STRANGE, eventful, and bloody were the incidents that followed. king
:Edward, buruing for glory, had landed in Normandy a little time before,
had knighted on these yellow beaches that gallant boy his son, and with
the young prince and some fourteen thousand English troops, ten
thousand wild Welshmen, and six thousand Irish, pillaging and destroying
as he went, he had marched straight into the heart of unready France.
With that handfLZl of men he had burned all the ships in Eogue, Barfleur,
and Cherbourg; he had stomed Montebourg, Carentan, St. Lo, and
Valognes, sending a thousand sails laden with booty back to England, and
nOW, day by day, he was pressing southward through his fair rebellious
territories, deriding the Freneh king in his own country, and taking tithe
and taxes in rough fashiou with fire and sword.
Nor had he who came late far to seek for the sovereign. His whereabouts
was well enough to be told by the rolling smoke that drifted heavily to
leeward of his marching columns, and the broad trail of desolation
through the smiling country that marked his stern progress. To travel that
sad road was to see naked war stripped of all her excusing pageantry, to
see gray desolation and lean sorrow following in the gay train of Victory.
Gods! it was a sad path. Bere, as we rode along, would lie the still
sn~oldering ashes of a burned village, black and gray in the smiling
August sunshine. In such a hamlet, perhaps, across a threshold, his mouth
agape and staring eyes fixed on the unmoved heavens, would lie a
peasant herdsma~, his right hand still grasping the humble weapon
wherewith he Lad sougbt to protect his home, and the black wound in his
breast showing whence his spirit had hed indignant to the dim place of
Xeither women nor babes were exempt from that fierce ruin. Once we
passed a white and silent mother lying dead in mid-path, and the babe,
still clasped in her stiff arms, was rundy and hungry, and beat with tiny
hands to wake her, and crowed angry ai its failure, and whimpered so
pitiful and small, and was so unwotting of the merry game of war and all
it meant, that the laughter and talk died away upon the lips of those with
me as, one by one, we paced slowly past that melancholy thing.
At another time, I remember, we came to where a little
maid of some three tender years was sitting weaving flowers on the black
pile of a ruined cottage, that, thmlgh her small mind did not grasp it, hid
the charred bodies of ail her people. She twined those white and yellow
daisies with fair, smootil hands, and was so sunoy in the face and trnstful-
eyed I could not leave her to marauning Irish spears, or the cruel wolf-
dogs who would come for her at sunset. I turned my impatient charger
into the black ruin, and, matlyle that little maid's consent, plucked her
from the ashes, and rode with her upon my saddle-bow until we met an
honest-seeming peasant wom~ an. To her I ga~e the waif, with a silver
crown for patrimony.
Out in the open the broad stream of war had spread itself. The yellow
harvests were trodden nnder foot, and hedge and fence were l~roken.
The plow stood half-way through the furrow, and the reaper was dead
with the sickle in his hand. Elere, as we rode, went up to heaven the
smoke of coppice and homestead; and there, from the rocks hanging over
our path, luckless maids and wi30wed matrons woLIld howl and spit
upon us hl their wild grief, cursing ns in going, in coming, in peace and in
war, while they loaded the frightened echoes with their shrieks and
Now and then, on grass and road-side, were dark patches of new-dried
blood, and by them, may be, lay country cloaks and caps and weapons.
Thore we knew men had fahen singly, and had long lain wounded or
dead, until their friends had taken them to grave or shelter. Out ia the
open again, where skirmishes had happened, and bill and bow or spear
had met their like, the dead lay thicker. GLods! how drear those fair
French fields did lie in the autumn moonlight, with their scattered dead in
twos and threes and knots and clusters! There were some who sprawled
upon the ground, still clutching in their dead white fiagers the grass and
earth torn up in the moment of their agony. And here was he who
scowled with dead white eyes on the pale starlight, one hand on his
broken hilt and the other fast gripped npon the spear that pinned him to
the earth. Near him was a fair boy, dead, with the shriek still seerrling
upon his livid lips, and the horrid rent in his bosom that had let out his
soul looming black in the gloam. Yonder a tall trooper still stared out
grimly after the English, and smiled in death with a cloth-yard shaft
buried to the feather in his heart. Some there were of the horrid dead who
still lay in gral~ple as they had fahen --~it a~ stalwart Saxon and the
bronzed Gaul with iron fingers of each other's throats, smiling their black
hatred into each other's
bloodless white faces. Others, again, lay about whose arms were fixed in
air, seeming still to implore with~bloody fingers compassion from the
One man I saw had died stroking the thin, pain-streaked muzzle of his
wounded charger -- his friend, mayhap, for years in camp and march.
luneed, among many sorrowful things of that midnight field, the dead
and dying horses were not least. It moved me to compassion to hear their
pain-fraught whinnies on every hand, and to see them lying so stiIf and
stark in the bloody hollows their hoofs had scooped through hours of
untempered anguish. what could I do for all those many? But before one I
stopped, and regarded him with stern compassion many a minute. He
was a splendid black horse, of magnificent size and strength; and not even
the coat of blood and mun with which his sweating sides were covered
could hide, here and there, the care that had but lately groomed and
tended him. He lay dying on a great sheet of his own red blood, and as I
looked I saw his tasseled mane had been plaited not long before by some
soft, skillful fingers, and at every point was a bow of ribbon, such as
might well have been taken from a lady's hair to honor the war-horse of a
favorite knight. That great beast was moaning there, in the stinness,
thinking himself forgotten, but when I came and stood over him he made
a shift to lift his shapely head, and looked at'me entreatingly, with black
hanging tongue and thirst-fiery eyes, the while his doomed sides heaved
and his hot, dry breath came hissing forth upon the quiet air. Well I knew
what he asked for, and, turning aside, I found a trooper's emptY helmet,
and, filling it from the willowed brook that ran at the bottom of the slope,
came back and knelt by that good horse, and took his head upon my knee
and let him drink. Jove! how glad he was! Forgotten for the moment was
the battle and his wounds, forgotten was neglect and the long hours of
pain and sorrow. The limpid water went gurgling down his thirsty throat,
and every happy gasp he gave spoke of that transient pleasure. And then,
as the last bright drops hashed in the moonlight about his velvet nozzle, I
laid one hand across his eyes and with the other drew my keen dagger,
and, with gentle remorselessness, plunged it to the hilt into his broad
neck, and with a single shiver the great war-horse died.
In truth, 'twas a melancholy place. On the midnight wind came the wail of
women seeking for their kindred, and the howl and fighting of hungry
dogs at ghastly meals, ths smell of blood and war, of smoldering huts and
stern pastime this, and it is as well the soldier goes back upon his tracks so
We passed two days through such sights as I have noted, meeting many a
heavy convoy of spoil on its way to the coast, and not a few of our own
wounded wending back, luckless and sad, to Englaud, and then on the
following evening we came upon the English rear, and were shortly
afterward part and parcel of as desperate and glorious an enterprise as
any that was ever entered in the red chronicles of war. From the coast
right up to the white walls of the fair capital itself, King Edward's stern
orders w ere to pillage and kill and spoil the country, so that there shothd
be left lZO sustenance for an enemy behind. I havo told yon how the cruel
Irish mercenaries and the loose soldiers of a baser sort accomplished the
command. Our English archers and the light-amed W elsh, who scoured
the front, were mild in their methods compared to them. They, mayhap,
disturbed the quite of some rustic villages, and in thirsty frolics broached
the kegs of red vintage in captured inns, robbed hen-roosts, and kissed
matrons and set maids screaming, but they, unlike the others, had some
toucli of ruth within their rugged bosoms. But as for keeps and castles, we
stomed and sacked them as we went, and he alone was rogue and rascal
who was last into the breach. Our wild kerns and escaladers rioting in
those lordly halls, many a sight of cruel pillage did I see, and many a time
watched the red flar.le bursting from the embrasures and windows of
these fair baronial homes, and could not stay it. The Frcnchmen in these
cases, such of them as were not away with the army we hoped to fil~d,
fought brave and stubborn, and we piled their deD.d bodies up in their
own court-yard. Many a comely dame andi damsel did I watch wringing
white hands above these ghastly hea~s, and tearing loose locks o£ raven
hair in piteous appeal to unmoved skies, the while the yellow flames of
their comely halls went roaring from ffloor to floor, and, in mockery of
their sobs, crashing towers and staircases mingled with the yells of the
defenders and the shouting of the pillage.
I fear long ages begin to sap my fiber. There was a time when I would
have sat my war-horse in the court-yard, and could have watched the red
blood streaming down the gutters and listened to the shrieking, as cold
amid the ruin as any viking on a hostile conquered strand. But, somehow,
with this steel panoply of mine I had put on softer moods; I am
degenerate by the pretty theories of what they called their chivalry.
Far be it from me to say the English army w~~4 all o~ pacl;
of blood-hounds. War is ever a rough game, the country was foreign, and
the adventure we were on was bold and desperate; therefore these things
were done, and chiefly by the unruly regiments and the scullion Irish who
followed in our rear, ed by knights of ill repute, or none. These hung like
carrion crorys about our ilanl~s and rcar, and, after each fight, stole armor
from dead warriors bolder hands had slain, and burned, and thieved from
high aild low, and butchered, like the beasts of prey they were.
On one occasion, I remember, a skirmish befell shortly after we joined the
main army, and a French noble, in their ~ hargc, was unhorsed Upon
OU1- front by an English archer. :Now, I happened to be the only
mounted man just there, and as this silver shining prize staggered to his
feet, and went scampering back toward his friends with all his rich
sheathing safe upon his back, his gold chains rattling Ol!. his iron bosom,
and his jeweled belt sparkling as he fled, a savage old h"~glish
swashbuckler, whose horse was hamstrung -- Sir John EIkington they
called him -- fairly wrung his hands.
"After him, Sir Knight," screamed that unchivalrous ruD;an to me -- "after
him, in the name of h -- n! If thou rid'st hard he can not get away, and run
thy spear i~t q~i~der 71is ~crget so as qiot to spoil his armor -- 'tis worth
at least a hundred shillings,"
I never moved a mnscle -- did not even deign to look down at that cruel
churl; whereon the grizzly old boar-hound clapped his hand upon his
dagger and turned on me -- ah! by the light of heaven, he did.
"What! not going, you lazy braggart!" he shouted, beside himself with
rage--" not going, for such a prize? Beast -- scullion -- coward!"
"Coward!" Had I lived more than a thousand years in a soldier-saddle to
be cowarded by such a hoary whelp of butchery -- such a d -- -- d old taint
on the honorable trade of arrms? I spun my charger round, and with my
gloved left h~md seized tha,t bully by his ragged beard, and perked him
here and there; lifted him fairly off his feet; stretched his corded, knotted
throttle till his breath came thick and hard; jerked and pulled and twisted
him; then cast the ruffian loose, and, drawing my square iron foot from
my burnished stirrup, spurned him here and there, and kicked and
~ommeled him, and so at last drove him howling down the hill, all
forgetful for the moment of prize and pillage.
These lawless soldiers were the disgrace of our camp, they did so rant and
roar if all went well and when the battle was
fairly won whereto they had not entered; they were so cowardly and
cruel among the prisoners or helpless that we wouid gladly nave been rid
of them if we could.
But, after the manner of the time, the war was open to all; behUld the
flower of English chivalry who rorle round the sovereign's standard, and
the gallaut bill and bow men wh6 wore his livery and took his pay,
ubserving the deconcies of war, came hustling and crowding after us a
host of rune mercouaries, a horde Gf ragged advouturers, who knew
nothing of honor or chivalry, and had no canons but to plunder, ravish,
They made a trade of every villainy just outside the camp, where, with
scoundrel hawkers who followed behind us like lean vultures, they dealt
in dead mou's goods, bought maids and matrons, and sold armor or
plunder under our marshal's very eyes.
One day, I remember, I and my shadow Flamaucceur were riding home
after scouting some miles along the French lines without adventure,
when, entering our camp by the pickets furthest removed from the royal
quarter, we saw a crowd of Irish kerns behind the wood where the king
had stocked his baggage, all laughing rouun some common object. Now,
these Irish were the olOSt turbulent and dissolute fighters in the army.
Such shook-headed, fiery ruf~lalls never before called themselves
Christian soldiers. They and the Welsh were foreTier at foun; but.
whereas the Welshmen were brave and submissive to their chie£s, keen in
war, tender of honor, fond of wine-cups and minstrels -- gallant, free
soldiers, indecd, just as I had known their kin a. thousand years bofore --
these savage kerus, on the other hand, were remorseless villains, rune
and wild in camp, and cut-throat rascals, without compunction, when a
fight was over. In ordinary circum. sta~lces we should have ridden by
these noisy rogues, for they cared not a jot for any one less than the camp
marshal with a string of bitlmen behind him, and feuns between knights
of King Edward's table and thtse shock-haired kerns were unseemly. But
on this occasion, over the hustling ring of rough soldiers, as we sat high-
perched upon our Flemish chargers, we saw a woman's form, and craned
our necks and turned a. little from our course to watch what new devilry
they were up to.
There, in the midst of that lawless gang of ruffian soldiers, their bronzed
and grimling faces hedging a space in with a leering, compassionless wall,
was a fair French girl, all wild
and torn with misadventure, her smooth cheeks unwashed and scarred
with tears, her black hair wild and tangled on her back, her skirt and
bodice rent and mundy, fear and shame and anger Hying alternate over
the white field of her comely face, while her wistful eyes kept wandering
here and there amid that grinning crowd for a look of compunction or a
chance of rescue. The poor maid was standing upon an overturned box
such as was used to carry cross-bow bolts in, her hands tied hard together
in front, her captor by her side, and s~s we came near unnoticed he put
her up for sale.
"By Congal of the Bloody Fingers!" said that cruel kern, in answer to the
laughing questions of his comrades, interlarding his speech with many
fiery and horrid oaths, the which I spare you, "I found this accursed little
witch this morning hiding among the rubbish of yonder cottages our
boys pulled to pieces in the valley, and, as I could Dot light on better ware,
I dragged her here. But may I roast forever if I will have anything more to
do with her. She is a tigress, a little she-devil! I have thrashed and beat and
kicked her, but I can not get the spirit out; let some other fellow try, and
may Heaven wither him if he turns her loose near me again! Now then,
what will the best of you give? She is a little travelstained, perhaps -- that
comes of our march hither, and our subsequent disagreements -- but all
right otherwise, and, an some one could cure her of her spitfire nature,
and make her amenable to reason, she would be an ornament to any tent.
Now you, Borghil, for instance -- it was you, I think, who split the
mother's skull this morning -- give me a bid for the daughter; you are not
often bashful in such a case as this."
"A penny, then!" sung out Borghil of the Red Beard; "and, with maids as
cheap as they be hereabouts, she's dear at that;" and, while the laughter
and jest went round, those rune islanders bid point by point for the
unhappy girl who writhed and crouched before them. what could I do?
Well I knew the vows my golden spurs put upon me, and the policy my
borrowed knighthood warranted; and yet she was not of gentle birth --
'twas but the fortune of war. lf men risk lives in that stern game, why
should not maids risk something too? King Edward hated turmoil in the
eamp, and here on desperate venture, far in a hostile country, my soldier
instinct rose against kindling such a blaze as would have burst out among
these lawless hot-tempered kerns had I but drawn my sword a foot from
its scabbard. And, thinking thus, I sat there with bent head, scowling
behind my visorbars, and turning my eyes now to my ready hilt that
convenient at my thigh, and anon to the tall ~ormandy maid, so fair, so
piti ul, and in such sorry straits.
While I sat thus uncertain the girl's price had gone up to livepence, and,
there being no one to give more, she was about to be handed over to an
evil-looking fellow with a scar destroying one eye and dividing his nose
with a hideous yellow seam that went across his face from temple to chin.
This gross mercenary had almost told the five coins into the
bloodsmunged hand of the other Irishman, and the bargain was near
complete, when, to my surprise, Flamaueecur, who had been watching
behind me, pushed his charger boldly to the front, and cried out in that
smooth voice of his, "Wait a spell, my friends I think the maid is worth
another coin or two!" and he plunged his hand into the wallet that hurlg
boside his dagger.
This interruption surprised every one, and for a moment there was a hush
in the circle. Then he of the one eye, with a very wicked scowl, produced
and bid another pelmy, the which Flamaucceur immediately capped by
yet another. Each put down two more, and then the Celt came to the
bottom of his store, and, with a monstrous oath, swept back his money,
and commending the maid and Flamaueecur to the bottomles6 pit of hell,
backed off amid his laughing friends.
Not a whit disconcerted, my peaceful gallant rode up to the grim
purveyor of that melancholy chattel, and having paid the silver, with a
calm indifference which it shocked me much to see, unwound a few feet
of the halter-rope depending from his Flemish crupper. The loose end of
this the man wonun round and tied upon the twisted wiLbes wherewith
the maid's white wrists were fastened.
Such an escape from the difficulty had never occurred to my slower mind,
and now, when my lad turned toward the quarter where his tent lay, and
apparently mighty content with himself, stepped his charger out with the
unhappy girl trailing along at his side, his lightness greatly pained me.
Nor was I pleasured by the laughter and gibes of English squires and
knights who met us.
"Halloo! youvaloroustwo," called out a mounted captain, "whose hen-
roosts have you been robbing?" And then, another said, "Faith! they've
been recruiting;" and again, "'Tis a new page they've got to buckle them
up and smooth their soldier pillows." All this was hard to bear, and I saw
that even Fia~naucceur haug his head a little and presenily rode along by
by-ways less frequented. At one time he turned to me most in~locc2lt like
"Such a friend as this is just what I have been needing ever since I left the
"Iuneed," I answered, sardonically, "I do confess I am more surprised than
perhaps I should be. It is as charming a handmaid as any knight could
wish. Shall you send one of those long raven tresses home to thy absent
lady with thy uext bunget of sighs and true-love tokens?"
Bwt Flamaucceur shook his head, and said I misunderstood him bitterly.
He was going on to say he meant to free the ma~d ' to-morrow or the
next day," when we turued a coruer in our martial village street, and
pulled up at our owu tent doors.
Now, that Breton girl had submitted so far to be dragged along in a
manner of lethargy born of her sick heart and misery, but when we
stayed our chargers the very pause arowsed her. She drew her poor
frightened wits together and glared first at us, and then at our knightly
pennons fluttering over the white lhltels of our lodgment; then, jumping
to some dreadful, sad conclusion, she fired up as fierce and sunden as a
trapped tigress when the last outlet is closed upan her. She stamped and
raged, and twisted her fair white arms until the rough withes or1 her
wrists cut deep into the tender flesh, and the red blood went twining
down to her torn and opcn bodice; she screamed, and writhed, and
struggled against the glossy side of that gentle and mighty war-horse,
who looked back wmldering on her, and snided her flagrant sorrow with
wide velvet nostrils, no more moved than a gray crag by the beating of
the sumruer sea, and then she turned on us.
Gads! she swore at us in such mellow Bisque as might have made a
hardened trooper envious; cursed us and our chivalry, called us forsworn
knights, stains upon manhood, dogs and vampires; then dropped upon
her knee, and there, Suppliant, locked her swohen and bloody hands,
and, with the hot white tears sparkling in her red and weary eyes, knelt to
us, and in the wild, tearful grief of her peo~ple, "for the honor of our
mothers, and for the sake of the bright distant maid we loved,'3 begged
mercy and freedom.
And all through that storm of wild, sweet grief that callous libertine,
Flamaucoeur, made no show of freeing her. He sat his prick-eared,
wondering charger, stared at the maid, and fingered his dagger-chain as
tl~nugn,ll perplexed and doubtful. The hot torrent of tLat psor gi~ l's niisc,
v st - med to daze and tie his tongue; he ma~le no sign of cor~l~niselation
and no movement, until at last I cowld stand it no longer. Wheeling
round my war-horse, so that I could shake my mailed fist in the face of
that saplblg villain:
"By the light of day!" I burst out, half in wrath and half in amused
bewildement, "this goes too far. Why, Flamaueecur, can you not see this is
a maid in a hundred, and one who well deserves to keep that which she
asks for? Jove! man, if you must have a hand-maiden, why the country
swarms with forlorn ones who will glad compound with fate by accepting
the protection of thy tent. But this one -- come, let my friennship go in
pawn against her, and free the maid. lf you musl; have something more
solid still, set her free, unhuimed, and I will give thee a helmetful of
pennies that is to say, on the first time that I own so many,"
But Flamaueecur laughed more scornfully than he often did, and,
muttering that we were " all fools together," turned from me to the wild
thing at his side.
"Look here," he said, "yml mad girl. Come into my tent, and I will explain
everything. You shall be all unhamed, I vow it, an`1 £ree to leave me if
you will not stop; this is all mad folly, though out here I can not tell you
"I will not trust you," she screamed, in arms again, straining at those
horrid red wrists of hers and glaring on us. "Mother of Christ!" she
shouted, turning to a lknot of squires and captains who had gathered
around us; " for the dear Light of neaven, some of you free my wretched
spirit with your maces; here -- here -- some friendly spear for this
friendless bosom! one dagger-thrust to rid me from these cursed tyrants,
and I will take the mamory of my slayer straight to the seat of merc~r and
mix it forever with my grateful prayers. ~h, itl Christian charity unsheathe
I heard that slim soldier Flan~aueecur groan within his helmet at this; then
down he bent. "Mad, mad girl!" I heard him saN, and then followed a
whisper which was lost between his h~ilow helmet and his prisoner's ear.
Whatever it was, the etRect was instantaneous and wo~ldcrful.
"Impossible'" burst ont the French girl, starting away as far as the cords
would let her, and eying her captor with surprise and amazement.
"'Tis truth, I swear it!"
"Oh, impossible! Thon a -- "
"Hush, hush!" cried Flamaucceur, putting his hand upon the girl's mouth,
and speaking again to her in his soft low voice, and as he did so her eyes
ran over him, the fear and wonder slowly melted away, and then,
presently, with a delighted smile at length shining behind her undried
clasped and kissed his hand with a vast show of delight as ungoverned as
her grief had been, and when he had freed her and descended from his
charger, to our amazement led rather than followed that knight most
willingly to his tent, and there let fall the flap behind them
"NGW that," said the king's jester, who had come up while this matter was
passing -- "that is what I call a truly persuas~ve tongue. I would give half
my silver bells to know what magic that gentleman has that will get
reason so quickly into an angry woman's head."
"If you knew that'" quoth a stern old knight through the steel bare of his
morion, "you might live a happy life, although you knew nothing else,"
"Poor De Burgh!" whispered a soldier near me. "He speaks with
knowledge, fo~men say he owns a vixen, and is more honored and feared
here by the proun Frenchman than at hs own fireside."
"Perhaps," suggested another to the laughing group, "he of the burning
heart whispered that he had a double indulgence in his tent. Women will
go anywhere and do anything when it is the Church which leads thenj by
"Or, perhaps," put in another, looking at the last speaker, "perhaps he
hinted that if the maid escaped from his hated clutches she would fall into
thine, St. C)aen, and she chose the lesser evil. It were an argument that
would well warrant so sunden a conversion."
"Well, well," quoth the fool, "we will not quarrel over the remembrance of
the meat which another dog has carried off. Good-bye, fair sirs, and may
Glod give you all as efficient tongues as Sir Flamaueecur's when next you
are bowered with your distant ladies. "And laughing and jesting among
themselves, the soldiers strolled away, leaving me to seek my solitary tent
in no good frame of mind.
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