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rival of our hero's early love, and the original cause of his late long and painful imprisonment.
When the Knight of the Emerald Shield (so called from the cognizance of its lord's being a hart lodged on a field, vert) was borne so unexpectedly to the ground, a shout partaking more of surprise than either of applause or disapprobation burst simultaneously from the dense throng of spectators, and so startled many of the less-experienced combatants, who were too intent upon their own adventures to pay much attention to those of others, that it became absolutely necessary to suspend the conflict. The Knight of Honour accordingly gave the requisite signal, and the cry of “ à l'ostelle, à l'ostelle,” was so effectually raised by the well-practised heralds and officers at arms, that the most ardent and impetuous paused in their career, and retired to their respective stations. The Baron Mortimer started forward to the front of the scaffolding, and even his fair daughter could not refrain from advancing a few steps to ascertain by occular demonstration if her intended “ lord and master” had indeed been vanquished, as well as perhaps to obtain a glimpse of the fortunate victor.
De Langeville's fall was more dishonourable than dangerous, yet the sudden and unusual shock so stunned his bodily and mental powers, that he was borne by his friends, among the most active of whom was Mortimer, into an adjoining tent in a state of comparative insensibility, while his victorious rival was forced by those around him into the presence of the King of England and the Queen of Beauty, before whose exalted throne he bowed in token of dutiful obeisance, without, however, removing from his head the casque which had become so distinguished for the valour and prowess of its wearer, and so talked of for its own singularity.
“ Sir Knight of the Plumeless Helm,” said the royal judge, “ welcome to the lists of Kenilworth! Thrice welcome, though the flower of English chivalry hath fallen beneath thy lance! Knowest thou whom thou hast vanquished ?"
“ John de Langeville,” replied the conqueror, “ a false and craven knight, as I will prove to the utterance! There lies my gage !” and so saying, he flung down his gauntlet.
Edward was surprised at the apparent audacity and boldness of the knight, at the same time that he admired his bravery and prowess, and would fain have urged him to revoke his challenge ; but as consistently with his knightly character he could not dictate to a brother in arms, he referred to the lady arbitress to know whether or not it was her good will and pleasure to permit a challenge à l'outrance to be given or received within the limits of her jurisdiction. Though the beauteous Alice, 'tis true, was unprepared for this appeal, she betrayed greater agitation when called upon to pronounce judgment upon the point than could fairly be supposed to have arisen from an occurrence by no means uncommon in those days of tilts and tournaments, when the word of woman was in very many cases the only law to which man paid a willing obedience.
“Let not the pastimes of peace, Sir King, be turned into those of war !" was her laconic reply, but it was imperative; and with this sove
reign message the Knight of Honour returned to the challenger, but he returned too late to effect its peaceful purpose. Whilst he parleyed with La Reine, some over-officious friend of Sir John de Langeville had taken
the gage, and carried it to the challenged hero, who having partly recovered from his stupor, and finding himself uninjured by his late fall, swore by the faith and honour of a knight 'to accept the cartel. He accordingly commanded his armorial ensign to be removed from the entrance of his tent, and dispatched an esquire with his mortal defiance to the Knight of the Plumeless Helm. All attempts at pacification being now at an end, it only remained to announce the names of the combatants, and to prepare for the perilous engagement.
In compliance with the demand of the herald to be furnished with his name, the Gascon hero, as he slowly unlaced his helmet and removed it from his head, gave the required information.“ Gaston de Biern," said he,-“ Gaston de Biern?" repeated the king, in an interrogative tone of mingled anger and surprise. The name acted like a talisman, and “ Gaston de Biern” was re-echoed by the surrounding chivalry with similar expressions of wonder and astonishment, while, from the lips of a few, the ominous exclamation of “ treason” escaped.
“ Treason by the rood !” exclaimed Edward ; “ but it shall never be said of King Henry's son that he sheltered his sovereignty behind the shield of his knighthood." Then, with a look and air of kingly haughtiness, he addressed himself to the knight : “ Gaston de Biern, the lists are free for you to combat in!”
“ Nay, but my liege,” rejoined the latter, “ 'tis not enough; as a victor in the tournament and joust I claim a boon !” Edward waved his pennon in token for the speaker to proceed, and he did so. long years, my liege, have I been imprisoned under the foul, false charge of treason. Sir John de Langeville knows the charge is false ; and this good sword shall force him to confess ere long that it was he alone provoked me to rebellion, or if it does not, let me die degraded and disgraced ! But ere I stake my life to this adventure, I would fain know if ’mid the throng of beauty which I see, there be not one at least that will grant me her support? My liege, there was a bright-eyed damsel once whose love I won, as this long-cherished pledge can testify; I would now restore it her if she mistrusts the justness of my cause.
Come hither, boy: go, bear this jewel to the Queen of Beauty !”
At these words the watchful Eric stepped forward to receive the ring which his master held forth to him, and advancing to the fair judge of the lists, laid it at her feet. The lovely Alice, who, while the foregoing colloquy was held, became so agitated as to require the utmost exertions of her fair friends and attendants to prevent her from being overpowered by her emotions, received the profered relic, and kissing it with all the devotion and enthusiasm of true and unalterable love, restored it again to the page, and immediately concealed her blushing countenance in her richly-wrought kerchief, while the overjoyed knight received the pledge, and retired, unquestioned and uninterrupted from the throng of his chivalrous companions, who were too much surprised at what they beheld to do aught save gaze in silence at their fortunate brother in arms. There was, indeed, no small cause for surprise ; and all were equally at a loss to conceive what could possibly have induced
" For eight the plighted bride of Sir John De Langeville to bestow so distinguishing and so unequivocal a mark of her affection upon the man who in a short time was to meet him in the deadly rencontre.
The officers at arms soon however aroused the champions from their stupor, by commanding them to withdraw, in order that they might prepare the lists for the approaching combat ; and during the interval they were so occupied conjecture was busy as to its probable results.
The Lord Mortimer, altogether unable to account for his daughter's late conduct, and indignant at seeing his parental authority so little regarded, expostulated with the agitated maiden in no very knightly terms : unrestrained even by the presence of royalty itself, and swore by à Becket's shrine, that if any harm happened to the knight whom he had selected for her future Lord, “ he would send her forthwith to a nunnery!" She herself was alike insensible to his menaces and his anger; and many a gallant scion of chivalry laughed in his sleeve at the enraged baron, well knowing that the bright-eyed Alice would never be long immured in a convent's walls, while so many brave lords of the lance and sword were ready and anxious to devote both to her service.
By the hour of noon the necessary arrangements were completed ; and the amphitheatre became thronged with silent or with whispering spectators, all equally desirous and impatient to behold the display of true courage and knightly skill which was about to take place. As the contest was to be for life or death, many a timid damsel avoided the scene where it was to take place : among others, Alice Mortimer, though the most interested in its issue, quitted not her chamber; many a little foot page, however, took his station near the dais, in order to convey from time to time to his half-hoping, half-despairing lady the intelligence of what was passing without. King Edward presided in the judgment seat: while the restless Lord of Kenilworth now held a momentary parley with the marshal, and anon hastened to encourage his chosen knight, who was already cased in full panoply of steel and brass, and curbed in with difficulty his fiery steed, which impatient as its rider for the onset, pawed the level ground and covered its gilded bit with snow white foam.
The martial trump was at length heard, and with its first note the Lord of the Emerald Shield bounded into the lists, and was loudly cheered by his friends and fellow nobles, as well as by all the gentles of the land. His early appearance inspired them with confidence, and occasioned his late defeat to be for the time almost forgotten; whilst, on the other hand, the tardiness of his rival's coming, augured but little in his favour. The trumpet, indeed, had brayed forth its last notes ere Sir Gaston thought proper to enter the arena. His appearance had undergone no alteration, save that the lance of the courteous tourney had been exchanged for the tough spear with which on the preceding day he had overcome the brave and knightly defenders of the passage of arms; and that the bridle arm displayed his invulnerable and fairy-polished shield !
Expectation beamed in every eye, and silence fung a mystic charm round the scene, which the monarch's signal dissipated a moment. The onset note was sounded the ropes were severed, and the combatants dashed forward in true knightly style. In the twinkling of an eye they met, but the shock was issueless ; each having at the same instant, and
16 Thine was
with equal skill, warded off his antagonist's lance, neither could boast of any advantage. The second course likewise only served to display the scientific dexterity of the assailants. For the third time they dressed their lances to their rests, and gave their steeds the rein. The shield of our hero was again impenetrable, but that of his opponent proving false, gave free passage to the well-aimed thrust of the Gascon, and was fairly pinned to the corslet of its lord, who was also borne from his seat by the superior strength and prowess of his foe. As he fell upon the soft sand he received little or no injury by the fall, and recovered himself in an instant; while the cheering cry of “ Honour to the sons of the brave” bursting forth from the assembled thousands inspired him with fresh vigour. The Knight of the Plumeless Helm dismounting, flung away his shield and advanced to meet his half-conquered rival, whose bright sword was already“ beating the empty air” in token of proud defiance. The struggle on foot proved long and desperate ; but was at last terminated by the fairy-gifted glaive, the Vraiacier, forcing its way through the brazen helmet of De Langeville, and, cleaving it in an oblique direction, it penetrated with the same blow through the shoulder greaves, and by the wound it made entirely disabled his sword arm from any further effort. The wounded knight at the same moment fell all his length upon the earth, and the blood flowed profusely from both his head and shoulder. The victor, with soldier-like alacrity unlaced his shattered helmet, and demanded as the price of life a confession of his guilt and treachery. Almost unconscious of what he did, Langeville complied with this demand :-“ Heaven was with thee,” he muttered : the better cause.”
Enough, I ask no more !” said Sir Gaston de Biern, and therewith withdrew the threatening falchion from the naked and defenceless throat of his vanquished enemy. Then turning away he presented himself before his sovereign and laid the sword of victory at his feet; while the squires and officers at arms bore off the bleeding knight to his pavilion, where the leeches were already in attendance to apply their healing balsams to his wounds.
The conqueror was hailed with the greetings of a thousand tongues, and the clangor of a thousand warlike instruments; but disregarding both, and intent upon the primary object of his journey to the round table of Kenilworth, he hastened to lay his plumeless helm near his Vraiacier, before the throne of the royal arbitrator of the chivalrous contests, and kneeling himself beside them, besought the pardon of his liege lord and master. Edward had a soul too noble and too princely, to cherish hatred or malice against a brother knight, or to allow any one to exceed him in an act of generosity. Rising therefore in his seat with a grace of port and bearing which proclaimed him
every inch a king,” he replied to the request of the suppliant hero“ Sir Gaston de Biern, we have done you wrong; but by the word and honour of a king, it shall be recompensed. What, ho! my lord of Mortimer! what sayest thou now to the Knight of the Plumeless Helm ? Seekest thou a braver son-in-law? Or wilt thou still bestow the hand of the Lady Alice upon the vanquished John de Langeville ?"
“ My liege," replied the proud, though now abashed baron, “ never, while I live, shall a false and craven knight, if I am aware of it, quarter his arms with those of Mortimer. The Lady Alice shall be free to choose.” This every one knew was making a virtue of necessity; for, after the demonstrative proof of affection given by the damsel herself not many hours before, her choice was a riddle already solved. And on being appealed to upon the subject, she made no scruple in declaring that her first-love should be her future lord.
At the banquet in the evening, our hero received from the hand of his betrothed bride, the rewards of valour which he had so well earned, and the next morning was blessed with the hand itself; his prince at the same time restored to him his hereditary possessions, and commanded that in future he should add to the quarterings of his shield a plumeless helm, in remembrance of the renown which he had that day acquired as its wearer.
Thus the sports of Kenilworth were concluded, as it was intended they should, by a bridal, though by an unexpected but fortunate accident the bridegroom was changed.
Young Eric was rewarded for his fidelity and attachment, by being made the favourite attendant upon the happy bride of his beloved master; who, returning to his native land, passed the residue of his days happily and honourably; and when gathered to his fathers, left a name behind him which shall endure till the waves of time wash away the glowing record of romantic chivalry, and with them the valorous achievements of the “ Knight of the Plumeless Helm.”
Ou! coldly on my breaking heart
The glance of stern unkindness falls,
And boding fear appals.
The friends who loved me,---where are they?
The good, the gen'rous, and the brave?
And others, once so kind, are changed,
Their features scatcely seem the same;
Their“ friendship but a name.”
Oh! why was I so fondly loved,
And cherished with such watchful care,
No eye looked coldly there.