Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

“Cavalier de Cressi, he whom you seek is before you; we ourselves vouch for his identity,” said the Doge. “Now be pleased to set out your case.”

“My private case I thrust to one side,” answered Hugh, Sir Geoffrey interpreting all the time, “for it is a matter between this Count, a certain lady and myself, and can wait. That which I have to lay before you, Illustrious, has to do with my master the King of England, as whose champion I am here to-day. I accuse this lord of the three names of black treachery to his august liege, Edward, all details of which treason I am prepared to furnish, and on behalf of that most puissant monarch I challenge him to single combat, as I am empowered and commissioned to do.”

“Why should I fight the King of England’s bravoes?” inquired Acour in a languid voice of those who stood about him, a question at which they laughed.

“If the charge of treason is not sufficient,” went on Hugh, “I’ll add to it one of cowardice. At the battle of Crecy, as a man here will bear me witness,” and he pointed to Dick, “I overcame in single combat a knight who wore upon his shield the cognizance of a wolf and on his helm a wolf’s head, which were the arms of Sir Pierre de la Roche. At this knight’s prayer I spared his life, for that day we took no prisoners, and let him go. Afterward I fought with another knight carrying the cognizance of a white swan, the arms of the Count de Noyon, and slew him in fair and single fight. But before he died he told me that he bore that armour by command of his lord, the Count de Noyon, and that the said Count fought that day in his mail because he feared the vengeance of the King of England and my own. Thus it came about that the Wolf who fought paid the price for the Swan who fled away, hid in the armour of his friend, whom he left to die for him.”

There followed a great silence, for all those noble lords and ladies who thought little of treason, which to most of them was a very familiar thing, were not a little stirred by this tale of cowardice and false arms. The Doge said:

“Noble Cattrina, you have heard the story of the English knight. What do you answer to it?”

“Only that it is a lie, Illustrious, like everything else that he has told us,” replied Acour with a shrug of his broad shoulders.

“You said that you had a witness, Cavalier de Cressi,” said the Doge. “Where is he?”

“Here,” answered Hugh. “Stand forward, Dick, and tell what you saw.”

Dick obeyed, and in his low, rasping voice, with more detail than Hugh had given, set out the story of those two combats at Crecy, of the sparing of the wolf knight and the slaying of the swan knight.

“What say you now, noble Cattrina? “asked the Doge.

“I say that the man lies even better than his master,” answered Acour coolly, and all the Court laughed.

“Illustrious,” said Hugh, “doubtless you have some herald at your Court. I pray that he may fetch his book and tell us what are the arms of de Noyon and Cattrina, with all their colourings and details.”

The Doge beckoned to an officer in a broidered tabard, who with bows, without needing to fetch any book, described the crest and arms of Cattrina in full particular. He added that, to his knowledge, these were borne by no other family or man in Italy, France or England.

“Then you would know them if you saw them?” said Hugh.

“Certainly, cavalier. On it I stake my repute as a herald.”

Now while all wondered what this talk might mean, the Doge and Acour most of any, although the latter grew uneasy, fearing he knew not what, Hugh whispered to Dick. Then Dick loosed the mouth of the leather sack he carried, and out of it tumbled on to the marble floor a whole suit of blood-stained armour.

“Whence came these?” asked Hugh of Dick.

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider