“There is the fellow that challenged Count Calli, but won’t fight him!”
Max turned upon the boy, caught him roughly by the shoulder, and asked him where he got his information. The frightened boy replied that his father was a hostler in the duke’s stables, and had heard Count Calli say that the fellow who had challenged him was “all gauntlet but no fight.”
We at once sought Hymbercourt, who, on being closely questioned, admitted that the Italians in the castle were boasting that the stranger who seemed so eager to fight when Calli’s arm was lame, had lost his courage now that the arm was healed.
Of course I was in a deal of trouble over this combat, and heartily wished the challenge had never been given, though I had all faith in Max’s strength and skill. I, who had fought constantly for twenty years, had trained him since his tenth birthday. I had not only trained him; I had introduced him to the lists at eighteen—he being well grown, strong of limb, and active as a wildcat. I waged him against a famous tilt-yard knight, and Max held his own manfully, to his great credit and to my great joy. The battle was a draw. My first great joy in life came a few months afterward, when Max unhorsed this same knight, and received the crown of victory from the queen of the lists.
But this combat would be a battle of death. Two men would enter the lists; one would die in the course.
Max could, with propriety, announce his title and refuse to fight one so far beneath him as Calli; but even my love for the boy and my fear of the outcome, could not induce me to advise this. The advice would have been little heeded had I given it. Max was not one in whose heart hatred could thrive, but every man should have a just sense of injury received, and no one should leave all vengeance to God. In Max’s heart this sense was almost judicial. The court of his conscience had convicted Calli of an unforgivable crime, and he felt that it was his God-appointed duty to carry out the sentence.
While I had all faith in Max’s strength and skill, I also knew Calli to be a strong, time-hardened man, well used to arms. What his skill was, I could not say, but fame proclaimed it great. It would need to be great to kill Max, boy though he was, but accidents are apt to happen in the lists, and Calli was treacherous. I was deep in trouble, but I saw no way out but for Max to fight. So, on the morning after our conversation with Hymbercourt, Max and I sought admission to the duke’s audience. Charles had been privately told of our purpose and of course was delighted at the prospect of a battle to the death.
A tournament with, mayhap, a few broken heads furnished him great enjoyment; but a real battle between two men, each seeking the other’s life, was such keen pleasure to his savage, blood-loving nature, that its importance could hardly be measured. Charles would have postponed his war against the Swiss, I verily believe, rather than miss this combat between Max and Calli.