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another night might overtake him, without his reaching the goal of his desires, namely, “La Table Ronde," with its accompanying chivalric sports of the Baron Mortimer, at which his sovereign Lord Edward the First was to preside, and assisted by the beauteous Alice, daughter of his noble host, to award to the successful knights of the Tourney and the Joust the well-earned meed of victory. Having pronounced a benediction upon the invisible beings who had been so bountiful to him during his sleep, the Knight of the Plumeless Helm clapped spurs to his steed, and accompanied by his faithful attendant, trotted away
from the scene of his late mysterious adventure.
His fears with respect to his being under the influence of some more than mortal power, were dispelled long ere sunrise ; for, by that time, he had crossed more than one running stream, which, as is well known, was the infallible test of all Elfin spells. For many a weary mile our travellers continued their course over verdant fields and barren moors, without meeting with any thing by which they might ascertain if they were in the right or in the wrong road. At length, however, about the hour of noon, they found themselves, to their no small joy, upon the king's
's highway, the broken and shattered state of which bore ample testimony to the great traffic which it had very recently experienced. “Ha! ha!” ejaculated the knight, delighted with the discovery, .by our lady's sepulchre, but we've found the road at last! and if I can read these footprints aright, the place we are in search of lies yonder, to the left." This remark was accompanied with a corresponding motion on the part of both “ man and horse.' The former rising in his stirrups, adjusted himself afresh, and pricked the latter into a more sprightly pace; an example which his juvenile squire, who now no longer acted in the responsible capacity of guide, was not slow to follow.
The hope-inspired surmise, that they were now drawing near to their journey's end, tended materially to increase their speed, and infused fresh life into their drooping frames. After continuing in their new line of march about half an hour, the well-trained steed of the Gascon knight stopped short for a moment in his course, pricking up at the same time his attentive ears, in token of their having recognised some familiar and congenial sounds, although hitherto his equally attentive rider had not distinguished any note sufficiently spirit-stirring to affect the exquisitively sensitive feelings of knighthood; but he had considerable faith in the ears of his Rosinante, and therefore prepared himself for the long sought rencontre. Unstimulated either by whip or spur, the latter mended his pace, and thereby forced the shorter legged palfrey of Eric into a brisk canter. In a short time our hero was gladdened with the sight of the advance-guard pennon, near which a rude barrier was thrown across the road, and obstructed his farther advance.
“ Whither bound?” demanded the rough voice of a stalwart yeoman, whose badge of service bespoke him to be of the king's household. “To the Tourney," was the laconic reply. “ Then know, sir knight, that thou canst not pass this road to day, unless thou resolvest to contest the passage of arms with England's doughtiest knights."
“ I thank thee for the intelligence," replied the fairy-favoured lord of the shield and lance; but I fear them not. Remove the barrier.” Such an adventure was, indeed, of all others, what Gaston de Biern most
66 But the race
ardently wished for ; and accordingly, as soon as the obstruction was removed, he proceeded on his way.
Scarcely had he cleared this advance-guard barrier, when his ear was assailed by a loud flourish of trumpets, indicating evidently some movement among the assembled chivalry; this was occasioned, as he afterwards ascertained, by the departure of that personage whose
presence he most courted—the king of England ! Edward, willing to confer a mark of honour upon his princely entertainer, had vested in him, for the remainder of the day, the office of judge of the knightly contests, while he himself retired from the bustle of the lists, to the quiet of the royal pavilion, from which place the spot selected for the passage of arms was distant about five miles. In a few minutes our hero reached the pendant shields of the six champions, who had undertaken its defence against all comers. As the blazonry of the whole was alike unknown to him, he directed the point of his lance to the first on the row. Five golden lozenges upon a field gules, informed the learned in the science of heraldry, that it belonged to the descendant of the renowned conqueror of Brecknock, Bernard Newmarch, uterine brother of the still more renowned conqueror of England. Roger Newmarch, its present possessor, was a young knight of great promise and increasing fame, and who had, in the sports of the preceding day, been thrice declared victor. is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong !"
The Gascon's choice was speedily made ; he was hailed by the loud and simultaneous shouts of his gallant compeers, who were all anxious to put their valour to the proof. The tilting ground was forthwith cleared the gorgeously arrayed heralds gave voice to their glory-breathing clarions, whilst the squire of the Norman knight reached down from its exalted station, the challenging shield of his lord and master !
Every thing was speedily arranged, and the noble Mortimer having taken his seat, the marshal of the course summoned the combatants to prepare themselves to put their courage and skill to the test of practice. The odds were decidedly against our adventurer; for, besides being unknown, he was encumbered with the heavy arms of real warfare, while his rival for renown glittered in the lighter and more splendid habiliments of the tourney. But though aware of his disadvantage in this respect, he refused the offer of the marshal to furnish him with arms and armour better suited to the nature of his present emprise ; and, the protecting cronal having been properly fixed to the point of his lance, he took his appointed stand, to await the necessary signal, with all the proud and graceful bearing of an experienced knight. Anon the trumpets sounded the charge, and the jousters dashed forward with gallant impetuosity. By an unfortunate stumble of our hero's steed, his lance missed its object, and the first course consequently redounded to the honour of his antagonist. Not so the next; for while he skilfully avoided the romance thrust of the Norman spear, his own well-directed stroke came in contact with the corslet of the latter, and the loser of the first, was declared the victor of the second course. The trumpets now sounded the third and last charge ; and fortune again declared in his favour. With rare, but truly chivalrous dexterity, he broke away the rest of his opponent's lance, which thereby swerving from its direct line struck him traversewise, and was broken upon the bow of his saddle.
“. Bon coup, Sir Knight of the Plumeless Helm !” exclaimed the marshal and the officers at arms, and the cry was triumphantly echoed by all, save the partisans and attendants of the vanquished Newmarch. The heart of young Eric bounded for joy, and his voice was raised to its highest pitch in swelling the chorus of his master's praise.
Sir Gaston de Biern seemed, indeed, the only person who was not affected by the issue of the encounter. He kept his seat, unmoved, waiting till the bustle had subsided; when again advancing to the pendant shields, he guided his rocketed spear to that of Sir Gerhard Neville, a knight of untarnished reputation in the annals at least of real, if not of chivalric contests. With soldier-like alacrity, Sir Gerhard prepared to meet his unknown challenger; but in the conflict was equally unfortunate with his predecessor. Victory the second time also declaring in favour of our hero, who twice more contended for the honour of passing the imaginary barrier, and with equal success. Again he rode up to the two remaining shields, one of which he was about to touch, when the judge of the lists flung down his warder, and announced that the passage of arms had already been won by the Knight of the Plumeless Helm !
This event produced no small commotion among the lords of the shield and lance, and a thousand guesses were formed as to who the stranger knight could be, not one of which as may readily be supposed proved correct. The herald solicited his name, but in vain. The conqueror determined upon remaining incognito if possible, until the result of the next day's adventures would, he hoped, enable him to declare himself to some purpose. He, however, refused not the seat assigned him by the lord of Kenilworth near those of his glory-seeking companions, in which with his loyal and delighted page he spent the night, whilst his less successful rivals crowded round the romantic table of their noble host, each eagerly asserting the superior beauty of his lady love, or vowing to remove, on the morrow, the foul stain which the shield of English knighthood had received from an unknown lance.
The morrow came, and with it all the din of preparation for the next and most important act of the tournament. With the first appearance of dawn, the ropes which parted the lists were tightened, and the pages and squires were actively employed in passing to and fro, and in making the necessary arrangements for the coming display. As the regent of day advanced on his celestial course, the voice of the trumpet summoned the spectators to their places; princes and nobles came forth at its bidding, apparelled in all the magnificence of crimson and gold; while ladies, “ beautiful as the sun,” and smiling as a morning of May, proved equally obedient to the well known call. First among the fair ones came the bright-eyed Alice, accompanied by her noble sire and his royal guest.
" La Reine de Beauté et des amours" took her seat beneath a splendid canopy of crimson tapestry, the brilliancy of whose hues reflected a rosy tinge upon her otherwise pallid complexion-she appeared in some degree indisposed; her eye-the soul's true indexthough naturally sparkling and bright, even to a proverb, was wanting in both lustre and vivacity. There was, indeed, a lack of spirit in her whole air, indicating some inward feeling at variance with outward appearances; which, however, was not much to be wondered at, seeing
that, where so many were contending for the honour of her hand, it might so happen that she would be required, in consonance with the spirit of the age, to bestow it upon one, while her affections were placed upon another.
Upon the right hand of the fair daughter of Sir Roger Mortimer, stood the dauntless king of England; to the point of whose lance was attached the crimson pennon of the Queen of Beauty, denoting its present possessor to be, the Knight of Honour. Upon a signal given by this badge of indisputable authority, the heralds blew their trumpets, and the pursuivants at arms commanded the anxious knights to “ come forth !” Immediately the lists presented as proud and gorgeous display as was ever feigned by the wildest of oriental fancies, with all its splendid and romantic adjuncts of genii and enchanters to boot. The gallant aspirants for fame passed in review before the throne, bowing, as they were in duty bound to do, to her by whom it was occupied, and from whose fair hand each hoped to receive, ere long, the meed of victory. Like compliments were also paid by the knights to the more immediate objects of their choice, who, ranged in “burning rows,” in the well-constructed amphitheatre above, watched with anxious solicitude the movements of their chivalric worshippers ; and by the soulinspiring glances of their eyes, urged them to the performance of deeds of noble daring. But among all the proud and glittering champions who appeared in the lists, the Knight of Honour sought in vain for the wearer of the Plumeless Helm, the tale of whose achievements on the preceding day had reached the royal ear, clothed in the glowing colours of exaggeration and romance. But while Edward was excited by curiosity alone, the breasts of others were agitated by hope and fear, and many a keen eye was turned, through the loop-hole of the basinet, towards the tent of the mysterious stranger, into which courtesy and the laws of knighthood forbade an entrance. Fortunately, we are possessed of the very cap which the love-sick Hassan pilfered from the quarrelsome urchins of the renowned island of Wakwak*, and therefore, being under no necessity of observing these punctilious regulations, we can enter the tent without fear of detection.
“ How goes the field ?” inquired its noble tenant of his page, squire, and messenger—for Eric was each and all by turns, and replied to the question of his master with becoming brevity.
“ The spectators already crowd the scaffolding.-The Queen of Beauty hath taken her seat-upon her left stands her sire, the brave Lord Mortimer, while on her right the king waves the pennon of the Knight of Honour. Below, in the lists, all is bustle and array--the impatient knights have already bowed before the throne, and I left them arranging themselves for the encounter; so that in a short time the trumpets will doubtless sound for the onset.”
As the last words passed his lips the martial peal was heard; whereat our hero, starting from his seat, was about to poise his formidable spear ; but his faithful squire interposed. “ Not so, not so, my lord—the marshal hath sent to the Knight of the Plumeless Helm weapons better suited to the courteous assaults of the tourney, and requests him to
* See New Arabian Nights, vol. 2. The Tale of “ Hassan of Bassora.”
lay aside the sword and lance of battle-field, and enter the lists armed with these glaives courtois.”
Here the speaker presented him with a sword and lance duly prepared for the bloodless sports which it was intended should be performed; but instead of receiving them he laid his hand upon the hilt of his own trusty falchion, and exclaimed, “ No, by our lady's footstool! I will not change my Vraiacier for the best glaive in Christendom! Thinkest thou, boy, the Elfin spirits by whom it was restored, intended I should part with it so lightly ?-Yet, stay! 'twere best, perhaps, I should first be sure that 'tis indeed my own good sword.”—And so saying, he drew the beaming weapon from its sheath, and proved its mettle against the oaken pillar upon which his arms had hung during the night. At one stroke it severed in twain the opposing substance, hard as it was, with as much ease as the falchion of Velint—the thrice-tempered Meinung, divided the floating bale of wool. After which, our knight returned it to its scabbard, fully satisfied of its identity.
The bustle and shouting which almost instantly followed the clarion's spirit-stirring notes, announced to Sir Gaston de Biern that the moment of trial was at hand. “ Away, my pretty page,” said he, “and bring hither my steed.-Quick, quick, for the jousters will close in an instant." Eric bounded off like a roe to execute his master's bidding—though altogether at a loss to conceive what motives could possibly have induced him thus to delay his appearance in the lists until the contest had begun. But this was evidently nothing more than a cunning manæuvre to escape the inquisitive eye of his offended sovereign, which he could not have done had he mingled with the combatants ere the tumult and confusion, necessary to the most orderly conducted conflict, had commenced. When informed that his courser was waiting, he hastened to the entrance of his pavilion, armed with the blunted lance; thus in part complying with the wish of the marshal, and the courteous laws of chivalry; while his good sword still hung beside him. He now vaulted into the saddle, and caracoled his steed to the barrier, within which he was immediately admitted; when, dressing his lance to its rest, he dashed forward into the very thickest of the melée, while the loud shouts of the spectators gave notice to those more actively engaged, of the presence of the Knight of the Plumeless Helm ; and, mingling with the braying of the martial music, and the din of the mail-clad combatants, produced an uproar which made the very welkin ring again.
“ By our sword and sceptre !” said the king, addressing his noble host, “but yonder knight bears himself gallantly.—See! see, my Lord ! -By St. George he'll unhorse our favourite—and thy future son-inlaw.—There, my brave Mortimer, said I not so !”
The monarch was, indeed, right—Sir Gaston de Biern having succeeded in overthrowing his antagonist, though the doughtiest knight in the lists; and one whose prowess and good fortune had often been the theme of minstrel song in hall and lady's bower. Some over-ruling power appeared, however, upon the present occasion, to have directed him in the selection of the lance which of all others he had most reason to shun, and the knight whom he had most deeply injured ; for the vauquished warrior proved to be no other than John de Langeville, the