There then the Prince’s battle sat, a small force after all, perhaps twelve hundred knights and men-at-arms, with three or four thousand archers, and to their rear, as many of the savage, knife-armed Welsh who fought that day under the banner of their country, the red Dragon of Merlin. Grey Dick’s place was on the extreme left of the archer bodyguard, and Hugh’s on the extreme right of that of the men-at-arms, so that they were but a few yards apart and could talk together. From time to time they spoke of sundry things, but mostly of home, for in this hour of danger through which both of them could hardly hope to live, even if one did, their thoughts turned thither, as was but natural.
“I wonder how it fares with the lady Eve,” said Hugh, with a sigh, for of her no news had come to him since they had parted some months before, after he recovered from the wound which Clavering gave him.
“Well enough, doubtless. Why not?” replied Dick. “She is strong and healthy, she has many friends and servants to guard her and no enemy there to harm her, for her great foe is yonder,” and he nodded toward Abbeville. “Oh, without doubt well enough. It is she who should wonder how it fares with us. Let us hope that, having naught else to do, she remembers us in her prayers, since in such a case even one woman’s prayers are worth something, for does not a single feather sometimes turn the scale?”
“I think that Eve would rather fight than pray,” answered Hugh, with a smile, “like old Sir Andrew, who would give half his remaining days to sit here with us this afternoon. Well, he is better where he is. Dick, that knave Acour sent only insolent words in answer to my challenge, which I despatched to him by the knight I took and spared at Caen.”
“Why should he do more, master? He can find plenty of ways of dying without risking a single combat with one whom he has wronged and who is therefore very dangerous. You remember his crest, master-a silver swan painted on his shield. I knew it, and that is why I shot that poor fowl just before you killed young Clavering on the banks of Blythe, to teach him that swans are not proof against arrows. Watch for the swan crest, master, when the battle joins, and so will I, I promise you.”
“Ay, I’ll watch,” said Hugh, grimly. “God help all swans that come my way. Let us pray that this one has not taken wing, for if so I, too, must learn to fly.”
Thus they talked of these and other things amongst the hum of the great camp, which was like to that of bees on a lime-tree in summer, and whilst they talked the blue August sky became suddenly overcast. Dense and heavy clouds hid up its face, a cold and fitful wind began to blow, increasing presently to a gale which caused the planted standards, blazoned with lions rampant and with fieurs-de-lis, and the pennons of a hundred knights set here and there among the long battle lines, first to flap and waver and then to stand out straight as though they were cut of iron.
A word of command was called from rank to rank.
“Sheath bows!” it said, and instantly thousands of slender points were lifted and sank again, vanishing into the leathern cases which the archers bore.
Scarcely were these snug when the storm broke. First fell a few heavy drops, to be followed by such a torrent that all who had cloaks were glad to wear them. From the black clouds above leapt lightnings that were succeeded by the deep and solemn roll of thunder. A darkness fell upon the field so great that men wondered what it might portend, for their minds were strained. That which at other times would have passed without remark, now became portentous. Indeed, afterward some declared that through it they had seen angels or demons in the air, and others that they had heard a voice prophesying woe and death, to whom they knew not.
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