The sands are number’d, that make up my life;
Here must I stay, and here my life must end.
HENRY VI. ACT. I. SCENE IV.
When Raymond Berenger had despatched his mission to the Prince of Powys, he was not unsuspicious, though altogether fearless, of the result. He sent messengers to the several dependants who held their fiefs by the tenure of cornage, and warned them to be on the alert, that he might receive instant notice of the approach of the enemy. These vassals, as is well known, occupied the numerous towers, which, like so many falcon-nests, had been built on the points most convenient to defend the frontiers, and were bound to give signal of any incursion of the Welsh, by blowing their horns; which sounds, answered from tower to tower, and from station to station, gave the alarm for general defence. But although Raymond considered these precautions as necessary, from the fickle and precarious temper of his neighbours, and for maintaining his own credit as a soldier, he was far from believing the danger to be imminent; for the preparations of the Welsh; though on a much more extensive scale than had lately been usual, were as secret, as their resolution of war had been suddenly adopted.
It was upon the second morning after the memorable festival of Castell-Coch, that the tempest broke on the Norman frontier. At first a single, long, and keen bugle-blast, announced the approach of the enemy; presently the signals of alarm were echoed from every castle and tower on the borders of Shropshire, where every place of habitation was then a fortress. Beacons were lighted upon crags and eminences, the bells were rung backward in the churches and towns, while the general and earnest summons to arms announced an extremity of danger which even the inhabitants of that unsettled country had not hitherto experienced.
Amid this general alarm, Raymond Berenger, having busied himself in arranging his few but gallant followers and adherents, and taken such modes of procuring intelligence of the enemy’s strength and motions as were in his power, at length ascended the watch-tower of the castle, to observe in person the country around, already obscured in several places by the clouds of smoke, which announced the progress and the ravages of the invaders. He was speedily joined by his favourite squire, to whom the unusual heaviness of his master’s looks was cause of much surprise, for till now they had ever been blithest at the hour of battle. The squire held in his hand his master’s helmet, for Sir Raymond was all armed, saving the head.
“Dennis Morolt,” said the veteran soldier, “are our vassals and liegemen all mustered?”
“All, noble sir, but the Flemings, who are not yet come in.”
“The lazy hounds, why tarry they?” said Raymond. “Ill policy it is to plant such sluggish natures in our borders. They are like their own steers, fitter to tug a plough than for aught that requires mettle.”
“With your favour,” said Dennis, “the knaves can do good service notwithstanding. That Wilkin Flammock of the Green can strike like the hammers of his own fulling-mill.”
“He will fight, I believe, when he cannot help it,” said Raymond; “but he has no stomach for such exercise, and is as slow and as stubborn as a mule.”
“And therefore are his countrymen rightly matched against the Welsh,” replied Dennis Morolt, “that their solid and unyielding temper may be a fit foil to the fiery and headlong dispositions of our dangerous neighbours, just as restless waves are best opposed by steadfast rocks. — Hark, sir, I hear Wilkin Flammock’s step ascending the turret-stair, as deliberately as ever monk mounted to matins.”
Step by step the heavy sound approached, until the form of the huge and substantial Fleming at length issued from the turret-door to the platform where they “were conversing. Wilkin Flammock was cased in bright armour, of unusual weight and thickness, and cleaned with exceeding care, which marked the neatness of his nation; but, contrary to the custom of the Normans, entirely plain, and void of carving, gilding, or any sort of ornament. The basenet, or steel-cap, had no visor, and left exposed a broad countenance, with heavy and unpliable features, which announced the character of his temper and understanding. He carried in his hand a heavy mace.
“So, Sir Fleming,” said the Castellane, “you are in no hurry, methinks, to repair to the rendezvous.”
“So please you,” answered the Fleming, “we were compelled to tarry, that we might load our wains with our bales of cloth and other property.”
“Ha! wains? — how many wains have you brought with you?”
“Six, noble sir,” replied Wilkin.
“And how many men?” demanded Raymond Berenger.
“Twelve, valiant sir,” answered Flammock.
“Only two men to each baggage-wain? I wonder you would thus encumber yourself,” said Berenger.
“Under your favour, sir, once more,” replied Wilkin, “it is only the value which I and my comrades set upon our goods, that inclines us to defend them with our bodies; and, had we been obliged to leave our cloth to the plundering clutches of yonder vagabonds, I should have seen small policy in stopping here to give them the opportunity of adding murder to robbery. Gloucester should have been my first halting-place.”
The Norman knight gazed on the Flemish artisan, for such was Wilkin Flammock, with such a mixture of surprise and contempt, as excluded indignation. “I have heard much,” he said, “but this is the first time that I have heard one with a beard on his lip avouch himself a coward.”
“Nor do you hear it now,” answered Flammock, with the utmost composure —“I am always ready to fight for life and property; and my coming to this country, where they are both in constant danger, shows that I care not much how often I do so. But a sound skin is better than a slashed one, for all that.”
“Well,” said Raymond Berenger, “fight after thine own fashion, so thou wilt but fight stoutly with that long body of thine. We are like to have need for all that we can do. — Saw you aught of these rascaille Welsh? — have they Gwenwyn’s banner amongst them?”
“I saw it with the white dragon displayed,” replied Wilkin; “I could not but know it, since it was broidered in my own loom.”
Raymond looked so grave upon this intelligence, that Dennis Morolt, unwilling the Fleming should mark it, thought it necessary to withdraw his attention. “I can tell thee,” he said to Flammock, “that when the Constable of Chester joins us with his lances, you shall see your handiwork, the dragon, fly faster homeward than ever flew the shuttle which wove it.”
“It must fly before the Constable comes up, Dennis Morolt,” said Berenger, “else it will fly triumphant over all our bodies.”
“In the name of God and the Holy Virgin!” said Dennis, “what may you mean, Sir Knight? — not that we should fight with the Welsh before the Constable joins us?”— He paused, and then, well understanding the firm, yet melancholy glance, with which his master answered the question, he proceeded, with yet more vehement earnestness —“You cannot mean it — you cannot intend that we shall quit this castle, which we have so often made good against them, and contend in the field with two hundred men against thousands? — Think better of it, my beloved master, and let not the rashness of your old age blemish that character for wisdom and warlike skill, which your former life has so nobly won.”
“I am not angry with you for blaming my purpose, Dennis,” answered the Norman, “for I know you do it in love to me and mine. But, Dennis Morolt, this thing must be — we must fight the Welshmen within these three hours, or the name of Raymond Berenger must be blotted from the genealogy of his house.”
“And so we will — we will fight them, my noble master,” said the esquire; “fear not cold counsel from Dennis Morolt, where battle is the theme. But we will fight them under the walls of the castle, with honest Wilkin Flammock and his crossbows on the wall to protect our flanks, and afford us some balance against the numerous odds.”
“Not so, Dennis,” answered his master —“In the open field we must fight them, or thy master must rank but as a mansworn knight. Know, that when I feasted yonder wily savage in my halls at Christmas, and when the wine was flowing fastest around, Gwenwyn threw out some praises of the fastness and strength of my castle, in a manner which intimated it was these advantages alone that had secured me in former wars from defeat and captivity. I spoke in answer, when I had far better been silent; for what availed my idle boast, but as a fetter to bind me to a deed next to madness? If, I said, a prince of the Cymry shall come in hostile fashion before the Garde Doloureuse, let him pitch his standard down in yonder plain by the bridge, and, by the word of a good knight, and the faith of a Christian man, Raymond Berenger will meet him as willingly, be he many or be he few, as ever Welshman was met withal.”
Dennis was struck speechless when he heard of a promise so rash, so fatal; but his was not the casuistry which could release his master from the fetters with which his unwary confidence had bound him. It was otherwise with Wilkin Flammock. He stared — he almost laughed, notwithstanding the reverence due to the Castellane, and his own insensibility to risible emotions. “And is this all?” he said. “If your honour had pledged yourself to pay one hundred florins to a Jew or to a Lombard, no doubt you must have kept the day, or forfeited your pledge; but surely one day is as good as another to keep a promise for fighting, and that day is best in which the promiser is strongest. But indeed, after all, what signifies any promise over a wine flagon?”
“It signifies as much as a promise can do that is given elsewhere. The promiser,” said Berenger, “escapes not the sin of a word-breaker, because he hath been a drunken braggart.”
“For the sin,” said Dennis, “sure I am, that rather than you should do such a deed of dole, the Abbot of Glastonbury would absolve you for a florin.”
“But what shall wipe out the shame?” demanded Berenger —“how shall I dare to show myself again among press of knights, who have broken my word of battle pledged, for fear of a Welshman and his naked savages? No! Dennis Morolt, speak on it no more. Be it for weal or wo, we fight them today, and upon yonder fair field.”
“It may be,” said Flammock, “that Gwenwyn may have forgotten the promise, and so fail to appear to claim it in the appointed space; for, as we heard, your wines of France flooded his Welsh brains deeply.”
“He again alluded to it on the morning after it was made,” said the Castellane —“trust me, he will not forget what will give him such a chance of removing me from his path for ever.”
As he spoke, they observed that large clouds of dust, which had been seen at different points of the landscape, were drawing down towards the opposite side of the river, over which an ancient bridge extended itself to the appointed place of combat. They were at no loss to conjecture the cause. It was evident that Gwenwyn, recalling the parties who had been engaged in partial devastation, was bending with his whole forces towards the bridge and the plain beyond it.
“Let us rush down and secure the pass,” said Dennis Morolt; “we may debate with them with some equality by the advantage of defending the bridge. Your word bound you to the plain as to a field of battle, but it did not oblige you to forego such advantages as the passage of the bridge would afford. Our men, our horses, are ready — let our bowmen secure the banks, and my life on the issue.”
“When I promised to meet him in yonder field, I meant,” replied Raymond Berenger, “to give the Welshman the full advantage of equality of ground. I so meant it — he so understood it; and what avails keeping my word in the letter, if I break it in the sense? We move not till the last Welshman has crossed the bridge; and then —”
“And then,” said Dennis, “we move to our death! — May God forgive our sins! — But —”
“But what?” said Berenger; “something sticks in thy mind that should have vent.”
“My young lady, your daughter the Lady Eveline —”
“I have told her what is to be. She shall remain in the castle, where I will leave a few chosen veterans, with you, Dennis, to command them. In twenty-four hours the siege will be relieved, and we have defended it longer with a slighter garrison. Then to her aunt, the Abbess of the Benedictine sisters — thou, Dennis, wilt see her placed there in honour and safety, and my sister will care for her future provision as her wisdom shall determine.” “I leave you at this pinch!” said Dennis Morolt, bursting into tears —“I shut myself up within walls, when my master rides to his last of battles! — I become esquire to a lady, even though it be to the Lady Eveline, when he lies dead under his shield! — Raymond Berenger, is it for this that I have buckled thy armour so often?”
The tears gushed from the old warrior’s eyes as fast as from those of a girl who weeps for her lover; and Raymond, taking him kindly by the hand, said, in a soothing tone, “Do not think, my good old servant, that, were honour to be won, I would drive thee from my side. But this is a wild and an inconsiderate deed, to which my fate or my folly has bound me. I die to save my name from dishonour; but, alas! I must leave on my memory the charge of imprudence.”
“Let me share your imprudence, my dearest master,” said Dennis Morolt, earnestly —“the poor esquire has no business to be thought wiser than his master. In many a battle my valour derived some little fame from partaking in thee deeds which won your renown — deny me not the right to share in that blame which your temerity may incur; let them not say, that so rash was his action, even his old esquire was not permitted to partake in it! I am part of yourself — it is murder to every man whom you take with you, if you leave me behind.”
“Dennis,” said Berenger, “you make me feel yet more bitterly the folly I have yielded to. I. would grant you the boon you ask, sad as it is — But my daughter —”
“Sir Knight,” said the Fleming, who had listened to this dialogue with somewhat less than his usual apathy, “it is not my purpose this day to leave this castle; now, if you could trust my troth to do what a plain man may for the protection of my Lady Eveline —”
“How, sirrah!” said Raymond; “you do not propose to leave the castle? Who gives you right to propose or dispose in the case, until my pleasure is known?”
“I shall be sorry to have words with you, Sir Castellane,” said the imperturbable Fleming; —“but I hold here, in this township, certain mills, tenements, cloth-yards, and so forth, for which I am to pay man-service in defending this Castle of the Garde Doloureuse, and in this I am ready. But if you call on me to march from hence, leaving the same castle defenceless, and to offer up my life in a battle which you acknowledge to be desperate, I must needs say my tenure binds me not to obey thee.”
“Base mechanic!” said Morolt, laying his hand on his dagger, and menacing the Fleming.
But Raymond Berenger interfered with voice and hand —“Harm him not, Morolt, and blame him not. He hath a sense of duty, though not after our manner; and he and his knaves will fight best behind stone walls. They are taught also, these Flemings, by the practice of their own country, the attack and defence of walled cities and fortresses, and are especially skilful in working of mangonels and military engines. There are several of his countrymen in the castle, besides his own followers. These I propose to leave behind; and I think they will obey him more readily than any but thyself — how think’st thou? Thou wouldst not, I know, from a miscontrued point of honour, or a blind love to me, leave this important place, and the safety of Eveline, in doubtful hands?”
“Wilkin Flammock is but a Flemish clown, noble sir,” answered Dennis, as much overjoyed as if he had obtained some important advantage; “but I must needs say he is as stout and true as any whom you might trust; and, besides, his own shrewdness will teach him there is more to be gained by defending such a castle as this, than by yielding it to strangers, who may not be likely to keep the terms of surrender, however fairly they may offer them.”
“It is fixed then,” said Raymond Berenger. “Then, Dennis, thou shalt go with me, and he shall remain behind. — Wilkin Flammock,” he said, addressing the Fleming solemnly, “I speak not to thee the language of chivalry, of which thou knowest nothing; but, as thou art an honest man, and a true Christian, I conjure thee to stand to the defence of this castle. Let no promise of the enemy draw thee to any base composition — no threat to any surrender. Relief must speedily arrive, if you fulfil your trust to me and to my daughter, Hugo de Lacy will reward you richly — if you fail, he will punish you severely.”
“Sir Knight,” said Flammock, “I am pleased you have put your trust so far in a plain handicraftsman. For the Welsh, I am come from a land for which we were compelled — yearly compelled — to struggle with the sea; and they who can deal with the waves in a tempest, need not fear an undisciplined people in their fury. Your daughter shall be as dear to me as mine own; and in that faith you may prick forth — if, indeed, you will not still, like a wiser man, shut gate, down portcullis, up drawbridge, and let your archers and my crossbows man the wall, and tell the knaves you are not the fool that they take you for.”
“Good fellow, that must not be,” said the Knight. “I hear my daughter’s voice,” he added hastily; “I would not again meet her, again to part from her. To Heaven’s keeping I commit thee, honest Fleming. — Follow me, Dennis Morolt.”
The old Castellane descended the stair of the southern tower hastily, just as his daughter Eveline ascended that of the eastern turret, to throw herself at his feet once more. She was followed by the Father Aldrovand, chaplain of her father; by an old and almost invalid huntsman, whose more active services in the field and the chase had been for some time chiefly limited to the superintendence of the Knight’s kennels, and the charge especially of his more favourite hounds; and by Rose Flammock, the daughter of Wilkin, a blue-eyed Flemish maiden, round, plump, and shy as a partridge, who had been for some time permitted to keep company with the high-born Norman damsel, in a doubtful station, betwixt that of an humble friend and a superior domestic. Eveline rushed upon the battlements, her hair dishevelled, and her eyes drowned in tears, and eagerly demanded of the Fleming where her father was.
Flammock made a clumsy reverence, and attempted some answer; but his voice seemed to fail him. He turned his back upon Eveline without ceremony, and totally disregarding the anxious inquiries of the huntsman and the chaplain, he said hastily to his daughter, in his own language, “Mad work! mad work! look to the poor maiden, Roschen — Der alter Herr ist verruckt.” [Footnote: The old lord is frantic.]
Without farther speech he descended the stairs, and never paused till he reached the buttery. Here he called like a lion for the controller of these regions, by the various names of Kammerer, Keller-master, and so forth, to which the old Reinold, an ancient Norman esquire, answered not, until the Netherlander fortunately recollected his Anglo-Norman title of butler. This, his regular name of office, was the key to the buttery-hatch, and the old man instantly appeared, with his gray cassock and high rolled hose, a ponderous bunch of keys suspended by a silver chain to his broad leathern girdle, which, in consideration of the emergency of the time, he had thought it right to balance on the left side with a huge falchion, which seemed much too weighty for his old arm to wield.
“What is your will,” he said, “Master Flammock? or what are your commands, since it is my lord’s pleasure that they shall be laws to me for a time?”
“Only a cup of wine, good Meister Keller-master — butler, I mean.”
“I am glad you remember the name of mine office,” said Reinold, with some of the petty resentment of a spoiled domestic, who thinks that a stranger has been irregularly put in command over him.
“A flagon of Rhenish, if you love me,” answered the Fleming, “for my heart is low and poor within me, and I must needs drink of the best.”
“And drink you shall,” said Reinold, “if drink will give you the courage which perhaps you want.”— He descended to the secret crypts, of which he was the guardian, and returned with a silver flagon, which might contain about a quart. —“Here is such wine,” said Reinold, “as thou hast seldom tasted,” and was about to pour it out into a cup.
“Nay, the flagon — the flagon, friend Reinold; I love a deep and solemn draught when the business is weighty,” said Wilkin. He seized on the flagon accordingly, and drinking a preparatory mouthful, paused as if to estimate the strength and flavour of the generous liquor. Apparently he was pleased with both, for he nodded in approbation to the butler; and, raising the flagon to his mouth once more, he slowly and gradually brought the bottom of the vessel parallel with the roof of the apartment, without suffering one drop of the contents to escape him.
“That hath savour, Herr Keller-master,” said he, while he was recovering his breath by intervals, after so long a suspense of respiration; “but, may Heaven forgive you for thinking it the best I have ever tasted! You little know the cellars of Ghent and of Ypres.”
“And I care not for them,” said Reinold; “those of gentle Norman blood hold the wines of Gascony and France, generous, light, and cordial, worth all the acid potations of the Rhine and the Neckar.”
“All is matter of taste,” said the Fleming; “but hark ye — Is there much of this wine in the cellar?”
“Methought but now it pleased not your dainty palate?” said Reinold.
“Nay, nay, my friend,” said Wilkin, “I said it had savour — I may have drunk better — but this is right good, where better may not be had. — Again, how much of it hast thou?”
“The whole butt, man,” answered the butler; “I have broached a fresh piece for you.”
“Good,” replied Flammock; “get the quart-pot of Christian measure; heave the cask up into this same buttery, and let each soldier of this castle be served with such a cup as I have here swallowed. I feel it hath done me much good — my heart was sinking when I saw the black smoke arising from mine own fulling-mills yonder. Let each man, I say, have a full quart-pot — men defend not castles on thin liquors.”
“I must do as you will, good Wilkin Flammock,” said the butler; “but I pray you, remember all men are not alike. That which will but warm your Flemish hearts, will put wildfire into Norman brains; and what may only encourage your countrymen to man the walls, will make ours fly over the battlements.”
“Well, you know the conditions of your own countrymen best; serve out to them what wines and measure you list — only let each Fleming have a solemn quart of Rhenish. — But what will you do for the English churls, of whom there are a right many left with us?”
The old butler paused, and rubbed his brow. —“There will be a strange waste of liquor,” he said; “and yet I may not deny that the emergency may defend the expenditure. But for the English, they are, as you wot, a mixed breed, having much of your German sullenness, together with a plentiful touch of the hot blood of yonder Welsh furies. Light wines stir them not; strong heavy draughts would madden them. What think you of ale, an invigorating, strengthening liquor, that warms the heart without inflaming the brain?”
“Ale!” said the Fleming. —“Hum — ha — is your ale mighty, Sir Butler? — is it double ale?”
“Do you doubt my skill?” said the butler. —“March and October have witnessed me ever as they came round, for thirty years, deal with the best barley in Shropshire. — You shall judge.”
He filled, from a large hogshead in the corner of the buttery, the flagon which the Fleming had just emptied, and which was no sooner replenished than Wilkin again drained it to the bottom.
“Good ware,” he said, “Master Butler, strong stinging ware. The English churls will fight like devils upon it — let them be furnished with mighty ale along with their beef and brown bread. And now, having given you your charge, Master Reinold, it is time I should look after mine own.”
Wilkin Flammock left the buttery, and with a mien and judgment alike undisturbed by the deep potations in which he had so recently indulged, undisturbed also by the various rumours concerning what was passing without doors, he made the round of the castle and its outworks, mustered the little garrison, and assigned to each their posts, reserving to his own countrymen the management of the arblasts, or crossbows, and of the military engines which were contrived by the proud Normans, and were incomprehensible to the ignorant English, or, more properly, Anglo-Saxons, of the period, but which his more adroit countrymen managed with great address. The jealousies entertained by both the Normans and English, at being placed under the temporary command of a Fleming, gradually yielded to the military and mechanical skill which he displayed, as well as to a sense of the emergency, which became greater with every moment.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00