The smooth line of Watling Street at length opened into the old town of Thirsk, and here bells were ringing, flags flying from the steeple, music sounded, a mayor and his corporation in their robes rode slowly forth, crowds lined the road-side, caps were flung up, and a tremendous shout arose, ‘God save King Harry!’
Malcolm gazed about more utterly discomfited. There was ‘Harry,’ upright on his horse, listening with a gracious smile, while the mayor rehearsed a speech about welcome and victories, and the hopeful queen, and, what was still more to the purpose, tendered a huge pair of gauntlets, each filled to the brim, one with gold, and the other with silver pieces.
’Eh! Thanks, Master Mayor, but these gloves must be cleared, ere there is room for me to use them in battle!’
And handing the gold glove to his brother, he scattered the contents of the silver one far and wide among the populace, who shouted their blessings louder than ever, and thus he reached the market-place. There all was set forth as for the lists, a horseman in armour on either side.
‘Heigh now, Sirs,’ said Harry, ’have we not wars enough toward without these mummings of vanity?’
‘This is no show, my Lord King,’ returned the mayor, abashed. ’This is deadly earnest. These are two honourable gentlemen of Yorkshire, who are come hither to fight out their quarrel before your Grace.’
‘Two honourable foolsheads!’ muttered Harry; then, raising his voice, ‘Come hither, gentlemen, let us hear your quarrel.’
The two gentlemen were big Yorkshiremen, heavy-browed, and their native shrewdness packed far away behind a bumpkin stolidity and surliness that barely allowed them to show respect to the King.
‘So please you, Sir,’ growled the first in his throat, ’here stands Christopher Kitson of Barrowbridge, ready to avouch himself a true man, and prove in yonder fellow’s teeth that it was not a broken-kneed beast that I sent up for a heriard to my Lord Archbishop when my father died; but that he of Easingwold is a black slanderer and backbiter.’
‘And here,’ shouted the other, ’stands honest William Trenton of Easingwold, ready to thrust his lies down his throat, and prove on his body that the heriard he sent to my Lord Archbishop was a sorry jade.’
‘That were best proved by the beast’s body,’ interposed time King.
‘And,’ proceeded the doughty Kitson, as though repeating a lesson, ’having vainly pleaded the matter these nine years, we are come to demand licence to fight it out, with lance, sword, and dagger, in your royal presence, to set the matter at rest for ever.’
‘Breaking a man’s head to prove the soundness of a horse!’ ejaculated Harry.
‘Your licence is given, Sir King?’ demanded Kitson.
‘My licence is given for a combat a l’outrance,’ said Henry; but, as they were about to flounder back on their big farm-horses, he raised his voice to a thundering sound: ’Solely on this condition, that he who slays his neighbour, be he Trenton or Kitson, shall hang for the murder ere I leave Thirsk.’