“Mayhap, master. But for my part I am content with that of Murgh, which he gave us, you may remember, or so I understood him. Moreover, did he not teach that he and all are but ministers of Him above? Therefore I go straight to the head of the stair,” and he nodded toward the sky. “I am content to skip all those steps which are called priests and altars and popes and saints and such-like folk, living or dead. If Murgh’s wisdom be true, as I think, these are but garnishings to the dish which can well be spared by the hungry soul.”
“That may be,” Hugh answered dubiously, for his faith in such matters was of his time. “Yet were I you, Dick, I’d not preach that philosophy too loud lest the priests and popes should have something to say to it. The saints also, for aught I know, since I have always heard that they love not to be left out of our account with heaven.”
“Well, if so,” answered Dick, “I’ll quote St. Murgh to them, who is a very fitting patron for an archer.” Then once again he glanced at the helm and the arrow with something not unlike fear in his cold eye.
Presently they went down to the eating-chamber where they had been told that breakfast would be ready for them at seven of the clock. There they found Sir Geoffrey awaiting them.
“I trust that you have slept well, Sir Hugh,” he said. “You were a wise knight to go to rest so early, having before you such a trial of your strength and manhood, and, so to speak, the honour of our King upon your hands.”
“Very well indeed; thank you, sir,” answered Hugh. “And you?”
“Oh, ill, extremely ill. I do not know what is the matter with me or Venice either, whereof the very air seems poisoned. Feel the heat and see the haze! It is most unnatural. Moreover, although in your bed doubtless you saw it not, a great ball of fire blazed and burnt over the city last night. So bright was it that even in a darkened room each of us could see the colour of the other’s eyes. Later, too, as I watched at the window, there came a thin streak of flame that seemed to alight on or about this very house. Indeed I thought I heard a sound as of iron striking upon iron, but could find no cause for it.”
“Wondrous happenings, sir,” said Grey Dick. “Glad am I that we were not with you, lest the sight of them should have made us fearful on this morning of combat.”
“Wondrous happenings indeed, friend Richard,” said Sir Geoffrey excitedly, “but you have not heard the half of them. The herald, who has just been here with the final articles of your fray signed by the Doge and Cattrina, has told me much that I can scarce believe. He says that the great galley from this port which is called Light of the East drifted up to the quay at the Place of Arms last night on her return voyage from Cyprus, filled with dead and with no living thing aboard her save the devil himself in a yellow robe and a many-hued head-dress like a cock’s-comb with a red eye. He swears that this fiend landed and that the mob set on him, whereon two, some say three, other devils clad in long black gowns appeared out of the water and drove them back. Also, it seems that this same cock’s-combed Satan stole a boat and rowed about the city afterward, but now none can find him, although they have got the boat.”
“Then they should be well satisfied,” said Hugh, “since its owner has lost nothing but the hire, which with Satan at the oars is better than might be hoped. Perhaps he was not there after all, Sir Geoffrey.”
“I know not, but at least the galley Light of the East is there, for ever since the dawn they have been taking the dead out of her to bury them. Of these they say things too terrible to repeat, for no doctor can tell of what sickness they died, never having seen its like. For my part I pray it may not be catching. Were I the Doge I would have towed her out to sea and scuttled her, cargo and all. Well, well, enough of these wild tales, of which God alone knows the truth. Come, eat, if you can in this heat. We must be on the Place of Arms by half-past eight. You and the captain go thither in my own boat, Sir Hugh; your horse David Day takes on presently. Now, while you breakfast, I’ll explain to you these articles, one by one, for they are writ in Italian, which you cannot read. See you forget them not. These Venetians are punctilious of such forms and ceremonies, especially when the case is that of combat to the death, which is rare among them.”
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