Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

“Unstring your bow, Dick, and let us charge,” said Hugh. “We have no other chance save flight. They’ll pelt us under.”

Dick did not seem to hear. At least he shot on as one who was not minded to die unavenged. An arrow whistled through Hugh’s cap, lifting it from his head, and another glanced from the mail on his shoulder. He ground his teeth with rage, for now none would come within reach of his long sword.

“Good-bye, friend Dick,” he said. “I die charging,” and with a cry of “A Cressi! A Cressi!” he sprang forward.

One leap and Dick was at his side, who had only bided to sheath his bow. The mob in front melted away before the flash of the white sword and the gleam of the grey axe. Still they must have fallen, for their pursuers closed in behind them like hunting hounds when they view the quarry, and there were none to guard their backs. But once more the shrill voice cried:

“Help the friends of the Jews! Save those who saved Rebecca and her children!”

Then again there came a rush of dark-browed men, who hissed and whistled as they fought.

So fierce was that rush that those who followed them were cut off, and Dick, glancing back over his shoulder, saw the mad-eyed priest, their leader, go down like an ox beneath the blow of a leaded bludgeon. A score of strides and they were out of the range of the firelight; another score and they were hidden by the gloom in the mouth of one of the narrow streets.

“Which way now?” gasped Hugh, looking back at the square where in the flare of the great fires Christians and Jews, fighting furiously, looked like devils struggling in the mouth of hell.

As he spoke, a shock-headed, half-clad lad darted up to them and Dick lifted his axe to cut him down.

“Friend,” he said in a guttural voice, “not foe! I know where you dwell; trust and follow me, who am of the kin of Rebecca, wife of Nathan.”

“Lead on then, kin of Rebecca,” exclaimed Hugh, “but know that if you cheat us, you die.”

“Swift, swift!” cried the lad, “lest those swine should reach your house before you,” and, catching Hugh by the hand, he began to run like a hare.

Down the dark streets they went, past the great rock where the fires burned at the gates of the palace of the Pope, then along more streets and across an open place where thieves and night-birds peered at them curiously, but at the sight of the drawn steel, slunk away. At length their guide halted.

“See!” he said. “There is your dwelling. Enter now and up with the bridge. Hark! They come. Farewell.”

He was gone. From down the street to their left rose shouts and the sound of many running feet, but there in front of them loomed the Tower against the black and rainy sky. They dashed across the little drawbridge that spanned the moat, and, seizing the cranks, wound furiously. Slowly, ah! how slowly it rose, for it was heavy, and they were but two tired men; also the chains and cogs were rusty with disuse. Yet it did rise, and as it came home at last, the fierce mob, thirsting for their blood and guessing where they would refuge, appeared in front of it and by the light of some torches which they bore, caught sight of them.

“Come in, friends,” mocked Grey Dick as they ran up and down the edge of the moat howling with rage and disappointment. “Come in if you would sup on arrow-heads such as this,” and he sent one of his deadly shafts through the breast of a red-headed fellow who waved a torch in one hand and a blacksmith’s hammer in the other.

Then they drew back, taking the dead man with them, but as they went one cried:

“The Jews shall not save you again, wizards, for if we cannot come at you to kill you, we’ll starve you till you die. Stay there and rot, or step forth and be torn to pieces, as it pleases you, English wizards.”

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider