Felix took the opportunity and suggested a new form of trigger for the unwieldy crossbows. He saw that as at present discharged it must require some strength, perhaps the united effort of several men, to pull away the bolt or catch. Such an effort must disconcert the aim; these crossbows were worked upon a carriage, and it was difficult to keep the carriage steady even when stakes were inserted by the low wheels. It occurred to him at once that the catch could be depressed by a lever, so that one man could discharge the bow by a mere pressure of the hand, and without interfering with the aim. The men soon understood him, and acknowledged that it would be a great improvement. One, who was the leader of the gang, thought it so valuable an idea that he went off at once to communicate with the lieutenant, who would in his turn carry the matter to Baron Ingulph, Master of the Artillery.
The others congratulated him, and asked to share in the reward that would be given to him for this invention. To whose “war” did he belong? Felix answered, after a little hesitation, to the king’s levy. At this they whispered among themselves, and Felix, again remembering the carters’ caution, said that he must attend the muster (this was a pure guess), but that he would return directly afterwards. Never for a moment suspecting that he would avoid the reward they looked upon as certain, they made no opposition, and he hurried away. Pushing through the groups, and not in the least knowing where he was going, Felix stumbled at last upon the king’s quarters.
THE KING’S LEVY
The king’s booth stood apart from the rest; it was not much larger, but properly thatched with straw, and the wide doorway hung with purple curtains. Two standards stood beside it; one much higher than the other. The tallest bore the ensign of the kingdom; the lesser, the king’s own private banner as a knight. A breastwork encircled the booth, enclosing a space about seventy yards in diameter, with a fosse, and stakes so planted as to repel assailants. There was but one gateway, opposite the general camp, and this was guarded by soldiers fully armed. A knight on horseback in armour, except his helmet, rode slowly up and down before the gate; he was the officer of the guard. His retainers, some thirty or forty men, were drawn up close by.
A distance of fifty yards intervened between this entrenchment and the camp, and was kept clear. Within the entrenchment Felix could see a number of gentlemen, and several horses caparisoned, but from the absence of noise and the fact that every one appeared to walk daintily and on tiptoe, he concluded that the king was still sleeping. The stream ran beside the entrenchment, and between it and the city; the king’s quarters were at that corner of the camp highest up the brook, so that the water might not be fouled before it reached him.