They were fishing, a few days later, in the bed of the brook that for centuries had cut deep into the soft valley soil. The trees closing overhead made long tunnels through which the sunshine worked in blobs and patches. Down in the tunnels were bars of sand and gravel, old roots and trunks covered with moss or painted red by the irony water; foxgloves growing lean and pale towards the light; clumps of fern and thirsty shy flowers who could not live away from moisture and shade. In the pools you could see the wave thrown up by the trouts as they charged hither and yon, and the pools were joined to each other — except in flood time, when all was one brown rush — by sheets of thin broken water that poured themselves chuckling round the darkness of the next bend.
This was one of the children’s most secret hunting-grounds, and their particular friend, old Hobden the hedger, had shown them how to use it. Except for the click of a rod hitting a low willow, or a switch and tussle among the young ash-leaves as a line hung up for the minute, nobody in the hot pasture could have guessed what game was going on among the trouts below the banks.
‘We’s got half-a-dozen,’ said Dan, after a warm, wet hour. ‘I vote we go up to Stone Bay and try Long Pool.’
Una nodded — most of her talk was by nods — and they crept from the gloom of the tunnels towards the tiny weir that turns the brook into the mill-stream. Here the banks are low and bare, and the glare of the afternoon sun on the Long Pool below the weir makes your eyes ache.
When they were in the open they nearly fell down with astonishment. A huge grey horse, whose tail-hairs crinkled the glassy water, was drinking in the pool, and the ripples about his muzzle flashed like melted gold. On his back sat an old, white-haired man dressed in a loose glimmery gown of chain-mail. He was bareheaded, and a nut-shaped iron helmet hung at his saddle-bow. His reins were of red leather five or six inches deep, scalloped at the edges, and his high padded saddle with its red girths was held fore and aft by a red leather breastband and crupper.
‘Look!’ said Una, as though Dan were not staring his very eyes out. ‘It’s like the picture in your room —“Sir Isumbras at the Ford.”’
The rider turned towards them, and his thin, long face was just as sweet and gentle as that of the knight who carries the children in that picture.
‘They should be here now, Sir Richard,’ said Puck’s deep voice among the willow-herb.
‘They are here,’ the knight said, and he smiled at Dan with the string of trouts in his hand. ‘There seems no great change in boys since mine fished this water.’
‘If your horse has drunk, we shall be more at ease in the Ring,’ said Puck; and he nodded to the children as though he had never magicked away their memories the week before.
The great horse turned and hoisted himself into the pasture with a kick and a scramble that tore the clods down rattling.
‘Your pardon!’ said Sir Richard to Dan. ‘When these lands were mine, I never loved that mounted men should cross the brook except by the paved ford. But my Swallow here was thirsty, and I wished to meet you.’
‘We’re very glad you’ve come, sir,’ said Dan. ‘It doesn’t matter in the least about the banks.’
He trotted across the pasture on the sword-side of the mighty horse, and it was a mighty iron-handled sword that swung from Sir Richard’s belt. Una walked behind with Puck. She remembered everything now.
‘I’m sorry about the Leaves,’ he said, ‘but it would never have done if you had gone home and told, would it?’
‘I s’pose not,’ Una answered. ‘But you said that all the fair — People of the Hills had left England.’
‘So they have; but I told you that you should come and go and look and know, didn’t I? The knight isn’t a fairy. He’s Sir Richard Dalyngridge, a very old friend of mine. He came over with William the Conqueror, and he wants to see you particularly.’
‘What for?’ said Una.
‘On account of your great wisdom and learning,’ Puck replied, without a twinkle.
‘Us?’ said Una. ‘Why, I don’t know my Nine Times — not to say it dodging; and Dan makes the most awful mess of fractions. He can’t mean us!’
‘Una!’ Dan called back. ‘Sir Richard says he is going to tell what happened to Weland’s sword. He’s got it. Isn’t it splendid?’
‘Nay — nay,’ said Sir Richard, dismounting as they reached the Ring, in the bend of the mill-stream bank. ‘It is you that must tell me, for I hear the youngest child in our England today is as wise as our wisest clerk.’ He slipped the bit out of Swallow’s mouth, dropped the ruby-red reins over his head, and the wise horse moved off to graze.
Sir Richard (they noticed he limped a little) unslung his great sword.
‘That’s it,’ Dan whispered to Una.
‘This is the sword that Brother Hugh had from Wayland–Smith,’ Sir Richard said. ‘Once he gave it to me, but I would not take it; but at the last it became mine after such a fight as never christened man fought. See!’ He half drew it from its sheath and turned it before them. On either side just below the handle, where the Runic letters shivered as though they were alive, were two deep gouges in the dull, deadly steel. ‘Now, what Thing made those?’ said he. ‘I know not, but you, perhaps, can say.’
‘Tell them all the tale, Sir Richard,’ said Puck. ‘It concerns their land somewhat.’
‘Yes, from the very beginning,’ Una pleaded, for the knight’s good face and the smile on it more than ever reminded her of ‘Sir Isumbras at the Ford.’
They settled down to listen, Sir Richard bare-headed to the sunshine, dandling the sword in both hands, while the grey horse cropped outside the Ring, and the helmet on the saddle-bow clinged softly each time he jerked his head.
‘From the beginning, then,’ Sir Richard said, ‘since it concerns your land, I will tell the tale. When our Duke came out of Normandy to take his England, great knights (have ye heard?) came and strove hard to serve the Duke, because he promised them lands here, and small knights followed the great ones. My folk in Normandy were poor; but a great knight, Engerrard of the Eagle — Engenulf De Aquila — who was kin to my father, followed the Earl of Mortain, who followed William the Duke, and I followed De Aquila. Yes, with thirty men-at-arms out of my father’s house and a new sword, I set out to conquer England three days after I was made knight. I did not then know that England would conquer me. We went up to Santlache with the rest — a very great host of us.’
‘Does that mean the Battle of Hastings — Ten Sixty–Six?’ Una whispered, and Puck nodded, so as not to interrupt.
‘At Santlache, over the hill yonder’— he pointed south-eastward towards Fairlight —‘we found Harold’s men. We fought. At the day’s end they ran. My men went with De Aquila’s to chase and plunder, and in that chase Engerrard of the Eagle was slain, and his son Gilbert took his banner and his men forward. This I did not know till after, for Swallow here was cut in the flank, so I stayed to wash the wound at a brook by a thorn. There a single Saxon cried out to me in French, and we fought together. I should have known his voice, but we fought together. For a long time neither had any advantage, till by pure ill-fortune his foot slipped and his sword flew from his hand. Now I had but newly been made knight, and wished, above all, to be courteous and fameworthy, so I forebore to strike and bade him get his sword again. “A plague on my sword,” said he. “It has lost me my first fight. You have spared my life. Take my sword.” He held it out to me, but as I stretched my hand the sword groaned like a stricken man, and I leaped back crying, “Sorcery!”
[The children looked at the sword as though it might speak again.]
‘Suddenly a clump of Saxons ran out upon me and, seeing a Norman alone, would have killed me, but my Saxon cried out that I was his prisoner, and beat them off. Thus, see you, he saved my life. He put me on my horse and led me through the woods ten long miles to this valley.’
‘To here, d’you mean?’ said Una.
‘To this very valley. We came in by the Lower Ford under the King’s Hill yonder’— he pointed eastward where the valley widens.
‘And was that Saxon Hugh the novice?’ Dan asked.
‘Yes, and more than that. He had been for three years at the monastery at Bec by Rouen, where’— Sir Richard chuckled —‘the Abbot Herluin would not suffer me to remain.’
‘Why wouldn’t he?’ said Dan.
‘Because I rode my horse into the refectory, when the scholars were at meat, to show the Saxon boys we Normans were not afraid of an abbot. It was that very Saxon Hugh tempted me to do it, and we had not met since that day. I thought I knew his voice even inside my helmet, and, for all that our Lords fought, we each rejoiced we had not slain the other. He walked by my side, and he told me how a Heathen God, as he believed, had given him his sword, but he said he had never heard it sing before. I remember I warned him to beware of sorcery and quick enchantments.’ Sir Richard smiled to himself. ‘I was very young — very young!
‘When we came to his house here we had almost forgotten that we had been at blows. It was near midnight, and the Great Hall was full of men and women waiting news. There I first saw his sister, the Lady Ælueva, of whom he had spoken to us in France. She cried out fiercely at me, and would have had me hanged in that hour, but her brother said that I had spared his life — he said not how he saved mine from his Saxons — and that our Duke had won the day; and even while they wrangled over my poor body, of a sudden he fell down in a swoon from his wounds.
‘“This is thy fault,” said the Lady Ælueva to me, and she kneeled above him and called for wine and cloths.
‘“If I had known,” I answered, “he should have ridden and I walked. But he set me on my horse; he made no complaint; he walked beside me and spoke merrily throughout. I pray I have done him no harm.”
‘“Thou hast need to pray,” she said, catching up her underlip. “If he dies, thou shalt hang!”
‘They bore off Hugh to his chamber; but three tall men of the house bound me and set me under the beam of the Great Hall with a rope round my neck. The end of the rope they flung over the beam, and they sat them down by the fire to wait word whether Hugh lived or died. They cracked nuts with their knife-hilts the while.’
‘And how did you feel?’ said Dan.
‘Very weary; but I did heartily pray for my schoolmate Hugh his health. About noon I heard horses in the valley, and the three men loosed my ropes and fled out, and De Aquila’s men rode up. Gilbert de Aquila came with them, for it was his boast that, like his father, he forgot no man that served him. He was little, like his father, but terrible, with a nose like an eagle’s nose and yellow eyes like an eagle. He rode tall war-horses — roans, which he bred himself — and he could never abide to be helped into the saddle. He saw the rope hanging from the beam and laughed, and his men laughed, for I was too stiff to rise.
‘“This is poor entertainment for a Norman knight,” he said, “but, such as it is, let us be grateful. Show me, boy, to whom thou owest most, and we will pay them out of hand.”’
‘What did he mean? To kill ’em?’ said Dan.
‘Assuredly. But I looked at the Lady Ælueva where she stood among her maids, and her brother beside her. De Aquila’s men had driven them all into the Great Hall.’
‘Was she pretty?’ said Una.
‘In all my life I had never seen woman fit to strew rushes before my Lady Ælueva,’ the knight replied, quite simply and quietly. ‘As I looked at her I thought I might save her and her house by a jest.
‘“Seeing that I came somewhat hastily and without warning,” said I to De Aquila, “I have no fault to find with the courtesy that these Saxons have shown me.” But my voice shook. It is — it was not good to jest with that little man.
‘All were silent awhile, till De Aquila laughed. “Look, men — a miracle!” said he. “The fight is scarce sped, my father is not yet buried, and here we find our youngest knight already set down in his Manor, while his Saxons — ye can see it in their fat faces — have paid him homage and service! By the Saints,” he said, rubbing his nose, “I never thought England would be so easy won! Surely I can do no less than give the lad what he has taken. This Manor shall be thine, boy,” he said, “till I come again, or till thou art slain. Now, mount, men, and ride. We follow our Duke into Kent to make him King of England.”
‘He drew me with him to the door while they brought his horse — a lean roan, taller than my Swallow here, but not so well girthed.
‘“Hark to me,” he said, fretting with his great war-gloves. “I have given thee this Manor, which is a Saxon hornets’ nest, and I think thou wilt be slain in a month — as my father was slain. Yet if thou canst keep the roof on the hall, the thatch on the barn, and the plough in the furrow till I come back, thou shalt hold the Manor from me; for the Duke has promised our Earl Mortain all the lands by Pevensey, and Mortain will give me of them what he would have given my father. God knows if thou or I shall live till England is won; but remember, boy, that here and now fighting is foolishness and”— he reached for the reins —“craft and cunning is all.”
‘“Alas, I have no cunning,” said I.
‘“Not yet,” said he, hopping abroad, foot in stirrup, and poking his horse in the belly with his toe. “Not yet, but I think thou hast a good teacher. Farewell! Hold the Manor and live. Lose the Manor and hang,” he said, and spurred out, his shield-straps squeaking behind him.
‘So, children, here was I, little more than a boy, and Santlache fight not two days old, left alone with my thirty men-at-arms, in a land I knew not, among a people whose tongue I could not speak, to hold down the land which I had taken from them.’
‘And that was here at home?’ said Una.
‘Yes, here. See! From the Upper Ford, Weland’s Ford, to the Lower Ford, by the Belle Allée, west and east it ran half a league. From the Beacon of Brunanburgh behind us here, south and north it ran a full league — and all the woods were full of broken men from Santlache, Saxon thieves, Norman plunderers, robbers, and deerstealers. A hornets’ nest indeed!
‘When De Aquila had gone, Hugh would have thanked me for saving their lives; but Lady Ælueva said that I had done it only for the sake of receiving the Manor.
‘“How could I know that De Aquila would give it me?” I said. “If I had told him I had spent my night in your halter he would have burned the place twice over by now.”
‘“If any man had put my neck in a rope,” she said, “I would have seen his house burned thrice over before I would have made terms.”
‘“But it was a woman,” I said; and I laughed and she wept and said that I mocked her in her captivity.
‘“Lady,” said I, “there is no captive in this valley except one, and he is not a Saxon.”
‘At this she cried that I was a Norman thief, who came with false, sweet words, having intended from the first to turn her out in the fields to beg her bread. Into the fields! She had never seen the face of war!
‘I was angry, and answered, “This much at least I can disprove, for I swear”— and on my sword-hilt I swore it in that place —“I swear I will never set foot in the Great Hall till the Lady Ælueva herself shall summon me there.”
‘She went away, saying nothing, and I walked out, and Hugh limped after me, whistling dolorously (that is a custom of the English), and we came upon the three Saxons that had bound me. They were now bound by my men-at-arms, and behind them stood some fifty stark and sullen churls of the House and the Manor, waiting to see what should fall. We heard De Aquila’s trumpets blow thin through the woods Kentward.
‘“Shall we hang these?” said my men.
‘“Then my churls will fight,” said Hugh, beneath his breath; but I bade him ask the three what mercy they hoped for.
‘“None,” said they all. “She bade us hang thee if our master died. And we would have hanged thee. There is no more to it.”
‘As I stood doubting a woman ran down from the oak wood above the King’s Hill yonder, and cried out that some Normans were driving off the swine there.
‘“Norman or Saxon,” said I, “we must beat them back, or they will rob us every day. Out at them with any arms ye have!” So I loosed those three carles and we ran together, my men-at-arms and the Saxons with bills and bows which they had hidden in the thatch of their huts, and Hugh led them. Half-way up the King’s Hill we found a false fellow from Picardy — a sutler that sold wine in the Duke’s camp — with a dead knight’s shield on his arm, a stolen horse under him, and some ten or twelve wastrels at his tail, all cutting and slashing at the pigs. We beat them off, and saved our pork. One hundred and seventy pigs we saved in that great battle.’ Sir Richard laughed.
‘That, then, was our first work together, and I bade Hugh tell his folk that so would I deal with any man, knight or churl, Norman or Saxon, who stole as much as one egg from our valley. Said he to me, riding home: “Thou hast gone far to conquer England this evening.” I answered: “England must be thine and mine, then. Help me, Hugh, to deal aright with this people. Make them to know that if they slay me De Aquila will surely send to slay them, and he will put a worse man in my place.” “That may well be true,” said he, and gave me his hand. “Better the devil we know than the devil we know not, till we can pack you Normans home.” And so, too, said his Saxons; and they laughed as we drove the pigs downhill. But I think some of them, even then, began not to hate me.’
‘I like Brother Hugh,’ said Una, softly.
‘Beyond question he was the most perfect, courteous, valiant, tender, and wise knight that ever drew breath,’ said Richard, caressing the sword. ‘He hung up his sword — this sword — on the wall of the Great Hall, because he said it was fairly mine, and never he took it down till De Aquila returned, as I shall presently show. For three months his men and mine guarded the valley, till all robbers and nightwalkers learned there was nothing to get from us save hard tack and a hanging. Side by side we fought against all who came — thrice a week sometimes we fought — against thieves and landless knights looking for good manors. Then we were in some peace, and I made shift by Hugh’s help to govern the valley — for all this valley of yours was my Manor — as a knight should. I kept the roof on the hall and the thatch on the barn, but. . . . The English are a bold people. His Saxons would laugh and jest with Hugh, and Hugh with them, and — this was marvellous to me — if even the meanest of them said that such and such a thing was the Custom of the Manor, then straightway would Hugh and such old men of the Manor as might be near forsake everything else to debate the matter — I have seen them stop the mill with the corn half ground — and if the custom or usage were proven to be as it was said, why, that was the end of it, even though it were flat against Hugh, his wish and command. Wonderful!’
‘Aye,’ said Puck, breaking in for the first time. ‘The Custom of Old England was here before your Norman knights came, and it outlasted them, though they fought against it cruel.’
‘Not I,’ said Richard. ‘I let the Saxons go their stubborn way, but when my own men-at-arms, Normans not six months in England, stood up and told me what was the custom of the country, then I was angry. Ah, good days! Ah, wonderful people! And I loved them all.’
The knight lifted his arms as though he would hug the whole dear valley, and Swallow, hearing the chink of his chain-mail, looked up and whinnied softly.
‘At last,’ he went on, ‘after a year of striving and contriving and some little driving, De Aquila came to the valley, alone and without warning. I saw him first at the Lower Ford, with a swine-herd’s brat on his saddle-bow.
‘“There is no need for thee to give any account of thy stewardship,” said he. “I have it all from the child here.” And he told me how the young thing had stopped his tall horse at the Ford, by waving of a branch, and crying that the way was barred. “And if one bold, bare babe be enough to guard the Ford in these days, thou hast done well,” said he, and puffed and wiped his head.
He pinched the child’s cheek, and looked at our cattle in the flat by the brook.
‘“Both fat,” said he, rubbing his nose. “This is craft and cunning such as I love. What did I tell thee when I rode away, boy?”
‘“Hold the Manor or hang,” said I. I had never forgotten it.
‘“True. And thou hast held.” He clambered from his saddle and with sword’s point cut out a turf from the bank and gave it me where I kneeled.’
Dan looked at Una, and Una looked at Dan.
‘That’s seizin,’ said Puck, in a whisper.
‘“Now thou art lawfully seized of the Manor, Sir Richard,” said he —’twas the first time he ever called me that —“thou and thy heirs for ever. This must serve till the King’s clerks write out thy title on a parchment. England is all ours — if we can hold it.”
‘“What service shall I pay?” I asked, and I remember I was proud beyond words.
‘“Knight’s fee, boy, knight’s fee!” said he, hopping round his horse on one foot. (Have I said he was little, and could not endure to be helped to his saddle?) “Six mounted men or twelve archers thou shalt send me whenever I call for them, and — where got you that corn?” said he, for it was near harvest, and our corn stood well. “I have never seen such bright straw. Send me three bags of the same seed yearly, and furthermore, in memory of our last meeting — with the rope round thy neck — entertain me and my men for two days of each year in the Great Hall of thy Manor.”
‘“Alas!” said I, “then my Manor is already forfeit. I am under vow not to enter the Great Hall.” And I told him what I had sworn to the Lady Ælueva.’
‘And hadn’t you ever been into the house since?’ said Una.
‘Never,’ Sir Richard answered smiling. ‘I had made me a little hut of wood up the hill, and there I did justice and slept. . . . De Aquila wheeled aside, and his shield shook on his back. “No matter, boy,” said he. “I will remit the homage for a year.”’
‘He meant Sir Richard needn’t give him dinner there the first year,’ Puck explained.
‘De Aquila stayed with me in the hut and Hugh, who could read and write and cast accounts, showed him the roll of the Manor, in which were written all the names of our fields and men, and he asked a thousand questions touching the land, the timber, the grazing, the mill, and the fish-ponds, and the worth of every man in the valley. But never he named the Lady Ælueva’s name, nor went he near the Great Hall. By night he drank with us in the hut. Yes, he sat on the straw like an eagle ruffled in her feathers, his yellow eyes rolling above the cup, and he pounced in his talk like an eagle, swooping from one thing to another, but always binding fast. Yes; he would lie still awhile, and then rustle in the straw, and speak sometimes as though he were King William himself, and anon he would speak in parables and tales, and if at once we saw not his meaning he would yerk us in the ribs with his scabbarded sword.
‘“Look you, boys,” said he, “I am born out of my due time. Five hundred years ago I would have made all England such an England as neither Dane, Saxon, nor Norman should have conquered. Five hundred years hence I should have been such a councillor to Kings as the world hath never dreamed of. ’Tis all here,” said he, tapping his big head, “but it hath no play in this black age. Now Hugh here is a better man than thou art, Richard.” He had made his voice harsh and croaking, like a raven’s.
‘“Truth,” said I. “But for Hugh, his help and patience and long-suffering, I could never have kept the Manor.”
‘“Nor thy life either,” said De Aquila. “Hugh has saved thee not once, but a hundred times. Be still, Hugh!” he said. “Dost thou know, Richard, why Hugh slept, and why he still sleeps, among thy Norman men-at-arms?”
‘“To be near me,” said I, for I thought this was truth.
‘“Fool!” said De Aquila. “It is because his Saxons have begged him to rise against thee, and to sweep every Norman out of the valley. No matter how I know. It is truth. Therefore Hugh hath made himself an hostage for thy life, well knowing that if any harm befell thee from his Saxons thy Normans would slay him without remedy. And this his Saxons know. It is true, Hugh?”
‘“In some sort,” said Hugh, shamefacedly; “at least, it was true half a year ago. My Saxons would not harm Richard now. I think they know him; but I judged it best to make sure.”
‘Look, children, what that man had done — and I had never guessed it! Night after night had he lain down among my men-at-arms, knowing that if one Saxon had lifted knife against me his life would have answered for mine.
‘“Yes,” said De Aquila. “And he is a swordless man.” He pointed to Hugh’s belt, for Hugh had put away his sword — did I tell you? — the day after it flew from his hand at Santlache. He carried only the short knife and the long-bow. “Swordless and landless art thou, Hugh; and they call thee kin to Earl Godwin.” (Hugh was indeed of Godwin’s blood.) “The Manor that was thine was given to this boy and to his children for ever. Sit up and beg, for he can turn thee out like a dog, Hugh!”
‘Hugh said nothing, but I heard his teeth grind, and I bade De Aquila, my own overlord, hold his peace, or I would stuff his words down his throat. Then De Aquila laughed till the tears ran down his face.
‘“I warned the King,” said he, “what would come of giving England to us Norman thieves. Here art thou, Richard, less than two days confirmed in thy Manor, and already thou hast risen against thy overlord. What shall we do to him, Sir Hugh?”
‘“I am a swordless man,” said Hugh. “Do not jest with me,” and he laid his head on his knees and groaned.
‘“The greater fool thou,” said De Aquila, and all his voice changed; “for I have given thee the Manor of Dallington up the hill this half-hour since,” and he yerked at Hugh with his scabbard across the straw.
‘“To me?” said Hugh. “I am a Saxon, and, except that I love Richard here, I have not sworn fealty to any Norman.”
‘“In God’s good time, which because of my sins I shall not live to see, there will be neither Saxon nor Norman in England,” said De Aquila. “If I know men, thou art more faithful unsworn than a score of Normans I could name. Take Dallington, and join Sir Richard to fight me tomorrow, if it please thee!”
‘“Nay,” said Hugh. “I am no child. Where I take a gift, there I render service”; and he put his hands between De Aquila’s, and swore to be faithful, and, as I remember, I kissed him, and De Aquila kissed us both.
‘We sat afterwards outside the hut while the sun rose, and De Aquila marked our churls going to their work in the fields, and talked of holy things, and how we should govern our Manors in time to come, and of hunting and of horse-breeding, and of the King’s wisdom and unwisdom; for he spoke to us as though we were in all sorts now his brothers. Anon a churl stole up to me — he was one of the three I had not hanged a year ago — and he bellowed — which is the Saxon for whispering — that the Lady Ælueva would speak to me at the Great House. She walked abroad daily in the Manor, and it was her custom to send me word whither she went, that I might set an archer or two behind and in front to guard her. Very often I myself lay up in the woods and watched on her also.
‘I went swiftly, and as I passed the great door it opened from within, and there stood my Lady Ælueva, and she said to me: “Sir Richard, will it please you enter your Great Hall?” Then she wept, but we were alone.’
The knight was silent for a long time, his face turned across the valley, smiling.
‘Oh, well done!’ said Una, and clapped her hands very softly. ‘She was sorry, and she said so.’
‘Aye, she was sorry, and she said so,’ said Sir Richard, coming back with a little start. ‘Very soon — but he said it was two full hours later — De Aquila rode to the door, with his shield new scoured (Hugh had cleansed it), and demanded entertainment, and called me a false knight, that would starve his overlord to death. Then Hugh cried out that no man should work in the valley that day, and our Saxons blew horns, and set about feasting and drinking, and running of races, and dancing and singing; and De Aquila climbed upon a horse-block and spoke to them in what he swore was good Saxon, but no man understood it. At night we feasted in the Great Hall, and when the harpers and the singers were gone we four sat late at the high table. As I remember, it was a warm night with a full moon, and De Aquila bade Hugh take down his sword from the wall again, for the honour of the Manor of Dallington, and Hugh took it gladly enough. Dust lay on the hilt, for I saw him blow it off.
‘She and I sat talking a little apart, and at first we thought the harpers had come back, for the Great Hall was filled with a rushing noise of music. De Aquila leaped up; but there was only the moonlight fretty on the floor.
‘“Hearken!” said Hugh. “It is my sword,” and as he belted it on the music ceased.
‘“Over Gods, forbid that I should ever belt blade like that,” said De Aquila. “What does it foretell?”
‘“The Gods that made it may know. Last time it spoke was at Hastings, when I lost all my lands. Belike it sings now that I have new lands and am a man again,” said Hugh.
‘He loosed the blade a little and drove it back happily into the sheath, and the sword answered him low and crooningly, as — as a woman would speak to a man, her head on his shoulder.
‘Now that was the second time in all my life I heard this Sword sing.’ . . .
‘Look!’ said Una. ‘There’s mother coming down the Long Slip. What will she say to Sir Richard? She can’t help seeing him.’
‘And Puck can’t magic us this time,’ said Dan.
‘Are you sure?’ said Puck; and he leaned forward and whispered to Sir Richard, who, smiling, bowed his head.
‘But what befell the sword and my brother Hugh I will tell on another time,’ said he, rising. ‘Ohé, Swallow!’
The great horse cantered up from the far end of the meadow, close to mother.
They heard mother say: ‘Children, Gleason’s old horse has broken into the meadow again. Where did he get through?’
‘Just below Stone Bay,’ said Dan. ‘He tore down simple flobs of the bank! We noticed it just now. And we’ve caught no end of fish. We’ve been at it all the afternoon.’
And they honestly believed that they had. They never noticed the Oak, Ash, and Thorn leaves that Puck had slyly thrown into their laps.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:52