Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 4

Beside yon brigg out ower yon burn,
Where the water bickereth bright and sheen,
Shall many a falling courser spurn,
And knights shall die in battle keen.
PROPHECY OF THOMAS THE RHYMER.


The daughter of Raymond Berenger, with the attendants whom we have
mentioned, continued to remain upon the battlements of the Garde
Doloureuse, in spite of the exhortations of the priest that she
would rather await the issue of this terrible interval in the
chapel, and amid the rites of religion. He perceived, at length,
that she was incapable, from grief and fear, of attending to, or
understanding his advice; and, sitting down beside her, while the
huntsman and Rose Flammock stood by, endeavoured to suggest such
comfort as perhaps he scarcely felt himself.

"This is but a sally of your noble father's," he said; "and though
it may seem it is made on great hazard, yet who ever questioned
Sir Raymond Berenger's policy of wars?--He is close and secret in
his purposes. I guess right well he had not marched out as he
proposes, unless he knew that the noble Earl of Arundel, or the
mighty Constable of Chester, were close at hand."

"Think you this assuredly, good father?--Go, Raoul--go, my dearest
Rose--look to the east--see if you cannot descry banners or clouds
of dust.--Listen--listen--hear you no trumpets from that quarter?"

"Alas! my lady," said Raoul, "the thunder of heaven could scarce
be heard amid the howling of yonder Welsh wolves." Eveline turned
as he spoke, and looking towards the bridge, she beheld an
appalling spectacle. The river, whose stream washes on three sides
the base of the proud eminence on which the castle is situated,
curves away from the fortress and its corresponding village on the
west, and the hill sinks downward to an extensive plain, so
extremely level as to indicate its alluvial origin. Lower down, at
the extremity of this plain, where the banks again close on the
river, were situated the manufacturing houses of the stout
Flemings, which were now burning in a bright flame. The bridge, a
high, narrow combination of arches of unequal size, was about half
a mile distant from the castle, in the very centre of the plain.
The river itself ran in a deep rocky channel, was often
unfordable, and at all times difficult of passage, giving
considerable advantage to the defenders of the castle, who had
spent on other occasions many a dear drop of blood to defend the
pass, which Raymond Berenger's fantastic scruples now induced him
to abandon. The Welshmen, seizing the opportunity with the avidity
with which men grasp an unexpected benefit, were fast crowding
over the high and steep arches, while new bands, collecting from
different points upon the farther bank, increased the continued
stream of warriors, who, passing leisurely and uninterrupted,
formed their line of battle on the plain opposite to the castle.

At first Father Aldrovand viewed their motions without anxiety,
nay, with the scornful smile of one who observes an enemy in the
act of falling into the snare spread for them by superior skill.
Raymond Berenger, with his little body of infantry and cavalry,
were drawn up on the easy hill which is betwixt the castle and the
plain, ascending from the former towards the fortress; and it
seemed clear to the Dominican, who had not entirely forgotten in
the cloister his ancient military experience, that it was the
Knight's purpose to attack the disordered enemy when a certain
number had crossed the river, and the others were partly on the
farther side, and partly engaged in the slow and perilous
manoeuvre of effecting their passage. But when large bodies of the
white-mantled Welshmen were permitted without interruption to take
such order on the plain as their habits of fighting recommended,
the monk's countenance, though he still endeavoured to speak
encouragement to the terrified Eveline, assumed a different and an
anxious expression; and his acquired habits of resignation
contended strenuously with his ancient military ardour. "Be
patient," he said, "my daughter, and be of good comfort; thine
eyes shall behold the dismay of yonder barbarous enemy. Let but a
minute elapse, and thou shalt see them scattered like dust.--Saint
George! they will surely cry thy name now, or never!"

The monk's beads passed meanwhile rapidly through his hands, but
many an expression of military impatience mingled itself with his
orisons. He could not conceive the cause why each successive
throng of mountaineers, led under their different banners, and
headed by their respective chieftains, was permitted, without
interruption, to pass the difficult defile, and extend themselves
in battle array on the near side of the bridge, while the English,
or rather Anglo-Norman cavalry, remained stationary, without so
much as laying their lances in rest. There remained, as he
thought, but one hope--one only rational explanation of this
unaccountable inactivity--this voluntary surrender of every
advantage of ground, when that of numbers was so tremendously on
the side of the enemy. Father Aldrovand concluded, that the
succours of the Constable of Chester, and other Lord Marchers,
must be in the immediate vicinity, and that the Welsh were only
permitted to pass the river without opposition, that their retreat
might be the more effectually cut off, and their defeat, with a
deep river in their rear, rendered the more signally calamitous.
But even while he clung to this hope, the monk's heart sunk within
him, as, looking in every direction from which the expected
succours might arrive, he could neither see nor hear the slightest
token which announced their approach. In a frame of mind
approaching more nearly to despair than to hope, the old man
continued alternately to tell his beads, to gaze anxiously around,
and to address some words of consolation in broken phrases to the
young lady, until the general shout of the Welsh, ringing from the
bank of the river to the battlements of the castle, warned him, in
a note of exultation, that the very last of the British had
defiled through the pass, and that their whole formidable array
stood prompt for action upon the hither side of the river.

This thrilling and astounding clamour, to which each Welshman lent
his voice with all the energy of defiance, thirst of battle, and
hope of conquest, was at length answered by the blast of the
Norman trumpets,--the first sign of activity which had been
exhibited on the part of Raymond Berenger. But cheerily as they
rang, the trumpets, in comparison of the shout which they
answered, sounded like the silver whistle of the stout boatswain
amid the howling of the tempest.

At the same moment when the trumpets were blown, Berenger gave
signal to the archers to discharge their arrows, and the men-at-
arms to advance under a hail-storm of shafts, javelins, and
stones, shot, darted, and slung by the Welsh against their steel-
clad assailants.

The veterans of Raymond, on the other hand, stimulated by so many
victorious recollections, confident in the talents of their
accomplished leader, and undismayed even by the desperation of
their circumstances, charged the mass of the Welshmen with their
usual determined valour. It was a gallant sight to see this little
body of cavalry advance to the onset, their plumes floating above
their helmets, their lances in rest, and projecting six feet in
length before the breasts of their coursers; their shields hanging
from their necks, that their left hands might have freedom to
guide their horses; and the whole body rushing on with an equal
front, and a momentum of speed which increased with every second.
Such an onset might have startled naked men, (for such were the
Welsh, in respect of the mail-sheathed Normans,) but it brought no
terrors to the ancient British, who had long made it their boast
that they exposed their bare bosoms and white tunics to the lances
and swords of the men-at-arms, with as much confidence as if they
had been born invulnerable. It was not indeed in their power to
withstand the weight of the first shock, which, breaking their
ranks, densely as they were arranged, carried the barbed horses
into the very centre of their host, and well-nigh up to the fatal
standard, to which Raymond Berenger, bound by his fatal vow, had
that day conceded so much vantage-ground. But they yielded like
the billows, which give way, indeed, to the gallant ship, but only
to assail her sides, and to unite in her wake. With wild and
horrible clamours, they closed their tumultuous ranks around
Berenger and his devoted followers, and a deadly scene of strife
ensued.

The best warriors of Wales had on this occasion joined the
standard of Gwenwyn; the arrows of the men of Gwentland, whose
skill in archery almost equalled that of the Normans themselves,
rattled on the helmets of the men-at-arms; and the spears of the
people of Deheubarth, renowned for the sharpness and temper of
their steel heads, were employed against the cuirasses not without
fatal effect, notwithstanding the protection, which these afforded
to the rider.

It was in vain that the archery belonging to Raymond's little
band, stout yeomen, who, for the most part, held possession by
military tenure, exhausted their quivers on the broad mark
afforded them by the Welsh army. It is probable, that every shaft
carried a Welshman's life on its point; yet, to have afforded
important relief to the cavalry, now closely and inextricably
engaged, the slaughter ought to have been twenty-fold at least.
Meantime, the Welsh, galled by this incessant discharge, answered
it by volleys from their own archers, whose numbers made some
amends for their inferiority, and who were supported by numerous
bodies of darters and slingers. So that the Norman archers, who
had more than once attempted to descend from their position to
operate a diversion in favour of Raymond and his devoted band,
were now so closely engaged in front, as obliged them to abandon
all thoughts of such a movement.

Meanwhile, that chivalrous leader, who from the first had hoped
for no more than an honourable death, laboured with all his power
to render his fate signal, by involving in it that of the Welsh
Prince, the author of the war. He cautiously avoided the
expenditure of his strength by hewing among the British; but, with
the shock of his managed horse, repelled the numbers who pressed
on him, and leaving the plebeians to the swords of his companions,
shouted his war-cry, and made his way towards the fatal standard
of Gwenwyn, beside which, discharging at once the duties of a
skilful leader and a brave soldier, the Prince had stationed
himself. Raymond's experience of the Welsh disposition, subject
equally to the highest flood, and most sudden ebb of passion, gave
him some hope that a successful attack upon this point, followed
by the death or capture of the Prince, and the downfall of his
standard, might even yet strike such a panic, as should change the
fortunes of the day, otherwise so nearly desperate. The veteran,
therefore, animated his comrades to the charge by voice and
example; and, in spite of all opposition, forced his way gradually
onward. But Gwenwyn in person, surrounded by his best and noblest
champions, offered a defence as obstinate as the assault was
intrepid. In vain they were borne to the earth by the barbed
horses, or hewed down by the invulnerable riders. Wounded and
overthrown, the Britons continued their resistance, clung round
the legs of the Norman steeds, and cumbered their advance while
their brethren, thrusting with pikes, proved every joint and
crevice of the plate and mail, or grappling with the men-at-arms,
strove to pull them from their horses by main force, or beat them
down with their bills and Welsh hooks. And wo betide those who
were by these various means dismounted, for the long sharp knives
worn by the Welsh, soon pierced them with a hundred wounds, and
were then only merciful when the first inflicted was deadly.

The combat was at this point, and had raged for more than half an
hour, when Berenger, having forced his horse within two spears'
length of the British standard, he and Gwenwyn were so near to
each other as to exchange tokens of mutual defiance.

"Turn thee, Wolf of Wales," said Berenger, "and abide, if thou
darest, one blow of a good knight's sword! Raymond Berenger spits
at thee and thy banner."

"False Norman churl!" said Gwenwyn, swinging around his head a
mace of prodigious weight, and already clottered with blood, "thy
iron headpiece shall ill protect thy lying tongue, with which I
will this day feed the ravens."

Raymond made no farther answer, but pushed his horse towards the
Prince, who advanced to meet him with equal readiness. But ere
they came within reach of each other's weapons, a Welsh champion,
devoted like the Romans who opposed the elephants of Pyrrhus,
finding that the armour of Raymond's horse resisted the repeated
thrusts of his spear, threw himself under the animal, and stabbed
him in the belly with his long knife. The noble horse reared and
fell, crushing with his weight the Briton who had wounded him; the
helmet of the rider burst its clasps in the fall, and rolled away
from his head, giving to view his noble features and gray hairs.
He made more than one effort to extricate himself from the fallen
horse, but ere he could succeed, received his death-wound from the
hand of Gwenwyn, who hesitated not to strike him down with his
mace while in the act of extricating himself.

During the whole of this bloody day, Dennis Morolt's horse had
kept pace for pace, and his arm blow for blow, with his master's.
It seemed as if two different bodies had been moving under one act
of volition. He husbanded his strength, or put it forth, exactly
as he observed his knight did, and was close by his side, when he
made the last deadly effort. At that fatal moment, when Raymond
Berenger rushed on the chief, the brave squire forced his way up
to the standard, and, grasping it firmly, struggled for possession
of it with a gigantic Briton, to whose care it had been confided,
and who now exerted his utmost strength to defend it. But even
while engaged in this mortal struggle, the eye of Morolt scarcely
left his master; and when he saw him fall, his own force seemed by
sympathy to abandon him, and the British champion had no longer
any trouble in laying him prostrate among the slain.

The victory of the British was now complete. Upon the fall of
their leader, the followers of Raymond Berenger would willingly
have fled or surrendered. But the first was impossible, so closely
had they been enveloped; and in the cruel wars maintained by the
Welsh upon their frontiers, quarter to the vanquished was out of
question. A few of the men-at-arms were lucky enough to
disentangle themselves from the tumult, and, not even attempting
to enter the castle, fled in various directions, to carry their
own fears among the inhabitants of the marches, by announcing the
loss of the battle, and the fate of the far-renowned Raymond
Berenger.

The archers of the fallen leader, as they had never been so deeply
involved in the combat, which had been chiefly maintained by the
cavalry, became now, in their turn, the sole object of the enemy's
attack. But when they saw the multitude come roaring towards them
like a sea, with all its waves, they abandoned the bank which they
had hitherto bravely defended, and began a regular retreat to the
castle in the best order which they could, as the only remaining
means of securing their lives. A few of their lightfooted enemies
attempted to intercept them, during the execution of this prudent
manoeuvre, by outstripping them in their march, and throwing
themselves into the hollow way which led to the castle, to oppose
their retreat. But the coolness of the English archers, accustomed
to extremities of every kind, supported them on the present
occasion. While a part of them, armed with glaives and bills,
dislodged the Welsh from the hollow way, the others, facing in the
opposite direction, and parted into divisions, which alternately
halted and retreated, maintained such a countenance as to check
pursuit, and exchange a severe discharge of missiles with the
Welsh, by which both parties were considerable sufferers.

At length, having left more than two-thirds of their brave
companions behind them, the yeomanry attained the point, which,
being commanded by arrows and engines from the battlements, might
be considered as that of comparative safety. A volley of large
stones, and square-headed bolts of great size and thickness,
effectually stopped the farther progress of the pursuit, and those
who had led it drew back their desultory forces to the plain,
where, with shouts of jubilee and exultation, their countrymen
were employed in securing the plunder of the field; while some,
impelled by hatred and revenge, mangled and mutilated the limbs of
the dead Normans, in a manner unworthy of their national cause and
their own courage. The fearful yells with which this dreadful work
was consummated, while it struck horror into the minds of the
slender garrison of the Garde Doloureuse, inspired them at the
same time with the resolution rather to defend the fortress to the
last extremity, than to submit to the mercy of so vengeful an
enemy. [Footnote: This is by no means exaggerated in the text. A
very honourable testimony was given to their valour by King Henry
II., in a letter to the Greek Emperor, Emanuel Commenus. This
prince having desired that an account might be sent him of all
that was remarkable in the island of Great Britain, Henry, in
answer to that request, was pleased to take notice, among other
particulars, of the extraordinary courage and fierceness of the
Welsh, who were not afraid to fight unarmed with enemies armed at
all points, valiantly shedding their blood in the cause of their
country, and purchasing glory at the expense of their lives.]


Sir Walter Scott