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.