The Talisman by Walter Scott
One thing is certain in our Northern land--
Leopold, Grand Duke of Austria, was the first possessor of that noble country to whom the princely rank belonged. He had been raised to the ducal sway in the German Empire on account of his near relationship to the Emperor, Henry the Stern, and held under his government the finest provinces which are watered by the Danube. His character has been stained in history on account of one action of violence and perfidy, which arose out of these very transactions in the Holy Land; and yet the shame of having made Richard a prisoner when he returned through his dominions; unattended and in disguise, was not one which flowed from Leopold's natural disposition. We was rather a weak and a vain than an ambitious or tyrannical prince. His mental powers resembled the qualities of his person. He was tall, strong, and handsome, with a complexion in which red and white were strongly contrasted, and had long flowing locks of fair hair. But there was an awkwardness in his gait which seemed as if his size was not animated by energy sufficient to put in motion such a mass; and in the same manner, wearing the richest dresses, it always seemed as if they became him not. As a prince, he appeared too little familiar with his own dignity; and being often at a loss how to assert his authority when the occasion demanded it, he frequently thought himself obliged to recover, by acts and expressions of ill-timed violence, the ground which might have been easily and gracefully maintained by a little more presence of mind in the beginning of the controversy.
Not only were these deficiencies visible to others, but the Archduke himself could not but sometimes entertain a painful consciousness that he was not altogether fit to maintain and assert the high rank which he had acquired; and to this was joined the strong, and sometimes the just, suspicion that others esteemed him lightly accordingly.
When he first joined the Crusade, with a most princely attendance, Leopold had desired much to enjoy the friendship and intimacy of Richard, and had made such advances towards cultivating his regard as the King of England ought, in policy, to have received and answered. But the Archduke, though not deficient in bravery, was so infinitely inferior to Coeur de Lion in that ardour of mind which wooed danger as a bride, that the King very soon held him in a certain degree of contempt. Richard, also, as a Norman prince, a people with whom temperance was habitual, despised the inclination of the German for the pleasures of the table, and particularly his liberal indulgence in the use of wine. For these, and other personal reasons, the King of England very soon looked upon the Austrian Prince with feelings of contempt, which he was at no pains to conceal or modify, and which, therefore, were speedily remarked, and returned with deep hatred, by the suspicious Leopold. The discord between them was fanned by the secret and politic arts of Philip of France, one of the most sagacious monarchs of the time, who, dreading the fiery and overbearing character of Richard, considering him as his natural rival, and feeling offended, moreover, at the dictatorial manner in which he, a vassal of France for his Continental domains, conducted himself towards his liege lord, endeavoured to strengthen his own party, and weaken that of Richard, by uniting the Crusading princes of inferior degree in resistance to what he termed the usurping authority of the King of England. Such was the state of politics and opinions entertained by the Archduke of Austria, when Conrade of Montserrat resolved upon employing his jealousy of England as the means of dissolving, or loosening at least, the league of the Crusaders.
The time which he chose for his visit was noon; and the pretence, to present the Archduke with some choice Cyprus wine which had lately fallen into his hands, and discuss its comparative merits with those of Hungary and of the Rhine. An intimation of his purpose was, of course, answered by a courteous invitation to partake of the Archducal meal, and every effort was used to render it fitting the splendour of a sovereign prince. Yet the refined taste of the Italian saw more cumbrous profusion than elegance or splendour in the display of provisions under which the board groaned.
The Germans, though still possessing the martial and frank character of their ancestors--who subdued the Roman Empire--had retained withal no slight tinge of their barbarism. The practices and principles of chivalry were not carried to such a nice pitch amongst them as amongst the French and English knights, nor were they strict observers of the prescribed rules of society, which among those nations were supposed to express the height of civilization. Sitting at the table of the Archduke, Conrade was at once stunned and amused with the clang of Teutonic sounds assaulting his ears on all sides, notwithstanding the solemnity of a princely banquet. Their dress seemed equally fantastic to him, many of the Austrian nobles retaining their long beards, and almost all of them wearing short jerkins of various colours, cut, and flourished, and fringed in a manner not common in Western Europe.
Numbers of dependants, old and young, attended in the pavilion, mingled at times in the conversation, received from their masters the relics of the entertainment, and devoured them as they stood behind the backs of the company. Jesters, dwarfs, and minstrels were there in unusual numbers, and more noisy and intrusive than they were permitted to be in better regulated society. As they were allowed to share freely in the wine, which flowed round in large quantities, their licensed tumult was the more excessive.
All this while, and in the midst of a clamour and confusion which would better have become a German tavern during a fair than the tent of a sovereign prince, the Archduke was waited upon with a minuteness of form and observance which showed how anxious he was to maintain rigidly the state and character to which his elevation had entitled him. He was served on the knee, and only by pages of noble blood, fed upon plate of silver, and drank his Tokay and Rhenish wines from a cup of gold. His ducal mantle was splendidly adorned with ermine, his coronet might have equalled in value a royal crown, and his feet, cased in velvet shoes (the length of which, peaks included, might be two feet), rested upon a footstool of solid silver. But it served partly to intimate the character of the man, that, although desirous to show attention to the Marquis of Montserrat, whom he had courteously placed at his right hand, he gave much more of his attention to his spruch-sprecher--that is, his man of conversation, or sayer- of-sayings --who stood behind the Duke's right shoulder.
This personage was well attired in a cloak and doublet of black velvet, the last of which was decorated with various silver and gold coins stitched upon it, in memory of the munificent princes who had conferred them, and bearing a short staff to which also bunches of silver coins were attached by rings, which he jingled by way of attracting attention when he was about to say anything which he judged worthy of it. This person's capacity in the household of the Archduke was somewhat betwixt that of a minstrel and a counsellor. He was by turns a flatterer, a poet, and an orator; and those who desired to be well with the Duke generally studied to gain the good-will of the spruch-sprecher.
Lest too much of this officer's wisdom should become tiresome, the Duke's other shoulder was occupied by his hoff-narr, or court-jester, called Jonas Schwanker, who made almost as much noise with his fool's cap, bells, and bauble, as did the orator, or man of talk, with his jingling baton.
These two personages threw out grave and comic nonsense alternately; while their master, laughing or applauding them himself, yet carefully watched the countenance of his noble guest, to discern what impressions so accomplished a cavalier received from this display of Austrian eloquence and wit. It is hard to say whether the man of wisdom or the man of folly contributed most to the amusement of the party, or stood highest in the estimation of their princely master; but the sallies of both seemed excellently well received. Sometimes they became rivals for the conversation, and clanged their flappers in emulation of each other with a most alarming contention; but, in general, they seemed on such good terms, and so accustomed to support each other's play, that the spruch-sprecher often condescended to follow up the jester's witticisms with an explanation, to render them more obvious to the capacity of the audience, so that his wisdom became a sort of commentary on the buffoon's folly. And sometimes, in requital, the hoff-narr, with a pithy jest, wound up the conclusion of the orator's tedious harangue.
Whatever his real sentiments might be, Conrade took especial care that his countenance should express nothing but satisfaction with what he heard, and smiled or applauded as zealously, to all appearance, as the Archduke himself at the solemn folly of the spruch-sprecher and the gibbering wit of the fool. In fact, he watched carefully until the one or other should introduce some topic favourable to the purpose which was uppermost in his mind.
It was not long ere the King of England was brought on the carpet by the jester, who had been accustomed to consider Dickon of the Broom (which irreverent epithet he substituted for Richard Plantagenet) as a subject of mirth, acceptable and inexhaustible. The orator, indeed, was silent, and it was only when applied to by Conrade that he observed, "The genista, or broom-plant, was an emblem of humility; and it would be well when those who wore it would remember the warning."
The allusion to the illustrious badge of Plantagenet was thus rendered sufficiently manifest, and Jonas Schwanker observed that they who humbled themselves had been exalted with a vengeance. "Honour unto whom honour is due," answered the Marquis of Montserrat. "We have all had some part in these marches and battles, and methinks other princes might share a little in the renown which Richard of England engrosses amongst minstrels and minne-singers. Has no one of the joyeuse science here present a song in praise of the royal Archduke of Austria, our princely entertainer?"
Three minstrels emulously stepped forward with voice and harp. Two were silenced with difficulty by the spruch-sprecher, who seemed to act as master of the revels, and a hearing was at length procured for the poet preferred, who sung, in high German, stanzas which may be thus translated:--
"What brave chief shall head the forces,
Here the orator, jingling his staff, interrupted the bard to intimate to the party--what they might not have inferred from the description--that their royal host was the party indicated, and a full-crowned goblet went round to the acclamation, Hoch lebe der Herzog Leopold! Another stanza followed:--
"Ask not Austria why, 'midst princes,
"The eagle," said the expounder of dark sayings, "is the cognizance of our noble lord the Archduke--of his royal Grace, I would say--and the eagle flies the highest and nearest to the sun of all the feathered creation."
"The lion hath taken a spring above the eagle," said Conrade carelessly.
The Archduke reddened, and fixed his eyes on the speaker, while the spruch-sprecher answered, after a minute's consideration, "The Lord Marquis will pardon me--a lion cannot fly above an eagle, because no lion hath got wings."
"Except the lion of Saint Mark," responded the jester.
"That is the Venetian's banner," said the Duke; "but assuredly that amphibious race, half nobles, half merchants, will not dare to place their rank in comparison with ours."
"Nay, it was not of the Venetian lion that I spoke," said the Marquis of Montserrat, "but of the three lions passant of England. Formerly, it is said, they were leopards; but now they are become lions at all points, and must take precedence of beast, fish, or fowl, or woe worth the gainstander."
"Mean you seriously, my lord?" said the Austrian, now considerably flushed with wine. "Think you that Richard of England asserts any pre-eminence over the free sovereigns who have been his voluntary allies in this Crusade?"
"I know not but from circumstances," answered Conrade. "Yonder hangs his banner alone in the midst of our camp, as if he were king and generalissimo of our whole Christian army."
"And do you endure this so patiently, and speak of it so coldly?" said the Archduke.
"Nay, my lord," answered Conrade, "it cannot concern the poor Marquis of Montserrat to contend against an injury patiently submitted to by such potent princes as Philip of France and Leopold of Austria. What dishonour you are pleased to submit to cannot be a disgrace to me."
Leopold closed his fist, and struck on the table with violence.
"I have told Philip of this," he said. "I have often told him that it was our duty to protect the inferior princes against the usurpation of this islander; but he answers me ever with cold respects of their relations together as suzerain and vassal, and that it were impolitic in him to make an open breach at this time and period."
"The world knows that Philip is wise," said Conrade, "and will judge his submission to be policy. Yours, my lord, you can yourself alone account for; but I doubt not you have deep reasons for submitting to English domination."
"I submit!" said Leopold indignantly--"I, the Archduke of Austria, so important and vital a limb of the Holy Roman Empire --I submit myself to this king of half an island, this grandson of a Norman bastard! No, by Heaven! The camp and all Christendom shall see that I know how to right myself, and whether I yield ground one inch to the English bandog.--Up, my lieges and merry men; up and follow me! We will--and that without losing one instant--place the eagle of Austria where she shall float as high as ever floated the cognizance of king or kaiser."
With that he started from his seat, and amidst the tumultuous cheering of his guests and followers, made for the door of the pavilion, and seized his own banner, which stood pitched before it.
"Nay, my lord," said Conrade, affecting to interfere, "it will blemish your wisdom to make an affray in the camp at this hour; and perhaps it is better to submit to the usurpation of England a little longer than to--"
"Not an hour, not a moment longer," vociferated the Duke; and with the banner in his hand, and followed by his shouting guests and attendants, marched hastily to the central mount, from which the banner of England floated, and laid his hand on the standard- spear, as if to pluck it from the ground.
"My master, my dear master!" said Jonas Schwanker, throwing his arms about the Duke, "take heed--lions have teeth--"
"And eagles have claws," said the Duke, not relinquishing his hold on the banner-staff, yet hesitating to pull it from the ground.
The speaker of sentences, notwithstanding such was his occupation, had nevertheless some intervals of sound sense. He clashed his staff loudly, and Leopold, as if by habit, turned his head towards his man of counsel.
"The eagle is king among the fowls of the air," said the spruch- sprecher, "as is the lion among the beasts of the field--each has his dominion, separated as wide as England and Germany. Do thou, noble eagle, no dishonour to the princely lion, but let your banners remain floating in peace side by side."
Leopold withdrew his hand from the banner-spear, and looked round for Conrade of Montserrat, but he saw him not; for the Marquis, so soon as he saw the mischief afoot, had withdrawn himself from the crowd, taking care, in the first place, to express before several neutral persons his regret that the Archduke should have chosen the hours after dinner to avenge any wrong of which he might think he had a right to complain. Not seeing his guest, to whom he wished more particularly to have addressed himself, the Archduke said aloud that, having no wish to breed dissension in the army of the Cross, he did but vindicate his own privileges and right to stand upon an equality with the King of England, without desiring, as he might have done, to advance his banner --which he derived from emperors, his progenitors--above that of a mere descendant of the Counts of Anjou; and in the meantime he commanded a cask of wine to be brought hither and pierced, for regaling the bystanders, who, with tuck of drum and sound of music, quaffed many a carouse round the Austrian standard.
This disorderly scene was not acted without a degree of noise, which alarmed the whole camp.
The critical hour had arrived at which the physician, according to the rules of his art, had predicted that his royal patient might be awakened with safety, and the sponge had been applied for that purpose; and the leech had not made many observations ere he assured the Baron of Gilsland that the fever had entirely left his sovereign, and that, such was the happy strength of his constitution, it would not be even necessary, as in most cases, to give a second dose of the powerful medicine. Richard himself seemed to be of the same opinion, for, sitting up and rubbing his eyes, he demanded of De Vaux what present sum of money was in the royal coffers.
The baron could not exactly inform him of the amount.
"It matters not," said Richard; "be it greater or smaller, bestow it all on this learned leech, who hath, I trust, given me back again to the service of the Crusade. If it be less than a thousand byzants, let him have jewels to make it up."
"I sell not the wisdom with which Allah has endowed me," answered the Arabian physician; "and be it known to you, great Prince, that the divine medicine of which you have partaken would lose its effects in my unworthy hands did I exchange its virtues either for gold or diamonds."
"The Physician refuseth a gratuity!" said De Vaux to himself. "This is more extraordinary than his being a hundred years old."
"Thomas de Vaux," said Richard, "thou knowest no courage but what belongs to the sword, no bounty and virtue but what are used in chivalry. I tell thee that this Moor, in his independence, might set an example to them who account themselves the flower of knighthood."
"It is reward enough for me," said the Moor, folding his arms on his bosom, and maintaining an attitude at once respectful and dignified, "that so great a king as the Melech Ric [Richard was thus called by the Eastern nations.] should thus speak of his servant.--But now let me pray you again to compose yourself on your couch; for though I think there needs no further repetition of the divine draught, yet injury might ensue from any too early exertion ere pour strength be entirely restored."
"I must obey thee, Hakim," said the King; "yet believe me, my bosom feels so free from the wasting fire which for so many days hath scorched it, that I care not how soon I expose it to a brave man's lance.--But hark! what mean these shouts, and that distant music, in the camp? Go, Thomas de Vaux, and make inquiry."
"It is the Archduke Leopold," said De Vaux, returning after a minute's absence, "who makes with his pot-companions some procession through the camp."
"The drunken fool!" exclaimed King Richard; "can he not keep his brutal inebriety within the veil of his pavilion, that he must needs show his shame to all Christendom?--What say you, Sir Marquis?" he added, addressing himself to Conrade of Montserrat, who at that moment entered the tent.
"Thus much, honoured Prince," answered the Marquis, "that I delight to see your Majesty so well, and so far recovered; and that is a long speech for any one to make who has partaken of the Duke of Austria's hospitality."
"What! you have been dining with the Teutonic wine-skin!" said the monarch. "And what frolic has he found out to cause all this disturbance? Truly, Sir Conrade, I have still held you so good a reveller that I wonder at your quitting the game."
De Vaux, who had got a little behind the King, now exerted himself by look and sign to make the Marquis understand that he should say nothing to Richard of what was passing without. But Conrade understood not, or heeded not, the prohibition.
"What the Archduke does," he said, "is of little consequence to any one, least of all to himself, since he probably knows not what he is acting; yet, to say truth, it is a gambol I should not like to share in, since he is pulling down the banner of England from Saint George's Mount, in the centre of the camp yonder, and displaying his own in its stead."
"What sayest thou?" exclaimed the King, in a tone which might have waked the dead.
"Nay," said the Marquis, "let it not chafe your Highness that a fool should act according to his folly--"
"Speak not to me," said Richard, springing from his couch, and casting on his clothes with a dispatch which seemed marvellous --"Speak not to me, Lord Marquis!--De Multon, I command thee speak not a word to me--he that breathes but a syllable is no friend to Richard Plantagenet.--Hakim, be silent, I charge thee!"
All this while the King was hastily clothing himself, and, with the last word, snatched his sword from the pillar of the tent, and without any other weapon, or calling any attendance, he rushed out of his pavilion. Conrade, holding up his hands as if in astonishment, seemed willing to enter into conversation with De Vaux; but Sir Thomas pushed rudely past him, and calling to one of the royal equerries, said hastily, "Fly to Lord Salisbury's quarters, and let him get his men together and follow me instantly to Saint George's Mount. Tell him the King's fever has left his blood and settled in his brain."
Imperfectly heard, and still more imperfectly comprehended, by the startled attendant whom De Vaux addressed thus hastily, the equerry and his fellow-servants of the royal chamber rushed hastily into the tents of the neighbouring nobility, and quickly spread an alarm, as general as the cause seemed vague, through the whole British forces. The English soldiers, waked in alarm from that noonday rest which the heat of the climate had taught them to enjoy as a luxury, hastily asked each other the cause of the tumult, and without waiting an answer, supplied by the force of their own fancy the want of information. Some said the Saracens were in the camp, some that the King's life was attempted, some that he had died of the fever the preceding night, many that he was assassinated by the Duke of Austria. The nobles and officers, at an equal loss with the common men? to ascertain the real cause of the disorder, laboured only to get their followers under arms and under authority, lest their rashness should occasion some great misfortune to the Crusading army. The English trumpets sounded loud, shrill, and continuously. The alarm-cry of "Bows and bills, bows and bills!" was heard from quarter to quarter, again and again shouted, and again and again answered by the presence of the ready warriors, and their national invocation, "Saint George for merry England!"
The alarm went through the nearest quarter of the camp, and men of all the various nations assembled, where, perhaps, every people in Christendom had their representatives, flew to arms, and drew together under circumstances of general confusion, of which they knew neither the cause nor the object. It was, however, lucky, amid a scene so threatening, that the Earl of Salisbury, while he hurried after De Vaux's summons with a few only of the readiest English men-at-arms, directed the rest of the English host to be drawn up and kept under arms, to advance to Richard's succour if necessity should require, but in fit array and under due command, and not with the tumultuary haste which their own alarm and zeal for the King's safety might have dictated.
In the meanwhile, without regarding for one instant the shouts, the cries, the tumult which began to thicken around him, Richard, with his dress in the last disorder, and his sheathed blade under his arm, pursued his way with the utmost speed, followed only by De Vaux and one or two household servants, to Saint George's Mount.
He outsped even the alarm which his impetuosity only had excited, and passed the quarter of his own gallant troops of Normandy, Poitou, Gascony, and Anjou before the disturbance had reached them, although the noise accompanying the German revel had induced many of the soldiery to get on foot to listen. The handful of Scots were also quartered in the vicinity, nor had they been disturbed by the uproar. But the King's person and his haste were both remarked by the Knight of the Leopard, who, aware that danger must be afoot, and hastening to share in it, snatched his shield and sword, and united himself to De Vaux, who with some difficulty kept pace with his impatient and fiery master. De Vaux answered a look of curiosity, which the Scottish knight directed towards him, with a shrug of his broad shoulders, and they continued, side by side, to pursue Richard's steps.
The King was soon at the foot of Saint George's Mount, the sides as well as platform of which were now surrounded and crowded, partly by those belonging to the Duke of Austria's retinue, who were celebrating, with shouts of jubilee, the act which they considered as an assertion of national honour; partly by bystanders of different nations, whom dislike to the English, or mere curiosity, had assembled together to witness the end of these extraordinary proceedings. Through this disorderly troop Richard burst his way, like a goodly ship under full sail, which cleaves her forcible passage through the rolling billows, and heeds not that they unite after her passage and roar upon her stern.
The summit of the eminence was a small level space, on which were pitched the rival banners, surrounded still by the Archduke's friends and retinue. In the midst of the circle was Leopold himself, still contemplating with self-satisfaction the deed he had done, and still listening to the shouts of applause which his partisans bestowed with no sparing breath. While he was in this state of self-gratulation, Richard burst into the circle, attended, indeed, only by two men, but in his own headlong energies an irresistible host.
"Who has dared," he said, laying his hands upon the Austrian standard, and speaking in a voice like the sound which precedes an earthquake--"Who has dared to place this paltry rag beside the banner of England?"
The Archduke wanted not personal courage, and it was impossible he could hear this question without reply. Yet so much was he troubled and surprised by the unexpected arrival of Richard, and affected by the general awe inspired by his ardent and unyielding character, that the demand was twice repeated, in a tone which seemed to challenge heaven and earth, ere the Archduke replied, with such firmness as he could command, "It was I, Leopold of Austria."
"Then shall Leopold of Austria," replied Richard, "presentry see the rate at which his banner and his pretensions are held by Richard of England."
So saying, he pulled up the standard-spear, splintered it to pieces, threw the banner itself on the ground, and placed his foot upon it.
"Thus," said he," I trample on the banner of Austria. Is there a knight among your Teutonic chivalry dare impeach my deed?"
There was a momentary silence; but there are no braver men than the Germans.
"I," and "I," and "I," was heard from several knights of the Duke"s followers; and he himself added his voice to those which accepted the King of England's defiance.
"Why do we daily thus?" said the Earl Wallenrode, a gigantic warrior from the frontiers of Hungary. "Brethren and noble gentlemen, this man's foot is on the honour of your country--let us rescue it from violation, and down with the pride of England!"
So saying, he drew his sword, and struck at the King a blow which might have proved fatal, had not the Scot intercepted and caught it upon his shield.
"I have sworn," said King Richard--and his voice was heard above all the tumult, which now waxed wild and loud--"never to strike one whose shoulder bears the cross; therefore live, Wallenrode --but live to remember Richard of England."
As he spoke, he grasped the tall Hungarian round the waist, and, unmatched in wrestling, as in other military exercises, hurled him backwards with such violence that the mass flew as if discharged from a military engine, not only through the ring of spectators who witnessed the extraordinary scene, but over the edge of the mount itself, down the steep side of which Wallenrode rolled headlong, until, pitching at length upon his shoulder, he dislocatcd the bone, and lay like one dead. This almost supernatural display of strength did not encourage either the Duke or any of his followers to renew a personal contest so inauspiciously commenced. Those who stood farthest back did, indeed, clash their swords, and cry out, "Cut the island mastiff to pieces!" but those who were nearer veiled, perhaps, their personal fears under an affected regard for order, and cried, for the most part, "Peace! Peace! the peace of the Cross--the peace of Holy Church and our Father the Pope!"
These various cries of the assailants, contradicting each other, showed their irresolution; while Richard, his foot still on the archducal banner, glared round him with an eye that seemed to seek an enemy, and from which the angry nobles shrunk appalled, as from the threatened grasp of a lion. De Vaux and the Knight of the Leopard kept their places beside him; and though the swords which they held were still sheathed, it was plain that they were prompt to protect Richard's person to the very last, and their size and remarkable strength plainly showed the defence would be a desperate one.
Salisbury and his attendants were also now drawing near, with bills and partisans brandished, and bows already bended.
At this moment King Philip of France, attended by one or two of his nobles, came on the platform to inquire the cause of the disturbance, and made gestures of surprise at finding the King of England raised from his sick-bed, and confronting their common ally, the Duke of Austria, in such a menacing and insulting posture. Richard himself blushed at being discovered by Philip, whose sagacity he respected as much as he disliked his person, in an attitude neither becoming his character as a monarch, nor as a Crusader; and it was observed that he withdrew his foot, as if accidentally, from the dishonoured banner, and exchanged his look of violent emotion for one of affected composure and indifference. Leopold also struggled to attain some degree of calmness, mortified as he was by having been seen by Philip in the act of passively submitting to the insults of the fiery King of England.
Possessed of many of those royal qualities for which he was termed by his subjects the August, Philip might be termed the Ulysses, as Richard was indisputably the Achilles, of the Crusade. The King of France was sagacious, wise, deliberate in council, steady and calm in action, seeing clearly, and steadily pursuing, the measures most for the interest of his kingdom --dignified and royal in his deportment, brave in person, but a politician rather than a warrior. The Crusade would have been no choice of his own; but the spirit was contagious, and the expedition was enforced upon him by the church, and by the unanimous wish of his nobility. In any other situation, or in a milder age, his character might have stood higher than that of the adventurous Coeur de Lion. But in the Crusade, itself an undertaking wholly irrational, sound reason was the quality of all others least estimated, and the chivalric valour which both the age and the enterprise demanded was considered as debased if mingled with the least touch of discretion. So that the merit of Philip, compared with that of his haughty rival, showed like the clear but minute flame of a lamp placed near the glare of a huge, blazing torch, which, not possessing half the utility, makes ten times more impression on the eye. Philip felt his inferiority in public opinion with the pain natural to a high-spirited prince; and it cannot be wondered at if he took suck opportunities as offered for placing his own character in more advantageous contrast with that of his rival. The present seemed one of those occasions in which prudence and calmness might reasonably expect to triumph over obstinacy and impetuous violence.
"What means this unseemly broil betwixt the sworn brethren of the Cross--the royal Majesty of England and the princely Duke Leopold? How is it possible that those who are the chiefs and pillars of this holy expedition--"
"A truce with thy remonstrance, France," said Richard, enraged inwardly at finding himself placed on a sort of equality with Leopold, yet not knowing how to resent it. "This duke, or prince, or pillar, if you will, hath been insolent, and I have chastised him--that is all. Here is a coil, forsooth, because of spurning a hound!"
"Majesty of France," said the Duke, "I appeal to you and every sovereign prince against the foul indignity which I have sustained. This King of England hath pulled down my banner-torn and trampled on it."
"Because he had the audacity to plant it beside mine," said Richard.
"My rank as thine equal entitled me," replied the Duke, emboldened by the presence of Philip.
"Assert such equality for thy person," said King Richard, "and, by Saint George, I will treat thy person as I did thy broidered kerchief there, fit but for the meanest use to which kerchief may be put."
"Nay, but patience, brother of England," said Philip, "and I will presently show Austria that he is wrong in this matter.--Do not think, noble Duke," he continued, "that, in permitting the standard of England to occupy the highest point in our camp, we, the independent sovereigns of the Crusade, acknowledge any inferiority to the royal Richard. It were inconsistent to think so, since even the Oriflamme itself--the great banner of France, to which the royal Richard himself, in respect of his French possessions, is but a vassal--holds for the present an inferior place to the Lions of England. But as sworn brethren of the Cross, military pilgrims, who, laying aside the pomp and pride of this world, are hewing with our swords the way to the Holy Sepulchre, I myself, and the other princes, have renounced to King Richard, from respect to his high renown and great feats of arms, that precedence which elsewhere, and upon other motives, would not have been yielded. I am satisfied that, when your royal grace of Austria shall have considered this, you will express sorrow for having placed your banner on this spot, and that the royal Majesty of England will then give satisfaction for the insult he has offered."
The spruch-sprecher and the jester had both retired to a safe distance when matters seemed coming to blows; but returned when words, their own commodity, seemed again about to become the order of the day.
The man of proverbs was so delighted with Philip's politic speech that he clashed his baton at the conclusion, by way of emphasis, and forgot the presence in which he was, so far as to say aloud that he himself had never said a wiser thing in his life.
"It may be so," whispered Jonas Schwanker, "but we shall be whipped if you speak so loud."
"The Duke answered sullenly that he would refer his quarrel to the General Council of the Crusade--a motion which Philip highly applauded, as qualified to take away a scandal most harmful to Christendom.
Richard, retaining the same careless attitude, listened to Philip until his oratory seemed exhausted, and then said aloud, "I am drowsy--this fever hangs about me still. Brother of France, thou art acquainted with my humour, and that I have at all times but few words to spare. Know, therefore, at once, I will submit a matter touching the honour of England neither to Prince, Pope, nor Council. Here stands my banner--whatsoever pennon shall be reared within three butts' length of it--ay, were it the Oriflamme, of which you were, I think, but now speaking--shall be treated as that dishonoured rag; nor will I yield other satisfaction than that which these poor limbs can render in the lists to any bold challenge--ay, were it against five champions instead of one."
"Now," said the jester, whispering his companion, "that is as complete a piece of folly as if I myself had said it; but yet, I think, there may be in this matter a greater fool than Richard yet."
"And who may that be?" asked the man of wisdom.
"Philip," said the jester, "or our own Royal Duke, should either accept the challenge. But oh, most sage spruch-specher, what excellent kings wouldst thou and I have made, since those on whose heads these crowns have fallen can play the proverb-monger and the fool as completely as ourselves!"
While these worthies plied their offices apart, Philip answered calmly to the almost injurious defiance of Richard, "I came not hither to awaken fresh quarrels, contrary to the oath we have sworn, and the holy cause in which we have engaged. I part from my brother of England as brothers should part, and the only strife between the Lions of England and the Lilies of France shall be which shall be carried deepest into the ranks of the infidels."
"It is a bargain, my royal brother," said Richard, stretching out his hand with all the frankness which belonged to his rash but generous disposition; "and soon may we have the opportunity to try this gallant and fraternal wager."
"Let this noble Duke also partake in the friendship of this happy moment," said Philip; and the Duke approached half-sullenly, half-willing to enter into some accommodation.
"I think not of fools, nor of their folly," said Richard carelessly; and the Archduke, turning his back on him, withdrew from the ground.
Richard looked after him as he retired.
"There is a sort of glow-worm courage," he said, "that shows only by night. I must not leave this banner unguarded in darkness; by daylight the look of the Lions will alone defend it. Here, Thomas of Gilsland, I give thee the charge of the standard--watch over the honour of England."
"Her safety is yet more dear to me," said De Vaux, "and the life of Richard is the safety of England. I must have your Highness back to your tent, and that without further tarriance."
"Thou art a rough and peremptory nurse, De Vaux," said the king, smiling; and then added, addressing Sir Kenneth, "Valiant Scot, I owe thee a boon, and I will pay it richly. There stands the banner of England! Watch it as novice does his armour on the night before he is dubbed. Stir not from it three spears' length, and defend it with thy body against injury or insult. Sound thy bugle if thou art assailed by more than three at once. Dost thou undertake the charge?"
"Willingly," said Kenneth; "and will discharge it upon penalty of my head. I will but arm me, and return hither instantly."
The Kings of France and England then took formal leave of each other, hiding, under an appearance of courtesy, the grounds of complaint which either had against the other--Richard against Philip, for what he deemed an officious interference betwixt him and Austria, and Philip against Coeur de Lion, for the disrespectful manner in which his mediation had been received. Those whom this disturbance had assembled now drew off in different directions, leaving the contested mount in the same solitude which had subsisted till interrupted by the Austrian bravado. Men judged of the events of the day according to their partialities, and while the English charged the Austrian with having afforded the first ground of quarrel, those of other nations concurred in casting the greater blame upon the insular haughtiness and assuming character of Richard.
"Thou seest," said the Marquis of Montserrat to the Grand Master of the Templars, "that subtle courses are more effective than violence. I have unloosed the bonds which held together this bunch of sceptres and lances--thou wilt see them shortly fall asunder."
"I would have called thy plan a good one," said the Templar, "had there been but one man of courage among yonder cold-blooded Austrians to sever the bonds of which you speak with his sword. A knot that is unloosed may again be fastened, but not so the cord which has been cut to pieces."