Now it was decided I was to ride with all speed to Coutances, near fifty miles away, and there to inquire more certainly about William’s whereabouts.
My uncle chose for me a fresh horse from the abbot’s stable, that he swore would bear me nobly, and seeing me suitably equipped, led me once more to the abbot, who blessed me ere I went forth.
“Child,” said he, having given me his blessing, “thou hast by thy spirit made clearer to me the legend of this holy house. A fair child, men say, went with Aubert of old to lay these foundations in the rock, and wherever he trod,—that child of olden days,—the hard rock crumbled for the great bases to be laid. So, beneath thy tread, young though thou art in years, doth difficulty crumble to nothing, for it is the work of God—the saving of our brethren—thou art called to, and wilt perform!”
“What have I done, holy father,” I replied, “that any knightly youth would not be proud to do?”
With all fit instructions as to where I was to go at Coutances, and the priests that would there send me onwards to the duke, I jumped upon my steed, and in all fair array, as befitted a youth of high rank, alone I left St Michael de Tombelaine, and leaving Pontorson behind me, and having the blue water all the way on my left, reached Avranches by noon.
Now, though my horse showed signs of weariness, I hoped to get forward another good stage before evening. Therefore after a short rest I pressed forward, and I soon came into a country that was well tilled, and the land was divided by hedges like our lanes in England. I was ill pleased indeed, when well forward on these desolate roads, to hear the same trot behind me that I heard before on my road from St. Malo.
It made me press on my tired steed to a canter, and the steed behind me cantered too. I thought, “I will stay, and let the knave pass,” but as I stayed in the way, the horseman that followed stayed as well. We had ridden some hour and a half like this, and the road ran now through a wood that seemed dark and cheerless to the sight, yet I was forced to press on. I had not progressed far, when I heard a whistle behind me, and lo! I saw, as it were, in answer two great knights come spurring towards me from the trees ahead.
Then I feared greatly, and I knew there was an evil trap set to catch me on my way, and I ground my teeth to think that here seemed fresh delays to the work I had in hand.
The three came at me now with drawn swords.
I drew my little poniard, since I knew I must fight.
“Yield thyself up!” said one great villain. “It is useless to resist!”
My answer was an attempt to drive my horse forward, but the frightened brute refused my urging. I lunged at the first with my blade, but with a sweep of his own he drave it out of my hand.
“How now, sir page,” said he, “must we teach you manners?”
I was nigh weeping for shame that he should so best me, yet I had no other weapon, and they were three men, and I but a lad.