A Saxon heiress of large possessions, replied the Prior Aymer; a rose of loveliness, and a jewel of wealth; the fairest among a thousand, a bundle of myrrh, and a cluster of camphire.
We shall cheer her sorrows, said Prince John, and amend her blood, by wedding her to a Norman. She seems a minor, and must, therefore, be at our royal disposal in marriage.How sayest thou, De Bracy? What thinkst thou of gaining fair lands and livings, by wedding a Saxon, after the fashion of the followers of the Conqueror?
If the lands are to my liking, my lord, answered De Bracy, it will be hard to displease me with a bride; and deeply will I hold myself bound to your Highness for a good deed, which will fulfil all promises made in favour of your servant and vassal.
We will not forget it, said Prince John; and that we may instantly go to work, command our seneschal presently to order the attendance of the Lady Rowena and her companythat is, the rude churl her guardian, and the Saxon ox whom the Black Knight struck down in the tournament, upon this evenings banquet.De Bigot, he added to his seneschal, thou wilt word this our second summons so courteously, as to gratify the pride of these Saxons, and make it impossible for them again to refuse; although, by the bones of Becket, courtesy to them is casting pearls before swine.
Prince John had proceeded thus far, and was about to give the signal for retiring from the lists, when a small billet was put into his hand.
From whence? said Prince John, looking at the person by whom it was delivered.
From foreign parts, my lord, but from whence I know not, replied his attendant. A Frenchman brought it hither, who said he had ridden night and day to put it into the hands of your Highness.
The Prince looked narrowly at the superscription, and then at the seal, placed so as to secure the flox- silk with which the billet was surrounded, and which bore the impression of three fleurs-de-lis. John then opened the billet with apparent agitation, which visibly and greatly increased when he had perused the contents, which were expressed in these words
Take heed to yourself, for the Devil is unchained!
The Prince turned as pale as death, looked first on the earth, and then up to heaven, like a man who had received news that sentence of execution has been passed upon him. Recovering from the first effects of his surprise, he took Waldemar Fitzurse and De Bracy aside, and put the billet into their hands successively. It means, he added, in a faltering voice, that my brother Richard has obtained his freedom.
This may be a false alarm, or a forged letter, said De Bracy.
It is in Frances own hand and seal, replied Prince John.
It is time, then, said Fitzurse, to draw our party to a head, either at York, or some other centrical place. A few days later, and it will be indeed too late. Your Highness must break short this present mummery.
The yeomen and commons, said De Bracy, must not be dismissed discontented, for lack of their share in the sports.
The day, said Waldemar, is not yet very far spentlet the archers shoot a few rounds at the target, and the prize be adjudged. This will be an abundant fulfilment of the Princes promises, so far as this herd of Saxon serfs is concerned.
I thank thee, Waldemar, said the Prince; thou remindest me, too, that I have a debt to pay to that insolent peasant who yesterday insulted our person. Our banquet also shall go forward to-night as we proposed.
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