The Little Duke  by Charlotte M. Yonge

Royal Hostages

A FTER nearly a year's captivity, the King engaged to pay a ransom, and, until the terms could be arranged, his two sons were to be placed as hostages in the hands of the Normans, whilst he returned to his own domains. The Princes were to be sent to Bayeux; whither Richard had returned, under the charge of the Centevilles, and was now allowed to ride and walk abroad freely, provided he was accompanied by a guard.

"I shall rejoice to have Carloman, and make him happy," said Richard; "but I wish Lothaire were not coming."

"Perhaps," said good Father Lucas, "he comes that you may have a first trial in your father's last lesson, and Abbot Martin's, and return good for evil."

The Duke's cheek flushed, and he made no answer.

He and Alberic betook themselves to the watch-tower, and, by and by, saw a cavalcade approaching, with a curtained vehicle in the midst, slung between two horses. "That cannot be the Princes," said Alberic; "that must surely be some sick lady."

"I only hope it is not the Queen," exclaimed Richard, in dismay. "But no; Lothaire is such a coward, no doubt he was afraid to ride, and she would not trust her darling without shutting him up like a demoiselle. But come down, Alberic; I will say nothing unkind of Lothaire, if I can help it."

Richard met the Princes in the court, his sunny hair uncovered, and bowing with such becoming courtesy, that Fru Astrida pressed her son's arm, and bade him say if their little Duke was not the fairest and noblest child in Christendom.

With black looks, Lothaire stepped from the litter, took no heed of the little Duke, but, roughly calling his attendant, Charlot, to follow him, he marched into the hall, vouchsafing neither word nor look to any as he passed, threw himself into the highest seat, and ordered Charlot to bring him some wine.

Meanwhile, Richard, looking into the litter, saw Carloman crouching in a corner, sobbing with fright.

"Carloman!—dear Carloman!—do not cry. Come out! It is I—your own Richard! Will you not let me welcome you?"

Carloman looked, caught at the outstretched hand, and clung to his neck.

"Oh, Richard, send us back! Do not let the savage Danes kill us!"

"No one will hurt you. There are no Danes here. You are my guest, my friend, my brother. Look up! here is my own Fru Astrida."

"But my mother said the Northmen would kill us for keeping you captive. She wept and raved, and the cruel men dragged us away by force. Oh, let us go back!"

"I cannot do that," said Richard; "for you are the King of Denmark's captives, not mine; but I will love you, and you shall have all that is mine, if you will only not cry, dear Carloman. Oh, Fru Astrida, what shall I do? You comfort him—" as the poor boy clung sobbing to him.

Fru Astrida advanced to take his hand, speaking in a soothing voice, but he shrank and started with a fresh cry of terror—her tall figure, high cap, and wrinkled face, were to him witch-like, and as she knew no French, he understood not her kind words. However, he let Richard lead him into the hall, where Lothaire sat moodily in the chair, with one leg tucked under him, and his finger in his mouth.

"I say, Sir Duke," said he, "is there nothing to be had in this old den of yours? Not a drop of Bordeaux?"

Richard tried to repress his anger at this very uncivil way of speaking, and answered, that he thought there was none, but there was plenty of Norman cider.

"As if I would taste your mean peasant drinks! I bade them bring my supper—why does it not come?"

"Because you are not master here," trembled on Richard's lips, but he forced it back, and answered that it would soon be ready, and Carloman looked imploringly at his brother, and said, "Do not make them angry, Lothaire."

"What, crying still, foolish child?" said Lothaire. "Do you not know that if they dare to cross us, my father will treat them as they deserve? Bring supper, I say, and let me have a pasty of ortolans."

"There are none—they are not in season," said Richard.

"Do you mean to give me nothing I like? I tell you it shall be the worse for you."

"There is a pullet roasting," began Richard.

"I tell you, I do not care for pullets—I will have ortolans."

"If I do not take order with that boy, my name is not Eric," muttered the Baron.

"What must he not have made our poor child suffer!" returned Fru Astrida, "but the little one moves my heart. How small and weakly he is, but it is worth anything to see our little Duke so tender to him."

"He is too brave not to be gentle," said Osmond; and, indeed, the high-spirited, impetuous boy was as soft and kind as a maiden, with that feeble, timid child. He coaxed him to eat, consoled him, and, instead of laughing at his fears, kept between him and the great bloodhound Hardigras, and drove it off when it came too near.

"Take that dog away," said Lothaire, imperiously. No one moved to obey him, and the dog, in seeking for scraps, again came towards him.

"Take it away," he repeated, and struck it with his foot. The dog growled, and Richard started up in indignation.

"Prince Lothaire," he said, "I care not what else you do, but my dogs and my people you shall not maltreat."

"I tell you I am Prince! I do what I will! Ha! who laughs there?" cried the passionate boy, stamping on the floor.

"It is not so easy for French Princes to scourge free-born Normans here," said the rough voice of Walter the huntsman: "there is a reckoning for the stripe my Lord Duke bore for me."

"Hush, hush, Walter," began Richard; but Lothaire had caught up a footstool, and was aiming it at the huntsman, when his arm was caught. Osmond, who knew him well enough to be prepared for such outbreaks, held him fast by both hands, in spite of his passionate screams and struggles, which were like those of one frantic.

Sir Eric, meanwhile, thundered forth in his Norman patois, "I would have you to know, young Sir, Prince though you be, you are our prisoner, and shall taste of a dungeon, and bread and water, unless you behave yourself."

Either Lothaire did not hear, or did not believe, and fought more furiously in Osmond's arms, but he had little chance with the stalwart young warrior, and, in spite of Richard's remonstrances, he was carried from the hall, roaring and kicking, and locked up alone in an empty room.

"Let him alone for the present," said Sir Eric, putting the Duke aside, "when he knows his master, we shall have peace."

Here Richard had to turn, to reassure Carloman, who had taken refuge in a dark corner, and there shook like an aspen leaf, crying bitterly, and starting with fright, when Richard touched him.

"Oh, do not put me in the dungeon. I cannot bear the dark."

Richard again tried to comfort him, but he did not seem to hear or heed. "Oh! they said you would beat and hurt us for what we did to you! but, indeed, it was not I that burnt your cheek!"

"We would not hurt you for worlds, dear Carloman; Lothaire is not in the dungeon—he is only shut up till he is good."

"It was Lothaire that did it," repeated Carloman, "and, indeed, you must not be angry with me, for my mother was so cross with me for not having stopped Osmond when I met him with the bundle of straw, that she gave me a blow, that knocked me down. And were you really there, Richard?"

Richard told his story, and was glad to find Carloman could smile at it; and then Fru Astrida advised him to take his little friend to bed. Carloman would not lie down without still holding Richard's hand, and the little Duke spared no pains to set him at rest, knowing what it was to be a desolate captive far from home.

"I thought you would be good to me," said Carloman. "As to Lothaire, it serves him right, that you should use him as he used you."

"Oh, no, Carloman; if I had a brother I would never speak so of him."

"But Lothaire is so unkind."

"Ah! but we must be kind to those who are unkind to us."

The child rose on his elbow, and looked into Richard's face. "No one ever told me so before."

"Oh, Carloman, not Brother Hilary?"

"I never heed Brother Hilary—he is so lengthy, and wearisome; besides, no one is ever kind to those that hate them."

"My father was," said Richard.

"And they killed him!" said Carloman.

"Yes," said Richard, crossing himself, "but he is gone to be in peace."

"I wonder if it is happier there, than here," said Carloman. "I am not happy. But tell me why should we be good to those that hate us?"

"Because the holy Saints were—and look at the Crucifix, Carloman. That was for them that hated Him. And, don't you know what our Pater Noster says?"

Poor little Carloman could only repeat the Lord's Prayer in Latin—he had not the least notion of its meaning—in which Richard had been carefully instructed by Father Lucas. He began to explain it, but before many words had passed his lips, little Carloman was asleep.

The Duke crept softly away to beg to be allowed to go to Lothaire; he entered the room, already dark, with a pine torch in his hand, that so flickered in the wind, that he could at first see nothing, but presently beheld a dark lump on the floor.

"Prince Lothaire," he said, "here is—"

Lothaire cut him short. "Get away," he said. "If it is your turn now, it will be mine by and by. I wish my mother had kept her word, and put your eyes out."

Richard's temper did not serve for such a reply. "It is a foul shame of you to speak so, when I only came out of kindness to you—so I shall leave you here all night, and not ask Sir Eric to let you out."

And he swung back the heavy door with a resounding clang. But his heart smote him when he told his beads, and remembered what he had said to Carloman. He knew he could not sleep in his warm bed when Lothaire was in that cold gusty room. To be sure, Sir Eric said it would do him good, but Sir Eric little knew how tender the French Princes were.

So Richard crept down in the dark, slid back the bolt, and called, "Prince, Prince, I am sorry I was angry. Come out, and let us try to be friends."

"What do you mean?" said Lothaire.

"Come out of the cold and dark. Here am I. I will show you the way. Where is your hand? Oh, how cold it is. Let me lead you down to the hall fire."

Lothaire was subdued by fright, cold, and darkness, and quietly allowed Richard to lead him down. Round the fire, at the lower end of the hall, snored half-a-dozen men-at-arms; at the upper hearth there was only Hardigras, who raised his head as the boys came in. Richard's whisper and soft pat quieted him instantly, and the two little Princes sat on the hearth together, Lothaire surprised, but sullen. Richard stirred the embers, so as to bring out more heat, then spoke: "Prince, will you let us be friends?"

"I must, if I am in your power."

"I wish you would be my guest and comrade."

"Well, I will; I can't help it."

Richard thought his advances might have been more graciously met, and, having little encouragement to say more, took Lothaire to bed, as soon as he was warm.