Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

“Will the French fight to-day, what think you?” asked Hugh of Grey Dick, who had just descended from an apple-tree which grew in the garden of a burnt-out cottage. Here he had been engaged on the twofold business of surveying the disposition of the English army and in gathering a pocketful of fruit which remained upon the tree’s topmost boughs.

“I think that these are very good apples,” answered Dick, speaking with his mouth full. “Eat while you get the chance, master, for, who knows, the next you set your teeth in may be of the kind that grew upon the Tree of Life in a very old garden,” and he handed him two of the best. Then he turned to certain archers, who clustered round with outstretched hands, saying: “Why should I give you my apples, fellows, seeing that you were too lazy to climb and get them for yourselves? None of you ever gave me anything when I was hungry, after the sack of Caen, in which my master, being squeamish, would take no part. Therefore I went to bed supperless, because, as I remember you said, I had not earned it. Still, as I don’t want to fight the French with a bellyache, go scramble for them.”

Then, with a quick motion, he flung the apples to a distance, all save one, which he presented to a tall man who stood near, adding:

“Take this, Jack Green, in token of fellowship, since I have nothing else to offer you. I beat you at Windsor, didn’t I, when we shot a match before the King? Now show your skill and beat me and I’ll say ‘thank you.’ Keep count of your arrows shot, Jack, and I’ll keep count of mine, and when the battle is over, he who has grassed most Frenchmen shall be called the better man.”

“Then I’m that already, lad,” answered the great yeoman with a grin as he set his teeth in the apple. “For, look you, having served at Court I’ve learned how to lie, and shall swear I never wasted shaft, whereas you, being country born, may own to a miss or two for shame’s sake. Or, likelier still, those French-will have one or both of us in their bag. If all tales are true, there is such a countless host of them that we few English shall not see the sky for arrows.”

Dick shrugged his shoulders and was about to answer when suddenly a sound of shouting deep and glad rose from the serried companies upon their left. Then the voice of an officer was heard calling:

“Line! Line! The King comes!”

Another minute and over the crest of a little rise appeared Edward of England clad in full armour. He wore a surtout broidered with the arms of England and France, but his helm hung at his saddle-bow that all might see his face. He was mounted, not on his war steed, but on a small, white, ambling palfrey, and in his hand he bore a short baton. With him came two marshals, gaily dressed, and a slim young man clad from head to foot in plain black armour, and wearing a great ruby in his helm, whom all knew for Edward, Prince of Wales.

On he rode, acknowledging the cheering of his soldiers with smiles and courtly bows, till at length he pulled rein just in front of the triple line of archers, among whom were mingled some knights and men-at-arms, for the order of battle was not yet fully set. Just then, on the plain beneath, riding from out the shelter of some trees and, as they thought, beyond the reach of arrows, appeared four splendid French knights, and with them a few squires. There they halted, taking stock, it would seem, of the disposition of the English army.

“Who are those that wear such fine feathers?” asked the King.

“One is the Lord of Bazeilles,” answered a marshal. “I can see the monk upon his crest, but the blazons of the others I cannot read. They spy upon us, Sire; may we sally out and take them?”

“Nay,” answered Edward, “their horses are fresher than ours; let them go, for pray God we shall see them closer soon.”

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider