“Heroes, approach!” Atrides thus aloud, “Stand forth distinguish'd from the circling crowd, Ye who by skill or manly force may claim, Your rivals to surpass and merit fame. This cow, worth twenty oxen, is decreed, For him who farthest sends the winged reed.” —Iliad.
The name of Ivanhoe was no sooner pronounced than it flew from mouth to mouth, with all the celerity with which eagerness could convey and curiosity receive it. It was not long ere it reached the circle of the Prince, whose brow darkened as he heard the news. Looking around him, however, with an air of scorn, “My Lords,” said he, “and especially you, Sir Prior, what think ye of the doctrine the learned tell us, concerning innate attractions and antipathies? Methinks that I felt the presence of my brother's minion, even when I least guessed whom yonder suit of armour enclosed.”
“Front-de-Boeuf must prepare to restore his fief of Ivanhoe,” said De Bracy, who, having discharged his part honourably in the tournament, had laid his shield and helmet aside, and again mingled with the Prince's retinue.
“Ay,” answered Waldemar Fitzurse, “this gallant is likely to reclaim the castle and manor which Richard assigned to him, and which your Highness's generosity has since given to Front-de-Boeuf.”
“Front-de-Boeuf,” replied John, “is a man more willing to swallow three manors such as Ivanhoe, than to disgorge one of them. For the rest, sirs, I hope none here will deny my right to confer the fiefs of the crown upon the faithful followers who are around me, and ready to perform the usual military service, in the room of those who have wandered to foreign Countries, and can neither render homage nor service when called upon.”
The audience were too much interested in the question not to pronounce the Prince's assumed right altogether indubitable. “A generous Prince!—a most noble Lord, who thus takes upon himself the task of rewarding his faithful followers!”
Such were the words which burst from the train, expectants all of them of similar grants at the expense of King Richard's followers and favourites, if indeed they had not as yet received such. Prior Aymer also assented to the general proposition, observing, however, “That the blessed Jerusalem could not indeed be termed a foreign country. She was 'communis mater'—the mother of all Christians. But he saw not,” he declared, “how the Knight of Ivanhoe could plead any advantage from this, since he” (the Prior) “was assured that the crusaders, under Richard, had never proceeded much farther than Askalon, which, as all the world knew, was a town of the Philistines, and entitled to none of the privileges of the Holy City.”
Waldemar, whose curiosity had led him towards the place where Ivanhoe had fallen to the ground, now returned. “The gallant,” said he, “is likely to give your Highness little disturbance, and to leave Front-de-Boeuf in the quiet possession of his gains—he is severely wounded.”
“Whatever becomes of him,” said Prince John, “he is victor of the day; and were he tenfold our enemy, or the devoted friend of our brother, which is perhaps the same, his wounds must be looked to—our own physician shall attend him.”
A stern smile curled the Prince's lip as he spoke. Waldemar Fitzurse hastened to reply, that Ivanhoe was already removed from the lists, and in the custody of his friends.
“I was somewhat afflicted,” he said, “to see the grief of the Queen of Love and Beauty, whose sovereignty of a day this event has changed into mourning. I am not a man to be moved by a woman's lament for her lover, but this same Lady Rowena suppressed her sorrow with such dignity of manner, that it could only be discovered by her folded hands, and her tearless eye, which trembled as it remained fixed on the lifeless form before her.”
“Who is this Lady Rowena,” said Prince John, “of whom we have heard so much?”
“A Saxon heiress of large possessions,” replied the Prior Aymer; “a rose of loveliness, and a jewel of wealth; the fairest among a thousand, a bundle of myrrh, and a cluster of camphire.”
“We shall cheer her sorrows,” said Prince John, “and amend her blood, by wedding her to a Norman. She seems a minor, and must therefore be at our royal disposal in marriage.—How sayst thou, De Bracy? What thinkst thou of gaining fair lands and livings, by wedding a Saxon, after the fashion of the followers of the Conqueror?”
“If the lands are to my liking, my lord,” answered De Bracy, “it will be hard to displease me with a bride; and deeply will I hold myself bound to your highness for a good deed, which will fulfil all promises made in favour of your servant and vassal.”
“We will not forget it,” said Prince John; “and that we may instantly go to work, command our seneschal presently to order the attendance of the Lady Rowena and her company—that is, the rude churl her guardian, and the Saxon ox whom the Black Knight struck down in the tournament, upon this evening's banquet.—De Bigot,” he added to his seneschal, “thou wilt word this our second summons so courteously, as to gratify the pride of these Saxons, and make it impossible for them again to refuse; although, by the bones of Becket, courtesy to them is casting pearls before swine.”
Prince John had proceeded thus far, and was about to give the signal for retiring from the lists, when a small billet was put into his hand.
“From whence?” said Prince John, looking at the person by whom it was delivered.
“From foreign parts, my lord, but from whence I know not” replied his attendant. “A Frenchman brought it hither, who said, he had ridden night and day to put it into the hands of your highness.”
The Prince looked narrowly at the superscription, and then at the seal, placed so as to secure the flex-silk with which the billet was surrounded, and which bore the impression of three fleurs-de-lis. John then opened the billet with apparent agitation, which visibly and greatly increased when he had perused the contents, which were expressed in these words:
“Take heed to yourself for the Devil is unchained!”
The Prince turned as pale as death, looked first on the earth, and then up to heaven, like a man who has received news that sentence of execution has been passed upon him. Recovering from the first effects of his surprise, he took Waldemar Fitzurse and De Bracy aside, and put the billet into their hands successively. “It means,” he added, in a faltering voice, “that my brother Richard has obtained his freedom.”
“This may be a false alarm, or a forged letter,” said De Bracy.
“It is France's own hand and seal,” replied Prince John.
“It is time, then,” said Fitzurse, “to draw our party to a head, either at York, or some other centrical place. A few days later, and it will be indeed too late. Your highness must break short this present mummery.”
“The yeomen and commons,” said De Bracy, “must not be dismissed discontented, for lack of their share in the sports.”
“The day,” said Waldemar, “is not yet very far spent—let the archers shoot a few rounds at the target, and the prize be adjudged. This will be an abundant fulfilment of the Prince's promises, so far as this herd of Saxon serfs is concerned.”
“I thank thee, Waldemar,” said the Prince; “thou remindest me, too, that I have a debt to pay to that insolent peasant who yesterday insulted our person. Our banquet also shall go forward to-night as we proposed. Were this my last hour of power, it should be an hour sacred to revenge and to pleasure—let new cares come with to-morrow's new day.”
The sound of the trumpets soon recalled those spectators who had already begun to leave the field; and proclamation was made that Prince John, suddenly called by high and peremptory public duties, held himself obliged to discontinue the entertainments of to-morrow's festival: Nevertheless, that, unwilling so many good yeoman should depart without a trial of skill, he was pleased to appoint them, before leaving the ground, presently to execute the competition of archery intended for the morrow. To the best archer a prize was to be awarded, being a bugle-horn, mounted with silver, and a silken baldric richly ornamented with a medallion of St Hubert, the patron of silvan sport.
More than thirty yeomen at first presented themselves as competitors, several of whom were rangers and under-keepers in the royal forests of Needwood and Charnwood. When, however, the archers understood with whom they were to be matched, upwards of twenty withdrew themselves from the contest, unwilling to encounter the dishonour of almost certain defeat. For in those days the skill of each celebrated marksman was as well known for many miles round him, as the qualities of a horse trained at Newmarket are familiar to those who frequent that well-known meeting.
The diminished list of competitors for silvan fame still amounted to eight. Prince John stepped from his royal seat to view more nearly the persons of these chosen yeomen, several of whom wore the royal livery. Having satisfied his curiosity by this investigation, he looked for the object of his resentment, whom he observed standing on the same spot, and with the same composed countenance which he had exhibited upon the preceding day.
“Fellow,” said Prince John, “I guessed by thy insolent babble that thou wert no true lover of the longbow, and I see thou darest not adventure thy skill among such merry-men as stand yonder.”
“Under favour, sir,” replied the yeoman, “I have another reason for refraining to shoot, besides the fearing discomfiture and disgrace.”
“And what is thy other reason?” said Prince John, who, for some cause which perhaps he could not himself have explained, felt a painful curiosity respecting this individual.
“Because,” replied the woodsman, “I know not if these yeomen and I are used to shoot at the same marks; and because, moreover, I know not how your Grace might relish the winning of a third prize by one who has unwittingly fallen under your displeasure.”
Prince John coloured as he put the question, “What is thy name, yeoman?”
“Locksley,” answered the yeoman.
“Then, Locksley,” said Prince John, “thou shalt shoot in thy turn, when these yeomen have displayed their skill. If thou carriest the prize, I will add to it twenty nobles; but if thou losest it, thou shalt be stript of thy Lincoln green, and scourged out of the lists with bowstrings, for a wordy and insolent braggart.”
“And how if I refuse to shoot on such a wager?” said the yeoman.—“Your Grace's power, supported, as it is, by so many men-at-arms, may indeed easily strip and scourge me, but cannot compel me to bend or to draw my bow.”
“If thou refusest my fair proffer,” said the Prince, “the Provost of the lists shall cut thy bowstring, break thy bow and arrows, and expel thee from the presence as a faint-hearted craven.”
“This is no fair chance you put on me, proud Prince,” said the yeoman, “to compel me to peril myself against the best archers of Leicester And Staffordshire, under the penalty of infamy if they should overshoot me. Nevertheless, I will obey your pleasure.”
“Look to him close, men-at-arms,” said Prince John, “his heart is sinking; I am jealous lest he attempt to escape the trial.—And do you, good fellows, shoot boldly round; a buck and a butt of wine are ready for your refreshment in yonder tent, when the prize is won.”
A target was placed at the upper end of the southern avenue which led to the lists. The contending archers took their station in turn, at the bottom of the southern access, the distance between that station and the mark allowing full distance for what was called a shot at rovers. The archers, having previously determined by lot their order of precedence, were to shoot each three shafts in succession. The sports were regulated by an officer of inferior rank, termed the Provost of the Games; for the high rank of the marshals of the lists would have been held degraded, had they condescended to superintend the sports of the yeomanry.
One by one the archers, stepping forward, delivered their shafts yeomanlike and bravely. Of twenty-four arrows, shot in succession, ten were fixed in the target, and the others ranged so near it, that, considering the distance of the mark, it was accounted good archery. Of the ten shafts which hit the target, two within the inner ring were shot by Hubert, a forester in the service of Malvoisin, who was accordingly pronounced victorious.
“Now, Locksley,” said Prince John to the bold yeoman, with a bitter smile, “wilt thou try conclusions with Hubert, or wilt thou yield up bow, baldric, and quiver, to the Provost of the sports?”
“Sith it be no better,” said Locksley, “I am content to try my fortune; on condition that when I have shot two shafts at yonder mark of Hubert's, he shall be bound to shoot one at that which I shall propose.”
“That is but fair,” answered Prince John, “and it shall not be refused thee.—If thou dost beat this braggart, Hubert, I will fill the bugle with silver-pennies for thee.”
“A man can do but his best,” answered Hubert; “but my grandsire drew a good long bow at Hastings, and I trust not to dishonour his memory.”
The former target was now removed, and a fresh one of the same size placed in its room. Hubert, who, as victor in the first trial of skill, had the right to shoot first, took his aim with great deliberation, long measuring the distance with his eye, while he held in his hand his bended bow, with the arrow placed on the string. At length he made a step forward, and raising the bow at the full stretch of his left arm, till the centre or grasping-place was nigh level with his face, he drew his bowstring to his ear. The arrow whistled through the air, and lighted within the inner ring of the target, but not exactly in the centre.
“You have not allowed for the wind, Hubert,” said his antagonist, bending his bow, “or that had been a better shot.”
So saying, and without showing the least anxiety to pause upon his aim, Locksley stept to the appointed station, and shot his arrow as carelessly in appearance as if he had not even looked at the mark. He was speaking almost at the instant that the shaft left the bowstring, yet it alighted in the target two inches nearer to the white spot which marked the centre than that of Hubert.
“By the light of heaven!” said Prince John to Hubert, “an thou suffer that runagate knave to overcome thee, thou art worthy of the gallows!”
Hubert had but one set speech for all occasions. “An your highness were to hang me,” he said, “a man can but do his best. Nevertheless, my grandsire drew a good bow—”
“The foul fiend on thy grandsire and all his generation!” interrupted John, “shoot, knave, and shoot thy best, or it shall be the worse for thee!”
Thus exhorted, Hubert resumed his place, and not neglecting the caution which he had received from his adversary, he made the necessary allowance for a very light air of wind, which had just arisen, and shot so successfully that his arrow alighted in the very centre of the target.
“A Hubert! a Hubert!” shouted the populace, more interested in a known person than in a stranger. “In the clout!—in the clout!—a Hubert for ever!”
“Thou canst not mend that shot, Locksley,” said the Prince, with an insulting smile.
“I will notch his shaft for him, however,” replied Locksley.
And letting fly his arrow with a little more precaution than before, it lighted right upon that of his competitor, which it split to shivers. The people who stood around were so astonished at his wonderful dexterity, that they could not even give vent to their surprise in their usual clamour. “This must be the devil, and no man of flesh and blood,” whispered the yeomen to each other; “such archery was never seen since a bow was first bent in Britain.”
“And now,” said Locksley, “I will crave your Grace's permission to plant such a mark as is used in the North Country; and welcome every brave yeoman who shall try a shot at it to win a smile from the bonny lass he loves best.”
He then turned to leave the lists. “Let your guards attend me,” he said, “if you please—I go but to cut a rod from the next willow-bush.”
Prince John made a signal that some attendants should follow him in case of his escape: but the cry of “Shame! shame!” which burst from the multitude, induced him to alter his ungenerous purpose.
Locksley returned almost instantly with a willow wand about six feet in length, perfectly straight, and rather thicker than a man's thumb. He began to peel this with great composure, observing at the same time, that to ask a good woodsman to shoot at a target so broad as had hitherto been used, was to put shame upon his skill. “For his own part,” he said, “and in the land where he was bred, men would as soon take for their mark King Arthur's round-table, which held sixty knights around it. A child of seven years old,” he said, “might hit yonder target with a headless shaft; but,” added he, walking deliberately to the other end of the lists, and sticking the willow wand upright in the ground, “he that hits that rod at five-score yards, I call him an archer fit to bear both bow and quiver before a king, an it were the stout King Richard himself.”
“My grandsire,” said Hubert, “drew a good bow at the battle of Hastings, and never shot at such a mark in his life—and neither will I. If this yeoman can cleave that rod, I give him the bucklers—or rather, I yield to the devil that is in his jerkin, and not to any human skill; a man can but do his best, and I will not shoot where I am sure to miss. I might as well shoot at the edge of our parson's whittle, or at a wheat straw, or at a sunbeam, as at a twinkling white streak which I can hardly see.”
“Cowardly dog!” said Prince John.—“Sirrah Locksley, do thou shoot; but, if thou hittest such a mark, I will say thou art the first man ever did so. However it be, thou shalt not crow over us with a mere show of superior skill.”
“I will do my best, as Hubert says,” answered Locksley; “no man can do more.”
So saying, he again bent his bow, but on the present occasion looked with attention to his weapon, and changed the string, which he thought was no longer truly round, having been a little frayed by the two former shots. He then took his aim with some deliberation, and the multitude awaited the event in breathless silence. The archer vindicated their opinion of his skill: his arrow split the willow rod against which it was aimed. A jubilee of acclamations followed; and even Prince John, in admiration of Locksley's skill, lost for an instant his dislike to his person. “These twenty nobles,” he said, “which, with the bugle, thou hast fairly won, are thine own; we will make them fifty, if thou wilt take livery and service with us as a yeoman of our body guard, and be near to our person. For never did so strong a hand bend a bow, or so true an eye direct a shaft.”
“Pardon me, noble Prince,” said Locksley; “but I have vowed, that if ever I take service, it should be with your royal brother King Richard. These twenty nobles I leave to Hubert, who has this day drawn as brave a bow as his grandsire did at Hastings. Had his modesty not refused the trial, he would have hit the wand as well I.”
Hubert shook his head as he received with reluctance the bounty of the stranger, and Locksley, anxious to escape further observation, mixed with the crowd, and was seen no more.
The victorious archer would not perhaps have escaped John's attention so easily, had not that Prince had other subjects of anxious and more important meditation pressing upon his mind at that instant. He called upon his chamberlain as he gave the signal for retiring from the lists, and commanded him instantly to gallop to Ashby, and seek out Isaac the Jew. “Tell the dog,” he said, “to send me, before sun-down, two thousand crowns. He knows the security; but thou mayst show him this ring for a token. The rest of the money must be paid at York within six days. If he neglects, I will have the unbelieving villain's head. Look that thou pass him not on the way; for the circumcised slave was displaying his stolen finery amongst us.”
So saying, the Prince resumed his horse, and returned to Ashby, the whole crowd breaking up and dispersing upon his retreat.