By C. W. WHISTLER
Just one month after I became squire to Sir Richard
de Courci, then of the Castle of Stoke Courci, that
lies between Quantock Hills and the sea in our fair
Somerset, I met Alan de Govet, about whom my story
We had been to Taunton, and were riding homewards
across the hills, and valley and river lay straight before
us—as fair a view as any in all England is that rich
country between Mendips and Quantocks—yet I suppose
that Sir Richard thought of it hardly at all, for he, as
Queen Matilda's steward, was deep in all the new plans
that were to set our exiled queen on her father's throne,
and he rode thoughtfully after meeting De Mohun of
Dunster that day.
But when we saw a gay little party of men in hunting
dress, with hawks and hounds, come up the deep narrow
lane to meet us, he roused, and turning to the twenty
well-armed men behind us, asked who these were who
None of them knew: but as they came nearer, I
saw that the handsome young leader of the party wore
the badge of the De Govets—a family from Yeovil, and
well-known and loyal followers of King Stephen.
"Why, then," said my knight, "if this is young De
Govet, I must have a word or two with him. Bar the
road while we speak."
The men grinned, and closed up so that the lane was
full. There was little love lost, since Matilda's failure of
two years ago, between the parties of King and Queen.
When we met, therefore, the hunting party must needs
rein up, for they could not pass us.
"Pardon me, sir knight, but you bar the road," said
the leader, raising his cap courteously.
"Only for the pleasure of speech with you," said my
knight, saluting in turn. "I am De Courci, and I believe
that I speak to Alan de Govet?"
The young man's face darkened as he answered,
"Let me go my way, Sir Richard. I have nought to
say to disloyal men."
"There are two sides to every question, young sir," the
knight answered. "And since I am a Queen's man, and
the De Govets are King's men, we have different views
of what loyalty is. However, just now Stephen is king."
"Well, what would you with me?"
"Some time since I had a fair offer to make to your
noble father—touching yourself—that is, if you are Alan
de Govet. I have as yet had no answer."
The young man's face flushed angrily.
"Stand aside, sir," he said. "This is discourteous."
"Not if you are the man I take you for. Which, by
the way, you have not owned as yet."
"I will own nothing, if thus asked," was the answer,
and the stranger turned to his men.
But they had gone hastily at the first word about
the rival claims of King and Queen, knowing what mostly
came of such arguments nowadays.
Seeing which, he turned his horse leisurely, and
without sign of fear, to follow them, and Sir Richard
laughed, and rode alongside him, laying his hand on
the horse's bridle.
"Stay—I must ask you to come to Stoke Courci with
me, as your men have left you," he said.
In a moment the young man's sword was out, and
at the same instant he seemed to rise from his saddle,
lose his balance, and fall away from Sir Richard. His
blow was wasted on air, as he came heavily to the
roadside grass, where he lay stunned.
"Bring him home carefully," said Sir Richard to his
men. "If he is Alan de Govet, we must have had him
as a hostage sooner or later. If he is not—well, a De
Courci can but apologise."
So we rode on, and I asked Sir Richard, wondering,
why so good a rider fell, as did this young man.
"'Tis an old trick," the knight said; "you do but get
your foot under his and lift him at the right moment.
But I would not advise you to try it with one heavier
Now when we reached the castle, our prisoner was
brought in after us, seemingly not much the worse for
his fall, and the Lady Sybilla, Sir Richard's ward, and
mistress of the castle since his wife died, asked me who
he might be. And when I told her that he was thought
to be Alan de Govet, but that he would not own his
name, she flushed a little, and said no more. Next day
I had reason to think that she had heard of him before
this. Very fair was this young lady, and heiress of many
broad acres. She seemed much older than myself, but a
boy of sixteen will think anything over twenty a great age.
After breakfast on the next day I fed the hawks, and
then came back into the great hall to see if my knight
had any commands for me. There I found some sort
of council on hand, and, from all appearances, no very
peaceful one. Jehan of Stowey, the head man-at-arms,
and one of his men guarded the two doors, and our chaplain,
Father Gregorius, sat by the hearth, smiling uneasily.
Sir Richard sat in his great chair on the daïs, facing his
prisoner, and by his side was the Lady Sybilla, who was
plainly in a towering rage, for her eyes flashed, and her
little hand was clenched as if she was holding herself in
check. And when I looked at De Govet, I saw that he
was as angry as the lady. As for Sir Richard, he seemed
to be enjoying what was going on immensely, watching
his prisoner with something of admiration for his fearlessness.
Well built and square he was, though not so big
as our knight, who was almost a giant, as the De Courcis
often are, and he looked like a warrior, even in his
hunting gear, which was stained with red Quantock mud
from his fall when he was taken.
Sir Richard took up the matter where he had broken
it off when I entered.
"'Tis a mercy, Alan, that De Mohun of Dunster did not
get hold of you. For that humour of yours of last night,
when you would not own your name, would surely have
landed you in the sachentege he keeps in his castle wherewith
to wring answers from the silent. I would fain fit a
more pleasant yoke to your neck," he said in a meditative
way, watching De Govet's face amusedly.
Now of all the tortures that a Norman can invent, that
of the sachentege is the worst; for the engine is made of a
great beam of wood, fastened round the man's neck with
a rough iron collar. As the beam is too heavy for one
man to lift, and too long to be set on end, it is apt to
wring confession of anything needed from him who is set
therein after a time. Therefore I was surprised to hear
the Lady Sybilla say suddenly—
"Borrow De Mohun's sachentege, I pray you."
"Fie, daughter," said Gregorius, shaking his head, but
half smiling at the girl's anger. "It were a shame to set
so gallant a youth in such bondage."
"Set me in the hateful thing rather," she said. "It
were better than to marry me to this man of Stephen's,
who would not own whatever name he has—being doubtless
At that De Govet started, and his face grew crimson.
But Sybilla went on, growing more angry still.
"When Queen Maud comes I will go to her. She will
see that I——"
"Hold," said Sir Richard suddenly; "enough of this.
Go to your bower, girl, until you can be more patient with
"Willingly," she said, with a proud toss of her head,
and she swept out of the hall without a glance at us, and
her waiting-woman followed her.
Then there was silence, and the knight and his captive
looked at one another until a faint smile crossed De
Govet's face. The chaplain looked anxious and disturbed,
and it flashed of a sudden across my mind that if Queen
Matilda was indeed coming to England shortly, it was the
last thing that a King's man should have heard as yet.
Sir Richard tried to laugh, but it was uneasy.
"When do King Stephen and Maud his Queen come
this way?" he asked Alan de Govet.
"When does Maud the Empress cross from Normandy?"
Then both laughed. They understood one another by
"Well," said Sir Richard, "shut up you must be, Alan,
for a time at least. But if you will take my advice you
will do as I wish you, and so find freedom and fortune
"This is a pretty plan," said Alan. "Having caught
a loyal King's man, you must needs marry him to your
ward, you being Matilda's steward, whereby you save her
fortunes when your new plots fail."
"Or yours when they succeed," answered Sir Richard.
"Truly this is a pretty plan, as you say, and I am a benefactor
to you both. Moreover, I think that you might
seek further and fare worse."
"What is the benefit to yourself?" said Alan scornfully.
"Being a De Courci, I look for none, except may-be
that to have a damsel in my charge hampers me somewhat;
also, it is my duty to provide for her welfare as
best I can. This is no new plan of mine, Alan. De
Mohun or I were to take you sooner or later as a hostage,
to ensure that your good father will bide quietly when
there is a little fighting on hand presently. I have only
caught you by chance rather sooner than I hoped."
"Well," said Alan, "the lady seems to think ill of your
plans for her welfare."
"That is because her advice was not asked," laughed
Sir Richard. "Now, what say you?"
"It is plain that I have heard too much to be let
loose," said Alan, "and I will not be married against my
will. Wherefore you have me in your own power."
"The choice is between the bonds of matrimony and
the small dungeon I have here, unless you prefer to be
sent to Dunster, where De Mohun will take good care of
you. I think the first choice is best."
"What sort of dungeon have you here?" asked Alan
coolly on this. "I have no mind for Dunster."
"Let him see it," said Sir Richard to Jehan, and Alan
turned on his heel and followed the man-at-arms from
the hall without a word.
"One would have thought that the looks of the Lady
Sybilla would have needed no comparison with those of
any dungeon," said our knight with a great laugh, when
he had disappeared. "But it is a good youth, and I am
glad that De Mohun got him not, else he would have
been in the rack by this time. But we may not let him go,
now that yon headstrong girl has let out what she has."
Presently Jehan brought Alan back. The former was
grinning, but the latter was cool as ever. His gay cordovan
boots were wet and muddy, as if he had been over
the ankles in water.
"'Tis a good dungeon," he said, "and no chance of
escape therefrom. I have no mind to dwell in it, therefore
I will offer ransom for myself."
Sir Richard shook his head.
"I took you, Master de Govet, for weightier reasons
than those of gain."
"That is to your credit," answered Alan. "It is discourteous
to take an unarmed man by force, save for
weighty reasons. Then I will pledge my word of honour
not to escape if allowed reasonable liberty."
"Ho!" said Sir Richard, "is there no word about
the Lady Sybilla?"
"We will not discuss that point further," said Alan
loftily. "I do but seek to evade the dungeon."
"It seems that you know your mind, young man,"
Sir Richard said, "and I am willing to meet you as far as
I may. If I take your word, you must promise also to
hold no communication with the King's party."
"I will consider myself in the dungeon for that matter.
They will not miss my help."
"I am not so sure," said the knight thoughtfully. "If
you are my guest you may hear and see much that they
would be glad to learn."
"Turn me out, then," said Alan promptly. "I know
nothing as yet."
Again Sir Richard shook his head and laughed.
"I must keep my hostage, for I am not alone in this
matter, and have to answer to others. Now, do I have
your word not to escape, and to be silent?"
Alan stepped forward and held out his hand.
"The word of a De Govet," he said.
Now from that time forward Alan took his captivity in
good part, sending by a chapman some message to his
father which Sir Richard approved, and which satisfied
those at home, for shortly after they sent him all that a
guest could need, even to his helm and mail and charger.
I do not know what his people thought of his being a
guest with so noted a Queen's man as our knight, but at
that time the great plans were secret, and none seemed to
have any suspicion of them beyond the circle of the leaders
of Matilda's party.
I soon learnt, having often to ride with messages to
one leader or another, what these plans were, and I can
put them into few words. Earl Robert of Gloucester, our
Queen's half-brother, was to rise at the head of all the
nobles in the west, while King Malcolm of Scotland, her
uncle, was to invade England from across the Border.
Two years ago he had done the same, but failed for want
of well-planned assistance, so that King Stephen was able
to make terms with him. This had seemed the death-blow
to Matilda's hopes at the time, but now things would
surely go better. Stephen would be taken between two
fires, and then the Queen would come from Normandy,
and all would end in her favour.
So the great plotting went on, and meanwhile Alan de
Govet and I grew to be great friends, for he was a good
warrior, and took pains to teach me many things. Which
pleased Sir Richard well, so that he seemed to forget that
Alan was his captive, treating him always as a welcome
The only person in all the castle, and village also, who
did not like Alan was the Lady Sybilla, and she made no
secret of her dislike. I thought it good of Alan to take
the trouble to please her that he did, for we must needs
see much of her. However, she was always most pleasant
to me, and I liked to serve her in any way that I could.
Father Gregorius was another friend of mine, and I learnt
many things that a squire should know from him. He,
too, liked Alan, and would often pass a sly jest on him
about his choice between the dungeon and the lady's
hand, at first. But as time went on Alan seemed to grow
tired of the old jest, and waxed angry when it came. So
Gregorius forgot it.
It was in April, towards the end, that I came to Stoke
Courci, and from that time forward messengers came and
went in much secrecy. Once Earl Robert came for a day
from Dunster, with De Mohun; and once we rode to
Wells to meet Roger, Bishop of Salisbury, the Justiciar,
from whose help the Queen hoped much.
Now, in the beginning of July, I had been out with
Sir Richard, and did not go into the castle when I had led
the horses round to the stables, but sought Alan in the
tiltyard, some one telling me that he had gone in that
direction. And there I saw a thing that puzzled me, for
it was unlike what one might have expected.
Two people walked under the trees on the far side of
the tilting-ground, and they were the Lady Sybilla and
Alan himself in deep converse. Alan seemed to be speaking
a great deal and getting short answers; which was
not surprising, as the lady was always proud and disdainful
with him, so that Alan always seemed discomfited
when she appeared. Just at this time, however, he did
not seem so.
They did not see that I came, at first; and before
they heeded me, I heard a few words.
"I will have nought to say to a man who is ashamed
to own his own name," quoth Lady Sybilla.
"It was not shame, but policy," answered Alan.
"Ay—to escape from me."
Alan was silent for a moment, and then said—
"I have learnt to prize what once I had no thought
Then Sybilla saw me, and flushed.
"Ay—your name, you mean," she said to Alan,
whose face was away from me. "Go to—win your name
back by some deeds of arms, and then you may be worth
With that she passed him and came towards me, beginning
to hum some old tune or other lightly. As for
Alan, he bided where she left him, not caring to follow.
"Come away," she said to me; "your comrade is in
an evil temper."
"That is the first time I have seen him so," answered
I; "needs must that I stay to cheer him; for I am not
the cause of his ill-humour," and I laughed.
"Well then, go your way for an unmannerly squire,"
she retorted, turning away towards the castle.
"Nay, but, lady—" I began. But she went on quickly,
with one last remark flung over her shoulder, as it were—
"I know where I am not wanted, at least."
"Now," thought I, "it is plain where the ill-temper
lies." So I went to Alan, and asked what was amiss.
"Well," said he—for though he was five years or more
older than I, we were close friends by this time—"maybe
I am a fool to think twice of the matter; but, on my
word, friend Ralph, one would think that I was in love."
I laughed heartily.
"Did you tell her so?" I asked.
"She has set me a task which, as a good squire, I
am bound to undertake, whatever I may have said; and
what chance a prisoner like myself has to do it, I cannot
"Winning a name to wit. I heard that much," I said.
"But that we have often talked of. It does not need the
words of a sharp-tongued damsel to set your thoughts in
"Your Saxon wits need sharpening with Norman
whetstone," he answered gravely. "Know you not that
the word of a fair lady has double weight in the matter
of winning renown? So that one must straightway seek
for what one might else have left to chance and good
"My Saxon mother-wit would tell me that all depends
on who the lady who speaks the word may be," I answered,
being used to a gentle jest of this sort from Alan,
and by no means minding it, since I had well beaten him
about the Norman pate with our good old Saxon quarter-staff—the
one weapon whose use he disdained until I
persuaded him to a bout with me. After which he learned
to use it, because he said that it belonged to good forestry.
"Above wit comes the law of chivalry," he said then.
"It matters not if the lady is queen or beggar-maid, so
that her words be a spur to great deeds and knightly."
Now, when Alan began in this strain he was apt to
wax high-flown, causing Sir Richard to laugh at him at
times. So I said—
"This sounds well. But there is nought for you to
undertake, that I can see."
After that we sat and looked out to the long line of
the blue Quantocks and spoke of foreign wars. But the
time for brave deeds was nearer than we thought, for that
night came a messenger with stirring news, and after
speaking with him Sir Richard sent for us two.
"Alan," he said, "I have strange news for you, and I
do not know how you will take what I have to tell you.
Nor do I rightly know what to do with you now. The
other leaders of our cause will not suffer me to let you
go free, as I would willingly, because they do your father
the honour of thinking that his hand must be held. As
for myself, I have forgotten that you are aught but a
guest, and you please me."
Alan smiled, and made a little bow at that, but said
"Now I must go northwards," said the knight; "and
at once. Ralph must see to my arms, and he will go with
me, all the better squire for your companionship. There
is a campaign on hand, as you may guess."
"Northward," said Alan thoughtfully. "Are the Scots
on foot across the Border?"
"Ay; that they are."
"Why, then, let me go with you and help fight them,
Sir Richard. That is England's quarrel—whether king
or queen has right to the throne."
Sir Richard smiled grimly.
"Mostly that is so. But now Malcolm comes again
as ally of his niece, and with his help we mean to set her
on the throne. I fear you will not fight on my side."
"I cannot," answered Alan. "I had hoped this was
but some new Border raid or public quarrel."
He was silent for a while as my knight told me what
I had to prepare for the journey. But presently he spoke
"Let me go with you, Sir Richard," he said. "You
are most generous in your own wish to let me go free,
and it is possible that in the far north, where there will
be none to hinder you, you will let me join in one battle
for my own king. I would return to you either in victory
or defeat, if not slain. And if slain, any further trouble
in keeping me is over."
"This is a strange request," said Sir Richard, watching
Alan's eager face. "You must be tired of our little
But I thought I knew why Alan was so ready to go
north for a mere chance of fighting.
"Alan has a mind to do some mighty deeds or other,"
I said. "We spoke thereof this afternoon."
"When I came here I denied my name, as it were,"
said Alan quickly, preferring not to be questioned perhaps,
"and I must needs win it back. Let me prove that I am
not to be ashamed thereof."
"Nay, Alan. You withheld your name somewhat
foolishly, may-be; but you denied it not. None can blame
you," said Sir Richard kindly.
"Nevertheless it has been said that I must win it back,
and, I pray you, let me have this chance."
"Ralph," said Sir Richard sternly, "is this your
"Not mine," I answered. "'Tis but a poor jest of
the Lady Sybilla's."
The knight looked at Alan and began to smile. Alan
grew red and then angry, and Sir Richard laughed.
"So!" he said. "If that is the lady's word, there is
no help for it. But I knew not that you had used your
leisure so well."
Now why Alan had not a word to say for himself at
this I could not tell, but so it was. At last, after shifting
from one foot to the other uneasily, he ceased his pretence
at anger, and said—
"I am asking much, Sir Richard. But may it be so?"
"Come north at least, and we will see about the rest.
If you fight for Stephen, however, you and I may be running
tilt against one another unawares in some melee."
"You have unhorsed me once, Sir Richard," said Alan,
in high glee, "and out of your way would I keep. Now,
I do not know how to thank you."
"Why," said Sir Richard, "I am wont to need two
squires, and have but one. If you are not too proud,
journey as my second, and if aught is wanting in your
gear I will supply it."
"It is honour for any squire to serve the De Courci,"
said Alan. "Your squire I will be in all good faith, until
I must needs ask you to let me have one fight for whom I
I was glad enough that Alan was to go with us, as
may be supposed, and gaily went to work to set my lord's
armour in order, while Jehan of Stowey saw to mine. And
presently, while I sat alone in the armoury singing as I
polished the heavy, flat-topped, war helm, the Lady Sybilla
came in, and sitting in the window-seat, began to talk
with me about our journey.
By-and-by I told her that Alan de Govet was to go
with us at his own request, and that because of her words
this afternoon. She seemed to care little, for she looked
out of the window and spoke of somewhat that she saw
thence in the meadows by the stream.
Yet presently she said—
"So this Alan must needs blame me for making him
eager to run into danger?"
"Your words, he says, are weighty, as being those of
a lady. But I do not think that he blames you at all,
"Well," she said, rising up suddenly, "as he must
charge my words with his going, give him that to remind
him that they are weighty."
She threw me a blue silken scarf she had worn all
day and went out of the armoury, and I saw her no
more. I was glad that she seemed at least to be inclined
to make amends for her haughtiness and ill-considered
Presently I gave the scarf, with the message, to Alan,
and he seemed pleased with both, asking me for more of
the sayings of the haughty damsel, which amused me.
"Verily, Alan, I believe that you spoke truth just now
when you said you were in love," I said, laughing.
"Nay; but I hardly said so much," he answered.
"Well, it is war first, and anything else afterwards, just
Nevertheless, when we rode away next morning, with
forty well-armed and mounted men-at-arms and a little
train of pack-horses after us, Alan had the blue scarf
round his sword arm, and his eyes were over his shoulder
so long as we could see Sybilla standing on the drawbridge
watching us go. May-be he had had another word
or two with her, but I thought it foolish to pay so much
heed to the gibes of a damsel, however fair.
Now I am going to say nothing about our long,
pleasant journey northward, with the camping in forest
or among hospitable farm folk, or, later, on wild moorland,
for if I began I should not know how to leave out
all the things that were new and strange to me.
But presently, when we were in Lancashire, we came
to the tracts of desolation left by the Scots two years
since, and a sort of dread grew up in my heart of men
who could thus mar our fair land. Yet they were to
help to set our Queen on her throne again, and those
who had sent for them were wiser than I.
We went into no great towns, for Sir Richard did not
wish men to inquire too closely into his journey and its
object. But as we drew near Lancaster we learned that
the gathering of the Scots to invade England was well
known, and already word had gone round to the sheriff
from Archbishop Thurstan of York to bid them gather
their men to him.
Then Sir Richard thought it time to give Alan his
freedom, as he had half promised, for he himself must
needs cross the Border to speak with the King of Scots.
And it so happened that near the old town he fell in with
a knight, whom Sir Richard knew to be a Queen's man,
riding towards Lancaster with twenty men at his heels.
"Ho! De Courci, what brings you so far north?"
"The same errand that brings you out, most likely,"
our knight answered. "We will go further north yet
in company, as I hope."
The knight stared for a moment, and then a grim
look crossed his face, which was scarred here and there.
"If you mean to march with Thurstan, well and
good—but if you are going to join the Scots, as is
likely, you and I shall be on opposite sides for once,"
he said bluntly.
"How is this?—where is your loyalty?"
"Loyalty, forsooth!" the knight answered. "My
first loyalty is to England—and I care not who sent for
the Scots. We of the north will give life to keep them
back." So these two talked, angrily at times. But at
last the strange knight said—
"I tell you, De Courci, that if you of the west and
south knew what Malcolm's host is like as well as we
northerners, you would give your right hand sooner than
bring them to England. Go and see them, and then
mind my words."
So the talk ceased. But presently Sir Richard told
Alan that if he would, he might ride in company with
this knight, who would give him a worthy place as his
squire, and with whom he might remain until we returned
after the campaign.
"I can say to De Mohun and Earl Robert that I
have left you with this Sir John, and they will be content.
May-be we shall meet again shortly, and then pass me by,
I pray you, for the sake of comradeship, and—of that
blue favour—however hot the battle may be."
So Sir Richard jested, but we were sorry to part from
Alan, and he from us, when we left him with his new
friend in Lancaster. I think that his soreness on being
a captive had long passed, for now he could only thank
our knight for his many kindnesses.
We crossed the Border, and made for the gathering
place of the Scots. And when I saw them I knew that
the northern knight spoke the truth, and that the worst
thing for our Queen would be that she should have the
blame of bringing this wild crowd of savage Galloway
Picts and Highland Gaels into England.
And our knight knew it also. He gave his message
to Malcolm, as in duty bound, and then would bide with
the Scots no longer. Truly there were a few good
Lowland and Norman knights with the King and his son,
Prince Henry, but not enough to keep that untrained
force in any sort of control.
"Sir John of Swaledale is right," Sir Richard said to
me as we saw the wild clansmen gathered round their
fires on the open hillside. "I am going to Archbishop
Thurstan that I may do what I can to help to repair the
wrong to England that we have done in calling in
Malcolm again. You and Alan will fight for England
side by side after all."
That was most welcome news for me, and for all our
western men. I do not know how Sir Richard made
excuse for returning to England, but none hindered our
going, and we were welcomed at Durham by the knights
who were gathered there, King's men and Queen's alike
having foregone their quarrel at the bidding of the wise
archbishop, whose words I heard read in the open
Then the Scots began to come on very swiftly, and
at last we fell back from Durham to the place where
our chiefs, the Earl of Albemarle, and Walter de Espée,
chose to check their advance, at Northallerton in Yorkshire,
where they had made some weak entrenchments
on a gentle hillside that commanded the road from the
There was Alan, and one need not say how he rejoiced
to see us, and take his place as Sir Richard's squire
"After all," our knight said, "I and my two squires
will fight on the same side for one cause. And I think
that Sybilla will be pleased to hear from us how her
champion bore himself."
"I said nought of pleasing the Lady Sybilla," said
"Why—no more you did! Yet I thought that something
of the kind brought you north," laughed our
Then Alan tried to excuse his little discourtesy, and
the more he did so the more we laughed, until he must
laugh with us.
Now the reports of the vast numbers of the Scots
would have left little heart in our men, if it had not been
for the wise words and devices of Bishop Ralph of the
Isles, who was here in the sick archbishop's place. He
had a great mast stayed up in a waggon that stood in
the midst of camp, the top of which was surmounted by
a flashing silver pyx that held the consecrated wafer, and
under that floated the banners of the patron saints of
York and Beverley, Durham and Ripon, that this northern
host might see the tokens of all they held holiest and
dearest, and fight manfully to uphold them. Then he
was wont to stand in the waggon and speak to us, promising
help spiritual to those who fought for their land
and homes, and bidding us have no fear of a host whose
very greatness would hinder it, for want of discipline and
order, either in victory or defeat.
So all were cheered, and though there is nothing at
which men wonder more than at the swiftness of the
advance of the Scots, we were ready for them before
they came. Yet, but for Alan, it is certain that our
army would have been surprised, and may-be cut to
pieces, before any battle array could have been drawn up.
As the Scots came, they burnt and plundered on all
sides, and at last our outposts could see the light of
burning farms on the skyline, and we knew they were
very near. Next night none were to be seen, and it
seemed as if the Scots had halted and drawn together
on finding that we were ready. Then the day following
broke darkly and grey, with a dense fog everywhere
that seemed to make it impossible that an army could
move through it. Yet every horseman who could be
spared was sent to patrol the hills to our northward, and
Alan and I rode out together to our appointed stations
with the rest, in the early morning.
We crossed valley and stream by tracks we knew well
by this time, and as it happened, went further that day
than any other, for one could see nothing but a few
yards of stony track before one, and the cries of the
curlews sounded wild round us, like the whistle of men
to one another in the fog.
"What water is that I hear?" I said presently. There
was a sound of a heavy rushing, but I knew of no brook
here that would make that sound.
"It is more like the sound of a great flock of sheep,"
answered Alan, "but we have driven every one for miles."
Then our horses pricked their ears, and stared into
the mist to our right front in a way that told us that
other horses were near.
Alan held up his hand, "I hear voices!" he said.
We listened, and presently I knew that what we heard
was the thunder of the feet of a vast host of men, and
now and then a voice came faintly, though whence we
knew not, for nothing confuses sound so much as fog.
"The Scots!" said Alan, turning to me with his eyes
shining under his helm.
"It is not possible," I said; "how could they find
their way through this mist?"
"Any shepherd they have caught could guide them.
Anyhow, we must see if I am right."
"Let us ride back to camp and give the alarm," I said.
"And be laughed at—for every one would say as you,
that it is not possible. And all believe that the foe has
halted. Bide here while I ride on, and if I shout 'De
Courci!' ride back for your life and give the alarm."
"Faith," said I, "where you go, I go. If we cannot see
them, neither can they see us. We may get near enough
to hear what tongue they speak, and that is all we need."
"Come then," said Alan.
So we rode, as the keener senses of our horses bade
us, down the hill towards our right more or less. We
had to leave the pathway, but in returning we could not
miss it if we breasted the hill anywhere, for it ran all
along its crest. At the foot of the long hill we stayed
again and listened, and now the sound of the marching
host was deadened, because they were yet beyond some
What happened next was sudden, and took us unawares,
for all the warning we had was a little crackle of
deerskin-shod feet, and the snorting and restlessness of
Out of the mist seemed to grow half-a-dozen men
silently and swiftly, and for a moment I sat and stared at
them in amazement. They were the wild scouts of the
enemy, the tartan-clad Pictish men of Galloway, belted
with long claymores, shield on back, and spear or pole-axe
They halted suddenly, each where he stood and as he
stood, staring at us, startled may-be as we were. Then
one whistled shrilly, and cried in an eager voice, "Claymore!"
and their weapons clashed as they went on guard
and made for us in silence.
The whistle rang clear and echoed back, and then
came a long roar of voices, and the sound of marching
swelled up for a moment and then ceased altogether. The
host had halted at the first sign of the enemy.
One minds all these things when in peril, and even as
I noted this, Alan leant forward and snatched at my
horse's bridle, swinging him round.
"Back!" he said. "What, are you dreaming? We
have seen enough."
But a Scot was hanging on the other rein also, and
only the plunging of the horse saved me from a blow
from his long-handled axe.
"Be off, Alan," I cried; "I am hindered." And I
drew sword and cut at the man who held me back, only
wasting a good blow on his hide target.
But he left the horse's head and I turned him, to find
that the wild figures were swarming round us, and that
Alan was wheeling his great charger in a circle that no
Scot dared enter.
"Uphill," he cried, seeing that I was free.
Then we spurred the horses and charged side by side,
and they yelled and fell back before us. They feared the
horses, and were unused to fighting with mounted men,
and we won through them easily and galloped on up the
Nevertheless the men of the heather were not to be
shaken off so easily, but ran and leapt on either side of
us, and as they ran, I saw one or two who had unslung
bows, and were waiting, arrow on string, for a chance
shot at us.
We began to distance them very soon, and at last
only two grey figures strained to keep pace with us, and
then an arrow rattled on Alan's mail, shot from not more
than five paces' range.
"A weak bow enough," said Alan.
But if the Scottish bow was weak against mail, it
could harm a horse, for the next thing that I knew was
that my good steed was down on his nose among the
stones, and I was lying half stunned before him, while
those two wild Galloway kernes shouted and rushed
Alan had shot on ahead as I fell, but in a moment he
was round and back, saving me from the dirk of one man
who was almost on me, with a quick lance-thrust. The
other man, who was not so near, fled as he came, and we
were alone. Alan dismounted and came to my help.
"Are you hurt?" he said, lifting me.
"Not much,—but the horse—how about him?" I
"Not much either—for he has gone."
And indeed he had picked himself up and fled into
the mist towards the foe.
"Mount behind me," said Alan, helping me up. Then
I groaned and reeled against him. My ankle was sorely
bruised by a rock on which it had been dashed in my fall,
and at that time I thought it was broken, for I could not
"Hold up, and I will help you mount," said Alan.
And then the Galloway men swarmed out of the fog
again, cautiously at first. Some waft of wind had thinned
the hanging clouds for a moment, and Alan saw them
sooner than before.
"Leave me—warn the camp," I said.
"The honour of a De Govet——"
And that was the last I heard of what Alan was about
to say, for with the first step towards the saddle I fainted.
When I came to, with the cold air rushing on me, the
first thing I saw was Alan's steadfast face above me, stern
set and anxious, but unfaltering in gaze forward, and
under me bounded the free stride of his great charger as
though the double burden was nothing. Alan's left arm
was round me, and I was across his saddle, while he was
mounted behind it. He had no helm, and a stream of
blood was across his face, and an arrow, caught by the
point in the rings of his mail, rattled from his breast.
His lance was gone, and his red sword hung by the sling
from his wrist as he managed the bridle.
I stirred, and a smile came on his grim face.
"Art thyself again?" he said. "We are close on the
Then he lifted his voice and shouted—I had a dim
remembrance then that that shout had rung in my ears
just as I came round—the old war-cry of his forebears at
Hastings—and our knight's name.
"Dex aïe—De Courci—ho!"
And a murmur and then a shouting rose as our men
heard and understood, and a dozen knights spurred forward
to meet us and brought us in, scattering to take the
news to the leaders as we passed the line of entrenchments,
so that our tidings went before us.
Alan took me to our tents, and there was Sir Richard
waiting, as he buckled on his sword. With him were two
or three more knights, who gazed constantly at the mist
as if trying to pierce it. The men were getting to their
appointed posts as the alarm spread, with a quietness that
told of anything but panic.
"Ho, Alan, you have been in close action," our knight
said anxiously. "Are you or Ralph hurt?"
"A brush with some wild Galloway kernes, nought
more," Alan answered, lowering me carefully into the
strong grasp of Jehan of Stowey. "Have a care of
the hurt foot, Jehan. That is all that is amiss, Sir
But I could not have Alan's doings set aside, and I
told Sir Richard plainly how he had rescued me from the
swarm of wild men who followed us.
Then came one whom I knew well by sight, our leader,
the Earl of Albemarle, eager to hear from the mouth of
Alan himself what he had learnt of the Scots.
And even as Alan told him, the mist began to lift
under a breeze that sprang up. The white hanging cloud-wreaths
fled up the hillsides whence we had ridden, and
left them clear and bright—and already on the nearer
rises the Galloway scouts were posted, and our pickets
were coming in at full speed.
Then the Earl grasped Alan's hand and said—
"No time for more now—but you have saved a panic,
and what comes therefrom. I will see you hereafter, if
we both outlive this day; and if I fall and you do not, I
will have left orders concerning you with others."
Then, as he saw the great waggon with its wondrous
banner being drawn to the centre of our line, followed
by Bishop Ralph and his clergy in their robes, he said—
"To your posts, knights—it will not be long that we
have to wait now."
He rode away, and the men cheered him as he passed
along the front of the line.
Then a squire said to Alan ruefully—
"I would I had as fair a tale to tell my lady as have
you. She of the blue favour has whereof to be proud in
For there is little jealousy among the honest northern
Then I saw that Sybilla's blue kerchief was round
Alan's sword hilt, stained and rent, and Sir Richard
caught my eye, and we both smiled. Alan made no
answer, as the squire rode away after his lord.
Jehan brought Alan a new helm, and he and our
knight went to their places in haste.
"Follow if you can sit a horse," Sir Richard said to
And it is not to be supposed, that with Jehan's help in
getting into the saddle, I would be anything but able to
do so. One is not so dependent on stirrups as one is apt
to think sometimes.
Now so many have written about the Battle of the
Standard that I will not tell it again. It was all confused
to me, and I could see but little of all that went on from
where I was, just behind our knight, in the close ranks of
the horsemen who were massed before the standard itself,
where Bishop Ralph and his clergy remained unmoved,
though the arrows rattled round them at times. It had been
wonderful to see the whole army kneel as the good bishop
blessed and shrived us all, and wonderful, also, to hear the
"Amen" that rolled like low thunder down our ranks.
After that we bore for two long hours the shock of
the wild clansmen, whose chief had sworn to go as far
through our ranks that day as any of the mailed Lowland
knights who despised his tartan. I think he kept his oath,
for our footmen were borne back at first, and for a while
things looked black for us.
Then the bowmen of the north shook themselves free
from the confusion, and got to work, and the terrible rain
of the long arrows drove back the Scots, whose rallying
cry of "Albyn—Albyn!" failed them at last, and then our
charge broke them and ended the day.
As we swept forward I saw a group of mail-clad
knights round one whose helm was circled with gold, and
I knew from the heather-topped spear that was his
standard, that Prince Henry was before us. And I saw
him turn to fly.
Presently, as we rode back, the Earl beckoned to Sir
"I would fain knight that brave squire of yours,
De Courci, but——" he said, and stopped short.
"I know your difficulty, Lord Earl," our knight said,
with a grim smile. "I am too well-known a Queen's
man, and you must answer to Stephen for what honour
you bestow. However, Alan de Govet is as good a king's
man as yourself——"
They rode apart, and how much more Sir Richard
told the Earl I cannot say, but they were merry over
whatever it was. And the end of it all was in the solemn
knighting of my comrade, together with some half-dozen
others, before all the host, and at the foot of the great
standard; of which I was as proud as if the golden spurs
had been put on my own heels. The Earl spoke kindly
to me also, telling me that I had yet a deed or two to do
before I was old enough to win the same honour, so that
I was well content.
The army began to break up in a few days, when all
fear of rallying by the Scots was over, and then Sir Richard
spoke to Alan of what was to come next.
"I took Alan the simple squire," he said, "and here is
Sir Alan de Govet, my friend and good comrade. Wherefore
old promises may be foregone, and I will only ask
one thing instead, and that is that you will bide with the
Earl, who will see to your advancement; for I must at
least keep you away from De Mohun and the rest, else
they will blame me."
Alan grew grave for a moment, and I saw his eyes go
to where his sword hung on the tent-pole. Sir Richard
saw that also, so he went on—
"I will tell your father what honour you have found
here, and Ralph will tell—other folk at Stoke Courci.
Have no fear that there will be trouble because you have
Alan smiled then.
"It was a good day when you took me, my knight,"
he said. "If only I may be counted as your friend when
the troubles are over, I am well content."
"Ay, there will always be welcome for you with us."
So we parted, heavily enough, not knowing when we
should meet again. There was trouble over all the land
as we rode westwards; yet Stoke Courci was safe and
quiet, because it was held by a lady only.
And when Sybilla, standing by the drawbridge, saw us
come home, her bright face changed as she missed Alan
from among us. Presently I told her all that he had
done, but she was too wilful to seem glad that he was
"Well, there is some good in him, after all," she said,
and so left me. Unless it was that she repented her old
injustice to Alan, I could not tell why she had been weeping
when I met her an hour or two later.
We might not stay long at Stoke Courci, for there was
fighting over all the land. And at last, far away under
Lincoln walls, where I won my spurs at the taking prisoner
of King Stephen, I met Alan face to face in thickest fight;
whereat we laughed and saluted, and passed to either
side. I heard Sir Richard hail him also. There were
many such meetings in those days.
Presently I saw Alan again—brought in as a prisoner
taken with the King, downcast and almost despairing,
for all his cause seemed lost. Then Sir Richard made
himself surety for his safe keeping, and he was content
to promise to bear arms against our Queen no
"Now, I must bestow you somewhere," said our
knight. "And we have, as you know, a good dungeon at
Stoke Courci. There was also a fair alternative to the
said dungeon, if you have not forgotten."
Alan laughed a little then.
"I am a ruined man, Sir Richard, now, and can surely
make choice no longer."
"Why, Alan, should I have spoken of it had I not
meant to tell you that you may yet choose?"
One might see from Alan's face what he thought, but
he said, looking at me—
"I am not so sure that I should be welcome at Stoke
"Come and see," quoth I, having reason to believe
that he would be more than welcome, as one might say.
So we rode homewards together, and Sir Richard's
plans fell out as he had wished, and that with no unwillingness
on either side.
But, as every one knows, we had not done with King
Stephen yet, and there were many years of trouble to
come after he escaped. Presently he gained the day, and
then it seemed likely that my knight and I might lose our
lands. But, for the sake of the Battle of the Standard,
we were passed over; and now, with the coming to the
throne of King Henry, we are high in favour, with broad
lands here in Somerset for me, and lands and castles here
and in Kent for the De Courci who had served the Queen
so well through good and ill.