Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

“We take no prisoners,” answered Hugh, as he thrust again.

“Pity, then,” said the knight. “You are brave, would you butcher a fallen man? If you had tripped I would have spared you. Show mercy, some day your case may be mine and it will be repaid to you.”

Hugh hesitated, although now the point of his sword was through the lacing of the gorget.

“For your lady’s sake, pity,” gasped the knight as he felt its point.

“You know by what name to conjure,” said Hugh doubtfully. “Well, get you gone if you can, and pray for one Hugh de Cressi, for he gives you your life.”

The knight seemed to start, then struggled to his feet, and, seizing a loose horse by the bridle, swung himself to the saddle and galloped off into the shadows.

“Master,” croaked a voice into Hugh’s ear, “I’ve seen the swan! Follow me. My arrows are all gone, or I’d have shot him.”

“God’s truth! show him to me,” gasped Hugh, and away they leapt together.

Soon they had outrun even the slaughtering Welsh, and found themselves mingled with fugitives from the French army. But in the gathering twilight none seemed to take any note of them. Indeed every man was engaged in saving his own life and thought that this was the purpose of these two also. Some three hundred yards away certain French knights, mounted, often two upon one horse, or afoot, were flying from that awful field, striking out to the right in order to clear themselves of the cumbering horde of fugitives. One of these knights lagged behind, evidently because his horse was wounded. He turned to look back, and a last ray from the dying sun lit upon him.

“Look,” said Dick; and Hugh saw that on the knight’s shield was blazoned a white swan and that he wore upon his helmet a swan for a crest. The knight, who had not seen them, spurred his horse, but it would not or could not move. Then he called to his companions for help, but they took no heed. Finding himself alone, he dismounted, hastily examined the horse’s wound, and, having unbuckled a cloak from his saddle, cast down his shield in order that he might run more lightly.

“Thanks to God, he is mine,” muttered Hugh. “Touch him not, Dick, unless I fall, and then do you take up the quarrel till you fall.”

So speaking he leapt upon the man out of the shadow of some thorns that grew there.

“Lift your shield and fight,” said Hugh, advancing on him with raised sword. “I am Hugh de Cressi.”

“Then, sir, I yield myself your prisoner,” answered the knight, “seeing that you are two and I but one.”

“Not so. I take no prisoners, who seek vengeance, not ransom, and least of all from you. My companion shall not touch you unless I fall. Swift now, the light dies, and I would kill you fighting.”

The knight picked up his shield.

“I know you,” he said. “I am not he you think.”

“And I know you,” answered Hugh. “Now, no words, of them there have been enough between us,” and he smote at him.

For two minutes or more they fought, for the armour of both was good, and one was full of rage and the other of despair. There was little fine sword-play about this desperate duel; the light was too low for it. They struck and warded, that was all, while Grey Dick stood by and watched grimly. Some more fugitives came up, but seeing that blows passed, veered off to the left, for of blows they had known enough that day. The swan knight missed a great stroke, for Hugh leapt aside; then, as the Frenchman staggered forward, struck at him with all his strength. The heavy sword, grasped in both hands, for Hugh had thrown aside his shield, caught his foe where neck joins shoulder and sank through his mail deep into the flesh beneath. Down he went. It was finished.

“Unlace his helm, Dick,” gasped Hugh. “I would see his face for the last time, and if he still lives—”

Dick obeyed, cutting the lashings of the helm.

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider