Child Christopher - Chapter 9
IX. SQUIRE SIMON COMES BACK TO OAKENHAM. THE EARL MARSHAL TAKEN TO KING IN OAKENREALM
Now as to Squire Simon, whether the devil helped him, or his luck, or were it his own cunning and his, horse's stoutness, we wot not; but in any case he fell not in with Ralph Longshanks and Anthony Green, but rode as far and as fast as his horse would go, and then lay down in the wild-wood; and on the morrow arose and went his ways, and came in the even to the Castle of the Uttermost March, and went on thence the morrow after on a fresh horse to Oakenham. There he made no delay but went straight to the High House, and had privy speech of the Earl Marshal; and him he told how he had smitten Christopher, and, as he deemed, slain him. The Earl Marshal looked on him grimly and said: "Where is the ring then?"
"I have it not," said Simon. "How might I light down to take it, when the seven sons were hard on us?" And therewith he told him all the tale, and how he had risen to slay Christopher the even before; and how he had found out after that the youngling had become guest and fosterling of the folk of the Tofts; and how warily Christopher had ridden, so that he, Simon, had had to do his best at the last moment. "And now, Lord," quoth he, "I see that it will be my luck to have grudging of thee, or even worse it may be; yea, or thou wilt be presently telling me that I am a liar and never struck the stroke: but I warrant me that by this time Jack of the Tofts knoweth better, for I left my knife in the youngling's breast, and belike he wotteth of my weapons. Well, then, if thou wilt be quit of me, thou hast but to forbear upholding me against the Toft folk, and then am I gone without any to-do of thee."
Earl Rolf spake quietly in answer, though his face was somewhat troubled: "Nay, Simon, I doubt thee not, not one word; for why shouldest thou lie to me? nor do I deem thou wouldest, for thou art trusty and worthy. Yet sore I doubt if the child be dead. Well, even so let it be, for I am alive; and full surely I am mightier than Jack of the Tofts, both to uphold thee against him (wherein I shall not fail), and otherwise. But may God make me even as that young man if I be not mightier yet in a few days. But now do thou go and eat and drink and take thy disport; for thou hast served me well; and in a little while I shall make thee knight and lord, and do all I can to pleasure thee."
So then Simon knelt to the Earl and made obeisance to him, and arose and went his ways, light-hearted and merry.
But within the month it so befel that some of the lords and dukes came to the Earl Marshal, and prayed him to call together a great Folk-mote of all Oakenrealm; and he answered them graciously, and behight them to do as they would; and even so did he.
And that Mote was very great, and whenas it was hallowed, there arose a great lord, grey and ancient, and bewailed him before the folk, that they had no king over Oakenrealm to uphold the laws & ward the land; and "Will ye live bare and kingless for ever?" said he at last. "Will ye not choose you a king, and crown him, before I die, and we others of the realm who are old and worn?" Then he sat down, and another arose, and in plain terms he bade them take the Earl Marshal to king. And then arose one after other, and each sang the same song, till the hearts of the people grew warm with the big words, and at first many, and then more cried out: "A King, a King! The Earl Marshal for King! Earl Rolf for King!" So that at last the voices rose into a great roar, and sword clashed on shield, and they who were about the Earl turned to him and upraised him on a great war-shield, and he stood thereon above the folk with a naked sword in his hand, and all the folk shouted about him.
Thereafter the chiefs and all the mightiest came and did homage to him for King of Oakenrealm as he sat on the Hill of the Folk-mote: and that night there was once more a King of Oakenrealm, and Earl Rolf was no more, but King Rolf ruled the people.
But now the tale leaves telling of him, and turns again to Christopher the woodman, who lay sick of his hurt in the House of the Tofts.