The Sundering Flood - Chapter 59
TIDINGS OF LONGSHAW AND OF THE HOSTING OF THE BARONS' LEAGUE
But when the aforesaid Michaelmas market was, great recourse was there of far-travelled and wise men, and the Carline set herself diligently to learn all she might of such-like folk. And she had wherewithal to buy wares of likely chapmen, and to treat men-at-arms and others to wine and banquet. For she had brought away with her a marvellous collar of gems, which the Maiden owned, and which, as she said, was the gift of the Dwarfs; and the Maiden consenting thereto, the Carline had sold three gems from the said collar, so that they lacked not money.
Now as to the tidings the Carline heard of, they had for the most part to do with the deeds and uprising of Sir Godrick of Longshaw, and how that the Barons of the lands that lay about would not endure his ways and his pride, and were levying war against him; and they said they knew for certain that, when spring came next year, they would be on him, and that they had made a League into which they looked to draw the King of the City of the Sundering Flood, and that meanwhile the League was already most mightily manned, and so far-reaching that it was a sure thing that the Lord of Brookside had come into it, yea and even others further west and north than he. Now all were in one tale about this; but one man there was with whom the Carline spoke, and he neither the youngest nor least wise, who said: "And yet, dame, I look for it that the Knight of Longshaw will yet give this league a troublous hank to unwind, so wise a man as he is, and so well accompanied by wise and lucky men; and now hath he gotten a new captain, a young man from far away up-country; and though there has since his coming been no great war afoot, yet hath this newcomer been one of certain adventures, wherein he hath proved himself. And by all I could see and hear, for I was dwelling seven days at Longshaw, he will be the right hand of Sir Godrick, and that means that the Knight deems of him as no mere man-at-arms, but a wise man also. Moreover, I myself have seen the young man, and this I seem to see in him, that he has the lucky look in his eyes; and I am deemed cunning in the judging of men." All this and more did the Carline hear tell of, and she weighed it heedfully, and thought that a change of days was coming.
A month after this, and ere the winter had set in, came riding to Brookside a knight and two squires, and had a special message to the Blue Knight, who received them with all honour and kindness and heard what they had to say, and prayed them to abide with him a while, since they had ridden far from the south and the east; but they would not tarry but one night, for they had further to go. When they were departed Sir Mark made no secret of their message, which was that the hosting of the Barons' League would be in such place, east of the water and far to the south, a month before Marymass of next year; and they prayed him to be leal and true to the League, and gather to him what force he might, as well armed and formed in all ways as could be done. But he answered that he was all ready thereto, and should do his devoir to the uttermost of his power.
When the Maiden heard this she was troubled, and asked him what he deemed of the chances of the war, and he said: "Lady, this is what we were talking of with the Lord of Warding Knowe that other day; and I must tell thee, though I shall go to the hosting merrily and expend me there to the utmost, yet I deem that they be the luckiest who may keep them out of this strife, as I may not." "Yet," said she, "be they not mighty men, these Barons? and all men say that their League is well knit together; so that at the worst, they overwhelm not the Knight of Longshaw, they may hold them well against him."
"Lady," said he, "by my deeming, if we crush not this valiant man utterly he will scatter us; he is not such a man as, if he have any force left, may be held aloof, as a man will hold a fierce sheep-dog with a staff till the shepherd come. To end it, since I am saying this to none but thee, I see myself so bestead that I shall deem me a lucky man if I bring back a whole skin from this war."
"It will be evil days for all of us," said she, "if thou come not back hale and sound."
"It gladdens my heart that thou shouldst say so," quoth he; "and yet I would have thee look to it, that if we overthrow this wise man and good knight, and I say again that must be utterly or not at all, there will be more moan made over him than over a dozen such as I; and that is no otherwise than it should be." Said she: "I would thou wert with him and not against him." The Knight said kindly: "Dear maiden, thou must not say such words to me, for thou knowest that my part is chosen by my own will."
She said nought, but nodded and looked at him as one who understood and thought well of him; and he began again: "So it is that yonder knight-messenger told me, amidst of his talk, that he had been but the other day to Longshaw under safe-conduct, and that there it was told him by one of the loose-tongued and grudging kind, as I deem, that Sir Godrick of Longshaw had gotten to him these latter days a new captain, a man very young, and as it were a David to look on in the days before he slew the Philistine. Furthermore, said this grudger, that though the said youth was a tall lad of his inches, and strong and well-knit, he was all untried, and yet was he shoving aside older and well-proven men in the favour of the Knight of Longshaw. In short, the said grudger went on with his tale as though there were some big grievance against his master brewing in Longshaw, and our knight deemed that so it was, and that they would hold together the looser, and that thereby we should have the cheaper bargain of them. All of which I trow nowise, but deem, on the contrary, that I see in this glorious young man even the one sent from heaven for the helping of our enemy, of whom I dreaded that he would come ere long time was worn. But now let all things be as they will that be not under my hand."
The Maiden still kept silence, but she flushed very red and her eyes glittered; for her heart was smitten by this tale of the young champion, and the thought sprang up suddenly, Who then can this be save mine own beloved? But the talk between them fell.