Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

Yet not on them were the eyes of Hugh and Grey Dick fixed, but rather on a single figure which stood quite alone in the midst of that great arena where Cattrina and his horse should have been, where they had been indeed but a little while before. The figure was clothed in a red and yellow cap shaped like a cock’s-comb, in black furs, a yellow robe and white gloves and sandals. Yonder it stood, fantastic, fearful, its bare and brawny arms crossed upon its breast, its head bowed as though it contemplated the ground. There was not an eye of all the tens of thousands of those who were present that did not see it; there was not a voice that did not break out into a yell of terror and hate, till the earth shook with such a sound as might reverberate through the choked abyss of hell.

“The fiend! The fiend! The fiend!” said the shout. “Kill him! Kill him! Kill him!”

The figure looked up, the red light shone upon its stony face that seemed one blotch of white amidst its glow. Then it stooped down and lifted from the sand a knight’s lance such as Cattrina had held. It raised the lance and with it pointed four times, east and west and north and south, holding it finally for a little while in the direction of the tribune, where sat the Doge with all his noble company, and of Venice beyond. Lastly, with a quick and easy motion, it, cast the lance toward the sky, whence it fell, remaining fixed point downward in the earth. Then a tongue of mist that had crept up from the sea enveloped it, and when that mist cleared away the shape was gone.

Now the red haze thinned, and for the first time that morning the sun shone out in a sickly fashion. Although their nerves were torn by the unnatural darkness and the apparition that followed it, which all saw, yet none quite believed that they had seen, the multitude shouted for the combat to proceed.

Once more Hugh laid his lance in rest, thinking that Cattrina was there, although he could not see him.

Then the third trumpet rang out—in that silence it sounded like the blast of doom—and Hugh spurred his horse forward a little way, but halted, for he could perceive no foe advancing against him. He stared about him, and at last in a rage threw his lance to a squire, and, turning his horse, galloped to the tribune. There he pulled it to its haunches and shouted out in a great voice:

“Where is Cattrina? Am I to be fooled, who appear here as the champion of England’s King? Where is Cattrina? Produce Cattrina that I may slay him or be slain, or, Chivalry of Venice, be forever shamed!”

The Doge rose, uttering swift commands, and heralds ran here and there. Knights and captains searched the pavilions and every other place where a mounted man might hide. But they never found Cattrina, and, returning at length, confessed as much with bowed heads.

The Doge, maddened by this ignominy, seized the great gold chain upon his breast and burst it in two.

“Cattrina has fled!” he shouted. “Or Satan himself has carried him away! At the least let his name be erased from the Golden Book of Venice, and until he prove himself innocent, let no noble of Venice stretch out to him the hand of fellowship. Men of Venice, for you Cattrina and his House are dead.”

“Will none take up his cause and fight for him?” asked Hugh through Sir Geoffrey, and presently, at the Doge’s command, the challenge was repeated thrice by the herald. But to it no answer came. Of this afterward Hugh was glad, since it was Cattrina’s life he sought, not that of any other man. Then Hugh spoke again, saying:

“I claim, O Illustrious, that I be written down as victor in this combat to the death, bloodless through no fault of mine.”

“It shall be so written, noble Hugh de Cressi,” said the Doge. “Let all Venice take notice thereof.”

As the words left his lips the solid earth began to heave and rock.

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider