It was a sore moment, and one to make the strongest set their teeth hard together, when we saw through the trees a little curl of smoke wreathe itself up in the calm air, and then smoke more dense, and still more dense to follow, and then the bright red tongues of flame leaping and dancing as though in ungrateful glee o’er the ruin of the home of men who did no harm, but only good.
“They will soon be here, lad,” said Hugo, beside me on the wall. “Let us say, ‘Sursum corda.’”
“Ay, ‘ad Dominum,’” I answered bravely.
Now, these were our sign and countersign for our holy war that day. And just then word came from the north-east bastion that the Moors were already in their boats, and rowing to the Castle, with ladder and rope on board, a round hundred or so of the knaves, hoping to catch us asleep in the rear, while we met the foe in front, and order was given that at once we be prepared to discharge plenty of stones, and to shoot our ignited darts down on them from the height. There was no sign yet of the foe in front, so we went to the seaward wall, whither the boats drew near. Now, Hugo himself sent forth the first stones, but the boats were yet too far, and the balls but struck the waves, and made them spurt up fountains of foam.
Yet the rogues seemed surprised and scared at our being so ready with defence, and they stayed a moment ere they came within range of our armoury. Then at a signal of command they all rowed straight forward. They hoped out of so many some would get through. See! A very hail of stones and rocky fragments, and a very shower of fiery arrows, each one a deadly comet as it falls! They descend on the swift-rowed boats. They fall as they will without mercy on man or thwart. The devils shriek out and drop their oars, and writhe horribly when they are hit. And some with bold hands sweep them out of their craft.
In one boat some three fire-darts fell, and while the rogues struggled among themselves to escape burning, a worse thing happened, for the dry wood within sprang into flame, and no dowsing of the water could put the fire out, till the waves rushed in and swamped her in a moment, and the crew of some ten souls were struggling in the water. None of the rest essayed to save them; they were already overburdened, and had their own work to escape damage.
I know not whether they retired, or whether, landing hard by, they swelled the main attack, which as I write had already begun. For Hugo had left me to speed the manage of the balls, and when he called me again I saw a new sight in front of the great southwestern bastion.