Child Christopher - Chapter 31
XXXI. THE BATTLE ON THE HOLM
So when Christopher was armed, Jack turned about speedily, and so gat him back through the ford and stood there on the bank with the nine other folk of the Tofts. And by this time was Gandolf of Brimside armed also, and Oliver Marson, who had done his helm on him, was gone to his side of the river.
Drew the huge man-at-arms then toward Christopher, but his sword was yet in the sheath: Christopher set his point to the earth and abode him; and the Baron spake: "Lad, thou art fair and bold both, as I can see it, and Jack of the Tofts is so much an old foe of mine that he is well-nigh a friend: so what sayest thou? If thou wilt yield thee straightway, I will have both thine head and the outlaw's with me to King Rolf, but yet on your shoulders and ye two alive. Haps will go as haps will; and it maybe that ye shall both live for another battle, and grow wiser, and mayhappen abide in the wood with the reiver's men. Hah? What sayest thou?"
Christopher laughed and said: "Wouldst thou pardon one who is not yet doomed, Baron? And yet thy word is pleasant to us; for we see that if we win thee, thou shalt be good liegeman of us. Now, Baron, sword in fist!"
Gandolf drew his sword, muttering: "Ah, hah! he is lordly and kingly enough, yet may this learn him a lesson. "Indeed the blade was huge and brown and ancient, and sword and man had looked a very terror save to one great-hearted.
But Christopher said: "What sayest thou now, Baron, shall we cast down our shields to earth? For why should we chop into wood and leather?"
The Baron cast down his shield, and said: "Bold are thy words, lad; if thy deeds go with them, it may be better for thee than for me. Now keep thee."
And therewith he leapt forward and swept his huge sword around; but Christopher swerved speedily and enough, so that the blade touched him not, and the huge man had over-reached himself, and ere he had his sword well under sway again, Christopher had smitten him so sharply on the shoulder that the mails were sundered & the blood ran; and withal the Baron staggered with the mere weight of the stroke. Then Christopher saw his time, and leapt aloft and dealt such a stroke on the side of his head, that the Baron tottered yet more; but now was he taught by those two terrible strokes, and he gathered all his heart to him, and all the might of his thews, and leapt aback and mastered his sword, and came on fierce but wary, shouting out for Brimside and the King.
Christopher cried never a cry, but swung his sword well within his sway, and the stroke came on Gandolf's fore-arm and brake the mails and wounded him, and then as the Baron rushed forward, the wary lad gat his blade under his foeman's nigh the hilts, and he gave it a wise twist and forth flew the ancient iron away from its master.
Gandolf seemed to heed not that he was swordless, but gave out a great roar and rushed at Christopher to close with him, and the well-knit lad gave back before him and turned from side to side, and kept the sword-point before Gandolf's eyes ever, till suddenly, as the Baron was running his fiercest, he made a mighty sweep at his right leg, since he had no more to fear his sword, and the edge fell so strong and true, that but for the byrny-hose he had smitten the limb asunder, and even as it was it made him agrievous wound, so that the Lord of Brimside fell clattering to the earth, and Christopher bestrode him and cried: "How sayest thou, champion, is it enough?"
"Yea, enough, and maybe more," said the Baron. "Wilt thou smite off mine head? Or what wilt thou?"
Said Christopher: "Here hath been enough smiting, meseemeth, save thy lads and ours have a mind to buckle to; and lo thou! men are running down from the bents towards us from both sides, yet not in any warlike manner as yet. Now, Baron, here cometh thy grim squire that I heard called Oliver, and if thou wilt keep the troth, thou shalt bid him order thy men so that they fall not upon us till the battle be duly pitched. Then shalt thou be borne home, since thou canst not go, with no hindrance from us."
Now was Oliver come indeed, and the other nine with him, and on the other side was come Jack of the Tofts and four others.
Then spake the Baron of Brimside: "I may do better than thou biddest me; for now I verily trow herein, that thou art the son of Christopher the Old; so valiant as thou art, and so sad a smiter, and withal that thou fearest not to let thy foeman live. So hearken all ye, and thou specially, Oliver Marson, my captain: I am now become the man of my lord King Christopher, and will follow him whereso he will; and I deem that will presently be to Oakenham, and the King's seat there. Now look to it that thou, Oliver, order my men under King Christopher's banner, till I be healed; and then if all be not over, I shall come forth myself, shield on neck and spear in fist, to do battle for my liege lord; so help me God and St. James of the Water!"
Therewith speech failed him and his wit therewith; so betwixt them they unarmed him and did him what leechdom they might do there and then; and he was nowise hurt deadly: as for Child Christopher, he had no scratch of steel on him. And Oliver knelt before him when he had dight his own lord, and swore fealty to him then and there; and so departed, to order the folk of Brimside and tell them the tidings, and swear them liege men of King Christopher.