They dismounted, and pulled me from my horse, and holding me flat on the ground with his knee, one of them began to rifle me. “The abbot’s letter,” I thought, and in a moment I gave tongue.
“Look you, good sirs,” I said, “take my money. You are welcome to it, but let me go forward on my road.”
“Wherefore such haste?” said one. “Thy money we will take, and thy sorrel hack, but there is a letter still on thee we require to be found yet!”
It was plain they were no highwaymen, but in some sort the Sarrasin’s men, even here in Normandy, and a great terror took me of his power. In a frenzy I escaped from them a moment, and stood clutching madly my breast, where the letter lay hid.
They made a rush for me together, and though like a young tiger I struggled with scratch and bite and kick, they had me down again.
“Alas!” I thought, “die then of famine, poor brethren of the Vale.”
One of them thrust his hand under my riding-tunic, and had the parchment in his very palm. And all seemed over with me and my mission, when suddenly I heard the sound of horses’ hoofs coming nearer, and I shrieked out “Help!” My enemy stuffed his cap into my throat to stop my cries.
But they had been heard, and they came closer at a gallop. “More villains,” I thought, “to make certain of my capture.”
But it was no villain’s voice that rang out next. It was my uncle’s, and with him were men-at-arms. And as he shouted my assailants left me, and, jumping into their saddles, fled into the wood.
So I was free, and my letter safe, and my uncle raised me up, and most tenderly handled me to find my injuries.
“Curse the day,” he said, “that I sent thee forth alone! How did I not suspect ill!”
“But how camest thou in such good hour?” I asked, still trembling.
“My heart smote me,” said he, “to send thee thus alone. And, indeed, I felt a presage of ill. So I got my men-at-arms, and swore that I would be thy convoy to the duke himself.”
“Uncle,” said I, “these were no highwaymen.”
“What then, lad?”
“They were searching me for the abbot’s letter, my passport to William,” I said.
“Then traitors grow like mulberries down yonder,” he said, pointing back to the Marvel. “But now, if we press on, we shall reach ere nightfall the house of a good knight, where we shall lie safe till morning.”
So we trotted forward, and in two hours’ time we were at the gateway of the castle of the Sieur de la Haye, who received my uncle with all courtesy, and refreshed us and our steeds; and next morning we rode to Coutances.
How I saw an evil face at a casement, and how, at my uncle’s house of St. Sauveur, I heard tell of my father. And of what happed on our setting forth for Valognes.
Now, as we rode into Coutances that day, I saw a sight that made me again fearful. The street was full narrow, and the houses leaned forward from either side, so as to leave but scant vision of the blue sky above, and there were plenty of windows in each story.