Child Christopher - Chapter 34
XXXIV. BATTLE BEFORE WOODWALL
When morning was, the captains came to King Christopher to council: but while they were amidst of their talk came the word that the foe was anigh and come close to the river-bank; whereat was none abashed; but to all it seemed wisdom to abide them on the vantage-ground. So then there was girding of swords and doing on of helms; as for ordering of the folk, it was already done, for all the host was ranked on the bent-side, with the banner of Oakenrealm in the midst; on its left hand the banner of the Tofts, and on the right the banner of Brimside.
Now when Christopher was come to his place, he looked down and saw how the foemen were pouring over the river, for it was nowhere deep, and there were four quite shallow fords: many more were they than his folk, but he deemed that they fared somewhat tumultuously; and when the bowmen of the Tofts began shooting, the foemen, a many of them, stayed amidst of the river to bend bow in their turn, and seemed to think that were nigh enough already; nay, some went back again to the other bank, to shoot thence the surer and the drier, and some went yet a little further back on the field. So that when their sergeants and riders were come on to the hither bank, they lacked about a fifth of all their host; and they themselves, for all they were so many, had some ado to make up their minds to go forward.
Forsooth, when they looked up to the bent and saw the three banners of Oakenrealm and the Tofts and Brimside all waving over the same ranks, they knew not what to make of it. And Christopher's host, when they saw them hang back, brake out into mocking whoops and shouts, and words were heard in them: "Come and dine at Brimside, good fellows! Come up to the Tofts for supper and bed! A Christopher! A Christopher!" and so forth. Now all King Christopher's men were afoot, saving a band of the riders of Brimside, who bestrode strong and tall horses, and bore jack and sallet and spear, but no heavy armour.
So Christopher heard and saw, and the heart rose high in him, and he sent messengers to the right and the left, and bade the captains watch till he waved his sword aloft, and then all down the bent together; and he bade the Brimside riders edge a little outward and downward, and be ready for the chase, and suffer not any of the foemen to gather together when once they fell to running; for he knew in his heart that the folk before him would never abide their onfall. And the day was yet young, and it lacked four hours of noon.
King Christopher abode ill he saw the foemen were come off the level ground, and were mounting the bent slowly, and not in very good order or in ranks closely serried. Then he strode forth three paces, and waved his sword high above his head, and cried out: "A Christopher! A Christopher! Forward, banner of the Realm!" And forth he went, steady and strong, and a great shout arose behind him, and none shrank or lagged, but spears and bills, and axes and swords, all came on like a wall of steel, so that to the foemen the earth seemed alive with death, and they made no show of abiding the onset, but all turned and ran, save Walter the White and a score of his knights, who forsooth were borne down in a trice, and were taken to mercy, those of them who were not slain at the first crash of weapons.
There then ye might have seen great clumps of men making no defence, but casting down their weapons and crying mercy; and forsooth so great was the throng, that no great many were slain; but on the other hand, but few gat away across the water, and on them presently fell the Brimside riders, and hewed down and slew and took few to mercy. And some few besides the first laggards of the bowmen, it might be three hundreds in all, escaped, and gat to Woodwall, but when they of the town saw them, they made up their minds speedily, and shut their gates, and the poor fleers found but the points of shafts and the heads of quarrels before them.
But on the field of deed those captives were somewhat fearful as to what should be done with them, and they spake one to the other about it, that they would be willing to serve the new King, since he was so mighty. And amidst of their talk came the captains of King Christopher, and they drew into a ring around them, and the lords bade them look to it whether they would be the foemen of the King, the son of that King Christopher the Old. "If so ye be," said they, "ye may escape this time; but ye see how valiant a man he is, and how lucky withal, and happy shall they be whom he calleth friends. Now what say ye, will ye take up your weapons again, and be under the best of kings and a true one, or will ye depart and take the chance of his wrath in the coming days? We say, how many of you will serve King Christopher.
Then arose from them a mighty shout: "All! All! One and All!" Albeit some there were who slunk away and said nought; and none heeded them.
So then all the sergeants and the common folk swore allegiance to King Christopher; but of the knights who were left alive, some said Yea, and some Nay; and these last were suffered to depart, but must needs ride unarmed.
Now by the time all was done, and the new men had dined along with the rest of the host, and of the new-comers tale had been taken, the day was wearing; so they set off for Woodwall, and on the way they met the Mayor and Aldermen thereof, who came before King Christopher and knelt to him, and gave him the keys of their town; so he was gracious to them, and thanked them, and bade see to the victual and lodging of the host, and that all should be paid thereafter. And they said that they had seen to all this before they came forth of the town, and that if the Lord King would ride forth, he would find fair lodging in the good town. So King Christopher was pleased, and bade the burgesses ride beside him, and he talked merrily with them on the way, so that their hearts rejoiced over the kindness of their lord.
So they came to the gate, and there the King made stay till Goldilind was fetched to him, so that they might ride into the good town side by side. And in the street was much people thronging, and the sun was scarce set, so that the folk could see their King and Queen what they were; and they who were nighest unto them, they let their shouts die out, so were their hearts touched with the sight of them and the love of their beauty.
Thus rode they in triumph through the street till they were come to their lodging, which was great and goodly as for a cheaping town; and so the day was gone and the night was come, and the council and the banquet were over; then were the King and Goldilind together again, like any up-country lad and lass. But she stood before him and said: "O thou King and mighty warrior, surely I ought to fear thee now, but it is not so, so sore as I desire thee; but yet it maketh both laughter and tears come to me when I think of the day we rode away from Greenharbour with thee, and I seemed to myself a great lady, though I were unhappy; and though I loved thy body, I feared lest the churl's blood in thee might shame me perchance, and I was proud and unkind to thee, and I hurt thee sorely; and now I will say it, and confess, that somewhat I joyed to see thine anguish, for I knew that it meant thy love for me and thy desire to me. Lo now, wilt thou forgive me this, or wilt thou punish me, O Lord King?"
He laughed. "Sweetling," he said, "meseemeth now all day long I have been fighting against raiment rather than men; no man withstood me in the battle, for that they feared the crown on my helm and the banner over my head; and when those good men of the town brought me the keys, how should I have known them from borrel folk but for their scarlet gowns and fur hoods? And meseemed that when they knelt to me, it was the scarlet gowns kneeling to the kingly armour. Therefore, sweetheart, if thou fearest that the King should punish thee for so wounding the poor Christopher of those few days ago, as belike thou deservest it, bid the King do off his raiment, and do thou in likewise, and then there shall be no King to punish, and no King's scather to thole the punishment, but only Christopher and Goldilind, even as they met erewhile on the dewy grass of Littledale."
She blushed blood-red; but ere his words were done, her hands were busy with girdle and clasp, and her raiment fell from her to the earth, and his kingly raiment was cast from him, and he took her by the hand and led her to the bed of honour, that their love might have increase that night also.