Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

So the French knights, having stared their full, turned and rode away slowly. But one of their squires did otherwise. Dismounting from his horse, which he left with another squire to hold, he ran forward a few paces to the crest of a little knoll. Thence he made gestures of contempt and scorn toward the English army, as he did so shouting foul words, of which a few floated to them in the stillness.

“Now,” said Edward, “if I had an archer who could reach that varlet, I’ll swear that his name should not be forgotten in England. But alas! it may not be, for none can make an arrow fly true so far.”

Instantly Grey Dick stepped forward.

“Sire, may I try?” he asked, stringing his great black bow as he spoke.

“Who are you?” said the King, “who seem to have been rolled in ashes and wear my own gold arrow in your cap? Ah! I remember, the Suffolk man who showed us all how to shoot at Windsor, he who is called Grey Dick. Yes, try, Grey Dick, try, if you think that you can reach so far. Yet for the honour of St. George, man, do not miss, for all the host will see Fate riding on your shaft.”

For one moment Dick hesitated. Such awful words seemed to shake even his iron nerve.

“I’ve seen you do as much, Dick,” said the quiet voice of Hugh de Cressi behind him. “Still, judge you.”

Then Dick ground his heels into the turf and laid his weight against the bow. While all men watched breathless, he drew it to an arc, he drew it till the string was level with his ear. He loosed, then, slewing round, straightened himself and stared down at the earth. As he said afterward, he feared to watch that arrow.

Away it sped while all men gazed. High, high it flew, the sunlight glinting on its polished barb. Down it came at length, and the King muttered, “Short!” But while the word passed his lips that shaft seemed to recover itself, as though by magic, and again rushed on. He of the foul words and gestures saw it coming, and turned to fly. As he leapt forward the war arrow struck him full in the small of the back, just where the spine ends, severing it, so that he fell all of a heap like an ox beneath the axe, and lay a still and huddled shape.

From all the English right who saw this wondrous deed there went up such a shout that their comrades to the left and rear thought for a moment that battle had been joined. The King and the Prince stared amazed. Hugh flung his arms about Dick’s neck, and kissed him. Jack Green cried:

“No archer, but a wizard! Mere man could not have sent a true shaft so far.”

“Then would to heaven I had more such wizards,” said the King. “God be with you, Grey Dick, for you have put new heart into me and all our company. Mark, each of you, that he smote him in the back, smote him running! What reward would you have, man?”

“None,” answered Dick in a surly voice. “My reward is that, whatever happens, yon filthy French knave will never mock honest English folk again. Or so I think, though the arrow barely reached him. Yet, Sire,” he added after a pause, “you might knight my master, Hugh de Cressi, if you will, since but for him I should have feared to risk that shot.”

Then turning aside, Dick unstrung his bow, and, pulling the remains of the apple out of his pouch, began to munch it unconcernedly.

“Hugh de Cressi!” said the King. “Ah! yes, I mind me of him and of the rogue, Acour, and the maid, Red Eve. Well, Hugh, I am told you fought gallantly at Blanche-Tague two days gone and were among the last to cross the Somme. Also, we have other debts to pay you. Come hither, sir, and give me your sword.”

“Your pardon, my liege,” said Hugh, colouring, “but I’ll not be knighted for my henchman’s feats, or at all until I have done some of my own.”

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider