Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

“Off the body of the knight, Sir Pierre de la Roche, whom you slew at Crecy. I stripped him of them myself.”

“Whose crest and cognizance are these, herald?” asked Hugh again, lifting the helm and shield and holding them on high that all might see.

The herald stepped forward and examined them.

“Without doubt,” he said slowly, “they are those of the lord of Cattrina. Moreover,” he added, “five years ago I limned yonder swan upon this very shield with my own hand. I did it as a favour to Cattrina there, who said that he would trust the task to none but an artist.”

Now the silence grew intense, so much so that the rustle of a lady’s dress sounded loud in the great hall.

“What say you now, my lord of Cattrina?” asked the Doge.

“I say that there is some mistake, Illustrious. Even if there were none,” he added slowly, “for their own good and lawful purposes knights have changed armour before to-day.”

“There is no mistake!” cried Hugh in a ringing voice. “This signor of many names is a signor of many coats also, which he can change to save his skin. He wore that of Sir Pierre de la Roche to protect himself from the vengeance of the King of England and of the English squire whom he had wronged. He took mercy from the hand of that squire, who, as he knew well, would have shown him none had he guessed the truth. He left the poor knight, whom he had bribed to be his double, to die beneath that same squire’s hand who thought him named de Noyon. Therefore the blood of this de la Roche is on his head. Yet these are small matters of private conduct, and one that is greater overtops them. This false lord, as Sir Edmund Acour, swore fealty to Edward of England. Yet while he was bound by that sacred oath he plotted to depose Edward and to set up on his throne the Duke of Normandy.

“The King of England learned of that plot through me, and gave me charge to kill or capture the traitor. But when we came face to face in a consecrated church where I thought it sacrilege to draw sword, he, who had just done me bitter wrong, stayed not to answer the wrong. He slunk away into the darkness, leaving me felled by a treacherous blow. Thence he fled to France and stirred up war against his liege lord under the Oriflamme of King Philip. Now that this banner is in the dust he has fled again to Venice, and here, as I have heard, broods more mischief. Once, when after the sack of Caen I sent him my challenge, he returned to me an insolent answer that he did not fight with merchants’ sons—he who could take mercy from the hand of a merchant’s son.

“Now that for deeds done a King has made me knight, and now that this King under his seal and sign has named me his champion, in your presence, Illustrious, and in that of all your Court, I challenge Cattrina again to single combat to the death with lance and sword and dagger. Yes, and I name him coward and scullion if he refuses this, King Edward’s gage and mine,” and drawing the gauntlet from his left hand, Hugh cast it clattering to the marble floor at de Noyon’s feet.

A babel of talk broke out in the great hall, and with it some vivas and clapping of hands, for Hugh had spoken boldly and well; moreover, the spectators read truth in his grey eyes. A dark figure in a priest’s robe—it was that of Father Nicholas, the secretary who had brewed Red Eve’s potion—glided up to Cattrina and whispered swiftly in his ear. Then the Doge lifted his hand and there was silence.

“My lord of Cattrina,” he said, “Sir Hugh de Cressi, speaking as the champion of our ally, the King of England, has challenged you to single combat a outrance. What say you?”

“I, Illustrious?” he answered in his rich voice, drawling out his words like one who is weary. “Oh, of course, I say that if yon brawler wishes to find a grave in fair Venice, which is more than he deserves, I am not the man to thwart him, seeing that his cutthroat King—”

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider