Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

“God be with you, sweetheart!”

“He is with us all, but I would, that you could be with me also,” she answered in the same low voice. “Still, man must forth to battle and woman must wait and watch, for that is the world’s way. Whate’er befalls, remember that dead or living I’ll be wife to no man but you. Begone now ere my heart fails me, and guard yourself well, remembering that you bear in your breast not one life, but two,”

Then Hugh swung himself to the saddle of which Grey Dick had already tested the girths and stirrup leathers. In another minute the six of them were clattering over the stones of Middlegate Street, while the burgesses of Dunwich peeped from their window places, wondering what knight with armed men rode through their town thus early.

Just as the grey dawn broke they passed the gate, which, there being peace in the land, was already open. Fifteen minutes later they were on the lonely Westleton Heath, where for a while naught was to be heard save the scream of the curlew and the rush of the wings of the wild-duck passing landward from the sea. Presently, however, another sound reached their ears, that of horses galloping behind them. Grey Dick pulled rein and listened.

“Seven, I think, not more,” he said. “Now, master, do you stand or run, for these will be Clavering horses?”

Hugh thought for a moment. His aim was not to fight, but to get through to London. Yet if he fled the pursuers would raise the country on them as they came, so that in the end they must be taken, since those who followed would find fresh horses.

“It seems best to stand,” he said.

“So say I,” answered Grey Dick; and led the way to a little hillock by the roadside on which grew some wind-bent firs.

Here they dismounted and gave their horses into the keeping of one man, while Grey Dick and the others drew their bows from the cases and strung them. Scarcely had they done so when the mist, lifting in the morning breeze, showed them their pursuers—seven of them, as Dick had said—headed by one of the French knights, and riding scattered, between two and three hundred yards away. At the same moment a shout told them that they had been seen.

“Hark now all!” said Hugh. “I would shed no more blood if it may be so, who have earned enough of penance. Therefore shoot at the horses, not at the riders, who without them will be helpless. And let no man harm a Clavering unless it be to save his own life.”

“Poor sport!” grunted Grey Dick.

Nevertheless, when the Norman knight who led came within two hundred yards, shouting to them in French to surrender, Dick lifted his great bow, drew and loosed carelessly, as though he shot at hazard, the others holding their arrows till the Claverings were nearer. Yet there was little of hazard when Grey Dick shot, save to that at which he aimed. Away rushed the arrow, rising high and, as it seemed, bearing somewhat to the left of the knight. Yet when it drew near to that knight the wind told on it and bent it inward, as he knew it would. Fair and full it struck upon the horse’s chest, piercing through to the heart, so that down the poor beast came, throwing its rider to the ground.

“A good shot enough,” grumbled Grey Dick. “Still, it is a shame to slay nags of such a breed and let the rogues who ride them go.”

But his companions only stared at him almost in awe, while the other Clavering men rode on. Before they had covered fifty paces, again the great bow twanged, and again a horse was seen to rear itself up, shaking the rider from its back, and then plunge away to die. Now Hugh’s serving-men also lifted their bows, but Grey Dick hissed:

“Leave them to me! This is fine work, and you’d muddle it!”

Ere the words had ceased to echo another horse was down.

Then, as those who remained still came on, urged by the knight who ran shouting behind them, all loosed, and though some arrows went wide, the end of it was that ere they reached the little mound every Clavering horse was dead or sore wounded, while on the heath stood or lay seven helpless men.

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider