"The closing paragraph be unfortunately worded," said Norman of Torn, "for because of it shall the King's messenger eat the King's message, and thus take back in his belly the answer of Norman of Torn." And crumpling the parchment in his hand, he advanced toward the royal emissary.
The knight whipped out his sword, but the Devil of Torn was even quicker, so that it seemed that the King's messenger had deliberately hurled his weapon across the room, so quickly did the outlaw disarm him.
And then Norman of Torn took the man by the neck with one powerful hand and, despite his struggles, and the beating of his mailed fists, bent him back upon the table, and there, forcing his teeth apart with the point of his sword, Norman of Torn rammed the King's message down the knight's throat; wax, parchment and all.
It was a crestfallen gentleman who rode forth from the castle of Torn a half hour later and spurred rapidly—in his head a more civil tongue.
When, two days later, he appeared before the King at Winchelsea and reported the outcome of his mission, Henry raged and stormed, swearing by all the saints in the calendar that Norman of Torn should hang for his effrontery before the snow flew again.
News of the fighting between the barons and the King's forces at Rochester, Battel and elsewhere reached the ears of Norman of Torn a few days after the coming of the King's message, but at the same time came other news which hastened his departure toward the south. This latter word was that Bertrade de Montfort and her mother, accompanied by Prince Philip, had landed at Dover, and that upon the same boat had come Peter of Colfax back to England—the latter, doubtless reassured by the strong conviction, which held in the minds of all royalists at that time, of the certainty of victory for the royal arms in the impending conflict with the rebel barons.
Norman of Torn had determined that he would see Bertrade de Montfort once again, and clear his conscience by a frank avowal of his identity. He knew what the result must be. His experience with Joan de Tany had taught him that. But the fine sense of chivalry which ever dominated all his acts where the happiness or honor of women were concerned urged him to give himself over as a sacrifice upon the altar of a woman's pride, that it might be she who spurned and rejected; for, as it must appear now, it had been he whose love had grown cold. It was a bitter thing to contemplate, for not alone would the mighty pride of the man be lacerated, but a great love.
Two days before the start of the march, Spizo, the Spaniard, reported to the old man of Torn that he had overheard Father Claude ask Norman of Torn to come with his father to the priest's cottage the morning of the march to meet Simon de Montfort upon an important matter, but what the nature of the thing was the priest did not reveal to the outlaw.
This report seemed to please the little, grim, gray old man more than aught he had heard in several days; for it made it apparent that the priest had not as yet divulged the tenor of his conjecture to the Outlaw of Torn.
On the evening of the day preceding that set for the march south, a little, wiry figure, grim and gray, entered the cottage of Father Claude. No man knows what words passed between the good priest and his visitor nor the details of what befell within the four walls of the little cottage that night; but some half hour only elapsed before the little, grim, gray man emerged from the darkened interior and hastened upward upon the rocky trail into the hills, a cold smile of satisfaction on his lips.
The castle of Torn was filled with the rush and rattle of preparation early the following morning, for by eight o'clock the column was to march. The courtyard was filled with hurrying squires and lackeys. War horses were being groomed and caparisoned; sumpter beasts, snubbed to great posts, were being laden with the tents, bedding, and belongings of the men; while those already packed were wandering loose among the other animals and men. There was squealing, biting, kicking, and cursing as animals fouled one another with their loads, or brushed against some tethered war horse.
Squires were running hither and thither, or aiding their masters to don armor, lacing helm to hauberk, tying the points of ailette, coude, and rondel; buckling cuisse and jambe to thigh and leg. The open forges of armorer and smithy smoked and hissed, and the din of hammer on anvil rose above the thousand lesser noises of the castle courts, the shouting of commands, the rattle of steel, the ringing of iron hoof on stone flags, as these artificers hastened, sweating and cursing, through the eleventh hour repairs to armor, lance and sword, or to reset a shoe upon a refractory, plunging beast.
Finally the captains came, armored cap-a-pie, and with them some semblance of order and quiet out of chaos and bedlam. First the sumpter beasts, all loaded now, were driven, with a strong escort, to the downs below the castle and there held to await the column. Then, one by one, the companies were formed and marched out beneath fluttering pennon and waving banner to the martial strains of bugle and trumpet.
Last of all came the catapults, those great engines of destruction which hurled two hundred pound boulders with mighty force against the walls of beleaguered castles.
And after all had passed through the great gates, Norman of Torn and the little old man walked side by side from the castle building and mounted their chargers held by two squires in the center of the courtyard.
Below, on the downs, the column was forming in marching order, and as the two rode out to join it, the little old man turned to Norman of Torn, saying,
"I had almost forgot a message I have for you, my son. Father Claude sent word last evening that he had been called suddenly south, and that some appointment you had with him must therefore be deferred until later. He said that you would understand." The old man eyed his companion narrowly through the eye slit in his helm.
"'Tis passing strange," said Norman of Torn but that was his only comment. And so they joined the column which moved slowly down toward the valley and as they passed the cottage of Father Claude, Norman of Torn saw that the door was closed and that there was no sign of life about the place. A wave of melancholy passed over him, for the deserted aspect of the little flower-hedged cote seemed dismally prophetic of a near future without the beaming, jovial face of his friend and adviser.
Scarcely had the horde of Torn passed out of sight down the east edge of the valley ere a party of richly dressed knights, coming from the south by another road along the west bank of the river, crossed over and drew rein before the cottage of Father Claude.
As their hails were unanswered, one of the party dismounted to enter the building.
"Have a care, My Lord," cried his companion. "This be over-close to the Castle Torn and there may easily be more treachery than truth in the message which called thee thither."
"Fear not," replied Simon de Montfort, "the Devil of Torn hath no quarrel with me." Striding up the little path, he knocked loudly on the door. Receiving no reply, he pushed it open and stepped into the dim light of the interior. There he found his host, the good father Claude, stretched upon his back on the floor, the breast of his priestly robes dark with dried and clotted blood.
Turning again to the door, De Montfort summoned a couple of his companions.
"The secret of the little lost prince of England be a dangerous burden for a man to carry," he said. "But this convinces me more than any words the priest might have uttered that the abductor be still in England, and possibly Prince Richard also."
A search of the cottage revealed the fact that it had been ransacked thoroughly by the assassin. The contents of drawer and box littered every room, though that the object was not rich plunder was evidenced by many pieces of jewelry and money which remained untouched.
"The true object lies here," said De Montfort, pointing to the open hearth upon which lay the charred remains of many papers and documents. "All written evidence has been destroyed, but hold what lieth here beneath the table?" and, stooping, the Earl of Leicester picked up a sheet of parchment on which a letter had been commenced. It was addressed to him, and he read it aloud:
Lest some unforeseen chance should prevent the accomplishment of our meeting, My Lord Earl, I send thee this by one who knoweth not either its contents or the suspicions which I will narrate herein.
He who bareth this letter, I truly believe to be the lost Prince Richard. Question him closely, My Lord, and I know that thou wilt be as positive as I.
Of his past, thou know nearly as much as I, though thou may not know the wondrous chivalry and true nobility of character of him men call!!!!!
Here the letter stopped, evidently cut short by the dagger of the assassin.
"Mon Dieu! The damnable luck!" cried De Montfort, "but a second more and the name we have sought for twenty years would have been writ. Didst ever see such hellish chance as plays into the hand of the fiend incarnate since that long gone day when his sword pierced the heart of Lady Maud by the postern gate beside the Thames? The Devil himself must watch o'er him.
"There be naught more we can do here," he continued. "I should have been on my way to Fletching hours since. Come, my gentlemen, we will ride south by way of Leicester and have the good Fathers there look to the decent burial of this holy man."
The party mounted and rode rapidly away. Noon found them at Leicester, and three days later, they rode into the baronial camp at Fletching.
At almost the same hour, the monks of the Abbey of Leicester performed the last rites of Holy Church for the peace of the soul of Father Claude and consigned his clay to the churchyard.
And thus another innocent victim of an insatiable hate and vengeance which had been born in the King's armory twenty years before passed from the eyes of men.
While Norman of Torn and his thousand fighting men marched slowly south on the road toward Dover, the army of Simon de Montfort was preparing for its advance upon Lewes, where King Henry, with his son Prince Edward, and his brother, Prince Richard, King of the Romans, together with the latter's son, were entrenched with their forces, sixty thousand strong.
Before sunrise on a May morning in the year 1264, the barons' army set out from its camp at Fletching, nine miles from Lewes and, marching through dense forests, reached a point two miles from the city, unobserved.
From here, they ascended the great ridge of the hills up the valley Combe, the projecting shoulder of the Downs covering their march from the town. The King's party, however, had no suspicion that an attack was imminent and, in direct contrast to the methods of the baronial troops, had spent the preceding night in drunken revelry, so that they were quite taken by surprise.
It is true that Henry had stationed an outpost upon the summit of the hill in advance of Lewes, but so lax was discipline in his army that the soldiers, growing tired of the duty, had abandoned the post toward morning, and returned to town, leaving but a single man on watch. He, left alone, had promptly fallen asleep, and thus De Montfort's men found and captured him within sight of the bell-tower of the Priory of Lewes, where the King and his royal allies lay peacefully asleep, after their night of wine and dancing and song.
Had it not been for an incident which now befell, the baronial army would doubtless have reached the city without being detected, but it happened that, the evening before, Henry had ordered a foraging party to ride forth at daybreak, as provisions for both men and beasts were low.
This party had scarcely left the city behind them ere they fell into the hands of the baronial troops. Though some few were killed or captured, those who escaped were sufficient to arouse the sleeping army of the royalists to the close proximity and gravity of their danger.
By this time, the four divisions of De Montfort's army were in full view of the town. On the left were the Londoners under Nicholas de Segrave; in the center rode De Clare, with John Fitz-John and William de Monchensy, at the head of a large division which occupied that branch of the hill which descended a gentle, unbroken slope to the town. The right wing was commanded by Henry de Montfort, the oldest son of Simon de Montfort, and with him was the third son, Guy, as well as John de Burgh and Humphrey de Bohun. The reserves were under Simon de Montfort himself.
Thus was the flower of English chivalry pitted against the King and his party, which included many nobles whose kinsmen were with De Montfort; so that brother faced brother, and father fought against son, on that bloody Wednesday, before the old town of Lewes.
Prince Edward was the first of the royal party to take the field and, as he issued from the castle with his gallant company, banners and pennons streaming in the breeze and burnished armor and flashing blade scintillating in the morning sunlight, he made a gorgeous and impressive spectacle as he hurled himself upon the Londoners, whom he had selected for attack because of the affront they had put upon his mother that day at London on the preceding July.
So vicious was his onslaught that the poorly armed and unprotected burghers, unused to the stern game of war, fell like sheep before the iron men on their iron shod horses. The long lances, the heavy maces, the six-bladed battle axes, and the well-tempered swords of the knights played havoc among them, so that the rout was complete; but, not content with victory, Prince Edward must glut his vengeance, and so he pursued the citizens for miles, butchering great numbers of them, while many more were drowned in attempting to escape across the Ouse.
The left wing of the royalist army, under the King of the Romans and his gallant son, was not so fortunate, for they met a determined resistance at the hands of Henry de Montfort.
The central divisions of the two armies seemed well matched also, and thus the battle continued throughout the day, the greatest advantage appearing to lie with the King's troops. Had Edward not gone so far afield in pursuit of the Londoners, the victory might easily have been on the side of the royalists early in the day, but by thus eliminating his division after defeating a part of De Montfort's army, it was as though neither of these two forces had been engaged.
The wily Simon de Montfort had attempted a little ruse which centered the fighting for a time upon the crest of one of the hills. He had caused his car to be placed there, with the tents and luggage of many of his leaders, under a small guard, so that the banners there displayed, together with the car, led the King of the Romans to believe that the Earl himself lay there, for Simon de Montfort had but a month or so before suffered an injury to his hip when his horse fell with him, and the royalists were not aware that he had recovered sufficiently to again mount a horse.
And so it was that the forces under the King of the Romans pushed back the men of Henry de Montfort, and ever and ever closer to the car came the royalists until they were able to fall upon it, crying out insults against the old Earl and commanding him to come forth. And when they had killed the occupants of the car, they found that Simon de Montfort was not among them, but instead he had fastened there three important citizens of London, old men and influential, who had opposed him, and aided and abetted the King.
So great was the wrath of Prince Richard, King of the Romans, that he fell upon the baronial troops with renewed vigor, and slowly but steadily beat them back from the town.
This sight, together with the routing of the enemy's left wing by Prince Edward, so cheered and inspired the royalists that the two remaining divisions took up the attack with refreshed spirits so that, what a moment before had hung in the balance, now seemed an assured victory for King Henry.
Both De Montfort and the King had thrown themselves into the melee with all their reserves. No longer was there semblance of organization. Division was inextricably bemingled with division; friend and foe formed a jumbled confusion of fighting, cursing chaos, over which whipped the angry pennons and banners of England's noblest houses.
That the mass seemed moving ever away from Lewes indicated that the King's arms were winning toward victory, and so it might have been had not a new element been infused into the battle; for now upon the brow of the hill to the north of them appeared a great horde of armored knights, and as they came into position where they could view the battle, the leader raised his sword on high, and, as one man, the thousand broke into a mad charge.
Both De Montfort and the King ceased fighting as they gazed upon this body of fresh, well armored, well mounted reinforcements. Whom might they be? To which side owned they allegiance? And, then, as the black falcon wing on the banners of the advancing horsemen became distinguishable, they saw that it was the Outlaw of Torn.
Now he was close upon them, and had there been any doubt before, the wild battle cry which rang from a thousand fierce throats turned the hopes of the royalists cold within their breasts.
"For De Montfort! For De Montfort!" and "Down with Henry!" rang loud and clear above the din of battle.
Instantly the tide turned, and it was by only the barest chance that the King himself escaped capture, and regained the temporary safety of Lewes.
The King of the Romans took refuge within an old mill, and here it was that Norman of Torn found him barricaded. When the door was broken down, the outlaw entered and dragged the monarch forth with his own hand to the feet of De Montfort, and would have put him to death had not the Earl intervened.
"I have yet to see my mark upon the forehead of a King," said Norman of Torn, "and the temptation be great; but, an you ask it, My Lord Earl, his life shall be yours to do with as you see fit."
"You have fought well this day, Norman of Torn," replied De Montfort. "Verily do I believe we owe our victory to you alone; so do not mar the record of a noble deed by wanton acts of atrocity."
"It is but what they had done to me, were I the prisoner instead," retorted the outlaw.
And Simon de Montfort could not answer that, for it was but the simple truth.
"How comes it, Norman of Torn," asked De Montfort as they rode together toward Lewes, "that you threw the weight of your sword upon the side of the barons? Be it because you hate the King more?"
"I do not know that I hate either, My Lord Earl," replied the outlaw. "I have been taught since birth to hate you all, but why I should hate was never told me. Possibly it be but a bad habit that will yield to my maturer years.
"As for why I fought as I did today," he continued, "it be because the heart of Lady Bertrade, your daughter, be upon your side. Had it been with the King, her uncle, Norman of Torn had fought otherwise than he has this day. So you see, My Lord Earl, you owe me no gratitude. Tomorrow I may be pillaging your friends as of yore."
Simon de Montfort turned to look at him, but the blank wall of his lowered visor gave no sign of the thoughts that passed beneath.
"You do much for a mere friendship, Norman of Torn," said the Earl coldly, "and I doubt me not but that my daughter has already forgot you. An English noblewoman, preparing to become a princess of France, does not have much thought to waste upon highwaymen." His tone, as well as his words were studiously arrogant and insulting, for it had stung the pride of this haughty noble to think that a low-born knave boasted the friendship of his daughter.
Norman of Torn made no reply, and could the Earl of Leicester have seen his face, he had been surprised to note that instead of grim hatred and resentment, the features of the Outlaw of Torn were drawn in lines of pain and sorrow; for he read in the attitude of the father what he might expect to receive at the hands of the daughter.
When those of the royalists who had not deserted the King and fled precipitately toward the coast had regained the castle and the Priory, the city was turned over to looting and rapine. In this, Norman of Torn and his men did not participate, but camped a little apart from the town until daybreak the following morning, when they started east, toward Dover.
They marched until late the following evening, passing some twenty miles out of their way to visit a certain royalist stronghold. The troops stationed there had fled, having been appraised some few hours earlier, by fugitives, of the defeat of Henry's army at Lewes.
Norman of Torn searched the castle for the one he sought, but, finding it entirely deserted, continued his eastward march. Some few miles farther on, he overtook a party of deserting royalist soldiery, and from them he easily, by dint of threats, elicited the information he desired: the direction taken by the refugees from the deserted castle, their number, and as close a description of the party as the soldiers could give.
Again he was forced to change the direction of his march, this time heading northward into Kent. It was dark before he reached his destination, and saw before him the familiar outlines of the castle of Roger de Leybourn. This time, the outlaw threw his fierce horde completely around the embattled pile before he advanced with a score of sturdy ruffians to reconnoiter.
Making sure that the drawbridge was raised, and that he could not hope for stealthy entrance there, he crept silently to the rear of the great building and there, among the bushes, his men searched for the ladder that Norman of Torn had seen the knavish servant of My Lady Claudia unearth, that the outlaw might visit the Earl of Buckingham, unannounced.
Presently they found it, and it was the work of but a moment to raise it to the sill of the low window, so that soon the twenty stood beside their chief within the walls of Leybourn.
Noiselessly, they moved through the halls and corridors of the castle until a maid, bearing a great pasty from the kitchen, turned a sudden corner and bumped full into the Outlaw of Torn. With a shriek that might have been heard at Lewes, she dropped the dish upon the stone floor and, turning, ran, still shrieking at the top of her lungs, straight for the great dining hall.
So close behind her came the little band of outlaws that scarce had the guests arisen in consternation from the table at the shrill cries of the girl than Norman of Torn burst through the great door with twenty drawn swords at his back.
The hall was filled with knights and gentlewomen and house servants and men-at-arms. Fifty swords flashed from fifty scabbards as the men of the party saw the hostile appearance of their visitors, but before a blow could be struck, Norman of Torn, grasping his sword in his right hand, raised his left aloft in a gesture for silence.
"Hold!" he cried, and, turning directly to Roger de Leybourn, "I have no quarrel with thee, My Lord, but again I come for a guest within thy halls. Methinks thou hast as bad taste in whom thou entertains as didst thy fair lady."
"Who be ye, that thus rudely breaks in upon the peace of my castle, and makes bold to insult my guests?" demanded Roger de Leybourn.
"Who be I! If you wait, you shall see my mark upon the forehead of yon grinning baboon," replied the outlaw, pointing a mailed finger at one who had been seated close to De Leybourn.
All eyes turned in the direction that the rigid finger of the outlaw indicated, and there indeed was a fearful apparition of a man. With livid face he stood, leaning for support against the table; his craven knees wabbling beneath his fat carcass; while his lips were drawn apart against his yellow teeth in a horrid grimace of awful fear.
"If you recognize me not, Sir Roger," said Norman of Torn, drily, "it is evident that your honored guest hath a better memory."
At last the fear-struck man found his tongue, and, though his eyes never left the menacing figure of the grim, iron-clad outlaw, he addressed the master of Leybourn; shrieking in a high, awe-emasculated falsetto:
"Seize him! Kill him! Set your men upon him! Do you wish to live another moment, draw and defend yourselves for he be the Devil of Torn, and there be a great price upon his head.
"Oh, save me, save me! for he has come to kill me," he ended in a pitiful wail.
The Devil of Torn! How that name froze the hearts of the assembled guests.
The Devil of Torn! Slowly the men standing there at the board of Sir Roger de Leybourn grasped the full purport of that awful name.
Tense silence for a moment held the room in the stillness of a sepulchre, and then a woman shrieked, and fell prone across the table. She had seen the mark of the Devil of Torn upon the dead brow of her mate.
And then Roger de Leybourn spoke:
"Norman of Torn, but once before have you entered within the walls of Leybourn, and then you did, in the service of another, a great service for the house of Leybourn; and you stayed the night, an honored guest. But a moment since, you said that you had no quarrel with me. Then why be you here? Speak! Shall it be as a friend or an enemy that the master of Leybourn greets Norman of Torn; shall it be with outstretched hand or naked sword?"
"I come for this man, whom you may all see has good reason to fear me. And when I go, I take part of him with me. I be in a great hurry, so I would prefer to take my great and good friend, Peter of Colfax, without interference; but, if you wish it otherwise; we be a score strong within your walls, and nigh a thousand lie without. What say you, My Lord?"
"Your grievance against Peter of Colfax must be a mighty one, that you search him out thus within a day's ride from the army of the King who has placed a price upon your head, and from another army of men who be equally your enemies."
"I would gladly go to hell after Peter of Colfax," replied the outlaw. "What my grievance be matters not. Norman of Torn acts first and explains afterward, if he cares to explain at all. Come forth, Peter of Colfax, and for once in your life, fight like a man, that you may save your friends here from the fate that has found you at last after two years of patient waiting."
Slowly, the palsied limbs of the great coward bore him tottering to the center of the room, where gradually a little clear space had been made; the men of the party forming a circle, in the center of which stood Peter of Colfax and Norman of Torn.
"Give him a great draught of brandy," said the outlaw, "or he will sink down and choke in the froth of his own terror."
When they had forced a goblet of the fiery liquid upon him, Peter of Colfax regained his lost nerve enough so that he could raise his sword arm and defend himself and, as the fumes circulated through him, and the primal instinct of self-preservation asserted itself, he put up a more and more creditable fight, until those who watched thought that he might indeed have a chance to vanquish the Outlaw of Torn. But they did not know that Norman of Torn was but playing with his victim, that he might make the torture long, drawn out, and wreak as terrible a punishment upon Peter of Colfax, before he killed him, as the Baron had visited upon Bertrade de Montfort because she would not yield to his base desires.
The guests were craning their necks to follow every detail of the fascinating drama that was being enacted before them.
"God, what a swordsman!" muttered one.
"Never was such swordplay seen since the day the first sword was drawn from the first scabbard!" replied Roger de Leybourn. "Is it not marvellous!"
Slowly but surely was Norman of Torn cutting Peter of Colfax to pieces; little by little, and with such fiendish care that, except for loss of blood, the man was in no way crippled; nor did the outlaw touch his victim's face with his gleaming sword. That he was saving for the fulfillment of his design.
And Peter of Colfax, cornered and fighting for his life, was no marrowless antagonist, even against the Devil of Torn. Furiously he fought; in the extremity of his fear, rushing upon his executioner with frenzied agony. Great beads of cold sweat stood upon his livid brow.
And then the gleaming point of Norman of Torn flashed, lightning-like, in his victim's face, and above the right eye of Peter of Colfax was a thin vertical cut from which the red blood had barely started to ooze ere another swift move of that master sword hand placed a fellow to parallel the first.
Five times did the razor point touch the forehead of Peter of Colfax, until the watchers saw there, upon the brow of the doomed man, the seal of death, in letters of blood—NT.
It was the end. Peter of Colfax, cut to ribbons yet fighting like the maniac he had become, was as good as dead, for the mark of the Outlaw of Torn was upon his brow. Now, shrieking and gibbering through his frothy lips, his yellow fangs bared in a mad and horrid grin, he rushed full upon Norman of Torn. There was a flash of the great sword as the outlaw swung it to the full of his mighty strength through an arc that passed above the shoulders of Peter of Colfax, and the grinning head rolled upon the floor, while the loathsome carcass, that had been a baron of England, sunk in a disheveled heap among the rushes of the great hall of the castle of Leybourn.
A little shudder passed through the wide-eyed guests. Some one broke into hysterical laughter, a woman sobbed, and then Norman of Torn, wiping his blade upon the rushes of the floor as he had done upon another occasion in that same hall, spoke quietly to the master of Leybourn.
"I would borrow yon golden platter, My Lord. It shall be returned, or a mightier one in its stead."
Leybourn nodded his assent, and Norman of Torn turned, with a few words of instructions, to one of his men.
The fellow gathered up the head of Peter of Colfax, and placed it upon the golden platter.
"I thank you, Sir Roger, for your hospitality," said Norman of Torn, with a low bow which included the spellbound guests. "Adieu." Thus followed by his men, one bearing the head of Peter of Colfax upon the platter of gold, Norman of Torn passed quietly from the hall and from the castle.
Both horses and men were fairly exhausted from the gruelling strain of many days of marching and fighting, so Norman of Torn went into camp that night; nor did he again take up his march until the second morning, three days after the battle of Lewes.
He bent his direction toward the north and Leicester's castle, where he had reason to believe he would find a certain young woman, and though it galled his sore heart to think upon the humiliation that lay waiting his coming, he could not do less than that which he felt his honor demanded.
Beside him on the march rode the fierce red giant, Shandy, and the wiry, gray little man of Torn, whom the outlaw called father.
In no way, save the gray hair and the parchment-surfaced skin, had the old fellow changed in all these years. Without bodily vices, and clinging ever to the open air and the exercise of the foil, he was still young in muscle and endurance.
For five years, he had not crossed foils with Norman of Torn, but he constantly practiced with the best swordsmen of the wild horde, so that it had become a subject often discussed among the men as to which of the two, father or son, was the greater swordsman.
Always taciturn, the old fellow rode in his usual silence. Long since had Norman of Torn usurped by the force of his strong character and masterful ways, the position of authority in the castle of Torn. The old man simply rode and fought with the others when it pleased him; and he had come on this trip because he felt that there was that impending for which he had waited over twenty years.
Cold and hard, he looked with no love upon the man he still called "my son." If he held any sentiment toward Norman of Torn, it was one of pride which began and ended in the almost fiendish skill of his pupil's mighty sword arm.
The little army had been marching for some hours when the advance guard halted a party bound south upon a crossroad. There were some twenty or thirty men, mostly servants, and a half dozen richly garbed knights.
As Norman of Torn drew rein beside them, he saw that the leader of the party was a very handsome man of about his own age, and evidently a person of distinction; a profitable prize, thought the outlaw.
"Who are you," said the gentleman, in French, "that stops a prince of France upon the highroad as though he were an escaped criminal? Are you of the King's forces, or De Montfort's?"
"Be this Prince Philip of France?" asked Norman of Torn.
"Yes, but who be you?"
"And be you riding to meet my Lady Bertrade de Montfort?" continued the outlaw, ignoring the Prince's question.
"Yes, an it be any of your affair," replied Philip curtly.
"It be," said the Devil of Torn, "for I be a friend of My Lady Bertrade, and as the way be beset with dangers from disorganized bands of roving soldiery, it is unsafe for Monsieur le Prince to venture on with so small an escort. Therefore will the friend of Lady Bertrade de Montfort ride with Monsieur le Prince to his destination that Monsieur may arrive there safely."
"It is kind of you, Sir Knight, a kindness that I will not forget. But, again, who is it that shows this solicitude for Philip of France?"
"Norman of Torn, they call me," replied the outlaw.
"Indeed!" cried Philip. "The great and bloody outlaw?" Upon his handsome face there was no look of fear or repugnance.
Norman of Torn laughed.
"Monsieur le Prince thinks, mayhap, that he will make a bad name for himself," he said, "if he rides in such company?"
"My Lady Bertrade and her mother think you be less devil than saint," said the Prince. "They have told me of how you saved the daughter of De Montfort, and, ever since, I have been of a great desire to meet you, and to thank you. It had been my intention to ride to Torn for that purpose so soon as we reached Leicester, but the Earl changed all our plans by his victory and only yesterday, on his orders, the Princess Eleanor, his wife, with the Lady Bertrade, rode to Battel, where Simon de Montfort and the King are to be today. The Queen also is there with her retinue, so it be expected that, to show the good feeling and renewed friendship existing between De Montfort and his King, there will be gay scenes in the old fortress. But," he added, after a pause, "dare the Outlaw of Torn ride within reach of the King who has placed a price upon his head?"
"The price has been there since I was eighteen," answered Norman of Torn, "and yet my head be where it has always been. Can you blame me if I look with levity upon the King's price? It be not heavy enough to weigh me down; nor never has it held me from going where I listed in all England. I am freer than the King, My Lord, for the King be a prisoner today."
Together they rode toward Battel, and as they talked, Norman of Torn grew to like this brave and handsome gentleman. In his heart was no rancor because of the coming marriage of the man to the woman he loved.
If Bertrade de Montfort loved this handsome French prince, then Norman of Torn was his friend; for his love was a great love, above jealousy. It not only held her happiness above his own, but the happiness and welfare of the man she loved, as well.
It was dusk when they reached Battel and as Norman of Torn bid the prince adieu, for the horde was to make camp just without the city, he said:
"May I ask My Lord to carry a message to Lady Bertrade? It is in reference to a promise I made her two years since and which I now, for the first time, be able to fulfill."
"Certainly, my friend," replied Philip. The outlaw, dismounting, called upon one of his squires for parchment, and, by the light of a torch, wrote a message to Bertrade de Montfort.
Half an hour later, a servant in the castle of Battel handed the missive to the daughter of Leicester as she sat alone in her apartment. Opening it, she read:
To Lady Bertrade de Montfort, from her friend, Norman of Torn.
Two years have passed since you took the hand of the Outlaw of Torn in friendship, and now he comes to sue for another favor.
It is that he may have speech with you, alone, in the castle of Battel this night.
Though the name Norman of Torn be fraught with terror to others, I know that you do not fear him, for you must know the loyalty and friendship which he bears you.
My camp lies without the city's gates, and your messenger will have safe conduct whatever reply he bears to,
Norman of Torn.
Fear? Fear Norman of Torn? The girl smiled as she thought of that moment of terrible terror two years ago when she learned, in the castle of Peter of Colfax, that she was alone with, and in the power of, the Devil of Torn. And then she recalled his little acts of thoughtful chivalry, nay, almost tenderness, on the long night ride to Leicester.
What a strange contradiction of a man! She wondered if he would come with lowered visor, for she was still curious to see the face that lay behind the cold, steel mask. She would ask him this night to let her see his face, or would that be cruel? For, did they not say that it was from the very ugliness of it that he kept his helm closed to hide the repulsive sight from the eyes of men!
As her thoughts wandered back to her brief meeting with him two years before, she wrote and dispatched her reply to Norman of Torn.
In the great hall that night as the King's party sat at supper, Philip of France, addressing Henry, said:
"And who thinkest thou, My Lord King, rode by my side to Battel today, that I might not be set upon by knaves upon the highway?"
"Some of our good friends from Kent?" asked the King.
"Nay, it was a man upon whose head Your Majesty has placed a price, Norman of Torn; and if all of your English highwaymen be as courteous and pleasant gentlemen as he, I shall ride always alone and unarmed through your realm that I may add to my list of pleasant acquaintances."
"The Devil of Torn?" asked Henry, incredulously. "Some one be hoaxing you."
"Nay, Your Majesty, I think not," replied Philip, "for he was indeed a grim and mighty man, and at his back rode as ferocious and awe-inspiring a pack as ever I beheld outside a prison; fully a thousand strong they rode. They be camped not far without the city now."
"My Lord," said Henry, turning to Simon de Montfort, "be it not time that England were rid of this devil's spawn and his hellish brood? Though I presume," he added, a sarcastic sneer upon his lip, "that it may prove embarrassing for My Lord Earl of Leicester to turn upon his companion in arms."
"I owe him nothing," returned the Earl haughtily, "by his own word."
"You owe him victory at Lewes," snapped the King. "It were indeed a sad commentary upon the sincerity of our loyalty-professing lieges who turned their arms against our royal person, 'to save him from the treachery of his false advisers,' that they called upon a cutthroat outlaw with a price upon his head to aid them in their 'righteous cause'."
"My Lord King," cried De Montfort, flushing with anger, "I called not upon this fellow, nor did I know he was within two hundred miles of Lewes until I saw him ride into the midst of the conflict that day. Neither did I know, until I heard his battle cry, whether he would fall upon baron or royalist."
"If that be the truth, Leicester," said the King, with a note of skepticism which he made studiously apparent, "hang the dog. He be just without the city even now."
"You be King of England, My Lord Henry. If you say that he shall be hanged, hanged he shall be," replied De Montfort.
"A dozen courts have already passed sentence upon him, it only remains to catch him, Leicester," said the King.
"A party shall sally forth at dawn to do the work," replied De Montfort.
"And not," thought Philip of France, "if I know it, shall the brave Outlaw of Torn be hanged tomorrow."
In his camp without the city of Battel, Norman of Torn paced back and forth waiting an answer to his message.
Sentries patrolled the entire circumference of the bivouac, for the outlaw knew full well that he had put his head within the lion's jaw when he had ridden thus boldly to the seat of English power. He had no faith in the gratitude of De Montfort, and he knew full well what the King would urge when he learned that the man who had sent his soldiers naked back to London, who had forced his messenger to eat the King's message, and who had turned his victory to defeat at Lewes, was within reach of the army of De Montfort.
Norman of Torn loved to fight, but he was no fool, and so he did not relish pitting his thousand upon an open plain against twenty thousand within a walled fortress.
No, he would see Bertrade de Montfort that night and before dawn his rough band would be far on the road toward Torn. The risk was great to enter the castle, filled as it was with his mighty enemies. But if he died there, it would be in a good cause, thought he and, anyway, he had set himself to do this duty which he dreaded so, and do it he would were all the armies of the world camped within Battel.
Directly he heard a low challenge from one of his sentries, who presently appeared escorting a lackey.
"A messenger from Lady Bertrade de Montfort," said the soldier.
"Bring him hither," commanded the outlaw.
The lackey approached and handed Norman of Torn a dainty parchment sealed with scented wax wafers.
"Did My Lady say you were to wait for an answer?" asked the outlaw.
"I am to wait, My Lord," replied the awestruck fellow, to whom the service had been much the same had his mistress ordered him to Hell to bear a message to the Devil.
Norman of Torn turned to a flickering torch and, breaking the seals, read the message from the woman he loved. It was short and simple.
To Norman of Torn, from his friend always, Bertrade de Montfort.
Come with Giles. He has my instructions to lead thee secretly to where I be.
Bertrade de Montfort.
Norman of Torn turned to where one of his captains squatted upon the ground beside an object covered with a cloth.
"Come, Flory," he said, and then, turning to the waiting Giles, "lead on."
They fell in single file: first the lackey, Giles, then Norman of Torn and last the fellow whom he had addressed as Flory bearing the object covered with a cloth. But it was not Flory who brought up the rear. Flory lay dead in the shadow of a great oak within the camp; a thin wound below his left shoulder blade marked the spot where a keen dagger had found its way to his heart, and in his place walked the little grim, gray, old man, bearing the object covered with a cloth. But none might know the difference, for the little man wore the armor of Flory, and his visor was drawn.
And so they came to a small gate which let into the castle wall where the shadow of a great tower made the blackness of a black night doubly black. Through many dim corridors, the lackey led them, and up winding stairways until presently he stopped before a low door.
"Here," he said, "My Lord," and turning left them.
Norman of Torn touched the panel with the mailed knuckles of his right hand, and a low voice from within whispered, "Enter."
Silently, he strode into the apartment, a small antechamber off a large hall. At one end was an open hearth upon which logs were burning brightly, while a single lamp aided in diffusing a soft glow about the austere chamber. In the center of the room was a table, and at the sides several benches.
Before the fire stood Bertrade de Montfort, and she was alone.
"Place your burden upon this table, Flory," said Norman of Torn. And when it had been done: "You may go. Return to camp."
He did not address Bertrade de Montfort until the door had closed behind the little grim, gray man who wore the armor of the dead Flory and then Norman of Torn advanced to the table and stood with his left hand ungauntleted, resting upon the table's edge.
"My Lady Bertrade," he said at last, "I have come to fulfill a promise."
He spoke in French, and she started slightly at his voice. Before, Norman of Torn had always spoken in English. Where had she heard that voice! There were tones in it that haunted her.
"What promise did Norman of Torn e'er make to Bertrade de Montfort?" she asked. "I do not understand you, my friend."
"Look," he said. And as she approached the table he withdrew the cloth which covered the object that the man had placed there.
The girl started back with a little cry of terror, for there upon a golden platter was a man's head; horrid with the grin of death baring yellow fangs.
"Dost recognize the thing?" asked the outlaw. And then she did; but still she could not comprehend. At last, slowly, there came back to her the idle, jesting promise of Roger de Conde to fetch the head of her enemy to the feet of his princess, upon a golden dish.
But what had the Outlaw of Torn to do with that! It was all a sore puzzle to her, and then she saw the bared left hand of the grim, visored figure of the Devil of Torn, where it rested upon the table beside the grisly head of Peter of Colfax; and upon the third finger was the great ring she had tossed to Roger de Conde on that day, two years before.
What strange freak was her brain playing her! It could not be, no it was impossible; then her glance fell again upon the head grinning there upon the platter of gold, and upon the forehead of it she saw, in letters of dried blood, that awful symbol of sudden death—NT!
Slowly her eyes returned to the ring upon the outlaw's hand, and then up to his visored helm. A step she took toward him, one hand upon her breast, the other stretched pointing toward his face, and she swayed slightly as might one who has just arisen from a great illness.
"Your visor," she whispered, "raise your visor." And then, as though to herself: "It cannot be; it cannot be."
Norman of Torn, though it tore the heart from him, did as she bid, and there before her she saw the brave strong face of Roger de Conde.
"Mon Dieu!" she cried, "Tell me it is but a cruel joke."
"It be the cruel truth, My Lady Bertrade," said Norman of Torn sadly. And, then, as she turned away from him, burying her face in her raised arms, he came to her side, and, laying his hand upon her shoulder, said sadly:
"And now you see, My Lady, why I did not follow you to France. My heart went there with you, but I knew that naught but sorrow and humiliation could come to one whom the Devil of Torn loved, if that love was returned; and so I waited until you might forget the words you had spoken to Roger de Conde before I came to fulfill the promise that you should know him in his true colors.
"It is because I love you, Bertrade, that I have come this night. God knows that it be no pleasant thing to see the loathing in your very attitude, and to read the hate and revulsion that surges through your heart, or to guess the hard, cold thoughts which fill your mind against me because I allowed you to speak the words you once spoke, and to the Devil of Torn.
"I make no excuse for my weakness. I ask no forgiveness for what I know you never can forgive. That, when you think of me, it will always be with loathing and contempt is the best that I can hope.
"I only know that I love you, Bertrade; I only know that I love you, and with a love that surpasseth even my own understanding.
"Here is the ring that you gave in token of friendship. Take it. The hand that wore it has done no wrong by the light that has been given it as guide.
"The blood that has pulsed through the finger that it circled came from a heart that beat for Bertrade de Montfort; a heart that shall continue to beat for her alone until a merciful providence sees fit to gather in a wasted and useless life.
"Farewell, Bertrade." Kneeling he raised the hem of her garment to his lips.
A thousand conflicting emotions surged through the heart of this proud daughter of the new conqueror of England. The anger of an outraged confidence, gratitude for the chivalry which twice had saved her honor, hatred for the murderer of a hundred friends and kinsmen, respect and honor for the marvellous courage of the man, loathing and contempt for the base born, the memory of that exalted moment when those handsome lips had clung to hers, pride in the fearlessness of a champion who dared come alone among twenty thousand enemies for the sake of a promise made her; but stronger than all the rest, two stood out before her mind's eye like living things—the degradation of his low birth, and the memory of the great love she had cherished all these long and dreary months.
And these two fought out their battle in the girl's breast. In those few brief moments of bewilderment and indecision, it seemed to Bertrade de Montfort that ten years passed above her head, and when she reached her final resolution she was no longer a young girl but a grown woman who, with the weight of a mature deliberation, had chosen the path which she would travel to the end—to the final goal, however sweet or however bitter.
Slowly she turned toward him who knelt with bowed head at her feet, and, taking the hand that held the ring outstretched toward her, raised him to his feet. In silence she replaced the golden band upon his finger, and then she lifted her eyes to his.
"Keep the ring, Norman of Torn," she said. "The friendship of Bertrade de Montfort is not lightly given nor lightly taken away," she hesitated, "nor is her love."
"What do you mean?" he whispered. For in her eyes was that wondrous light he had seen there on that other day in the far castle of Leicester.
"I mean," she answered, "that, Roger de Conde or Norman of Torn, gentleman or highwayman, it be all the same to Bertrade de Montfort—it be thee I love; thee!"
Had she reviled him, spat upon him, he would not have been surprised, for he had expected the worst; but that she should love him! Oh God, had his overwrought nerves turned his poor head? Was he dreaming this thing, only to awaken to the cold and awful truth!
But these warm arms about his neck, the sweet perfume of the breath that fanned his cheek; these were no dream!
"Think thee what thou art saying, Bertrade?" he cried. "Dost forget that I be a low-born knave, knowing not my own mother and questioning even the identity of my father? Could a De Montfort face the world with such a man for husband?"
"I know what I say, perfectly," she answered. "Were thou born out of wedlock, the son of a hostler and a scullery maid, still would I love thee, and honor thee, and cleave to thee. Where thou be, Norman of Torn, there shall be happiness for me. Thy friends shall be my friends; thy joys shall be my joys; thy sorrows, my sorrows; and thy enemies, even mine own father, shall be my enemies.
"Why it is, my Norman, I know not. Only do I know that I didst often question my own self if in truth I did really love Roger de Conde, but thee—oh Norman, why is it that there be no shred of doubt now, that this heart, this soul, this body be all and always for the Outlaw of Torn?"
"I do not know," he said simply and gravely. "So wonderful a thing be beyond my poor brain; but I think my heart knows, for in very joy, it is sending the hot blood racing and surging through my being till I were like to be consumed for the very heat of my happiness."
"Sh!" she whispered, suddenly, "methinks I hear footsteps. They must not find thee here, Norman of Torn, for the King has only this night wrung a promise from my father to take thee in the morning and hang thee. What shall we do, Norman? Where shall we meet again?"
"We shall not be separated, Bertrade; only so long as it may take thee to gather a few trinkets, and fetch thy riding cloak. Thou ridest north tonight with Norman of Torn, and by the third day, Father Claude shall make us one."
"I am glad thee wish it," she replied. "I feared that, for some reason, thee might not think it best for me to go with thee now. Wait here, I will be gone but a moment. If the footsteps I hear approach this door," and she indicated the door by which he had entered the little room, "thou canst step through this other doorway into the adjoining apartment, and conceal thyself there until the danger passes."
Norman of Torn made a wry face, for he had no stomach for hiding himself away from danger.
"For my sake," she pleaded. So he promised to do as she bid, and she ran swiftly from the room to fetch her belongings.
When the little, grim, gray man had set the object covered with a cloth upon the table in the center of the room and left the apartment, he did not return to camp as Norman of Torn had ordered.
Instead, he halted immediately without the little door, which he left a trifle ajar, and there he waited, listening to all that passed between Bertrade de Montfort and Norman of Torn.
As he heard the proud daughter of Simon de Montfort declare her love for the Devil of Torn, a cruel smile curled his lip.
"It will be better than I had hoped," he muttered, "and easier. 'S blood! How much easier now that Leicester, too, may have his whole proud heart in the hanging of Norman of Torn. Ah, what a sublime revenge! I have waited long, thou cur of a King, to return the blow thou struck that day, but the return shall be an hundred-fold increased by long accumulated interest."
Quickly, the wiry figure hastened through the passageways and corridors, until he came to the great hall where sat De Montfort and the King, with Philip of France and many others, gentlemen and nobles.
Before the guard at the door could halt him, he had broken into the room and, addressing the King, cried:
"Wouldst take the Devil of Torn, My Lord King? He be now alone where a few men may seize him."
"What now! What now!" ejaculated Henry. "What madman be this?"
"I be no madman, Your Majesty. Never did brain work more clearly or to more certain ends," replied the man.
"It may doubtless be some ruse of the cut-throat himself," cried De Montfort.
"Where be the knave?" asked Henry.
"He stands now within this palace and in his arms be Bertrade, daughter of My Lord Earl of Leicester. Even now she did but tell him that she loved him."
"Hold," cried De Montfort. "Hold fast thy foul tongue. What meanest thou by uttering such lies, and to my very face?"
"They be no lies, Simon de Montfort. An I tell thee that Roger de Conde and Norman of Torn be one and the same, thou wilt know that I speak no lie."
De Montfort paled.
"Where be the craven wretch?" he demanded.
"Come," said the little, old man. And turning, he led from the hall, closely followed by De Montfort, the King, Prince Philip and the others.
"Thou hadst better bring twenty fighting men—thou'lt need them all to take Norman of Torn," he advised De Montfort. And so as they passed the guard room, the party was increased by twenty men-at-arms.
Scarcely had Bertrade de Montfort left him ere Norman of Torn heard the tramping of many feet. They seemed approaching up the dim corridor that led to the little door of the apartment where he stood.
Quickly, he moved to the opposite door and, standing with his hand upon the latch, waited. Yes, they were coming that way, many of them and quickly and, as he heard them pause without, he drew aside the arras and pushed open the door behind him; backing into the other apartment just as Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, burst into the room from the opposite side.
At the same instant, a scream rang out behind Norman of Torn, and, turning, he faced a brightly lighted room in which sat Eleanor, Queen of England and another Eleanor, wife of Simon de Montfort, with their ladies.
There was no hiding now, and no escape; for run he would not, even had there been where to run. Slowly, he backed away from the door toward a corner where, with his back against a wall and a table at his right, he might die as he had lived, fighting; for Norman of Torn knew that he could hope for no quarter from the men who had him cornered there like a great bear in a trap.
With an army at their call, it were an easy thing to take a lone man, even though that man were the Devil of Torn.
The King and De Montfort had now crossed the smaller apartment and were within the room where the outlaw stood at bay.
At the far side, the group of royal and noble women stood huddled together, while behind De Montfort and the King pushed twenty gentlemen and as many men-at-arms.
"What dost thou here, Norman of Torn?" cried De Montfort, angrily. "Where be my daughter, Bertrade?"
"I be here, My Lord Earl, to attend to mine own affairs," replied Norman of Torn, "which be the affair of no other man. As to your daughter: I know nothing of her whereabouts. What should she have to do with the Devil of Torn, My Lord?"
De Montfort turned toward the little gray man.
"He lies," shouted he. "Her kisses be yet wet upon his lips."
Norman of Torn looked at the speaker and, beneath the visor that was now partly raised, he saw the features of the man whom, for twenty years, he had called father.
He had never expected love from this hard old man, but treachery and harm from him? No, he could not believe it. One of them must have gone mad. But why Flory's armor and where was the faithful Flory?
"Father!" he ejaculated, "leadest thou the hated English King against thine own son?"
"Thou be no son of mine, Norman of Torn," retorted the old man. "Thy days of usefulness to me be past. Tonight thou serve me best swinging from a wooden gibbet. Take him, My Lord Earl; they say there be a good strong gibbet in the courtyard below."
"Wilt surrender, Norman of Torn?" cried De Montfort.
"Yes," was the reply, "when this floor be ankle deep in English blood and my heart has ceased to beat, then will I surrender."
"Come, come," cried the King. "Let your men take the dog, De Montfort!"
"Have at him, then," ordered the Earl, turning toward the waiting men-at-arms, none of whom seemed overly anxious to advance upon the doomed outlaw.
But an officer of the guard set them the example, and so they pushed forward in a body toward Norman of Torn; twenty blades bared against one.
There was no play now for the Outlaw of Torn. It was grim battle and his only hope that he might take a fearful toll of his enemies before he himself went down.
And so he fought as he never fought before, to kill as many and as quickly as he might. And to those who watched, it was as though the young officer of the Guard had not come within reach of that terrible blade ere he lay dead upon the floor, and then the point of death passed into the lungs of one of the men-at-arms, scarcely pausing ere it pierced the heart of a third.
The soldiers fell back momentarily, awed by the frightful havoc of that mighty arm. Before De Montfort could urge them on to renew the attack, a girlish figure, clothed in a long riding cloak. burst through the little knot of men as they stood facing their lone antagonist.
With a low cry of mingled rage and indignation, Bertrade de Montfort threw herself before the Devil of Torn, and facing the astonished company of king, prince, nobles and soldiers, drew herself to her full height, and with all the pride of race and blood that was her right of heritage from a French king on her father's side and an English king on her mother's, she flashed her defiance and contempt in the single word:
"What means this, girl?" demanded De Montfort, "Art gone stark mad? Know thou that this fellow be the Outlaw of Torn?"
"If I had not before known it, My Lord," she replied haughtily, "it would be plain to me now as I see forty cowards hesitating to attack a lone man. What other man in all England could stand thus against forty? A lion at bay with forty jackals yelping at his feet."
"Enough, girl," cried the King, "what be this knave to thee?"
"He loves me, Your Majesty," she replied proudly, "and I, him."
"Thou lov'st this low-born cut-throat, Bertrade," cried Henry. "Thou, a De Montfort, the daughter of my sister; who have seen this murderer's accursed mark upon the foreheads of thy kin; thou have seen him flaunt his defiance in the King's, thy uncle's, face, and bend his whole life to preying upon thy people; thou lov'st this monster?"
"I love him, My Lord King."
"Thou lov'st him, Bertrade?" asked Philip of France in a low tone, pressing nearer to the girl.
"Yes, Philip," she said, a little note of sadness and finality in her voice; but her eyes met his squarely and bravely.
Instantly, the sword of the young Prince leaped from its scabbard, and facing De Montfort and the others, he backed to the side of Norman of Torn.
"That she loves him be enough for me to know, my gentlemen," he said. "Who takes the man Bertrade de Montfort loves must take Philip of France as well."
Norman of Torn laid his left hand upon the other's shoulder.
"No, thou must not do this thing, my friend," he said. "It be my fight and I will fight it alone. Go, I beg of thee, and take her with thee, out of harm's way."
As they argued, Simon de Montfort and the King had spoken together, and, at a word from the former, the soldiers rushed suddenly to the attack again. It was a cowardly strategem, for they knew that the two could not fight with the girl between them and their adversaries. And thus, by weight of numbers, they took Bertrade de Montfort and the Prince away from Norman of Torn without a blow being struck, and then the little, grim, gray, old man stepped forward.
"There be but one sword in all England, nay in all the world that can, alone, take Norman of Torn," he said, addressing the King, "and that sword be mine. Keep thy cattle back, out of my way." And, without waiting for a reply, the grim, gray man sprang in to engage him whom for twenty years he had called son.
Norman of Torn came out of his corner to meet his new-found enemy, and there, in the apartment of the Queen of England in the castle of Battel, was fought such a duel as no man there had ever seen before, nor is it credible that its like was ever fought before or since.
The world's two greatest swordsmen: teacher and pupil—the one with the strength of a young bull, the other with the cunning of an old gray fox, and both with a lifetime of training behind them, and the lust of blood and hate before them—thrust and parried and cut until those that gazed awestricken upon the marvellous swordplay scarcely breathed in the tensity of their wonder.
Back and forth about the room they moved, while those who had come to kill pressed back to make room for the contestants. Now was the young man forcing his older foeman more and more upon the defensive. Slowly, but as sure as death, he was winning ever nearer and nearer to victory. The old man saw it too. He had devoted years of his life to training that mighty sword arm that it might deal out death to others, and now—ah! The grim justice of the retribution he, at last, was to fall before its diabolical cunning.
He could not win in fair fight against Norman of Torn; that the wily Frenchman saw; but now that death was so close upon him that he felt its cold breath condensing on his brow, he had no stomach to die, and so he cast about for any means whereby he might escape the result of his rash venture.
Presently he saw his opportunity. Norman of Torn stood beside the body of one of his earlier antagonists. Slowly the old man worked around until the body lay directly behind the outlaw, and then with a final rally and one great last burst of supreme swordsmanship, he rushed Norman of Torn back for a bare step—it was enough. The outlaw's foot struck the prostrate corpse; he staggered, and for one brief instant his sword arm rose, ever so little, as he strove to retain his equilibrium; but that little was enough. It was what the gray old snake had expected, and he was ready. Like lightning, his sword shot through the opening, and, for the first time in his life of continual combat and death, Norman of Torn felt cold steel tear his flesh. But ere he fell, his sword responded to the last fierce command of that iron will, and as his body sank limply to the floor, rolling with outstretched arms, upon its back, the little, grim, gray man went down also, clutching frantically at a gleaming blade buried in his chest.
For an instant, the watchers stood as though petrified, and then Bertrade de Montfort, tearing herself from the restraining hand of her father, rushed to the side of the lifeless body of the man she loved. Kneeling there beside him she called his name aloud, as she unlaced his helm. Tearing the steel headgear from him, she caressed his face, kissing the white forehead and the still lips.
"Oh God! Oh God!" she murmured. "Why hast thou taken him? Outlaw though he was, in his little finger was more of honor, of chivalry, of true manhood than courses through the veins of all the nobles of England.
"I do not wonder that he preyed upon you," she cried, turning upon the knights behind her. "His life was clean, thine be rotten; he was loyal to his friends and to the downtrodden, ye be traitors at heart, all; and ever be ye trampling upon those who be down that they may sink deeper into the mud. Mon Dieu! How I hate you," she finished. And as she spoke the words, Bertrade de Montfort looked straight into the eyes of her father.
The old Earl turned his head, for at heart he was a brave, broad, kindly man, and he regretted what he had done in the haste and heat of anger.
"Come, child," said the King, "thou art distraught; thou sayest what thou mean not. The world is better that this man be dead. He was an enemy of organized society, he preyed ever upon his fellows. Life in England will be safer after this day. Do not weep over the clay of a nameless adventurer who knew not his own father."
Someone had lifted the little, grim, gray, old man to a sitting posture. He was not dead. Occasionally he coughed, and when he did, his frame was racked with suffering, and blood flowed from his mouth and nostrils.
At last they saw that he was trying to speak. Weakly he motioned toward the King. Henry came toward him.
"Thou hast won thy sovereign's gratitude, my man," said the King, kindly. "What be thy name?"
The old fellow tried to speak, but the effort brought on another paroxysm of coughing. At last he managed to whisper.
"Look—at—me. Dost thou—not—remember me? The—foils—the—blow—twenty-long-years. Thou—spat—upon—me."
Henry knelt and peered into the dying face.
"De Vac!" he exclaimed.
The old man nodded. Then he pointed to where lay Norman of Torn.
"Outlaw—highwayman—scourge—of—England. Look—upon—his—face. Open—his tunic—left—breast."
He stopped from very weakness, and then in another moment, with a final effort: "De—Vac's—revenge. God—damn—the—English," and slipped forward upon the rushes, dead.
The King had heard, and De Montfort and the Queen. They stood looking into each other's eyes with a strange fixity, for what seemed an eternity, before any dared to move; and then, as though they feared what they should see, they bent over the form of the Outlaw of Torn for the first time.
The Queen gave a little cry as she saw the still, quiet face turned up to hers.
"Edward!" she whispered.
"Not Edward, Madame," said De Montfort, "but—"
The King knelt beside the still form, across the breast of which lay the unconscious body of Bertrade de Montfort. Gently, he lifted her to the waiting arms of Philip of France, and then the King, with his own hands, tore off the shirt of mail, and with trembling fingers ripped wide the tunic where it covered the left breast of the Devil of Torn.
"Oh God!" he cried, and buried his head in his arms.
The Queen had seen also, and with a little moan she sank beside the body of her second born, crying out:
"Oh Richard, my boy, my boy!" And as she bent still lower to kiss the lily mark upon the left breast of the son she had not seen to know for over twenty years, she paused, and with frantic haste she pressed her ear to his breast.
"He lives!" she almost shrieked. "Quick, Henry, our son lives!"
Bertrade de Montfort had regained consciousness almost before Philip of France had raised her from the floor, and she stood now, leaning on his arm, watching with wide, questioning eyes the strange scene being enacted at her feet.
Slowly, the lids of Norman of Torn lifted with returning consciousness. Before him, on her knees in the blood spattered rushes of the floor, knelt Eleanor, Queen of England, alternately chafing and kissing his hands.
A sore wound indeed to have brought on such a wild delirium, thought the Outlaw of Torn.
He felt his body, in a half sitting, half reclining position, resting against one who knelt behind him, and as he lifted his head to see whom it might be supporting him, he looked into the eyes of the King, upon whose breast his head rested.
Strange vagaries of a disordered brain! Yes it must have been a very terrible wound that the little old man of Torn had given him; but why could he not dream that Bertrade de Montfort held him? And then his eyes wandered about among the throng of ladies, nobles and soldiers standing uncovered and with bowed heads about him. Presently he found her.
"Bertrade!" he whispered.
The girl came and knelt beside him, opposite the Queen.
"Bertrade, tell me thou art real; that thou at least be no dream."
"I be very real, dear heart," she answered, "and these others be real, also. When thou art stronger, thou shalt understand the strange thing that has happened. These who wert thine enemies, Norman of Torn, be thy best friends now—that thou should know, so that thou may rest in peace until thou be better."
He groped for her hand, and, finding it, closed his eyes with a faint sigh.
They bore him to a cot in an apartment next the Queen's, and all that night the mother and the promised wife of the Outlaw of Torn sat bathing his fevered forehead. The King's chirurgeon was there also, while the King and De Montfort paced the corridor without.
And it is ever thus; whether in hovel or palace; in the days of Moses, or in the days that be ours; the lamb that has been lost and is found again be always the best beloved.
Toward morning, Norman of Torn fell into a quiet and natural sleep; the fever and delirium had succumbed before his perfect health and iron constitution. The chirurgeon turned to the Queen and Bertrade de Montfort.
"You had best retire, ladies," he said, "and rest. The Prince will live."
Late that afternoon he awoke, and no amount of persuasion or commands on the part of the King's chirurgeon could restrain him from arising.
"I beseech thee to lie quiet, My Lord Prince," urged the chirurgeon.
"Why call thou me prince?" asked Norman of Torn.
"There be one without whose right it be to explain that to thee," replied the chirurgeon, "and when thou be clothed, if rise thou wilt, thou mayst see her, My Lord."
The chirurgeon aided him to dress and, opening the door, he spoke to a sentry who stood just without. The sentry transmitted the message to a young squire who was waiting there, and presently the door was thrown open again from without, and a voice announced:
"Her Majesty, the Queen!"
Norman of Torn looked up in unfeigned surprise, and then there came back to him the scene in the Queen's apartment the night before. It was all a sore perplexity to him; he could not fathom it, nor did he attempt to.
And now, as in a dream, he saw the Queen of England coming toward him across the small room, her arms outstretched; her beautiful face radiant with happiness and love.
"Richard, my son!" exclaimed Eleanor, coming to him and taking his face in her hands and kissing him.
"Madame!" exclaimed the surprised man. "Be all the world gone crazy?"
And then she told him the strange story of the little lost prince of England.
When she had finished, he knelt at her feet, taking her hand in his and raising it to his lips.
"I did not know, Madame," he said, "or never would my sword have been bared in other service than thine. If thou canst forgive me, Madame, never can I forgive myself."
"Take it not so hard, my son," said Eleanor of England. "It be no fault of thine, and there be nothing to forgive; only happiness and rejoicing should we feel, now that thou be found again."
"Forgiveness!" said a man's voice behind them. "Forsooth, it be we that should ask forgiveness; hunting down our own son with swords and halters.
"Any but a fool might have known that it was no base-born knave who sent the King's army back, naked, to the King, and rammed the King's message down his messenger's throat.
"By all the saints, Richard, thou be every inch a King's son, an' though we made sour faces at the time, we be all the prouder of thee now."
The Queen and the outlaw had turned at the first words to see the King standing behind them, and now Norman of Torn rose, half smiling, and greeted his father.
"They be sorry jokes, Sire," he said. "Methinks it had been better had Richard remained lost. It will do the honor of the Plantagenets but little good to acknowledge the Outlaw of Torn as a prince of the blood."
But they would not have it so, and it remained for a later King of England to wipe the great name from the pages of history—perhaps a jealous king.
Presently the King and Queen, adding their pleas to those of the chirurgeon, prevailed upon him to lie down once more, and when he had done so they left him, that he might sleep again; but no sooner had the door closed behind them than he arose and left the apartment by another exit.
It was by chance that, in a deep set window, he found her for whom he was searching. She sat looking wistfully into space, an expression half sad upon her beautiful face. She did not see him as he approached, and he stood there for several moments watching her dear profile, and the rising and falling of her bosom over that true and loyal heart that had beaten so proudly against all the power of a mighty throne for the despised Outlaw of Torn.
He did not speak, but presently that strange, subtle sixth sense which warns us that we are not alone, though our eyes see not nor our ears hear, caused her to turn.
With a little cry she arose, and then, curtsying low after the manner of the court, said:
"What would My Lord Richard, Prince of England, of his poor subject?" And then, more gravely, "My Lord, I have been raised at court, and I understand that a prince does not wed rashly, and so let us forget what passed between Bertrade de Montfort and Norman of Torn."
"Prince Richard of England will in no wise disturb royal precedents," he replied, "for he will wed not rashly, but most wisely, since he will wed none but Bertrade de Montfort." And he who had been the Outlaw of Torn took the fair young girl in his arms, adding: "If she still loves me, now that I be a prince?"
She put her arms about his neck, and drew his cheek down close to hers.
"It was not the outlaw that I loved, Richard, nor be it the prince I love now; it be all the same to me, prince or highwayman—it be thee I love, dear heart—just thee."
The following changes have been made:
PAGE LINE ORIGINAL CHANGED TO 17 17 merks marks 554 ertswhile erstwhile 591 so so do so 90 26 beats beasts 934 presntly presently 124 20 rescurer rescuer 171 27 walls." walls. 1843 gnetlemen gentlemen 185 20 fored, formed, 1866 to forces the forces 195 19 those father whose father 2172 precipitably precipitately 2175 litle little 221 30 Monfort Montfort 230 30 Montforth Montfort 245 15 muderer's murderer's
The only changes that have been made to this text by Publisher's Choice Books and its General Manager/Editor have been the removal of all word-breaking hyphenation, and the occasional addition of a comma to separate certain phrases. These changes were effected merely to increase the Reader's reading ease and enjoyment of the text.
The following spelling changes were effected within the text for reasons of clarity:
"chid" to "chide" "sword play" to "swordplay" "subtile" to "subtle"