gateside to tell what news.