Read THE BOOK OF NAY - CHAPTER XII of The Life and Death of Richard Yea-and-Nay, free online book, by Maurice Hewlett, on ReadCentral.com.

THE CHAPTER OF STRIFE IN THE DARK

One very great power of King Richard’s had never served him better than now, the power of immense quiescence, whereunder he could sit by day or by night as inert as a stone, a block hewn into shape of a man, neither to be moved by outside fret nor by the workings of his own mind.  Into this rapt state he fell when the prison doors shut on him, and so remained for three or four weeks, alone while the Fates were spinning.  The Archduke came daily to him with speeches, injuries to relate, injuries to impart.  King Richard hardly winked an eyelid.  The Archduke hinted at ransom, and Richard watched the wall behind his head; he spoke of letters received from this great man or that, which made ransom not to be thought of; and Richard went to sleep.  What are you to do with a man who meets your offers and threats with the same vast unconcern?  If it is matter for resentment, Richard gave it; if it is a matter which money may leaven, it is to be observed that while Richard offered no money his enemies offered much.

These letters to the Archduke were not of the sort which fill the austere folios of the Codex Diplomaticus as bins with bran, or make Rymer’s book as dry as Ezekiel’s valley.  They were pungent, pertinent, allusive, succinct, supplementing, as with meat, those others.  The Count of Saint-Pol wrote, for instance, ’Kinsman, kill the killer of your kin,’ and could hardly have expressed himself better under the circumstances.  King Philip of France sent two letters:  one by a herald, very long, and chiefly in the language of the Epistle of Saint James, designed for the Codex.  The other lay in the vest of a Savigniac monk, and was to this effect:  ’In a ridded acre the husbandman can sow with hopes of good harvesting.  When the corn is garnered he calleth about him his friends and fellow-labourers, and cheer abounds.  Labour and pray.  I pray.’  Last came a limping pilgrim from Aquitaine, whose hat was covered with metal saints, and in his left shoe a wad of parchment, which had made him limp.  This proved to be a letter from John Count of Mortain, which said, ’Now I see in secret.  But when I am come into my kingdom I will reward openly.’  The Archduke was by no means a wise man; but it was not easy to know something of European politics and mistake the meaning of letters like these.  If it was a question of money, here was money.  And imagine now the Archduke, bursting with the urgent secrets of so many princes, making speeches about them — through all of which King Richard slumbered!  ‘Damn it, he flouts me, does he?’ said Austria at last; and left him alone.  From that moment Richard began to sing.

Let us do no wrong to Luitpold:  it was not merely a question of money, but money turned the scale.  Not only had Richard mortally affronted his gaoler; he had innumerably offended him.  The Archduke was punctilious; Richard with his petulant foot stamped on every little point he laboured, or else, like a buttress, let him labour them in vain.  He did not for a moment disguise his fatigue in Luitpold’s presence, his relief at his absence, or his unconcern with his properties.  This galled the man.  He could not, for the life of him, affect indifference to Richard’s indifference.  When the messenger, therefore, arrived from the Old Man of Musse, the insolence of the message was most unfortunate.  The Archduke, angry as he was, could afford to be cool.  He played on the Old Man the very part which Richard had played on him — that is, treated him and his letter as though they were not.

Then he broke with Richard altogether; and then came Gilles de Gurdun with secret words and offers.

The Archduke drained his beer-horn, and with his big hand wrung his beard dry.  He winked hard at Gilles, whom he thought to be a hired assassin of deplorable address sent, probably, by Count John.

‘Are you angry enough to do what you propose?’ he asked him.  ’I am not, let me tell you.’

‘I have been trying to kill him for four years,’ said Gilles.

‘And are you man enough, my fellow?’ Gilles cast down his eyes.

’I have not been man enough yet, since he still lives.  I think I am now.’  Then there was a pause.

‘What is your price?’ asked Luitpold after this.

Gilles said, ‘I have no price’; and the Archduke, ’You suit my humour exactly.’

Richard, I say, had begun to sing from the day he was sure that the Archduke had given him up.  Physical relief may have had something to do with that, but moral certainty had more.  What made him fume or freeze was doubt.  There was very little room for doubt just now but that his enemies would prove too many for Austria’s scruples.  His friends?  He was not aware that he had any friends.  Des Barres, Gaston, Auvergne, Milo?  What did they amount to?  His sister Joan, his mother, his brothers?  Here he shrugged, knowing his own race too well.  He had never heard of the Angevin who helped any Angevin but himself.  Lastly, Jehane.  He had lost her by his own fault and her extreme nobility.  Let her go, glorious among women!  He was alone.  Odd creature, he began to sing.

Singing like a genius to the broad splash of sunlight on brickwork, Gilles de Gurdun found him.  Richard was sitting on a bench against the wall, one knee clasped in his hands, his head thrown back, his throat rippling with the tide of his music.  He looked as fresh and gallant a figure as ever in his life; his beard trimmed sharply, his strong hair brushed back, his doublet green, his trunks of fine leather, his shoes of yet finer.  The song he was upon was Li Chastel d’ Amors, which runs —

     Las portas son de parlar
     Al eissir e al entrar
     Qui gen non sab razonar,

     Defors li ven a estar
     E las claus son de prejar: 
     Ab cel obron li cortés

and so on through many verses, made continuous by the fact that the end of each sixth line forms the rhyme of the next five.  Now, Gilles knew nothing of Southern minstrelsy, and if he had, the pitch he was screwed to would have shrilled such knowledge out of him.  At ’Defors li ven a estar,’ he came in, and sturdily forward.  Richard saw him and put up his hand:  on went the hammered rhymes —

     E las claus son de prejar: 
     Ab cel obron li cortés.

Here was a little break.  Gilles, very dark, took a step; up shot Richard’s warning hand —

     Dedinz la clauson qu’i es
     Son las mazos dels borges . . .

On went the exulting voice after the new rhymes, gayer and yet more gay. Li Chastel d’Amors has twelve linked verses, and King Richard, wound up in their music, sang them all.  When at last he had stopped, he said, ‘Now, Gurdun, what do you want here?’

Gilles came a step or two of his way, and so again a step or two, and so again, by jerks.  When he was so near that it was to be seen what he had in his right hand, the King got up.  Gilles saw that he had light fetters on his ankles which could not stop his walking.  Richard folded his arms.

‘Oh, Gurdun,’ he said, ‘what a fool you are.’

Gurdun vented a sob of rage, and flung himself forward at his enemy.  He was a shorter man, but very thickset, with arms like steel.  He had a knife, rage like a thirst, he was free.  Richard, as he came on, hit him full on the chin, and sent him flying.  Gurdun picked himself up again, his mouth twitching, his eyes so small as to be like slits.  Knife in hand he leaned against the wall to fetch up his breath.

‘Well,’ said Richard, ‘Have you had enough?’

‘Yes, you wolf,’ said Gurdun, ‘I shall wait till it is dark.’

‘I think it may suit you better,’ was the King’s comment as he sat down on the bed.  Gurdun squatted by the wall, watching him.  After about an hour of humming airs to himself Richard lay full length, and in a short time Gilles ascertained that he was asleep.  This brought tears into the man’s eyes; he began to cry freely.  Virgin Mary!  Virgin Mary! why could he not kill this frozen devil of a king?  Was there a race in the world which bred such men, to sleep with the knife at the throat?  He rose to his feet, went to look at the sleeper; but he knew he could not do his work.  He ranged the room incessantly, and at every second or third turn brought up short by the bed.  Sometimes he flashed up his long knife; it always stayed the length of his arm, then flapped down to his flank in dejection.  ‘If he wakes not I must go away.  I cannot do it so,’ he told himself, as finally he sat down by the wall.  It grew dusk.  He was tired, sick, giddy; his head dropped, he slept.  When he woke up, as with a snort he did, it was inky dark.  Now was the time, not even God could see him now.  He turned himself about; inch by inch he crept forward, edging along by the bed’s edge.  Painfully he got on his knees, threw up his head.  ‘Jehane, my robbed lost soul!’ he howled, and stabbed with all his might.  King Richard, cat-like behind him, caught him by the hair, and cuffed his ears till they sang.

’Ah, dastard cur!  Ah, mongrel!  Ah, white-galled Norman eft!  God’s feet, if I pommel you for this!’ Pommel him he did; and, having drawn blood at his ears, he turned him over his knee as if he had been a schoolboy, and lathered his rump with a chair-leg.  This humiliating punishment had humiliating effects.  Gilles believed himself a boy in the cloister-school again, with his smock up.  ’Mea culpa, mea culpa!  Hey, reverend father, have pity!’ he began to roar.  Dropping him at last, Richard tumbled him on to the bed.  ‘Blubber yourself to sleep, clown,’ he told him.  ’Blessed ass, I have heard you snoring these two hours, snoring and rootling over your jack-knife.  Sleep, man.  But if you rootle again I flog again:  mind you that.’  Gilles slept long, and was awoken in full light by the sound of King Richard calling for his breakfast.

The gaoler came pale-faced in.  ’A thousand pardons, sire, a thousand pardons — ’

‘Bring my food, Dietrich,’ says Richard, ’and send the barber.  Also, the next time the Archduke desires murder done let him find a fellow who knows his trade.  This one is a bungler.  Here’s the third time to my knowledge he has missed.  Off with you.’

Gilles lay face downwards, abject on the bed.  In came the King’s breakfast, a jug of wine, some white bread.  The King’s beard was trimmed, his hair brushed, fresh clothes put on.  He dismissed his attendants, crossed over the room like a stalking cat, and gave Gilles a clap behind which made him leap in the air.

‘Get up, Gurdun,’ said Richard.  ’Tell me that you are ashamed of yourself, and then listen to me.’

Gilles went down on one knee.  ‘God knows, my lord King,’ he mumbled, ‘that I have done shamefully by you.’  He got up, his face clouded, his jaw went square.  ’But not more shamefully, by the same God, than you have done by me.’

The King looked at him.  ‘I have never justified myself to any man,’ he said quietly, ’nor shall I now to you.  I take the consequences of all my deeds when and as they come.  But from the like of you none will ever come.  I speak of men.  Now I will tell you this very plainly.  The next time you cross my path adversely, I shall kill you.  You are a nuisance, not because you desire my life, but because you never get it.  Try no more, Gurdun.’

‘Where is Jehane, my lord?’ said Gurdun, very black.

‘I cannot tell you where the Countess of Anjou may be,’ he was answered.  ‘She is not here, and is not in France.  I believe she is in Palestine.’

‘Palestine!  Palestine!  Lord Christ, have you turned her away?’ Gilles cried, beside himself.  Again King Richard looked at him, but afterwards shrugged.

’You speak after your kind.  Now, Gurdun, get you home.  Go to my friends in Normandy, to my brother Mortain, to my brother of Rouen; bid them raise a ransom.  I must go back.  You have disturbed me, sickened me of assassination, reminded me of what I intended to forget.  If I get any more assassins I shall break prison and the Archduke’s head, and I should be sorry to do that, as I have no grudge against him.  Find Des Barres, Gurdun, raise all Normandy.  Find above all Mercadet, and set him to work in Poictou.  As for England, my brother Geoffrey will see to it.  Aquitaine I leave to the Lord of Béarn.  Off now, Gurdun, do as I bid you.  But if you speak another word to me of Madame d’Anjou, by God’s death I will wring your neck.  You are not fit to speak of me:  how should you dare speak of her?  You!  A stab-i’-the-dark, a black-entry cutter of throats, a hedgerow knifer!  Foh, you had better speak nothing, but be off.  Stay, I will call the castellan.’  And so he did, roaring through the key-hole.  The gaoler came up flying.

‘Conduct this animal into the fresh air, Dietrich,’ said King Richard; ’send him about his business.  Tell your master he will now do better.  And when that is done, let me go on to the leads that I may walk a little.’

Gurdun followed his guide speechless; but the Archduke was very vexed, and declined to see him.  ’I decide to be a villain, and he makes me a vain villain,’ said the great man.  ‘Bid him go to the devil.’  So then Gilles with head hanging came out of the gate, and Jehane leaped from her angle to confront him.

To say that he dropped like a shot bird is to say wrong; for a bird drops compact, but Gilles went down disjunct.  His jaw dropped, his hands dropped, his knees, last his head.  ‘Ha, Heart of Jesus!’ he said, and covered his eyes.  She began to talk like a hissing snake.

‘What have you done with the King?  What have you done?’ King Richard on the roof peered down and saw her.  He turned quite grey.

‘I could do nothing, Jehane,’ Gilles whimpered; ‘I went to kill him.’

’You fool, I know it.  I saw you go.  I could have stayed you as I do now.  But I would not.’

‘Why not, Jehane?’

She spurned him with a look.  ’Because I love King Richard, and know you, Gilles, what you can do and what not.  Pshutt!  You are a rat.’

‘Rat,’ says Gilles, ’I may be, but a rat may be offended.  This king robbed me of you, and slew my father and brothers.  Therefore I hated him.  Is it not enough reason?’

Her eyes grew cold with scorn.  ‘Your father?  Your brothers?’ she echoed him.  ’Pooh, I have given him more than that.  I have burned my heart quite dry.  I have accepted shame, I have sold my body and counted as nothing my soul.  Robbed you?  Nay, but I robbed myself, and robbed him also, when I cut him out of my own flesh.  From the day when, through my prayers against blood, he was affianced to the Spanish woman, I held him off me, though I drained more blood to do it.  Then, that not sufficing to save him, I gave myself to the Old Man of Musse; to be his wife, one of his women, do you understand?  His wife, I say.  And you talk now of father and brothers and your robbery, to me who am become an old man’s toy, one of many?  What are they to my soul, and my heart’s blood, to my life and light, and the glory that I had from Richard?  Oh, you fool, you fool, what do you know of love?  You think it is embracing, clipping, playing with a chin:  you fool, it is scorching your heart black, it is welling blood by drops, it is fasting in sight of food, death where sweet life offers, shame held more honourable than honour.  Oh, Saint Mary, star of women, what do men know of love?’ Dry-eyed and pinched, she looked about her as if to find an answer in the sullen moors.  If she had looked up to the heavy skies she might have had one; for on the tower’s top stood King Richard like a ghost.

‘Listen now to me, Jehane,’ said Gilles, red as fire.  ’I have hated your King for four years, and three times sought his life.  But now he has beaten me altogether.  Too strong, too much king, for a man to dare anything singly against him.  What! he slept, and I could not do it; and then I slept, and he awoke and let me lie.  Then once again I woke and thought him still sleeping, and stabbed the bed; and he came behind me, stealthy as a cat, and trounced me over his knee like a child.  Oh, oh, Jehane, he is more than man, and I by so much less.  And now, and now, he sends me out to win his ransom as if I were an old lover of his, and I am going to do it!  Why, God in glory look down upon us, what is the force that he hath?’

Gilles now shivered and looked about him; but Jehane, having mastered her breath, smiled.

‘He is King,’ she said.  ’Come, Gilles, I will go with you.  You shall find the Abbot Milo, and I the Queen-Mother.  I have the ear of her.’

‘I will do as I am bid, Jehane,’ said the cowed man, ’because I needs must.’

As they went away together, King Richard on the roof threw up his arms to the sky, howling like a night wolf.  ’Now, God, Thou hast stricken me enough.  Now listen Thou, I shall strike if I can.’

After a while came Cogia the Assassin; to whom Jehane said, ’Cogia, I must take a journey with this man.  You shall put us on the way, and wait for me until I come again.’

‘Mistress,’ replied Cogia, ‘I am your slave.  Do as you will.’

She put on the dress of a religious, Gilles the weeds of a pilgrim from Jerusalem.  Then Cogia bought them asses in Gratz and led them down to Trieste.  They found a ship going to Bordeaux, went on board, had a fair passage, passed the Pillars of Hercules on their tenth day out, and were in the Gironde in five more.  At Bordeaux they separated.  Gilles went to Poictiers in a company of pilgrims; Jehane, having learned that Queen Berengere was at Cahors, turned her face to the Gascon hills.  But she had left behind her a prisoner to whom death could bring the only ransom worth a thought.