“Oh, fear not, fear not, good Lord John,
That I would you betray,
Or sue requital for a debt,
Which nature cannot pay.
Bear witness, all ye sacred powers —
Ye lights that ‘gin to shine —
This night shall prove the sacred tie
That binds your faith and mine.”
ANCIENT SCOTTISH BALLAD.
Left behind by their master, the two dependants of Hugh de Lacy marched on in sullen silence, like men who dislike and distrust each other, though bound to one common service, and partners, therefore, in the same hopes and fears. The dislike, indeed, was chiefly upon Guarine’s side; for nothing could be more indifferent to Renault Vidal than was his companion, farther than as he was conscious that Philip loved him not, and was not unlikely, so far as lay in his power, to thwart some plans which he had nearly at heart. He took little notice of his companion, but hummed over to himself, as for the exercise of his memory, romances and songs, many of which were composed in languages which Guarine, who had only an ear for his native Norman, did not understand.
They had proceeded together in this sullen manner for nearly two hours, when they were met by a groom on horseback, leading a saddled palfrey. “Pilgrims,” said the man, after looking at them with some attention, “which of you is called Philip Guarine?”
“I, for fault of a better,” said the esquire, “reply to that name.”
“Thy lord, in that case, commends him to you,” said the groom; “and sends you this token, by which you shall know that I am his true messenger.”
He showed the esquire a rosary, which Philip instantly recognized as that used by the Constable.
“I acknowledge the token,” he said; “speak my master’s pleasure.”
“He bids me say,” replied the rider, “that his visit thrives as well as is possible, and that this very evening, by time that the sun sets, he will be possessed of his own. He desires, therefore, you will mount this palfrey, and come with me to the Garde Doloureuse, as your presence would be wanted there.”
“It is well, and I obey him,” said the esquire, much pleased with the Import of the message, and not dissatisfied at being separated from his travelling companion.
“And what charge for me?” said the minstrel, addressing the messenger.
“If you, as I guess, are the minstrel, Renault Vidal, you are to abide your master at the Battle-bridge, according to the charge formerly given.”
“I will meet him, as in duty bound,” was Vidal’s answer; and scarce was it uttered, ere the two horsemen, turning their backs on him, rode briskly forward, and were speedily out of sight.
It was now four hours past noon, and the sun was declining, yet there was more than three hours’ space to the time of rendezvous, and the distance from the place did not now exceed four miles. Vidal, therefore, either for the sake of rest or reflection, withdrew from the path into a thicket on the left hand, from which gushed the waters of a streamlet, fed by a small fountain that bubbled up amongst the trees. Here the traveller sat himself down, and with an air which seemed unconscious of what he was doing, bent his eye on the little sparkling font for more than half an hour, without change of posture; so that he might, in Pagan times, have represented the statue of a water-god bending over his urn, and attentive only to the supplies which it was pouring forth. At length, however, he seemed to recall himself from this state of deep abstraction, drew himself up, and took some coarse food from his pilgrim’s scrip, as if suddenly reminded that life is not supported without means. But he had probably something at his heart which affected his throat or appetite. After a vain attempt to swallow a morsel, he threw it from him in disgust, and applied him to a small flask, in which he had some wine or other liquor. But seemingly this also turned distasteful, for he threw from him both scrip and bottle, and, bending down to the spring, drank deeply of the pure element, bathed in it his hands and face, and arising from the fountain apparently refreshed, moved slowly on his way, singing as he went, but in a low and saddened tone, wild fragments of ancient poetry, in a tongue equally ancient.
Journeying on in this melancholy manner, he at length came in sight of the Battle-bridge; near to which arose, in proud and gloomy strength, the celebrated castle of the Garde Doloureuse. “Here, then,” he said —“here, then, I am to await the proud De Lacy. Be it so, in God’s name! — he shall know me better ere we part.”
So saying, he strode, with long and resolved steps, across the bridge, and ascending a mound which arose on the opposite side at some distance, he gazed for a time upon the scene beneath — the beautiful river, rich with the reflected tints of the western sky — the trees, which were already brightened to the eye, and saddened to the fancy, with the hue of autumn — and the darksome walls and towers of the feudal castle, from which, at times, flashed a glimpse of splendour, as some sentinel’s arms caught and gave back a transient ray of the setting sun.
The countenance of the minstrel, which had hitherto been dark and troubled, seemed softened by the quiet of the scene. He threw loose his pilgrim’s dress, yet suffering part of its dark folds to hang around him mantle-wise; under which appeared his minstrel’s tabard. He took from his side a rote, and striking, from time to time, a “Welsh descant, sung at others a lay, of which we can offer only a few fragments, literally translated from the ancient language in which they were chanted, premising that they are in that excursive symbolical style of poetry, which Taliessin, Llewarch Hen, and other bards, had derived perhaps from the time of the Druids.
“I asked of my harp, ‘Who hath injured thy chords?’
And she replied, ‘The crooked finger, which I mocked in my tune.’
A blade of silver may be bended — a blade of steel abideth —
Kindness fadeth away, but vengeance endureth.
“The sweet taste of mead passeth from the lips,
But they are long corroded by the juice of wormwood;
The lamb is brought to the shambles, but the wolf rangeth the mountain;
Kindness fadeth away, but vengeance endureth.
“I asked the red-hot iron, when it glimmered on the anvil,
‘Wherefore glowest thou longer than the firebrand?’—
‘I was born in the dark mine, and the brand in the pleasant greenwood.’
Kindness fadeth away, but vengeance endureth.
“I asked the green oak of the assembly, wherefore its boughs
were dry and seared like the horns of the stag?
And it showed me that a small worm had gnawed its roots.
The boy who remembered the scourge, undid the wicket of the
castle at midnight.
Kindness fadeth away, but vengeance endureth.
“Lightning destroyeth temples, though their spires pierce the clouds;
Storms destroy armadas, though their sails intercept the gale.
He that is in his glory falleth, and that by a contemptible enemy.
Kindness fadeth away, but vengeance endureth.”
More of the same wild images were thrown out, each bearing some analogy, however fanciful and remote, to the theme, which occurred like a chorus at the close of each stanza; so that the poetry resembled a piece of music, which, after repeated excursions through fanciful variations, returns ever and anon to the simple melody which is the subject of ornament.
As the minstrel sung, his eyes were fixed on the bridge and its vicinity; but when, near the close of his chant, he raised up his eyes towards the distant towers of the Garde Doloureuse, he saw that the gates were opened, and that there was a mustering of guards and attendants without the barriers, as if some expedition were about to set forth, or some person of importance to appear on the scene. At the same time, glancing his eyes around, he discovered that the landscape, so solitary when he first took his seat on the gray stone from which he overlooked it, was now becoming filled with figures.
During his reverie, several persons, solitary and in groups, men, women, and children, had begun to assemble themselves on both sides of the river, and were loitering there, as if expecting some spectacle. There was also much bustling at the Fleming’s mills, which, though at some distance, were also completely under his eye. A procession seemed to be arranging itself there, which soon began to move forward, with pipe and tabor, and various other instruments of music, and soon approached, in regular order, the place where Vidal was seated.
It appeared the business in hand was of a pacific character; for the gray-bearded old men of the little settlement, in their decent russet gowns, came first after the rustic band of music, walking in ranks of three and three, supported by their staves, and regulating the motion of the whole procession by their sober and staid pace. After these fathers of the settlement came Wilkin Flammock, mounted on his mighty war-horse, and in complete armor, save his head, like a vassal prepared to do military service for his lord. After him followed, and in battle rank, the flower of the little colony, consisting of thirty men, well armed and appointed, whose steady march, as well as their clean and glittering armour, showed steadiness and discipline, although they lacked alike the fiery glance of the French soldiery, or the look of dogged defiance which characterized the English, or the wild ecstatic impetuosity of eye which then distinguished the Welsh. The mothers and the maidens of the colony came next; then followed the children, with faces as chubby, and features as serious, and steps as grave as their parents; and last, as a rear-guard, came the youths from fourteen to twenty, armed with light lances, bows, and similar weapons becoming their age.
This procession wheeled around the base of the mound or embankment on which the minstrel was seated; crossed the bridge with the same slow and regular pace, and formed themselves into a double line, facing inwards, as if to receive some person of consequence, or witness some ceremonial. Flammock remained at the extremity of the avenue thus formed by his countrymen, and quietly, yet earnestly, engaged in making arrangements and preparations.
In the meanwhile, stragglers of different countries began to draw together, apparently brought there by mere curiosity, and formed a motley assemblage at the farther end of the bridge, which was that nearest to the castle. Two English peasants passed very near the stone on which Vidal sat —“Wilt thou sing us a song, minstrel,” said one of them, “and here is a tester for thee?” throwing into his hat a small silver coin.
“I am under a vow,” answered the minstrel, “and may not practise the gay science at present.”
“Or you are too proud to play to English churls,” said the elder peasant, “for thy tongue smacks of the Norman.”
“Keep the coin, nevertheless,” said the younger man. “Let the palmer have what the minstrel refuses to earn.”
“I pray you reserve your bounty, kind friend,” said Vidal, “I need it not; — and tell me of your kindness, instead, what matters are going forward here.”
“Why, know you not that we have got our Constable de Lacy again, and that he is to grant solemn investiture to the Flemish weavers of all these fine things Harry of Anjou has given? — Had Edward the Confessor been alive, to give the Netherland knaves their guerdon, it would have been a cast of the gallows-tree. But come, neighbour, we shall lose the show.”
So saying, they pressed down the hill. Vidal fixed his eyes on the gates of the distant castle; and the distant waving of banners, and mustering of men on horseback, though imperfectly seen at such a distance, apprized him that one of note was about to set forth at the head of a considerable train of military attendants. Distant flourishes of trumpets, which came faintly yet distinctly on his ear, seemed to attest the same. Presently he perceived, by the dust which began to arise in columns betwixt the castle and the bridge, as well as by the nearer sound of the clarions, that the troop was advancing towards him in procession.
Vidal, on his own part, seemed as if irresolute whether to retain his present position, where he commanded a full but remote view of the whole scene, or to obtain a nearer but more partial one, by involving himself in the crowd which now closed around on either hand of the bridge, unless where the avenue was kept open by the armed and arrayed Flemings.
A monk next hurried past Vidal, and on his enquiring as formerly the cause of the assembly, answered, in a muttering tone, from beneath his hood, that it was the Constable de Lacy, who, as the first act of his authority, was then and there to deliver to the Flemings a royal charter of their immunities. “He is in haste to exercise his authority, methinks,” said the minstrel.
“He that has just gotten a sword is impatient to draw it,” replied the monk, who added more which the minstrel understood imperfectly; for Father Aldrovand had not recovered the injury which he had received during the siege.
Vidal, however, understood him to say, that he was to meet the Constable there, to beg his favourable intercession.
“I also will meet him,” said Renault Vidal, rising suddenly from the stone which he occupied.
“Follow me, then,” mumbled the priest; “the Flemings know me, and will let me forward.”
But Father Aldrovand being in disgrace, his influence was not so potent as he had flattered himself; and both he and the minstrel were jostled to and fro in the crowd, and separated from each other.
Vidal, however, was recognized by the English peasants who had before spoke to him. “Canst thou do any jugglers’ feats, minstrel?” said one. “Thou may’st earn a fair largess, for our Norman masters love jonglerie.”
“I know but one,” said Vidal, “and I will show it, if you will yield me some room.”
They crowded a little off from him, and gave him time to throw aside his oonnet, bare his legs and knees, by stripping off the leathern buskins which swathed them, and retaining only his sandals. He then tied a parti-coloured handkerchief around his swarthy and sunburnt hair, and casting off his upper doublet, showed his brawny and nervous arms naked to the shoulder.
But while he amused those immediately about him with these preparations, a commotion and rush among the crowd, together with the close sound of trumpets, answered by all the Flemish instruments of music, as well as the shouts in Norman and English, of “Long live the gallant Constable! — Our Lady for the bold De Lacy!” announced that the Constable was close at hand.
Vidal made incredible exertions to approach the leader of the procession, whose morion, distinguished by its lofty plumes, and right hand holding his truncheon, or leading-staff, was all he could see, on account of the crowd of officers and armed men around him. At length his exertions prevailed, and he came within three yards of the Constable, who was then in a small circle which had been with difficulty kept clear for the purpose of the ceremonial of the day. His back was towards the minstrel, and he was in the act of bending from his horse to deliver the royal charter to Wilkin Flammock, who had knelt on one knee to receive it the more reverentially. His discharge of this duty occasioned the Constable to stoop so low that his plume seemed in the act of mixing with the flowing mane of his noble charger.
At this moment, Vidal threw himself, with singular agility, over the heads of the Flemings who guarded the circle; and, ere an eye could twinkle, his right knee was on the croupe of the Constable’s horse — the grasp of his left hand on the collar of De Lacy’s buff-coat; then, clinging to its prey like a tiger after its leap, he drew, in the same instant of time, a short, sharp dagger — and buried it in the back of the neck, just where the spine, which was severed by the stroke, serves to convey to the trunk of the human body the mysterious influences of the brain. The blow was struck with the utmost accuracy of aim and strength of arm. The unhappy horseman dropped from his saddle, without groan or struggle, like a bull in the amphitheatre, under the steel of the tauridor; and in the same saddle sat his murderer, brandishing the bloody poniard, and urging the horse to speed.
There was indeed a possibility of his having achieved his escape, so much were those around paralyzed for the moment by the suddenness and audacity of the enterprise; but Flammock’s presence of mind did not forsake him — he seized the horse by the bridle, and, aided by those who wanted but an example, made the rider prisoner, bound his arms, and called aloud that he must be carried before King Henry. This proposal, uttered in Flammock’s strong and decided tone of voice, silenced a thousand wild cries of murder and treason, which had arisen while the different and hostile natives, of which the crowd was composed, threw upon each other reciprocally the charge of treachery.
All the streams, however, now assembled in one channel, and poured with unanimous assent towards the Garde Doloureuse, excepting a few of the murdered nobleman’s train, who remained to transport their master’s body, in decent solemnity of mourning, from the spot which he had sought with so much pomp and triumph.
When Flammock reached the Garde Doloureuse, he was readily admitted with his prisoner, and with such witnesses as he had selected to prove the execution of the crime. To his request of an audience, he was answered, that the King had commanded that none should be admitted to him for some time; yet so singular were the tidings of the Constable’s slaughter, that the captain of the guard ventured to interrupt Henry’s privacy, in order to communicate that event; and returned with orders that Flammock and his prisoner should be instantly admitted to the royal apartment. Here they found Henry, attended by several persons, who stood respectfully behind the royal seat, in a darkened part of the room.
When Flammock entered, his large bulk and massive limbs were strangely contrasted with cheeks pale with horror at what he had just witnessed, and with awe at finding himself in the royal presence-chamber. Beside him stood his prisoner, undaunted by the situation in which he was placed. The blood of his victim, which had spirited from the wound, was visible on his bare limbs and his scanty garments; but particularly upon his brow and the handkerchief with which it was bound.
Henry gazed on him with a stern look, which the other not only endured without dismay, but seemed to return with a frown of defiance.
“Does no one know this caitiff?” said Henry, looking around him.
There was no immediate answer, until Philip Guarine, stepping from the group which stood behind the royal chair, said, though with hesitation, “So please you, my liege, but for the strange guise in which he is now arrayed, I should say there was a household minstrel of my master, by name Renault Vidal.”
“Thou art deceived, Norman,” replied the minstrel; “my menial place and base lineage were but assumed! — I am Cadwallon the Briton — Cadwallon of the Nine Lays — Cadwallon, the chief bard of Gwenwyn of Powys-land — and his avenger!”
As he uttered the last word, his looks encountered those of a palmer, who had gradually advanced from the recess in which the attendants were stationed, and now confronted him.
The Welshman’s eyes looked eagerly ghastly, as if flying from their sockets, while he exclaimed, in a tone of surprise, mingled with horror, “Do the dead come before monarchs? — Or, if thou art alive, whom have I slain? — I dreamed not, surely, of that bound, and of that home-blow? — yet my victim, stands before me! Have I not slain the Constable of Chester?”
“Thou hast indeed slain the Constable,” answered the King; “but know, Welshman, it was Randal de Lacy, on whom that charge was this morning conferred, by our belief of our loyal and faithful Hugh de Lacy’s having been lost upon his return from the Holy Land, as the vessel in which ho had taken passage was reported to have suffered shipwreck. Thou hast cut short Randal’s brief elevation but by a few hours; for tomorrow’s sun would have again seen him without land or lordship.”
The prisoner dropped his head on his bosom in evident despair. “I thought,” he murmured, “that he had changed his slough, and come forth so glorious, all too soon. May the eyes drop out that were cheated with those baubles, a plumed cap and a lacquered baton!”
“I will take care, Welshman, thine eyes cheat thee not again,” said the King, sternly; “before the night is an hour older, they shall be closed on all that is earthly.”
“May I request of your nobleness,” said the Constable, “that you will permit me to ask the unhappy man a few questions?”
“When I have demanded of him myself,” said the King, “why he has dipt his hands in the blood of a noble Norman.”
“Because he at whom I aimed my blow,” said the Briton, his eye glancing fiercely from the King to De Lacy, and back, “had spilled the blood of the descendant of a thousand kings; to which his own gore, or thine, proud Count of Anjou, is but as the puddle of the highway to the silver fountain.”
Henry’s eye menaced the audacious speaker; but the King reined in his wrath when he beheld the imploring look of his servant. —“What wouldst thou ask of him?” he said; “be brief, for his time is short.”
“So please you, my liege, I would but demand wherefore he has for years forborne to take the life he aimed at, when it was in his power — nay, when it must have been lost but for his seemingly faithful service?”
“Norman,” said Cadwallon, “I will answer thee. When I first took upon me thy service, it was well my purpose to have slain thee that night. There stands the man,” pointing to Philip Guarine, “to whose vigilance thou owedst thy safety.”
“Indeed,” said De Lacy, “I do remember some indications of such a purpose; but why didst thou forego it, when following opportunities put it in thy power?”
“When the slayer of my sovereign became God’s soldier,” answered Cadwallon, “and served his cause in Palestine, he was safe from my earthly vengeance.”
“A wonderful forbearance on the part of a Welsh assassin!” said the King, scornfully.
“Ay,” answered Cadwallon; “and which certain Christian princes have scarce attained to, who have never neglected the chance of pillage or conquest afforded by the absence of a rival in the Holy Crusade.”
“Now, by the Holy Rood”— said Henry, on the point of bursting out, for the insult affected him peculiarly; but, suddenly stopping, he said, with an air of contempt, “To the gallows with the knave!”
“But one other question,” said De Lacy, “Renault, or by whatever name thou art called. Ever since my return thou hast rendered me service inconsistent with thy stern resolution upon my life — thou didst aid me in my shipwreck — and didst guide me safely through Wales, where my name would have ensured my death; and all this after the crusade was accomplished?”
“I could explain thy doubt,” said the bard, “but that it might be thought I was pleading for my life.”
“Hesitate riot for that,” said the King; “for were our Holy Father to Intercede for thee, his prayer were in vain.”
“Well then,” said the bard, “know the truth — I was too proud to permit either wave or Welshman to share in my revenge. Know also, what is perhaps Cadwallon’s weakness — use and habit had divided my feelings towards De Lacy, between aversion and admiration. I still contemplated my revenge, but as something which I might never complete, and which seemed rather an image in the clouds, than an object to which I must one day draw near. And when I beheld thee,” he said, turning to De Lacy, “this very day so determined, so sternly resolved, to bear thy impending fate like a man — that you seemed to me to resemble the last tower of a ruined palace, still holding its head to heaven, when its walls of splendour, and its bowers of delight, lay in desolation around — may I perish, I said to myself in secret, ere I perfect its ruin! Yes, De Lacy, then, even then — but some hours since — hadst thou accepted my proffered hand, I had served thee as never follower served master. You rejected it with scorn — and yet notwithstanding that insult, it required that I should have seen you, as I thought, trampling over the field in which you slew my master, in the full pride of Norman insolence, to animate my resolution to strike the blow, which, meant for you, has slain at least one of your usurping race. — I will answer no more questions — lead on to axe or gallows — it is indifferent to Cadwallon — my soul will soon be with my free and noble ancestry, and with my beloved and royal patron.”
“My liege and prince,” said De Lacy, bending his knee to Henry, “can you hear this, and refuse your ancient servant one request? — Spare this man! — Extinguish not such a light, because it is devious and wild.”
“Rise, rise, De Lacy; and shame thee of thy petition,” said the King “Thy kinsman’s blood-the blood of a noble Norman, is on the Welshman’s hands and brow. As I am crowned King, he shall die ere it is wiped off. — Here! have him to present execution!”
Cadwallon was instantly withdrawn under a guard. The Constable seemed, by action rather than words, to continue his intercession.
“Thou art mad, De Lacy — thou art mad, mine old and true friend, to urge me thus,” said the King, compelling De Lacy to rise. “See’st thou not that my care in this matter is for thee? — This Randal, by largesses and promises, hath made many friends, who will not, perhaps, easily again be brought to your allegiance, returning as thou dost, diminished in power and wealth. Had he lived, we might have had hard work to deprive him entirely of the power which he had acquired. We thank the Welsh assassin who hath rid us of him; but his adherents would cry foul play were the murderer spared. When blood is paid for blood, all will be forgotten, and their loyalty will once more flow in its proper channel to thee, their lawful lord.”
Hugo de Lacy arose from his knees, and endeavoured respectfully to combat the politic reasons of his wily sovereign, which he plainly saw were resorted to less for his sake than with the prudent purpose of effecting the change of feudal authority, with the |east possible trouble to the country or Sovereign.
Henry listened to De Lacy’s arguments patiently, and combated them with temper, until the death-drum began — to beat, and the castle bell to toll. He then led De Lacy to the window; on which, for it was now dark, a strong ruddy light began to gleam from without. A body of men-at-arms, each holding in his hand a blazing torch, were returning along the terrace from the execution of the wild but high-soul’d Briton, with cries of “Long live King Henry! and so perish all enemies of the gentle Norman men!”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00