Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

From these arose a great shout: “Trahison! Trahison! Tuez! Tuez!” Next instant the appalling sight was seen of the chivalry of France falling upon their friends, whose only crime was that their bowstrings were wet, and butchering them where they stood. So awful and unexpected was this spectacle that for a little while the English archers, all except Grey Dick and a few others cast in the same iron mould, ceased to ply their bows and watched amazed.

The long shafts began to fly again, raining alike upon the slaughterers and the slaughtered. A few minutes, five perhaps, and this terrible scene was over, for of the seven thousand Genoese but a tithe remained upon their feet, and the interminable French lines, clad in sparkling steel and waving lance and sword, charged down upon the little English band.

“Now for the feast!” screamed Grey Dick. “That was but a snack to sharp the appetite,” and as he said the words a gorgeous knight died with his arrow through the heart.

It came, the charge came. Nothing could stop it.

Down went man and horse, line upon line of them swept to death by the pitiless English arrows, but still more rushed on. They fell in the pits that had been dug; they died beneath the shafts and the hoofs of those that followed, but still they struggled on, shouting: “Philip and St. Denis!” and waving their golden banner, the Oriflamme of France.

The charge crept up as a reluctant, outworn wave creeps to a resisting rock. It foamed upon the rock. The archers ceased to shoot and drew their axes. The men-at-arms leapt forward. The battle had joined at last! Breast to breast they wrestled now. Hugh’s sword was red, and red was Grey Dick’s axe. Fight as they would, the English were borne back. The young Prince waved his arm, screaming something, and at that sight the English line checked its retreat, stood still, and next plunged forward with a roar of:

“England and the Prince!”

That assault was over. Backward rolled the tide of men, those who were left living. After them went the dark Welsh. Their commanders ordered them to stand; the Earl of Warwick ordered them to stand. The Prince himself ordered them to stand, running in front of them, only to be swept aside like a straw before a draught of wind. Out they broke, grinning and gnashing their teeth, great knives in their hands.

The red Dragon of Merlin which a giant bore led them on. It sank, it fell, it rose again. The giant was down, but another had it. They scrambled over the mass of dead and dying. They got among the living beyond. With eerie screams they houghed the horses and, when the riders fell, hacked open the lacings of their helms, and, unheeding of any cries for mercy, drove the great knives home. At length all were dead, and they returned again waving those red knives and singing some fierce chant in their unknown tongue.

The battle was not over yet. Fresh hordes of Frenchmen gathered out of arrow range, and charged again under the banners of Blois, Alencon, Lorraine, and Flanders. Forward they swept, and with them came one who looked like a king, for he wore a crown upon his helm. The hawk-eyed Dick noted him, and that his bridle was bound to those of the knights who rode upon his either side. On them he rained shafts from his great black bow, for Grey Dick never shot without an aim, and after the battle one of his marked arrows was found fixed in the throat of the blind king of Bohemia.

This second charge could not be stayed. Step by step the English knights were beaten back; the line of archers was broken through; his guard formed round the Prince, Hugh among them. Heavy horses swept on to them. Beneath the hoofs of one of these Hugh was felled, but, stabbing it from below, caused the poor beast to leap aside. He gained his feet again. The Prince was down, a splendid knight-it was the Count of Flanders who had sprung from his horse, stood over him, his sword point at his throat, and called on him to yield. Up ran Robert Fitzsimmon, the standard bearer, shouting:

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider