Child Christopher - Chapter 26
XXVI. OF THE KING OF OAKENREALM
Even therewith, and while the last word had but come to Christopher's ears, rang out the voice of Jack of the Tofts again, louder and clearer than before: and he said: "Men in this hall, I bear you tidings! The King of Oakenrealm is amongst us to-night."
Then, forsooth, was the noise and the turmoil, and cries and shouts and clatter, and fists raised in air and weapons caught down from the wall, and the glitter of spear-points and gleam of fallow blades. For the name of Rolf, King of Oakenrealm, was to those woodmen as the name of the Great Devil of Hell, so much was he their unfriend and their dastard. But Jack raised up his hand, and cried: "Silence ye! Blow up, horns, The Hunt's Up!"
Blared out the horns then, strong and fierce, under the hall-roof, and when they were done, there was more silence in the hall than in the summer night without; only the voice of the swords could not be utterly still, but yet tinkled and rang as hard came against hard here and there in the hush.
Again spake Jack: "Let no man speak! Let no man move from his place! I SEE THE KING! Ye shall see him!"
Therewith he strode up the hall and on to the dais, and came up to where stood Christopher holding Goldilind's hand, and she all pale and trembling; but Jack took him by the shoulder, and turned him about toward a seat which stood before the board, so that all men in the hall could see it; then he set him down in it, and took his sword from his girdle, and knelt down before the young man, and took his right hand, and said in a loud voice: "I, Jack of the Tofts, a free man and a sackless, wrongfully beguilted, am the man of King Christopher of Oakenrealm, to live and die for him as need may be. Lo, Lord, my father's blade! Wilt thou be good to me and gird me therewith, as thy father girt him?"
Now when Christopher heard him, at first he deemed that all this was some sport or play done for his pastime and the pleasure of the hall-folk in all kindness and honour. But when he looked in the eyes of him, and saw him fierce and eager and true, he knew well it was no jest; and as the shouts of men went up from the hall and beat against the roof, himseemed that he remembered, as in a dream, folk talking a-nigh him when he was too little to understand, of a king and his son, and a mighty man turned thief and betrayer. Then his brow cleared, and his eyes shone bright, and he leaned forward to Jack and girt him with the sword, and kissed his mouth, and said: "Thou art indeed my man and my thane and my earl, and I gird thee with thy sword as my father girded thy father."
Then stood up Jack o' the Tofts and said: "Men in this hall, happy is the hour, and happy are ye! This man is the King of Oakenrealm, and he yonder is but a thief of kings, a dastard!"
And again great was the shouting, for carle and quean, young and old, they loved Christopher well: and Jack of the Tofts was not only their war-duke and alderman, but their wise man also, and none had any thought of gainsaying him. But he spake again and said: "Is there here any old man, or not so old, who hath of past days seen our King that was, King Christopher to wit, who fell in battle on our behalf? If so there be, let him come up hither."
Then arose a greybeard from a bench nigh the high-table, and came up on to the dais; a very tall man had he been, but was now somewhat bowed by age. He now knelt before Christopher, and took his hand, and said: "I, William of Whittenham, a free man, a knight, sackless of the guilt which is laid on me, would be thy man, O my lord King, to serve thee in all wise; if so be that I may live to strike one stroke for my master's son, whom now I see, the very living image of the King whom I served in my youth."
Then Christopher bent down to him and kissed him, and said: "Thou art indeed my man and my thane & my baron; and who knows but that thou mayst have many a stroke to strike for me in the days that are nigh at hand."
And again the people shouted: and then there came another and another, and ten more squires and knights and men of estate, who were now indeed woodmen and wolf-heads, but who, the worst of them, were sackless of aught save slaying an unfriend, or a friend's unfriend, in fair fight; and all these kneeled before him, and put their hands in his, and gave themselves unto him.
When this was done, there came thrusting through the throng of the hall a tall woman, old, yet comely as for her age; she went right up on to the dais, and came to where sat Christopher, and without more ado cast her arms about him and kissed him, and then she held him by the shoulders and cried out: "O, have I found thee at last, my loveling, and my dear, and my nurse-chick? and thou grown so lovely and yet so big that I may never more hold thee aloft in mine arms, as once I was wont; though high enough belike thou shalt be lifted; and I say praise be to God and to his Hallows that thou art grown so beauteous and mighty a man!"
Therewith she turned about toward the hall-throng and said: "Thou, duke of these woodmen, and all ye in this hall, I have been brought hither by one of you; and though I have well-nigh died of joy because of the suddenness of this meeting, yet I thank him therefor. For who is this goodly and gracious young man save the King's son of Oakenrealm, Christopher that was; and that to my certain knowledge; for he is my fosterling and my milk-child, and I took him from the hands of the midwife in the High House of Oakenham a twenty-one years ago; and they took him from Oakenham, and me with him to the house of Lord Richard the Lean, at Longholms, and there we dwelt; but in a little while they took him away from Longholms to I wot not whither, but would not suffer me to go along with him, and ever sithence have I been wandering about and hoping to see this lovely child again, and now I see him, what he is, and again I thank God and Allhallows therefor."
Once more then was there stir and glad tumult in the hall. But Goldilind stood wondering, and fear entered into her soul; for she saw before her a time of turmoil and unpeace, and there seemed too much between her and the sweetness of her love. Withal it must be said, that for as little as she knew of courts and war-hosts, she yet seemed to see lands without that hall, and hosts marching, and mighty walls glittering with spears, and the banners of a great King displayed; and Jack of the Tofts and his champions and good fellows seemed but a frail defence against all that, when once the hidden should be shown, and the scantiness of the woodland should cry on the abundance of the kingdom to bow down.
Now she came round the board and stood beside Christopher, and he turned to her, and stood up and took her hand, in such wise that she felt the caress of it; and joy filled her soul, as if she had been alone with him in the wild-wood.
But he spake and said: "All ye my friends: I see and wot well that ye would have me sit in my father's seat and be the King of Oakenrealm, and that ye will give me help and furtherance therein to the utmost; nor will I cast back the gift upon you; and I will say this, that when I am King indeed, it is my meaning and my will now, that then I shall be no less one of you good fellows and kind friends than ye have known me hitherto; and even so I deem that ye think of me. But, good friends, it is not to be hidden that the road ye would have me wend with you is like to be rough; and it may well be that we shall not come to be kings or kings' friends but men hunted, and often, maybe, men taken and slain. Therefore, till one thing or the other come, the kingship, or the taking, I will try to be no less joyous than now I am, and so meseemeth shall ye; and if ye be of this mind, then shall the coming days be no worse than the days which have been; and God wot they have been happy enough. Now again, ye see this most fair lady, whose hand I hold; she is my beloved and my wife; and therewithal she is the true Queen of Meadham, and a traitor sits in her place even as a traitor sits in mine. But I must tell you that when she took me for her beloved, she knew not, nor did I, that I was a King's son, but she took me as a woodman and an outcast, and as a wood-man and outcast I wooed her, trusting in the might that was in my body, and the love that was in my heart; and now before all you, my friends, I thank her and worship her that my body and my love was enough for her; as, God wot, the kingship of the whole earth should not be overmuch for her, if it lay open to her to take. But, sweet friends, here am I talking of myself as a King wedded unto a Queen, whereas meseemeth the chiefest gift our twin kingship hath brought you to-night is the gift of two most mighty unfriends for you; to wit, her foeman and mine. See ye to it, then, if the wild-wood yonder is not a meeter dwelling for us than this your goodly hall; and fear not to put us to the door as a pair of make-bates and a peril to this goodly company. Lo you, the sky without has not yet lost all memory of the sun, and in a little while it will be yellowing again to the dawn. Nought evil shall be the wild-wood for our summer dwelling; and what! ere the winter come, we may have won us another house where erst my fathers feasted. And thereto, my friends, do I bid you all."
But when they heard his friendly words, and saw the beauty of the fair woman whose hand he held, his face grew so well-beloved to them, that they cried out with so great a voice of cheer, wordless for their very joy, that the timbers of the hall quavered because of it, and it went out into the wild-wood as though it had been the feastful roaring of the ancient gods of the forest.
But when the tumult sank a little, then cried out Jack of the Tofts: "Bring now the mickle shield, and let us look upon our King."
So men went and fetched in a huge ancient shield, plated with berry-brown iron, inlaid with gold, and the four biggest men in the hall took it on their shoulders and knelt down anigh the dais, before Christopher, and Jack said aloud: "King! King! Stand up here! for this war-board of old days is the castle and the burg alone due to thee, and these four fellows here are the due mountains to upbear it."
Then lightly strode Child Christopher on to the shield, and when he stood firm thereon, they rose heedfully underneath him till they were standing upright on their feet, and the King stood on the shield as if he were grown there, and waved his naked sword to the four orts.
Then cried out an old woman in a shrill voice: "Lo, how the hills rise up into tall mountains; even so shall arise Child Christopher to the kingship."
Thereat all the folk laughed for joy and cried out: "Child Christopher! Child Christopher, our King!" And for that word, when he came to the crown indeed, and ruled wide lands, was he called Child Christopher; and that name clave to him after he was dead, and but a name in the tale of his kindred.
Now the King spake and said: "Friends, now is it time to get to the board, and the feast which hath been stayed this while; and I pray you let it be as merry as if there were no striving and unpeace betwixt us and the winning of peace. But to-morrow we will hallow-in the Mote, and my earl and my barons and good men shall give counsel, and then shall it be that the hand shall do what the heart biddeth."
Therewith he leapt down from the shield, and went about the hall talking to this one and that, till the board was full dight; then he took his place in the high-seat, beside Jack of the Tofts; and David and Gilbert and his other foster-brethren sat on either side of him, and their wives with them; and men fell to feasting in great glee.
But one thing there is yet to tell of this feast. When men had drunk a cup or two, and drunk memories to good men dead, and healths to good men living, amidst this arose a grey-head carle from the lower end of the hall, and said: "Child Christopher, thy grace, that I may crave a boon of thee on this day of leal service.'
"Ask then," said Christopher, with a pleasant face.
"King," quoth the carle, "here are we all gathered together, and we have before us the most beautifullest woman of the world, who sitteth by thy side; now to-night we be all dear friends, and there is no lack between us; yet who can say how often we may meet and things be so? I do not say that there shall enmity and dissension arise between us, though that may betide; but it is not unlike that another time thou, King, and thy mate, may be prouder than now ye be, since now ye are new to it. And if that distance grow between us, it will avail nought to ask my boon then."
"Well, well, ask it now, friend," said the King, laughing; "I were fain of ending the day with a gift."
"This it is then, King," said the carle: "since we are here set down before the loveliest woman in the world, grant us this, that all we men-folk may for this once kiss the face of her, if she will have it so."
Huge laughter and cheers arose at his word; but King Christopher arose and said: "Friend, thy boon is granted with a good will; or how sayest thou, Goldilind my beloved?
For all answer she stood up blushing like a rose, and held out her two hands to the men in the hall. And straightway the old carle rose up and went in haste to the high-table, before another man might stir, and took Goldilind by the chin, and kissed her well-favouredly, and again men laughed joyously. Then came before her Jack of the Tofts and all his sons, one after other, and kissed her face, save only David, who knelt humbly before her, and took her right hand and kissed it, while the tears were in his eyes. Then came many of the men in the hall, and some were bold, but many were shy, and when they came before her durst kiss neither hand nor face of her, but their hearts were full of her when they went to their places again; and all the assembly was praising her.
So wore the time of that first night of the kingship of Child Christopher.