Only a short hour later the young Lord of Wartmont, with some of his chosen followers and those of his prisoners that were highest in rank, stood in an open space among the camps of King Edward's army.
The king himself was there, and with him were earls and knights and captains not a few. By his side stood the brave Black Prince; but it was to the king that Richard and those who were with him bent the knee, while the young man made his report of the taking of La Belle Calaise.
He was modest enough; but the bright eyes of the prince kindled finely as he heard it, and he said in a low voice to his father:
"Did I not tell thee I was right to intrust a ship to him?"
"The boy did well," said the king dryly, for he was a man hard to please. "Thou Richard of Wartmont, honor to thee and thy merry men all! Thou and the prince are to win spurs of knighthood, side by side, ere we sail again for England. Sir Geoffrey of Harcourt will bid thee where to go."
Richard bent low, and rose to his feet. Sir Geoffrey stepped forward to speak to the Sieur de Renly and the other captured knights. The archers and men-at-arms of Richard's command stood still where they were, waiting for orders; but the Black Prince beckoned Richard aside to get from him the full particulars of a fray so gallantly fought and won.
"I envy thee," he said, "thy hand-to-hand close with De Renly. Thou hast fine war fortune with thee; and the king is ever better pleased than he will tell."
It must have been so, for at that moment King Edward was turning to a noble-looking knight who stood near him:
"Cousin John Beauchamp of Warwick," he said, "thou mayest be proud of thy young kinsman. Those of thy blood are apt to make good captains."
"Thanks, sire," responded the Earl of Warwick, flushing with pride. "I trust there may never fail thee plenty of stout Beauchamps and Nevilles to stand in the front rank of the gallant men of England. But I pray thee, mark how the boy handled his archers and his Irishmen – "
"And how he watched the traitors and trapped the treason," laughed a gray-bearded warrior at his side. "He hath his wits about him."
"Yea, Norfolk," said the king with a gloom upon his face; "the men who are to defend England and defeat her enemies must watch against treason by night and by day. 'Twas a Fleming that set the trap for the Golden Horn; and the men who are to march with us against Philip of Valois are all from our own islands. Not a man below a man-at-arms can even speak French."
So the king's wisdom spoke for itself, while Sir Geoffrey of Harcourt and the prince sent Richard Neville and his brave men to the camp where they were to pass the night; for the whole army was to march away next morning.
The exact place of the landing of King Edward had been at a harbor called St. Vast, northerly from Cape La Hogue, and the King of France believed him still at sea, on his way to Gascony or Guienne, that there he might strike a blow for the sadly beset forces of the Earl of Derby.
It was the earl's first errand to take or to disable a place called Barfleur, where was a very strong castle, that from it might come forth no harm to any English force to be left at the St. Vast landing.
Side by side rode Richard and his uncle, and the earl questioned him much of his doings on the Golden Horn.
"Thou hast done well," he said, "but I like it not that thou art with me. It were better thou shouldst ride with Harcourt. Seest thou not that, as we are ordered now, he will lead the van and I the rear guard? I shall take these towns and many another, but he will be first at Caen, and that is the prize of Normandy."
"I hear 'tis a great place," said Richard, "but I like it that to us it is given to strike the first blow in France."
Even as he spoke a mounted scout came galloping back to report that Barfleur was in sight, and that English war ships were sailing into the harbor.
The earl drew rein and raised his baton, uttering no word; but a hundred or so of men-at-arms who were behind him shouted loudly and dashed by, spurring toward the front.
"Thy bowmen next!" shouted the earl to Richard. "Follow the knights closely. The pikemen are already far ahead. If it be God's will, we will sweep the town in an hour."
Hotly rushed Richard's blood as he pressed on, followed by three hundred of the archers of Arden. Hardly he knew what time had passed after that until he found himself halted to watch while axemen battered at a town gate and pikemen placed ladders to mount a wall. His archers meantime were making targets of whoever might show himself among the wall battlements.
"Is this the way a town is taken?" he exclaimed. "I deemed there were more delay. There go the good knights, up the ladders and through the gate! 'Twas but badly made, to be broken in so soon. On, men of Arden! Follow me!"
Follow they did, and some good archery work befell them after they entered the town, but the English were even too many for the capture and pillage of so small a place.
"It was no battle, my Lord," Richard said to the earl two hours later, as they met in the great square in the center of the town. "But we have taken Barfleur."
"That have we," said the earl, "and that is all. Look yonder!"
Across long rows of intervening houses gazed the young captain as the earl pointed. There was a rocky height, and upon it arose the towers and the turreted walls of a great castle.
"I see," said Richard. "It hath a strong look. How shall we take it?"
"Not at all," replied the earl marshal, laughing. "He who holdeth it for the King of France refused to yield it, and well he may. We could hammer at it in vain all summer. All the need is to hem in the garrison somewhat by the taking of the town. The English army will march on and waste no time. Take thou therefore a lesson in good war craft. Thy king will make no blunder of throwing away strength upon mere stone work on a hill calling itself a castle."
"I will bear it in mind," said Richard. "I would have thought it must needs be taken."
Loud laughed the earl marshal, but already his officers were recalling the troops from the sacking of the town, that all his force might turn again to rejoin the army of the king, that had been marching northward.
Stretched out along the roads and levels, but moving steadily, were all the divisions of the forces of King Edward. The last of them, with much munition of war, was even now disembarking from the shipping at St. Vast, for it taketh care and time to transfer horses and matters of weight from a deck to a beach. When the night fell all camps were made with care, as became good generalship, although there was fair certainty that no considerable armed force of foemen could be near at hand.
Morn came, and in its first hours Richard was galloping on to the center with a writing from the Earl of Warwick to the king, but to the prince was it delivered, and he read.
"This to my father," said he heartily; "but I am glad that the earl should please to have thee with me and with Harcourt. And thou hast seen a town taken? Never the same saw I, and I know not how I am to win spurs tramping these roads without a French man-at-arms in sight!"
Nevertheless he went to the king and came again, and they twain rode on together talking of the war.
"The earl sendeth word," said the prince, "that he will waste no time nor men in vainly besieging the castle of Cherbourg. We need it not, but we shall sack Carenton before to-morrow night."
"Knoweth the king," asked Richard, "at what place mustereth the host of France?"
"Our last news," replied the prince, "putteth Philip in Aquitaine, full far away from Paris. Were the king so minded he could get there first."
"And take the capital city of France?" exclaimed Richard. "That were grand! We shall press onward, then?"
"That will we," said the prince, "but not to take a city we can not hold. Small good were it to be shut up there by half the hosts of Europe. But we can draw away the French from Derby's front, and we can win Calais."
"Win Calais by a march through Normandy?" sprang from the lips of Richard. "I see not well how that can be. What were Calais, compared with Paris?"
"It is the sorest thorn in the side of England, saith my father," replied the prince. "Even the Channel and the British seas are but half our own while that harbor is a refuge for the fleets of France and a nesting place for all manner of pirates. We must take and hold it, as we hold Dover. It hath but one strong defense."
"I have heard that its walls are strong," said Richard, "and that it can stand a long siege by sea and land."
"Long and hard it well may be," laughed the prince, "but sieges have an end, and towns are taken if the besiegers themselves be not routed in their camps. The defense of Calais against us is this army of the King of France. Until that shall be utterly beaten the town is safe. Thou wilt yet see clearly the wisdom of the king."
There was another night's camping and the Carenton town surrendered, but the castle thereof detained Earl Warwick and his power during two more days, while the main host marched on. Town after town that lay along its broad road of desolation either opened its gates without resistance or was shortly stormed and plundered. Long lines of wains were all the while traveling back to St. Vast and other seaports, that the ships might convey the captured goods and treasures to safe keeping in England.
This was the manner of all warring in those days, and sore was the distress of the people of Normandy. They were brave enough, but they had neither great captains nor any central body of an army whereunto they might rally. For their mere numbers they could have eaten up the English army, but what are numbers that are scattered vainly over a great province?
Daily did the prince and Richard draw nearer to each other, as they found occasion for meeting; but the duties of the young heir of Wartmont were now with the advance, under Sir Geoffrey of Harcourt. Small fighting had he seen, but many a deed of pillage that was sad to look upon, and he was learning how terrible a thing is war.
"God keep it from merry England!" he often thought, and yet he knew that all the messengers from home brought rumors that a Scottish host was gathering fast to take advantage of King Edward's absence.
"Evil to them!" he said angrily. "If the good archbishop be also training the men of the north counties and the middle, I trust Sir Robert Johnstone will face them with bowmen as good as are those of Longwood and Arden. We can give him no aid, but to-morrow we shall get to Caen."
The prince was with the king that night and Richard saw him not. Nor was there message for him to carry in the morn, but there came to him a summons from Marshal de Harcourt.
"Richard of Wartmont," said his captain when they met, "Sir Thomas Holland and Sir Peter Legh, with knights and men-at-arms, form the advance on Caen. With them go thou and double thy number of the archers of Arden. With thee will also be the Irish and the Welsh, for I learn that the people of this town have gone mad with conceit. They will face us outside of their walls. If we may break their front, we may enter Caen in their foolish company."
Like word went back to the king, praying him to hasten, that he might see his standard lifted over the capital of Normandy.
Good was the planning of De Harcourt, for, as the English van emerged early that day, behold a numerous but motley and ill-ordered array of armed citizens and country folk, drawn out to meet them. With them were many knights and men-at-arms, but the marshal spoke truly when he said of them:
"An army that is not an army. We will scatter them like chaff!"
"Seest thou yonder town?" asked Sir Thomas Holland of Richard, as they paused on the brow of a low hill to let the bowmen come up.
Richard looked earnestly, for the walls were wide-reaching, and they seemed to be high and strong. On one side of the great town arose a castle of surpassing splendor, and he had heard that the Governor of Caen, Sir John de Blargny, held it with three hundred Genoese crossbowmen and other forces. There were church spires also, and of these arose one higher than the rest, at which Sir Thomas pointed with his lance.
"In a crypt of that church," he said, "rest the bones of William the Conqueror. From this town did he and his host march to the overthrow of King Harold at Hastings."
Richard gazed in silence, but he heard strange words among the bowmen behind him, speaking the ancient tongue.
"'Tis good hearing," said Guy the Bow. "As he and his Normans did to England, so have the Saxons under King Edward done to Normandy. The conquest is ours this time!"
"The tables are turned," said Ben of Coventry, "and rare hath been the plundering. But we have yet fought no fight like that of Hastings. Until then we shall not be even with the French. I shall shoot closely that day when it shall come."
Deep, therefore, was the bitterness that grew from the old time. Alas, that it did not cease, and that during centuries more the old feud rankled murderously in the hearts of Englishmen, so that even their Norman kings made use of it as a power whereby to rally armies to fight the outland men beyond the sea!
Forward now dashed the English van, all shouting loudly, but no battle did await them. Mayhap they were in greater force than the men of Caen expected, or that the latter bethought them suddenly how good were stone walls to fight behind. At all events, there were few volleys of arrows sent before the French muster broke and ran back in confusion toward the open gates.
"Forward!" shouted Sir Thomas. "The middle gateway! There be good knights there, all tangled in the press. They can neither fight nor flee. Brave ransom to be won! Press on!"
Even he and his own knights could make little better speed than might the bowmen on foot, but the French men-at-arms were already jammed one against another in the narrow passage by which they had hoped to retreat into the city. There could be no closing of the gate, but over it was a small fortalice, with a broad stairway leading up to it. Down sprang the good knights, for here seemed a refuge, as if it were a place wherein they might defend themselves.
Much rather was it a trap in which they were to be taken helplessly. In vain they manned the battlements, for up the stairway after them poured Richard Neville's bowmen and axemen, with Sir Thomas Holland, Sir Peter Legh, and a dozen other knights.
"Down with them, Richard of Wartmont!" shouted Guy the Bow, and the shafts began to fly.
But in front of the Frenchmen in that tower stepped forth a knight in gorgeous armor, who shouted boldly:
"Sir Thomas Holland, dost thou not know thine old-time comrade against the Prussian heathen and the Saracens of Grenada? I am the Count of Eu and Guignes, Constable of France, and with me is the Count of Tancarville. These all be knights of note. But we are betrayed to thine hand by these cowardly townspeople."
So they surrendered all, while through the gateway below dashed Sir Geoffrey of Harcourt, his men-at-arms, and a great tide of spearmen and bowmen. At no great distance behind them rode the king and the prince, and it was but little before the Earl of Northampton raised the royal standard over that very gateway fort in token that Caen had fallen.
The walls were won, indeed, but not the whole town or the castle. On to the center and to the townhall pressed Harcourt, and with him now was Richard. Every house was a small fort, however, and all doors were closed and barred. Not for their goods only, but for their very lives, did the inhabitants of Caen believe themselves to be contending. In the upper stories and garrets of the buildings had they prepared munitions of heavy stones, beams, and the like, and these did they now rain down upon the ranks of the English soldiery. Many were slain or wounded thereby. Brave knights were stricken from their horses to lie helpless upon the pavement.
All these things were witnessed by the king himself when he and the prince and those who were with them rode through the gate of the city. An angry man was he to be stoned and to narrowly escape destruction in a street of a place which he had already taken.
Sir Geoffrey and his men were at the townhall now, and one of their first works had been to search for and to seize the official records and archives. It had been better for Normandy if all these things had perished, but none had looked for so sudden an entry of the English, so that the writings remained. These were delivered to the king on his arrival. He read from page to page, and his hot wrath burned yet more hotly. Among the captured manuscripts was one under the seal royal of France, and it was a covenant between the King and the people of Caen and of Normandy for their service against the English king. Already had there been good proof that the Normans had greatly favored an invasion of England like that of William the Conqueror. Here was fresh proof thereof, with more that was as poison.
Fierce and hasty was the next speech of the angry king, for he commanded that the city should be given up to sack and pillage, without mercy to man or woman. It had been a terrible deed to do, for the soldiery were greatly enraged already, and some of their deeds had been cruel. Well was it then for all that Sir Geoffrey of Harcourt was a wise man and humane as well as a good war captain, for he spoke plainly to King Edward.
"Dear sire," he said, "restrain thy courage a little, I pray thee, and be satisfied with what thou hast done. Thou hast a long journey before thou shalt get to Calais, where thou intendest to go."
Much more he said and argued, and all the while the king grew calmer.
"Sir Geoffrey," he replied at last, "thou art our marshal; therefore order as thou shalt please, for this time we wish not to interfere."
Nevertheless, in the speech of the marshal had been published the secret counsel of the king and the real purpose of the campaign from before the army left England. There were those even in later days who maintained that Edward had sailed at a venture, and had marched at random, without set plan or purpose, but they knew him not very well, nor did they hear his chief captain answer him at Caen thus early in the campaign.
Out rode then Sir Geoffrey from street to street, with banners displayed, declaring full mercy to the townsfolk if they would cease fighting, and commanding, on pain of death, that no English soldier should harm or insult either man or woman.
So the massacre was stayed, but for all that there was vast plunder taken.
Richard was with the prince once more for a little while, and to him he spoke of the purpose of the Normans to invade England.
"They thought to do as in Harold's time," he said. "There had been great mischief, truly, if they could have landed."
"Not so," replied the prince. "I heard Sir Geoffrey and the king on that head. No other battle of Hastings could have come, for the Archbishop of York hath force enough to face the Scots. King Harold had to fight and beat the Welsh first, and then the Northmen under Hardrada, before he turned, with what army he had left, to meet William of Normandy. An invasion now would meet the whole array of England at one field, with Welsh and Irish many thousands. Moreover, in England there were neither forts nor castles in Harold's day, while now there are too many for the peace of the realm. So said my royal father, for the castles can be well held even against the power of the king."
"The Saxons fought well," said Richard.
"Aye, that did they," replied the prince, "and well do we know that thou and thine are of them. Wilt thou tell me, Richard of Wartmont, why thou and thy Saxons all are so strong for the Crown? Are we not of Norman blood?"
"Yea, that ye are," said Richard, "but of Saxon royalty of descent as well. We all do know that truth. But above all do the people of every kindred look to see the king stand between them and the barons. So are we his lithsmen, nor can any take us out of his hand. He is our king!"
"Stay where thou art!" exclaimed the prince; "I will bear that word to the king ere it is cold in my thought."
Away he rode, and he had to dismount and enter the townhall before he could have speech with his father. That which he said was heard by no other ears, but the face of the king grew red with pleasure.