Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

Murgh unfolded his bare arms and lifted his head, which was sunk upon his breast.

“Your pardon,” he said gently, “my name is Hand of Fate and not Sword of Vengeance. There is no vengeance save that which men work upon themselves. What fate may be and vengeance may be I know not fully, and none will ever know until they have passed the Gateway of the Gods. Archer the grave is deep enough. Come forth now and let us learn who it is decreed shall fill it. Knights, the hour is at hand for you to finish that which you began at Crecy and at Venice.”

Hugh heard and drew his sword. Acour drew his sword also, then cried out, pointing to Grey Dick:

“Here be two against one. If I conquer he will shoot me with his bow.”

“Have no fear, Sir Thief and Liar,” hissed Grey Dick, “for that shaft will not be needed. Slay the master if you can and go safe from the squire,” and he unstrung his black bow and hid it in its case.

Now Hugh stepped to where Red Eve stood, the wounded Sir Andrew leaning on her shoulder. Bending down he kissed her on the lips, saying:

“Soon, very soon, my sweet, whom I have lost and found again, you will be mine on earth, or I shall be yours in heaven. This, then, in greeting or farewell.”

“In greeting, beloved, not in farewell,” she answered as she kissed him back, “for if you die, know that I follow hard upon your road. Yet I say that yonder grave was not dug for you.”

“Nay, not for you, son, not for you,” said Sir Andrew lifting his faint head. “One fights for you whom you do not see, and against Him Satan and his servant cannot stand,” and letting fall the sword-hilt he stretched out his thin hand and blessed him.

Now when Acour saw that embrace his jealous fury prevailed against his fears. With a curse upon his lips he leapt at Hugh and smote, thinking to take him unawares. But Hugh was watching, and sprang back, and then the fray began, if fray it can be called.

A wild joy shining in his eyes, Hugh grasped his long sword with both hands and struck. So great was that blow that it bit through Acour’s armour, beneath his right arm, deep into the flesh and sent him staggering back. Again he struck and wounded him in the shoulder; a third time and clove his helm so that the blood poured down into his eyes and blinded him.

Back reeled Acour, back to the very edge of the grave, and stood there swaying to and fro. At the sight of his helplessness Hugh’s fury seemed to leave him. His lifted sword sank downward.

“Let God deal with you, knave,” he said, “for I cannot.”

For a while there was silence. There they stood and stared at the smitten man waiting the end, whatever it might be. They all stared save Murgh, who fixed his stony eyes upon the sky.

Presently it came. The sword, falling from Acour’s hand into the grave, rested there point upward. With a last effort he drew his dagger. Dashing the blood from his eyes, he hurled it with all his dying strength, not at Hugh, but at Red Eve. Past her ear it hissed, severing a little tress of her long hair, which floated down on to the snow.

Then Acour threw his arms wide and fell backward—fell backward and vanished in the grave.

Dick ran to look. There he lay dead, pierced through back and bosom by the point of his own sword.

For one brief flash of time a black dove-shaped bird was seen hovering round the head of Murgh.

“Finished!” said Dick straightening himself. “Well, I had hoped to see a better fight, but cowards die as cowards live.”

Leaning on Red Eve’s shoulder Sir Andrew limped to the side of the grave. They both looked down on that which lay therein.

“Daughter,” said the old man, “through many dangers it has come about as I foretold. The bond that in your drugged sleep bound you to this highborn knave is severed by God’s sword of death. Christ have pity on his sinful soul. Now, Sir Hugh de Cressi, come hither and be swift, for my time is short.”

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider