How a Lord Became a Steward
Long, long ago, England was not all one kingdom as it is now. It was divided into several kingdoms, each having a king. One of these kingdoms was called Northumbria, another was called Wessex.
Now the King of Wessex wanted to make himself king over the whole of England, so he gathered an army and went to fight against the King of Northumbria.
When the King of Northumbria heard that the King of Wessex was coming to fight against him, he, too, gathered his soldiers together. A great battle was fought in which the King of Northumbria was defeated, and obliged to own the King of Wessex as his lord and master.
Among the nobles who fought for the King of Northumbria was one called Gordian. He was a great lord. He lived in a castle and had much land and money, and many servants and soldiers.
Gordian fought well and bravely for his king, but in the end all his soldiers were killed or taken prisoner, and he himself barely escaped with his life. After the battle, while he lay wounded and weary, a messenger came to him. This messenger came to tell him that while he had been away fighting, the soldiers of the King of Wessex had attacked his castle. After a terrible siege it had been taken. All his money and goods were stolen, his servants scattered or dead, his castle burned to the ground.
When Lord Gordian heard this news he hid his face in his hands and groaned.
The messenger waited in silence.
"And my wife, the Lady Brunhilda, what of her?" said Lord Gordian, at last, looking up anxiously at the messenger. He was almost afraid to answer.
"Twas she who sent me, my lord," replied the man. "She bade me say that when the castle could no longer be held against the enemy, she fled by secret ways to the cave of which thou knowest. She is safe, and there abides thy coming."
"Kind messenger," said Gordian joyfully, "this good news far outweighs the evil. Go, and God be with thee, for this day thou hast brought gladness to my heart."
Lord Gordian then rewarded the messenger as well as he could, and mounting upon his war-horse, which was all that he had left in the world, he turned homeward. He had to go slowly, for he was still weak and ill from the terrible wounds which he had received in battle, so he was many days upon the way.
At last one evening, just as the sun was setting, he reached a hilltop from which he could see his castle. He stopped his horse. The tears started to his eyes as he looked. There before him lay his home, the walls black and ruined, the pretty garden, where Brunhilda and he used to walk together, trampled and destroyed, the flowers which she had loved crushed and broken.
It was a sad sight. Lord Gordian sat down upon a grassy bank feeling very sorrowful indeed. He leaned his head upon his hand and looked through his tears at the ruins of his home.
But as he sat there some one came softly behind him—some one who put her arms round his neck and laid her cheek against his. It was Brunhilda. "Gordian, Gordian," she whispered, "thou hast come back to me at last."
How happy Gordian was. Nothing seemed to matter now that Brunhilda and he were together again. For a long time they sat and talked. The red sun sank behind the hills, and still they sat together. They had much to say to each other, and it made Gordian tremble to hear of the many dangers through which Brunhilda had passed while he had been away.
"And yet," he said sadly, "I must leave thee again. I have now neither money nor lands. I have nothing but my sword. That I must carry into far countries and there win fame and riches, so that I may make thee, once more a great lady."
"Ah, no! ah, no!" cried Brunhilda; "do not leave me again. Let me go where thou goest. I would rather be the poorest woman in the land, and be with thee, than be rich and great, and be far from thee. If go thou must, take me with thee."
"I cannot," replied Gordian sadly. "Neither a soldier's camp nor the battlefield is a place for a gentle lady. But it will not be for long. I will soon win fame and fortune and come home to thee again."
Brunhilda shook her head. "What should I do meanwhile?" she asked. "Where should I go? I have no one left but thee. Thou must take me with thee. I do not want to be a great lady. I do not care how poor I am, if only thou wilt let me stay with thee."
Gordian loved Brunhilda very, very dearly. He did not want to leave her, so at last he promised that she should go wherever he went. "But whither shall we venture first?" he asked.
"I know," said Brunhilda, "we will go to the King at York. He is good and wise, they say. Perhaps he will give unto thee some of thy land again, for thou didst only what seemed to be right in fighting for thine own king."
"We will go at least and ask him," said Gordian.
So next morning they set out. Brunhilda rode upon a war-horse, which stepped proudly along as if glad to have such a beautiful lady to carry. Gordian walked beside her holding the bridle.
They were as happy as two children on a holiday. It is true they were very poor. In all the world they possessed nothing except the clothes they wore. Yet as they went along they laughed and sang, for they loved each other and were together.
Sometimes they passed through great woods. There Gordian and Brunhilda would wander hand-in-hand while the war-horse followed them as gently as a lamb. He would put his nose on Brunhilda's shoulder, and she would gather wildflowers and hang wreaths of thm round his proudly arching neck, while Gordian would twine blossoms in her hair.
Sometimes they slept under the great trees; sometimes in a poor man's cottage; sometimes in the castle of a rich lord. In those days there were no inns, and travellers were welcomed everywhere. So people were kind to these two, giving them food and shelter. And Brunhilda's beautiful face and happy smile made every one love her wherever she went.
At last they came to the end of their journey and reached the city of York. But the King was no longer there. He had gone to Winchester.
Brunhilda was very much disappointed. In spite of all her songs and sunny smiles, it was easy to see that she was weary with the long journey. Tears came into her eyes, but she blinked them away, and turning to Gordian with a brave smile, said, "Never mind, we will follow the King."
So they rested for a day or two in the house of some kind people, and then once more set off on their wanderings.
Brunhilda still sang and still smiled, but she was very weary. Her face grew pale and her eyes always looked tired. It made Gordian's heart sad to see her. But on they went.
One day about noon they came to a great castle near the town of Warwick. As his custom was, Gordian knocked at the gate, and asked if the lord of the castle would give two weary travellers a meal for the love of God, as they had no money with which to buy food.
"Ay, surely," answered the man who opened the door to them, "but we are in trouble here."
"What is the trouble?" asked Gordian.
"Why," said the man, "our steward has even just died. My Lord Rohand thought much of him and is greatly grieved. He knows not whom to put in his place. But come, the dinner is even now upon the board."
Brunhilda and Gordian went into the great dining-hall of Warwick Castle. They took a humble seat near the lower end of the table, among the other poor strangers and the servants. For in those days every one dined together in the same room. The great people sat at one end of the table and the poor people at the other.
Gordian was very thoughtful all through the meal. When it was over, he rose and walked right up the long room to the place where Earl Rohand was sitting. Dropping on one knee, "Grant me a favour, my lord," he cried.
"What favour is it thou wouldst ask?" said Lord Rohand, looking in surprise from the kneeling stranger to the beautiful lady who stood behind him, for Brunhilda had followed her husband.
"Make me thy steward," said Lord Gordian. "I swear to serve thee well and faithfully."
"But surely thou art no steward," said Lord Rohand, still more surprised. "Thou seemest to me like some great noble."
"Yes," said Gordian, rising from his knee, and looking proudly at the Earl, "I am Lord Gordian of Northumbria. I have lost all that I had in fighting for my king. Of all my riches only my dear wife is left to me. We two have wandered out into the world to seek our fortunes together. But my wife is a gentle lady unused to this rough life. Already she is tired and ill; she cannot travel further. Make me thy steward, and I promise to serve thee as truly as man can."
Still Earl Rohand hesitated, but when he looked at Brunhilda's pale, sweet face his heart was touched.
"Thou shalt be my steward," he said, "and thou and thy lady shall live in the steward's house at the castle gates."
So Lord Gordian became Earl Rohand's steward, and he and Brunhilda lived happily together for the rest of their lives in the steward's house, near the gates of Warwick Castle.