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- Via Crucis - 50/55 -


So, being sure, the Queen went to the King and told him to his face that she had meant to marry a king, and not a monk as he was, and that she had now found out that her marriage was no marriage, wherefore he was living in mortal sin; and if he would save his soul he must repudiate her as soon as they should have returned to France. At this the King was overcome with grief and wept bitterly, not because he was to be delivered from the woman of Belial, as he had prayed, but because he had unwittingly lived in such great sin so many years. She laughed and went away, leaving him weeping.

From that time she spent her days and her evenings in consultation with Count Raymond, and they were continually closeted together in her apartment, which was in one of the western towers of the palace and looked out over the city walls towards the sea. It was early spring, and the air smelt of Syrian flowers and was tender to breathe.

Although the King was now sure that Eleanor was not his wife, he continued to be very jealous of her, because he had once loved her in his dull fashion, and she was very beautiful. Therefore, when he was not praying, he was watching and spying, to see whether she were alone with Count Raymond. Certain writers have spoken of the great Saladin at this time, saying that she met him secretly, for the deliverance of her kinsman Sandebeuil de Sanzay, who had been taken prisoner, and that she loved Saladin for his generosity, and that the King was jealous of him; which things are lies, because Saladin was at that time but seven years old.

Daily, as he watched, the King grew very sure that Raymond loved Eleanor, and he swore by his hope of salvation that such things should not be. In this way the feast of Easter passed, and there were great rejoicings, and feastings, and all manner of delight. Also during this time Gilbert saw Beatrix freely, so that their love grew more and more; but he seldom spoke with the Queen, and then briefly.

Now Eleanor lived in the western tower, and only one staircase led up to the vestibule of her apartments, by which way Count Raymond came, and the great nobles when she summoned them, and the guards also. But beyond her inner chamber there was a door opening into the long wing of the palace where all her ladies were lodged, and by that door she went to them and they came to her. Often the Lady Anne came in, and Beatrix, and some of the others who were more especially her familiars, and they found the Queen and Count Raymond sitting in chairs, and talking without constraint, and sometimes playing at chess by the open window which looked out on the west balcony. They thought no evil, for they knew that he had become her counsellor in the matter of the repudiation; and Beatrix cared not, for she knew well that the Queen loved Gilbert, and she never saw him there.

On an evening in the week after Easter the King determined that he would see the Queen himself and tell her his mind. He therefore took two nobles for an escort, with torchbearers and a few guards; and when he had descended into the main court, he walked across to the west side and went up into Eleanor's tower; for he would not go through the ladies' wing, lest his eyes should see some fair and noble maiden, or some young dame of great beauty, whereby his pious thoughts might be disturbed ever so little.

Having come to the vestibule, he demanded admittance to the Queen's chamber; and the young Lord of Sanzay, who was in waiting, begged him to wait while he himself inquired if the Queen were at leisure. Then the King was angry, and said that he waited for no one, and he went forward to go in. But Sanzay stood before the door and bade the Gascon guards form in rank and keep it till he should come back. The King saw that he had small chance of forcing a way, and he stood still, repeating some prayers the while, lest he should draw his sword and fight, out of sheer anger. Then Sanzay came back.

"My lord King," he said in a clear voice, "her Grace bids me say that she has no leisure now, and that when she has need of a monk she will send for him."

At the great insult, swords were out as soon as the words, and the broken reflections of steel flashed red under the high lamps and in the torchlight; for the King drew to strike down Sanzay where he stood, and his nobles and guards drew with him, while the Gascons were as quick as they. But Sanzay would not draw his sword, for he had once saved the King's life in battle, and he thought it not knightly. Then some blows were exchanged and blood was shed; but presently, being at a disadvantage, the King stepped back and lowered his point.

"Sirs," he said, "it is not seemly that we of the Cross should kill one another. Let us go."

When Sanzay heard this, he called his guards back, and the King went away discomfited. In the courtyard he turned aside and sat down upon a great stone seat.

"Fetch me Sir Gilbert Warde," he said, "and let him come quickly."

He waited silently till the knight came and stood before him in his surcoat and mantle, with only his dagger in his belt; and the King bade all his attendants go away to a distance, leaving a torch stuck in the ring in the wall.

He desired of Gilbert that he should take a force of trusted men who would obey him, and go up the west tower to bring the Queen out a prisoner; for he would not stay in Antioch another night, nor leave her behind, and he meant to ride down to the harbour and take ship for Ptolemais, leaving the army to follow him on the morrow. But for a space Gilbert answered nothing.

At first it seemed to him impossible to do such a deed, and but for courtesy he would have turned on his heel and left the King sitting there. But as he stood thinking, it seemed to him that he had better seem to obey, and go and warn the Queen of her danger.

[Illustration: "FOR A SPACE GILBERT ANSWERED NOTHING"]

"My lord," he answered at last, "I will go."

Though he said not what he would do, the King was satisfied, and rose and went toward his own apartments, to order his departure.

Then Gilbert went and sought out ten knights whom he knew, and each of them called ten of their men-at-arms, and they took their swords with them, and torches; but Gilbert had only his dagger, for those he had chosen were all of them Queen's men and would have died for her. So they went together up the broad steps of the tower, and the Gascons heard the hundred footfalls in fear and much trembling, supposing that the King had come back with a great force to slay them and go in. Then Sanzay drew his sword and stood at the head of the stairs, bidding his men keep the narrow way till they should all be dead for the Queen's sake. They were Gascons, and were ready to die, but they held their breath as they listened to the steady tramping on the stone steps below.

In the torchlight they saw Gilbert's face, and the faces of Queen's men, and that there were no swords out; nevertheless, they kept theirs drawn and stood in the doorway, and on the landing Gilbert stood still, for they did not make way for him.

"Sir Gilbert," said Sanzay, "I am here to keep the Queen's door, and though we be friends, I shall not let you pass while I live, if you mean her any violence."

"Sir," answered Gilbert, "I come unarmed, as you see, and by no means to fight with you. I pray you, sir, go in and tell the Queen that I am without, and have her men with me, and would speak with her for her safety."

Then Sanzay bade his men stand back, and the knights and men-at-arms crowded the vestibule, while he went in; and immediately he came out again, with a clear face.

"The Queen is alone, and bids the Guide of Aquitaine pass," he said.

All stood aside, and he, taller than they, and grave and keen of face, went in; and the door was closed behind him, and within that there was a heavy Eastern curtain, so that no voices could be heard from one side to the other.

Eleanor sat under the warm lamplight, near the open window, for the night was warm. Her head was uncovered, her russet-golden hair fell in great waves upon her shoulders and to the ground behind her chair, and she wore no mantle, but only a close-fitting gown of cream-white silk with deep embroideries of silver and pearls. She was very beautiful, but very pale, and her eyes were veiled. Gilbert came and stood before her, but she did not hold out her hand, as he had expected.

"Why have you come to me?" she asked after a time, looking out at the balcony, and not at him.

"The King, Madam, has bidden me take you a prisoner to him, in order that he may carry you away by sea to Ptolemais and to Jerusalem."

While he was speaking, she slowly turned her face to him, and stared at his coldly.

"And you are come to do as you are bidden, getting admittance to me stealthily, with men of my own who have betrayed me?"

Gilbert turned white, and then he smiled as he answered her.

"No. I am come to warn your Grace and to defend you against all violence, with my life."

Eleanor's face changed and softened, and again she looked out at the balcony.

"Why should you defend me?" she asked sadly, after a pause. "What am I to you, that you should fight for me? I sent you out to die--why should you wish me to be safe?"

"You have been the best friend to me, and the kindest, that ever woman was to man."

"A friend? No. I was never your friend. I sent you out to death, because I loved you, and trusted that I might see you never again, and that you might die honourably for the Cross and your vows. Instead, you won glory, and saved us all--all but me! You owe me no thanks for such friendship."

She looked at him long, and he was silent.

"Oh, what a man you are!" she cried suddenly. "What a man!"

He blushed like a girl at the praise, for her soul was in the words, and her great love for him, the only thing in all her life that had ever been above herself.


Via Crucis - 50/55

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