Now, men were busy in the Vale. I have yet said no word of Vale Castle, built a mile away from the cloister, of hewn stone, goodly and strong. It lay upon the left horn of St. Sampson’s Harbour, near where that holy man landed with the good news of God in days of old, and its stout bastions rested on the bare rock, and its walls seemed one with the rock below, so thick and stout they were, built as Normans alone can build, to last as long as the rocks, as long as the earth. And in Vale Castle no lord or baron ruled. It was the Castle and outward defence of the Vale Cloister, and its lord was the Abbot of the Vale. And within its ramparts there was room (as we found ere long), in times of danger from pirate or strange foes, for all the brethren and children of the Cloister, and for many more besides, so that when the watch-tower fire sprang into life upon the beacon, and the alarm-bell rang out by night or day, the folk of the dale came flocking in with their babes and their most prized goods for shelter beneath the abbot’s wing. Vale Castle feared no pirate-band, and in a short space all our most precious things could be secured behind those walls snug and safe enough, until the evil men who had come to alarm our peace steered their long ships away again, sore dissatisfied with the plunder of our isle. So well guarded we were, and so strong were our three castles, within whose walls all who listed could find safety. As, indeed, it proved in the attack of the great Moor, of which this chronicle will chiefly tell.
Now, the Castle had been built some forty years before, by none other than the great Cherbourg himself, Duke Robert’s engineer. For it chanced that Duke Robert was royally entertained years ago by Abbot Magloirios, when he was forced by foul weather to put into L’Ancresse Bay, who, on his departure, left Cherbourg and other skilled men to build three castles for their safety against pirates. So it was through Duke Robert’s stay at the Vale that our Castle was made so strong. Thus God brought here, as ever, good out of evil.
And among the lay brothers were good soldiers, who could man the Castle. And once, in bygone days, they say a whole company of knights (all resting now in Abraham’s bosom, and their bodies in the Vale churchyard) came together, and sought to be made quit of the world and its strife in our peaceful cloister. These, though they left the world behind, were able to teach for safety’s sake something of warlike matters to the brethren; and thus it chanced that our brothers were ready to be men of war when peace was impossible, and men said of them, in rhyming fashion—
“White cowl and white
Chain-mail and hard stroke.”
Now, about this Castle of late men had been more than ever busy. Sundry instruments of besieged men of a new and deadly fashion lay in the armoury, and were at times by Brother Hugo brought out and practised by the brethren that formed, as he said, his corps d’armes. Then were they soldiers indeed, not monks at all, as, cassock and cowl thrown aside, they drew the bows, or aimed with their great engines the balls of stone and iron.