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Chapter 35 HOW SIR NIGEL HAWKED AT AN EAGLE.

  • To the south of Pampeluna in the kingdom of Navarre there stretched a hig_able-land, rising into bare, sterile hills, brown or gray in color, an_trewn with huge boulders of granite. On the Gascon side of the grea_ountains there had been running streams, meadows, forests, and littl_estling villages. Here, on the contrary, were nothing but naked rocks, poo_asture, and savage, stone-strewn wastes. Gloomy defiles or barranca_ntersected this wild country with mountain torrents dashing and foamin_etween their rugged sides. The clatter of waters, the scream of the eagle, and the howling of wolves the only sounds which broke upon the silence in tha_reary and inhospitable region.
  • Through this wild country it was that Sir Nigel and his Company pushed thei_ay, riding at times through vast defiles where the brown, gnarled cliffs sho_p on either side of them, and the sky was but a long winding blue sli_etween the clustering lines of box which fringed the lips of the precipices; or, again leading their horses along the narrow and rocky paths worn by th_uleteers upon the edges of the chasm, where under their very elbows the_ould see the white streak which marked the  _gave_  which foamed a thousan_eet below them. So for two days they pushed their way through the wild place_f Navarre, past Fuente, over the rapid Ega, through Estella, until upon _inter's evening the mountains fell away from in front of them, and they sa_he broad blue Ebro curving betwixt its double line or homesteads and o_illages. The fishers of Viana were aroused that night by rough voice_peaking in a strange tongue, and ere morning Sir Nigel and his men ha_erried the river and were safe upon the land of Spain.
  • All the next day they lay in a pine wood near to the town of Logrono, restin_heir horses and taking counsel as to what they should do. Sir Nigel had wit_im Sir William Felton, Sir Oliver Buttesthorn, stout old Sir Simon Burley, the Scotch knight-errant, the Earl of Angus, and Sir Richard Causton, al_ccounted among the bravest knights in the army, together with sixty vetera_en-at-arms, and three hundred and twenty archers. Spies had been sent out i_he morning, and returned after nightfall to say that the King of Spain wa_ncamped some fourteen miles off in the direction of Burgos, having with hi_wenty thousand horse and forty-five thousand foot.
  • A dry-wood fire had been lit, and round this the leaders crouched, the glar_eating upon their rugged faces, while the hardy archers lounged and chatte_mid the tethered horses, while they munched their scanty provisions.
  • "For my part," said Sir Simon Burley, "I am of opinion that we have alread_one that which we have come for. For do we not now know where the king is, and how great a following he hath, which was the end of our journey."
  • "True," answered Sir William Felton, "but I have come on this venture becaus_t is a long time since I have broken a spear in war, and, certes, I shall no_o back until I have run a course with some cavalier of Spain. Let those g_ack who will, but I must see more of these Spaniards ere I turn."
  • "I will not leave you, Sir William," returned Sir Simon Burley; "and yet, a_n old soldier and one who hath seen much of war, I cannot but think that i_s an ill thing for four hundred men to find themselves between an army o_ixty thousand on the one side and a broad river on the other."
  • "Yet," said Sir Richard Causton, "we cannot for the honor of England go bac_ithout a blow struck."
  • "Nor for the honor of Scotland either," cried the Earl of Angus. "By Sain_ndrew! I wish that I may never set eyes upon the water of Leith again, if _luck my horse's bridle ere I have seen this camp of theirs."
  • "By Saint Paul! you have spoken very well," said Sir Nigel, "and I have alway_eard that there were very worthy gentlemen among the Scots, and fin_kirmishing to be had upon their border. Bethink you, Sir Simon, that we hav_his news from the lips of common spies, who can scarce tell us as much of th_nemy and of his forces as the prince would wish to hear."
  • "You are the leader in this venture, Sir Nigel," the other answered, "and I d_ut ride under your banner."
  • "Yet I would fain have your rede and counsel, Sir Simon. But, touching wha_ou say of the river, we can take heed that we shall not have it at the bac_f us, for the prince hath now advanced to Salvatierra, and thence t_ittoria, so that if we come upon their camp from the further side we can mak_ood our retreat."
  • "What then would you propose?" asked Sir Simon, shaking his grizzled head a_ne who is but half convinced.
  • "That we ride forward ere the news reach them that we have crossed the river.
  • In this way we may have sight of their army, and perchance even find occasio_or some small deed against them."
  • "So be it, then," said Sir Simon Burley; and the rest of the council havin_pproved, a scanty meal was hurriedly snatched, and the advance resumed unde_he cover of the darkness. All night they led their horses, stumbling an_roping through wild defiles and rugged valleys, following the guidance of _rightened peasant who was strapped by the wrist to Black Simon's stirrup- leather. With the early dawn they found themselves in a black ravine, wit_thers sloping away from it on either side, and the bare brown crags rising i_ong bleak terraces all round them.
  • "If it please you, fair lord," said Black Simon, "this man hath misled us, an_ince there is no tree upon which we may hang him, it might be well to hur_im over yonder cliff."
  • The peasant, reading the soldier's meaning in his fierce eyes and hars_ccents dropped upon his knees, screaming loudly for mercy.
  • "How comes it, dog?" asked Sir William Felton in Spanish. "Where is this cam_o which you swore that you would lead us?"
  • "By the sweet Virgin! By the blessed Mother of God!" cried the tremblin_easant, "I swear to you that in the darkness I have myself lost the path."
  • "Over the cliff with him!" shouted half a dozen voices; but ere the archer_ould drag him from the rocks to which he clung Sir Nigel had ridden up an_alled upon them to stop.
  • "How is this, sirs?" said he. "As long as the prince doth me the honor t_ntrust this venture to me, it is for me only to give orders; and, by Sain_aul! I shall be right blithe to go very deeply into the matter with any on_o whom my words may give offence. How say you, Sir William? Or you, my Lor_f Angus? Or you, Sir Richard?"
  • "Nay, nay, Nigel!" cried Sir William. "This base peasant is too small a matte_or old comrades to quarrel over. But he hath betrayed us, and certes he hat_erited a dog's death."
  • "Hark ye, fellow," said Sir Nigel. "We give you one more chance to find th_ath. We are about to gain much honor, Sir William, in this enterprise, and i_ould be a sorry thing if the first blood shed were that of an unworthy boor.
  • Let us say our morning orisons, and it may chance that ere we finish he ma_trike upon the track."
  • With bowed heads and steel caps in hand, the archers stood at their horse'_eads, while Sir Simon Burley repeated the Pater, the Ave, and the Credo. Lon_id Alleyne bear the scene in mind—the knot of knights in their dull leaden- hued armor, the ruddy visage of Sir Oliver, the craggy features of th_cottish earl, the shining scalp of Sir Nigel, with the dense ring of hard, bearded faces and the long brown heads of the horses, all topped and circle_y the beetling cliffs. Scarce had the last deep "amen" broken from th_ompany, when, in an instant, there rose the scream of a hundred bugles, wit_he deep rolling of drums and the clashing of cymbals, all sounding togethe_n one deafening uproar. Knights and archers sprang to arms, convinced tha_ome great host was upon them; but the guide dropped upon his knees an_hanked Heaven for its mercies.
  • "We have found them, caballeros!" he cried. "This is their morning call. If y_ill but deign to follow me, I will set them before you ere a man might tel_is beads."
  • As he spoke he scrambled down one of the narrow ravines, and, climbing over _ow ridge at the further end, he led them into a short valley with a strea_urling down the centre of it and a very thick growth of elder and of box upo_ither side. Pushing their way through the dense brushwood, they looked ou_pon a scene which made their hearts beat harder and their breath come faster.
  • In front of them there lay a broad plain, watered by two winding streams an_overed with grass, stretching away to where, in the furthest distance, th_owers of Burgos bristled up against the light blue morning sky. Over all thi_ast meadow there lay a great city of tents—thousands upon thousands of them, laid out in streets and in squares like a well-ordered town. High silke_avilions or colored marquees, shooting up from among the crowd of meane_wellings, marked where the great lords and barons of Leon and Castil_isplayed their standards, while over the white roofs, as far as eye coul_each, the waving of ancients, pavons, pensils, and banderoles, with flash o_old and glow of colors, proclaimed that all the chivalry of Iberia wer_ustered in the plain beneath them. Far off, in the centre of the camp, a hug_alace of red and white silk, with the royal arms of Castile waiving from th_ummit, announced that the gallant Henry lay there in the midst of hi_arriors.
  • As the English adventurers, peeping out from behind their brushwood screen, looked down upon this wondrous sight they could see that the vast army i_ront of them was already afoot. The first pink light of the rising su_littered upon the steel caps and breastplates of dense masses of slingers an_f crossbowmen, who drilled and marched in the spaces which had been left fo_heir exercise. A thousand columns of smoke reeked up into the pure mornin_ir where the faggots were piled and the camp-kettles already simmering. I_he open plain clouds of light horse galloped and swooped with swaying bodie_nd waving javelins, after the fashion which the Spanish had adopted fro_heir Moorish enemies. All along by the sedgy banks of the rivers long line_f pages led their masters' chargers down to water, while the knight_hemselves lounged in gayly-dressed groups about the doors of their pavilions, or rode out, with their falcons upon their wrists and their greyhounds behin_hem, in quest of quail or of leveret.
  • "By my hilt! mon gar.!" whispered Aylward to Alleyne, as the young squir_tood with parted lips and wondering eyes, gazing down at the novel scen_efore him, "we have been seeking them all night, but now that we have foun_hem I know not what we are to do with them."
  • "You say sooth, Samkin," quoth old Johnston. "I would that we were upon th_ar side of Ebro again, for there is neither honor nor profit to be gaine_ere. What say you, Simon?"
  • "By the rood!" cried the fierce man-at-arms, "I will see the color of thei_lood ere I turn my mare's head for the mountains. Am I a child, that I shoul_ide for three days and nought but words at the end of it?"
  • "Well said, my sweet honeysuckle!" cried Hordle John. "I am with you, lik_ilt to blade. Could I but lay hands upon one of those gay prancers yonder, _oubt not that I should have ransom enough from him to buy my mother a ne_ow."
  • "A cow!" said Aylward. "Say rather ten acres and a homestead on the banks o_von."
  • "Say you so? Then, by our Lady! here is for yonder one in the red jerkin!"
  • He was about to push recklessly forward into the open, when Sir Nigel himsel_arted in front of him, with his hand upon his breast.
  • "Back!" said he. "Our time is not yet come, and we must lie here unti_vening. Throw off your jacks and headpieces, least their eyes catch th_hine, and tether the horses among the rocks."
  • The order was swiftly obeyed, and in ten minutes the archers were stretche_long by the side of the brook, munching the bread and the bacon which the_ad brought in their bags, and craning their necks to watch the ever-changin_cene beneath them. Very quiet and still they lay, save for a muttered jest o_hispered order, for twice during the long morning they heard bugle-calls fro_mid the hills on either side of them, which showed that they had thrus_hemselves in between the outposts of the enemy. The leaders sat amongst th_ox-wood, and took counsel together as to what they should do; while fro_elow there surged up the buzz of voices, the shouting, the neighing o_orses, and all the uproar of a great camp.
  • "What boots it to wait?" said Sir William Felton. "Let us ride down upon thei_amp ere they discover us."
  • "And so say I," cried the Scottish earl; "for they do not know that there i_ny enemy within thirty long leagues of them."
  • "For my part," said Sir Simon Burley, "I think that it is madness, for yo_annot hope to rout this great army; and where are you to go and what are yo_o do when they have turned upon you? How say you, Sir Oliver Buttesthorn?"
  • "By the apple of Eve!" cried the fat knight, "it appears to me that this win_rings a very savory smell of garlic and of onions from their cooking-kettles.
  • I am in favor of riding down upon them at once, if my old friend and comrad_ere is of the same mind."
  • "Nay," said Sir Nigel, "I have a plan by which we may attempt some small dee_pon them, and yet, by the help of God, may be able to draw off again; which, as Sir Simon Burley hath said, would be scarce possible in any other way."
  • "How then, Sir Nigel?" asked several voices.
  • "We shall lie here all day; for amid this brushwood it is ill for them to se_s. Then when evening comes we shall sally out upon them and see if we may no_ain some honorable advancement from them."
  • "But why then rather than now?"
  • "Because we shall have nightfall to cover us when we draw off, so that we ma_ake our way back through the mountains. I would station a score of archer_ere in the pass, with all our pennons jutting forth from the rocks, and a_any nakirs and drums and bugles as we have with us, so that those who follo_s in the fading light may think that the whole army of the prince is upo_hem, and fear to go further. What think you of my plan, Sir Simon?"
  • "By my troth! I think very well of it," cried the prudent old commander. "I_our hundred men must needs run a tilt against sixty thousand, I cannot se_ow they can do it better or more safely."
  • "And so say I," cried Felton, heartily. "But I wish the day were over, for i_ill be an ill thing for us if they chance to light upon us."
  • The words were scarce out of his mouth when there came a clatter of loos_tones, the sharp clink of trotting hoofs, and a dark-faced cavalier, mounte_pon a white horse, burst through the bushes and rode swiftly down the valle_rom the end which was farthest from the Spanish camp. Lightly armed, with hi_izor open and a hawk perched upon his left wrist, he looked about him wit_he careless air of a man who is bent wholly upon pleasure, and unconscious o_he possibility of danger. Suddenly, however, his eyes lit upon the fierc_aces which glared out at him from the brushwood. With a cry of terror, h_hrust his spurs into his horse's sides and dashed for the narrow opening o_he gorge. For a moment it seemed as though he would have reached it, for h_ad trampled over or dashed aside the archers who threw themselves in his way; but Hordle John seized him by the foot in his grasp of iron and dragged hi_rom the saddle, while two others caught the frightened horse.
  • "Ho, ho!" roared the great archer. "How many cows wilt buy my mother, if I se_hee free?"
  • "Hush that bull's bellowing!" cried Sir Nigel impatiently. "Bring the ma_ere. By St. Paul! it is not the first time that we have met; for, if _istake not, it is Don Diego Alvarez, who was once at the prince's court."
  • "It is indeed I," said the Spanish knight, speaking in the French tongue, "an_ pray you to pass your sword through my heart, for how can I live—I, _aballero of Castile—after being dragged from my horse by the base hands of _ommon archer?"
  • "Fret not for that," answered Sir Nigel. "For, in sooth, had he not pulled yo_own, a dozen cloth-yard shafts had crossed each other in your body."
  • "By St. James! it were better so than to be polluted by his touch," answere_he Spaniard, with his black eyes sparkling with rage and hatred. "I trus_hat I am now the prisoner of some honorable knight or gentleman."
  • "You are the prisoner of the man who took you, Sir Diego," answered Sir Nigel.
  • "And I may tell you that better men than either you or I have found themselve_efore now prisoners in the hands of archers of England."
  • "What ransom, then, does he demand?" asked the Spaniard.
  • Big John scratched his red head and grinned in high delight when the questio_as propounded to him. "Tell him," said he, "that I shall have ten cows and _ull too, if it be but a little one. Also a dress of blue sendall for mothe_nd a red one for Joan; with five acres of pasture-land, two scythes, and _ine new grindstone. Likewise a small house, with stalls for the cows, an_hirty-six gallons of beer for the thirsty weather."
  • "Tut, tut!" cried Sir Nigel, laughing. "All these things may be had for money; and I think, Don Diego, that five thousand crowns is not too much for s_enowned a knight."
  • "It shall be duly paid him."
  • "For some days we must keep you with us; and I must crave leave also to us_our shield, your armor, and your horse."
  • "My harness is yours by the law of arms," said the Spaniard, gloomily.
  • "I do but ask the loan of it. I have need of it this day, but it shall be dul_eturned to you. Set guards, Aylward, with arrow on string, at either end o_he pass; for it may happen that some other cavaliers may visit us ere th_ime be come." All day the little band of Englishmen lay in the sheltere_orge, looking down upon the vast host of their unconscious enemies. Shortl_fter mid-day, a great uproar of shouting and cheering broke out in the camp, with mustering of men and calling of bugles. Clambering up among the rocks, the companions saw a long rolling cloud of dust along the whole eastern sky- line, with the glint of spears and the flutter of pennons, which announced th_pproach of a large body of cavalry. For a moment a wild hope came upon the_hat perhaps the prince had moved more swiftly than had been planned, that h_ad crossed the Ebro, and that this was his vanguard sweeping to the attack.
  • "Surely I see the red pile of Chandos at the head of yonder squadron!" crie_ir Richard Causton, shading his eyes with his hand.
  • "Not so," answered Sir Simon Burley, who had watched the approaching host wit_ darkening face. "It is even as I feared. That is the double eagle of D_uesclin."
  • "You say very truly," cried the Earl of Angus. "These are the levies o_rance, for I can see the ensigns of the Marshal d'Andreghen, with that of th_ord of Antoing and of Briseuil, and of many another from Brittany and Anjou."
  • "By St. Paul! I am very glad of it," said Sir Nigel. "Of these Spaniards _now nothing; but the French are very worthy gentlemen, and will do what the_an for our advancement."
  • "There are at the least four thousand of them, and all men-at-arms," cried Si_illiam Felton. "See, there is Bertrand himself, beside his banner, and ther_s King Henry, who rides to welcome him. Now they all turn and come into th_amp together."
  • As he spoke, the vast throng of Spaniards and of Frenchmen trooped across th_lain, with brandished arms and tossing banners. All day long the sound o_evelry and of rejoicing from the crowded camp swelled up to the ears of th_nglishmen, and they could see the soldiers of the two nations throwin_hemselves into each other's arms and dancing hand-in-hand round the blazin_ires. The sun had sunk behind a cloud-bank in the west before Sir Nigel a_ast gave word that the men should resume their arms and have their horse_eady. He had himself thrown off his armor, and had dressed himself from hea_o foot in the harness of the captured Spaniard.
  • "Sir William," said he, "it is my intention to attempt a small deed, and I as_ou therefore that you will lead this outfall upon the camp. For me, I wil_ide into their camp with my squire and two archers. I pray you to watch me, and to ride forth when I am come among the tents. You will leave twenty me_ehind here, as we planned this morning, and you will ride back here after yo_ave ventured as far as seems good to you."
  • "I will do as you order, Nigel; but what is it that you propose to do?"
  • "You will see anon, and indeed it is but a trifling matter. Alleyne, you wil_ome with me, and lead a spare horse by the bridle. I will have the tw_rchers who rode with us through France, for they are trusty men and of stou_eart. Let them ride behind us, and let them leave their bows here among th_ushes for it is not my wish that they should know that we are Englishmen. Sa_o word to any whom we may meet, and, if any speak to you, pass on as thoug_ou heard them not. Are you ready?"
  • "I am ready, my fair lord," said Alleyne.
  • "And I," "And I," cried Aylward and John.
  • "Then the rest I leave to your wisdom, Sir William; and if God sends u_ortune we shall meet you again in this gorge ere it be dark."
  • So saying, Sir Nigel mounted the white horse of the Spanish cavalier, and rod_uietly forth from his concealment with his three companions behind him, Alleyne leading his master's own steed by the bridle. So many small parties o_rench and Spanish horse were sweeping hither and thither that the small ban_ttracted little notice, and making its way at a gentle trot across the plain, they came as far as the camp without challenge or hindrance. On and on the_ushed past the endless lines of tents, amid the dense swarms of horsemen an_f footmen, until the huge royal pavilion stretched in front of them. The_ere close upon it when of a sudden there broke out a wild hubbub from _istant portion of the camp, with screams and war-cries and all the wil_umult of battle. At the sound soldiers came rushing from their tents, knight_houted loudly for their squires, and there was mad turmoil on every hand o_ewildered men and plunging horses. At the royal tent a crowd of gorgeousl_ressed servants ran hither and thither in helpless panic for the guard o_oldiers who were stationed there had already ridden off in the direction o_he alarm. A man-at-arms on either side of the doorway were the sol_rotectors of the royal dwelling.
  • "I have come for the king," whispered Sir Nigel; "and, by Saint Paul! he mus_ack with us or I must bide here."
  • Alleyne and Aylward sprang from their horses, and flew at the two sentries, who were disarmed and beaten down in an instant by so furious and unexpecte_n attack. Sir Nigel dashed into the royal tent, and was followed by Hordl_ohn as soon as the horses had been secured. From within came wild screaming_nd the clash of steel, and then the two emerged once more, their swords an_orearms reddened with blood, while John bore over his shoulder the senseles_ody of a man whose gay surcoat, adorned with the lions and towers of Castile, proclaimed him to belong to the royal house. A crowd of white-faced sewers an_ages swarmed at their heels, those behind pushing forwards, while th_oremost shrank back from the fierce faces and reeking weapons of th_dventurers. The senseless body was thrown across the spare horse, the fou_prang to their saddles, and away they thundered with loose reins and bus_purs through the swarming camp.
  • But confusion and disorder still reigned among the Spaniards for Sir Willia_elton and his men had swept through half their camp, leaving a long litter o_he dead and the dying to mark their course. Uncertain who were thei_ttackers, and unable to tell their English enemies from their newly-arrive_reton allies, the Spanish knights rode wildly hither and thither in aimles_ury. The mad turmoil, the mixture of races, and the fading light, were all i_avor of the four who alone knew their own purpose among the vast uncertai_ultitude. Twice ere they reached open ground they had to break their wa_hrough small bodies of horses, and once there came a whistle of arrows an_inging of stones about their ears; but, still dashing onwards, they shot ou_rom among the tents and found their own comrades retreating for the mountain_t no very great distance from them. Another five minutes of wild gallopin_ver the plain, and they were all back in their gorge, while their pursuer_ell back before the rolling of drums and blare of trumpets, which seemed t_roclaim that the whole army of the prince was about to emerge from th_ountain passes.
  • "By my soul! Nigel," cried Sir Oliver, waving a great boiled ham over hi_ead, "I have come by something which I may eat with my truffles! I had a har_ight for it, for there were three of them with their mouths open and th_nives in their hands, all sitting agape round the table, when I rushed i_pon them. How say you, Sir William, will you not try the smack of the fame_panish swine, though we have but the brook water to wash it down?"
  • "Later, Sir Oliver," answered the old soldier, wiping his grimed face. "W_ust further into the mountains ere we be in safety. But what have we here, Nigel?"
  • "It is a prisoner whom I have taken, and in sooth, as he came from the roya_ent and wears the royal arms upon his jupon, I trust that he is the King o_pain."
  • "The King of Spain!" cried the companions, crowding round in amazement.
  • "Nay, Sir Nigel," said Felton, peering at the prisoner through the uncertai_ight, "I have twice seen Henry of Transtamare, and certes this man in no wa_esembles him."
  • "Then, by the light of heaven! I will ride back for him," cried Sir Nigel.
  • "Nay, nay, the camp is in arms, and it would be rank madness. Who are you, fellow?" he added in Spanish, "and how is it that you dare to wear the arms o_astile?"
  • The prisoner was bent recovering the consciousness which had been squeeze_rom him by the grip of Hordle John. "If it please you," he answered, "I an_ine others are the body-squires of the king, and must ever wear his arms, s_s to shield him from even such perils as have threatened him this night. Th_ing is at the tent of the brave Du Guesclin, where he will sup to night. Bu_ am a caballero of Aragon, Don Sancho Penelosa, and, though I be no king, _m yet ready to pay a fitting price for my ransom."
  • "By Saint Paul! I will not touch your gold," cried Sir Nigel. "Go back to you_aster and give him greeting from Sir Nigel Loring of Twynham Castle, tellin_im that I had hoped to make his better acquaintance this night, and that, i_ have disordered his tent, it was but in my eagerness to know so famed an_ourteous a knight. Spur on, comrades! for we must cover many a league ere w_an venture to light fire or to loosen girth. I had hoped to ride without thi_atch to-night, but it seems that I must carry it yet a little longer."