Chapter 23 HOW ENGLAND HELD THE LISTS AT BORDEAUX.
So used were the good burghers of Bordeaux to martial display and knightl_port, that an ordinary joust or tournament was an everyday matter with them.
The fame and brilliancy of the prince's court had drawn the knights-errant an_ursuivants-of-arms from every part of Europe. In the long lists by th_aronne on the landward side of the northern gate there had been many _trange combat, when the Teutonic knight, fresh from the conquest of th_russian heathen, ran a course against the knight of Calatrava, hardened b_ontinual struggle against the Moors, or cavaliers from Portugal broke a lanc_ith Scandinavian warriors from the further shore of the great Northern Ocean.
Here fluttered many an outland pennon, bearing symbol and blazonry from th_anks of the Danube, the wilds of Lithuania and the mountain strongholds o_ungary; for chivalry was of no clime and of no race, nor was any land so wil_hat the fame and name of the prince had not sounded through it from border t_order.
Great, however, was the excitement through town and district when it wa_earned that on the third Wednesday in Advent there would be held a passage- at-arms in which five knights of England would hold the lists against al_omers. The great concourse of noblemen and famous soldiers, the nationa_haracter of the contest, and the fact that this was a last trial of arm_efore what promised to be an arduous and bloody war, all united to make th_vent one of the most notable and brilliant that Bordeaux had ever seen. O_he eve of the contest the peasants flocked in from the whole district of th_edoc, and the fields beyond the walls were whitened with the tents of thos_ho could find no warmer lodging. From the distant camp of Dax, too, and fro_laye, Bourge, Libourne, St. Emilion, Castillon, St. Macaire, Cardillac, Ryons, and all the cluster of flourishing towns which look upon Bordeaux a_heir mother, there thronged an unceasing stream of horsemen and of footmen, all converging upon the great city. By the morning of the day on which th_ourses were to be run, not less than eighty people had assembled round th_ists and along the low grassy ridge which looks down upon the scene of th_ncounter.
It was, as may well be imagined, no easy matter among so many noted cavalier_o choose out five on either side who should have precedence over thei_ellows. A score of secondary combats had nearly arisen from the rivalries an_ad blood created by the selection, and it was only the influence of th_rince and the efforts of the older barons which kept the peace among so man_ager and fiery soldiers. Not till the day before the courses were the shield_inally hung out for the inspection of the ladies and the heralds, so that al_en might know the names of the champions and have the opportunity to prefe_ny charge against them, should there be stain upon them which shoul_isqualify them from taking part in so noble and honorable a ceremony.
Sir Hugh Calverley and Sir Robert Knolles had not yet returned from their rai_nto the marches of the Navarre, so that the English party were deprived o_wo of their most famous lances. Yet there remained so many good names tha_handos and Felton, to whom the selection had been referred, had many a_arnest consultation, in which every feat of arms and failure or success o_ach candidate was weighed and balanced against the rival claims of hi_ompanions. Lord Audley of Cheshire, the hero of Poictiers, and Loring o_ampshire, who was held to be the second lance in the army, were easily fixe_pon. Then, of the younger men, Sir Thomas Percy of Northumberland, Sir Thoma_ake of Yorkshire, and Sir William Beauchamp of Gloucestershire, were finall_elected to uphold the honor of England. On the other side were the vetera_aptal de Buch and the brawny Olivier de Clisson, with the free companion Si_erducas d'Albret, the valiant Lord of Mucident, and Sigismond von Altenstadt, of the Teutonic Order. The older soldiers among the English shook their head_s they looked upon the escutcheons of these famous warriors, for they wer_ll men who had spent their lives upon the saddle, and bravery and strengt_an avail little against experience and wisdom of war.
"By my faith! Sir John," said the prince as he rode through the windin_treets on his way to the list, "I should have been glad to have splintered _ance to-day. You have seen me hold a spear since I had strength to lift one, and should know best whether I do not merit a place among this honorabl_ompany."
"There is no better seat and no truer lance, sire," said Chandos; "but, if _ay say so without fear of offence, it were not fitting that you should joi_n this debate."
"And why, Sir John?"
"Because, sire, it is not for you to take part with Gascons against English, or with English against Gascons, seeing that you are lord of both. We are no_oo well loved by the Gascons now, and it is but the golden link of you_rincely coronet which holds us together. If that be snapped I know not wha_ould follow."
"Snapped, Sir John!" cried the prince, with an angry sparkle in his dark eyes.
"What manner of talk is this? You speak as though the allegiance of our peopl_ere a thing which might be thrown off or on like a falcon's jessel."
"With a sorry hack one uses whip and spur, sire," said Chandos; "but with _orse of blood and spirit a good cavalier is gentle and soothing, coaxin_ather than forcing. These folk are strange people, and you must hold thei_ove, even as you have it now, for you will get from their kindness what al_he pennons in your army could not wring from them."
"You are over-grave to-day, John," the prince answered. "We may keep suc_uestions for our council-chamber. But how now, my brothers of Spain, and o_ajorca, what think you of this challenge?"
"I look to see some handsome joisting," said Don Pedro, who rode with the Kin_f Majorca upon the right of the prince, while Chandos was on the left. "B_t. James of Compostella! but these burghers would bear some taxing. See t_he broadcloth and velvet that the rogues bear upon their backs! By my troth!
if they were my subjects they would be glad enough to wear falding and leathe_re I had done with them. But mayhap it is best to let the wool grow long er_ou clip it."
"It is our pride," the prince answered coldly, "that we rule over freemen an_ot slaves."
"Every man to his own humor," said Pedro carelessly. "Carajo! there is a swee_ace at yonder window! Don Fernando, I pray you to mark the house, and to hav_he maid brought to us at the abbey."
"Nay, brother, nay!" cried the prince impatiently. "I have had occasion t_ell you more than once that things are not ordered in this way in Aquitaine."
"A thousand pardons, dear friend," the Spaniard answered quickly, for a flus_f anger had sprung to the dark cheek of the English prince. "You make m_xile so like a home that I forget at times that I am not in very truth bac_n Castile. Every land hath indeed its ways and manners; but I promise you, Edward, that when you are my guest in Toledo or Madrid you shall not yearn i_ain for any commoner's daughter on whom you may deign to cast your eye."
"Your talk, sire," said the prince still more coldly, "is not such as I lov_o hear from your lips. I have no taste for such amours as you speak of, and _ave sworn that my name shall be coupled with that of no woman save my eve_ear wife."
"Ever the mirror of true chivalry!" exclaimed Pedro, while James of Majorca, frightened at the stern countenance of their all-powerful protector, plucke_ard at the mantle of his brother exile.
"Have a care, cousin," he whispered; "for the sake of the Virgin have a care, for you have angered him."
"Pshaw! fear not," the other answered in the same low tone. "If I miss on_toop I will strike him on the next. Mark me else. Fair cousin," he continued, turning to the prince, "these be rare men-at-arms and lusty bowmen. It woul_e hard indeed to match them."
"They have Journeyed far, sire, but they have never yet found their match."
"Nor ever will, I doubt not. I feel myself to be back upon my throne when _ook at them. But tell me, dear coz, what shall we do next, when we hav_riven this bastard Henry from the kingdom which he hath filched?"
"We shall then compel the King of Aragon to place our good friend and brothe_ames of Majorca upon the throne."
"Noble and generous prince!" cried the little monarch.
"That done," said King Pedro, glancing out of the corners of his eyes at th_oung conqueror, "we shall unite the forces of England, of Aquitaine, of Spai_nd of Majorca. It would be shame to us if we did not do some great deed wit_uch forces ready to our hand."
"You say truly, brother," cried the prince, his eyes kindling at the thought.
"Methinks that we could not do anything more pleasing to Our Lady than t_rive the heathen Moors out of the country."
"I am with you, Edward, as true as hilt to blade. But, by St. James! we shal_ot let these Moors make mock at us from over the sea. We must take ship an_hrust them from Africa."
"By heaven, yes!" cried the prince. "And it is the dream of my heart that ou_nglish pennons shall wave upon the Mount of Olives, and the lions and lilie_loat over the holy city."
"And why not, dear coz? Your bowmen have cleared a path to Paris, and why no_o Jerusalem? Once there, your arms might rest."
"Nay, there is more to be done," cried the prince, carried away by th_mbitious dream. "There is still the city of Constantine to be taken, and wa_o be waged against the Soldan of Damascus. And beyond him again there i_ribute to be levied from the Cham of Tartary and from the kingdom of Cathay.
Ha! John, what say you? Can we not go as far eastward as Richard of the Lio_eart?"
"Old John will bide at home, sire," said the rugged soldier. "By my soul! a_ong as I am seneschal of Aquitaine I will find enough to do in guarding th_arches which you have entrusted to me. It would be a blithe day for the Kin_f France when he heard that the seas lay between him and us."
"By my soul! John," said the prince, "I have never known you turn laggar_efore."
"The babbling hound, sire, is not always the first at the mort," the ol_night answered.
"Nay, my true-heart! I have tried you too often not to know. But, by my soul!
I have not seen so dense a throng since the day that we brought King John dow_heapside."
It was indeed an enormous crowd which covered the whole vast plain from th_ine of vineyards to the river bank. From the northern gate the prince and hi_ompanions looked down at a dark sea of heads, brightened here and there b_he colored hoods of the women, or by the sparkling head-pieces of archers an_en-at-arms. In the centre of this vast assemblage the lists seemed but _arrow strip of green marked out with banners and streamers, while a gleam o_hite with a flutter of pennons at either end showed where the marquees wer_itched which served as the dressing-rooms of the combatants. A path had bee_taked off from the city gate to the stands which had been erected for th_ourt and the nobility. Down this, amid the shouts of the enormous multitude, the prince cantered with his two attendant kings, his high officers of state, and his long train of lords and ladies, courtiers, counsellors, and soldiers, with toss of plume and flash of jewel, sheen of silk and glint of gold—as ric_nd gallant a show as heart could wish. The head of the cavalcade had reache_he lists ere the rear had come clear of the city gate, for the fairest an_he bravest had assembled from all the broad lands which are watered by th_ordogne and the Garonne. Here rode dark-browed cavaliers from the sunn_outh, fiery soldiers from Gascony, graceful courtiers of Limousin o_aintonge, and gallant young Englishmen from beyond the seas. Here too wer_he beautiful brunettes of the Gironde, with eyes which out-flashed thei_ewels, while beside them rode their blonde sisters of England, clear cut an_quiline, swathed in swans'-down and in ermine, for the air was biting thoug_he sun was bright. Slowly the long and glittering train wound into the lists, until every horse had been tethered by the varlets in waiting, and every lor_nd lady seated in the long stands which stretched, rich in tapestry an_elvet and blazoned arms, on either side of the centre of the arena.
The holders of the lists occupied the end which was nearest to the city gate.
There, in front of their respective pavilions, flew the martlets of Audley, the roses of Loring, the scarlet bars of Wake, the lion of the Percies and th_ilver wings of the Beauchamps, each supported by a squire clad in hangin_reen stuff to represent so many Tritons, and bearing a huge conch-shell i_heir left hands. Behind the tents the great war-horses, armed at all points, champed and reared, while their masters sat at the doors of their pavilions, with their helmets upon their knees, chatting as to the order of the day'_oings. The English archers and men-at-arms had mustered at that end of th_ists, but the vast majority of the spectators were in favor of the attackin_arty, for the English had declined in popularity ever since the bitte_ispute as to the disposal of the royal captive after the battle of Poictiers.
Hence the applause was by no means general when the herald-at-arms proclaimed, after a flourish of trumpets, the names and styles of the knights who wer_repared, for the honor of their country and for the love of their ladies, t_old the field against all who might do them the favor to run a course wit_hem. On the other hand, a deafening burst of cheering greeted the riva_erald, who, advancing from the other end of the lists, rolled forth the well- known titles of the five famous warriors who had accepted the defiance.
"Faith, John," said the prince, "it sounds as though you were right. Ha! m_race D'Armagnac, it seems that our friends on this side will not grieve i_ur English champions lose the day."
"It may be so, sire," the Gascon nobleman answered. "I have little doubt tha_n Smithfield or at Windsor an English crowd would favor their ow_ountrymen."
"By my faith! that's easily seen," said the prince, laughing, "for a few scor_nglish archers at yonder end are bellowing as though they would out-shout th_ighty multitude. I fear that they will have little to shout over thi_ourney, for my gold vase has small prospect of crossing the water. What ar_he conditions, John?"
"They are to tilt singly not less than three courses, sire, and the victory t_est with that party which shall have won the greater number of courses, eac_air continuing till one or other have the vantage. He who carries himsel_est of the victors hath the prize, and he who is judged best of the othe_arty hath a jewelled clasp. Shall I order that the nakirs sound, sire?"
The prince nodded, and the trumpets rang out, while the champions rode fort_ne after the other, each meeting his opponent in the centre of the lists. Si_illiam Beauchamp went down before the practiced lance of the Captal de Buch.
Sir Thomas Percy won the vantage over the Lord of Mucident, and the Lor_udley struck Sir Perducas d'Albret from the saddle. The burly De Clisson, however, restored the hopes of the attackers by beating to the ground Si_homas Wake of Yorkshire. So far, there was little to choose betwix_hallengers and challenged.
"By Saint James of Santiago!" cried Don Pedro, with a tinge of color upon hi_ale cheeks, "win who will, this has been a most notable contest."
"Who comes next for England, John?" asked the prince in a voice which quivere_ith excitement.
"Sir Nigel Loring of Hampshire, sire."
"Ha! he is a man of good courage, and skilled in the use of all weapons."
"He is indeed, sire. But his eyes, like my own, are the worse for wars. Yet h_an tilt or play his part at hand-strokes as merrily as ever. It was he, sire, who won the golden crown which Queen Philippa, your royal mother, gave to b_ousted for by all the knights of England after the harrying of Calais. I hav_eard that at Twynham Castle there is a buffet which groans beneath the weigh_f his prizes."
"I pray that my vase may join them," said the prince. "But here is th_avalier of Germany, and by my soul! he looks like a man of great valor an_ardiness. Let them run their full three courses, for the issue is over-grea_o hang upon one."
As the prince spoke, amid a loud flourish of trumpets and the shouting of th_ascon party, the last of the assailants rode gallantly into the lists. He wa_ man of great size, clad in black armor without blazonry or ornament of an_ind, for all worldly display was forbidden by the rules of the militar_rotherhood to which he belonged. No plume or nobloy fluttered from his plai_ilting salade, and even his lance was devoid of the customary banderole. _hite mantle fluttered behind him, upon the left side of which was marked th_road black cross picked out with silver which was the well-known badge of th_eutonic Order. Mounted upon a horse as large, as black, and as forbidding a_imself, he cantered slowly forward, with none of those prancings and gambade_ith which a cavalier was accustomed to show his command over his charger.
Gravely and sternly he inclined his head to the prince, and took his place a_he further end of the arena.
He had scarce done so before Sir Nigel rode out from the holders' enclosure, and galloping at full speed down the lists, drew his charger up before th_rince's stand with a jerk which threw it back upon its haunches. With whit_rmor, blazoned shield, and plume of ostrich-feathers from his helmet, h_arried himself in so jaunty and joyous a fashion, with tossing pennon an_urveting charger, that a shout of applause ran the full circle of the arena.
With the air of a man who hastes to a joyous festival, he waved his lance i_alute, and reining the pawing horse round without permitting its fore-feet t_ouch the ground, he hastened back to his station.
A great hush fell over the huge multitude as the two last champions faced eac_ther. A double issue seemed to rest upon their contest, for their persona_ame was at stake as well as their party's honor. Both were famous warriors, but as their exploits had been performed in widely sundered countries, the_ad never before been able to cross lances. A course between such men woul_ave been enough in itself to cause the keenest interest, apart from its bein_he crisis which would decide who should be the victors of the day. For _oment they waited—the German sombre and collected, Sir Nigel quivering i_very fibre with eagerness and fiery resolution. Then, amid a long-draw_reath from the spectators, the glove fell from the marshal's hand, and th_wo steel-clad horsemen met like a thunderclap in front of the royal stand.
The German, though he reeled for an instant before the thrust of th_nglishman, struck his opponent so fairly upon the vizor that the laces burst, the plumed helmet flew to pieces, and Sir Nigel galloped on down the list_ith his bald head shimmering in the sunshine. A thousand waving scarves an_ossing caps announced that the first bout had fallen to the popular party.
The Hampshire knight was not a man to be disheartened by a reverse. He spurre_ack to the pavilion, and was out in a few instants with another helmet. Th_econd course was so equal that the keenest judges could not discern an_antage. Each struck fire from the other's shield, and each endured th_arring shock as though welded to the horse beneath him. In the final bout, however, Sir Nigel struck his opponent with so true an aim that the point o_he lance caught between the bars of his vizor and tore the front of hi_elmet out, while the German, aiming somewhat low, and half stunned by th_hock, had the misfortune to strike his adversary upon the thigh, a breach o_he rules of the tilting-yard, by which he not only sacrificed his chances o_uccess, but would also have forfeited his horse and his armor, had th_nglish knight chosen to claim them. A roar of applause from the Englis_oldiers, with an ominous silence from the vast crowd who pressed round th_arriers, announced that the balance of victory lay with the holders. Alread_he ten champions had assembled in front of the prince to receive his award, when a harsh bugle call from the further end of the lists drew all eyes to _ew and unexpected arrival.