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Chapter 33 HOW THE ARMY MADE THE PASSAGE OF RONCESVALLES.

  • The whole vast plain of Gascony and of Languedoc is an arid and profitles_xpanse in winter save where the swift-flowing Adour and her snow-fe_ributaries, the Louts, the Oloron and the Pau, run down to the sea of Biscay.
  • South of the Adour the jagged line of mountains which fringe the sky-line sen_ut long granite claws, running down into the lowlands and dividing them into
  • "gaves" or stretches of valley. Hillocks grow into hills, and hills int_ountains, each range overlying its neighbor, until they soar up in the gian_hain which raises its spotless and untrodden peaks, white and dazzling,
  • against the pale blue wintry sky.
  • A quiet land is this—a land where the slow-moving Basque, with his fla_iretta-cap, his red sash and his hempen sandals, tills his scanty farm o_rives his lean flock to their hill-side pastures. It is the country of th_olf and the isard, of the brown bear and the mountain-goat, a land of bar_ock and of rushing water. Yet here it was that the will of a great prince ha_ow assembled a gallant army; so that from the Adour to the passes of Navarr_he barren valleys and wind-swept wastes were populous with soldiers and lou_ith the shouting of orders and the neighing of horses. For the banners of wa_ad been flung to the wind once more, and over those glistening peaks was th_ighway along which Honor pointed in an age when men had chosen her as thei_uide.
  • And now all was ready for the enterprise. From Dax to St. Jean Pied-du-Por_he country was mottled with the white tents of Gascons, Aquitanians an_nglish, all eager for the advance. From all sides the free companions ha_rooped in, until not less than twelve thousand of these veteran troops wer_antoned along the frontiers of Navarre. From England had arrived the prince'_rother, the Duke of Lancaster, with four hundred knights in his train and _trong company of archers. Above all, an heir to the throne had been born i_ordeaux, and the prince might leave his spouse with an easy mind, for all wa_ell with mother and with child.
  • The keys of the mountain passes still lay in the hands of the shifty an_gnoble Charles of Navarre, who had chaffered and bargained both with th_nglish and with the Spanish, taking money from the one side to hold them ope_nd from the other to keep them sealed. The mallet hand of Edward, however,
  • had shattered all the schemes and wiles of the plotter. Neither entreaty no_ourtly remonstrance came from the English prince; but Sir Hugh Calverle_assed silently over the border with his company, and the blazing walls of th_wo cities of Miranda and Puenta de la Reyna warned the unfaithful monarc_hat there were other metals besides gold, and that he was dealing with a ma_o whom it was unsafe to lie. His price was paid, his objections silenced, an_he mountain gorges lay open to the invaders. From the Feast of the Epiphan_here was mustering and massing, until, in the first week of February—thre_ays after the White Company joined the army—the word was given for a genera_dvance through the defile of Roncesvalles. At five in the cold winter'_orning the bugles were blowing in the hamlet of St. Jean Pied-du-Port, and b_ix Sir Nigel's Company, three hundred strong, were on their way for th_efile, pushing swiftly in the dim light up the steep curving road; for it wa_he prince's order that they should be the first to pass through, and tha_hey should remain on guard at the further end until the whole army ha_merged from the mountains. Day was already breaking in the east, and th_ummits of the great peaks had turned rosy red, while the valleys still lay i_he shadow, when they found themselves with the cliffs on either hand and th_ong, rugged pass stretching away before them.
  • Sir Nigel rode his great black war-horse at the head of his archers, dresse_n full armor, with Black Simon bearing his banner behind him, while Alleyn_t his bridle-arm carried his blazoned shield and his well-steeled ashe_pear. A proud and happy man was the knight, and many a time he turned in hi_addle to look at the long column of bowmen who swung swiftly along behin_im.
  • "By Saint Paul! Alleyne," said he, "this pass is a very perilous place, and _ould that the King of Navarre had held it against us, for it would have bee_ very honorable venture had it fallen to us to win a passage. I have hear_he minstrels sing of one Sir Roland who was slain by the infidels in thes_ery parts."
  • "If it please you, my fair lord," said Black Simon, "I know something of thes_arts, for I have twice served a term with the King of Navarre. There is _ospice of monks yonder, where you may see the roof among the trees, and ther_t was that Sir Roland was slain. The village upon the left is Orbaiceta, an_ know a house therein where the right wine of Jurancon is to be bought, if i_ould please you to quaff a morning cup."
  • "There is smoke yonder upon the right."
  • "That is a village named Les Aldudes, and I know a hostel there also where th_ine is of the best. It is said that the inn-keeper hath a buried treasure,
  • and I doubt not, my fair lord, that if you grant me leave I could prevail upo_im to tell us where he hath hid it."
  • "Nay, nay, Simon," said Sir Nigel curtly, "I pray you to forget these fre_ompanion tricks. Ha! Edricson, I see that you stare about you, and in goo_ooth these mountains must seem wondrous indeed to one who hath but see_utser or the Portsdown hill."
  • The broken and rugged road had wound along the crests of low hills, wit_ooded ridges on either side of it over which peeped the loftier mountains,
  • the distant Peak of the South and the vast Altabisca, which towered high abov_hem and cast its black shadow from left to right across the valley. Fro_here they now stood they could look forward down a long vista of beech wood_nd jagged rock-strewn wilderness, all white with snow, to where the pas_pened out upon the uplands beyond. Behind them they could still catch _limpse of the gray plains of Gascony, and could see her rivers gleaming lik_oils of silver in the sunshine. As far as eye could see from among the rock_orges and the bristles of the pine woods there came the quick twinkle an_litter of steel, while the wind brought with it sudden distant bursts o_artial music from the great host which rolled by every road and by-pat_owards the narrow pass of Roncesvalles. On the cliffs on either side migh_lso be seen the flash of arms and the waving of pennons where the force o_avarre looked down upon the army of strangers who passed through thei_erritories.
  • "By Saint Paul!" said Sir Nigel, blinking up at them, "I think that we hav_uch to hope for from these cavaliers, for they cluster very thickly upon ou_lanks. Pass word to the men, Aylward, that they unsling their bows, for _ave no doubt that there are some very worthy gentlemen yonder who may give u_ome opportunity for honorable advancement."
  • "I hear that the prince hath the King of Navarre as hostage," said Alleyne,
  • "and it is said that he hath sworn to put him to death if there be any attac_pon us."
  • "It was not so that war was made when good King Edward first turned his han_o it," said Sir Nigel sadly. "Ah! Alleyne, I fear that you will never live t_ee such things, for the minds of men are more set upon money and gain than o_ld. By Saint Paul! it was a noble sight when two great armies would dra_ogether upon a certain day, and all who had a vow would ride forth t_ischarge themselves of it. What noble spear-runnings have I not seen, an_ven in an humble way had a part in, when cavaliers would run a course for th_asing of their souls and for the love of their ladies! Never a bad word hav_ for the French, for, though I have ridden twenty times up to their array, _ave never yet failed to find some very gentle and worthy knight or squire wh_as willing to do what he might to enable me to attempt some small feat o_rms. Then, when all cavaliers had been satisfied, the two armies would com_o hand-strokes, and fight right merrily until one or other had the vantage.
  • By Saint Paul! it was not our wont in those days to pay gold for the openin_f passes, nor would we hold a king as hostage lest his people come to thrust_ith us. In good sooth, if the war is to be carried out in such a fashion,
  • then it is grief to me that I ever came away from Castle Twynham, for I woul_ot have left my sweet lady had I not thought that there were deeds of arms t_e done."
  • "But surely, my fair lord," said Alleyne, "you have done some great feats o_rms since we left the Lady Loring."
  • "I cannot call any to mind," answered Sir Nigel.
  • "There was the taking of the sea-rovers, and the holding of the keep agains_he Jacks."
  • "Nay, nay," said the knight, "these were not feats of arms, but mere waysid_entures and the chances of travel. By Saint Paul! if it were not that thes_ills are over-steep for Pommers, I would ride to these cavaliers of Navarr_nd see if there were not some among them who would help me to take this patc_rom mine eye. It is a sad sight to see this very fine pass, which my ow_ompany here could hold against an army, and yet to ride through it with a_ittle profit as though it were the lane from my kennels to the Avon."
  • All morning Sir Nigel rode in a very ill-humor, with his Company trampin_ehind him. It was a toilsome march over broken ground and through snow, whic_ame often as high as the knee, yet ere the sun had begun to sink they ha_eached the spot where the gorge opens out on to the uplands of Navarre, an_ould see the towers of Pampeluna jutting up against the southern sky-line.
  • Here the Company were quartered in a scattered mountain hamlet, and Alleyn_pent the day looking down upon the swarming army which poured with gleam o_pears and flaunt of standards through the narrow pass.
  • "Hola, mon gar.," said Aylward, seating himself upon a boulder by his side.
  • "This is indeed a fine sight upon which it is good to look, and a man might g_ar ere he would see so many brave men and fine horses. By my hilt! our littl_ord is wroth because we have come peacefully through the passes, but I wil_arrant him that we have fighting enow ere we turn our faces northward again.
  • It is said that there are four-score thousand men behind the King of Spain,
  • with Du Guesclin and all the best lances of France, who have sworn to she_heir heart's blood ere this Pedro come again to the throne."
  • "Yet our own army is a great one," said Alleyne.
  • "Nay, there are but seven-and-twenty thousand men. Chandos hath persuaded th_rince to leave many behind, and indeed I think that he is right, for there i_ittle food and less water in these parts for which we are bound. A ma_ithout his meat or a horse without his fodder is like a wet bow-string, fi_or little. But voila, mon petit, here comes Chandos and his company, an_here is many a pensil and banderole among yonder squadrons which show tha_he best blood of England is riding under his banners."
  • Whilst Aylward had been speaking, a strong column of archers had defile_hrough the pass beneath them. They were followed by a banner-bearer who hel_igh the scarlet wedge upon a silver field which proclaimed the presence o_he famous warrior. He rode himself within a spear's-length of his standard,
  • clad from neck to foot in steel, but draped in the long linen gown or paremen_hich was destined to be the cause of his death. His plumed helmet was carrie_ehind him by his body-squire, and his head was covered by a small purple cap,
  • from under which his snow-white hair curled downwards to his shoulders. Wit_is long beak-like nose and his single gleaming eye, which shone brightly fro_nder a thick tuft of grizzled brow, he seemed to Alleyne to have something o_he look of some fierce old bird of prey. For a moment he smiled, as his ey_it upon the banner of the five roses waving from the hamlet; but his cours_ay for Pampeluna, and he rode on after the archers.
  • Close at his heels came sixteen squires, all chosen from the highest families,
  • and behind them rode twelve hundred English knights, with gleam of steel an_ossing of plumes, their harness jingling, their long straight swords clankin_gainst their stirrup-irons, and the beat of their chargers' hoofs like th_ow deep roar of the sea upon the shore. Behind them marched six hundre_heshire and Lancashire archers, bearing the badge of the Audleys, followed b_he famous Lord Audley himself, with the four valiant squires, Dutton o_utton, Delves of Doddington, Fowlehurst of Crewe, and Hawkestone o_ainehill, who had all won such glory at Poictiers. Two hundred heavily-arme_avalry rode behind the Audley standard, while close at their heels came th_uke of Lancaster with a glittering train, heralds tabarded with the roya_rms riding three deep upon cream-colored chargers in front of him. On eithe_ide of the young prince rode the two seneschals of Aquitaine, Sir Guiscar_'Angle and Sir Stephen Cossington, the one bearing the banner of the provinc_nd the other that of Saint George. Away behind him as far as eye could reac_olled the far-stretching, unbroken river of steel—rank after rank and colum_fter column, with waving of plumes, glitter of arms, tossing of guidons, an_lash and flutter of countless armorial devices. All day Alleyne looked dow_pon the changing scene, and all day the old bowman stood by his elbow,
  • pointing out the crests of famous warriors and the arms of noble houses. Her_ere the gold mullets of the Pakingtons, the sable and ermine of th_ackworths, the scarlet bars of the Wakes, the gold and blue of th_rosvenors, the cinque-foils of the Cliftons, the annulets of the Musgraves,
  • the silver pinions of the Beauchamps, the crosses of the Molineaux, the blood_hevron of the Woodhouses, the red and silver of the Worsleys, the swords o_he Clarks, the boars'-heads of the Lucies, the crescents of the Boyntons, an_he wolf and dagger of the Lipscombs. So through the sunny winter day th_hivalry of England poured down through the dark pass of Roncesvalles to th_lains of Spain.
  • It was on a Monday that the Duke of Lancaster's division passed safely throug_he Pyrenees. On the Tuesday there was a bitter frost, and the ground run_ike iron beneath the feet of the horses; yet ere evening the prince himself,
  • with the main battle of his army, had passed the gorge and united with hi_anguard at Pampeluna. With him rode the King of Majorca, the hostage King o_avarre, and the fierce Don Pedro of Spain, whose pale blue eyes gleamed wit_ sinister light as they rested once more upon the distant peaks of the lan_hich had disowned him. Under the royal banners rode many a bold Gascon baro_nd many a hot-blooded islander. Here were the high stewards of Aquitaine, o_aintonge, of La Rochelle, of Quercy, of Limousin, of Agenois, of Poitou, an_f Bigorre, with the banners and musters of their provinces. Here also wer_he valiant Earl of Angus, Sir Thomas Banaster with his garter over hi_reave, Sir Nele Loring, second cousin to Sir Nigel, and a long column o_elsh footmen who marched under the red banner of Merlin. From dawn to sundow_he long train wound through the pass, their breath reeking up upon the frost_ir like the steam from a cauldron.
  • The weather was less keen upon the Wednesday, and the rear-guard made goo_heir passage, with the bombards and the wagon-train. Free companions an_ascons made up this portion of the army to the number of ten thousand men.
  • The fierce Sir Hugh Calverley, with his yellow mane, and the rugged Sir Rober_nolles, with their war-hardened and veteran companies of English bowmen,
  • headed the long column; while behind them came the turbulent bands of th_astard of Breteuil, Nandon de Bagerant, one-eyed Camus, Black Ortingo, L_uit and others whose very names seem to smack of hard hands and ruthles_eeds. With them also were the pick of the Gascon chivalry—the old Du_'Armagnac, his nephew Lord d'Albret, brooding and scowling over his wrongs,
  • the giant Oliver de Clisson, the Captal de Buch, pink of knighthood, th_prightly Sir Perducas d'Albret, the red-bearded Lord d'Esparre, and a lon_rain of needy and grasping border nobles, with long pedigrees and shor_urses, who had come down from their hill-side strongholds, all hungering fo_he spoils and the ransoms of Spain. By the Thursday morning the whole arm_as encamped in the Vale of Pampeluna, and the prince had called his counci_o meet him in the old palace of the ancient city of Navarre.