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- SIR NIGEL - 70/72 -
the death. In their ranks honor was to be reaped. The Prince and his following hurled themselves upon them, while the rest of the English horsemen swept onward to secure the fugitives and to win their ransoms. But the nobler spirits - Audley, Chandos and the others - would have thought it shame to gain money whilst there was work to be done or honor to be won. Furious was the wild attack, desperate the prolonged defense. Men fell from their saddles for very exhaustion.
Nigel, still at his place near Chandos' elbow, was hotly attacked by a short broad-shouldered warrior upon a stout white cob, but Pommers reared with pawing fore feet and dashed the smaller horse to the ground. The falling rider clutched Nigel's arm and tore him from the saddle, so that the two rolled upon the grass under the stamping hoofs, the English squire on the top, and his shortened sword glimmered before the visor of the gasping, breathless Frenchman.
"Je me rends! je axe rends!" he panted.
For a moment a vision of rich ransoms passed through Nigel's brain. That noble palfrey, that gold-flecked armor, meant fortune to the captor. Let others have it! There was work still to be done. How could he desert the Prince and his noble master for the sake of a private gain? Could he lead a prisoner to the rear when honor beckoned him to the van? He staggered to his feet, seized Pommers by the mane, and swung himself into the saddle.
An instant later he was by Chandos' side once more and they were bursting together through the last ranks of the gallant group who had fought so bravely to the end. Behind them was one long swath of the dead and the wounded. In front the whole wide plain was covered with the flying French and their pursuers.
The Prince reined up his steed and opened his visor, whilst his followers crowded round him with waving weapons and frenzied shouts of victory. "What now, John!" cried the smiling Prince, wiping his streaming face with his ungauntleted hand. "How fares it then?"
"I am little hurt, fair lord, save for a crushed hand and a spear-prick in the shoulder. But you, sir? I trust you have no scathe?"
"In truth, John, with you at one elbow and Lord Audley at the other, I know not how I could come to harm. But alas! I fear that Sir James is sorely stricken."
The gallant Lord Audley had dropped upon the ground and the blood oozed from every crevice of his battered armor. His four brave Squires - Dutton of Dutton, Delves of Doddington, Fowlhurst of Crewe and Hawkstone of Wainhill - wounded and weary themselves, but with no thought save for their master, unlaced his helmet and bathed his pallid blood-stained face.
He looked up at the Prince with burning eyes. "I thank you, sir, for deigning to consider so poor a knight as myself," said he in a feeble voice.
The Prince dismounted and bent over him. "I am bound to honor you very much, James," said he, "for by your valor this day you have won glory and renown above us all, and your prowess has proved you to be the bravest knight."
"My Lord," murmured the wounded man, "you have a right to say what you please; but I wish it were as you say."
"James," said the Prince, "from this time onward I make you a knight of my own household, and I settle upon you five hundred marks of yearly income from my own estates in England."
"Sir," the knight answered, "God make me worthy of the good fortune you bestow upon me. Your knight I will ever be, and the money I will divide with your leave amongst these four squires who have brought me whatever glory I have won this day." So saying his head fell back, and he lay white and silent upon the grass.
"Bring water!" said the Prince. "Let the royal leech see to him; for I had rather lose many men than the good Sir James. Ha, Chandos, what have we here?"
A knight lay across the path with his helmet beaten down upon his shoulders. On his surcoat and shield were the arms of a red griffin.
"It is Robert de Duras the spy," said Chandos.
"Well for him that he has met his end," said the angry Prince. "Put him on his shield, Hubert, and let four archers bear him to the monastery. Lay him at the feet of the Cardinal and say that by this sign I greet him. Place my flag on yonder high bush, Walter, and let my tent be raised there, that my friends may know where to seek me."
The flight and pursuit had thundered far away, and the field was deserted save for the numerous groups of weary horsemen who were making their way back, driving their prisoners before them. The archers were scattered over the whole plain, rifling the saddle-bags and gathering the armor of those who had fallen, or searching for their own scattered arrows.
Suddenly, however, as the Prince was turning toward the bush which he had chosen for his headquarters, there broke out from behind him an extraordinary uproar and a group of knights and squires came pouring toward him, all arguing, swearing and abusing each other in French and English at the tops of their voices. In the midst of them limped a stout little man in gold-spangled armor, who appeared to be the object of the contention, for one would drag him one way and one another, as though they would pull him limb from limb. "Nay, fair sirs, gently, gently, I pray you!" he pleaded. "There is enough for all, and no need to treat me so rudely." But ever the hubbub broke out again, and swords gleamed as the angry disputants glared furiously at each other. The Prince's eyes fell upon the small prisoner, and he staggered back with a gasp of astonishment.
"King John!" he cried.
A shout of joy rose from the warriors around him. "The King of France! The King of France a prisoner!" they cried in an ecstasy.
"Nay, nay, fair sirs, let him not hear that we rejoice! Let no word bring pain to his soul!" Running forward the Prince clasped the French King by the two hands.
"Most welcome, sire!" he cried. "Indeed it is good for us that so gallant a knight should stay with us for some short time, since the chance of war has so ordered it. Wine there! Bring wine for the King!"
But John was flushed and angry. His helmet had been roughly torn off, and blood was smeared upon his cheek. His noisy captors stood around him in a circle, eying him hungrily like dogs who have been beaten from their quarry. There were Gascons and English, knights, squires and archers, all pushing and straining.
"I pray you, fair Prince, to get rid of these rude fellows," said King John, "for indeed they have plagued me sorely. By Saint Denis! my arm has been well-nigh pulled from its socket."
"What wish you then?" asked the Prince, turning angrily upon the noisy swarm of his followers.
"We took him, fair lord. He is ours!" cried a score of voices. They closed in, all yelping together like a pack of wolves. "It was I, fair lord!" - " Nay, it was I!" - " You lie, you rascal, it was I!" Again their fierce eyes glared and their blood-stained hands sought the hilts of their weapons.
"Nay, this must be settled here and now!" said the Prince. "I crave your patience, fair and honored sir, for a few brief minutes, since indeed much ill-will may spring from this if it be not set at rest. Who is this tall knight who can scarce keep his hands from the King's shoulder?"
"It is Denis de Morbecque, my lord, a knight of St. Omer, who is in our service, being an outlaw from France."
"I call him to mind. How then, Sir Denis? What say you in this matter?"
"He gave himself to me, fair lord. He had fallen in the press, and I came upon him and seized him. I told him that I was a knight from Artois, and he gave me his glove. See here, I bear it in my hand."
"It is true, fair lord! It is true!" cried a dozen French voices.
"Nay, sir, judge not too soon!" shouted an English squire, pushing his way to the front. "It was I who had him at my mercy, and he is my prisoner, for he spoke to this man only because he could tell by his tongue that he was his own countryman. I took him, and here are a score to prove it."
"It is true, fair lord. We saw it and it was even so," cried a chorus of Englishmen.
At all times there was growling and snapping betwixt the English and their allies of France. The Prince saw how easily this might set a light to such a flame as could not readily be quenched. It must be stamped out now ere it had time to mount.
"Fair and honored lord," he said to the King, "again I pray you for a moment of patience. It is your word and only yours which can tell us what is just and right. To whom were you graciously pleased to commit your royal person?"
King John looked up from the flagon which had been brought to him and wiped his lips with the dawnings of a smile upon his ruddy face.
"It was not this Englishman," he said, and a cheer burst from the Gascons, "nor was it this bastard Frenchman," he added. "To neither of them did I surrender."
There was a hush of surprise.
"To whom then, sir?" asked the Prince.
The King looked slowly round. "There was a devil of a yellow
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