Child Christopher - Chapter 35
XXXV. AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE AND AN EVIL DEED
When morning was, and it was yet early, the town was all astir and the gates were thrown open, and weaponed men thronged into it crying out for Christopher the King. Then the King came forth, and Jack o' the Tofts and his sons, and Oliver Marson, and the captains of Brimside; and the host was blown together to the market-place, and there was a new tale of them taken, and they were now hard on seventy hundreds of men. So then were new captains appointed, and thereafter they tarried not save to eat a morsel, but went out a-gates faring after the banners to Oakenrealm, all folk blessing them as they went.
Nought befell them of evil that day, but ever fresh companies joined them on the road; and they gat harbour in another walled town, hight Sevenham, and rested there in peace that night, and were now grown to eighty hundreds.
Again on the morrow they were on the road betimes, and again much folk joined them, and they heard no tidings of any foeman faring against them; whereat Jack o' the Tofts marvelled, for he and others had deemed that now at last would Rolf the traitor come out against them. Forsooth, when they had gone all day and night was at hand, it seemed most like to the captains that he would fall upon them that night, whereas they were now in a somewhat perilous pass; for they must needs rest at a little thorpe amidst of great and thick woods, which lay all round about the frank of Oakenham as a garland about a head. So there they kept watch and ward more heedfully than their wont was; and King Christopher lodged with Goldilind at the house of a good man of the thorpe.
Now when it lacked but half an hour of midnight, and Jack o' the Tofts and Oliver Marson and the Captain of Woodwall had just left him, after they had settled the order of the next day's journey, and Goldilind lay abed in the inner chamber, there entered one of the men of the watch and said: "Lord King, here is a man hereby who would see thee; he is weaponed, and he saith that he hath a gift for thee: what shall we do with him?"
Said Christopher: "Bring him in hither, good fellow." And the man went back, and came in again leading a tall man, armed, but with a hood done over his steel hat, so that his face was hidden, and he had a bag in his hand with something therein.
Then spake the King and said: "Thou man, since thy face is hidden, this trusty man-at-arms shall stand by thee while we talk together."
"Lord," said the man, "let there be a dozen to hear our talk I care not; for I tell thee that I come to give thee a gift, and gift-bearers are oftenest welcome."
Quoth the King: "Maybe, yet before thou bring it forth I would see thy face, for meseems I have an inkling of thy voice."
So the man cast back his hood, and lo, it was Simon the squire. "Hah!" said Christopher, "is it thou then! hast thou another knife to give me?"
"Nay," said Simon, "only the work of the knife." And therewith he set his hand to the bag and drew out by the hair a man's head, newly hacked off and bleeding, and said: "Hast thou seen him before, Lord? He was a great man yesterday, though not so great as thou shalt be to-morrow."
"Once only I have seen him, "said Christopher," and then he gave me this gift" (and he showed his father's ring on his finger): "thou hast slain the Earl Marshal, who called himself the King of Oakenrealm: my traitor and dastard he was but thy friend. Wherefore have I two evil deeds to reward thee, Simon, the wounding of me and the slaying of him. Dost thou not deem thee gallows-ripe?"
"King," said Simon, "what wouldst thou have done with him hadst thou caught him?"
Said Christopher: "I had slain him had I met him with a weapon in his fist; and if we had taken him I had let the folk judge him."
Said Simon: "That is to say, that either thou hadst slain him thyself, or bidden others to slay him. Now then I ask thee, King, for which deed wilt thou slay me, for not slaying thee, or for doing thy work and slaying thy foe?"
Said Christopher to the guard: "Good fellow, fetch here a good horse ready saddled and bridled, and be speedy."
So the man went: and Christopher said to Simon: "For the knife in my side, I forgive it thee; and as to the slaying of thy friend, it is not for me to take up the feud. But this is no place for thee: if Jack of the Tofts, or any of his sons, or one of the captains findeth thee, soon art thou sped; wherefore I rede thee, when yonder lad hath brought thee the horse, show me the breadth of thy back, and mount the beast, and put the most miles thou canst betwixt me and my folk; for they love me."
Said Simon: "Sorry payment for making thee a king!"
Said Christopher: "Well, thou art in the right; I may well give gold for getting rid of such as thou." And he put his hand into a pouch that hung on his chair, and drew out thence a purse, and gave it unto Simon, who took it and opened it and looked therein, and then flung it down on the ground.
Christopher looked on him wrathfully with reddened face, and cried out: "Thou dog! wouldst thou be an earl and rule the folk? What more dost thou want?"
"This!" cried out Simon, and leapt upon him, knife aloft. Christopher was unarmed utterly; but he caught hold of the felon's right arm with his right hand, and gripped the wrist till he shrieked; then he raised up his mighty left hand, and drave it down on Simon's head by the ear, and all gave way before it, and the murderer fell crushed and dead to earth.
Therewith came in the man-at-arms to tell him that the horse was come; but stared wild when he saw the dead man on the ground. But Christopher said: "My lad, here hath been one who would have thrust a knife into an unarmed man, wherefore I must needs give him his wages. But now thou hast this to do: take thou this dead man and bind him so fast on the horse thou hast brought that he will not come off till the bindings be undone; and bind withal the head of this other, who was once a great man and an evil, before the slayer of him, so that it also may be fast; then get thee to horse and lead this beast and its burden till ye are well on the highway to Oakenham, and then let him go and find his way to the gate of the city if God will. And hearken, my lad; seest thou this gold which lieth scattering on the floor here? this was mine, but is no longer, since I have given it away to the dead man just before he lifted his hand against me. Wherefore now I will keep it for thee against thou comest back safe to me in the morning betimes, as I deem thou wilt, if thou wilt behight to St. Julian the helping of some poor body on the road. Go therefore, but send hither the guard; for I am weary now, and would go to sleep without slaying any man else."
So departed the man full of joy, and Christopher gathered his money together again, and so fared to his bed peacefully.