'Twere worth ten years of peaceful life
One glance at his array."
At last there came a day when the prisoners were set free and Francis could return to his home. The wide valley, with its shining rivers, the far blue mountains and the green forest road must have been welcome to eyes that, for a long year, had looked at the world through prison windows. We may be certain that Piero and Pica Bernardone were watching for their son, and that all the neighbours made merry at his coming. We know that his gay young friends received him joyfully and that the old life of feasting, drinking and rioting began again. Perhaps, in his delight at being free once more, Francis was more reckless than ever. At any rate, it is certain that, a short time after his return to Assisi, he suddenly became seriously ill. When, after long days of illness, he began to crawl about slowly, weak and pale, and leaning upon a stick, he was strangely unlike himself. Instead of being happy to be out of doors again, instead of frolicking with his friends, he was silent and sad at heart. He wondered why he cared so little for the feasts and games and songs that he had delighted in only a few weeks before. Now, they did not interest him. It seemed to him that a man ought to have something better to do than simply to eat and drink, and wear fine clothes. Because of his own pain and feebleness he felt sorrier than ever before for the lame, and blind, and hungry beggars who came to his door, and his only pleasure was in giving them money and clothes and food.
As he listened to the talk in the market-place by day, and in his father's house at evening, he heard many stories of the wars. Men told how houses were burned, fields and vineyards trampled and ruined; how women and children and helpless old men were killed, or left to die of hunger and cold. When he lay sleepless at night, he seemed to see again the battle-field of San Giovanni, and the faces of cruel men attacking, and of miserable victims wounded and falling. In these hours Francis doubted if war could be the glorious thing it had always seemed to him.
But when his friends began to tell him of new fighting in the south of Italy, and of a company of soldiers who were going from Assisi to join the army of a famous knight, called Walter of Brienne, all was changed. The old love for battle and glory woke up in his heart, and Francis made haste to grow strong again that he might be ready to go to war.
These were exciting days for the invalid. The colour came back to his cheeks and his eyes danced with joy at sight of the rich clothes he was to wear, the beautiful horse he was to ride, the bright shield he was to carry. He forgot that he was but a page, and that his first fight had ended in defeat. He dreamed of winning great battles; of marrying a beautiful princess; of living in a magnificent palace, or riding to the wars at the head of knights and soldiers of his own.
Assisi was full of noise and battle in these days. Companies of soldiers rode through the narrow streets so recklessly that the folk on foot hurried into doorways, and stood open-mouthed with fear while the riders passed. In the market-place men talked in eager groups. The voices were loud and excited, but louder still rang out the sharp blows of hammer on anvil, for every smith who knew how to make or to mend armour was busy from morning to night. Furnaces stood in the open square, where the fires looked pale in the sunshine. Gay esquires brought from their masters bent or broken pieces of fine wrought steel, common soldiers brought their own clumsier armour; and the small boys of the city stood in admiring circles about the sounding anvils, and thought that, next to being a soldier, one would like to be a smith.
All this hurry of preparation was strong medicine to Francis. He forgot that he had been sick. He forgot that war had ever looked an evil thing to him. With his friends he was once more the gayest of companions, and he needed no urging to sing to them, to their hearts' content. Over and over he sang:
"I love the gay spring weather,
And all the trees a-flower,
When a hundred birds together
Make music every hour;
But it sets my heart a-beating
To see the broad tents spread,
And bright-armed warriors meeting,
And banners floating red.
When camp and street are stirring;
When the city gates stand wide;
When bands of knights are spurring
Through all the countryside.
"I know a joy dearer
Than food, or drink, or rest,
When the battle-shouts come nearer,
When flash bright sword and crest;
When above the trumpet's braying
And shrill cries of distress,
I hear the mournful neighing
Of brave steeds riderless."
Francis seemed to have become more boastful and more gay than ever, so that even his friends wondered at him, and asked him laughingly: "What is it that makes you so merry?" and he answered proudly: "I know that I am going to be a great prince."
Vain as he was, however, Francis never quite forgot that brave deeds and not fine garments make a good soldier. Among the company of knights who were going from Assisi, there was one who had for years been a great fighter, but who had suffered misfortune, and was now so poor that his clothing was actually ragged. To him Francis gave his own new coat and mantle, and the other accepted the gift quite simply, knowing that rich clothes are worth little, but that kind hearts are worth much.
When the good-byes were said and the horsemen clattered out of the city gate, no heart in all the company was so light as that of Francis Bernardone.
His mother watched him with grave eyes, remembering how many times she had seen the towers of Perugia fade into the red sky at sunset, and had prayed that her boy might come back to her. Now, he was going again, not to Perugia, but far to the south, to a country that she had never known. She wondered how he could smile at her so gaily as he rode away.