“My lord duke,” I said, “they and all thy loyal people of Guernsey are near starving, and this vile Moor calls himself lord and master of the Norman seas.”
“Does he?” said William. “Tell me more of Maugher.”
“He speeds on the treachery. His devils are seen in the Sarrasin’s castle. He hath twice sought my life on my way to thee. I have seen by our abbot’s grace treacherous letters of his to King Henry, that your highness wots of. And yesterday I saw him at Coutances in disguise.”
“At Coutances?” said the duke, near as I feared another blast of anger. And then, turning to a burly lord hard by, that I guessed soon, not from his bearing, but from Duke William’s words, was his brother and councillor, Odo of Bayeux, he said, “Here, my lord, what thinkest thou of these letters?”
He gave him to read the parchment that I picked up from the turf. Odo read it slowly.
“It would seem,” said he, “that this Sarrasin is grander than we thought.”
“At this juncture he is dangerous,” said William.
“Maugher is the danger,” said Odo.
“Shall we strike at once?” said William.
“’Tis but a week’s work,” said Odo, “and it would seem by one stroke you will clear the seas for years.”
He turned to me and inquired very exactly all that I knew of the strength of the pirates by sea and land, of the building and position of the Chateau du Grand Sarrasin, of the Vale Castle, and the defence of it by the monks and islanders.
He learned (for how could I keep back even my own doings, so peremptory he was?) of my being taken captive, and bursting into a huge laughter at the tale of my escape, swore I was a wondrous fellow for my years. Then, as he had a map in his mind of all that I knew, he turned and said to the Vicomte—
“’Tis a brave boy, this thy nephew. Tell me, whose son is he?”
At this the Vicomte hesitated a moment, and I coloured and looked down.
“He is the son,” he said at length, “of my younger brother, who this fourteen years has been reckoned unworthy of his place among knights.”
The duke looked on me again, and I met his gaze.
“See, then, lad,” said he, “that thou redeem thy father’s good name! And now for thy mission hither. It is my will to do all that thou askest up to thy desires—yea, and beyond thy desires. This pirate-swarm have massed themselves together, and lo! I will sever their many heads at one blow, and they shall know rightly who is lord and master of the Norman seas and isles. I will bring all my ships——”
He was proceeding, when Odo plucked him by the arm, and, whispering in his ear, as I thought, dissuaded him from coming in person. He frowned and chafed, but at last gave way, and after further words, called to him a little man of wondrous heavy build, yet muscular withal, that stood among the greatest of his lords.