But they had not done their meat, and had scarce begun upon their drink, ere they saw three men come riding on the spur over the crown of the bent before them; these made no stay for aught, but rode straight through the ford of the river, as men who knew well where it was, and came on hastily toward the feasters by the wood-edge. Then would some have run to meet them, but Jack of the Tofts bade them abide till he had heard the tidings; whereas they needed not to run to their weapons, for, all of them, they were fully dight for war, save, it might be, the doing on of their sallets or basnets. But Jack and Christopher alone went forward to meet those men; and the foremost of them cried out at once: “I know thee, Jack of the Tofts! I know thee! Up and arm! up and arm! for the foemen are upon thee; and so choose thee whether thou wilt fight or flee.”
Quoth Jack, laughing: “I know thee also, Wat of Whiteend; and when thou hast told me how many and who be the foemen, we will look either to fighting or fleeing.”
Said Wat: “Thou knowest the blazon of the banner which we saw, three red wolves running on a silver field?”
“Yea, forsooth,” said Jack; “‘tis the Baron of Brimside that beareth that shield ever; and the now Baron, hight the Lord Gandolf, how many was he?”
Said Wat: “Ten hundreds or more. But what say fellows?”
Quoth the other twain: “More, more they were.”
Said Jack of the Tofts: “And when shall he be here, deem ye?”
“In less than an hour,” said Wat, “he will be on thee with great and small; but his riders, some of them, in lesser space.”
Then turned Jack about and cried out for David, and when he came, he said: “Put thy long legs over a good horse, and ride straight back to the Tofts and gather whatever may bear spear and draw bow, and hither with them, lad, by the nighest road; tarry not, speak no word, be gone!”
So David turned, and was presently riding swiftly back through the woodland paths. But Jack spake to the bearers of tidings: “Good fellows, go ye yonder and bid them give you a morsel and a cup; and tell all the tidings, and this, withal, that we have nought to flee from a good fightstead for Gandolf of Brimside.” Therewith he turned to Christopher and said: “Thy pardon, King, but these matters must be seen to straightway. Now do thou help me array our folk, for there is heart enough in them as in thee and me; and mayhappen we may make an end to this matter now and here. Moreover, the Baron of Brimside is a stout carle, so fight we must, meseemeth.”
Then he called to them one of the captains of the Tofts and they three spake together heedfully a little, and thereafter they fell to work arraying the folk; and King Christopher did his part therein deftly and swiftly, for quick of wit he was, and that the more whenso anything was to be done.
As to the array, the main of the folk that were spearmen and billmen but moved forward somewhat from where they had dined to the hanging of the bent, so that their foemen would have the hill against them or ever they came on point and edge. But the bowmen, of whom were now some two hundreds, for many men had come in after the first tally, were spread abroad on the left hand of the spearmen toward the river, where the ground was somewhat broken, and bushed with thorn-bushes. And a bight of the water drew nearer to the Tofters, amidst of which was a flat eyot, edged with willows and covered with firm and sound greensward, and was some thirty yards endlong and twenty overthwart. So there they abode the coming of the foe, and it was now hard on five o’clock.
But Christopher went up to Goldilind where she stood amidst of the spearmen, hand turning over hand, and her feet wandering to and fro almost without her will; and when he came to her, she had much ado to refrain her from falling on his bosom and weeping there. But he cried to her gaily: “Now, my Lady and Queen, thou shalt see a fair play toward even sooner than we looked for; and thine eyes shall follow me, if the battle be thronged, by this token, that amongst all these good men and true I only wear a forgilded basnet with a crown about it.”
“O!” she said, “if it were but over, and thou alive and free! I would pay for that, I deem, if I might, by a sojourn in Greenharbour again.”
“What!” he said, “that I might have to thrust myself into the peril of snatching thee forth again?” And he laughed merrily. “Nay,” said he, “this play must needs begin before it endeth; and by Saint Nicholas, I deem that to-day it beginneth well.”
But she put her hands before her face, and her shoulders were shaken with sobs. “Alas! sweetling,” said he, “that my joy should be thy sorrow! But, I pray thee, take not these stout-hearts for runaways. And Oh! look, look!”
She looked up, wondering and timorous, but all about her the men sprang up and shouted, and tossed up bill and sword, and the echo of their cries came back from the bowmen on the left, and Christopher’s sword came rattling out of the scabbard and went gleaming up aloft. Then words came into the cry of the folk, and Goldilind heard it, that they cried “Child Christopher! King Christopher!” Then over her head came a sound of flapping and rending as the evening wind beat about the face of the wood; and she heard folk cry about her: “The banner, the banner! Ho for the Wood-wife of Oakenrealm!”
Then her eyes cleared for what was aloof before her, and she saw a dark mass come spreading down over the bent on the other side of the river, and glittering points and broad gleams of white light amidst of it, and noise came from it; and she knew that here were come the foemen. But she thought to herself that they looked not so many after all; and she looked at the great and deft bodies of their folk, and their big-headed spears and wide-bladed glaves and bills, and strove with her heart and refrained her fear, and thrust back the image which had arisen before her of Greenharbour come back again, and she lonely and naked in the Least Guard-chamber: and she stood firm, and waved her hand to greet the folk.
And lo! there was Christopher kneeling before her and kissing her hand, and great shouts arising about her of “The Lady of Oakenrealm! The Lady of Meadham! For the Lady! For the Lady!”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:58