Then it was he and not they who pressed to the attack. Their meeting was a bloody business, for in that dark and crowded room Maudelain raged among his nine antagonists like an angered lion among wolves.
They struck at random and cursed shrilly, for they were now half-afraid of this prey they had entrapped; so that presently he was all hacked and bleeding, though as yet he had no mortal wound. Four of these men he had killed by this time, and Piers Exton also lay at his feet.
Then the other four drew back a little. “Are ye tired so soon?” said Maudelain, and he laughed terribly. “What, even you! Why, look ye, my bold veterans, I never killed before to-day, and I am not breathed as yet.”
Thus he boasted, exultant in his strength. But the other men saw that behind him Piers Exton had crawled into the chair from which (they thought) King Richard had just risen, and they saw Exton standing erect in this chair, with both arms raised. They saw this Exton strike the King with his pole-axe, from behind, once only, and they knew no more was needed.
“By God!” said one of them in the ensuing stillness, and it was he who bled the most, “that was a felon’s blow.”
But the dying man who lay before them made as though to smile. “I charge you all to witness,” he faintly said, “how willingly I render to Caesar’s daughter that which was ever hers.”
Then Exton fretted, as if with a little trace of shame: “Who would have thought the rascal had remembered that first wife of his so long? Caesar’s daughter, saith he! and dares in extremis to pervert Holy Scripture like any Wycliffite! Well, he is as dead as that first Caesar now, and our gracious King, I think, will sleep the better for it. And yet—God only knows! for they are an odd race, even as he said—these men that have old Manuel’s blood in them.”
THE STORY OF THE SCABBARD
“Ainsi il avait trouve sa mie
Si belle qu’on put souhaiter.
N’avoit cure d’ailleurs plaider,
Fors qu’avec lui manoir et estre.
Bien est Amour puissant et maistre.”
THE EIGHTH NOVEL.—BRANWEN OF WALES GETS A KING’S LOVE UNWITTINGLY, AND IN ALL INNOCENCE CONVINCES HIM OF THE LITTLENESS OF HIS KINGDOM; SO THAT HE BESIEGES AND IN DUE COURSE OCCUPIES ANOTHER REALM AS YET UNMAPPED.