Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

When at last he had finished, and though it was long none there grew weary of that story, the King turned to the clerk, and said:

“Brother Peter, make out a full pardon to Hugh de Cressi of Dunwich and Richard Archer his servant for all slayings or other deeds wrought by them contrary to our general peace. Draw it wide, and bring the same to me for execution ere I sleep to-night. Make out a commission also to the Mayor of Dunwich—nay, I’ll think that matter over and instruct you further. Hugh de Cressi, you have our thanks, and if you go on as you have begun you shall have more ere long, for I need such men about me. You also, strange and death-like man named Grey Dick, shall not lack our favour if it proves that you can shoot but half as well as you have boasted, and, unless you lie, both of you, as it seems that you have done. And now to supper, though in truth this news does not kindle appetite. Son, see that this gentleman is well served, and that none mock him more about the fashion of his armour, above all Sir Ambrose, for I’ll not suffer it. Plate and damascene do not make a man, and this, it seems, was borrowed from as brave, ay, and as learned, a knight as ever bestrode a horse in war. Come, Lady,” and taking the Queen by the hand, he left the chamber.

That evening Hugh ate his food seated among the knights of the Household at a high table in the great hall, at the head of which, for the King supped in private, was placed the young Prince Edward. He noted that now none laughed at him about the fashion of his mail or his country ways. Indeed, when after supper Sir Ambrose Lacey came to him and asked his pardon for the talk that he had used to him in the Windsor street—he was sure that some word had been sent round that his business had brought him favour with the King and that he must be treated with all courtesy. Several of those who sat round him tried to discover what that business was. But of this he would say nothing, parrying their questions with others about the wars in France, and listening with open ears to the tales of great deeds done there.

“Ah, would that I could see such things!” he said.

To which one of them answered:

“Well, why not? There’ll be chance enough ere long, and many of us would be glad of a squire built like you.”

Now, at lower tables, in that vast hall, Hugh’s servants, and with them Grey Dick, sat among the men-at-arms of the King’s Guard, who were all chosen for their courage, and skill in archery. These soldiers, noting the strange-faced, ashen-haired fellow who ate with his bow resting on the bench beside him, inquired about him from the other Dunwich men, and soon heard enough to cause them to open their eyes. When the ale had got hold of them they opened their mouths also, and, crowding round Dick, asked if it were true that he could shoot well.

“As well as another,” he answered, and would say no more.

Then they looked at his bow, and saw that it was old-fashioned, like his master’s mail, and of some foreign make and wood, but a mighty, weapon such as few could handle and hold straight. Lastly, they began to challenge him to a match upon the morrow, to which he answered, who also had been drinking ale and was growing angry, that he’d give the best of them five points in fifty.

Now they mocked, for among them were some famous archers, and asked at what range.

“At any ye will,” answered Grey Dick, “from twelve score yards down to one score yards. Now trouble me no longer, who if I must shoot to-morrow would sleep first and drink no more of your strong ale that breeds bad humours in one reared upon dyke water.”

Then, seizing his bow, he glided away in his curious stoat-like fashion to the hole where he had been shown that he should sleep.

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider