There was brave feasting in the Castle of York, to which Prince John ha_nvited those nobles, prelates, and leaders, by whose assistance he hoped t_arry through his ambitious projects upon his brother's throne. Waldema_itzurse, his able and politic agent, was at secret work among them, temperin_ll to that pitch of courage which was necessary in making an open declaratio_f their purpose. But their enterprise was delayed by the absence of more tha_ne main limb of the confederacy. The stubborn and daring, though bruta_ourage of Front-de-Boeuf; the buoyant spirits and bold bearing of De Bracy; the sagacity, martial experience, and renowned valour of Brian de Bois- Guilbert, were important to the success of their conspiracy; and, whil_ursing in secret their unnecessary and unmeaning absence, neither John no_is adviser dared to proceed without them. Isaac the Jew also seemed to hav_anished, and with him the hope of certain sums of money, making up th_ubsidy for which Prince John had contracted with that Israelite and hi_rethren. This deficiency was likely to prove perilous in an emergency s_ritical.
It was on the morning after the fall of Torquilstone, that a confused repor_egan to spread abroad in the city of York, that De Bracy and Bois-Guilbert, with their confederate Front-de-Boeuf, had been taken or slain. Waldema_rought the rumour to Prince John, announcing, that he feared its truth th_ore that they had set out with a small attendance, for the purpose o_ommitting an assault on the Saxon Cedric and his attendants. At another tim_he Prince would have treated this deed of violence as a good jest; but now, that it interfered with and impeded his own plans, he exclaimed against th_erpetrators, and spoke of the broken laws, and the infringement of publi_rder and of private property, in a tone which might have become King Alfred.
"The unprincipled marauders," he said—"were I ever to become monarch o_ngland, I would hang such transgressors over the drawbridges of their ow_astles."
"But to become monarch of England," said his Ahithophel coolly, "it i_ecessary not only that your Grace should endure the transgressions of thes_nprincipled marauders, but that you should afford them your protection, notwithstanding your laudable zeal for the laws they are in the habit o_nfringing. We shall be finely helped, if the churl Saxons should hav_ealized your Grace's vision, of converting feudal drawbridges into gibbets; and yonder bold-spirited Cedric seemeth one to whom such an imagination migh_ccur. Your Grace is well aware, it will be dangerous to stir without Front- de-Boeuf, De Bracy, and the Templar; and yet we have gone too far to reced_ith safety."
Prince John struck his forehead with impatience, and then began to stride u_nd down the apartment.
"The villains," he said, "the base treacherous villains, to desert me at thi_inch!"
"Nay, say rather the feather-pated giddy madmen," said Waldemar, "who must b_oying with follies when such business was in hand."
"What is to be done?" said the Prince, stopping short before Waldemar.
"I know nothing which can be done," answered his counsellor, "save that whic_ have already taken order for.—I came not to bewail this evil chance wit_our Grace, until I had done my best to remedy it."
"Thou art ever my better angel, Waldemar," said the Prince; "and when I hav_uch a chancellor to advise withal, the reign of John will be renowned in ou_nnals.—What hast thou commanded?"
"I have ordered Louis Winkelbrand, De Bracy's lieutenant, to cause his trumpe_ound to horse, and to display his banner, and to set presently forth toward_he castle of Front-de-Boeuf, to do what yet may be done for the succour o_ur friends."
Prince John's face flushed with the pride of a spoilt child, who has undergon_hat it conceives to be an insult. "By the face of God!" he said, "Waldema_itzurse, much hast thou taken upon thee! and over malapert thou wert to caus_rumpet to blow, or banner to be raised, in a town where ourselves were i_resence, without our express command."
"I crave your Grace's pardon," said Fitzurse, internally cursing the idl_anity of his patron; "but when time pressed, and even the loss of minute_ight be fatal, I judged it best to take this much burden upon me, in a matte_f such importance to your Grace's interest."
"Thou art pardoned, Fitzurse," said the prince, gravely; "thy purpose hat_toned for thy hasty rashness.—But whom have we here?—De Bracy himself, by th_ood!—and in strange guise doth he come before us."
It was indeed De Bracy—"bloody with spurring, fiery red with speed." Hi_rmour bore all the marks of the late obstinate fray, being broken, defaced, and stained with blood in many places, and covered with clay and dust from th_rest to the spur. Undoing his helmet, he placed it on the table, and stood _oment as if to collect himself before be told his news.
"De Bracy," said Prince John, "what means this?—Speak, I charge thee!—Are th_axons in rebellion?"
"Speak, De Bracy," said Fitzurse, almost in the same moment with his master,
"thou wert wont to be a man—Where is the Templar? —where Front-de-Boeuf?"
"The Templar is fled," said De Bracy; "Front-de-Boeuf you will never see more.
He has found a red grave among the blazing rafters of his own castle and _lone am escaped to tell you."
"Cold news," said Waldemar, "to us, though you speak of fire an_onflagration."
"The worst news is not yet said," answered De Bracy; and, coming up to Princ_ohn, he uttered in a low and emphatic tone —"Richard is in England—I hav_een and spoken with him."
Prince John turned pale, tottered, and caught at the back of an oaken bench t_upport himself—much like to a man who receives an arrow in his bosom.
"Thou ravest, De Bracy," said Fitzurse, "it cannot be."
"It is as true as truth itself," said De Bracy; "I was his prisoner, and spok_ith him."
"With Richard Plantagenet, sayest thou?" continued Fitzurse.
"With Richard Plantagenet," replied De Bracy, "with Richard Coeur-de-Lion—wit_ichard of England."
"And thou wert his prisoner?" said Waldemar; "he is then at the head of _ower?"
"No—only a few outlawed yeomen were around him, and to these his person i_nknown. I heard him say he was about to depart from them. He joined them onl_o assist at the storming of Torquilstone."
"Ay," said Fitzurse, "such is indeed the fashion of Richard —a true knight- errant he, and will wander in wild adventure, trusting the prowess of hi_ingle arm, like any Sir Guy or Sir Bevis, while the weighty affairs of hi_ingdom slumber, and his own safety is endangered.—What dost thou propose t_o De Bracy?"
"I?—I offered Richard the service of my Free Lances, and he refused them—_ill lead them to Hull, seize on shipping, and embark for Flanders; thanks t_he bustling times, a man of action will always find employment. And thou, Waldemar, wilt thou take lance and shield, and lay down thy policies, and wen_long with me, and share the fate which God sends us?"
"I am too old, Maurice, and I have a daughter," answered Waldemar.
"Give her to me, Fitzurse, and I will maintain her as fits her rank, with th_elp of lance and stirrup," said De Bracy.
"Not so," answered Fitzurse; "I will take sanctuary in this church of Sain_eter—the Archbishop is my sworn brother."
During this discourse, Prince John had gradually awakened from the stupor int_hich he had been thrown by the unexpected intelligence, and had bee_ttentive to the conversation which passed betwixt his followers. "They fal_ff from me," he said to himself, "they hold no more by me than a withere_eaf by the bough when a breeze blows on it?—Hell and fiends! can I shape n_eans for myself when I am deserted by these cravens?"—He paused, and ther_as an expression of diabolical passion in the constrained laugh with which h_t length broke in on their conversation.
"Ha, ha, ha! my good lords, by the light of Our Lady's brow, I held ye sag_en, bold men, ready-witted men; yet ye throw down wealth, honour, pleasure, all that our noble game promised you, at the moment it might be won by on_old cast!"
"I understand you not," said De Bracy. "As soon as Richard's return is blow_broad, he will be at the head of an army, and all is then over with us. _ould counsel you, my lord, either to fly to France or take the protection o_he Queen Mother."
"I seek no safety for myself," said Prince John, haughtily; "that I coul_ecure by a word spoken to my brother. But although you, De Bracy, and you, Waldemar Fitzurse, are so ready to abandon me, I should not greatly delight t_ee your heads blackening on Clifford's gate yonder. Thinkest thou, Waldemar, that the wily Archbishop will not suffer thee to be taken from the very horn_f the altar, would it make his peace with King Richard? And forgettest thou, De Bracy, that Robert Estoteville lies betwixt thee and Hull with all hi_orces, and that the Earl of Essex is gathering his followers? If we ha_eason to fear these levies even before Richard's return, trowest thou ther_s any doubt now which party their leaders will take? Trust me, Estotevill_lone has strength enough to drive all thy Free Lances into th_umber."—Waldemar Fitzurse and De Bracy looked in each other's faces wit_lank dismay.—"There is but one road to safety," continued the Prince, and hi_row grew black as midnight; "this object of our terror journeys alone—He mus_e met withal."
"Not by me," said De Bracy, hastily; "I was his prisoner, and he took me t_ercy. I will not harm a feather in his crest."
"Who spoke of harming him?" said Prince John, with a hardened laugh; "th_nave will say next that I meant he should slay him! —No—a prison were better; and whether in Britain or Austria, what matters it?—Things will be but as the_ere when we commenced our enterprise—It was founded on the hope that Richar_ould remain a captive in Germany—Our uncle Robert lived and died in th_astle of Cardiffe."
"Ay, but," said Waldemar, "your sire Henry sate more firm in his seat tha_our Grace can. I say the best prison is that which is made by the sexton—n_ungeon like a church-vault! I have said my say."
"Prison or tomb," said De Bracy, "I wash my hands of the whole matter."
"Villain!" said Prince John, "thou wouldst not bewray our counsel?"
"Counsel was never bewrayed by me," said De Bracy, haughtily, "nor must th_ame of villain be coupled with mine!"
"Peace, Sir Knight!" said Waldemar; "and you, good my lord, forgive th_cruples of valiant De Bracy; I trust I shall soon remove them."
"That passes your eloquence, Fitzurse," replied the Knight.
"Why, good Sir Maurice," rejoined the wily politician, "start not aside like _cared steed, without, at least, considering the object of your terror.—Thi_ichard—but a day since, and it would have been thy dearest wish to have me_im hand to hand in the ranks of battle—a hundred times I have heard thee wis_t."
"Ay," said De Bracy, "but that was as thou sayest, hand to hand, and in th_anks of battle! Thou never heardest me breathe a thought of assaulting hi_lone, and in a forest."
"Thou art no good knight if thou dost scruple at it," said Waldemar. "Was i_n battle that Lancelot de Lac and Sir Tristram won renown? or was it not b_ncountering gigantic knights under the shade of deep and unknown forests?"
"Ay, but I promise you," said De Bracy, "that neither Tristram nor Lancelo_ould have been match, hand to hand, for Richard Plantagenet, and I think i_as not their wont to take odds against a single man."
"Thou art mad, De Bracy—what is it we propose to thee, a hired and retaine_aptain of Free Companions, whose swords are purchased for Prince John'_ervice? Thou art apprized of our enemy, and then thou scruplest, though th_atron's fortunes, those of thy comrades, thine own, and the life and honou_f every one amongst us, be at stake!"
"I tell you," said De Bracy, sullenly, "that he gave me my life. True, he sen_e from his presence, and refused my homage—so far I owe him neither favou_or allegiance—but I will not lift hand against him."
"It needs not—send Louis Winkelbrand and a score of thy lances."
"Ye have sufficient ruffians of your own," said De Bracy; "not one of min_hall budge on such an errand."
"Art thou so obstinate, De Bracy?" said Prince John; "and wilt thou forsak_e, after so many protestations of zeal for my service?"
"I mean it not," said De Bracy; "I will abide by you in aught that becomes _night, whether in the lists or in the camp; but this highway practice come_ot within my vow."
"Come hither, Waldemar," said Prince John. "An unhappy prince am I. My father, King Henry, had faithful servants—He had but to say that he was plagued with _actious priest, and the blood of Thomas-a-Becket, saint though he was, stained the steps of his own altar.—Tracy, Morville, Brito[](footnotes.xml#footnote_42) loyal and daring subjects, your names, your spirit, are extinct! and although Reginald Fitzurse hath left a son, h_ath fallen off from his father's fidelity and courage." "He has fallen of_rom neither," said Waldemar Fitzurse; "and since it may not better be, I wil_ake on me the conduct of this perilous enterprise. Dearly, however, did m_ather purchase the praise of a zealous friend; and yet did his proof o_oyalty to Henry fall far short of what I am about to afford; for rather woul_ assail a whole calendar of saints, than put spear in rest against Coeur-de- Lion.—De Bracy, to thee I must trust to keep up the spirits of the doubtful, and to guard Prince John's person. If you receive such news as I trust to sen_ou, our enterprise will no longer wear a doubtful aspect.—Page," he said,
"hie to my lodgings, and tell my armourer to be there in readiness; and bi_tephen Wetheral, Broad Thoresby, and the Three Spears of Spyinghow, come t_e instantly; and let the scout-master, Hugh Bardon, attend me also.—Adieu, m_rince, till better times." Thus speaking, he left the apartment. "He goes t_ake my brother prisoner," said Prince John to De Bracy, "with as little touc_f compunction, as if it but concerned the liberty of a Saxon franklin. _rust he will observe our orders, and use our dear Richard's person with al_ue respect." De Bracy only answered by a smile. "By the light of Our Lady'_row," said Prince John, "our orders to him were most precise—though it may b_ou heard them not, as we stood together in the oriel window—Most clear an_ositive was our charge that Richard's safety should be cared for, and woe t_aldemar's head if he transgress it!" "I had better pass to his lodgings,"
said De Bracy, "and make him fully aware of your Grace's pleasure; for, as i_uite escaped my ear, it may not perchance have reached that of Waldemar."
"Nay, nay," said Prince John, impatiently, "I promise thee he heard me; and, besides, I have farther occupation for thee. Maurice, come hither; let me lea_n thy shoulder." They walked a turn through the hall in this familia_osture, and Prince John, with an air of the most confidential intimacy, proceeded to say, "What thinkest thou of this Waldemar Fitzurse, my D_racy?—He trusts to be our Chancellor. Surely we will pause ere we give a_ffice so high to one who shows evidently how little he reverences our blood, by his so readily undertaking this enterprise against Richard. Thou dos_hink, I warrant, that thou hast lost somewhat of our regard, by thy boldl_eclining this unpleasing task—But no, Maurice! I rather honour thee for th_irtuous constancy. There are things most necessary to be done, th_erpetrator of which we neither love nor honour; and there may be refusals t_erve us, which shall rather exalt in our estimation those who deny ou_equest. The arrest of my unfortunate brother forms no such good title to th_igh office of Chancellor, as thy chivalrous and courageous denial establishe_n thee to the truncheon of High Marshal. Think of this, De Bracy, and begon_o thy charge." "Fickle tyrant!" muttered De Bracy, as he left the presence o_he Prince; "evil luck have they who trust thee. Thy Chancellor, indeed!—H_ho hath the keeping of thy conscience shall have an easy charge, I trow. Bu_igh Marshal of England! that," he said, extending his arm, as if to grasp th_aton of office, and assuming a loftier stride along the antechamber, "that i_ndeed a prize worth playing for!" De Bracy had no sooner left the apartmen_han Prince John summoned an attendant. "Bid Hugh Bardon, our scout-master, come hither, as soon as he shall have spoken with Waldemar Fitzurse." Th_cout-master arrived after a brief delay, during which John traversed th_partment with, unequal and disordered steps. "Bardon," said he, "what di_aldemar desire of thee?" "Two resolute men, well acquainted with thes_orthern wilds, and skilful in tracking the tread of man and horse." "And tho_ast fitted him?" "Let your grace never trust me else," answered the master o_he spies. "One is from Hexamshire; he is wont to trace the Tynedale an_eviotdale thieves, as a bloodhound follows the slot of a hurt deer. The othe_s Yorkshire bred, and has twanged his bowstring right oft in merry Sherwood; he knows each glade and dingle, copse and high-wood, betwixt this an_ichmond." "'Tis well," said the Prince.—"Goes Waldemar forth with them?"
"Instantly," said Bardon. "With what attendance?" asked John, carelessly.
"Broad Thoresby goes with him, and Wetheral, whom they call, for his cruelty, Stephen Steel-heart; and three northern men-at-arms that belonged to Ralp_iddleton's gang—they are called the Spears of Spyinghow." "'Tis well," sai_rince John; then added, after a moment's pause, "Bardon, it imports ou_ervice that thou keep a strict watch on Maurice De Bracy—so that he shall no_bserve it, however—And let us know of his motions from time to time —wit_hom he converses, what he proposeth. Fail not in this, as thou wilt b_nswerable." Hugh Bardon bowed, and retired. "If Maurice betrays me," sai_rince John—"if he betrays me, as his bearing leads me to fear, I will hav_is head, were Richard thundering at the gates of York."