Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

Arriving in front of the Doge’s tribune, the pair halted and saluted him, whereon he and his escort rose and saluted them in turn. Then another trumpet blew and from a second pavilion at the other end of the course appeared Cattrina, wearing a splendid suit of white armour, damascened in gold, with a silver swan upon the helm and a swan painted on his shield.

“Very fine, isn’t it?” said Grey Dick to his master, “only this time I hope he’s inside the steel. Ask to see his face before you fight, master.”

On came Cattrina on a noble black horse, which pawed and caracoled notwithstanding the heat, while after him strode a gigantic figure also clad from top to toe in white mail, who fiercely brandished a long-handled battle-axe.

“Ambrosio!” said Dick. “Now I ought to feel as much afraid as though that fellow wore a yellow cap and a fur cape and pearls like another warrior whom we met last night. Yet, to speak the truth, I believe he has the fainter heart of the two., Also if he swings that chopper about so much he’ll grow tired.”

To the multitude, however, the gallant appearance of this pair, whom they looked on as the champions of Venice against foreigners, appealed not a little. Amidst clapping of hands and “evvivas!” they advanced to the Doge’s tribune and there made their salutations, which the Illustrious acknowledged as he had those of the Englishmen.

Then the heralds intervened and again all the articles of combat were read and translated, although to these, of which they were weary, Hugh and Dick listened little. Next they were asked if they had any objections to make and with one voice answered, “None.” But on the same question being put to their adversaries, the Swiss, Ambrosio, said that he with whom he must fight appeared to be armed with a bow, which was against the articles. Thereon Dick handed the bow and quiver to David, bidding him guard them until he asked for them again as he would his own life. In the event of his death, however, David was to give them to Sir Hugh, or if they both should die, to his own master, Sir Geoffrey. All of these things David promised to do.

Next followed a long discussion as to whether the four of them were to fight in pairs, Cattrina and Ambrosio against Hugh and Dick simultaneously, or whether Ambrosio was to fight alone with Dick, and Cattrina with Hugh. Upon Cattrina and Ambrosio being asked their wishes, the former said that he desired to fight alone, as he feared lest the English archer, if he overcame Ambrosio, should turn on him also, or perhaps hamstring his horse.

Then the Englishmen were asked what they wished, and replied that they did not care how it was arranged, being ready to fight either together or separately, as the Doge might decree.

The end of it was that after long consultations with sundry experts in such matters, the Most Illustrious decided that the Captains Ambrosio and Richard the Archer should first engage on foot, and when that business was settled the two knights should take their place in the arena.

So the end if it was that more than half an hour after the combat should have begun, Dick and the gigantic Ambrosio found themselves standing face to face waiting for the signal to engage, the Swiss shouting threats and defiance and Grey Dick grinning and watching him out of his half-shut eyes.

At length it came in the shape of a single blast upon a trumpet. Now seeing that Dick stood quite still, not even raising his axe, the Swiss advanced and struck a mighty blow at him, which Dick avoided by stepping aside. Recovering himself, again Ambrosio struck. This blow Dick caught upon his shield, then, as though he were afraid, began to retreat, slowly at first, but afterward faster till his walk broke into a run.

Grey Dick ran, and the giant Swiss lumbered along after him

At this sight all that mighty audience set up a hooting. “Coward! Dog! Pig of an Englishman!” they yelled; and the louder they yelled the more quickly did Grey Dick run, till at last even Hugh grew puzzled wondering what was in his mind and hoping that he would change it soon. So the audience hooted, and Grey Dick ran and the giant Swiss lumbered along after him, bellowing triumphantly and brandishing his battle-axe, which, it was noted, never seemed to be quite long enough to reach his flying foe.

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider