"And to think," she cried, "that it should have been Norman of Torn who fulfilled your duties for you. But he did not capture Sir Peter's head, my friend; that is still at large to be brought to me upon a golden dish."
"I have not forgotten, Lady Bertrade," said Roger de Conde. "Peter of Colfax will return."
The girl glanced at him quickly.
"The very words of the Outlaw of Torn," she said. "How many men be ye, Roger de Conde? With raised visor, you could pass in the King's court for the King's son; and in manner, and form, and swordsmanship, and your visor lowered, you might easily be hanged for Norman of Torn."
"And which would it please ye most that I be?" he laughed.
"Neither," she answered, "I be satisfied with my friend, Roger de Conde."
"So ye like not the Devil of Torn?" he asked.
"He has done me a great service, and I be under monstrous obligations to him, but he be, nathless, the Outlaw of Torn and I the daughter of an earl and a king's sister."
"A most unbridgeable gulf indeed," commented Roger de Conde, drily. "Not even gratitude could lead a king's niece to receive Norman of Torn on a footing of equality."
"He has my friendship, always," said the girl, "but I doubt me if Norman of Torn be the man to impose upon it."
"One can never tell," said Roger de Conde, "what manner of fool a man may be. When a man's head be filled with a pretty face, what room be there for reason?"
"Soon thou wilt be a courtier, if thou keep long at this turning of pretty compliments," said the girl coldly; "and I like not courtiers, nor their empty, hypocritical chatter."
The man laughed.
"If I turned a compliment, I did not know it," he said. "What I think, I say. It may not be a courtly speech or it may. I know nothing of courts and care less, but be it man or maid to whom I speak, I say what is in my mind or I say nothing. I did not, in so many words, say that you are beautiful, but I think it nevertheless, and ye cannot be angry with my poor eyes if they deceive me into believing that no fairer woman breathes the air of England. Nor can you chide my sinful brain that it gladly believes what mine eyes tell it. No, you may not be angry so long as I do not tell you all this."
Bertrade de Montfort did not know how to answer so ridiculous a sophistry; and, truth to tell, she was more than pleased to hear from the lips of Roger de Conde what bored her on the tongues of other men.
De Conde was the guest of the Earl of Leicester for several days, and before his visit was terminated, the young man had so won his way into the good graces of the family that they were loath to see him leave.
Although denied the society of such as these throughout his entire life, yet it seemed that he fell as naturally into the ways of their kind as though he had always been among them. His starved soul, groping through the darkness of the empty past, yearned toward the feasting and the light of friendship, and urged him to turn his back upon the old life, and remain ever with these people, for Simon de Montfort had offered the young man a position of trust and honor in his retinue.
"Why refused you the offer of my father?" said Bertrade to him as he was come to bid her farewell. "Simon de Montfort is as great a man in England as the King himself, and your future were assured did you attach your self to his person. But what am I saying! Did Roger de Conde not wish to be elsewhere, he had accepted and, as he did not accept, it is proof positive that he does not wish to bide among the De Montforts."
"I would give my soul to the devil," said Norman of Torn, "would it buy me the right to remain ever at the feet of Bertrade Montfort."
He raised her hand to his lips in farewell as he started to speak, but something—was it an almost imperceptible pressure of her little fingers, a quickening of her breath or a swaying of her body toward him?—caused him to pause and raise his eyes to hers.
For an instant they stood thus, the eyes of the man sinking deep into the eyes of the maid, and then hers closed and with a little sigh that was half gasp, she swayed toward him, and the Devil of Torn folded the King's niece in his mighty arms and his lips placed the seal of a great love upon those that were upturned to him.
The touch of those pure lips brought the man to himself.
"Ah, Bertrade, my Bertrade," he cried, "what is this thing that I have done! Forgive me, and let the greatness and the purity of my love for you plead in extenuation of my act."
She looked up into his face in surprise, and then placing her strong white hands upon his shoulders, she whispered:
"See, Roger, I am not angry. It is not wrong that we love; tell me it is not, Roger."
"You must not say that you love me, Bertrade. I am a coward, a craven poltroon; but, God, how I love you."
"But," said the girl, "I do love—"
"Stop," he cried, "not yet, not yet. Do not say it till I come again. You know nothing of me, you do not know even who I be; but when next I come, I promise that ye shall know as much of me as I myself know, and then, Bertrade, my Bertrade, if you can then say, 'I love you' no power on earth, or in heaven above, or hell below shall keep you from being mine!"
"I will wait, Roger, for I believe in you and trust you. I do not understand, but I know that you must have some good reason, though it all seems very strange to me. If I, a De Montfort, am willing to acknowledge my love for any man, there can be no reason why I should not do so, unless," and she started at the sudden thought, wide-eyed and paling, "unless there be another woman, a—a—wife?"
"There is no other woman, Bertrade," said Norman of Torn. "I have no wife; nor within the limits of my memory have my lips ever before touched the lips of another, for I do not remember my mother."
She sighed a happy little sigh of relief, and laughing lightly, said:
"It is some old woman's bugaboo that you are haling out of a dark corner of your imagination to frighten yourself with. I do not fear, since I know that you must be all good. There be no line of vice or deception upon your face and you are very brave. So brave and noble a man, Roger, has a heart of pure gold."
"Don't," he said, bitterly. "I cannot endure it. Wait until I come again and then, oh my flower of all England, if you have it in your heart to speak as you are speaking now, the sun of my happiness will be at zenith. Then, but not before, shall I speak to the Earl, thy father. Farewell, Bertrade, in a few days I return."
"If you would speak to the Earl on such a subject, you insolent young puppy, you may save your breath," thundered an angry voice, and Simon de Montfort strode, scowling, into the room.
The girl paled, but not from fear of her father, for the fighting blood of the De Montforts was as strong in her as in her sire. She faced him with as brave and resolute a face as did the young man, who turned slowly, fixing De Montfort with level gaze.
"I heard enough of your words as I was passing through the corridor," continued the latter, "to readily guess what had gone before. So it is for this that you have wormed your sneaking way into my home? And thought you that Simon de Montfort would throw his daughter at the head of the first passing rogue? Who be ye, but a nameless rascal? For aught we know, some low born lackey. Get ye hence, and be only thankful that I do not aid you with the toe of my boot where it would do the most good."
"Stop!" cried the girl. "Stop, father, hast forgot that but for Roger de Conde ye might have seen your daughter a corpse ere now, or, worse, herself befouled and dishonored?"
"I do not forget," replied the Earl, "and it is because I remember that my sword remains in its scabbard. The fellow has been amply repaid by the friendship of De Montfort, but now this act of perfidy has wiped clean the score. An' you would go in peace, sirrah, go quickly, ere I lose my temper."
"There has been some misunderstanding on your part, My Lord," spoke Norman of Torn, quietly and without apparent anger or excitement. "Your daughter has not told me that she loves me, nor did I contemplate asking you for her hand. When next I come, first shall I see her and if she will have me, My Lord, I shall come to you to tell you that I shall wed her. Norm—Roger de Conde asks permission of no man to do what he would do."
Simon de Montfort was fairly bursting with rage but he managed to control himself to say,
"My daughter weds whom I select, and even now I have practically closed negotiations for her betrothal to Prince Philip, nephew of King Louis of France. And as for you, sir, I would as lief see her the wife of the Outlaw of Torn. He, at least, has wealth and power, and a name that be known outside his own armor. But enough of this; get you gone, nor let me see your face again within the walls of Leicester's castle."
"You are right, My Lord, it were foolish and idle for us to be quarreling with words," said the outlaw. "Farewell, My Lady. I shall return as I promised, and your word shall be law." And with a profound bow to De Montfort, Norman of Torn left the apartment, and in a few minutes was riding through the courtyard of the castle toward the main portals.
As he passed beneath a window in the castle wall, a voice called to him from above, and drawing in his horse, he looked up into the eyes of Bertrade de Montfort.
"Take this, Roger de Conde," she whispered, dropping a tiny parcel to him, "and wear it ever, for my sake. We may never meet again, for the Earl my father, is a mighty man, not easily turned from his decisions; therefore I shall say to you, Roger de Conde, what you forbid my saying. I love you, and be ye prince or scullion, you may have me, if you can find the means to take me."
"Wait, my lady, until I return, then shall you decide, and if ye be of the same mind as today, never fear but that I shall take ye. Again, farewell." And with a brave smile that hid a sad heart, Norman of Torn passed out of the castle yard.
When he undid the parcel which Bertrade had tossed to him, he found that it contained a beautifully wrought ring set with a single opal.
The Outlaw of Torn raised the little circlet to his lips, and then slipped it upon the third finger of his left hand.
Norman of Torn did not return to the castle of Leicester "in a few days," nor for many months. For news came to him that Bertrade de Montfort had been posted off to France in charge of her mother.
From now on, the forces of Torn were employed in repeated attacks on royalist barons, encroaching ever and ever southward until even Berkshire and Surrey and Sussex felt the weight of the iron hand of the outlaw.
Nearly a year had elapsed since that day when he had held the fair form of Bertrade de Montfort in his arms, and in all that time he had heard no word from her.
He would have followed her to France but for the fact that, after he had parted from her and the intoxication of her immediate presence had left his brain clear to think rationally, he had realized the futility of his hopes, and he had seen that the pressing of his suit could mean only suffering and mortification for the woman he loved.
His better judgment told him that she, on her part, when freed from the subtle spell woven by the nearness and the newness of a first love, would doubtless be glad to forget the words she had spoken in the heat of a divine passion. He would wait, then, until fate threw them together, and should that ever chance, while she was still free, he would let her know that Roger de Conde and the Outlaw of Torn were one and the same.
If she wants me then, he thought, but she will not. No it is impossible. It is better that she marry her French prince than to live, dishonored, the wife of a common highwayman; for though she might love me at first, the bitterness and loneliness of her life would turn her love to hate.
As the outlaw was sitting one day in the little cottage of Father Claude, the priest reverted to the subject of many past conversations; the unsettled state of civil conditions in the realm, and the stand which Norman of Torn would take when open hostilities between King and baron were declared.
"It would seem that Henry," said the priest, "by his continued breaches of both the spirit and letter of the Oxford Statutes, is but urging the barons to resort to arms; and the fact that he virtually forced Prince Edward to take up arms against Humphrey de Bohun last fall, and to carry the ravages of war throughout the Welsh border provinces, convinces me that he be, by this time, well equipped to resist De Montfort and his associates."
"If that be the case," said Norman of Torn, "we shall have war and fighting in real earnest ere many months."
"And under which standard does My Lord Norman expect to fight?" asked Father Claude.
"Under the black falcon's wing," laughed he of Torn.
"Thou be indeed a close-mouthed man, my son," said the priest, smiling. "Such an attribute helpeth make a great statesman. With thy soldierly qualities in addition, my dear boy, there be a great future for thee in the paths of honest men. Dost remember our past talk?"
"Yes, father, well; and often have I thought on't. I have one more duty to perform here in England and then, it may be, that I shall act on thy suggestion, but only on one condition."
"What be that, my son?"
"That wheresoere I go, thou must go also. Thou be my best friend; in truth, my father; none other have I ever known, for the little old man of Torn, even though I be the product of his loins, which I much mistrust, be no father to me."
The priest sat looking intently at the young man for many minutes before he spoke.
Without the cottage, a swarthy figure skulked beneath one of the windows, listening to such fragments of the conversation within as came to his attentive ears. It was Spizo, the Spaniard. He crouched entirely concealed by a great lilac bush, which many times before had hid his traitorous form.
At length the priest spoke.
"Norman of Torn," he said, "so long as thou remain in England, pitting thy great host against the Plantagenet King and the nobles and barons of his realm, thou be but serving as the cats-paw of another. Thyself hast said an hundred times that thou knowst not the reason for thy hatred against them. Thou be too strong a man to so throw thy life uselessly away to satisfy the choler of another.
"There be that of which I dare not speak to thee yet and only may I guess and dream of what I think, nor do I know whether I must hope that it be false or true, but now, if ever, the time hath come for the question to be settled. Thou hast not told me in so many words, but I be an old man and versed in reading true between the lines, and so I know that thou lovest Bertrade de Montfort. Nay, do not deny it. And now, what I would say be this. In all England there lives no more honorable man than Simon de Montfort, nor none who could more truly decide upon thy future and thy past. Thou may not understand of what I hint, but thou know that thou may trust me, Norman of Torn."
"Yea, even with my life and honor, my father," replied the outlaw.
"Then promise me, that with the old man of Torn alone, thou wilt come hither when I bidst thee and meet Simon de Montfort, and abide by his decision should my surmises concerning thee be correct. He will be the best judge of any in England, save two who must now remain nameless."
"I will come, Father, but it must be soon for on the fourth day we ride south."
"It shall be by the third day, or not at all," replied Father Claude, and Norman of Torn, rising to leave, wondered at the moving leaves of the lilac bush without the window, for there was no breeze.
Spizo, the Spaniard, reached Torn several minutes before the outlaw chief and had already poured his tale into the ears of the little, grim, gray, old man.
As the priest's words were detailed to him the old man of Torn paled in anger.
"The fool priest will upset the whole work to which I have devoted near twenty years," he muttered, "if I find not the means to quiet his half-wit tongue. Between priest and petticoat, it be all but ruined now. Well then, so much the sooner must I act, and I know not but that now be as good a time as any. If we come near enough to the King's men on this trip south, the gibbet shall have its own, and a Plantagenet dog shall taste the fruits of his own tyranny," then glancing up and realizing that Spizo, the Spaniard, had been a listener, the old man, scowling, cried:
"What said I, sirrah? What didst hear?"
"Naught, My Lord; thou didst but mutter incoherently," replied the Spaniard.
The old man eyed him closely.
"An did I more, Spizo, thou heardst naught but muttering, remember."
"Yes, My Lord."
An hour later, the old man of Torn dismounted before the cottage of Father Claude and entered.
"I am honored," said the priest, rising.
"Priest," cried the old man, coming immediately to the point, "Norman of Torn tells me that thou wish him and me and Leicester to meet here. I know not what thy purpose may be, but for the boy's sake, carry not out thy design as yet. I may not tell thee my reasons, but it be best that this meeting take place after we return from the south."
The old man had never spoken so fairly to Father Claude before, and so the latter was quite deceived and promised to let the matter rest until later.
A few days after, in the summer of 1263, Norman of Torn rode at the head of his army of outlaws through the county of Essex, down toward London town. One thousand fighting men there were, with squires and other servants, and five hundred sumpter beasts to transport their tents and other impedimenta, and bring back the loot.
But a small force of ailing men-at-arms, and servants had been left to guard the castle of Torn under the able direction of Peter the Hermit.
At the column's head rode Norman of Torn and the little grim, gray, old man; and behind them, nine companies of knights, followed by the catapult detachment; then came the sumpter beasts. Horsan the Dane, with his company, formed the rear guard. Three hundred yards in advance of the column rode ten men to guard against surprise and ambuscades.
The pennons, and the banners and the bugles; and the loud rattling of sword, and lance and armor and iron-shod hoof carried to the eye and ear ample assurance that this great cavalcade of iron men was bent upon no peaceful mission.
All his captains rode today with Norman of Torn. Beside those whom we have met, there was Don Piedro Castro y Pensilo of Spain; Baron of Cobarth of Germany, and Sir John Mandecote of England. Like their leader, each of these fierce warriors carried a great price upon his head, and the story of the life of any one would fill a large volume with romance, war, intrigue, treachery, bravery and death.
Toward noon one day, in the midst of a beautiful valley of Essex, they came upon a party of ten knights escorting two young women. The meeting was at a turn in the road, so that the two parties were upon each other before the ten knights had an opportunity to escape with their fair wards.
"What the devil be this," cried one of the knights, as the main body of the outlaw horde came into view, "the King's army or one of his foreign legions?"
"It be Norman of Torn and his fighting men," replied the outlaw.
The faces of the knights blanched, for they were ten against a thousand, and there were two women with them.
"Who be ye?" said the outlaw.
"I am Richard de Tany of Essex," said the oldest knight, he who had first spoken, "and these be my daughter and her friend, Mary de Stutevill. We are upon our way from London to my castle. What would you of us? Name your price, if it can be paid with honor, it shall be paid; only let us go our way in peace. We cannot hope to resist the Devil of Torn, for we be but ten lances. If ye must have blood, at least let the women go unharmed."
"My Lady Mary is an old friend," said the outlaw. "I called at her father's home but little more than a year since. We are neighbors, and the lady can tell you that women are safer at the hands of Norman of Torn than they might be in the King's palace."
"Right he is," spoke up Lady Mary, "Norman of Torn accorded my mother, my sister, and myself the utmost respect; though I cannot say as much for his treatment of my father," she added, half smiling.
"I have no quarrel with you, Richard de Tany," said Norman of Torn. "Ride on."
The next day, a young man hailed the watch upon the walls of the castle of Richard de Tany, telling him to bear word to Joan de Tany that Roger de Conde, a friend of her guest Lady Mary de Stutevill, was without.
In a few moments, the great drawbridge sank slowly into place and Norman of Torn trotted into the courtyard.
He was escorted to an apartment where Mary de Stutevill and Joan de Tany were waiting to receive him. Mary de Stutevill greeted him as an old friend, and the daughter of de Tany was no less cordial in welcoming her friend's friend to the hospitality of her father's castle.
"Are all your old friends and neighbors come after you to Essex," cried Joan de Tany, laughingly, addressing Mary. "Today it is Roger de Conde, yesterday it was the Outlaw of Torn. Methinks Derby will soon be depopulated unless you return quickly to your home."
"I rather think it be for news of another that we owe this visit from Roger de Conde," said Mary, smiling. "For I have heard tales, and I see a great ring upon the gentleman's hand—a ring which I have seen before."
Norman of Torn made no attempt to deny the reason for his visit, but asked bluntly if she heard aught of Bertrade de Montfort.
"Thrice within the year have I received missives from her," replied Mary. "In the first two she spoke only of Roger de Conde, wondering why he did not come to France after her; but in the last she mentions not his name, but speaks of her approaching marriage with Prince Philip."
Both girls were watching the countenance of Roger de Conde narrowly, but no sign of the sorrow which filled his heart showed itself upon his face.
"I guess it be better so," he said quietly. "The daughter of a De Montfort could scarcely be happy with a nameless adventurer," he added, a little bitterly.
"You wrong her, my friend," said Mary de Stutevill. "She loved you and, unless I know not the friend of my childhood as well as I know myself, she loves you yet; but Bertrade de Montfort is a proud woman and what can you expect when she hears no word from you for a year? Thought you that she would seek you out and implore you to rescue her from the alliance her father has made for her?"
"You do not understand," he answered, "and I may not tell you; but I ask that you believe me when I say that it was for her own peace of mind, for her own happiness, that I did not follow her to France. But, let us talk of other things. The sorrow is mine and I would not force it upon others. I cared only to know that she is well, and, I hope, happy. It will never be given to me to make her or any other woman so. I would that I had never come into her life, but I did not know what I was doing; and the spell of her beauty and goodness was strong upon me, so that I was weak and could not resist what I had never known before in all my life—love."
"You could not well be blamed," said Joan de Tany, generously. "Bertrade de Montfort is all and even more than you have said; it be a benediction simply to have known her."
As she spoke, Norman of Torn looked upon her critically for the first time, and he saw that Joan de Tany was beautiful, and that when she spoke, her face lighted with a hundred little changing expressions of intelligence and character that cast a spell of fascination about her. Yes, Joan de Tany was good to look upon, and Norman of Torn carried a wounded heart in his breast that longed for surcease from its sufferings—for a healing balm upon its hurts and bruises.
And so it came to pass that, for many days, the Outlaw of Torn was a daily visitor at the castle of Richard de Tany, and the acquaintance between the man and the two girls ripened into a deep friendship, and with one of them, it threatened even more.
Norman of Torn, in his ignorance of the ways of women, saw only friendship in the little acts of Joan de Tany. His life had been a hard and lonely one. The only ray of brilliant and warming sunshine that had entered it had been his love for Bertrade de Montfort and hers for him.
His every thought was loyal to the woman whom he knew was not for him, but he longed for the companionship of his own kind and so welcomed the friendship of such as Joan de Tany and her fair guest. He did not dream that either looked upon him with any warmer sentiment than the sweet friendliness which was as new to him as love—how could he mark the line between or foresee the terrible price of his ignorance!
Mary de Stutevill saw and she thought the man but fickle and shallow in matters of the heart—many there were, she knew, who were thus. She might have warned him had she known the truth, but instead, she let things drift except for a single word of warning to Joan de Tany.
"Be careful of thy heart, Joan," she said, "lest it be getting away from thee into the keeping of one who seems to love no less quickly than he forgets."
The daughter of De Tany flushed.
"I am quite capable of safeguarding my own heart, Mary de Stutevill," she replied warmly. "If thou covet this man thyself, why, but say so. Do not think though that, because thy heart glows in his presence, mine is equally susceptible."
It was Mary's turn now to show offense, and a sharp retort was on her tongue when suddenly she realized the folly of such a useless quarrel. Instead she put her arms about Joan and kissed her.
"I do not love him," she said, "and I be glad that you do not, for I know that Bertrade does, and that but a short year since, he swore undying love for her. Let us forget that we have spoken on the subject."
It was at this time that the King's soldiers were harassing the lands of the rebel barons, and taking a heavy toll in revenge for their stinging defeat at Rochester earlier in the year, so that it was scarcely safe for small parties to venture upon the roadways lest they fall into the hands of the mercenaries of Henry III.
Not even were the wives and daughters of the barons exempt from the attacks of the royalists; and it was no uncommon occurrence to find them suffering imprisonment, and something worse, at the hands of the King's supporters.
And in the midst of these alarms, it entered the willful head of Joan de Tany that she wished to ride to London town and visit the shops of the merchants.
While London itself was solidly for the barons and against the King's party, the road between the castle of Richard de Tany and the city of London was beset with many dangers.
"Why," cried the girl's mother in exasperation, "between robbers and royalists and the Outlaw of Torn, you would not be safe if you had an army to escort you."
"But then, as I have no army," retorted the laughing girl, "if you reason by your own logic, I shall be indeed quite safe."
And when Roger de Conde attempted to dissuade her, she taunted him with being afraid of meeting with the Devil of Torn, and told him that he might remain at home and lock himself safely in her mother's pantry.
And so, as Joan de Tany was a spoiled child, they set out upon the road to London; the two girls with a dozen servants and knights; and Roger de Conde was of the party.
At the same time a grim, gray, old man dispatched a messenger from the outlaw's camp; a swarthy fellow, disguised as a priest, whose orders were to proceed to London, and when he saw the party of Joan de Tany, with Roger de Conde, enter the city, he was to deliver the letter he bore to the captain of the gate.
The letter contained this brief message:
"The tall knight in gray with closed helm is Norman of Torn," and was unsigned.
All went well and Joan was laughing merrily at the fears of those who had attempted to dissuade her when, at a cross road, they discovered two parties of armed men approaching from opposite directions. The leader of the nearer party spurred forward to intercept the little band, and, reining in before them, cried brusquely,
"Who be ye?"
"A party on a peaceful mission to the shops of London," replied Norman of Torn.
"I asked not your mission," cried the fellow. "I asked, who be ye? Answer, and be quick about it."
"I be Roger de Conde, gentleman of France, and these be my sisters and servants," lied the outlaw, "and were it not that the ladies be with me, your answer would be couched in steel, as you deserve for your boorish insolence."
"There be plenty of room and time for that even now, you dog of a French coward," cried the officer, couching his lance as he spoke.
Joan de Tany was sitting her horse where she could see the face of Roger de Conde, and it filled her heart with pride and courage as she saw and understood the little smile of satisfaction that touched his lips as he heard the man's challenge and lowered the point of his own spear.
Wheeling their horses toward one another, the two combatants, who were some ninety feet apart, charged at full tilt. As they came together the impact was so great that both horses were nearly overturned and the two powerful war lances were splintered into a hundred fragments as each struck the exact center of his opponent's shield. Then, wheeling their horses and throwing away the butts of their now useless lances, De Conde and the officer advanced with drawn swords.
The fellow made a most vicious return assault upon De Conde, attempting to ride him down in one mad rush, but his thrust passed harmlessly from the tip of the outlaw's sword, and as the officer wheeled back to renew the battle, they settled down to fierce combat, their horses wheeling and turning shoulder to shoulder.
The two girls sat rigid in their saddles watching the encounter, the eyes of Joan de Tany alight with the fire of battle as she followed every move of the wondrous swordplay of Roger de Conde.
He had not even taken the precaution to lower his visor, and the grim and haughty smile that played upon his lips spoke louder than many words the utter contempt in which he held the sword of his adversary. And as Joan de Tany watched, she saw the smile suddenly freeze to a cold, hard line, and the eyes of the man narrow to mere slits, and her woman's intuition read the death warrant of the King's officer ere the sword of the outlaw buried itself in his heart.
The other members of the two bodies of royalist soldiers had sat spellbound as they watched the battle, but now, as their leader's corpse rolled from the saddle, they spurred furiously in upon De Conde and his little party.
The Baron's men put up a noble fight, but the odds were heavy and even with the mighty arm of Norman of Torn upon their side the outcome was apparent from the first.
Five swords were flashing about the outlaw, but his blade was equal to the thrust and one after another of his assailants crumpled up in their saddles as his leaping point found their vitals.
Nearly all of the Baron's men were down, when one, an old servitor, spurred to the side of Joan de Tany and Mary de Stutevill.
"Come, my ladies," he cried, "quick and you may escape. They be so busy with the battle that they will never notice."
"Take the Lady Mary, John," cried Joan, "I brought Roger de Conde to this pass against the advice of all and I remain with him to the end."
"But, My Lady—" cried John.
"But nothing, sirrah!" she interrupted sharply. "Do as you are bid. Follow my Lady Mary, and see that she comes to my father's castle in safety," and raising her riding whip, she struck Mary's palfrey across the rump so that the animal nearly unseated his fair rider as he leaped frantically to one side and started madly up the road down which they had come.
"After her, John," commanded Joan peremptorily, "and see that you turn not back until she be safe within the castle walls; then you may bring aid."
The old fellow had been wont to obey the imperious little Lady Joan from her earliest childhood, and the habit was so strong upon him that he wheeled his horse and galloped after the flying palfrey of the Lady Mary de Stutevill.
As Joan de Tany turned again to the encounter before her, she saw fully twenty men surrounding Roger de Conde, and while he was taking heavy toll of those before him, he could not cope with the men who attacked him from behind; and even as she looked, she saw a battle axe fall full upon his helm, and his sword drop from his nerveless fingers as his lifeless body rolled from the back of Sir Mortimer to the battle-tramped clay of the highroad.
She slid quickly from her palfrey and ran fearlessly toward his prostrate form, reckless of the tangled mass of snorting, trampling, steel-clad horses, and surging fighting-men that surrounded him. And well it was for Norman of Torn that this brave girl was there that day, for even as she reached his side, the sword point of one of the soldiers was at his throat for the coup de grace.
With a cry, Joan de Tany threw herself across the outlaw's body, shielding him as best she could from the threatening sword.
Cursing loudly, the soldier grasped her roughly by the arm to drag her from his prey, but at this juncture, a richly armored knight galloped up and drew rein beside the party.
The newcomer was a man of about forty-five or fifty; tall, handsome, black-mustached and with the haughty arrogance of pride most often seen upon the faces of those who have been raised by unmerited favor to positions of power and affluence.
He was John de Fulm, Earl of Buckingham, a foreigner by birth and for years one of the King's favorites; the bitterest enemy of De Montfort and the barons.
"What now?" he cried. "What goes on here?"
The soldiers fell back, and one of them replied:
"A party of the King's enemies attacked us, My Lord Earl, but we routed them, taking these two prisoners."
"Who be ye?" he said, turning toward Joan who was kneeling beside De Conde, and as she raised her head, "My God! The daughter of De Tany! a noble prize indeed my men. And who be the knight?"
"Look for yourself, My Lord Earl," replied the girl removing the helm, which she had been unlacing from the fallen man.
"Edward?" he ejaculated. "But no, it cannot be, I did but yesterday leave Edward in Dover."
"I know not who he be," said Joan de Tany, "except that he be the most marvelous fighter and the bravest man it has ever been given me to see. He called himself Roger de Conde, but I know nothing of him other than that he looks like a prince, and fights like a devil. I think he has no quarrel with either side, My Lord, and so, as you certainly do not make war on women, you will let us go our way in peace as we were when your soldiers wantonly set upon us."
"A De Tany, madam, were a great and valuable capture in these troublous times," replied the Earl, "and that alone were enough to necessitate my keeping you; but a beautiful De Tany is yet a different matter and so I will grant you at least one favor. I will not take you to the King, but a prisoner you shall be in mine own castle for I am alone, and need the cheering company of a fair and loving lady."
The girl's head went high as she looked the Earl full in the eye.
"Think you, John de Fulm, Earl of Buckingham, that you be talking to some comely scullery maid? Do you forget that my house is honored in England, even though it does not share the King's favors with his foreign favorites, and you owe respect to a daughter of a De Tany?"
"All be fair in war, my beauty," replied the Earl. "Egad," he continued, "methinks all would be fair in hell were they like unto you. It has been some years since I have seen you and I did not know the old fox Richard de Tany kept such a package as this hid in his grimy old castle."
"Then you refuse to release us?" said Joan de Tany.
"Let us not put it thus harshly," countered the Earl. "Rather let us say that it be so late in the day, and the way so beset with dangers that the Earl of Buckingham could not bring himself to expose the beautiful daughter of his old friend to the perils of the road, and so—"
"Let us have an end to such foolishness," cried the girl. "I might have expected naught better from a turncoat foreign knave such as thee, who once joined in the councils of De Montfort, and then betrayed his friends to curry favor with the King."
The Earl paled with rage, and pressed forward as though to strike the girl, but thinking better of it, he turned to one of the soldiers, saying:
"Bring the prisoner with you. If the man lives bring him also. I would learn more of this fellow who masquerades in the countenance of a crown prince."
And turning, he spurred on towards the neighboring castle of a rebel baron which had been captured by the royalists, and was now used as headquarters by De Fulm.
When Norman of Torn regained his senses, he found himself in a small tower room in a strange castle. His head ached horribly, and he felt sick and sore; but he managed to crawl from the cot on which he lay, and by steadying his swaying body with hands pressed against the wall, he was able to reach the door. To his disappointment, he found this locked from without and, in his weakened condition, he made no attempt to force it.
He was fully dressed and in armor, as he had been when struck down, but his helmet was gone, as were also his sword and dagger.
The day was drawing to a close and, as dusk fell and the room darkened, he became more and more impatient. Repeated pounding upon the door brought no response and finally he gave up in despair. Going to the window, he saw that his room was some thirty feet above the stone-flagged courtyard, and also that it looked at an angle upon other windows in the old castle where lights were beginning to show. He saw men-at-arms moving about, and once he thought he caught a glimpse of a woman's figure, but he was not sure.
He wondered what had become of Joan de Tany and Mary de Stutevill. He hoped that they had escaped, and yet—no, Joan certainly had not, for now he distinctly remembered that his eyes had met hers for an instant just before the blow fell upon him, and he thought of the faith and confidence that he had read in that quick glance. Such a look would nerve a jackal to attack a drove of lions, thought the outlaw. What a beautiful creature she was; and she had stayed there with him during the fight. He remembered now. Mary de Stutevill had not been with her as he had caught that glimpse of her, no, she had been all alone. Ah! That was friendship indeed!
What else was it that tried to force its way above the threshold of his bruised and wavering memory? Words? Words of love? And lips pressed to his? No, it must be but a figment of his wounded brain.
What was that which clicked against his breastplate? He felt, and found a metal bauble linked to a mesh of his steel armor by a strand of silken hair. He carried the little thing to the window, and in the waning light made it out to be a golden hair ornament set with precious stones, but he could not tell if the little strand of silken hair were black or brown. Carefully he detached the little thing, and, winding the filmy tress about it, placed it within the breast of his tunic. He was vaguely troubled by it, yet why he could scarcely have told, himself.
Again turning to the window, he watched the lighted rooms within his vision, and presently his view was rewarded by the sight of a knight coming within the scope of the narrow casement of a nearby chamber.
From his apparel, he was a man of position, and he was evidently in heated discussion with some one whom Norman of Torn could not see. The man, a great, tall black-haired and mustached nobleman, was pounding upon a table to emphasize his words, and presently he sprang up as though rushing toward the one to whom he had been speaking. He disappeared from the watcher's view for a moment and then, at the far side of the apartment, Norman of Torn saw him again just as he roughly grasped the figure of a woman who evidently was attempting to escape him. As she turned to face her tormentor, all the devil in the Devil of Torn surged in his aching head, for the face he saw was that of Joan de Tany.
With a muttered oath, the imprisoned man turned to hurl himself against the bolted door, but ere he had taken a single step, the sound of heavy feet without brought him to a stop, and the jingle of keys as one was fitted to the lock of the door sent him gliding stealthily to the wall beside the doorway, where the inswinging door would conceal him.
As the door was pushed back, a flickering torch lighted up, but dimly, the interior, so that until he had reached the center of the room, the visitor did not see that the cot was empty.
He was a man-at-arms, and at his side hung a sword. That was enough for the Devil of Torn—it was a sword he craved most; and, ere the fellow could assure his slow wits that the cot was empty, steel fingers closed upon his throat, and he went down beneath the giant form of the outlaw.
Without other sound than the scuffing of their bodies on the floor, and the clanking of their armor, they fought, the one to reach the dagger at his side, the other to close forever the windpipe of his adversary.
Presently, the man-at-arms found what he sought, and, after tugging with ever diminishing strength, he felt the blade slip from its sheath. Slowly and feebly he raised it high above the back of the man on top of him; with a last supreme effort he drove the point downward, but ere it reached its goal, there was a sharp snapping sound as of a broken bone, the dagger fell harmlessly from his dead hand, and his head rolled backward upon his broken neck.
Snatching the sword from the body of his dead antagonist, Norman of Torn rushed from the tower room.
As John de Fulm, Earl of Buckingham, laid his vandal hands upon Joan de Tany, she turned upon him like a tigress. Blow after blow she rained upon his head and face until, in mortification and rage, he struck her full upon the mouth with his clenched fist; but even this did not subdue her and, with ever weakening strength, she continued to strike him. And then the great royalist Earl, the chosen friend of the King, took the fair white throat between his great fingers, and the lust of blood supplanted the lust of love, for he would have killed her in his rage.
It was upon this scene that the Outlaw of Torn burst with naked sword. They were at the far end of the apartment, and his cry of anger at the sight caused the Earl to drop his prey, and turn with drawn sword to meet him.
There were no words, for there was no need of words here. The two men were upon each other, and fighting to the death, before the girl had regained her feet. It would have been short shrift for John de Fulm had not some of his men heard the fracas, and rushed to his aid.
Four of them there were, and they tumbled pell-mell into the room, fairly falling upon Norman of Torn in their anxiety to get their swords into him; but once they met that master hand, they went more slowly, and in a moment, two of them went no more at all, and the others, with the Earl, were but circling warily in search of a chance opening—an opening which never came.
Norman of Torn stood with his back against a table in an angle of the room, and behind him stood Joan de Tany.
"Move toward the left," she whispered. "I know this old pile. When you reach the table that bears the lamp, there will be a small doorway directly behind you. Strike the lamp out with your sword, as you feel my hand in your left, and then I will lead you through that doorway, which you must turn and quickly bolt after us. Do you understand?"
Slowly he worked his way toward the table, the men-at-arms in the meantime keeping up an infernal howling for help. The Earl was careful to keep out of reach of the point of De Conde's sword, and the men-at-arms were nothing loath to emulate their master's example.
Just as he reached his goal, a dozen more men burst into the room, and emboldened by this reinforcement, one of the men engaging De Conde came too close. As he jerked his blade from the fellow's throat, Norman of Torn felt a firm, warm hand slipped into his from behind, and his sword swung with a resounding blow against the lamp.
As darkness enveloped the chamber, Joan de Tany led him through the little door, which he immediately closed and bolted as she had instructed.
"This way," she whispered, again slipping her hand into his and, in silence, she led him through several dim chambers, and finally stopped before a blank wall in a great oak-panelled room.
Here the girl felt with swift fingers the edge of the molding. More and more rapidly she moved as the sound of hurrying footsteps resounded through the castle.
"What is wrong?" asked Norman of Torn, noticing her increasing perturbation.
"Mon Dieu!" she cried. "Can I be wrong! Surely this is the room. Oh, my friend, that I should have brought you to all this by my willfulness and vanity; and now when I might save you, my wits leave me and I forget the way."
"Do not worry about me," laughed the Devil of Torn. "Methought that it was I who was trying to save you, and may heaven forgive me else, for surely, that be my only excuse for running away from a handful of swords. I could not take chances when thou wert at stake, Joan," he added more gravely.
The sound of pursuit was now quite close, in fact the reflection from flickering torches could be seen in nearby chambers.
At last the girl, with a little cry of "stupid," seized De Conde and rushed him to the far side of the room.
"Here it is," she whispered joyously, "here it has been all the time." Running her fingers along the molding until she found a little hidden spring, she pushed it, and one of the great panels swung slowly in, revealing the yawning mouth of a black opening behind.
Quickly the girl entered, pulling De Conde after her, and as the panel swung quietly into place, the Earl of Buckingham with a dozen men entered the apartment.
"The devil take them," cried De Fulm. "Where can they have gone? Surely we were right behind them."
"It is passing strange, My Lord," replied one of the men. "Let us try the floor above, and the towers; for of a surety they have not come this way." And the party retraced its steps, leaving the apartment empty.
Behind the panel, the girl stood shrinking close to De Conde, her hand still in his.
"Where now?" he asked. "Or do we stay hidden here like frightened chicks until the war is over and the Baron returns to let us out of this musty hole?"
"Wait," she answered, "until I quiet my nerves a little. I am all unstrung." He felt her body tremble as it pressed against his.
With the spirit of protection strong within him, what wonder that his arm fell about her shoulder as though to say, fear not, for I be brave and powerful; naught can harm you while I am here.
Presently she reached her hands up to his face, made brave to do it by the sheltering darkness.
"Roger," she whispered, her tongue halting over the familiar name. "I thought that they had killed you, and all for me, for my foolish stubbornness. Canst forgive me?"
"Forgive?" he asked, smiling to himself. "Forgive being given an opportunity to fight? There be nothing to forgive, Joan, unless it be that I should ask forgiveness for protecting thee so poorly."
"Do not say that," she commanded. "Never was such bravery or such swordsmanship in all the world before; never such a man."
He did not answer. His mind was a chaos of conflicting thoughts. The feel of her hands as they had lingered momentarily, and with a vague caress upon his cheek, and the pressure of her body as she leaned against him sent the hot blood coursing through his veins. He was puzzled, for he had not dreamed that friendship was so sweet. That she did not shrink from his encircling arms should have told him much, but Norman of Torn was slow to realize that a woman might look upon him with love. Nor had he a thought of any other sentiment toward her than that of friend and protector.
And then there came to him as in a vision another fair and beautiful face—Bertrade de Montfort's—and Norman of Torn was still more puzzled; for at heart he was clean, and love of loyalty was strong within him. Love of women was a new thing to him, and, robbed as he had been all his starved life of the affection and kindly fellowship, of either men or women, it is little to be wondered at that he was easily impressionable and responsive to the feeling his strong personality had awakened in two of England's fairest daughters.
But with the vision of that other face, there came to him a faint realization that mayhap it was a stronger power than either friendship or fear which caused that lithe, warm body to cling so tightly to him. That the responsibility for the critical stage their young acquaintance had so quickly reached was not his had never for a moment entered his head. To him, the fault was all his; and perhaps it was this quality of chivalry that was the finest of the many noble characteristics of his sterling character. So his next words were typical of the man; and did Joan de Tany love him, or did she not, she learned that night to respect and trust him as she respected and trusted few men of her acquaintance.
"My Lady," said Norman of Torn, "we have been through much, and we are as little children in a dark attic, and so if I have presumed upon our acquaintance," and he lowered his arm from about her shoulder, "I ask you to forgive it for I scarce know what to do, from weakness and from the pain of the blow upon my head."
Joan de Tany drew slowly away from him, and without reply, took his hand and led him forward through a dark, cold corridor.
"We must go carefully now," she said at last, "for there be stairs near."
He held her hand pressed very tightly in his, tighter perhaps than conditions required, but she let it lie there as she led him forward, very slowly down a flight of rough stone steps.
Norman of Torn wondered if she were angry with him and then, being new at love, he blundered.
"Joan de Tany," he said.
"Yes, Roger de Conde; what would you?"
"You be silent, and I fear that you be angry with me. Tell me that you forgive what I have done, an it offended you. I have so few friends," he added sadly, "that I cannot afford to lose such as you."
"You will never lose the friendship of Joan de Tany," she answered. "You have won her respect and—and—" But she could not say it and so she trailed off lamely—"and undying gratitude."
But Norman of Torn knew the word that she would have spoken had he dared to let her. He did not, for there was always the vision of Bertrade de Montfort before him; and now another vision arose that would effectually have sealed his lips had not the other—he saw the Outlaw of Torn dangling by his neck from a wooden gibbet.
Before, he had only feared that Joan de Tany loved him, now he knew it, and while he marvelled that so wondrous a creature could feel love for him, again he blamed himself, and felt sorrow for them both; for he did not return her love nor could he imagine a love strong enough to survive the knowledge that it was possessed by the Devil of Torn.
Presently they reached the bottom of the stairway, and Joan de Tany led him, gropingly, across what seemed, from their echoing footsteps, a large chamber. The air was chill and dank, smelling of mold, and no ray of light penetrated this subterranean vault, and no sound broke the stillness.
"This be the castle's crypt," whispered Joan; "and they do say that strange happenings occur here in the still watches of the night, and that when the castle sleeps, the castle's dead rise from their coffins and shake their dry bones.
"Sh! What was that?" as a rustling noise broke upon their ears close upon their right; and then there came a distinct moan, and Joan de Tany fled to the refuge of Norman of Torn's arms.
"There is nothing to fear, Joan," reassured Norman of Torn. "Dead men wield not swords, nor do they move, or moan. The wind, I think, and rats are our only companions here."
"I am afraid," she whispered. "If you can make a light, I am sure you will find an old lamp here in the crypt, and then will it be less fearsome. As a child I visited this castle often, and in search of adventure, we passed through these corridors an hundred times, but always by day and with lights."
Norman of Torn did as she bid, and finding the lamp, lighted it. The chamber was quite empty save for the coffins in their niches, and some effigies in marble set at intervals about the walls.
"Not such a fearsome place after all," he said, laughing lightly.
"No place would seem fearsome now," she answered simply, "were there a light to show me that the brave face of Roger de Conde were by my side."
"Hush, child," replied the outlaw. "You know not what you say. When you know me better, you will be sorry for your words, for Roger de Conde is not what you think him. So say no more of praise until we be out of this hole, and you safe in your father's halls."
The fright of the noises in the dark chamber had but served to again bring the girl's face close to his so that he felt her hot, sweet breath upon his cheek, and thus another link was forged to bind him to her.
With the aid of the lamp, they made more rapid progress, and in a few moments, reached a low door at the end of the arched passageway.
"This is the doorway which opens upon the ravine below the castle. We have passed beneath the walls and the moat. What may we do now, Roger, without horses?"
"Let us get out of this place, and as far away as possible under the cover of darkness, and I doubt not I may find a way to bring you to your father's castle," replied Norman of Torn.
Putting out the light, lest it should attract the notice of the watch upon the castle walls, Norman of Torn pushed open the little door and stepped forth into the fresh night air.
The ravine was so overgrown with tangled vines and wildwood that, had there ever been a pathway, it was now completely obliterated; and it was with difficulty that the man forced his way through the entangling creepers and tendrils. The girl stumbled after him and twice fell before they had taken a score of steps.
"I fear I am not strong enough," she said finally. "The way is much more difficult than I had thought."
So Norman of Torn lifted her in his strong arms, and stumbled on through the darkness and the shrubbery down the center of the ravine. It required the better part of an hour to traverse the little distance to the roadway; and all the time her head nestled upon his shoulder and her hair brushed his cheek. Once when she lifted her head to speak to him, he bent toward her, and in the darkness, by chance, his lips brushed hers. He felt her little form tremble in his arms, and a faint sigh breathed from her lips.
They were upon the highroad now, but he did not put her down. A mist was before his eyes, and he could have crushed her to him and smothered those warm lips with his own. Slowly, his face inclined toward hers, closer and closer his iron muscles pressed her to him, and then, clear cut and distinct before his eyes, he saw the corpse of the Outlaw of Torn swinging by the neck from the arm of a wooden gibbet, and beside it knelt a woman gowned in rich cloth of gold and many jewels. Her face was averted and her arms were outstretched toward the dangling form that swung and twisted from the grim, gaunt arm. Her figure was racked with choking sobs of horror-stricken grief. Presently she staggered to her feet and turned away, burying her face in her hands; but he saw her features for an instant then—the woman who openly and alone mourned the dead Outlaw of Torn was Bertrade de Montfort.
Slowly his arms relaxed, and gently and reverently he lowered Joan de Tany to the ground. In that instant Norman of Torn had learned the difference between friendship and love, and love and passion.
The moon was shining brightly upon them, and the girl turned, wide-eyed and wondering, toward him. She had felt the wild call of love and she could not understand his seeming coldness now, for she had seen no vision beyond a life of happiness within those strong arms.
"Joan," he said, "I would but now have wronged thee. Forgive me. Forget what has passed between us until I can come to you in my rightful colors, when the spell of the moonlight and adventure be no longer upon us, and then,"—he paused—"and then I shall tell you who I be and you shall say if you still care to call me friend—no more than that shall I ask."
He had not the heart to tell her that he loved only Bertrade de Montfort, but it had been a thousand times better had he done so.
She was about to reply when a dozen armed men sprang from the surrounding shadows, calling upon them to surrender. The moonlight falling upon the leader revealed a great giant of a fellow with an enormous, bristling mustache—it was Shandy.
Norman of Torn lowered his raised sword.
"It is I, Shandy," he said. "Keep a still tongue in thy head until I speak with thee apart. Wait here, My Lady Joan; these be friends."
Drawing Shandy to one side, he learned that the faithful fellow had become alarmed at his chief's continued absence, and had set out with a small party to search for him. They had come upon the riderless Sir Mortimer grazing by the roadside, and a short distance beyond, had discovered evidences of the conflict at the cross-roads. There they had found Norman of Torn's helmet, confirming their worst fears. A peasant in a nearby hut had told them of the encounter, and had set them upon the road taken by the Earl and his prisoners.
"And here we be, My Lord," concluded the great fellow.
"How many are you?" asked the outlaw.
"Fifty, all told, with those who lie farther back in the bushes."
"Give us horses, and let two of the men ride behind us," said the chief. "And, Shandy, let not the lady know that she rides this night with the Outlaw of Torn."
"Yes, My Lord."
They were soon mounted, and clattering down the road, back toward the castle of Richard de Tany.
Joan de Tany looked in silent wonder upon this grim force that sprang out of the shadows of the night to do the bidding of Roger de Conde, a gentleman of France.
There was something familiar in the great bulk of Red Shandy; where had she seen that mighty frame before? And now she looked closely at the figure of Roger de Conde. Yes, somewhere else had she seen these two men together; but where and when?
And then the strangeness of another incident came to her mind. Roger de Conde spoke no English, and yet she had plainly heard English words upon this man's lips as he addressed the red giant.
Norman of Torn had recovered his helmet from one of his men who had picked it up at the crossroads, and now he rode in silence with lowered visor, as was his custom.
There was something sinister now in his appearance, and as the moonlight touched the hard, cruel faces of the grim and silent men who rode behind him, a little shudder crept over the frame of Joan de Tany.
Shortly before daylight they reached the castle of Richard de Tany, and a great shout went up from the watch as Norman of Torn cried:
"Open! Open for My Lady Joan."
Together they rode into the courtyard, where all was bustle and excitement. A dozen voices asked a dozen questions only to cry out still others without waiting for replies.
Richard de Tany with his family and Mary de Stutevill were still fully clothed, having not lain down during the whole night. They fairly fell upon Joan and Roger de Conde in their joyous welcome and relief.
"Come, come," said the Baron, "let us go within. You must be fair famished for good food and drink."
"I will ride, My Lord," replied Norman of Torn. "I have a little matter of business with my friend, the Earl of Buckingham. Business which I fear will not wait."
Joan de Tany looked on in silence. Nor did she urge him to remain, as he raised her hand to his lips in farewell. So Norman of Torn rode out of the courtyard; and as his men fell in behind him under the first rays of the drawing day, the daughter of De Tany watched them through the gate, and a great light broke upon her, for what she saw was the same as she had seen a few days since when she had turned in her saddle to watch the retreating forms of the cut-throats of Torn as they rode on after halting her father's party.
Some hours later, fifty men followed Norman of Torn on foot through the ravine below the castle where John de Fulm, Earl of Buckingham, had his headquarters; while nearly a thousand more lurked in the woods before the grim pile.
Under cover of the tangled shrubbery, they crawled unseen to the little door through which Joan de Tany had led him the night before. Following the corridors and vaults beneath the castle, they came to the stone stairway, and mounted to the passage which led to the false panel that had given the two fugitives egress.
Slipping the spring lock, Norman of Torn entered the apartment followed closely by his henchmen. On they went, through apartment after apartment, but no sign of the Earl or his servitors rewarded their search, and it was soon apparent that the castle was deserted.
As they came forth into the courtyard, they descried an old man basking in the sun, upon a bench. The sight of them nearly caused the old fellow to die of fright, for to see fifty armed men issue from the untenanted halls was well reckoned to blanch even a braver cheek.
When Norman of Torn questioned him, he learned that De Fulm had ridden out early in the day bound for Dover, where Prince Edward then was. The outlaw knew it would be futile to pursue him, but yet, so fierce was his anger against this man, that he ordered his band to mount, and spurring to their head, he marched through Middlesex, and crossing the Thames above London, entered Surrey late the same afternoon.
As they were going into camp that night in Kent, midway between London and Rochester, word came to Norman of Torn that the Earl of Buckingham, having sent his escort on to Dover, had stopped to visit the wife of a royalist baron, whose husband was with Prince Edward's forces.
The fellow who gave this information was a servant in my lady's household who held a grudge against his mistress for some wrong she had done him. When, therefore, he found that these grim men were searching for De Fulm, he saw a way to be revenged upon his mistress.
"How many swords be there at the castle?" asked Norman of Torn.
"Scarce a dozen, barring the Earl of Buckingham," replied the knave; "and, furthermore, there be a way to enter, which I may show you, My Lord, so that you may, unseen, reach the apartment where My Lady and the Earl be supping."
"Bring ten men, beside yourself, Shandy," commanded Norman of Torn. "We shall pay a little visit upon our amorous friend, My Lord, the Earl of Buckingham."
Half an hour's ride brought them within sight of the castle. Dismounting, and leaving their horses with one of the men, Norman of Torn advanced on foot with Shandy and the eight others, close in the wake of the traitorous servant.
The fellow led them to the rear of the castle, where, among the brush, he had hidden a rude ladder, which, when tilted, spanned the moat and rested its farther end upon a window ledge some ten feet above the ground.
"Keep the fellow here till last, Shandy," said the outlaw, "till all be in, an' if there be any signs of treachery, stick him through the gizzard—death thus be slower and more painful."
So saying, Norman of Torn crept boldly across the improvised bridge, and disappeared within the window beyond. One by one the band of cut-throats passed through the little window, until all stood within the castle beside their chief; Shandy coming last with the servant.
"Lead me quietly, knave, to the room where My Lord sups," said Norman of Torn. "You, Shandy, place your men where they can prevent my being interrupted."
Following a moment or two after Shandy came another figure stealthily across the ladder and, as Norman of Torn and his followers left the little room, this figure pushed quietly through the window and followed the great outlaw down the unlighted corridor.
A moment later, My Lady of Leybourn looked up from her plate upon the grim figure of an armored knight standing in the doorway of the great dining hall.
"My Lord Earl!" she cried. "Look! Behind you."
And as the Earl of Buckingham glanced behind him, he overturned the bench upon which he sat in his effort to gain his feet; for My Lord Earl of Buckingham had a guilty conscience.
The grim figure raised a restraining hand, as the Earl drew his sword.
"A moment, My Lord," said a low voice in perfect French.
"Who are you?" cried the lady.
"I be an old friend of My Lord, here; but let me tell you a little story.
"In a grim old castle in Essex, only last night, a great lord of England held by force the beautiful daughter of a noble house and, when she spurned his advances, he struck her with his clenched fist upon her fair face, and with his brute hands choked her. And in that castle also was a despised and hunted outlaw, with a price upon his head, for whose neck the hempen noose has been yawning these many years. And it was this vile person who came in time to save the young woman from the noble flower of knighthood that would have ruined her young life.
"The outlaw wished to kill the knight, but many men-at-arms came to the noble's rescue, and so the outlaw was forced to fly with the girl lest he be overcome by numbers, and the girl thus fall again into the hands of her tormentor.
"But this crude outlaw was not satisfied with merely rescuing the girl, he must needs mete out justice to her noble abductor and collect in full the toll of blood which alone can atone for the insult and violence done her.
"My Lady, the young girl was Joan de Tany; the noble was My Lord the Earl of Buckingham; and the outlaw stands before you to fulfill the duty he has sworn to do. En garde, My Lord!"
The encounter was short, for Norman of Torn had come to kill, and he had been looking through a haze of blood for hours—in fact every time he had thought of those brutal fingers upon the fair throat of Joan de Tany and of the cruel blow that had fallen upon her face.
He showed no mercy, but backed the Earl relentlessly into a corner of the room, and when he had him there where he could escape in no direction, he drove his blade so deep through his putrid heart that the point buried itself an inch in the oak panel beyond.
Claudia Leybourn sat frozen with horror at the sight she was witnessing, and, as Norman of Torn wrenched his blade from the dead body before him and wiped it on the rushes of the floor, she gazed in awful fascination while he drew his dagger and made a mark upon the forehead of the dead nobleman.
"Outlaw or Devil," said a stern voice behind them, "Roger Leybourn owes you his friendship for saving the honor of his home."
Both turned to discover a mail-clad figure standing in the doorway where Norman of Torn had first appeared.
"Roger!" shrieked Claudia Leybourn, and swooned.
"Who be you?" continued the master of Leybourn addressing the outlaw.
For answer Norman of Torn pointed to the forehead of the dead Earl of Buckingham, and there Roger Leybourn saw, in letters of blood, NT.
The Baron advanced with outstretched hand.
"I owe you much. You have saved my poor, silly wife from this beast, and Joan de Tany is my cousin, so I am doubly beholden to you, Norman of Torn."
The outlaw pretended that he did not see the hand.
"You owe me nothing, Sir Roger, that may not be paid by a good supper. I have eaten but once in forty-eight hours."
The outlaw now called to Shandy and his men, telling them to remain on watch, but to interfere with no one within the castle.
He then sat at the table with Roger Leybourn and his lady, who had recovered from her swoon, and behind them on the rushes of the floor lay the body of De Fulm in a little pool of blood.
Leybourn told them that he had heard that De Fulm was at his home, and had hastened back; having been in hiding about the castle for half an hour before the arrival of Norman of Torn, awaiting an opportunity to enter unobserved by the servants. It was he who had followed across the ladder after Shandy.
The outlaw spent the night at the castle of Roger Leybourn; for the first time within his memory a welcomed guest under his true name at the house of a gentleman.
The following morning, he bade his host goodbye, and returning to his camp started on his homeward march toward Torn.
Near midday, as they were approaching the Thames near the environs of London, they saw a great concourse of people hooting and jeering at a small party of gentlemen and gentlewomen.
Some of the crowd were armed, and from very force of numbers were waxing brave to lay violent hands upon the party. Mud and rocks and rotten vegetables were being hurled at the little cavalcade, many of them barely missing the women of the party.
Norman of Torn waited to ask no questions, but spurring into the thick of it laid right and left of him with the flat of his sword, and his men, catching the contagion of it, swarmed after him until the whole pack of attacking ruffians were driven into the Thames.
And then, without a backward glance at the party he had rescued, he continued on his march toward the north.
The little party sat upon their horses looking in wonder after the retreating figures of their deliverers. Then one of the ladies turned to a knight at her side with a word of command and an imperious gesture toward the fast disappearing company. He, thus addressed, put spurs to his horse, and rode at a rapid gallop after the outlaw's troop. In a few moments he had overtaken them and reined up beside Norman of Torn.
"Hold, Sir Knight," cried the gentleman, "the Queen would thank you in person for your brave defence of her."
Ever keen to see the humor of a situation, Norman of Torn wheeled his horse and rode back with the Queen's messenger.
As he faced Her Majesty, the Outlaw of Torn bent low over his pommel.
"You be a strange knight that thinks so lightly on saving a queen's life that you ride on without turning your head, as though you had but driven a pack of curs from annoying a stray cat," said the Queen.
"I drew in the service of a woman, Your Majesty, not in the service of a queen."
"What now! Wouldst even belittle the act which we all witnessed? The King, my husband, shall reward thee, Sir Knight, if you but tell me your name."
"If I told my name, methinks the King would be more apt to hang me," laughed the outlaw. "I be Norman of Torn."
The entire party looked with startled astonishment upon him, for none of them had ever seen this bold raider whom all the nobility and gentry of England feared and hated.
"For lesser acts than that which thou hast just performed, the King has pardoned men before," replied Her Majesty. "But raise your visor, I would look upon the face of so notorious a criminal who can yet be a gentleman and a loyal protector of his queen."
"They who have looked upon my face, other than my friends," replied Norman of Torn quietly, "have never lived to tell what they saw beneath this visor, and as for you, Madame, I have learned within the year to fear it might mean unhappiness to you to see the visor of the Devil of Torn lifted from his face." Without another word he wheeled and galloped back to his little army.
"The puppy, the insolent puppy," cried Eleanor of England, in a rage.
And so the Outlaw of Torn and his mother met and parted after a period of twenty years.
Two days later, Norman of Torn directed Red Shandy to lead the forces of Torn from their Essex camp back to Derby. The numerous raiding parties which had been constantly upon the road during the days they had spent in this rich district had loaded the extra sumpter beasts with rich and valuable booty and the men, for the time satiated with fighting and loot, turned their faces toward Torn with evident satisfaction.
The outlaw was speaking to his captains in council; at his side the old man of Torn.
"Ride by easy stages, Shandy, and I will overtake you by tomorrow morning. I but ride for a moment to the castle of De Tany on an errand, and, as I shall stop there but a few moments, I shall surely join you tomorrow."
"Do not forget, My Lord," said Edwild the Serf, a great yellow-haired Saxon giant, "that there be a party of the King's troops camped close by the road which branches to Tany."
"I shall give them plenty of room," replied Norman of Torn. "My neck itcheth not to be stretched," and he laughed and mounted.
Five minutes after he had cantered down the road from camp, Spizo the Spaniard, sneaking his horse unseen into the surrounding forest, mounted and spurred rapidly after him. The camp, in the throes of packing refractory, half broken sumpter animals, and saddling their own wild mounts, did not notice his departure. Only the little grim, gray, old man knew that he had gone, or why, or whither.
That afternoon, as Roger de Conde was admitted to the castle of Richard de Tany and escorted to a little room where he awaited the coming of the Lady Joan, a swarthy messenger handed a letter to the captain of the King's soldiers camped a few miles south of Tany.
The officer tore open the seal as the messenger turned and spurred back in the direction from which he had come.
And this was what he read:
Norman of Torn is now at the castle of Tany, without escort.
Instantly the call "to arms" and "mount" sounded through the camp and, in five minutes, a hundred mercenaries galloped rapidly toward the castle of Richard de Tany, in the visions of their captain a great reward and honor and preferment for the capture of the mighty outlaw who was now almost within his clutches.
Three roads meet at Tany; one from the south along which the King's soldiers were now riding; one from the west which had guided Norman of Torn from his camp to the castle; and a third which ran northwest through Cambridge and Huntingdon toward Derby.
All unconscious of the rapidly approaching foes, Norman of Torn waited composedly in the anteroom for Joan de Tany.
Presently she entered, clothed in the clinging house garment of the period; a beautiful vision, made more beautiful by the suppressed excitement which caused the blood to surge beneath the velvet of her cheek, and her breasts to rise and fall above her fast beating heart.
She let him take her fingers in his and raise them to his lips, and then they stood looking into each other's eyes in silence for a long moment.
"I do not know how to tell you what I have come to tell," he said sadly. "I have not meant to deceive you to your harm, but the temptation to be with you and those whom you typify must be my excuse. I—" He paused. It was easy to tell her that he was the Outlaw of Torn, but if she loved him, as he feared, how was he to tell her that he loved only Bertrade de Montfort?
"You need tell me nothing," interrupted Joan de Tany. "I have guessed what you would tell me, Norman of Torn. 'The spell of moonlight and adventure is no longer upon us'—those are your own words, and still I am glad to call you friend."
The little emphasis she put upon the last word bespoke the finality of her decision that the Outlaw of Torn could be no more than friend to her.
"It is best," he replied, relieved that, as he thought, she felt no love for him now that she knew him for what he really was. "Nothing good could come to such as you, Joan, if the Devil of Torn could claim more of you than friendship; and so I think that for your peace of mind and for my own, we will let it be as though you had never known me. I thank you that you have not been angry with me. Remember me only to think that in the hills of Derby, a sword is at your service, without reward and without price. Should you ever need it, Joan, tell me that you will send for me—wilt promise me that, Joan?"
"I promise, Norman of Torn."
"Farewell," he said, and as he again kissed her hand he bent his knee to the ground in reverence. Then he rose to go, pressing a little packet into her palm. Their eyes met, and the man saw, in that brief instant, deep in the azure depths of the girl's that which tumbled the structure of his new-found complacency about his ears.
As he rode out into the bright sunlight upon the road which led northwest toward Derby, Norman of Torn bowed his head in sorrow, for he realized two things. One was that the girl he had left still loved him, and that some day, mayhap tomorrow, she would suffer because she had sent him away; and the other was that he did not love her, that his heart was locked in the fair breast of Bertrade de Montfort.
He felt himself a beast that he had allowed his loneliness and the aching sorrow of his starved, empty heart to lead him into this girl's life. That he had been new to women and newer still to love did not permit him to excuse himself, and a hundred times he cursed his folly and stupidity, and what he thought was fickleness.
But the unhappy affair had taught him one thing for certain: to know without question what love was, and that the memory of Bertrade de Montfort's lips would always be more to him than all the allurements possessed by the balance of the women of the world, no matter how charming, or how beautiful.
Another thing, a painful thing he had learned from it, too, that the attitude of Joan de Tany, daughter of an old and noble house, was but the attitude which the Outlaw of Torn must expect from any good woman of her class; what he must expect from Bertrade de Montfort when she learned that Roger de Conde was Norman of Torn.
The outlaw had scarce passed out of sight upon the road to Derby ere the girl, who still stood in an embrasure of the south tower, gazing with strangely drawn, sad face up the road which had swallowed him, saw a body of soldiers galloping rapidly toward Tany from the south.
The King's banner waved above their heads, and intuitively, Joan de Tany knew for whom they sought at her father's castle. Quickly she hastened to the outer barbican that it might be she who answered their hail rather than one of the men-at-arms on watch there.
She had scarcely reached the ramparts of the outer gate ere the King's men drew rein before the castle.
In reply to their hail, Joan de Tany asked their mission.
"We seek the outlaw, Norman of Torn, who hides now within this castle," replied the officer.
"There be no outlaw here," replied the girl, "but, if you wish, you may enter with half a dozen men and search the castle."
This the officer did and, when he had assured himself that Norman of Torn was not within, an hour had passed, and Joan de Tany felt certain that the Outlaw of Torn was too far ahead to be caught by the King's men; so she said:
"There was one here just before you came who called himself though by another name than Norman of Torn. Possibly it is he ye seek."
"Which way rode he?" cried the officer.
"Straight toward the west by the middle road," lied Joan de Tany. And, as the officer hurried from the castle and, with his men at his back, galloped furiously away toward the west, the girl sank down upon a bench, pressing her little hands to her throbbing temples.
Then she opened the packet which Norman of Torn had handed her, and within found two others. In one of these was a beautiful jeweled locket, and on the outside were the initials JT, and on the inside the initials NT; in the other was a golden hair ornament set with precious stones, and about it was wound a strand of her own silken tresses.
She looked long at the little trinkets and then, pressing them against her lips, she threw herself face down upon an oaken bench, her lithe young form racked with sobs.
She was indeed but a little girl chained by the inexorable bonds of caste to a false ideal. Birth and station spelled honor to her, and honor, to the daughter of an English noble, was a mightier force even than love.
That Norman of Torn was an outlaw she might have forgiven, but that he was, according to report, a low fellow of no birth placed an impassable barrier between them.
For hours the girl lay sobbing upon the bench, whilst within her raged the mighty battle of the heart against the head.
Thus her mother found her, and kneeling beside her, and with her arms about the girl's neck, tried to soothe her and to learn the cause of her sorrow. Finally it came, poured from the flood gates of a sorrowing heart; that wave of bitter misery and hopelessness which not even a mother's love could check.
"Joan, my dear daughter," cried Lady de Tany, "I sorrow with thee that thy love has been cast upon so bleak and impossible a shore. But it be better that thou hast learnt the truth ere it were too late; for, take my word upon it, Joan, the bitter humiliation such an alliance must needs have brought upon thee and thy father's house would soon have cooled thy love; nor could his have survived the sneers and affronts even the menials would have put upon him."
"Oh, mother, but I love him so," moaned the girl. "I did not know how much until he had gone, and the King's officer had come to search for him, and then the thought that all the power of a great throne and the mightiest houses of an entire kingdom were turned in hatred against him raised the hot blood of anger within me and the knowledge of my love surged through all my being. Mother, thou canst not know the honor, and the bravery, and the chivalry of the man as I do. Not since Arthur of Silures kept his round table hath ridden forth upon English soil so true a knight as Norman man of Torn.
"Couldst thou but have seen him fight, my mother, and witnessed the honor of his treatment of thy daughter, and heard the tone of dignified respect in which he spoke of women thou wouldst have loved him, too, and felt that outlaw though he be, he is still more a gentleman than nine-tenths the nobles of England."
"But his birth, my daughter!" argued the Lady de Tany. "Some even say that the gall marks of his brass collar still showeth upon his neck, and others that he knoweth not himself the name of his own father, nor had he any mother."
Ah, but this was the mighty argument! Naught could the girl say to justify so heinous a crime as low birth. What a man did in those rough cruel days might be forgotten and forgiven but the sins of his mother or his grandfather in not being of noble blood, no matter howsoever wickedly attained, he might never overcome or live down.
Torn by conflicting emotions, the poor girl dragged herself to her own apartment and there upon a restless, sleepless couch, beset by wild, impossible hopes, and vain, torturing regrets, she fought out the long, bitter night; until toward morning she solved the problem of her misery in the only way that seemed possible to her poor, tired, bleeding, little heart. When the rising sun shone through the narrow window, it found Joan de Tany at peace with all about her; the carved golden hilt of the toy that had hung at her girdle protruded from her breast, and a thin line of crimson ran across the snowy skin to a little pool upon the sheet beneath her.
And so the cruel hand of a mighty revenge had reached out to crush another innocent victim.
When word of the death of Joan de Tany reached Torn, no man could tell from outward appearance the depth of the suffering which the sad intelligence wrought on the master of Torn.
All that they who followed him knew was that certain unusual orders were issued, and that that same night, the ten companies rode south toward Essex without other halt than for necessary food and water for man and beast.
When the body of Joan de Tany rode forth from her father's castle to the church at Colchester, and again as it was brought back to its final resting place in the castle's crypt, a thousand strange and silent knights, black draped, upon horses trapped in black, rode slowly behind the bier.
Silently they had come in the night preceding the funeral, and as silently, they slipped away northward into the falling shadows of the following night.
No word had passed between those of the castle and the great troop of sable-clad warriors, but all within knew that the mighty Outlaw of Torn had come to pay homage to the memory of the daughter of De Tany, and all but the grieving mother wondered at the strangeness of the act.
As the horde of Torn approached their Derby stronghold, their young leader turned the command over to Red Shandy and dismounted at the door of Father Claude's cottage.
"I am tired, Father," said the outlaw as he threw himself upon his accustomed bench. "Naught but sorrow and death follow in my footsteps. I and all my acts be accurst, and upon those I love, the blight falleth."
"Alter thy ways, my son; follow my advice ere it be too late. Seek out a new and better life in another country and carve thy future into the semblance of glory and honor."
"Would that I might, my friend," answered Norman of Torn. "But hast thou thought on the consequences which surely would follow should I thus remove both heart and head from the thing that I have built?
"What suppose thou would result were Norman of Torn to turn his great band of cut-throats, leaderless, upon England? Hast thought on't, Father?
"Wouldst thou draw a single breath in security if thou knew Edwild the Serf were ranging unchecked through Derby? Edwild, whose father was torn limb from limb upon the rack because he would not confess to killing a buck in the new forest, a buck which fell before the arrow of another man; Edwild, whose mother was burned for witchcraft by Holy Church.
"And Horsan the Dane, Father. How thinkest thou the safety of the roads would be for either rich or poor an I turned Horsan the Dane loose upon ye?
"And Pensilo, the Spanish Don! A great captain, but a man absolutely without bowels of compassion. When first he joined us and saw our mark upon the foreheads of our dead, wishing to out-Herod Herod, he marked the living which fell into his hands with a red hot iron, branding a great P upon each cheek and burning out the right eye completely. Wouldst like to feel, Father, that Don Piedro Castro y Pensilo ranged free through forest and hill of England?
"And Red Shandy, and the two Florys, and Peter the Hermit, and One Eye Kanty, and Gropello, and Campanee, and Cobarth, and Mandecote, and the thousand others, each with a special hatred for some particular class or individual, and all filled with the lust of blood and rapine and loot.
"No, Father, I may not go yet, for the England I have been taught to hate, I have learned to love, and I have it not in my heart to turn loose upon her fair breast the beasts of hell who know no law or order or decency other than that which I enforce."
As Norman of Torn ceased speaking, the priest sat silent for many minutes.
"Thou hast indeed a grave responsibility, my son," he said at last. "Thou canst not well go unless thou takest thy horde with thee out of England, but even that may be possible; who knows other than God?"
"For my part," laughed the outlaw, "I be willing to leave it in His hands; which seems to be the way with Christians. When one would shirk a responsibility, or explain an error, lo, one shoulders it upon the Lord."
"I fear, my son," said the priest, "that what seed of reverence I have attempted to plant within thy breast hath borne poor fruit."
"That dependeth upon the viewpoint, Father; as I take not the Lord into partnership in my successes it seemeth to me to be but of a mean and poor spirit to saddle my sorrows and perplexities upon Him. I may be wrong, for I am ill-versed in religious matters, but my conception of God and scapegoat be not that they are synonymous."
"Religion, my son, be a bootless subject for argument between friends," replied the priest, "and further, there be that nearer my heart just now which I would ask thee. I may offend, but thou know I do not mean to. The question I would ask, is, dost wholly trust the old man whom thou call father?"
"I know of no treachery," replied the outlaw, "which he hath ever conceived against me. Why?"
"I ask because I have written to Simon de Montfort asking him to meet me and two others here upon an important matter. I have learned that he expects to be at his Leicester castle, for a few days, within the week. He is to notify me when he will come and I shall then send for thee and the old man of Torn; but it were as well, my son, that thou do not mention this matter to thy father, nor let him know when thou come hither to the meeting that De Montfort is to be present."
"As you say, Father," replied Norman of Torn. "I do not make head nor tail of thy wondrous intrigues, but that thou wish it done thus or so is sufficient. I must be off to Torn now, so I bid thee farewell."
Until the following Spring, Norman of Torn continued to occupy himself with occasional pillages against the royalists of the surrounding counties, and his patrols so covered the public highways that it became a matter of grievous import to the King's party, for no one was safe in the district who even so much as sympathized with the King's cause, and many were the dead foreheads that bore the grim mark of the Devil of Torn.
Though he had never formally espoused the cause of the barons, it now seemed a matter of little doubt but that, in any crisis, his grisly banner would be found on their side.
The long winter evenings within the castle of Torn were often spent in rough, wild carousals in the great hall where a thousand men might sit at table singing, fighting and drinking until the gray dawn stole in through the east windows, or Peter the Hermit, the fierce majordomo, tired of the din and racket, came stalking into the chamber with drawn sword and laid upon the revellers with the flat of it to enforce the authority of his commands to disperse.
Norman of Torn and the old man seldom joined in these wild orgies, but when minstrel, or troubadour, or storyteller wandered to his grim lair, the Outlaw of Torn would sit enjoying the break in the winter's dull monotony to as late an hour as another; nor could any man of his great fierce horde outdrink their chief when he cared to indulge in the pleasures of the wine cup. The only effect that liquor seemed to have upon him was to increase his desire to fight, so that he was wont to pick needless quarrels and to resort to his sword for the slightest, or for no provocation at all. So, for this reason, he drank but seldom since he always regretted the things he did under the promptings of that other self which only could assert its ego when reason was threatened with submersion.
Often on these evenings, the company was entertained by stories from the wild, roving lives of its own members. Tales of adventure, love, war and death in every known corner of the world; and the ten captains told, each, his story of how he came to be of Torn; and thus, with fighting enough by day to keep them good humored, the winter passed, and spring came with the ever wondrous miracle of awakening life, with soft zephyrs, warm rain, and sunny skies.
Through all the winter, Father Claude had been expecting to hear from Simon de Montfort, but not until now did he receive a message which told the good priest that his letter had missed the great baron and had followed him around until he had but just received it. The message closed with these words:
"Any clew, however vague, which might lead nearer to a true knowledge of the fate of Prince Richard, we shall most gladly receive and give our best attention. Therefore, if thou wilst find it convenient, we shall visit thee, good father, on the fifth day from today."
Spizo, the Spaniard, had seen De Montfort's man leave the note with Father Claude and he had seen the priest hide it under a great bowl on his table, so that when the good father left his cottage, it was the matter of but a moment's work for Spizo to transfer the message from its hiding place to the breast of his tunic. The fellow could not read, but he to whom he took the missive could, laboriously, decipher the Latin in which it was penned.
The old man of Torn fairly trembled with suppressed rage as the full purport of this letter flashed upon him. It had been years since he had heard aught of the search for the little lost prince of England, and now that the period of his silence was drawing to a close, now that more and more often opportunities were opening up to him to wreak the last shred of his terrible vengeance, the very thought of being thwarted at the final moment staggered his comprehension.
"On the fifth day," he repeated. "That is the day on which we were to ride south again. Well, we shall ride, and Simon de Montfort shall not talk with thee, thou fool priest."
That same spring evening in the year 1264, a messenger drew rein before the walls of Torn and, to the challenge of the watch, cried:
"A royal messenger from His Illustrious Majesty, Henry, by the grace of God, King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Aquitaine, to Norman of Torn, Open, in the name of the King!"
Norman of Torn directed that the King's messenger be admitted, and the knight was quickly ushered into the great hall of the castle.
The outlaw presently entered in full armor, with visor lowered.
The bearing of the King's officer was haughty and arrogant, as became a man of birth when dealing with a low born knave.
"His Majesty has deigned to address you, sirrah," he said, withdrawing a parchment from his breast. "And, as you doubtless cannot read, I will read the King's commands to you."
"I can read," replied Norman of Torn, "whatever the King can write. Unless it be," he added, "that the King writes no better than he rules."
The messenger scowled angrily, crying:
"It ill becomes such a low fellow to speak thus disrespectfully of our gracious King. If he were less generous, he would have sent you a halter rather than this message which I bear."
"A bridle for thy tongue, my friend," replied Norman of Torn, "were in better taste than a halter for my neck. But come, let us see what the King writes to his friend, the Outlaw of Torn."
Taking the parchment from the messenger, Norman of Torn read:
Henry, by Grace of God, King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Aquitaine; to Norman of Torn:
Since it has been called to our notice that you be harassing and plundering the persons and property of our faithful lieges!!!!!
We therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in us by Almighty God, do command that you cease these nefarious practices!!!!!
And further, through the gracious intercession of Her Majesty, Queen Eleanor, we do offer you full pardon for all your past crimes!!!!!
Provided, you repair at once to the town of Lewes, with all the fighting men, your followers, prepared to protect the security of our person, and wage war upon those enemies of England, Simon de Montfort, Gilbert de Clare and their accomplices, who even now are collected to threaten and menace our person and kingdom!!!!!
Or, otherwise, shall you suffer death, by hanging, for your long unpunished crimes. Witnessed myself, at Lewes, on May the third, in the forty-eighth year of our reign.