Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

“Gladly. Only if I do, first I must ask you to die, then—say in a minute or two—you shall know.”

Dick peered at him doubtfully, and said:

“If that be so, I think I’ll wait for the answer, which I am sure to learn soon or late.”

“Ah! Many men have thought the same, and you have sent some to seek it, have you not, being so good an archer. For instance, that was a long shaft you shot before Crecy fray at the filthy fool who mocked your English host. Doubtless now he knows the answer to your riddle.”

“Who told you of that?” asked Dick, springing up.

“A friend of mine who was in the battle. He said also that your name was Richard the Archer.”

“A friend! I believe that you were there yourself, as, if you are Death, you may well have been.”

“Perhaps you are right, Richard. Have I not just told you that we all are one; yes, even the slayer and the slain. Therefore, if my friend—did you call him Death?—was there, I was there, if you were there I was there and it was my hand that drew yonder great black bow of yours and my eye that guided the straight shaft which laid the foulmouthed jester low. Why, did you not say as much yourself when your master here bade farewell to his father in the ship at Calais? What were the words? Oh, I remember them. You wondered how One I may not name,” and he bowed his solemn head, “came to make that black bow of yours and you ‘the death that draws it.'”

Now at length Grey Dick’s courage gave out.

“Of no man upon earth am I afraid,” he said. “But from you, O god or devil, who read the secret hearts of men and hear their secret words, my blood flows backward as it did when first my eyes fell on you. You would kill me because I dared to shoot at you. Well, kill, but do not torture. It is unworthy of a knight, even if he took his accolade in hell,” and he placed his hands over his eyes and stood before him with bent head waiting for the end.

“Why give me such high names, Richard the Fatherless, when you have heard two humbler ones? Call me Murgh, as do my friends. Or call me ‘The Gate,’ as do those who as yet know me less well. But talk not of gods or devils, lest suddenly one of them should answer you. Nay, man, have no fear. Those who seek Death he often flees, as I think he flees from you to-night. Yet let us see if we cannot send a longer shaft, you and I, than that which we loosed on Crecy field. Give me the bow.”

Dick, although he had never suffered living man to shoot with it before, handed him the black bow, and with it a war shaft, which he drew from his quiver.

“‘Tell me, Archer Dick, have you any enemy in this town of Venice? Because if so we might try a shot at him.”

“One or two, Gate Murgh,” answered Dick. “Still whatever your half of me may do, my bit of you does not love to strike down men by magic in the dark.”

“Well said and better thought. Then bethink you of something that belongs to an enemy which will serve as well for a test of shooting. Ah! I thank you, well thought again. Yes, I see the mark, though ’tis far, is it not? Now set your mind on it. But stay! First, will you know this arrow again?”

“Surely,” answered Dick, “I made it myself. Moreover, though two of the feathers are black, the third is white with four black spots and a little splash of brown. Look on it, Sir Hugh; it cannot be mistook.”

Hugh looked and nodded; speak he could not for the life of him.

Then Murgh began to play a little with the bow, and oh! strange and dreadful was the music that came from its string beneath the touch of his gloved fingers. It sang like a harp and wailed like a woman, so fearfully indeed that the lad Day, who all this while stood by aghast, stopped his ears with his fingers, and Hugh groaned. Then this awful archer swiftly set the arrow on the string.

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider