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- Via Crucis - 40/55 -


whom men were to call the Lion-Hearted.

And she prayed thus, with a pale face:--

"Almighty God, most just, who art the truth, and who orderest good against evil, with pain, that men may be saved by overcoming, help me to give up what is most dear in my life. Hear me, O God, a sinful woman, and have mercy upon me! Hear me, O God, and though I perish, let this man's soul be saved!

"Lord Jesus Christ, most pitiful and kind, to Thee I bring my sin, and I steadfastly purpose to be faithful, and to renounce and abhor my evil desires and thoughts. Hear me, O Christ, a sinful woman! To Thy service and to the honour of Thy most sacred Cross, I dedicate this true man. Bless Thou this shield of his, that it may be between him and his enemies, and his arms, also, that he may go before our host, and save many, and lead us to Thy holy place in Jerusalem! Endue him with grace, fill him with strength, enlighten his heart. Hear me and help me, O Christ, a sinful, loving woman!

"Holy Spirit of God, Most High, Creator, Comforter, let Thy pure gifts descend upon this clean-hearted man, that his courage fail not in life, nor in the hour of death. Hear me, a sinful woman, Thou who, with the Father and the Son, livest and reignest in glory forever!"

When she had prayed, she knelt a little while longer, with bowed head pressing against her clasped hands on the praying-stool till they hurt her. And that was the hardest, for it had been her meaning to make a solemn promise, and she saw between her and her love the barrier of her faith to be kept to God, and of her respect of her own plighted honour.

Rising at last, she took the shield again, and kissed it once between the arms of the cross; and her lips made a small mark on the fresh gold-leaf.

"He will never know what it is," she said to herself, as she looked at the place, "but I think that no arrow shall strike through it there, nor any lance."

Suddenly she longed to kiss the shield again, and many times, to thousands, as if her lips could give it tenfold virtue to defend. But she thought of her prayer and would not, and she brought the shield back into the tent, out of the oratory, and set it upright against the table.

Then, after a time, Anne of Auch lifted the curtain to let Gilbert in, standing by the entrance when he had passed her.

He bent his head courteously but not humbly, and then stood upright, pale from what he had suffered, his eyes fixed as if he were making an inward effort. The Queen spoke, coldly and clearly.

"Gilbert Warde, you saved my life, and you have sent back a gift from me. I have called you to give you two things. You may scorn the one, but the other you cannot refuse."

[Illustration: THE KNIGHTING OF GILBERT.]

He looked at her, and within her outward coldness he saw something he had never seen before--something divinely womanly, unguessed in his life, which touched him more than her own touch had ever done. He felt that she drew him to her, though it were now against her better will. Therefore he was afraid, and angry with himself.

"Madam," he said, with a sort of fierce coldness, "I need no gifts to poison your good thanks."

"Sir," answered Eleanor, "there is no venom in the honour I mean for you. I borrowed your shield,--your father's honourable shield,--and I give it back to you with a device that was never shamed, that you and yours may bear my cross of Aquitaine in memory of what you did."

She took the shield and held it out to him with a look almost stern, and as her eyes fell upon it they dwelt on the spot she had kissed. Gilbert's face changed, for he was moved. He knelt on one knee to receive the shield, and his voice shook.

"Madam, I will bear this device ever for your Grace's sake and memory, and I pray that I may bear it honourably, and my sons' sons after me."

Eleanor waited a breathing-space before she spoke again.

"You may not bear it long, sir," she said, and her voice was less hard and clear, "for I desire of you a great service, which is also an honour before other men."

"What I may do, I will do."

"Take, then, at your choice two or three score lances, gentlemen and men-at-arms who are well mounted, and ride ever a day's march before the army, spying out the enemy and sending messengers constantly to us, as we shall send to you; for I trust not the Greek guides we have. So you shall save us all from the destruction that overtook the German Emperor in the mountains. Will you do this?"

Again Gilbert's face lightened, for he knew the danger and the honour.

"I will do it faithfully, so help me God."

Then he would have risen, but the Queen spoke again.

"Lady Anne," she said, "give me the sword of Aquitaine."

Anne of Auch brought the great blade, in its velvet scabbard, with its cross-hilt bound with twisted wire of gold for the old Duke's grip. The Queen drew it slowly and gave back the sheath.

"Sir," she said, "I will give you knighthood, that you may have authority among men."

Gilbert was taken unawares. He bowed his head in silence, and knelt upon both knees instead of on one only, placing his open hands together. The Queen stood with her left hand on the hilt of the great sword, and she made the sign of the cross with her right. Gilbert also crossed himself, and so did the Lady Anne, and she knelt at the Queen's left, for it was a very solemn rite. Then Eleanor spoke.

"Gilbert Warde, inasmuch as you are about to receive the holy order of knighthood at my hands without preparation, consider first whether you are in any mortal sin, lest that be an impediment."

"On the honour of my word, I have no mortal sin upon my soul," answered Gilbert.

"Make, then, the promises of knighthood. Promise before Almighty God that you will lead an honest and a clean life."

"I will so live, God helping me."

"Promise that to the best of your strength you will defend the Christian faith against unbelievers, and that you will suffer death, and a cruel death, but not deny the Lord Jesus Christ."

"I will be faithful to death, so God help me."

"Promise that you will honour women, and protect them, and shield the weak, and at all times be merciful to the poor, preferring before yourself all those who are in trouble and need."

"I will, by God's grace."

"Promise that you will be true and allegiant to your liege sovereign."

"I promise that I will be true and allegiant to my liege Queen and Lady, Maud of England, and to her son and Prince, Henry Plantagenet, and thereof your Grace is witness."

"And between my hands, as your liege sovereign's proxy, lay your hands."

Gilbert held out his joined hands to the Queen, and she took them between her palms, while Anne of Auch held the great sword, still kneeling.

"I put my hands between the hands of my Lady, Queen Maud of England, and I am her man," said Gilbert Warde.

But Eleanor's touch was like ice, and she trembled a little.

Then she took the sword of Aquitaine and held it up in her right hand, though it was heavy, and she spoke holy words.

"Gilbert Warde, be a true knight in life and death! 'Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things'--and do them, and for them live and die."

When she had spoken, she laid the sword flat upon his left shoulder, and let it linger a moment, and then lifted it and touched him twice again, and sheathed the long blade.

"Sir Gilbert, rise!"

He stood before her, and he knew what remained to be done, according to the rite, and it was not fire that ran through him, but a chill of fear. The Queen's face was marble pale and as beautiful as death. One step toward him she made with outstretched arms, her right above his left, her left under his right as he met her. Then she coldly kissed the man she loved on the cheek, once only, in the royal fashion, and he kissed her.

She drew back, and their eyes met. Remembering many things, he thought that he should see in her face the evil shadow of his mother, as he had seen it before; but he saw a face he did not know, for it was that of a suffering woman, coldly brave to the best of her strength.

"Go, Sir Gilbert!" she said. "Go out and fight, and die if need be, that others may live to win battles for the Cross of Christ."

He was gone, and Anne of Auch stood beside her.

"Lady Anne," said the Queen, "I thank you. I would be alone."

She turned and went into the little oratory, and knelt down before the altar, looking at the place where the shield had stood.


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