AT THE CASTLE OF SIR RAOUL D’AULX

The morning after Agincourt dawned bright and clear, with a keenness in
the wind that betokened the approach of winter.

Ere the camp was fully astir, for the war-worn soldiers were thoroughly
enjoying their hard-earned rest, forty men-at-arms of Sir John
Carberry’s command formed up on an open stretch of ground in front of
the Hampshire Company’s lines.

The horses, thanks to a complete day’s idleness in the rich pasture
ground, were fresh and well-fed, presenting a vast contrast to their
gaunt and stern riders, many of whom bore traces of the ordeal they had
undergone culminating in the desperate advance upon the disordered
French lines. Yet they were one and all filled with enthusiasm, for all
of them knew Sir Oliver as a gallant knight, while every available man
of the Warblington contingent had volunteered for the expedition that
was to set free their beloved master.

Arnold Gripwell had barely completed his careful inspection of the
equipment of the troop, both horse and rider, when the Constable of
Portchester, accompanied by Geoffrey and Oswald, emerged from his tent
to bid his men Godspeed.

“Thou knowest the way?” he asked as the squires mounted their chargers.
“‘Tis plain enough, since ’tis worn by the feet of seven thousand of our
men. But take heed lest ye fall in with any large bodies of roving
Frenchmen, e’en though they have been soundly beaten. All being well ye
should be back ere sunrise to-morrow; but if by noon ye have not put in
an appearance I’ll lead a double company to your aid.”

“‘Tis well, fair lord,” replied Geoffrey. “I will do my utmost to return
at dawn.”

Then, without so much as a cheer or a trumpet note the little band set
out, and passing through the lines of the sleeping camp, gained the open
country beyond.

Without molestation, for the country appeared deserted, the men-at-arms
recrossed the Ternoise and the Somme, and an hour before noon came in
sight of the towers of Maissons.

Here Geoffrey, on Gripwell’s advice, called a halt, to rest and refresh
the horses, and to give the men a short respite ere advancing upon the
castle.

The squire had already made cautious inquiries of his captive, Sir
Raoul, concerning the possible garrison of Maissons; but, unwilling to
inform the knight that it was proposed to summon the castle to
surrender, Geoffrey had been unable to gather any definite information
as to its state of defence.

“They are ready to give us a right warm welcome!” exclaimed Oswald, as
in nearing the castle the drawbridge was observed to be drawn up, while
the sun glistened upon steel caps and spearheads over the battlements.

“Certes, they are by no means few,” observed Gripwell, shading his eyes.
“It would seem that the followers of this Sir Raoul have not stuck to
the field with their master. There must be at least three score of
them—and behind stout walls too. By St. George, we’ll have a tough task
here, squire Geoffrey.”

“That is to be seen,” replied Geoffrey. “Has any man a white scarf with
him? If so let him bind it to his spear.”

Two or three of the required articles were at once forthcoming, and
using one as a flag of truce, Geoffrey rode boldly up to the edge of the
moat, a man-at-arms riding close behind him with the emblem of parley.

“I would have speech with the representative of Sir Raoul d’Aulx,
Seigneur de Maissons,” exclaimed Geoffrey.

“Thy message, sir,” replied a woman’s voice, and to the squire’s
astonishment and confusion there appeared the figure of the Lady Aimée,
daughter of the seigneur and the haughty châtelaine whom Geoffrey had
rescued on his journey up the Seine two years previously. She had donned
a light steel corselet and cap that failed to conceal her dark brown
tresses, and leaning upon a shield emblazoned with the d’Aulx arms, she
stood proudly and defiantly upon the battlements of her ancestral home.

Even though Geoffrey had raised the visor of his helmet he felt certain
that the damosel failed to recognize him. Nor was that to be wondered
at, since the squire had altered and matured not a little during those
two years of strenuous life and activity, while in complete mail he
looked a very different person from the lad who in ordinary travelling
attire had dared to rush in upon a levelled crossbow to aid the haughty
Lady d’Aulx.

“In the name of the most puissant sovereign Henry, King of England and
France, I demand surrender of the castle known as Maissons, now in the
possession of the representatives of Sir Raoul d’Aulx.”

“‘Tis easy to demand, sir,” replied the girl. “Yet not easy to acquire.
How dost thou think that thou canst take this castle with more than half
a hundred defenders behind its walls. Have a care, sir, lest the forces
of King Charles, the only King of France, do not sweep thee and thine
from off the face of the earth.”

“I fear them not,” replied Geoffrey. “Thou knowest only too well that
only yesterday the French fled before our arms, leaving vast numbers of
gallant knights upon the field and in our hands.”

In spite of her coolness Aimée d’Aulx staggered beneath the shock of the
news, but recovering herself, she replied, “A truce to thy words, sir.
An thou wilt take the castle, advance, for ’tis a warm reception that
awaits thee and thine.”

With that the girl disappeared from view, leaving Geoffrey staring up at
the battlement where she had stood.

“Fair sir,” quoth the man-at-arms who bore the white flag. “Hast thou
taken notice of those nine steel caps showing above the wall?”

“Nay,” replied the squire shortly, for, truth to tell, during the
interview he had eyes only for the fair Aimée d’Aulx.

“They have not moved a hair’s breadth these five minutes,” continued the
man. “Since ’tis impossible for a Frenchman to remain quiet, for
curiosity must have otherwise consumed them, I am of opinion that those
head-pieces are set up only to trick us.”

“By the rood, Hubert, methinks thou shouldst be right in this matter,”
exclaimed the squire excitedly.

“And, moreover,” went on the soldier imperturbably, “didst thou not mark
how yon damsel was taken aback when thou told’st her of the rout of
yesterday?”

“Now thou speakest of it I call it to mind,” admitted Geoffrey. “What of
it?”

“This, fair sir: ’tis certain that none of this knight’s followers have
gained the shelter of the castle, otherwise the news would have been no
news. I’ll warrant, could we but cross the moat, that ten stout
men-at-arms could carry the castle by escalade.”

“Thine advice is good, Hubert,” said Geoffrey, as the twain turned and
rode back to their comrades.

After a short council had been held, ten of the men-at-arms divested
themselves of their armour, and armed only with their axes and daggers,
ran boldly towards the moat.

Here they were assailed by a shower of ill-directed stones, while from a
few of the oyelets came an irregular discharge of arrows, shot so feebly
that for the most part they failed to pass within a spear’s length of
the object of their intended mark.

A roar of derisive laughter burst from the lips of the seasoned
veterans, as without a moment’s hesitation they plunged into the waters
of the moat. Unscathed, though the stones churned up the water all
around them, the men swam to the opposite side, where, taking advantage
of a narrow terraced ridge of rock at the base of the castle walls, they
gained the shelter of the raised drawbridge.

Soon a coil of rope, weighted by an axe, was thrown deftly over one of
the chains that supported the drawbridge full thirty feet above the
ground.

“Up with thee, John o’ Bosham,” exclaimed the man who had been appointed
the leader of the enterprise. “Thou wert a shipman ere thou wert
man-at-arms. And thou, too, Peter of Gosport. Up with thee, I say.”

With their axes thrust into their belts the two soldiers swarmed up the
swaying rope, and agilely balancing themselves on the chain, they looked
about for some means to sever the stout iron links. Being without files
they soon realized that the task was beyond them.

“Try the woodwork, John!” shouted one of the men from below. “Yet take
good heed when thou hast done thy work.”

Blithely the twain set to with their axes, and amid a shower of
splinters the chain-plate secured to the frame of the drawbridge was cut
out, falling with a loud clang against the wall.

With that the two men-at-arms made their way astraddle of their lofty
swaying perch, and having passed the rope through one of the links of
the still-holding chain and secured themselves to it by their belts,
they again fell to work. “Stand clear below,” exclaimed Peter, as the
woodwork creaked ominously.

The next moment the chain-plate was wrenched from its hold, and with a
crash the heavy drawbridge fell, rebounding more than once ere it came
to rest. Then amid the cheers of their comrades the two daring and by
this time well-nigh exhausted men slid down the rope to the ground.

Meanwhile Geoffrey and the main body had not been idle. At great pains
they had felled a young fir tree, and having stripped it of its
branches, bore it to the edge of the moat.

As the drawbridge fell, two score willing hands raised the heavy
battering-ram, and recking not the shower of stones that rattled
harmlessly on their headpieces, the men-at-arms attacked the iron-bound
oaken door.

At the third blow the massive timber was burst asunder, and with shouts
of triumph the men-at-arms swarmed into the castle, to find it deserted
save by half-a-dozen trembling serving women incongruously wearing steel
headpieces, two decrepit men-servants, and the Lady Aimée d’Aulx!

“Thou hast conquered, sir,” exclaimed the girl haughtily. “Accept my
congratulations on thy feat of arms—this victory over a handful of
helpless women-folk.”

“Nay, fair lady,” replied Geoffrey, advancing with raised visor. “We do
not make war upon women. Rest assured, therefore, that neither thou nor
thine will suffer harm.”

“Then why art thou here?”

“To carry out the orders of my royal master. Further——”

“The saints preserve me!” exclaimed the damsel. “Of a surety I have seen
thee before? Ay, ’tis the youth that befriended us at the Dos d’Ane.”

“Shrewdly guessed, fair lady. I am in truth Geoffrey Lysle, squire to
Sir Thomas Carberry, and son of Sir Oliver Lysle, whom thy father holds
captive in this castle, and whom it is my desire to set at liberty.”

“Tell me, young sir,” asked the girl eagerly. “Thou didst say that our
arms have suffered a reverse? Canst say aught concerning my father, Sir
Raoul?”

“He is safe, though hurt; a prisoner. More, he is my prisoner.”

“Then thou art willing to set him at liberty in exchange for thy sire?”

“My father I hope to regain by virtue of the success of our arms in the
taking of this castle of Maissons. As for Sir Raoul, ’tis my purpose to
receive two thousand crowns for his ransom.”

“Like the rest of these Englishmen, thou wouldst place money before
honour?” said the girl scornfully. “No doubt it was for that purpose
alone that his life was spared?”

Geoffrey coloured at the unjust taunt. He shrank from telling how he had
rescued Sir Raoul at the risk of his own life and honour, and that he
had demanded the ransom solely on account of the archers, whose offers
of quarter the knight had resolutely refused.

“‘Tis the usage of war on both sides, fair lady,” he replied with a
dignity equal to her own. “But of that anon. Oswald, do thou conduct the
Lady Aimée to her apartments, and see that none of the men-at-arms
venture upon her privacy.”

Then turning to an old servitor, who, by reason of a bunch of keys
hanging from his girdle, was evidently custodian of the keep—

“Hasten thee, rascal, take me to the Lord of Warblington’s quarters—or
prison, whichever it be.”

Obediently the man complied, and soon Geoffrey was grasping his father
by the hand. His long quest had ended at last.

Sir Oliver’s quarters were plainly yet comfortably furnished, and were
situated in a part of the domestic buildings of the castle. Under his
promise not to break faith with his captor unless ransomed or rescued,
he had been allowed almost complete freedom, being at liberty to hunt in
an adjoining forest, or to wander in or about the castle. Punctilious
towards his captor and strictly true to his parole, the Lord of
Warblington had endured his detention with fortitude, though his
thoughts were ever speeding towards his wife and home across the English
Channel.

For the space of nearly two hours father and son remained in eager and
joyous converse, while the soldiers were feasting in the courtyard of
the castle, till the necessity of rejoining the English camp became
apparent.

“Art ready, Oswald?” asked Geoffrey, after Sir Oliver had warmly greeted
his faithful squire.

“All is ready,” replied Oswald, “but I bear a message from the Lady
Aimée. She would see thee in the great hall.”

With mingled sensations of hope and fear Geoffrey made his way to the
girl’s presence. Seated on an oak chair, with two tiring maids in
attendance, the Lady Aimée d’Aulx awaited the coming of her captor. She
had discarded her steel corselet, and had taken particular care that her
tresses should be rearranged, while in place of her riding-habit she had
assumed a dark blue kirtle with hanging sleeves slashed with
murrey-coloured silk, and on her head a high sugar-loafed cap after the
fashion of the times.

“Thy pleasure, fair lady?” exclaimed Geoffrey, louting low before her.

“Squire Geoffrey, I must needs make amends for my ill-natured tongue.
Thy friend Oswald hath told me concerning thy generous and courteous
treatment of my father. I crave thy forgiveness.”

Geoffrey vehemently protested that no forgiveness was necessary, since
nothing untoward could fall from the lips of the daughter of Sir Raoul
d’Aulx. Then time passed rapidly and unheeded, for the two were engaged
in animated conversation, regardless of the presence of the tiring maids
who had discreetly withdrawn to one of the alcoves.

At length the squire prepared to take his departure, for his ears had
caught the warning long-drawn blast of a trumpet in the courtyard.

“And hast thou truly forgotten what I said concerning my father’s
ransom?” asked the girl.

“Ay, truly.”

“And dost thou not require that _I_ should be held to ransom, squire
Geoffrey?”

For answer Geoffrey’s steel-grey eyes looked steadfastly into the dark
glistening orbs of the Norman maiden. Then courteously and reverently he
raised her hand to his lips.

When Geoffrey Lysle rode away from the Castle of Maissons he took with
him the heart of the Lady Aimée d’Aulx.

* * * * *

True to his promise Geoffrey and his men-at-arms regained at dawn the
English camp, where Sir Oliver received a rousing welcome, not only from
his own retainers, but from the many knights who regarded him with the
warmest feelings of esteem.

Though the men-at-arms who had carried out the raid on Maissons had had
little rest, there was scant time for leisure. The army had to resume
its march to Calais, where, accompanied by a vast host of prisoners,
Henry arrived without let or hindrance.

Here, safe within the walls of that fortress, a council was held at
which it was recognized that the only thing to be done at present was to
return to England. A rest of several days was allowed to the hard-worked
troops, during which time most of the prisoners, save those of higher
rank, were permitted to depart upon payment of their ransoms and the
promise to take no active part against the invaders.

Amongst the released captives was Sir Raoul d’Aulx. The two thousand
crowns received by Geoffrey were handed over to the men to whom the
ransom had already been promised. The French knight took farewell of Sir
Oliver and his son with the utmost good humour, for the bonds of old
comradeship betwixt the Lord of Warblington and the Seigneur of Maissons
were too strong to be severed by the quarrels of two nations.

At length, in the middle of November, the King with his victorious
forces recrossed the Channel. At Dover the enthusiasm was intense, the
townsfolk rushing knee-deep into the icy cold water to bear their
national idol ashore, while the streets were hung with bright colours in
honour of the brave.

Thence, after a few days’ rest in the castle, Henry resumed his
triumphal progress to London, attended by his nobles, knights, and
soldiers, and accompanied by his prisoners.

But Sir Oliver Lysle did not bear his sovereign company. Since he had
not taken an active part in the campaign he was loth to share in the
welcome extended to the veterans of that perilous march from Harfleur to
Calais. So, obtaining permission to withdraw, he returned to Warblington
Castle, whither Geoffrey and Oswald hastened after the festivities in
London were concluded.