Danger in the Castle
D UKE RICHARD of Normandy slept in the room which had been his father's; Alberic de Montemar, as his page, slept at his feet, and Osmond de Centeville had a bed on the floor, across the door, where he lay with his sword close at hand, as his young Lord's guard and protector.
All had been asleep for some little time, when Osmond was startled by a slight movement of the door, which could not be pushed open without awakening him. In an instant he had grasped his sword, while he pressed his shoulder to the door to keep it closed; but it was his father's voice that answered him with a few whispered words in the Norse tongue, "It is I, open." He made way instantly, and old Sir Eric entered, treading cautiously with bare feet, and sat down on the bed motioning him to do the same, so that they might be able to speak lower. "Right, Osmond," he said. "It is well to be on the alert, for peril enough is around him—The Frank means mischief! I know from a sure hand that Arnulf of Flanders was in council with him just before he came hither, with his false tongue, wiling and coaxing the poor child!"
"Ungrateful traitor!" murmured Osmond. "Do you guess his purpose?"
"Yes, surely, to carry the boy off with him, and so he trusts doubtless to cut off all the race of Rollo! I know his purpose is to bear off the Duke, as a ward of the Crown forsooth. Did you not hear him luring the child with his promises of friendship with the Princes? I could not understand all his French words, but I saw it plain enough."
"You will never allow it?"
"If he does, it must be across our dead bodies; but taken as we are by surprise, our resistance will little avail. The Castle is full of French, the hall and court swarm with them. Even if we could draw our Normans together, we should not be more than a dozen men, and what could we do but die? That we are ready for, if it may not be otherwise, rather than let our charge be thus borne off without a pledge for his safety, and without the knowledge of the states."
"The king could not have come at a worse time," said Osmond.
"No, just when Bernard the Dane is absent. If he only knew what has befallen, he could raise the country, and come to the rescue."
"Could we not send some one to bear the tidings
"I know not," said Sir Eric, musingly. "The French have taken the
keeping of the doors; indeed they are so thick through the Castle
that I can hardly reach one of our men, nor could I spare one hand
that may avail to guard the boy
"Sir Eric;" a bare little foot was heard on the floor, and Alberic de Montemar stood before him. "I did not mean to listen, but I could not help hearing you. I cannot fight for the Duke yet, but I could carry a message."
"How would that be?" said Osmond, eagerly. "Once out of the Castle, and in Rouen, he could easily find means of sending to the Count. He might go either to the Convent of St. Ouen, or, which would be better, to the trusty armourer, Thibault, who would soon find man and horse to send after the Count."
"Ha! let me see," said Sir Eric. "It might be. But how is he to get out?"
"I know a way," said Alberic. "I scrambled down that wide buttress by the east wall last week, when our ball was caught in a branch of the ivy, and the drawbridge is down."
"If Bernard knew, it would be off my mind, at least!" said Sir Eric. "Well, my young Frenchman, you may do good service."
"Osmond," whispered Alberic, as he began hastily to dress himself, "only ask one thing of Sir Eric—never to call me young Frenchman again!"
Sir Eric smiled, saying, "Prove yourself Norman, my boy."
"Then," added Osmond, "if it were possible to get the Duke himself
out of the castle
"That might be," replied Sir Eric; "but I doubt your success. The French are too eager to hold him fast, to let him slip out of their hands. You will find every door guarded."
"Yes, but all the French have not seen the Duke, and the sight of a squire and a little page going forth, will scarcely excite their suspicion."
"Ay, if the Duke would bear himself like a little page; but that you need not hope for. Besides, he is so taken with this King's flatteries, that I doubt whether he would consent to leave him for the sake of Count Bernard. Poor child, he is like to be soon taught to know his true friends."
"I am ready," said Alberic, coming forward.
The Baron de Centeville repeated his instructions, and then undertook to guard the door, while his son saw Alberic set off on his expedition. Osmond went with him softly down the stairs, then avoiding the hall, which was filled with French, they crept silently to a narrow window, guarded by iron bars, placed at such short intervals apart that only so small and slim a form as Alberic's could have squeezed out between them. The distance to the ground was not much more than twice his own height, and the wall was so covered with ivy, that it was not a very dangerous feat for an active boy, so that Alberic was soon safe on the ground, then looking up to wave his cap, he ran on along the side of the moat, and was soon lost to Osmond's sight in the darkness.
Osmond returned to the Duke's chamber, and relieved his father's guard, while Richard slept soundly on, little guessing at the plots of his enemies, or at the schemes of his faithful subjects for his protection.
Osmond thought this all the better, for he had small trust in Richard's patience and self-command, and thought there was much more chance of getting him unnoticed out of the Castle, if he did not know how much depended on it, and how dangerous his situation was.
When Richard awoke, he was much surprised at missing Alberic, but Osmond said he was gone into the town to Thibault the armourer, and this was a message on which he was so likely to be employed that Richard's suspicion was not excited. All the time he was dressing he talked about the King, and everything he meant to show him that day; then, when he was ready, the first thing was as usual to go to attend morning mass.
"Not by that way,
Osmond turned, as he spoke, along the passage, walking fast, and not sorry that Richard was lingering a little, as it was safer for him to be first. The postern was, as he expected, guarded by two tall steel-cased figures, who immediately held their lances across the door-way, saying, "None passes without warrant."
"You will surely let us of the Castle attend to our daily business," said Osmond. "You will hardly break your fast this morning if you stop all communication with the town."
"You must bring warrant," repeated one of the men-at-arms. Osmond was beginning to say that he was the son of the Seneschal of the Castle, when Richard came hastily up. "What? Do these men want to stop us?" he exclaimed in the imperious manner he had begun to take up since his accession. "Let us go on, sirs."
The men-at-arms looked at each other, and guarded the door more closely. Osmond saw it was hopeless, and only wanted to draw his young charge back without being recognised, but Richard exclaimed loudly, "What means this?"
"The King has given orders that none should pass without warrant," was Osmond's answer. "We must wait."
"I will pass!" said Richard, impatient at opposition, to which he was little accustomed. "What mean you, Osmond? This is my Castle, and no one has a right to stop me. Do you hear, grooms? let me go. I am the Duke!"
The sentinels bowed, but all they said was, "Our orders are express."
"I tell you I am Duke of Normandy, and I will go where I please in my own city!" exclaimed Richard, passionately pressing against the crossed staves of the weapons, to force his way between them, but he was caught and held fast in the powerful gauntlet of one of the men- at-arms. "Let me go, villain!" cried he, struggling with all his might. "Osmond, Osmond, help!"
Even as he spoke Osmond had disengaged him from the grasp of the Frenchman, and putting his hand on his arm, said, "Nay, my Lord, it is not for you to strive with such as these."
"I will strive!" cried the boy. "I will not have my way barred in my own Castle. I will tell the King how these rogues of his use me. I will have them in the dungeon. Sir Eric! where is Sir Eric?"
Away he rushed to the stairs, Osmond hurrying after him, lest he should throw himself into some fresh danger, or by his loud calls attract the French, who might then easily make him prisoner. However, on the very first step of the stairs stood Sir Eric, who was too anxious for the success of the attempt to escape, to be very far off. Richard, too angry to heed where he was going, dashed up against him without seeing him, and as the old Baron took hold of him, began, "Sir Eric, Sir Eric, those French are villains! they will not let me pass—"
"Hush, hush! my Lord," said Sir Eric. "Silence! come here."
However imperious with others, Richard from force of habit always obeyed Sir Eric, and now allowed himself to be dragged hastily and silently by him, Osmond following closely, up the stairs, up a second and a third winding flight, still narrower, and with broken steps, to a small round, thick-walled turret chamber, with an extremely small door, and loop-holes of windows high up in the tower. Here, to his great surprise, he found Dame Astrida, kneeling and telling her beads, two or three of her maidens, and about four of the Norman Squires and men-at-arms.
"So you have failed, Osmond?" said the Baron.
"But what is all this? How did Fru Astrida come up here? May I not go to the King and have those insolent Franks punished?"
"Listen to me, Lord Richard," said Sir Eric: "that smooth-spoken King whose words so charmed you last night is an ungrateful deceiver. The Franks have always hated and feared the Normans, and not being able to conquer us fairly, they now take to foul means. Louis came hither from Flanders, he has brought this great troop of French to surprise us, claim you as a ward of the crown, and carry you away with him to some prison of his own."
"You will not let me go?" said Richard.
"Not while I live," said Sir Eric. "Alberic is gone to warn the Count of Harcourt, to call the Normans together, and here we are ready to defend this chamber to our last breath, but we are few, the French are many, and succour may be far off."
"Then you meant to have taken me out of their reach this morning, Osmond?"
"Yes, my Lord."
"And if I had not flown into a passion and told who I was, I might have been safe! O Sir Eric! Sir Eric! you will not let me be carried off to a French prison!"
"Here, my child," said Dame Astrida, holding out her arms, "Sir Eric will do all he can for you, but we are in God's hands!"
Richard came and leant against her. "I wish I had not been in a passion!" said he, sadly, after a silence; then looking at her in wonder—"But how came you up all this way?"
"It is a long way for my old limbs," said Fru Astrida, smiling, "but my son helped me, and he deems it the only safe place in the Castle."
"The safest," said Sir Eric, "and that is not saying much for it."
"Hark!" said Osmond, "what a tramping the Franks are making. They are beginning to wonder where the Duke is."
"To the stairs, Osmond," said Sir Eric. "On that narrow step one man may keep them at bay a long time. You can speak their jargon too, and hold parley with them."
"Perhaps they will think I am gone," whispered Richard, "if they cannot find me, and go away."
Osmond and two of the Normans were, as he spoke, taking their stand on the narrow spiral stair, where there was just room for one man on the step. Osmond was the lowest, the other two above him, and it would have been very hard for an enemy to force his way past them.
Osmond could plainly hear the sounds of the steps and voices of the French as they consulted together, and sought for the Duke. A man at length was heard clanking up these very stairs, till winding round, he suddenly found himself close upon young de Centeville.
"Ha! Norman!" he cried, starting back in amazement, "what are you doing here?"
"My duty," answered Osmond, shortly. "I am here to guard this stair;" and his drawn sword expressed the same intention.
The Frenchman drew back, and presently a whispering below was heard, and soon after a voice came up the stairs, saying, "Norman—good Norman—"
"What would you say?" replied Osmond, and the head of another Frank appeared. "What means all this, my friend?" was the address. "Our King comes as a guest to you, and you received him last evening as loyal vassals. Wherefore have you now drawn out of the way, and striven to bear off your young Duke into secret places? Truly it looks not well that you should thus strive to keep him apart, and therefore the King requires to see him instantly."
"Sir Frenchman," replied Osmond, "your King claims the Duke as his ward. How that may be my father knows not, but as he was committed to his charge by the states of Normandy, he holds himself bound to keep him in his own hands until further orders from them."
"That means, insolent Norman, that you intend to shut the boy up and keep him in your own rebel hands. You had best yield—it will be the better for you and for him. The child is the King's ward, and he shall not be left to be nurtured in rebellion by northern pirates."
At this moment a cry from without arose, so loud as almost to drown the voices of the speakers on the turret stair, a cry welcome to the ears of Osmond, repeated by a multitude of voices, "Haro! Haro! our little Duke!"
It was well known as a Norman shout. So just and so ready to redress all grievances had the old Duke Rollo been, that his very name was an appeal against injustice, and whenever wrong was done, the Norman outcry against the injury was always "Ha Rollo!" or as it had become shortened, "Haro." And now Osmond knew that those whose affection had been won by the uprightness of Rollo, were gathering to protect his helpless grandchild.
The cry was likewise heard by the little garrison in the turret chamber, bringing hope and joy. Richard thought himself already rescued, and springing from Fru Astrida, danced about in ecstasy, only longing to see the faithful Normans, whose voices he heard ringing out again and again, in calls for their little Duke, and outcries against the Franks. The windows were, however, so high, that nothing could be seen from them but the sky; and, like Richard, the old Baron de Centeville was almost beside himself with anxiety to know what force was gathered together, and what measures were being taken. He opened the door, called to his son, and asked if he could tell what was passing, but Osmond knew as little—he could see nothing but the black, cobwebbed, dusty steps winding above his head, while the clamours outside, waxing fiercer and louder, drowned all the sounds which might otherwise have come up to him from the French within the Castle. At last, however, Osmond called out to his father, in Norse, "There is a Frank Baron come to entreat, and this time very humbly, that the Duke may come to the King."
"Tell him," replied Sir Eric, "that save with consent of the council of Normandy, the child leaves not my hands."
"He says," called back Osmond, after a moment, "that you shall guard him yourself, with as many as you choose to bring with you. He declares on the faith of a free Baron, that the King has no thought of ill—he wants to show him to the Rouennais without, who are calling for him, and threaten to tear down the tower rather than not see their little Duke. Shall I bid him send a hostage?"
"Answer him," returned the Baron, "that the Duke leaves not this chamber unless a pledge is put into our hands for his safety. There was an oily-tongued Count, who sat next the King at supper—let him come hither, and then perchance I may trust the Duke among them."
Osmond gave the desired reply, which was carried to the King. Meantime the uproar outside grew louder than ever, and there were new sounds, a horn was winded, and there was a shout of "Dieu aide!" the Norman war-cry, joined with "Notre Dame de Harcourt!"
"There, there!" cried Sir Eric, with a long breath, as if relieved of half his anxieties, "the boy has sped well. Bernard is here at last! Now his head and hand are there, I doubt no longer."
"Here comes the Count," said Osmond, opening the door, and admitting a stout, burly man, who seemed sorely out of breath with the ascent of the steep, broken stair, and very little pleased to find himself in such a situation. The Baron de Centeville augured well from the speed with which he had been sent, thinking it proved great perplexity and distress on the part of Louis. Without waiting to hear his hostage speak, he pointed to a chest on which he had been sitting, and bade two of his men-at-arms stand on each side of the Count, saying at the same time to Fru Astrida, "Now, mother, if aught of evil befalls the child, you know your part. Come, Lord Richard."
Richard moved forward. Sir Eric held his hand. Osmond kept close behind him, and with as many of the men-at-arms as could be spared from guarding Fru Astrida and her hostage, he descended the stairs, not by any means sorry to go, for he was weary of being besieged in that turret chamber, whence he could see nothing, and with those friendly cries in his ears, he could not be afraid.
He was conducted to the large council-room which was above the hall. There, the King was walking up and down anxiously, looking paler than his wont, and no wonder, for the uproar sounded tremendous there—and now and then a stone dashed against the sides of the deep window.
Nearly at the same moment as Richard entered by one door, Count Bernard de Harcourt came in from the other, and there was a slight lull in the tumult.
"What means this, my Lords?" exclaimed the King. "Here am I come in all good will, in memory of my warm friendship with Duke William, to take on me the care of his orphan, and hold council with you for avenging his death, and is this the greeting you afford me? You steal away the child, and stir up the rascaille of Rouen against me. Is this the reception for your King?"
"Sir King," replied Bernard, "what your intentions may be, I know not. All I do know is, that the burghers of Rouen are fiercely incensed against you—so much so, that they were almost ready to tear me to pieces for being absent at this juncture. They say that you are keeping the child prisoner in his own Castle and that they will have him restored if they tear it down to the foundations."
"You are a true man, a loyal man—you understand my good intentions," said Louis, trembling, for the Normans were extremely dreaded. "You would not bring the shame of rebellion on your town and people. Advise me—I will do just as you counsel me—how shall I appease them?"
"Take the child, lead him to the window, swear that you mean him no evil, that you will not take him from us," said Bernard. "Swear it on the faith of a King."
"As a King—as a Christian, it is true!" said Louis. "Here, my boy! Wherefore shrink from me? What have I done, that you should fear me? You have been listening to evil tales of me, my child. Come hither."
At a sign from the Count de Harcourt, Sir Eric led Richard forward, and put his hand into the King's. Louis took him to the window, lifted him upon the sill, and stood there with his arm round him, upon which the shout, "Long live Richard, our little Duke!" arose again. Meantime, the two Centevilles looked in wonder at the old Harcourt, who shook his head and muttered in his own tongue, "I will do all I may, but our force is small, and the King has the best of it. We must not yet bring a war on ourselves."
"Hark! he is going to speak," said Osmond.
"Fair Sirs!—excellent burgesses!" began the King, as the cries lulled a little. "I rejoice to see the love ye bear to our young Prince! I would all my subjects were equally loyal! But wherefore dread me, as if I were come to injure him? I, who came but to take counsel how to avenge the death of his father, who brought me back from England when I was a friendless exile. Know ye not how deep is the debt of gratitude I owe to Duke William? He it was who made me King—it was he who gained me the love of the King of Germany; he stood godfather for my son—to him I owe all my wealth and state, and all my care is to render guerdon for it to his child, since, alas! I may not to himself. Duke William rests in his bloody grave! It is for me to call his murderers to account, and to cherish his son, even as mine own!"
So saying, Louis tenderly embraced the little boy, and the Rouennais below broke out into another cry, in which "Long live King Louis," was joined with "Long live Richard!"
"You will not let the child go?" said Eric, meanwhile, to Harcourt.
"Not without provision for his safety, but we are not fit for war as yet, and to let him go is the only means of warding it off."
Eric groaned and shook his head; but the Count de Harcourt's judgment was of such weight with him, that he never dreamt of disputing it.
"Bring me here," said the King, "all that you deem most holy, and you shall see me pledge myself to be your Duke's most faithful friend."
There was some delay, during which the Norman Nobles had time for further counsel together, and Richard looked wistfully at them, wondering what was to happen to him, and wishing he could venture to ask for Alberic.
Several of the Clergy of the Cathedral presently appeared in procession, bringing with them the book of the Gospels on which Richard had taken his installation oath, with others of the sacred treasures of the Church, preserved in gold cases. The Priests were followed by a few of the Norman Knights and Nobles, some of the burgesses of Rouen, and, to Richard's great joy, by Alberic de Montemar himself. The two boys stood looking eagerly at each other, while preparation was made for the ceremony of the King's oath.
The stone table in the middle of the room was cleared, and arranged so as in some degree to resemble the Altar in the Cathedral; then the Count de Harcourt, standing before it, and holding the King's hand, demanded of him whether he would undertake to be the friend, protector, and good Lord of Richard, Duke of Normandy, guarding him from all his enemies, and ever seeking his welfare. Louis, with his hand on the Gospels, "swore that so he would."
"Amen!" returned Bernard the Dane, solemnly, "and as thou keepest that oath to the fatherless child, so may the Lord do unto thine house!"
Then followed the ceremony, which had been interrupted the night before, of the homage and oath of allegiance which Richard owed to the King, and, on the other hand, the King's formal reception of him as a vassal, holding, under him, the two dukedoms of Normandy and Brittany. "And," said the King, raising him in his arms and kissing him, "no dearer vassal do I hold in all my realm than this fair child, son of my murdered friend and benefactor—precious to me as my own children, as soon my Queen and I hope to testify."
Richard did not much like all this embracing; but he was sure the King really meant him no ill, and he wondered at all the distrust the Centevilles had shown.
"Now, brave Normans," said the King, "be ye ready speedily, for an onset on the traitor Fleming. The cause of my ward is my own cause. Soon shall the trumpet be sounded, the ban and arriere ban of the realm be called forth, and Arnulf, in the flames of his cities, and the blood of his vassals, shall learn to rue the day when his foot trod the Isle of Pecquigny! How many Normans can you bring to the muster, Sir Count?"
"I cannot say, within a few hundreds of lances," replied the old Dane, cautiously; "it depends on the numbers that may be engaged in the Italian war with the Saracens, but of this be sure, Sir King, that every man in Normandy and Brittany who can draw a sword or bend a bow, will stand forth in the cause of our little Duke; ay, and that his blessed father's memory is held so dear in our northern home, that it needs but a message to King Harold Blue-tooth to bring a fleet of long keels into the Seine, with stout Danes enough to carry fire and sword, not merely through Flanders, but through all France. We of the North are not apt to forget old friendships and favours, Sir King."
"Yes, yes, I know the Norman faith of old," returned Louis, uneasily, "but we should scarcely need such wild allies as you propose; the Count of Paris, and Hubert of Senlis may be reckoned on, I suppose."
"No truer friend to Normandy than gallant and wise old Hugh the White!" said Bernard, "and as to Senlis, he is uncle to the boy, and doubly bound to us."
"I rejoice to see your confidence," said Louis. "You shall soon hear from me. In the meantime I must return to gather my force together, and summon my great vassals, and I will, with your leave, brave Normans, take with me my dear young ward. His presence will plead better in his cause than the finest words; moreover, he will grow up in love and friendship with my two boys, and shall be nurtured with them in all good learning and chivalry, nor shall he ever be reminded that he is an orphan while under the care of Queen Gerberge and myself."
"Let the child come to me, so please you, my Lord the King," answered Harcourt, bluntly. "I must hold some converse with him, ere I can reply."
"Go then, Richard," said Louis, "go to your trusty vassal—happy are you in possessing such a friend; I hope you know his value."
"Here then, young Sir," said the Count, in his native tongue, when Richard had crossed from the King's side, and stood beside him, "what say you to this proposal?"
"The King is very kind," said Richard. "I am sure he is kind; but I do not like to go from Rouen, or from Dame Astrida."
"Listen, my Lord," said the Dane, stooping down and speaking low. "The King is resolved to have you away; he has with him the best of his Franks, and has so taken us at unawares, that though I might yet rescue you from his hands, it would not be without a fierce struggle, wherein you might be harmed, and this castle and town certainly burnt, and wrested from us. A few weeks or months, and we shall have time to draw our force together, so that Normandy need fear no man, and for that time you must tarry with him."
"Must I—and all alone?"
"No, not alone, not without the most trusty guardian that can be found for you. Friend Eric, what say you?" and he laid his hand on the old Baron's shoulder. "Yet, I know not; true thou art, as a Norwegian mountain, but I doubt me if thy brains are not too dull to see through the French wiles and disguises, sharp as thou didst show thyself last night."
"That was Osmond, not I," said Sir Eric. "He knows their mincing tongue better than I. He were the best to go with the poor child, if go he must."
"Bethink you, Eric," said the Count, in an undertone, "Osmond is the only hope of your good old house—if there is foul play, the guardian will be the first to suffer."
"Since you think fit to peril the only hope of all Normandy, I am not the man to hold back my son where he may aid him," said old Eric, sadly. "The poor child will be lonely and uncared-for there, and it were hard he should not have one faithful comrade and friend with him."
"It is well," said Bernard: "young as he is, I had rather trust Osmond with the child than any one else, for he is ready of counsel, and quick of hand."
"Ay, and a pretty pass it is come to," muttered old Centeville, "that we, whose business it is to guard the boy, should send him where you scarcely like to trust my son."
Bernard paid no further attention to him, but, coming forward, required another oath from the King, that Richard should be as safe and free at his court as at Rouen, and that on no pretence whatsoever should he be taken from under the immediate care of his Esquire, Osmond Fitz Eric, heir of Centeville.
After this, the King was impatient to depart, and all was preparation. Bernard called Osmond aside to give full instructions on his conduct, and the means of communicating with Normandy, and Richard was taking leave of Fru Astrida, who had now descended from her turret, bringing her hostage with her. She wept much over her little Duke, praying that he might safely be restored to Normandy, even though she might not live to see it; she exhorted him not to forget the good and holy learning in which he had been brought up, to rule his temper, and, above all, to say his prayers constantly, never leaving out one, as the beads of his rosary reminded him of their order. As to her own grandson, anxiety for him seemed almost lost in her fears for Richard, and the chief things she said to him, when he came to take leave of her, were directions as to the care he was to take of the child, telling him the honour he now received was one which would make his name forever esteemed if he did but fulfil his trust, the most precious that Norman had ever yet received.
"I will, grandmother, to the very best of my power," said Osmond; "I may die in his cause, but never will I be faithless!"
"Alberic!" said Richard, "are you glad to be going back to Montemar?"
"Yes, my Lord," answered Alberic, sturdily, "as glad as you will be to come back to Rouen."
"Then I shall send for you directly, Alberic, for I shall never love the Princes Carloman and Lothaire half as well as you!"
"My Lord the King is waiting for the Duke," said a Frenchman, coming forward.
"Farewell then, Fru Astrida. Do not weep. I shall soon come back. Farewell, Alberic. Take the bar-tailed falcon back to Montemar, and keep him for my sake. Farewell, Sir Eric— Farewell, Count Bernard. When the Normans come to conquer Arnulf you will lead them. O dear, dear Fru Astrida, farewell again."
"Farewell, my own darling. The blessing of Heaven go with you, and bring you safe home! Farewell, Osmond. Heaven guard you and strengthen you to be his shield and his defence!"