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From: After London

Twice Felix saw the king. Once there was a review of the horse outside
the camp, and Felix, having to attend with his master's third charger (a
mere show and affectation, for there was not the least chance of his
needing it), was now and then very near the monarch. For that day at
least he looked every whit what fame had reported him to be. A man of
unusual size, his bulk rendered him conspicuous in the front of the
throng. His massive head seemed to accord well with the possession of
despotic power.

The brow was a little bare, for he was no longer young, but the back of
his head was covered with thick ringlets of brown hair, so thick as to
partly conceal the coronet of gold which he wore. A short purple cloak,
scarcely reaching to the waist, was thrown back off his shoulders, so
that his steel corselet glistened in the sun. It was the only armour he
had on; a long sword hung at his side. He rode a powerful black horse,
full eighteen hands high, by far the finest animal on the ground; he
required it, for his weight must have been great. Felix passed near
enough to note that his eyes were brown, and the expression of his face
open, frank, and pleasing. The impression left upon the observer was
that of a strong intellect, but a still stronger physique, which latter
too often ran away with and controlled the former. No one could look
upon him without admiration, and it was difficult to think that he could
so demean himself as to wallow in the grossest indulgence.

As for the review, though it was a brilliant scene, Felix could not
conceal from himself that these gallant knights were extremely irregular
in their movements, and not one single evolution was performed
correctly, because they were constantly quarrelling about precedence,
and one would not consent to follow the other. He soon understood,
however, that discipline was not the object, nor regularity considered;
personal courage and personal dexterity were everything. This review was
the prelude to active operations, and Felix now hoped to have some
practical lessons in warfare.

He was mistaken. Instead of a grand assault, or a regular approach, the
fighting was merely a series of combats between small detachments and
bodies of the enemy. Two or three knights with their retainers and
slaves would start forth, cross the stream, and riding right past the
besieged city endeavour to sack some small hamlet, or the homestead of a
noble. From the city a sortie would ensue; sometimes the two bodies only
threatened each other at a distance, the first retiring as the second
advanced. Sometimes only a few arrows were discharged; occasionally they
came to blows, but the casualties were rarely heavy.

One such party, while returning, was followed by a squadron of horsemen
from the town towards the stream to within three hundred yards of the
king's quarters. Incensed at this assurance, several knights mounted
their horses and rode out to reinforce the returning detachment, which
was loaded with booty. Finding themselves about to be supported, they
threw down their spoils, faced about, and Felix saw for the first time a
real and desperate melee. It was over in five minutes. The king's
knights, far better horsed, and filled with desire to exhibit their
valour to the camp, charged with such fury that they overthrew the enemy
and rode over him.

Felix saw the troops meet; there was a crash and cracking as the lances
broke, four or five rolled from the saddle on the trodden corn, and the
next moment the entangled mass of men and horses unwound itself as the
enemy hastened back to the walls. Felix was eager to join in such an
affray, but he had no horse nor weapon. Upon another occasion early one
bright morning four knights and their followers, about forty in all,
deliberately set out from the camp, and advanced up the sloping ground
towards the city. The camp was soon astir watching their proceedings;
and the king, being made acquainted with what was going on, came out
from his booth. Felix, who now entered the circular entrenchment without
any difficulty, got up on the mound with scores of others, where,
holding to the stakes, they had a good view.

The king stood on a bench and watched the troops advance, shading his
eyes with his hand. As it was but half a mile to the walls they could
see all that took place. When the knights had got within two hundred
yards and arrows began to drop amongst them, they dismounted from their
horses and left them in charge of the grooms, who walked them up and
down, none remaining still a minute, so as to escape the aim of the
enemy's archers. Then drawing their swords, the knights, who were in
full armour, put themselves at the head of the band, and advanced at a
steady pace to the wall. In their mail with their shields before them
they cared not for such feeble archery, nor even for the darts that
poured upon them when they came within reach. There was no fosse to the
wall, so that, pushing forward, they were soon at the foot. So easily
had they reached it that Felix almost thought the city already won. Now
he saw blocks of stone, darts, and beams of wood cast at them from the
parapet, which was not more than twelve feet above the ground.

Quite undismayed, the knights set up their ladders, of which they had
but four, one each. The men-at-arms held these by main force against the
wall, the besiegers trying to throw them away, and chopping at the rungs
with their axes. But the ladders were well shod with iron to resist such
blows, and in a moment Felix saw, with intense delight and admiration,
the four knights slowly mount to the parapet and cut at the defenders
with their swords. The gleam of steel was distinctly visible as the
blades rose and fell. The enemy thrust at them with pikes, but seemed to
shrink from closer combat, and a moment afterwards the gallant four
stood on the top of the wall. Their figures, clad in mail and shield in
hand, were distinctly seen against the sky. Up swarmed the men-at-arms
behind them, and some seemed to descend on the other side. A shout rose
from the camp and echoed over the woods. Felix shouted with the rest,
wild with excitement.

The next minute, while yet the knights stood on the wall, and scarcely
seemed to know what to do next, there appeared at least a dozen men in
armour running along the wall towards them. Felix afterwards understood
that the ease with which the four won the wall at first was owing to
there being no men of knightly rank among the defenders at that early
hour. Those who had collected to repulse the assault were citizens,
retainers, slaves, any, in fact who had been near. But now the news had
reached the enemy's leaders, and some of them hastened to the wall. As
these were seen approaching, the camp was hushed, and every eye strained
on the combatants.

The noble four could not all meet their assailants, the wall was but
wide enough for two to fight; but the other two had work enough the next
minute, as eight or ten more men in mail advanced the other way. So they
fought back to back, two facing one way, and two the other. The swords
rose and fell. Felix saw a flash of light fly up into the air, it was
the point of a sword broken off short. At the foot of the wall the men
who had not had time to mount endeavoured to assist their masters by
stabbing upwards with their spears.

All at once two of the knights were hurled from the wall; one seemed to
be caught by his men, the other came heavily to the ground. While they
were fighting their immediate antagonists, others within the wall had
come with lances; and literally thrust them from the parapet. The other
two still fought back to back for a moment; then, finding themselves
overwhelmed, they sprang down among their friends.

The minute the two first fell, the grooms with the horses ran towards
the wall, and despite the rain of arrows, darts, and stones from the
parapet, Felix saw with relief three of the four knights placed on their
chargers. One only could sit upright unassisted, two were supported in
their saddles, and the fourth was carried by his retainers. Thus they
retreated, and apparently without further hurt, for the enemy on the
wall crowded so much together as to interfere with the aim of their
darts, which, too, soon fell short. But there was a dark heap beneath
the wall, where ten or twelve retainers and slaves, who wore no armour,
had been slain or disabled. Upon these the loss invariably fell.

None attempted to follow the retreating party, who slowly returned
towards the camp, and were soon apparently in safety. But suddenly a
fresh party of the enemy appeared upon the wall, and the instant
afterwards three retainers dropped, as if struck by lightning. They had
been hit by sling stones, whirled with great force by practised
slingers. These rounded pebbles come with such impetus as to stun a man
at two hundred yards. The aim, it is true, is uncertain, but where there
is a body of troops they are sure to strike some one. Hastening on,
leaving the three fallen men where they lay, the rest in two minutes
were out of range, and came safely into camp. Everyone, as they crossed
the stream, ran to meet them, the king included, and as he passed in the
throng, Felix heard him remark that they had had a capital main of cocks
that morning.

Of the knights only one was much injured; he had fallen upon a stone,
and two ribs were broken; the rest suffered from severe bruises, but had
no wound. Six men-at-arms were missing, probably prisoners, for, as
courageous as their masters, they had leapt down from the wall into the
town. Eleven other retainers or slaves were slain, or had deserted, or
were prisoners, and no trouble was taken about them. As for the three
who were knocked over by the sling stones, there they lay until they
recovered their senses, when they crawled into camp. This incident
cooled Felix's ardour for the fray, for he reflected that, if injured
thus, he too, as a mere groom, would be left. The devotion of the
retainers to save and succour their masters was almost heroic. The
mailed knights thought no more of their men, unless it was some
particular favourite, than of a hound slashed by a boar's tusk in the

When the first flush of his excitement had passed, Felix, thinking over
the scene of the morning as he took his horses down to water at the
stream, became filled at first with contempt, and then with indignation.
That the first commander of the age should thus look on while the wall
was won before his eyes, and yet never send a strong detachment, or move
himself with his whole army to follow up the advantage, seemed past
understanding. If he did not intend to follow it up, why permit such
desperate ventures, which must be overwhelmed by mere numbers, and could
result only in the loss of brave men? And if he did permit it, why did
he not, when he saw they were overthrown, send a squadron to cover their
retreat? To call such an exhibition of courage "a main of cocks", to
look on it as a mere display for his amusement, was barbarous and cruel
in the extreme. He worked himself up into a state of anger which
rendered him less cautious than usual in expressing his opinions.

The king was not nearly so much at fault as Felix, arguing on abstract
principles, imagined. He had long experience of war, and he knew its
extreme uncertainty. The issue of the greatest battle often hung on the
conduct of a single leader, or even a single man-at-arms. He had seen
walls won and lost before. To follow up such a venture with a strong
detachment must result in one of two things, either the detachment in
its turn must be supported by the entire army, or it must eventually
retreat. If it retreated, the loss of prestige would be serious, and
might encourage the enemy to attack the camp, for it was only his
prestige which prevented them. If supported by the entire army, then the
fate of the whole expedition depended upon that single day.

The enemy had the advantage of the wall, of the narrow streets and
enclosures within, of the houses, each of which would become a fortress,
and thus in the winding streets a repulse might easily happen. To risk
such an event would be folly in the last degree, before the town had
been dispirited and discouraged by the continuance of the siege, the
failure of their provisions, or the fall of their chief leaders in the
daily combats that took place.

The army had no discipline whatever, beyond that of the attachment of
the retainer to his lord, and the dread of punishment on the part of the
slave. There were no distinct ranks, no organized corps. The knights
followed the greater barons, the retainers the knights; the greater
barons followed the king. Such an army could not be risked in an assault
of this kind. The venture was not ordered, nor was it discouraged; to
discourage, indeed, all attempts would have been bad policy; it was upon
the courage and bravery of his knights that the king depended, and upon
that alone rested his hopes of victory.

The great baron whose standard they followed would have sent them
assistance if he had deemed it necessary. The king, unless on the day of
battle, would not trouble about such a detail. As for the remark, that
they had had "a good main of cocks that morning," he simply expressed
the feeling of the whole camp. The spectacle Felix had seen was, in
fact, merely an instance of the strength and of the weakness of the army
and the monarch himself.

Felix afterwards acknowledged these things to himself, but at the
moment, full of admiration for the bravery of the four knights and their
followers, he was full of indignation, and uttered his views too freely.
His fellow-grooms cautioned him; but his spirit was up, and he gave way
to his feelings without restraint. Now, to laugh at the king's
weaknesses, his gluttony or follies, was one thing; to criticise his
military conduct was another. The one was merely badinage, and the king
himself might have laughed had he heard it; the other was treason, and,
moreover, likely to touch the monarch on the delicate matter of military

Of this Felix quickly became aware. His mates, indeed, tried to shield
him; but possibly the citizen, his master, had enemies in the camp,
barons, perhaps, to whom he had lent money, and who watched for a chance
of securing his downfall. At all events, early the next day Felix was
rudely arrested by the provost in person, bound with cords, and placed
in the provost's booth. At the same time, his master was ordered to
remain within, and a guard was put over him.

Next: In Danger

Previous: The King's Levy

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