Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

The eighth morn broke at length, and its first red rays discovered Hugh and Dick kneeling side by side behind the battlements of the gateway. Each of them was making petition to heaven in his own fashion for forgiveness of his sins, since they were outworn and believed that this day would be their last.

“What did you pray for, Dick?” asked Hugh, glancing at his companion’s fierce face, which in that half light looked deathlike and unearthly.

“What did I pray for? Well, for the first part let it be; that’s betwixt me and whatever Power sent me out to do its business on the earth. But for the last—I’ll tell you. It was that we may go hence with such a guard of dead French as never yet escorted two Englishmen from Avignon to heaven—or hell. Ay, and we will, master, for to-day, as they shouted to us, they’ll storm this tower; but if our strength holds out there’s many a one who’ll never win its crest.”

“Rather would I have died peacefully, Dick. Yet the blood of these hounds will not weigh upon my soul, seeing that they seek to murder us for no fault except that we saved a woman and two children from their cruel devilries. Oh! could I but know that Red Eve and Sir Andrew were safe away, I’d die a happy man.”

“I think we shall know that and much more before to-morrow’s dawn, master, or never know anything again. Look! they gather yonder. Now let us eat, for perhaps later we shall find no time.”

The afternoon drew on toward evening and still these two lived. Of all the hundreds of missiles which were shot or hurled at them, although a few struck, not one of them had pierced their armour so as to do them hurt. The walls and battlements or some good Fate had protected them. Thrice had the French come on, and thrice they had retreated before those arrows that could not miss, and as yet bridge and doors were safe.

“Look,” said Dick as he set down a cup of wine that he had drained, for his thirst was raging, “they send an embassy,” and he pointed to a priest, the same mad-eyed fellow who preached in the square when the notary Basil led them into a trap, and to a man with him who bore a white cloth upon a lance. “Shall I shoot them?”

“Nay,” answered Hugh; “why kill crazed folk who think that they serve God in their own fashion? We will hear what they have to say.”

Presently the pair stood within speaking distance, and the priest called out:

“Hearken, you wizards. So far your master the devil has protected you, but now your hour has come. We have authority from those who rule this city and from the Church to summon you to surrender, and if you will not, then to slay you both.”

“That, you shameless friar,” answered Hugh, “you have been striving to do these many days. Yet it is not we who have been slain, although we stand but two men against a multitude. But if we surrender, what then?”

“Then you shall be put upon your trial, wizards, and, if found guilty, burned; if innocent, set free.”

“Put upon our trial before our executioners! Why, I think those fires are alight already. Nay, nay, mad priest, go back and tell those whom you have fooled that if they want us they can come and take us, which they’ll not do living.”

Then the furious friar began to curse them, hurling at them the anathemas of the Church, till at length Dick called to him to begone or he would send an arrow to help him on the road.

So they went, and presently the sun sank.

“Now let us beware,” said Dick. “The moon is near her full and will rise soon. They’ll attack between times when we cannot see to shoot.”

“Ay,” answered Hugh, “moreover, now this gateway is no place for us. Of arrows there are few left, nor could we see to use them in the dark. The stones too are all spent and therefore they can bridge the moat and batter down the doors unharmed.”

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider