For the Sake of a Falcon
O SMOND DE CENTEVILLE was soon convinced that no immediate peril threatened his young Duke at the Court of Laon. Louis seemed to intend to fulfil his oaths to the Normans by allowing the child to be the companion of his own sons, and to be treated in every respect as became his rank. Richard had his proper place at table, and all due attendance; he learnt, rode, and played with the Princes, and there was nothing to complain of, excepting the coldness and inattention with which the King and Queen treated him, by no means fulfilling the promise of being as parents to their orphan ward. Gerberge, who had from the first dreaded his superior strength and his roughness with her puny boys, and who had been by no means won by his manners at their first meeting, was especially distant and severe with him, hardly ever speaking to him except with some rebuke, which, it must be confessed, Richard often deserved.
As to the boys, his constant companions, Richard was on very friendly terms with Carlo-man, a gentle, timid, weakly child. Richard looked down upon him; but he was kind, as a generous-tempered boy could not fail to be, to one younger and weaker than himself. He was so much kinder than Lothaire, that Carloman was fast growing very fond of him, and looked up to his strength and courage as something noble and marvellous.
It was very different with Lothaire, the person from whom, above all others, Richard would have most expected to meet with affection, as his father's god-son, a relationship which in those times was thought almost as near as kindred by blood. Lothaire had been brought up by an indulgent mother, and by courtiers who never ceased flattering him, as the heir to the crown, and he had learnt to think that to give way to his naturally imperious and violent disposition was the way to prove his power and assert his rank. He had always had his own way, and nothing had ever been done to check his faults; somewhat weakly health had made him fretful and timid; and a latent consciousness of this fearfulness made him all the more cruel, sometimes because he was frightened, sometimes because he fancied it manly.
He treated his little brother in a way which in these times boys would call bullying; and, as no one ever dared to oppose the King's eldest son, it was pretty much the same with every one else, except now and then some dumb creature, and then all Lothaire's cruelty was shown. When his horse kicked, and ended by throwing him, he stood by, and caused it to be beaten till the poor creature's back streamed with blood; when his dog bit his hand in trying to seize the meat with which he was teazing it, he insisted on having it killed, and it was worse still when a falcon pecked one of his fingers. It really hurt him a good deal, and, in a furious rage, he caused two nails to be heated red hot in the fire, intending to have them thrust into the poor bird's eyes.
"I will not have it done!" exclaimed Richard, expecting to be obeyed as he was at home; but Lothaire only laughed scornfully, saying, "Do you think you are master here, Sir pirate?"
"I will not have it done!" repeated Richard. "Shame on you, shame on you, for thinking of such an unkingly deed."
"Shame on me! Do you know to whom you speak, master savage?" cried Lothaire, red with passion.
"I know who is the savage now!" said Richard. "Hold!" to the servant who was bringing the red-hot irons in a pair of tongs.
"Hold?" exclaimed Lothaire. "No one commands here but I and my father. Go on Charlot—where is the bird? Keep her fast, Giles."
"Osmond. You I can command—"
"Come away, my Lord," said Osmond, interrupting Richard's order, before it was issued. "We have no right to interfere here, and cannot hinder it. Come away from such a foul sight."
"Shame on you too, Osmond, to let such a deed be done without hindering it!" exclaimed Richard, breaking from him, and rushing on the man who carried the hot irons. The French servants were not very willing to exert their strength against the Duke of Normandy, and Richard's onset, taking the man by surprise, made him drop the tongs. Lothaire, both afraid and enraged, caught them up as a weapon of defence, and, hardly knowing what he did, struck full at Richard's face with the hot iron. Happily it missed his eye, and the heat had a little abated; but, as it touched his cheek, it burnt him sufficiently to cause considerable pain. With a cry of passion, he flew at Lothaire, shook him with all his might, and ended by throwing him at his length on the pavement. But this was the last of Richard's exploits, for he was at the same moment captured by his Squire, and borne off, struggling and kicking as if Osmond had been his greatest foe; but the young Norman's arms were like iron round him; and he gave over his resistance sooner, because at that moment a whirring flapping sound was heard, and the poor hawk rose high, higher, over their heads in ever lessening circles, far away from her enemies. The servant who held her, had relaxed his grasp in the consternation caused by Lothaire's fall, and she was mounting up and up, spying, it might be, her way to her native rocks in Iceland, with the yellow eyes which Richard had saved.
"Safe! safe!" cried Richard, joyfully, ceasing his struggles. "Oh, how glad I am! That young villain should never have hurt her. Put me down, Osmond, what are you doing with me?"
"Saving you from your—no, I cannot call it folly,—I would hardly have had you stand still to see such—but let me see your face."
"It is nothing. I don't care now the hawk is safe," said Richard, though he could hardly keep his lips in order, and was obliged to wink very hard with his eyes to keep the tears out, now that he had leisure to feel the smarting; but it would have been far beneath a Northman to complain, and he stood bearing it gallantly, and pinching his fingers tightly together, while Osmond knelt down to examine the hurt. "'Tis not much," said he, talking to himself, "half bruise, half burn—I wish my grandmother was here—however, it can't last long! 'Tis right, you bear it like a little Berserkar, and it is no bad thing that you should have a scar to show, that they may not be able to say you did all the damage."
"Will it always leave a mark?" said Richard. "I am afraid they will call me Richard of the scarred cheek, when we get back to Normandy."
"Never mind, if they do—it will not be a mark to be ashamed of, even if it does last, which I do not believe it will."
"Oh, no, I am so glad the gallant falcon is out of his reach!" replied Richard, in a somewhat quivering voice.
"Does it smart much? Well, come and bathe it with cold water—or shall I take you to one of the Queen's women?"
"No—the water," said Richard, and to the fountain in the court they went; but Osmond had only just begun to splash the cheek with the half-frozen water, with a sort of rough kindness, afraid at once of teaching the Duke to be effeminate, and of not being as tender to him as Dame Astrida would have wished, when a messenger came in haste from the King, commanding the presence of the Duke of Normandy and his Squire.
Lothaire was standing between his father and mother on their throne- like seat, leaning against the Queen, who had her arm round him; his face was red and glazed with tears, and he still shook with subsiding sobs. It was evident he was just recovering from a passionate crying fit.
"How is this?" began the King, as Richard entered. "What means this conduct, my Lord of Normandy? Know you what you have done in striking the heir of France? I might imprison you this instant in a dungeon where you would never see the light of day."
"Then Bernard de Harcourt would come and set me free," fearlessly answered Richard.
"Do you bandy words with me, child? Ask Prince Lothaire's pardon instantly, or you shall rue it."
"I have done nothing to ask his pardon for. It would have been cruel and cowardly in me to let him put out the poor hawk's eyes," said Richard, with a Northman's stern contempt for pain, disdaining to mention his own burnt cheek, which indeed the King might have seen plainly enough.
"Hawk's eyes!" repeated the King. "Speak the truth, Sir Duke; do not add slander to your other faults."
"I have spoken the truth—I always speak it!" cried Richard. "Whoever says otherwise lies in his throat."
Osmond here hastily interfered, and desired permission to tell the whole story. The hawk was a valuable bird, and Louis's face darkened when he heard what Lothaire had purposed, for the Prince had, in telling his own story, made it appear that Richard had been the aggressor by insisting on letting the falcon fly. Osmond finished by pointing to the mark on Richard's cheek, so evidently a burn, as to be proof that hot iron had played a part in the matter. The King looked at one of his own Squires and asked his account, and he with some hesitation could not but reply that it was as the young Sieur de Centeville had said. Thereupon Louis angrily reproved his own people for having assisted the Prince in trying to injure the hawk, called for the chief falconer, rated him for not better attending to his birds, and went forth with him to see if the hawk could yet be recaptured, leaving the two boys neither punished nor pardoned.
"So you have escaped for this once," said Gerberge, coldly, to Richard; "you had better beware another time. Come with me, my poor darling Lothaire." She led her son away to her own apartments, and the French Squires began to grumble to each other complaints of the impossibility of pleasing their Lords, since, if they contradicted Prince Lothaire, he was so spiteful that he was sure to set the Queen against them, and that was far worse in the end than the King's displeasure. Osmond, in the meantime, took Richard to re-commence bathing his face, and presently Carloman ran out to pity him, wonder at him for not crying, and say he was glad the poor hawk had escaped.
The cheek continued inflamed and painful for some time, and there was a deep scar long after the pain had ceased, but Richard thought little of it after the first, and would have scorned to bear ill-will to Lothaire for the injury.
Lothaire left off taunting Richard with his Norman accent, and calling him a young Sea-king. He had felt his strength, and was afraid of him; but he did not like him the better—he never played with him willingly—scowled, and looked dark and jealous, if his father, or if any of the great nobles took the least notice of the little Duke, and whenever he was out of hearing, talked against him with all his natural spitefulness.
Richard liked Lothaire quite as little, contemning almost equally his cowardly ways and his imperious disposition. Since he had been Duke, Richard had been somewhat inclined to grow imperious himself, though always kept under restraint by Fru Astrida's good training, and Count Bernard's authority, and his whole generous nature would have revolted against treating Alberic, or indeed his meanest vassal, as Lothaire used the unfortunate children who were his playfellows. Perhaps this made him look on with great horror at the tyranny which Lothaire exercised; at any rate he learnt to abhor it more, and to make many resolutions against ordering people about uncivilly when once he should be in Normandy again. He often interfered to protect the poor boys, and generally with success, for the Prince was afraid of provoking such another shake as Richard had once given him, and though he generally repaid himself on his victim in the end, he yielded for the time.
Carloman, whom Richard often saved from his brother's unkindness, clung closer and closer to him, went with him everywhere, tried to do all he did, grew very fond of Osmond, and liked nothing better than to sit by Richard in some wide window-seat, in the evening, after supper, and listen to Richard's version of some of Fru Astrida's favourite tales, or hear the never-ending history of sports at Centeville, or at Rollo's Tower, or settle what great things they would both do when they were grown up, and Richard was ruling Normandy—perhaps go to the Holy Land together, and slaughter an unheard-of host of giants and dragons on the way. In the meantime, however, poor Carloman gave small promise of being able to perform great exploits, for he was very small for his age and often ailing; soon tired, and never able to bear much rough play. Richard, who had never had any reason to learn to forbear, did not at first understand this, and made Carloman cry several times with his roughness and violence, but this always vexed him so much that he grew careful to avoid such things for the future, and gradually learnt to treat his poor little weakly friend with a gentleness and patience at which Osmond used to marvel, and which he would hardly have been taught in his prosperity at home.
Between Carloman and Osmond he was thus tolerably happy at Laon, but he missed his own dear friends, and the loving greetings of his vassals, and longed earnestly to be at Rouen, asking Osmond almost every night when they should go back, to which Osmond could only answer that he must pray that Heaven would be pleased to bring them home safely.
Osmond, in the meantime, kept a vigilant watch for anything that might seem to threaten danger to his Lord; but at present there was no token of any evil being intended; the only point in which Louis did not seem to be fulfilling his promises to the Normans was, that no preparations were made for attacking the Count of Flanders.
At Easter the court was visited by Hugh the White, the great Count of Paris, the most powerful man in France, and who was only prevented by his own loyalty and forbearance, from taking the crown from the feeble and degenerate race of Charlemagne. He had been a firm friend of William Longsword, and Osmond remarked how, on his arrival, the King took care to bring Richard forward, talk of him affectionately, and caress him almost as much as he had done at Rouen. The Count himself was really kind and affectionate to the little Duke; he kept him by his side, and seemed to like to stroke down his long flaxen hair, looking in his face with a grave mournful expression, as if seeking for a likeness to his father. He soon asked about the scar which the burn had left, and the King was obliged to answer hastily, it was an accident, a disaster that had chanced in a boyish quarrel. Louis, in fact, was uneasy, and appeared to be watching the Count of Paris the whole time of his visit, so as to prevent him from having any conversation in private with the other great vassals assembled at the court. Hugh did not seem to perceive this, and acted as if he was entirely at his ease, but at the same time he watched his opportunity. One evening, after supper, he came up to the window where Richard and Carloman were, as usual, deep in story telling; he sat down on the stone seat, and taking Richard on his knee, he asked if he had any greetings for the Count de Harcourt.
How Richard's face lighted up! "Oh, Sir," he cried, "are you going to Normandy?"
"Not yet, my boy, but it may be that I may have to meet old Harcourt at the Elm of Gisors."
"Oh, if I was but going with you."
"I wish I could take you, but it would scarcely do for me to steal the heir of Normandy. What shall I tell him?"
"Tell him," whispered Richard, edging himself close to the Count, and trying to reach his ear, "tell him that I am sorry, now, that I was sullen when he reproved me. I know he was right. And, sir, if he brings with him a certain huntsman with a long hooked nose, whose name is Walter, tell him I am sorry I used to order him about so unkindly. And tell him to bear my greetings to Fru Astrida and Sir Eric, and to Alberic."
"Shall I tell him how you have marked your face?"
"No," said Richard, "he would think me a baby to care about such a thing as that!"
The Count asked how it happened, and Richard told the story, for he felt as if he could tell the kind Count anything—it was almost like that last evening that he had sat on his father's knee. Hugh ended by putting his arm round him, and saying, "Well, my little Duke, I am as glad as you are the gallant bird is safe—it will be a tale for my own little Hugh and Eumacette at home—and you must one day be friends with them as your father has been with me. And now, do you think your Squire could come to my chamber late this evening when the household is at rest?"
Richard undertook that Osmond should do so, and the Count, setting him down again, returned to the dais. Osmond, before going to the Count that evening, ordered Sybald to come and guard the Duke's door. It was a long conference, for Hugh had come to Laon chiefly for the purpose of seeing how it went with his friend's son, and was anxious to know what Osmond thought of the matter. They agreed that at present there did not seem to be any evil intended, and that it rather appeared as if Louis wished only to keep him as a hostage for the tranquillity of the borders of Normandy; but Hugh advised that Osmond should maintain a careful watch, and send intelligence to him on the first token of mischief.
The next morning the Count of Paris quitted Laon, and everything went on in the usual course till the feast of Whitsuntide, when there was always a great display of splendour at the French court. The crown vassals generally came to pay their duty and go with the King to Church; and there was a state banquet, at which the King and Queen wore their crowns, and every one sat in great magnificence according to their rank.
The grand procession to Church was over. Richard had walked with Carloman, the Prince richly dressed in blue, embroidered with golden fleur-de-lys, and Richard in scarlet, with a gold Cross on his breast; the beautiful service was over, they had returned to the Castle, and there the Seneschal was marshalling the goodly and noble company to the banquet, when horses' feet were heard at the gate announcing some fresh arrival. The Seneschal went to receive the guests, and presently was heard ushering in the noble Prince, Arnulf, Count of Flanders.
Richard's face became pale—he turned from Carloman by whose side he had been standing, and walked straight out of the hall and up the stairs, closely followed by Osmond. In a few minutes there was a knock at the door of his chamber, and a French Knight stood there saying, "Comes not the Duke to the banquet?"
"No," answered Osmond: "he eats not with the slayer of his father."
"The King will take it amiss; for the sake of the child you had better beware," said the Frenchman, hesitating.
"He had better beware himself," exclaimed Osmond, indignantly, "how he brings the treacherous murderer of William Longsword into the presence of a free-born Norman, unless he would see him slain where he stands. Were it not for the boy, I would challenge the traitor this instant to single combat."
"Well, I can scarce blame you," said the Knight, "but you had best have a care how you tread. Farewell."
Richard had hardly time to express his indignation, and his wishes that he was a man, before another message came through a groom of Lothaire's train, that the Duke must fast, if he would not consent to feast with the rest.
"Tell Prince Lothaire," replied Richard, "that I am not such a glutton as he—I had rather fast than be choked with eating with Arnulf."
All the rest of the day, Richard remained in his own chamber, resolved not to run the risk of meeting with Arnulf. The Squire remained with him, in this voluntary imprisonment, and they occupied themselves, as best they could, with furbishing Osmond's armour, and helping each other out in repeating some of the Sagas. They once heard a great uproar in the court, and both were very anxious to learn its cause, but they did not know it till late in the afternoon.
Carloman crept up to them—"Here I am at last!" he exclaimed. "Here, Richard, I have brought you some bread, as you had no dinner: it was all I could bring. I saved it under the table lest Lothaire should see it."
Richard thanked Carloman with all his heart, and being very hungry was glad to share the bread with Osmond. He asked how long the wicked Count was going to stay, and rejoiced to hear he was going away the next morning, and the King was going with him.
"What was that great noise in the court?" asked Richard.
"I scarcely like to tell you," returned Carloman.
Richard, however, begged to hear, and Carloman was obliged to tell that the two Norman grooms, Sybald and Henry, had quarrelled with the Flemings of Arnulf's train; there had been a fray, which had ended in the death of three Flemings, a Frank, and of Sybald himself—And where was Henry? Alas! there was more ill news—the King had sentenced Henry to die, and he had been hanged immediately.
Dark with anger and sorrow grew young Richard's face; he had been fond of his two Norman attendants, he trusted to their attachment, and he would have wept for their loss even if it had happened in any other way; but now, when it had been caused by their enmity to his father's foes, the Flemings,—when one had fallen overwhelmed by numbers, and the other been condemned hastily, cruelly, unjustly, it was too much, and he almost choked with grief and indignation. Why had he not been there, to claim Henry as his own vassal, and if he could not save him, at least bid him farewell? Then he would have broken out in angry threats, but he felt his own helplessness, and was ashamed, and he could only shed tears of passionate grief, refusing all Carloman's attempts to comfort him. Osmond was even more concerned; he valued the two Normans extremely for their courage and faithfulness, and had relied on sending intelligence by their means to Rouen, in case of need. It appeared to him as if the first opportunity had been seized of removing these protectors from the little Duke, and as if the designs, whatever they might be, which had been formed against him, were about to take effect. He had little doubt that his own turn would be the next; but he was resolved to endure anything, rather than give the smallest opportunity of removing him, to bear even insults with patience, and to remember that in his care rested the sole hope of safety for his charge.
That danger was fast gathering around them became more evident every day, especially after the King and Arnulf had gone away together. It was very hot weather, and Richard began to weary after the broad cool river at Rouen, where he used to bathe last summer; and one evening he persuaded his Squire to go down with him to the Oise, which flowed along some meadow ground about a quarter of a mile from the Castle; but they had hardly set forth before three or four attendants came running after them, with express orders from the Queen that they should return immediately. They obeyed, and found her standing in the Castle hall, looking greatly incensed.
"What means this?" she asked, angrily. "Knew you not that the King has left commands that the Duke quits not the Castle in his absence?"
"I was only going as far as the river—" began Richard, but Gerberge cut him short. "Silence, child—I will hear no excuses. Perhaps you think, Sieur de Centeville, that you may take liberties in the King's absence, but I tell you that if you are found without the walls again, it shall be at your peril; ay, and his! I'll have those haughty eyes put out, if you disobey!"
She turned away, and Lothaire looked at them with his air of gratified malice. "You will not lord it over your betters much longer, young pirate!" said he, as he followed his mother, afraid to stay to meet the anger he might have excited by the taunt he could not deny himself the pleasure of making; but Richard, who, six months ago could not brook a slight disappointment or opposition, had, in his present life of restraint, danger, and vexation, learnt to curb the first outbreak of temper, and to bear patiently instead of breaking out into passion and threats, and now his only thought was of his beloved Squire.
"Oh, Osmond! Osmond!" he exclaimed, "they shall not hurt you. I will never go out again. I will never speak another hasty word. I will never affront the Prince, if they will but leave you with me!"