A sumpter horse was found for him, the leader of the party saying that they would go on to his own home, where the youth’s wound should be looked to, and they could then decide what could be done for him.
Bertram was still so far faint, suffering, weak, and weary, that he was hardly awake to curiosity as to his surroundings, and had quite enough to do to keep his seat in the saddle, and follow in the wake of the leader’s tall white horse, above which shone his bright chain mail and his still brighter golden locks, so that the exhausted boy began in some measure to feel as if he were following St. Michael on his way to some better world.
Now and then the tall figure turned to see how it was with him, and as he drooped more with fatigue and pain, bade one of the retainers keep beside him and support him.
Thus at length the cavalcade left the heathery expanse and reached a valley, green with meadow-land and waving corn, with silvery beards of barley rippling in the evening light, and cows and sheep being gathered for the night towards a dwelling where the river had been trained to form a moat round low green ramparts enclosing a number of one-storied thatched houses and barns, with one round tower, a strong embattled gateway, and at a little distance a square church tower, and other cottages standing outside.
A shout of ecstasy broke out from the village as the advancing party was seen and recognised. Men, women, and children, rudely but substantially clad, and many wearing the collar of the thrall, ran out from their houses, baring their heads, bowing low, and each in turn receiving some kind word or nod of greeting from the lord whom they welcomed, while one after another of his armed followers turned aside, and was absorbed into a happy family by wife or parent. A drawbridge crossed the moat, and there was a throng of joyful servants in the archway—foremost a priest, stretching out his hands in blessing, and a foreign-looking old woman, gray-haired and dark-eyed, who gathered young David into her embrace as he sprang from his horse, calling him her heart’s darling and her sunshine, and demanding, with a certain alarm, where were his brothers.
“In Scotland, dear Nurse Agnes—even where they should be,” was David’s answer. “We are conquerors, do you see! Edgar is a crowned and anointed King—seated on the holy stone of Scone, and Alexander is beside him to fight for him!”
“It is even so, nurse,” said the elder man, turning from the priest, to whom he had more briefly spoken; “God hath blessed our arms, and young Edgar has his right. God shield him in it! And now, nurse, here is a poor youth who needs thy care, after one of Red William’s rough jests.”
III. KING AT HOME
Weary, faint, and feverish as Bertram de Maisonforte was, he was past caring for anything but the relief of rest, cool drink, and the dressing of his wound; nor did he even ask where he was until he awoke in broad daylight the next morning, to the sound of church bells, to the sight of a low but spacious chamber, with stone walls, deerskins laid on the floor, and the old nurse standing by him with a cup of refreshing drink, and ready to attend to his wound.