“But the monks, brother, are they not safe? The worst pirates ofttimes fear to touch holy men and holy places,” I interposed.
“The monks of St Brieuc,” he said solemnly and sadly, “holy men and servants of the poor, lie cold and still in their dormitories, brother by brother, saint by saint. And the sun looks in on them and sees their faces agonized in death, and the blind eyes staring with horror at the fate that woke them but for death. In such wise the Sarrasin’s devils fear holy men and holy places.”
I saw Brother Hugo as he looked far out to sea in his turn dash the drops of salt from his eyes, and strive to master his sorrow.
“Should they come our way?” I asked, in bitter questioning.
“Surely, ere long!” he answered, “and we shall be prepared. I pray to God, and—smile not at it, lad—some sort of vision in a dream has come to me that the downfall of ‘the Grand Sarrasin’ shall be through us, brethren of the Vale, and perhaps through me.”
A kind of holy look floated into his face as he said this and looked seaward; an upward look as of seraphs close to God, not seraphs frail and delicate, but full of lusty strength and goodly spirit of war, such as went forth with Michael, when there was war in Heaven.
“Be strong, and of good courage!” he murmured to himself; and, pausing awhile, strode with me across the fort, showing me this or that, that was fresh provided for safety, and the goodly stores of food, and the watchmen even now out on the towers, and the alarms all ready to call in the defenceless. Indeed all was there that a great captain could devise for safety in time of border warfare.
“Thou knowest,” he said presently, pointing towards the chateau, “that it is forbid to travel thither. Nigel, it is a very castle they are building, and beside it this fortress of ours is weak and small.”
“It will be then,” I said, “maybe a strife of castle with castle,” said I.
“Ay, so it will,” he said, “and that ere long.”
“Then, Brother Hugo, I need not voyage to Normandy to taste battle under Duke William.”
“The battle,” said Hugo, “will be hot enough before these very walls. Therefore thou shalt be my esquire and learn to taste blood under my command.”
Indeed I had no higher desire than this, and so I said.
* * * * *
Now, it was not many days after these words, one afternoon about evensong, a summons came to Hugo from the watchman on the wall at Vale Castle. He called me to go with him. We swiftly reached the rampart, the watchman saying nothing, simply pointed to the northward, and then we saw a very fleet of ships—pirate ships, we felt sure—bearing steadily towards Grand Havre. And one that seemed longer and heavier than the rest ran far ahead.
“They are making for their anchorage in Moulin Huet,” said Hugo, “and it were well for our islanders to be prepared this night. Light the beacon, honest Bertrand, let it carry its bright word from Vale to Ivy Castle, from Ivy to St. Pierre, from St. Pierre to Jerbourg, though they lie at anchor below, to Torteval and far Lihou, and thou, son, shalt take a kindly message to the men of St. Pierre.”