A gloomy sorrow fell upon the city, and upon the whole country, not only on the common people, but on everybody; the lucky star of the kingdom was extinguished. Even to many among the lords, everything looked black. They began to ask themselves and others, what would happen now? whether the king had the right to remain after the queen's death and rule over the country; or whether he would return to Lithuania and be satisfied with the throne of the viceroy? Some of them supposed—and the future proved that they thought correctly—that the king himself would be willing to withdraw; and that, in such an event the large provinces would separate from the crown, and the Lithuanians would again begin their attacks against the inhabitants of the kingdom. The Knights of the Cross would become stronger; mightier would become the Roman emperor and the Hungarian king; and the Polish kingdom, one of the mightiest until yesterday, would be ruined and disgraced.
The merchants, for whom waste territories in Lithuania and in Russia had been opened, forseeing great losses, made pious vows, hoping that Jagiello might remain on the throne. But in that event, they predicted a war with the Order. It was known that the queen only could restrain his anger. The people recollected a previous occasion, when being indignant at the avidity and rapacity of the Knights of the Cross, she spoke to them in a prophetic vision: "As long as I live, I will restrain my husband's hand and his righteous anger; but remember that after my death, there will fall upon you the punishment for your sins."
In their pride and folly, they were not afraid of a war, calculating, that after the queen's death, the charm of her piety would no longer restrain the wish for affluence of volunteers from eastern countries, and that then thousands of warriors from Germany, Burgundia, France and other countries, would join the Knights of the Cross.
The death of Jadwiga was an event of such importance, that the envoy Lichtenstein, could wait no longer for the answer of the absent king; but started immediately for Marienburg, in order to communicate as soon as possible to the grand master and to the chapter the important, and in some ways, threatening news.
The Hungarian, the Austrian and the Bohemian envoys followed him or sent messengers to their monarchs. Jagiello returned to Krakow in great despair. At first he declared to the lords, that he did not wish to rule without the queen and that he would return to Litwa. Afterward, on account of his grief, he fell into such a stupor, that he could not attend to any affairs of state, and could not answer any questions. Sometimes he was very angry with himself, because he had gone away, and had not been present at the queen's death to bid her farewell and to hear her last words and wishes. In vain Stanislaw of Skarbimierz and Bishop Wysz explained to him that the queen's illness came suddenly, and that according to human calculations he would have had plenty of time to go and return if the confinement had occurred at the expected time. These words did not bring him any consolation; did not assuage his grief. "I am no king without her," he answered the bishop; "only a repentant sinner, who can receive no consolation!" After that he looked at the ground and no one could induce him to speak even one word.
Meanwhile preparations for the queen's funeral occupied all minds. From all over the country, great crowds of lords, nobles and peasants were going to Krakow. The body of the queen was placed in the cathedral on an elevation, so arranged that the end of the coffin in which the queen's head rested, was much higher than the other end. It was so arranged purposely, to enable the people to see the queen's face. In the cathedral continual prayers were offered; around the catafalque thousands of wax candles were burning. In the glare of the candles and among the flowers, she lay quiet and smiling, looking like a mystic rose. The people saw in her a saint; they brought to her those possessed with devils, the crippled and the sick children. From time to time there was heard in the church, the exclamation of some mother who perceived the color return to the face of her sick child; or the joyful voice of some paralytic man who at once was cured. Then human hearts trembled and the news spread throughout the church, the castle, and the city, and attracted more and more of such human wretchedness as only from a miracle could expect help.
During this time Zbyszko was entirely forgotten. Who in the time of such sorrow and misfortune, could remember about the noble lad or about his imprisonment in the tower of the castle? Zbyszko had heard, however, from the guards, about the queen's illness. He had heard the noise of the people around the castle; when he heard their weeping and the tolling of the bells, he threw himself on his knees, and having forgotten about his own lot, began to mourn the death of the worshipped lady. It seemed to him, that with her, something died within him and that after her death, there was nothing worth living for in this world.
The echo of the funeral—the church bells, the processional songs and the lamenting of the crowd,—was heard for several weeks. During that time, he grew gloomier, lost his appetite, could not sleep and walked in his underground cell like a wild beast in a cage. He suffered in solitude; there were often days during which the jailer did not bring him food nor water. So much was everybody engaged with the queen's funeral, that after her death nobody came to see him: neither the princess, nor Danusia, nor Powala of Taczew, nor the merchant Amylej. Zbyszko thought with bitterness, that as soon as Macko left the city, everybody forgot about him. Sometimes he thought that perhaps the law would forget about him also, and that he would putrefy in the prison till death. Then he prayed for death.
Finally, when after the queen's funeral one month passed, and the second commenced, he began to doubt if Macko would ever return. Macko had promised to ride quickly and not to spare his horse. Marienburg was not at the other end of the world. One could reach it and return in twelve weeks, especially if one were in haste. "But perhaps he has not hurried!" thought Zbyszko, bitterly; "perhaps he has found some woman whom he will gladly conduct to Bogdaniec, and beget his own progeny while I must wait here centuries for God's mercy."
Finally he lost all trace of time, and ceased altogether to talk with the jailer. Only by the spider web thickly covering the iron grating of the window, did he know that fall was near at hand. Whole hours he sat on his bed, his elbows resting on his knees, his fingers in his long hair. Half dreaming and stiff, he did not raise his head even when the warden bringing him food, spoke to him. But at last one day the bolts of the door creaked, and a familiar voice called him from the threshold;
"Uncle!" exclaimed Zbyszko, rushing from the bed.
Macko seized him in his arms, and began to kiss his fair head. Grief, bitterness and loneliness had so filled the heart of the youth, that he began to cry on his uncle's breast like a little child.
"I thought you would never come back," said he, sobbing.
"That came near being true," answered Macko.
Now Zbyszko raised his head and having looked at him, exclaimed:
"What was the matter with you?"
He looked with amazement at the emaciated and pallid face of the old warrior, at his bent figure and his gray hair.
"What was the matter with you?" he repeated.
Macko sat on the bed and for a while breathed heavily.
"What was the matter?" said he, finally.
"Hardly had I passed the frontier, before the Germans whom I met in the forest, wounded me with a crossbow. Raubritters! You know! I cannot breathe! God sent me help, otherwise you would not see me here."
"Who rescued you?"
"Jurand of Spychow," answered Macko.
There was a moment of silence.
"They attacked me; but half a day later he attacked them and hardly half of them escaped. He took me with him to the grodek and then to Spychow. I fought with death for three weeks. God did not let me die and although I am not well yet, I have returned."
"Then you have not been in Malborg?"
"On what would I ride? They robbed me of everything and they took the letter with the other things. I returned to ask Princess Ziemowitowa for another; but I have not met her yet, and whether I will see her or not, I do not know. I must prepare for the other world!"
Having said this, he spit on the palm of his hand and stretching it toward Zbyszko, showed him blood on it, saying:
"Do you see?"
After a while he added:
"It must be God's will."
They were both silent for a time under the burden of their gloomy thoughts; then Zbyszko said:
"Then you spit blood continually?"
"How can I help it; there is a spear head half a span long between my ribs. You would spit also! I was a little better before I left Jurand of Spychow; but now I am very tired, because the way was long and I hastened."
"He; I why did you hasten?"
"Because I wished to see Princess Alexandra and get another letter from her. Jurand of Spychow said 'Go and bring the letter to Spychow. I have a few Germans imprisoned here. I will free one of them if he promise upon his knightly word to carry the letter to the gland master.' For vengeance for his wife's death, he always keeps several German captives and listens joyfully when they moan and their chains rattle. He is a man full of hatred. Understand?"
"I understand. But I wonder that you did not recover the lost letter, if Jurand captured those who attacked you."
"He did not capture all of them. Five or six escaped. Such is our lot!"
"How did they attack you? From ambush?"
"From behind such thick bushes that one could see nothing. I was riding without armor, because the merchants told me that the country was safe, and it was warm."
"Who was at the head of the robbers? A Krzyzak?"
"Not a friar, but a German. Chelminczyk of Lentz, famous for his robberies on the highway."
"What became of him?"
"Jurand chained him. But he has in his dungeons two noblemen, Mazurs, whom he wishes to exchange for himself."
There was a moment of silence.
"Dear Jesus," Zbyszko said, finally; "Lichtenstein is alive, and also that robber from Lentz; but we must perish without vengeance. They will behead me and you will not be able to live through the winter."
"Bah! I will not live even until winter. If I could only help you in some way to escape."
"Have you seen anybody here?"
"I went to see the castellan of Krakow. When I learned that Lichtenstein had departed, I thought perhaps the castellan would be less severe."
"Then Lichtenstein went away?"
"Immediately after the queen's death, he went to Marienburg. I went to see the castellan; but he answered me thus: 'They will execute your nephew, not to please Lichtenstein, but because that is his sentence. It will make no difference whether Lichtenstein be here or not. Even if he die, nothing will be changed; the law is according to justice and not like a jacket, which you can turn inside out. The king can show clemency; but no one else.'"
"And where is the king?"
"After the funeral he went to Rus'."
"Well, then there is no hope at all."
"No." The castellan said still further: "I pity him, because the Princess Anna begs for his pardon, but I cannot, I cannot!"
"Then Princess Anna is still here?"
"May God reward her! She is a good lady. She is still here, because Jurandowna is sick, and the princess loves her as her own child."
"For God's sake! Then Danusia is sick! What is the matter with her?"
"I don't know! The princess says that somebody has thrown a spell over her."
"I am sure it is Lichtenstein! Nobody else,—only Lichtenstein—a dog-brother!"
"It may be he. But what can you do to him? Nothing!"
"That is why they all seemed to have forgotten me here; she was sick."
Having said this, Zbyszko began to walk up and down the room; finally he seized Macko's hand, kissed it, and said:
"May God reward you for everything! If you die, I will be the cause of your death. Before you get any worse, you must do one thing more. Go to the castellan and beg him to release me, on my knightly word, for twelve weeks. After that time I will return, and they may behead me. But it must not be that we both die without vengeance. You know! I will go to Marienburg, and immediately send a challenge to Lichtenstein. It cannot be otherwise. One of us must die!"
Macko began to rub his forehead.
"I will go; but will the castellan permit?"
"I will give my knightly word. For twelve weeks—I do not need more."
"No use to talk; twelve weeks! And if you are wounded, you cannot return; what will they think then?"
"I will return if I have to crawl. But don't be afraid! In the meanwhile the king may return and one will be able to beseech him for clemency."
"That is true," answered Macko.
But after awhile he added:
"The castellan also told me this: 'On account of the queen's death, we forgot about your nephew; but now his sentence must be executed.'"
"Ej, he will permit," answered Zbyszko, hopefully. "He knows that a nobleman will keep his word, and it is just the same to him, whether they behead me now, or after St. Michael's day."
"Ha! I will go to-day."
"You better go to Amylej to-day, and rest awhile. He will bandage your wound, and to-morrow you can go to the castellan."
"Well, with God then!"
They hugged each other and Macko turned toward the door; but he stopped on the threshold and frowned as if he remembered something unpleasant.
"Bah, but you do not yet wear the girdle of a knight; Lichtenstein will tell you that he will not fight with you; what can you do then?"
Zbyszko was filled with sorrow, but only for a moment, then he said:
"How is it during war? Is it necessary that a knight choose only knights?"
"War is war; a single combat is quite different."
"True, but wait. You must find some way. Well, there is a way! Prince Janusz will dub me a knight. If the princess and Danusia ask him, he will do it. In the meantime I will fight in Mazowsze with the son of Mikolaj of Dlugolas."
"Because Mikolaj, the same who is with the princess and whom they call Obuch, called Danusia, 'bush.'"
Macko looked at him in amazement. Zbyszko, wishing to explain better about what had occurred, said further:
"I cannot forgive that, but I cannot fight with Mikolaj, because he must be nearly eighty years old."
To this Macko said:
"Listen! It is a pity that you should lose your head; but there will not be a great loss of brains, because you are stupid like a goat."
"Why are you angry?"
Macko did not answer, but started to leave. Zbyszko sprang toward him and said:
"How is Danusia? Is she well yet? Don't be angry for a trifle. You have been absent so long!"
Again he bent toward the old man who shrugged his shoulders and said mildly:
"Jurandowna is well, only they will not let her go out of her room yet. Good-bye!"
Zbyszko remained alone, but he felt as if he had been regenerated. He rejoiced to think that he might be allowed to live three months more. He could go to remote lands; he could find Lichtenstein, and engage in deadly combat with him. Even the thought about that filled him with joy. He would be fortunate, to be able to ride a horse, even for twelve weeks; to be able to fight and not perish without vengeance. And then—let happen what would happen—it would be a long time anyhow! The king might return and forgive him. War might break out, and the castellan himself when he saw the victor of the proud Lichtenstein, might say: "Go now into the woods and the fields!"
Therefore a great hope entered his heart. He did not think that they would refuse to grant him those three months. He thought that perhaps they would grant hem more. The old Pan of Tenczyn would never admit that a nobleman could not keep his word.
Therefore when Macko came to the prison, the next day toward evening, Zbyszko, who could hardly sit quiet, sprang toward him and asked:
Macko sat on the truckle-bed, because he could not stand on account of his feebleness; for a while he breathed heavily and finally said:
"The castellan said: 'If you wish to divide your land, or attend to your household, then I will release your nephew for a week or two on his knightly word, but for no longer.'"
Zbyszko was so much surprised, that for a while he could not say a word.
"For two weeks?" asked he, finally. "But I could not even reach the frontier in two weeks! How is it? You did not tell the castellan why I wished to go to Marienburg?"
"Not only I, but the Princess Anna begged for you."
"And what then?"
"What? The old man told her that he did not want your head, and that he pitied you. 'If I could find,' said he, 'some law in his favor, or only a pretext, I would release him altogether; but I cannot. There would be no order in a country in which the people shut their eyes to the law, and acted according to friendship; I will not do it; even if it were Toporczyk, who is a relative of mine, or even my own brother, I would not. Such hard people are here!' And he said still further; 'We do not care about the Knights of the Cross; but we cannot bring reproach on ourselves. What would they think of us, and all our guests, coming from all parts of the world, if I release a nobleman sentenced to death, in order to give him a chance to fight? Would they believe that he will be punished, and that there is some law in our country? I prefer to order one head cut off, than to bring contempt on the king and the kingdom.' The princess told him that that was strange justice, from which even a king's relative could not obtain anything by her prayer; but the old man answered: 'The king may use clemency; but he will not tolerate lawlessness.' Then they began to quarrel because the princess grew very angry: 'Then,' said she, 'don't keep him in the prison!' And the castellan replied to this: 'Very well! To-morrow I will order a scaffold built on the market square.' Then they departed. Only the Lord Jesus can help you."
There was a long moment of silence.
"What?" he said, gloomily. "Then it will be immediately?"
"In two or three days. There is no help. I have done what I could. I fell at the castellan's knees; I implored him for mercy, but he repeated: 'Find a law, or a pretext.' But what can I find? I went to see the ksiondz Stanislaw of Skarbimierz, and I begged him to come to you. At least you will have this honor, that the same priest who heard the queen's confession will hear yours. But I did not find him home; he had gone to Princess Anna."
"Perhaps for Danusia!"
"Not at all. The girl is better. I will go see him to-morrow early in the morning. They say that if he bears one's confession, salvation is as sure as if you had it in your pocket."
Zbyszko put his elbows on his knees and dropped his head so that his hair covered his face entirely. The old man looked at him a long time and finally began to call him softly:
The boy raised his head. His face had an expression of anger and of cold hatred, but not of weakness.
"Listen carefully; perhaps I have found a way of escape."
Having said this, he approached and began to whisper:
"Have your heard about Prince Witold, who at one time, being imprisoned by our king in Krewo, went out from the prison disguised in a woman's dress. There is no woman who will remain here instead of you, but take my kubrak. Take my cowl and go—understand? They will not notice. It is dark behind the door. They will not flash a light into your eyes. They saw me yesterday going out; but they did not look at me closely. Be quiet and listen. They will find me here to-morrow—and what then? Will they cut my head off? That will be no satisfaction, because I will die anyhow in three or four weeks. And you, as soon as you are out of here, to horse, and go straight to Prince Witold. You will present yourself to him; you will bow before him; he will receive you and you will be as safe with him as if you were sitting at God's right hand. They say here that the kniaz's armies have been defeated by the Tartars, because the late queen prophesied defeat. If it be true, the kniaz will need soldiers and he will welcome you. You must remain with him, because there is no better service in the world. If our king were defeated in a war, it would be his end; but there is such an amount of shrewdness in Kniaz Witold, that after a defeat he grows still more powerful. And he is liberal also, and he loves our family. Tell him everything that happened. Tell him that you wanted to go with him against the Tartars; but you could not because you were imprisoned in the tower. If God permit, he will give you some land and peasants; he will dub you a knight and he will intercede for you with the king. He is a good protector—you will see!—What?"
Zbyszko listened silently, and Macko, as if he was excited by his own words, spoke further:
"You must not perish young, but return to Bogdaniec. And when you return, you must immediately take a wife so that our family does not perish. Only when you have children, may you challenge Lichtenstein to fight until death; but before that, you must abstain from seeking vengeance. Take my kubrak now, take my cowl and go, in God's name."
Having said this, Macko stood up and began to undress; but Zbyszko arose also, stopped him and said:
"I will not do it, so help me God and Holy Cross."
"Why?" asked Macko, astonished.
"Because I will not!"
Macko became pale with anger.
"I wish you had never been born!"
"You told the castellan," said Zbyszko, "that you would give your head in exchange for mine."
"How do you know that?"
"The Pan of Taczew told me."
"What of it?"
"What of it? The castellan told you that disgrace would fall on me and on all my family Would it not be a still greater disgrace, if I escaped from here, and left you to the vengeance of the law?"
"What vengeance? What can the law do to me, when I must die just the same? Have common sense, for God's mercy!"
"May God punish me if I abandon you now when you are old and sick. Tfu! shame!"
There was silence; one could only hear the heavy, hoarse breathing of Macko, and the archers' calls.
"Listen," Macko said, finally, in broken tones, "it was not shameful for Kniaz Witold to escape from Krewo; it would not be for you, either."
"Hej!"' answered Zbyszko, with sadness "You know! Kniaz Witold is a great kniaz; he received a crown from the king's hand, also riches and dominion; but I, a poor nobleman, have only my honor."
After a while he exclaimed in a sudden burst of anger:
"Then you do not understand that I love you, and that I will not give your head instead of mine?"
At this, Macko stood on his trembling feet, stretched out his hands, and although the nature of the people of those days, was hard, as if forged of iron, be cried suddenly in a heartbroken voice:
The next day, the court servants began to make preparations in the market square, to build the scaffold which was to be erected opposite the principal gate of the city hall.
The princess, however, was still consulting with Wojciech Jastrzembiec, Stanislaw of Skarbimierz and other learned canons, who were familiar with the written laws and also with the laws sanctioned by custom.
She was encouraged in these efforts by the castellan's words, when he said, that if they showed him "law or pretext," he would free Zbyszko. Therefore they consulted earnestly, to ascertain if there were any law or custom that would do. Although the ksiondz Stanislaw, had prepared Zbyszko for death and administered the last sacraments, he went directly from the prison to the consultation, which lasted almost till daybreak.
The day of execution arrived. From early morning, crowds of people had begun to gather on the market square, because the decapitation of a nobleman excited more curiosity than that of a common criminal. The weather was beautiful. News of the youth and great beauty of the sentenced man, spread among the women. Therefore the whole road leading to the castle, was filled with crowds of townswomen, dressed in their best; in the windows on the market square, and on the balconies, could be seen velvet bonnets, or the fair heads of young girls, ornamented only with wreaths of lilies and roses. The city councilors, although the affair did not belong in their jurisdiction, all appeared, in order to show their importance and placed themselves near the scaffold. The knights, wishing to show their sympathy for the young man, gathered in great numbers around the elevation. Behind them swarmed the gayly dressed crowd, composed of small merchants and artisans dressed in their guild costumes. Over this compact mass of human heads, one could see the scaffold which was covered with new broadcloth. On the elevation stood the executioner, a German, with broad shoulders, dressed in a red kubrak and on his head a cowl of the same color; he carried a heavy two-edged sword; with him were two of his assistants with naked arms and ropes at their girdles. There were also a block and a coffin covered with broadcloth. In Panna Maryia's tower, the bells were ringing, filling the town with metallic sounds and scaring the flocks of doves and jackdaws. The people looked at the scaffold, and at the executioner's sword protruding from it and shining in the sun. They also looked at the knights, on whom the burghers always gazed with respect and eagerness. This time it was worth while looking at them. The most famous knights were standing round the elevation. They admired the broad shoulders and dark hair, falling in abundant curls of Zawisza Czarny; they admired the short square figure of Zyndram of Maszkow as well as the gigantic stature of Paszko Zlodziej of Biskupice; the threatening face of Wojciech of Wodzinek and the great beauty of Dobko of Olesnica, who at the tournament in Torun had defeated twelve knights; they looked admiringly at Zygmunt of Bobowa, who became equally famous in Koszyce in a fight with the Hungarians, at Krzon of Kozieglowy, at Lis of Targowisko, who was victorious in duels, and at Staszko of Charbimowice who was able to catch a running horse.
General attention was also attracted by the pale face of Macko of Bogdanice; he was supported by Floryan of Korytnica and Marcin of Wrocimowice. It was generally thought that he was the sentenced man's father.
But the greatest curiosity was aroused by Powala of Taczew who, standing in front, was holding Danusia, dressed in white, with a wreath of green rue resting on her fair hair. The people did not understand what it meant, nor why this young girl was present to look at the execution. Some of them thought she was a sister; others, that she was the knight's lady; but none were able to explain the meaning of her dress or of her presence at the scaffold. The sight of her fair face covered with tears, aroused commiseration and emotion. The people began to criticise the castellan's stubbornness, and the severity of the laws. Those criticisms gradually changed to threats. Finally, here and there, some voices were heard to say, that if the scaffold were destroyed, then the execution would be postponed.
The crowd became eager and excited. They said that if the king were present, he would surely pardon the youth.
But all became quiet when distant shoutings announced the approach of the king's archers, escorting the prisoner. The procession soon appeared in the market square. It was preceded by a funeral fraternity, the members of which were dressed in long black cloaks, and were covered with veils of the same color, which had openings cut for the eyes. The people were afraid of these gloomy figures and became silent. They were followed by a detachment of soldiers, armed with crossbows, and dressed in elk-skin jerkins; these were the king's Lithuanian guards. Behind them one could see the halberds of another detachment of soldiers. In the centre, between the clerk of the court, who was going to read the sentence, and the ksiondz Stanislaw of Skarbimierz who was carrying a crucifix, walked Zbyszko.
All eyes now turned toward him, and at all the windows and from all the balconies, women's heads protruded. Zbyszko was dressed in his white "jaka," embroidered with golden griffins and ornamented with gold galoon; in these magnificent clothes he looked like a young prince, or the page of a wealthy court. His broad shoulders and chest and his powerful haunches indicated that he was already a full-grown man; but above that strong figure of a man, appeared a childish face with down on the upper lip. It was a beautiful face like that of a king's page, with golden hair cut evenly over the eyebrows and falling on the shoulders. He walked erect, but was very pale. From time to time he looked at the crowd as if he was dreaming; he looked at the church towers, toward the flocks of jackdaws, and at the bells, ringing his last hour; then his face expressed amazement when he realized that the sobbing of the women, and all this solemnity was for him. Finally, he perceived the scaffold and the executioner's red figure standing on it. Then he shivered and made the sign of the Cross; the priest gave him the crucifix to kiss. A few steps further, a bouquet of roses thrown by a young girl, fell at his feet. Zbyszko stooped, picked up the bouquet and smiled at the girl who began to cry. But evidently he thought that, amidst these crowds and in the presence of these women, waving their kerchiefs from the windows, he must die courageously and at least leave behind him the reputation of "a brave man;" therefore he strained his courage and will to the utmost. With a sudden movement, he threw his hair back, raised his head still higher and walked proudly, almost like a conqueror, whom, according to knightly custom, they conduct to get the prize. The procession advanced slowly, because the crowd was dense and unwillingly made way. In vain the Lithuanian guard, marching in front, shouted: "Eyk szalin! Eyk szalin! go away!" The people did not wish to understand these words, and surrounded the soldiers more closely. Although about one-third of the burghers of Krakow were Germans, still there were heard on all sides, threats against the Knights of the Cross: "Shame! Shame! May they perish, those wolves! Must they cut off children's heads for them! Shame on the king and on the kingdom!" The Lithuanians seeing the resistance, took their crossbows from their shoulders, and menaced the crowd; but they did not dare to attack without orders. The captain sent some men to open the way with their halberds and in that manner they reached the knights standing around the scaffold.
They stepped aside without any resistance. The men with halberds entered first, and were followed by Zbyszko, accompanied by the priest and the clerk of the court. At that moment something happened which nobody had expected. From among the knights, Powala stepped forward with Danusia in his arms and shouted: "Stop!" with such a powerful voice, that the retinue stopped at once, as if rooted to the ground. Neither the captain, nor any of the soldiers dared to oppose the lord and knight, whom they were accustomed to see every day in the castle and often in confidential conversation with the king. Finally, other knights, equally distinguished, also began to shout with commanding voices:
"Stop! Stop!" In the meantime, the Pan of Taczew approached Zbyszko and handed Danusia to him.
Zbyszko caught her in his arms and pressed her to his chest, bidding her farewell; but Danusia instead of nestling to him and embracing him, immediately took her white veil from her head and wrapped it around Zbyszko's head, and began to cry in her tearful, childish voice:
"He is mine! He is mine!"
"He is hers!" shouted the powerful voices of the knights. "To the castellan!"
A shout, like the roar of thunder, answered: "To the castellan! To the castellan!" The priest raised his eyes, the clerk looked confused, the captain and his soldiers dropped their arms; everybody understood what had happened.
There was an old Polish and Slavonic custom, as strong as the law, known in Podhale, around Krakow, and even further. If a young girl threw her veil on a man conducted to death, as a sign that she wished to marry him, by so doing she saved his life. The knights, farmers, villagers and townsmen all knew this custom; and the Germans living in the old cities and towns, had heard about it. The old man, Macko, almost fainted with emotion; the knights having pushed away the guards, surrounded Zbyszko and Danusia; the joyful people shouted again and again: "To the castellan! To the castellan!"
The crowd moved suddenly, like the waves of the sea. The executioner and his assistants rushed down from the scaffold. Everybody understood that if Jasko of Tenczyn resisted the custom, there would be a riot in the city. In fact the people now rushed to the scaffold. In the twinkling of an eye, they pulled off the cloth and tore it into pieces; then the beams and planks, pulled by strong arms, or cut with axes, began to crack, then a crash, and a few moments later there was not a trace left of the scaffold.
Zbyszko, holding Danusia in his arms, was going to the castle, but this time like a true victor,—triumphant. With him were marching joyfully the most noted knights in the kingdom; thousands of men, women and children were shouting and singing, stretching their arms toward Danusia and praising the beauty and courage of both. At the windows the townswomen were clasping their hands, and everywhere one could see faces covered with tears of joy. A shower of roses, lilies, ribbons and even gold rings were thrown to the lucky youth; he, beaming like the sun, with his heart full of gratitude, embraced his sweet lady from time to time and sometimes kissed her hands. This sight made the townswomen feel so tender, that some of them threw themselves into the arms of their lovers, telling them that if they encountered death, they also would be freed. Zbyszko and Danusia became the beloved children of the knights, burghers and common people. Macko, whom Floryan of Korytnica and Marcin of Wrocimowice were assisting to walk, was almost beside himself with joy. He wondered why he had not even thought about this means of assistance. Amidst the general bustle, Powala of Taczew told the knights that this remedy had been discovered by Wojciech Jastrzembiec and Stanislaw of Skarbimierz, both experts in the written laws and customs. The knights were all amazed at its simplicity, saying among themselves, that nobody else would have thought about that custom, because the city was inhabited by Germans, and it had not been used for a long time.
Everything, however, still depended on the castellan. The knights and the people went to the castle, which was occupied by Pan Krakowski during the king's absence. The clerk of the court, the ksiondz Stanislaw of Skarbimierz, Zawisza, Farurej, Zyndram of Maszkow and Powala of Taczew explained to him the power of the custom and reminded him of what he had said himself, that if he found "law or pretext," then he would release the prisoner immediately. And could there be any better law, than the old custom which had never been abolished?
The Pan of Tenczyn answered that this custom applied more to the common people and to robbers, than to the nobles; but he knew the law very well, and could not deny its validity. Meanwhile he covered his silvery beard with his hand and smiled, because he was very much pleased. Finally he went to the low portico, accompanied by Princess Anna Danuta, a few priests and the knights.
Zbyszko having perceived him, lifted Danusia again; the old castellan placed his hand on her golden hair, and gravely and benevolently inclined his hoary head. The assembled people understood this sign and shouted so that the walls of the castle were shaken: "May God preserve you! Long life, just lord! Live and judge us!"
Then the people cheered Zbyszko and Danusia when a moment later, they both went to the portico, fell at the feet of the good Princess Anna Danuta, who had saved Zbyszko's life, because she, together with the scholars, had found the remedy and had taught Danusia how to act.
"Long life to the young couple!" shouted Powala of Taczew.
"Long life!" repeated the others. The castellan, hoary with age, turned toward the princess and said:
"Gracious princess, the betrothal must be performed immediately, because the custom requires it!"
"The betrothal will take place immediately," answered the good lady, whose face was irradiated with joy; "but for the wedding, they must have the consent of Jurand of Spychow."
END OF PART FIRST.
In merchant Amylej's house, Macko and Zbyszko were deliberating what to do. The old knight expected to die soon, and Father Cybek, a Franciscan friar who had experience in treating wounds, predicted the same; therefore he wanted to return to Bogdaniec to die and be buried beside his forefathers in the cemetery in Ostrow.
But not all of his forefathers were buried there. In days of yore it had been a numerous family of wlodykas. During the war their cry was: "Grady!" On their shields, because they claimed to be better wlodykas than the others who had no right to a coat of arms, they had emblazoned a Tempa Podkowa. In 1331, in the battle of Plowce, seventy warriors from Bogdaniec were killed in the marshes by German archers. Only one Wojciech, called Tur, escaped. After this defeat by the Germans, the king, Wladyslaw Lokietek, granted him a coat of arms and the estate of Bogdaniec as a special privilege. Wojciech returned home, only to discover the complete annihilation of his family.
While the men of Bogdaniec were perishing from German arrows, the Raubritters of Szlonsk fell upon their homes, burned their buildings, and slaughtered or took into slavery the peasants. Wojciech remained alone, the heir of a large but devastated tract of land, which formerly belonged to the whole family of wlodykas. Five years afterward he married and he begot two sons, Jasko and Macko. Afterward he was killed in a forest by an urus.
The sons grew up under the mother's care. Her maiden name was Kachna of Spalenica. She was so brave that she conducted two successful expeditions against the Germans of Szlonsk to avenge former wrongs; but in the third expedition she was killed. Before that, however, she built with the help of the slaves, a grodek in Bogdaniec; on account of that, Jasko and Macko, although from their former estates of wlodykas were called wlodykas, now became men of importance. When Jasko became of age, he married Jagienka of Mocarzew, and begot Zbyszko; Macko remained unmarried. He took care of his nephew's property as far as his war expeditions permitted.
But when during the civil war between Grzymalits and Nalenczs, Bogdaniec was again burned and the peasants scattered, Macko could not restore it, although he toiled for several years. Finally he pledged the land to his relative, the abbot, and with Zbyszko who was small, he went to Lithuania to fight against the Germans.
But he had never forgotten about Bogdaniec. He went to Litwa hoping to become rich from booty so as to return to Bogdaniec, redeem the land from his pledge, colonize it with slaves, rebuild the grodek and settle Zbyszko on it. Therefore now, after Zbyszko's lucky deliverance, they were discussing this matter at the house of the merchant, Amylej.
They had money enough to redeem the land they possessed quite a fortune gathered from the booty, from the ransoms paid by the knights captured by them, and from Witold's presents. They had received great benefit from that fight with the two Fryzjan knights. The suits of armor alone, were worth what was considered in those times quite a fortune; beside the armor, they had captured wagons, people, clothes, money and rich implements of war. The merchant Amylej had just purchased many of these things, and among them two pieces of beautiful Flemish broadcloth. Macko sold the splendid armor, because he thought that he would have no use for it. The merchant sold it the next day to Marcin of Wrocimowice, whose coat of arms was Polkoza. He sold it for a large sum, because in those times the suits of armor made in Milan were considered the best in the world and were expensive. Zbyszko regretted very much that they sold it.
"If God give you back your health," said he, to his uncle, "where will you find another like it?"
"There, where I found this one; on some German," answered Macko. "But I shall not escape death. The head of the spear will not come out from my body. When I tried to pull it out with my hands, I pushed it in further. And now there is no help."
"You must drink two or three pots of bear's grease."
"Bah! Father Cybek also said that would be a good thing. But where can I get it here? In Bogdaniec one could very easily kill a bear!"
"Then we must go to Bogdaniec! Only you must not die on the road."
Old Macko looked at his nephew with tenderness.
"I know where you would like to go; to the Prince Janusz's court, or to Jurand of Spychow, and fight the Germans of Chelminsko."
"I will not deny it. I would be glad to go to Warszawa with the princess' court, or to go to Ciechanow; and I would remain as long as possible with Danusia, because now she is not only my lady, but my love also. I tremble when I think of her! I shall follow her even to the end of the world; but now you are first. You did not desert me, therefore I will never abandon you. We must go to Bogdaniec."
"You are a good man," said Macko.
"God would punish me, if I were not mindful of you. Look, they are getting ready! I ordered one wagon to be filled with hay. Amylejowna has made us a present of a feather bed, but I am afraid it will be too warm for you. We will travel slowly, in company with the princess' court, so that you may have good care. When they turn toward Mazowsze, we will turn toward home; may God help us!"
"If I can only live long enough to rebuild the grodek!" exclaimed Macko. "I know that after my death, you will not think anything more about Bogdaniec."
"Why will I not?"
"Because your head will be filled with thoughts of battles and of love."
"Did you not think yourself about war? I have planned what I must do; in the first place, I will rebuild the grodek."
"Do you mean to do that?" asked Macko, "Well, and when the grodek is finished?"
"When the grodek is rebuilt, then I will go to Warszawa to the prince's court, or to Ciechanow."
"After my death?"
"If you die soon, then after your death; but before I go, I will bury you properly; if the Lord Jesus restore your health, then you will remain in Bogdaniec. The princess promised me that I should receive my knightly girdle from the prince. Otherwise Lichtenstein will not fight with me."
"Then afterward you will go to Marienburg?"
"To Marienburg, or even to the end of the world to reach Lichtenstein."
"I do not blame you for it! Either he or you must die!"
"I will bring his girdle and his gloves to Bogdaniec; do not be frightened!"
"You must look out for treachery. There is plenty among them."
"I will bow to Prince Janusz and ask him to send to the grand master for a safe conduct. There is peace now. I will go to Marienburg, where there are always many knights. Then you know? In the first place, Lichtenstein; then I will look for those who wear peacock's tufts, and I will challenge them in turn. If the Lord Jesus grant me victory, then I will fulfill my vow."
Speaking thus, Zbyszko smiled at his own thoughts; his face was like that of a lad who tells what knightly deeds he will perform when he is a man.
"Hej!" said Macko; "if you defeat three knights belonging to great families, then you will not only fulfill your vow, but you will bring some booty!"
"Three!" exclaimed Zbyszko. "In the prison I promised myself, that I would not be selfish with Danusia. As many knights as I have fingers on both hands!"
Macko shrugged his shoulders.
"Are you surprised?" said Zbyszko. "From Marienburg I shall go to Jurand of Spychow. Why should I not bow to him, he is Danusia's father? With him I shall attack the Germans of Chelminsko. You told me yourself that in the whole of Mazowsze there was no greater ware-wolf against the Germans."
"And if he will not give you Danusia?"
"Why not? He is seeking his vengeance. I am searching for mine. Can he find a better man? And then, the princess has given her consent for the betrothal; he will not refuse."
"I see one thing," said Macko, "you will take all the people from Bogdaniec in order to have a retinue, as is proper for a knight, and the land will remain without hands to till it. As long as I live, I will not let you do it; but after my death, I see, you will take them."
"The Lord God will help me to get a retinue; Janko of Tulcza is a relation of ours and he will help me also."
At that moment the door opened, and as though to prove that the Lord God would help Zbyszko get a retinue, two men entered. They were dark-complexioned, short, dressed in Jewish-like yellow caftans, red caps and very wide trousers. They stopped in the doorway and touched their fingers to their foreheads, to their mouths, and then to their chests; then they bowed to the ground.
"Who are these devils?" asked Macko. "Who are you?"
"Your slaves," answered the newcomers in broken Polish.
"For what reason? Where from? Who sent you here?"
"Pan Zawisza sent us here as a present to the young knight, to be his slaves."
"O for God's sake! two men more!" exclaimed Macko, joyfully.
"Of what nationality are you?"
"We are Turks!"
"Turks?" repeated Zbyszko. "I shall have two Turks in my retinue. Have you ever seen Turks?"
And having jumped toward them, he began to turn them around and to look at them curiously. Macko said:
"I have never seen them; but I have heard, that the Pan of Garbow has Turks in his service whom he captured while fighting on the Danube with the Roman emperor, Zygmunt. How is it? Are you heathens, your dog-brothers?"
"The lord ordered us to be baptized," said one of the slaves.
"Did you have no money for ransom?"
"We are from far lands, from Asiatic shores, from Brussa."
Zbyszko, who always listened gladly to war stories, and especially when there was anything told about the deeds of the famous Zawisza of Garbow, began to inquire how they were captured. But there was nothing extraordinary in their narration; Zawisza attacked them in a ravine, part of them perished and part were captured; and he sent the prisoners as presents to his different friends. Zbyszko and Macko's hearts were throbing at the sight of such a noble gift, especially as it was difficult to get men in those days and the possession of them constituted true wealth.
In the meanwhile, Zawisza himself accompanied by Powala and Paszko Zlodzie; of Biskupice arrived. As they had all worked hard to free Zbyszko, they were pleased when they succeeded; therefore everyone of them gave him some present as a souvenir. The liberal Pan of Taczew gave him a beautiful large caparison embroidered with gold; Paszko, a Hungarian sword and ten grzywiens. Then came Lis of Targowisko, Farurej and Krzon of Kozieglowy, with Marcin of Wrocimowice and finally Zyndram of Maszkow; everyone brought rich presents.
Zbyszko welcomed them with a joyful heart, feeling very happy on account of the presents and because the most famous knights in the kingdom were showing him their friendship. They asked him about his departure and Macko's health, recommending to the latter, different remedies which would miraculously heal wounds.
But Macko recommended Zbyszko to their care, being ready himself for the other world. He said that it was impossible to live with an iron spear head between the ribs. He complained also that he spit blood and could not eat. A quart of shelled nuts, a sausage two spans long and a dish of boiled eggs were all he could eat at once. Father Cybek had bled him several times, hoping in that way to draw out the fever from around his heart, and restore his appetite; but it had not helped him any.
But he was so pleased with the presents given to his nephew, that at that moment he was feeling better, and when the merchant, Amylej, ordered a barrel of wine brought in honor of such famous guests, Macko drank with them. They began to talk about Zbyszko's deliverance and about his betrothal with Danusia. The knights did not doubt that Jurand of Spychow would give his consent, especially if Zbyszko avenged the death of Danusia's mother and captured the peacock tufts.
"But as for Lichtenstein," said Zawisza, "I do not think he will accept your challenge, because he is a friar, and also one of the officers in the Order. Bah! The people of his retinue told me that perhaps he would be elected grand master!"
"If he refuse to fight, he will lose his honor," said Lis of Targowisko.
"No," answered Zawisza, "because he is not a lay knight; and a friar is not permitted to fight in single combat."
"But it often happens that they do fight."
"Because the Order has become corrupt. The knights make different vows; but they often break them, thus setting a bad example to the whole Christian world. But a Krzyzak, especially a comthur, is not obliged to accept a challenge."
"Ha! Then only in war can you reach him."
"But they say, that there will be no war," said Zbyszko, "because the Knights of the Cross are afraid of our nation."
To this Zyndram of Maszkow said:
"This peace will not last long. There cannot be a good understanding with the wolf, because he must live on the goods of others."
"In the meantime, perhaps we will be obliged to fight with Tymur the Lame," said Powala. "Prince Witold was defeated by Edyga; that is certain."
"Certain. Wojewoda Spytko will not return," said Paszko Zlodziej of Biskupice.
"The late queen prophesied it would be so," said the Pan of Taczew.
"Ha! Then perhaps we will be obliged to go against Tymur."
Here the conversation was tunned to the Lithuanian expedition against the Tartars. There was no doubt that Prince Witold, that able commander being rather impetuous, had been badly defeated at Worskla, where a great number of the Lithuanian bojars and also a few Polish knights were killed. The knights now gathered in Amylej's house, pitied especially Spytek of Melsztyn, the greatest lord in the kingdom, who went with the expedition as a volunteer; and after the battle he was lost—nobody knew where. They praised his chivalrous deed, and told how he, having received from the commander of the enemy a protective kolpak, would not wear it during the battle, preferring honorable death to life granted him by the ruler of a heathen nation. But it was not certain yet, whether he had perished, or was in captivity. If he were a prisoner, he could pay his ransom himself, because his riches were enormous, and he also held in fief the whole Podole from King Wladyslaw.
But the defeat of Witold's army might prove ruinous to the whole of Jagiello's empire. Nobody knew when the Tartars, encouraged by the victory over Witold, might now invade the lands and cities belonging to the grand dukedom. In that case the kingdom of Poland would be involved in a war. Therefore many knights, who like Zawisza, Farurej, Dobko and even Powala, were accustomed to seek adventures and fights in foreign countries, remained in Krakow not knowing what might soon happen. In case Tamerlan, who was the ruler of twenty-seven states, moved the whole Mongolian world, then the peril to the kingdom would be great.
"If it be necessary, then we will measure our swords with the Lame. With us it will not be such an easy matter as it was with those other nations, which he conquered and exterminated. Then the other Christian princes will help us."
To this Zyndram of Maszkow, who especially hated the Order, said bitterly:
"I do not know about the princes; but the Knights of the Cross are ready to become friends even with the Tartars and attack us from the other side."
"Then we shall have a war!" exclaimed Zbyszko. "I am against the Krzyzaks!"
But the other knights began to contradict Zyndram. "The Knights of the Cross have no fear of God, and they seek only their own advantage; but they will not help the pagans against Christian people. And then Tymur is at war somewhere in Asia, and the commander of the Tartars, Edyga, lost so heavily in the battle, that he is afraid even of victory. Prince Witold is a man full of expedients, and you may be sure he took precautions; and even if this time the Lithuanians were not successful, at any rate it is not a new thing for them to overcome the Tartars."
"We have to fight for life and death; not with the Tartars but with the Germans," said Zyndram of Maszkow, "and if we do not crush them, our peril will come from them."
Then he turned toward Zbyszko:
"And in the first place Mazowsze will perish. You will always find plenty to do there; be not afraid!"
"Hej! if my uncle were well, I would go there immediately."
"God help you!" said Powala, raising a glass.
"Yours and Danusia's health!"
"To the destruction of the Germans!" added Zyndram of Maszkow.
Then they began to say farewell. At that moment one of the princess' courtiers entered with a falcon on his arm; and having bowed to the knights who were present, he turned with a peculiar smile to Zbyszko:
"The lady princess wished me to tell you," said he, "that she will stay in Krakow over night, and will start on the journey to-morrow."
"That is well," said Zbyszko; "but why? Is anybody sick?"
"No. But the princess has a visitor from Mazowsze."
"The prince himself?"
"Not the prince, but Jurand of Spychow," answered the courtier.
Having heard this, Zbyszko became very much confused, and his heart began to throb as it did when they read the sentence of death to him.
Princess Anna was not much surprised at the arrival of Jurand of Spychow. It used to happen, that during the continual attacks and fights with neighboring German knights, a sudden longing for Danusia seized him. Then he would appear unexpectedly in Warszawa, in Ciechanow, or wherever Prince Janusz's court was situated for the time being.
Every time he saw the child, his grief burst forth anew because Danusia looked like her mother. The people thought that his iron heart filled with feelings of vengeance, would become softer through such grief. The princess often tried to persuade him to abandon his bloody Spychow, and remain at the court near Danusia. The prince himself, appreciating his bravery and importance, and at the same time wishing to spare him the fatigue inevitable in the quarrels on the frontier, offered him the office of sword bearer. It was always in vain. The sight of Danusia opened the old wounds in his heart. After a few days he always lost his appetite, could not sleep, and became silent. Evidently his heart began to bleed, and finally he would disappear from the court and returned to the marshes of Spychow, in order to drown in blood his grief and anger. Then the people used to say: "Woe to the Germans! It is true they are not sheep; but they are sheep to Jurand, because he is a wolf to them." In fact, after a time, the news would spread about the volunteers who, going to join the Knights of the Cross, were captured on their journey; about burned towns, and captured peasants; or about deadly fights from which the terrible Jurand always emerged victorious. On account of the rapacious disposition of the Mazurs and of the German knights who were holding the land and the strongholds from the Order, even during the greatest peace between the prince of Mazowsze and the Order, continual fighting was going on near the frontier. Even when cutting wood in the forests or harvesting in the fields, the inhabitants used to carry their arms. The people living there felt no certainty for the morrow; were in continual readiness for war, and were hard-hearted. Nobody was satisfied with defence only; but for pillage repaid with pillage; for conflagration, with conflagration; for invasion, with invasion. It often happened that while the Germans were stealing through the forest, to attack some stronghold and to seize the peasants or the cattle, at the same time, the Mazurs were doing the same. Sometimes they met, then they fought; but often only the leaders challenged each other for a deadly fight, after which the conqueror took the retinue of his defeated adversary. Therefore, when complaints were received at the Warsavian court about Jurand, the prince used to reply with complaints about the attacks made by the Germans. Thus both sides asked for justice, but neither was willing to grant it; all robberies, conflagrations and invasions went unpunished.
But Jurand dwelling in Spychow, surrounded by marshes overgrown with rushes, and being filled with an unquenchable desire for vengeance, was so dreaded by his German neighbors, that finally their fear became greater than their courage. The lands bordering upon Spychow, were lying fallow; the forests were overgrown with wild hops and the meadows with reeds. Several German knights tried to settle in the neighborhood of Spychow; but everyone of them after a time, preferred to abandon his estate held in fief, his herds and his peasants, rather than live near this implacable man. Very often the knights planned a common expedition against Spychow; but everyone ended in defeat. They tried different means. One time they brought from the province of Mein, a knight noted for his strength and cruelty, and who had always been victorious in all fights. He challenged Jurand. But as soon as they entered the lists, the German was so frightened at the sight of the dreadful Mazur, that he wheeled his horse intending to flee; Jurand pierced his defenceless back with a spear, and in that way dishonored him forever. After that still greater fear filled the neighbors, and if a German perceived even from afar Spychowian smoke, he immediately crossed himself and began to pray to his patron in heaven. It was generally believed that Jurand had sold his soul to the evil one for the sake of vengeance.
The people told dreadful tales about Spychow: they said that the path leading to it through the quaggy marshes which were overgrown with duck weed and had bottomless depths, was so narrow that two men on horseback could not ride abreast; that on each side there were many Germans' bones, and that during the night, the heads of drowned men were seen walking on spiders' legs, howling and drawing travelers on horses into the depths. They also said that the gate in the grodek was ornamented with skeletons. These stories were not true. But in the barred pits dug under the house in Spychow, there were always many groaning prisoners; and Jurand's name was more dreadful than those tales about the skeletons and drowned people.
Zbyszko having learned of Jurand's arrival, hastened to him, but with a certain uneasiness in his heart because he was Danusia's father. Nobody could forbid him choose Danusia for the lady of his thoughts; but afterward the princess had betrothed them. What will Jurand say to that? Will he consent? What will happen if he refuse his consent? These questions filled his heart with fear, because he now cared for Danusia more than for anything else in the world. He was only encouraged by the thought that perhaps Jurand would praise him for having attacked Lichtenstein, because he had done it to avenge Danusia's mother; and in consequence had nearly lost his own head.
In the meantime he began to question the courtier, who had come to Amylej's for him:
"Where are you conducting me?" asked he; "to the castle?"
"Yes, to the castle. Jurand is with the princess' court."
"Tell me, what kind of a man he is, so that I may know how to talk with him!"
"What can I tell you! He is a man entirely different from other men. They say that he was mirthful before his blood became seared in his heart!"
"Is he clever?"
"He is cunning; he robs others but he does not let others rob him. Hej! He has only one eye, because the other was destroyed by the thrust of a German crossbow; but with that one, he can look a man through and through. He loves no one except the princess, our lady; and he loves her because his wife was a lady from her court, and now his daughter is with her."
"Then you think that he will not oppose the princess' will?"
"I know what you would like to learn, and therefore I will tell you what I heard. The princess spoke to him about your betrothment, because it would not be proper to conceal it from him; but it is not known what he said in reply."
While thus speaking, they arrived at the gate. The captain of the archers, the same who had conducted Zbyszko to the scaffold, now saluted them. After having passed the guards, they entered the court-yard and turned to the left toward the part of the castle occupied by the princess.
The courtier meeting a servant in the doorway, asked:
"Where is Jurand of Spychow?"
"In the 'krzywy room' with his daughter."
"It is there," said the courtier, pointing at the door.
Zbyszko crossed himself, raised the curtain in the doorway, and entered with throbbing heart. But he did not perceive Jurand and Danusia at once, because the room was not only "crooked" but dark also. But after a while he saw the fair head of the girl, who was sitting on her father's lap. They did not hear him when he entered; therefore e stopped near the door, and finally he said:
"May He be blessed!"
"For ages and ages," answered Jurand, rising.
At that moment Danusia sprang toward the young knight and having seized him with both hands, began to scream:
"Zbyszku! Tatus is here!"
Zbyszko kissed her hands; then he approached Jurand, and said:
"I came to bow to you; you know who I am."
And he bent slightly, making a movement with his hands as if he wished to seize Jurand by his knees. But Jurand grasped his hand, turned him toward the light and began to look at him.
Zbyszko had already regained his self-possession; therefore he looked with curiosity at Jurand. He beheld before him a gigantic man with fallow hair and moustache, with a face pitted with smallpox and one eye of iron-like color. It seemed to him as if this eye would pierce him, and he again became confused. Finally, not knowing what to say, but wishing to say something to break the embarrassing silence, he asked:
"Then you are Jurand of Spychow, Danusia's father?"
But the other only pointed to an oaken bench, standing beside the chair on which he sat himself and continued to look at Zbyszko, who finally became impatient, and said:
"It is not pleasant for me to sit as though I were in a court."
Then Jurand said:
"You wanted to fight with Lichtenstein?"
"Yes!" answered Zbyszko.
In the eye of the Lord of Spychow shone a strange light and his stern face began to brighten. After awhile he looked at Danusia and asked;
"And was it for her?"
"For no other! My uncle told you that I made a vow to her to tear the peacock tufts from German heads. But now there shall be not only three of them, but at least as many as I have fingers on both hands. In that way I will help you to avenge the death of Danusia's mother."
"Woe to them!" answered Jurand.
Then there was silence again. But Zbyszko, having noticed that by showing his hatred of the Germans, he would capture Jurand's heart, said:
"I will not forgive them! They nearly caused my death."
Here he turned to Danusia and added:
"She saved me."
"I know," said Jurand.
"Are you angry?"
"Since you made a vow to her, you must serve her, because such is the knightly custom."
Zbyszko hesitated; but after awhile, he began to say with evident uneasiness:
"Do you know that she covered my head with her veil? All the knights and also the Franciscan who was with me holding the cross, heard her say: 'He is mine!' Therefore I will be loyal to her until death, so help me God!"
Having said this, he kneeled, and wishing to show that he was familiar with the customs of chivalry, he kissed both of Danusia's shoes with great reverence. Then he arose and having turned to Jurand, asked him:
"Have you ever seen another as fair as she?"
Jurand suddenly put his hands behind his head, and having closed his eyes, he said loudly:
"I have seen one other; but the Germans killed her."
"Then listen," said Zbyszko, enthusiastically; "we have the same wrong and the same vengeance. Those dog-brothers also killed my people from Bogdaniec. You cannot find a better man for your work. It is no new thing for me! Ask my uncle. I can fight either with spear or axe, short sword or long sword! Did my uncle tell you about those Fryzjans? I will slaughter the Germans for you like sheep; and as for the girl, I vow to you on my knees that I will fight for her even with the starosta of hell himself, and that I will give her up neither for lands nor for herds, nor for any other thing! Even if some one offered me a castle with glass windows in it but without her, I would refuse the castle and follow her to the end of the world."
Jurand sat for awhile with his head between his hands; but finally he awakened as from a dream, and said with sadness and grief:
"I like you, young man, but I cannot give her to you; she is not destined for you, my poor boy."
Zbyszko hearing this, grew dumb and began to look at Jurand with wondering eyes.
But Danusia came to his help. Zbyszko was dear to her, and she was pleased to be considered not "a bush" but "a grown-up girl." She also liked the betrothal and the dainties which the knight used to bring her every day; therefore when she understood that she was likely to lose all this, she slipped down from the arm chair and having put her head on her father's lap, she began to cry:
"Tatulu, Tatulu!" He evidently loved her better than anything else, for he put his hand softly on her head, while from his face disappeared all trace of deadly grudge and anger; only sadness remained.
In the meantime Zbyszko recovered his composure, and now said:
"How is it? Do you wish to oppose God's will?"
To this Jurand replied:
"If it be God's will, then you will get her; but I cannot give you my consent. Bah! I would be glad to do it, but I cannot."
Having said this, he arose, took Danusia in his arms, and went toward the door. When Zbyszko tried to detain him, he stopped for a moment and said:
"I will not be angry with you if you render her knightly services; but do not ask me any questions, because I cannot tell you anything."
And he went out.
The next day Jurand did not avoid Zbyszko at all; and he did not prevent him from performing for Danusia, during the journey, those different services which, being her knight, he was obliged to render her. On the contrary, Zbyszko noticed that the gloomy Pan of Spychow looked at him kindly, as if he were regretting that he had been obliged to refuse his request. The young wlodyka tried several times to have some conversation with him. After they started from Krakow, there were plenty of opportunities during the journey, because both accompanied the princess on horseback; but as soon as Zbyszko endeavored to learn something about the secret difficulties separating him from Danusia, the conversation was suddenly ended.
Jurand's face became gloomy, and he looked at Zbyszko uneasily as if he were afraid he would betray himself.
Zbyszko thought that perhaps the princess knew what the obstacle was; so having an opportunity to speak to her privately, he inquired; but she could not tell him anything.
"Certainly there is some secret," she said. "Jurand himself told me that; but he begged me not to question him further, because he not only did not wish to tell what it was, but he could not. Surely he must be bound by some oath, as so often happens among the knights. But God will help us and everything will turn out well."
"Without Danusia I will be as unhappy as a chained dog or a bear in a ditch," answered Zbyszko. "There will be neither joy nor pleasure, nothing but sorrow and sighing; I will go against the Tartars with Prince Witold and may they kill me there. But first I must accompany uncle to Bogdaniec, and then tear from German heads the peacock's tufts as I promised. Perhaps the Germans will kill me; and I prefer such a death rather than to live and see some one else take Danusia."
The princess looked at him with her kind blue eyes, and asked him, with a certain degree of astonishment:
"Then you would permit it?"
"I? As long I have breath in my nostrils, it will not happen, unless my hand be paralyzed, and I be unable to hold my axe!"
"Then you see!"
"Bah! But how can I take her against her father's will?"
To this the princess said, as to herself:
"Does it not happen that way sometimes?"
Then to Zbyszko:
"God's will is stronger than a father's will. What did Jurand say to you? He said to me 'If it be God's will, then he will get her.'"
"He said the same to me!" exclaimed Zbyszko.
"Do you not see?"
"It is my only consolation, gracious lady."
"I will help you, and you can be sure of Danusia's constancy. Only yesterday I said to her: 'Danusia, will you always love Zbyszko?' And she answered: 'I will be Zbyszko's and no one else's.' She is still a green berry, but when she promises anything, she keeps her word, because she is the daughter of a knight. Her mother was like her."
"Thank God!" said Zbyszko.
"Only remember to be faithful to her also; man is inconstant; he promises to love one faithfully, and afterward he promises another."
"May Lord Jesus punish me if I prove such!" exclaimed Zbyszko energetically.
"Well, remember then. And after you have conveyed your uncle to Bogdaniec, come to our court; there will be some opportunity then for you to win your spurs; then we will see what can be done. In the meanwhile Danusia will mature, and she will feel God's will; although she loves you very much even now, it is not the same love a woman feels. Perhaps Jurand will give his consent, because I see he likes you. You can go to Spychow and from there can go with Jurand against the Germans; it may happen that you will render him some great service and thus gain his affection."
"Gracious princess, I have thought the same; but with your sanction it will be easier."
This conversation cheered Zbyszko. Meanwhile at the first baiting place, old Macko became worse, and it was necessary to remain until he became better. The good princess, Anna Danuta, left him all the medicine she had with her; but she was obliged to continue her journey; therefore both wlodykas of Bogdaniec bid those belonging to the Mazovian court farewell. Zbyszko prostrated himself at the princess' feet, then at Danusia's; he promised her once more to be faithful and to meet her soon at Ciechanow or at Warszawa; finally he seized her in his strong arms, and having lifted her, he repeated with a voice full of emotion:
"Remember me, my sweetest flower! Remember me, my little golden fish!"
Danusia embraced him as though he were a beloved brother, put her little cheek to his face and wept copiously.
"I do not want to go to Ciechanow without Zbyszko; I do not want to go to Ciechanow!"
Jurand saw her grief, but he was not angry. On the contrary, he bid the young man good-bye kindly; and after he had mounted, he turned toward him once more, and said:
"God be with you; do not bear ill will toward me."
"How can I feel ill will toward you; you are Danusia's father!" answered Zbyszko cordially; then he bent to his stirrup, and the old man shook hands with him, and said:
"May God help you in everything! Understand?"
Then he rode away. But Zbyszko understood that in his last words, he wished him success; and when he went back to the wagon on which Macko was lying, he said:
"Do you know I believe he is willing; but something hinders him from giving his consent. You were in Spychow and you have good common sense, try to guess what it is."
But Macko was too ill. The fever increased so much toward evening, that he became delirious. Therefore instead of answering Zbyszko, he looked at him as if he were astonished; then he asked:
"Why do they ring the bells?"
Zbyszko was frightened. He feared that if the sick man heard the sound of bells, it was a sign that death would soon come. He feared also that the old man might die without a priest and without confession, and therefore go, if not to hell, then at least for long centuries to purgatory; therefore he determined to resume their journey, in order to reach, as soon as possible, some parish in which Macko could receive the last sacraments.
Consequently they started and traveled during the night. Zbyszko sat in the wagon on the hay, beside the sick man and watched him till day-break. From time to time he gave him wine to drink. Macko drank it eagerly, because it relieved him greatly. After the second quart he recovered from his delirium; and after the third, he fell asleep; he slept so well that Zbyszko bent toward him from time to time, to ascertain if he was still alive.
Until the time of his imprisonment in Krakow, he did not realize how dearly he loved this uncle who replaced, for him, father and mother. But now he realized it very well; and he felt that after his uncle's death, life would be very lonesome for him, alone, without relatives, except the abbot who held Bogdaniec in pledge, without friends and without anyone to help him. The thought came to him that if Macko died, it would be one more reason for vengeance on the Germans, by whose means he had nearly lost his head, by whom all his forefathers had been killed, also Danusia's mother and many other innocent people, whom he knew or about whom he had heard from his acquaintances—and he began to say to himself:
"In this whole kingdom, there is no man who has not suffered some wrong from them, and who would not like to avenge those wrongs." Here he remembered the Germans with whom he fought at Wilno, and be knew that even the Tartars were less cruel.
The coming dawn interrupted his thoughts. The day was bright but cold. Evidently Macko felt better, because he was breathing more regularly and more quietly. He did not awaken until the sun was quite warm; then he opened his eyes and said:
"I am better. Where are we?"
"We are approaching Olkusk. You know, where they dig silver."
"If one could get that which is in the earth, then one could rebuild Bogdaniec!"
"I see you are better," answered Zbyszko laughing. "Hej! it would be enough even for a stone castle! We will go to the fara, because there the priests will offer us hospitality and you will be able to make your confession. Everything is in God's hands; but it is better to have one's conscience clear."
"I am a sinner and will willingly repent," answered Macko. "I dreamed last night that the devils were taking my skin off. They were talking German. Thanks be to God that I am better. Have you slept any?"
"How could I sleep, when I was watching you?"
"Then lie down for a while. When we arrive, I will awaken you."
"I cannot sleep!"
"What prevents you?"
Zbyszko looked at his uncle and said:
"What else can it be, if not love? I have pain in my heart; but I will ride on horseback for a while, that will help me."
He got down from the wagon, and mounted the horse, which his servant brought for him; meanwhile, Macko touched his sore side; but he was evidently thinking about something else and not about his illness, because he tossed his head, smacked his lips and finally said:
"I wonder and wonder, and I cannot wonder enough, why you are so eager for love, because your father was not that way, and neither am I."
But Zbyszko, instead of answering, stretched himself on the saddle, put his hands on his hips, gave his head a toss and sang:
"I cried the whole night, cried in the morning, Where have you been, my sweet girl, my darling! It will not help me, if I mourn for thee, Because I am quite sure, you will not see me."
This "hej" resounded in the forest, reverberated against the trunks of the trees, finally reechoed in the far distance and then was lost in the thickets.
Again Macko felt his side, in which the German spearhead had lodged and said, moaning a little:
"Formerly the people were wiser!"
Then he became thoughtful, as if recollecting the old times; and he added:
"Although even then some of them were stupid also."
But, in the meantime, they emerged from the forest, behind which they perceived the miners' sheds, and further walls, built by King Kazimierz, and the tower of the fara erected by Wladyslaw Lokietek.
The canon of the fara beard Macko's confession and offered them hospitality; they remained there over night, and started the next morning. Beyond Olkusk, they turned toward Szlonsk, and on its boundaries, they proposed to ride toward Wielkopolska. The road was laid out through a large forest, in which there was heard toward sunset, the roaring of the urus and of the bison, and during the night the eyes of wolves were seen shining behind the thick hazelnut trees. But the greatest danger which threatened the traveler on this road, was from the German and Germanized knights of Szlonsk, whose castles were erected here and there near the boundaries. It is true, that because of the war with the Opolczyk, Naderspraw, whom the Silesians were helping against King Wladyslaw, the majority of these castles had been destroyed by Polish hands; it was necessary, however, to be watchful, and especially after sunset, and to have one's weapons ready.
They were riding so quietly, however, that Zbyszko found the journey tedious; when they were about one day's journey from Bogdaniec, they heard the snorting and trampling of horses behind them.
"Some people are following us," said Zbyszko.
Macko, who was awake, looked at the stars and answered like an experienced traveler:
"Day-break is near. Robbers do not attack toward the end of the night."
Zbyszko stopped the wagon; however, placed the men across the road, facing the advancing horses, and waited.
In fact, after a certain time he perceived in the dusk, several horsemen. One of them was riding ahead, and it was evident that he did not wish to hide, because he was singing. Zbyszko could not hear the words of the song; but the gay "hoc! hoc!" with which the stranger ended each refrain, reached his ears.
"Our people!" he said to himself.
After a while he shouted, however:
"And you sit down!" answered a joyous voice.
"Who are you?"
"Why do you follow us?"
"And why do you obstruct the road?"
"Answer, our crossbows are bent."
"And ours,—thrust out,—aimed!"
"Answer like a man, otherwise woe to you!"
To this a merry song was given, as an answer to Zbyszko.
"One misery with another They are dancing on the crossway. Hoc! Hoc! Hoc! What use have they of dancing? It's a good thing, anyhow. Hoc! Hoc! Hoc!"
Zbyszko was amazed at hearing such an answer; meantime, the song stopped and the same voice asked:
"And how is the old man Macko? Does he still breathe?"
Macko rose in the wagon and said:
"For God's sake, they are some of our people!"
Zbyszko rushed forward.
"Who asks about Macko?"
"A neighbor. Zych of Zgorzelice. I have looked for you for a week and inquired about you from all on the road."
"Rety! Uncle! Zych of Zgorzelice is here!" shouted Zbyszko.
They began to greet each other joyfully because Zych was really their neighbor, and also a good man of whom everybody was very fond on account of his mirth.
"Well, how are you?" asked he, shaking hands with Macko. "Still hoc, or no more hoc!"
"Hej, no more hoc!" answered Macko. "But I see you gladly. Gracious God, it is as if I were already in Bogdaniec."
"What is the matter with you; I heard that the Germans had wounded you?"
"They did, dog-brothers! I A head of a spear stuck between my ribs."
"You see!" said Zbyszko, "everybody advises the grease of a bear. As soon as we reach Bogdaniec, I will go with an axe to the barcie."
"Perhaps Jagienka has some."
"What Jagienka? Your wife's name was Malgochna," said Macko.
"O! Malgochna is no more! It will be three years on St. Michael's day since Malgochna was buried in the priests' field. She was a sturdy woman; may the Lord make his face shine upon her soul! Jagienka is exactly like her, only younger."
"Behind a ravine, there is a mount, As was mother, such is daughter. Hoc! Hoc!"
"I told Malgochna not to climb the pine tree because she was no longer young. But she would climb it. The branch broke; she fell and was badly hurt; within three days, she died."
"Lord, make your face shine upon her soul!" said Macko. "I remember, I remember! When she was angry, the farm boys used to hide in the hay. But she was clever. So she fell from a pine tree!"
"She fell down like a cone. Do you know, after the funeral I was so stupefied with grief, that for three days they could not arouse me. They thought I was dead. Afterward, I wept for a long time. But Jagienka is also clever. She takes care of everything."
"I can scarcely remember her. She was not as large as the helve of an axe when I went away. She could pass under a horse without touching its body. Bah! that is a long time ago, and she must have grown."
"She was fifteen the day of St. Agnes; but I have not seen her for more than a year."
"Why have you not seen her? Where have you been?"
"To the war. I do not need to stay home; Jagienka takes care of everything."
Macko, although ill, began to listen attentively when the war was mentioned, and asked:
"Perhaps you were with Kniaz Witold at Worskla?"
"Yes, I was there," answered Zych of Zgorzelice gaily. "Well, the Lord God did not send him good luck; we were dreadfully defeated by Edyga. First they killed our horses. A Tartar will not attack you openly like a Christian knight, but throws his arrows from afar. You attack him and he flees, and then again throws his arrows. What can you do with such a man? In our army the knights boasted and said: 'We do not need to lower our spears, nor draw our swords; we will crush the vermin under our horses' feet.' So they boasted; but when the arrows began to twange, it grew dark they were so numerous, and the battle was soon over. Hardly one out of ten survived. Will you believe it? More than half of the army were slain; seventy Lithuanian and Russian princes lay dead on the battlefield; and one could not count in two weeks' time, the bojars and other courtiers, whom they call otroks, that were killed."
"I heard about it," interrupted Macko. "Many of our knights perished also."
"Bah! even ten Knights of the Cross were killed, because they were obliged to serve in Witold's army. Many of our people perished, because they, you know, never run away. Kniaz Witold had the greatest confidence in our knights and he wanted a guard of them round him during the battle, exclusively Poles. Hi! Hi! Great havoc was made among them; but he was not touched! Pan Spytko of Mielsztyn was killed, also the sword bearer, Bernat, Judge Mikolaj, Prokop, Przeclaw, Dobrogost, Jasko of Lazewice, Pilik Mazur, Warsz of Michow, Wojewoda Socha, Jasko of Dombrowa, Pietrko of Miloslaw, Szczepiecki, Oderski and Tomko Lagoda. Who can enumerate all of them! Some of them had been hit with so many arrows, that after death they looked like porcupines; it was awful to look at them!"
Here he laughed as if he were telling a most amusing story, and at once he began to sing:
"You have learned what is a Tartar, When he beat you and flew afar!"
"Well, and what then?" asked Zbyszko.
"Then the grand duke escaped; but he was as courageous as he usually is. The more you press him, the farther he jumps, like a hazelnut stick. We rushed to the Tavanian ford to defend those crossing over. There were with us a few knights from Poland. The second day, Edyga came with a swarm of Tartars; but he could not do a thing. Hej! When he wanted to pass the ford, we fought him so hard he could not do it. We killed and caught many of them. I myself caught five Tartars, and I sent them to Zgorzelice. You will see what dogheads they have."
"In Krakow, they say that the war may reach Poland also."
"Do they think Edyga is a fool! He knows well what kind of knights we have; and he also knows that the greatest knights remained home, because the queen was not pleased when Witold began the war on his own authority. Ej, he is cunning, that old Edyga! He understood at Tavania that the prince's army had increased and had gone far beyond the tenth-land!"
"But you returned?"
"Yes, I returned. There is nothing to do there. In Krakow I heard about you, and that you had started a little ahead of me."
Here he turned to Zbyszko:
"Hej! my lord, the last time I saw you, you were a small boy; and now, although there is no light, I suppose you are large like an urus. And you had your crossbows ready! One can see you have been in the war."
"War has nurtured me since childhood. Let my uncle tell you if I am lacking in experience."
"It is not necessary for your uncle to tell me anything; in Krakow, I saw the Pan of Taczew who told me about you. But I understand that the Mazur does not want to give you his daughter. I have nothing against you; but I like you. You will forget about that one when you see my Jagienka. She is a wonder!"
"I shall not forget, even if I see ten such as your Jagna."
"She will get the estate of Moczydoly for her dowry. Many will ask me for Jagna, do not fear?"
Zbyszko wanted to answer: "But not I!" But Zych of Zgorzelice began to sing:
"I will bend to your knees And you for that, will give me the girl, Give me the girl!"
"You are always happy and singing," said Macko.
"Well, and what do the blessed do in heaven."
"Well, then! And the damned cry. I prefer to go to those who sing rather than to those who cry; and St. Peter will say thus: 'We must let him into paradise; otherwise he will sing in hell, and that will not be right.' Look, the day breaks!"
In fact, daylight was coming. After awhile they arrived at a large glade. By the lake covering the greater part of the glade, some people were fishing; but seeing the armed men, they left their nets and immediately seized their picks and staffs and stood ready for battle.
"They thought we were robbers," said Zych, laughing. "Hej, fishermen! To whom do you belong?"
They stood for a while silently, looking distrustfully; but finally one of them having recognized that they were knights, answered:
"To the ksiondz, the abbot of Tulcza."
"Our relative," said Macko, "the same who holds Bogdaniec in pledge. These must be his forests; but he must have purchased them a short time ago."
"He did not buy them," answered Zych. "He was fighting about them with Wilk of Brzozowa and it seems that the abbot defeated Wilk. A year ago they were going to fight on horseback with spears and long swords for this part of the forest; but I do not know how it ended because I went away."
"Well, we are relatives," said Macko, "he will not quarrel with us."
"Perhaps; he is a chivalrous abbot who knows how to wear a helmet; but he is pious and he sings the mass beautifully. Don't you remember? When he shouts at mass, the swallows nested under the ceiling, fall from their nests. In that way God's glory increases."
"Certainly I remember! At ten steps he could blow the candles at the altar out. Has he been in Bogdaniec?"
"Yes, he was there. He settled five peasants on the land. He has also been at my house at Zgorzelice, because, as you know, he baptized Jagienka, of whom he is very fond and calls her little daughter."
"God will bless him if he be willing to leave me the peasants," said Macko.
"Owa! what will five peasants amount to! Then Jagienka will ask him and he will not refuse her."
Here the conversation stopped for a while, because over the dark forest and from the pink down, the bright sun had risen and lighted the environs. The knights greeted it with the customary: "May it be blessed!" and then having made the sign of the cross, they began their morning prayers.
Zych finished first and said to his companions:
"I hope to see you well soon. Hej! you have both changed. You, Macko, must regain your health. Jagienka will take care of you, because there is no woman in your house. One can see that you have a piece of iron between your ribs."
Here he turned toward Zbyszko:
"Show yourself also. Well, mighty God! I remember you when you were small and used to climb on the colts by the help of their tails; and now, what a knight! The face looks like that of a little lord; but the body like that of a sturdy man. Such can wrestle even with a bear."
"A bear is nothing for him!" said Macko. "He was younger than he is to-day, when that Fryzjan called him a beardless youth; and he resenting it, immediately pulled out the Fryzjan's mustaches."
"I know," interrupted Zych, "and you fought afterward, and captured their retinue. Pan of Taczew told me all about it:"
"There came a German very proud, He was buried with sore snout; Hoc! Hoc!"
Zbyszko wondered at Zych's long thin figure, at his thin face with its enormous nose and at his laughing round eyes.
"O!" said he, "with such a neighbor there will be no sadness, if God only restore my uncle's health."
"It is good to have a joyful neighbor, because with a jolly fellow there will be no quarrel," answered Zych. "Now listen to what I tell you. You have been away from home a long time, and you will not find much comfort in Bogdaniec. I do not say in the farming, because the abbot has taken care of that; he dug up a large piece of the forest and settled new peasants. But as he went there very often, you will find the larder empty; even in the house, there is hardly a bench or a bunch of straw to sleep on; and a sick man needs some comforts. You had better come with me to Zgorzelice. I will be glad to have you stay a month or two. During that time, Jagienka will take care of Bogdaniec. Rely on her and do not bother yourselves with anything. Zbyszko can go there, from time to time, to inspect the farming; I will bring the abbot to Zgorzelice, and you can settle your account with him. The girl will take good care of you, as of a father, and during illness, a woman's care is the best. Well, my dear friends, will you do as I ask you?"
"We know that you are a good man and you always were," answered Macko with emotion; "but don't you see, if I must die on account of this wound, I prefer to die in my own home. Then when one is home, although he is old, he can inquire about different things, can inspect and do many other things. If God order me to go to the other world, well, then I cannot help it! I cannot escape it even with better care. As for inconvenience, we are accustomed to that at the war. Even a bunch of straw is pleasant to that one who, during several years, has slept on the bare ground. But I thank you for your kind heart and if I be not able to show you my gratitude, God will permit Zbyszko to do it."
Zych of Zgorzelice, who was noted for his kind heart and readiness to oblige, began to insist: but Macko was firm: "If I must die, it will be better to die in my own courtyard!"
He had longed to see Bogdaniec for several years, therefore now, when he was so near it, he must go there, even if it were his last night. God was merciful, having permitted him who was so ill, to reach here.
He brushed away the tears gathered under his eyelids, with his hand, looked around and said:
"If these are the woods of Wilk of Bizozowa we will be home this afternoon."
"They do not belong to Wilk of Bizozowa any longer; but to the abbot," said Zych.
Macko smiled and said after awhile:
"If they belong to the abbot, then sometime, they may belong to us."
"Bah! awhile ago you were talking about death," said Zych joyfully, "and now you wish to outlive the abbot."
"No, I will not outlive him; but Zbyszko may."
Further conversation was interrupted by the sound of horns in the forest. Zych stopped his horse and began to listen.
"Somebody is hunting," said he. "Wait."
"Perhaps it is the abbot. It would be pleasant to meet him here."
Here be turned to his retinue.
They halted. The horns resounded nearer, and soon afterward the baying of dogs was heard.
"Stop!" repeated Zych. "They are coming toward us."
Zbyszko jumped from his horse and began to shout:
"Give me the crossbow! The beast may attack us! Hasten! Hasten!"
Having seized the crossbow from the servant's hands, he rested it against the ground, pressed it against his abdomen, bent, stretched his back like a bow, and having seized the string with the fingers of both hands, he pulled it on to the iron hook; then placed an arrow and sprang into the woods.
"He stretched it without a crank!" whispered Zych, astonished at such great strength.
"Ho, he is a strong boy!" answered Macko, proudly.
Meanwhile, the sound of horns and the barking of dogs stole nearer; all at once, at the right side of the forest, a heavy trampling resounded, accompanied by the crackling of broken branches and bushes—then out of the thicket rushed an old bearded urus, with his gigantic head lowered, with bloody eyes and panting tongue, breathless and terrible. Coming to a small ravine, he leaped it, but fell on his forelegs; but immediately he arose, and a few seconds later he would have disappeared in the thicket on the other side of the road, when the string of the crossbow twanged, the whistling of the arrow resounded, the beast reared, turned, roared dreadfully and fell on the ground as if he were struck by a thunderbolt.
Zbyszko leaped from behind a tree, again stretched the crossbow, and approached the bull who was pawing the ground with his hind feet.
But having glanced at it, he turned quietly toward the retinue, and began to shout from afar:
"I hit him so hard that he is severely wounded!"
"You are a strong boy!" said Zych, riding toward him, "with one arrow only!"
"Bah, it was near, and the speed was great. Come and see; not only the iron, but even the shaft has disappeared under the left shoulder bone."
"The huntsmen must be near; they will claim the beast."
"I will not give it to them!" answered Zbyszko. "It was killed on the road, and the road is not private property."
"But if it belong to the abbot?"
"Well, then he may have it."
Meanwhile, several dogs came out of the forest. Having perceived the animal, they rushed on him.
"Soon the huntsmen will appear," said Zych. "Look! There they are, but they do not see the beast yet. Stop! Stop! Here, here! Killed! Killed!"
Then he became silent, and sheltered his eyes with one hand; after a while, he said:
"For God's sake! what has happened? Have I become blind, or does it only seem so to me?"
"There is some one on a piebald horse in the front," said Zbyszko.
Then Zych exclaimed at once:
"Dear Jesus! It must be Jagienka!"
And he began to shout:
Then he rushed forward; but before he could make his horse gallop, Zbyszko perceived a most wonderful spectacle; he beheld a girl sitting like a man, on a swift piebald horse, rushing toward them; she had a crossbow in one hand and a boar-spear on her shoulders. Her floating hair was full of hop strobiles; her face was bright like the dawn. Her shirt was opened on the bosom, and she wore a serdak. Having reached them, she reined in her horse; for a while, her face expressed surprise, hesitation, joy; finally, being scarcely able to believe her own eyes, she began to cry in a childish voice:
"Tatulo, tatus dearest!"
In the twinkling of an eye, she jumped from her horse, and Zych dismounted also to welcome her; she threw her arms around his neck. Fora long time, Zbyszko heard only the sounds of kisses and these two words: "Tatulo! Jagula! Tatulo! Jagula!" repeated in a joyful outburst.
Both retinues now approached, and Macko arrived also; they continued to repeat: "Tatulo! Jagula!" and still kissed each other. Finally Jagienka asked:
"Then you decided to return from the war? Are you well?"
"From the war. Why should I not be well? And you? And the boys? Are they well also? Yes, otherwise you would not run in the forest. But, my girl, what are you doing here?"
"Don't you see that I am hunting?" answered Jagienka, laughing.
"In somebody else's woods?"
"The abbot gave me permission. He even sent me experienced huntsmen and a pack of hounds."
Here she turned to the servants:
"Chase the dogs away, they will tear the skin!"
Then to Zych:
"Oj, how glad I am to see you!" And they again kissed each other. When they were through, Jagna said:
"We are far from home; we followed the beast. I am sure it must be more than ten miles; the horses are exhausted. What a large urus! Did you notice? He must have at least three of my arrows in him; the last one killed him."
"He was killed by the last, but it was not yours; this knight killed him."
Jagienka threw her hair back and looked at Zbyszko sharply, but not very friendly.
"Do you know who he is?" asked Zych.
"I do not know."
"No wonder you do not recognize him, because he has grown. Perhaps you will recognize old Macko of Bogdaniec?"