Now, all this time the Sarrasin sat still awaiting our assault, like a sick lion in his cave, and the only sign of life up at his castle was the green flag on the pole that fluttered in the wind.
And on the third day all was in preparation for the attack. And Samson had it in mind that he and his Normans would bear the brunt of the assault, and have our contingent in reserve to fight on the level when entrance had been made. Now he determined not to attack the Castle on the side towards Vale, but from the south, where the height was not great, and there was good cover of brushwood to hide our strength, and to protect from arrows and balls. We, in a close body, were to lie quiet to the east within a run, and we were told to await his signal to enter in the breach to do our share, or, if need were, to swoop on the pirate swarms unexpectedly, if they essayed to escape to their ships.
And thus once more I found myself by Hugo’s side, prepared for sharp fighting.
“See, Nigel,” whispered he, as he stood fuming and craving to be himself in the thick of the fighting that soon must chance. “Yonder tree shoots up clean and straight, and, as I fancy, there is clear vision downward to the Castle, and an easy drop and scamper hither again at the signal.”
“Let us mount,” I said.
So, careless of rules of war and obedience, like two school-lads we swarmed up the smooth trunk, and sat soon in the joinings of the branches. Thence could we see, so far as leaves allowed, the Sarrasin camp within the walls of the chateau.
They were not to be taken by surprise. For a great array—far greater, I thought, than came down to the Vale Castle—was collected on the green, and being divided into companies, had charge of the engines of defence, or tried the temper of their blades. And I saw others on the wall ready to roll stones and hot pitch upon their assailants, as is the manner of defending castles. And amid the companies stalked heavily the Grand Geoffroy himself in full armour. Could any mistake that great form, and not feel his presence amid those wild men of so many nations, that his spirit alone united into one.
“Heigho!” thought I. “Ill knight that seest without being seen; now without being seen we see thy camp and thee.”
As I thought that, his great helm turned our way, and a strange shudder took my limbs, as he seemed to look upward to our roost, and know us to be there.
“He sees us,” I said to Hugo.
“That were not possible with mortal eyes,” said Hugo; “but even evil beasts are oft aware of the near presence of their foes.”
But he had soon to turn his eyes elsewhere, for the Norman assault came sharp and swift, like the rush of great wild creatures through the forest. Indeed it was a rare sight—that sweeping mass of chivalry that seemed to reck naught of the walls, or the arrows, or the balls, or the pitch that a hundred hands rained down on them. Over the wall they went, and through the gate that withstood not their charge. O Heaven! they were not men those Normans, they were storms and floods, they were fire and mad waves of ocean, that scorn with wild gleefulness the granite rock and scarped boulder!