Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

“A braggart!” said one.

“I am not so sure,” answered a grizzled captain of archers, who had fought in many wars. “Braggarts make a noise, but this fellow only spoke when we squeezed him and perhaps what came out of those thin lips was truth. At least, from his look I’d sooner not find him against me bow to bow.”

Then they fell to betting which of them would beat Grey Dick by the heaviest points.

Next morning about nine o’clock the King sent a messenger to Hugh, bidding him and his servant Richard wait upon him. They went with this messenger, who led them to a little chamber, where his Grace sat, attended only by the clerk, Brother Peter, and a dark-browed minister, whose name he never learned.

“Hugh de Cressi and Richard Archer,” said Edward, motioning to the minister to hand Hugh a parchment to which hung a great seal, “here is the pardon which I promised you. No need to stay to read it, since it is as wide as Windsor Keep, and woe betide him who lifts hand against either of you for aught you may have done or left undone in the past contrary to the laws of our realm. Yet remember well that this grace runs not to the future. Now that matter is ended, and we come to one that is greater. Because of the faith put in you by our loyal and beloved subject, Sir Andrew Arnold, your godsire, and because we like the fashion of you, Hugh de Cressi, and hold you brave and honest, it has pleased us to give you a commission under which we direct the Mayor of Dunwich and all true and lawful men of that town and hundred to aid you in the taking or, if need be, in the slaying of our subject, Sir Edmund Acour, Count of Noyon and Seigneur of Cattrina. We command you to bring this man before us alive or dead, that his cause may be judged of by our courts and the truth of the matter alleged against him by the Reverend Father Sir Andrew Arnold therein determined. Nevertheless, we command you not to wound or kill the said knight unless he resists the authority of us by you conveyed and you cannot otherwise hold him safe from escaping from out this our realm. This commission you will presently go forth to execute, keeping its tenor and your aim secret until the moment comes to strike, and, as you perform your duty, of which you will return and make report to us, so shall we judge and reward you. Do you understand?”

“Sire,” answered Hugh, bowing, “I understand, and I will obey to my last breath.”

“Good! When the parchments are engrossed my officer here will read them to you and explain aught that may need it. Meanwhile, we have an hour or two during which your horses can eat, for there are no fresh beasts here to give you, and it is best, to avoid doubts, that you should return as you came, only showing your powers if any should attempt to arrest you. So let us have done with these heavy matters, and disport us for a while. This servant of yours has made a common boast that he will outshoot any of our picked archers, and now we are ready to go forth and put him to the proof of the butts. Let him know, however, that, notwithstanding our words of yesterday, we shall not hold him to blame if he fails, since many a man of higher degree promises more at night than he can perform in the morning.”

“Sire, I’ll do my best. I can no more,” said Grey Dick. “Only I pray that none may be suffered to hang about or pester me at the butts, since I am a lonely man who love not company when I use my art.”

“That shall be so,” said the King. “And now to the sport.”

“The sport!” grumbled Grey Dick, when he and Hugh were alone together. “Why, it is other sport we should be seeking, with Acour and his knaves for targets. Go to the King, master, and show him that while we linger here the Frenchman may slip away, or work more and worse treasons.”

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider