From the sea-wall on the coast of Essex, Rosamund looked out
across the ocean eastwards. To right and left, but a little behind
her, like guards attending the person of their sovereign, stood her
cousins, the twin brethren, Godwin and Wulf, tall and shapely men.
Godwin was still as a statue, his hands folded over the hilt of the
long, scabbarded sword, of which the point was set on the ground
before him, but Wulf, his brother, moved restlessly, and at length
yawned aloud. They were beautiful to look at, all three of them, as
they appeared in the splendour of their youth and health. The
imperial Rosamund, dark-haired and eyed, ivory skinned and
slender-waisted, a posy of marsh flowers in her hand; the pale,
stately Godwin, with his dreaming face; and the bold-fronted,
blue-eyed warrior, Wulf, Saxon to his finger-tips, notwithstanding
his father's Norman blood.
At the sound of that unstifled yawn, Rosamund turned her head
with the slow grace which marked her every movement.
"Would you sleep already, Wulf, and the sun not yet down?" she
asked in her rich, low voice, which, perhaps because of its foreign
accent, seemed quite different to that of any other woman.
"I think so, Rosamund," he answered."It would serve to pass the
time, and now that you have finished gathering those yellow flowers
which we rode so far to seek, the time—is somewhat long."
"Shame on you, Wulf," she said, smiling."Look upon yonder sea
and sky, at that sheet of bloom all gold and purple—"
"I have looked for hard on half an hour, Cousin Rosamund; also
at your back and at Godwin's left arm and side-face, till in truth
I thought myself kneeling in Stangate Priory staring at my father's
effigy upon his tomb, while Prior John pattered the Mass. Why, if
you stood it on its feet, it is Godwin, the same crossed hands
resting on the sword, the same cold, silent face staring at the
"Godwin as Godwin will no doubt one day be, or so he hopes— that
is, if the saints give him grace to do such deeds as did our sire,"
interrupted his brother.
Wulf looked at him, and a curious flash of inspiration shone in
his blue eyes.
"No, I think not," he answered; "the deeds you may do, and
greater, but surely you will lie wrapped not in a shirt of mail,
but with a monk's cowl at the last—unless a woman robs you of it
and the quickest road to heaven. Tell me now, what are you thinking
of, you two—for I have been wondering in my dull way, and am
curious to learn how far I stand from truth? Rosamund, speak first.
Nay, not all the truth—a maid's thoughts are her own— but just the
cream of it, that which rises to the top and should be
Rosamund sighed. "I? I was thinking of the East, where the sun
shines ever and the seas are blue as my girdle stones, and men are
full of strange learning—"
"And women are men's slaves!" interrupted Wulf. "Still, it is
natural that you should think of the East who have that blood in
your veins, and high blood, if all tales be true. Say,
Princess"—and he bowed the knee to her with an affectation of
mockery which could not hide his earnest reverence—"say, Princess,
my cousin, granddaughter of Ayoub and niece of the mighty monarch,
Yusuf Salah-ed-din, do you wish to leave this pale land and visit
your dominions in Egypt and in Syria?"
She listened, and at his words her eyes seemed to take fire, the
stately form to erect itself, the breast to heave, and the thin
nostrils to grow wider as though they scented some sweet,
remembered perfume. Indeed, at that moment, standing there on the
promontory above the seas, Rosamund looked a very queen.
Presently she answered him with another question.
"And how would they greet me there, Wulf, who am a Norman D'Arcy
and a Christian maid?"
"The first they would forgive you, since that blood is none so
ill either, and for the second—why, faiths can be changed."
Then it was that Godwin spoke for the first time.
"Wulf, Wulf," he said sternly,"keep watch upon your tongue, for
there are things that should not be said even as a silly jest. See
you, I love my cousin here better than aught else upon the
"There, at least, we agree," broke in Wulf.
"Better than aught else on the earth," repeated Godwin;"but, by
the Holy Blood and by St. Peter, at whose shrine we are, I would
kill her with my own hand before her lips kissed the book of the
"Or any of his followers," muttered Wulf to himself, but
fortunately, perhaps, too low for either of his companions to hear.
Aloud he said, "You understand, Rosamund, you must be careful, for
Godwin ever keeps his word, and that would be but a poor end for so
much birth and beauty and wisdom."
"Oh, cease mocking, Wulf," she answered, laying her hand lightly
on the tunic that hid his shirt of mail."Cease mocking, and pray
St. Chad, the builder of this church, that no such dreadful choice
may ever be forced upon you, or me, or your beloved brother—who,
indeed, in such a case would do right to slay me."
"Well, if it were," answered Wulf, and his fair face flushed as
he spoke, "I trust that we should know how to meet it. After all,
is it so very hard to choose between death and duty?"
"I know not," she replied; "but oft-times sacrifice seems easy
when seen from far away; also, things may be lost that are more
prized than life."
"What things? Do you mean place, or wealth, or—love?"
"Tell me," said Rosamund, changing her tone,"what is that boat
rowing round the river's mouth? A while ago it hung upon its oars
as though those within it watched us."
"Fisher-folk," answered Wulf carelessly."I saw their nets."
"Yes; but beneath them something gleamed bright, like
"Fish," said Wulf;"we are at peace in Essex." Although Rosamund
did not look convinced, he went on:"Now for Godwin's thoughts— what
"Brother, if you would know, of the East also—the East and its
"Which have brought us no great luck," answered Wulf,"seeing
that our sire was slain in them and naught of him came home again
save his heart, which lies at Stangate yonder."
"How better could he die," asked Godwin,"than fighting for the
Cross of Christ? Is not that death of his at Harenc told of to this
day? By our Lady, I pray for one but half as glorious!"
"Aye, he died well—he died well," said Wulf, his blue eyes
flashing and his hand creeping to his sword hilt."But, brother,
there is peace at Jerusalem, as in Essex."
"Peace? Yes; but soon there will be war again. The monk Peter—he
whom we saw at Stangate last Sunday, and who left Syria but six
months gone—told me that it was coming fast. Even now the Sultan
Saladin, sitting at Damascus, summons his hosts from far and wide,
while his priests preach battle amongst the tribes and barons of
the East. And when it comes, brother, shall we not be there to
share it, as were our grandfather, our father, our uncle, and so
many of our kin? Shall we rot here in this dull land, as by our
uncle's wish we have done these many years, yes, ever since we were
home from the Scottish war, and count the kine and plough the
fields like peasants, while our peers are charging on the pagan,
and the banners wave, and the blood runs red upon the holy sands of
Now it was Wulf's turn to take fire.
"By our Lady in Heaven, and our lady here!"—and he Iooked at
Rosamund, who was watching the pair of them with her quiet
thoughtful eyes—"go when you will, Godwin, and I go with you, and
as our birth was one birth, so, if it is decreed, let our death be
one death." And suddenly his hand that had been playing with the
sword-hilt gripped it fast, and tore the long, lean blade from its
scabbard and cast it high into the air, flashing in the sunlight,
to catch it as it fell again, while in a voice that caused the wild
fowl to rise in thunder from the Saltings beneath, Wulf shouted the
old war-cry that had rung on so many a field—"A D'Arcy! a D'Arcy!
Meet D'Arcy, meet Death!" Then he sheathed his sword again and
added in a shamed voice,"Are we children that we fight where no foe
is? Still, brother, may we find him soon!"
Godwin smiled grimly, but answered nothing; only Rosamund
"So, my cousins, you would be away, perhaps to return no more,
and that will part us. But"—and her voice broke somewhat—"such is
the woman's lot, since men like you ever love the bare sword best
of all, nor should I think well of you were it otherwise. Yet,
cousins, I know not why"—and she shivered a little—"it comes into
my heart that Heaven often answers such prayers swiftly. Oh, Wulf!
your sword looked very red in the sunlight but now: I say that it
looked very red in the sunlight. I am afraid—of I know not what.
Well, we must be going, for we have nine miles to ride, and the
dark is not so far away. But first, my cousins, come with me into
this shrine, and let us pray St. Peter and St. Chad to guard us on
our journey home.
"Our journey?" said Wulf anxiously."What is there for you to
fear in a nine-mile ride along the shores of the Blackwater?"
"I said our journey home Wulf; and home is not in the hall at
Steeple, but yonder," and she pointed to the quiet, brooding
"Well answered," said Godwin,"in this ancient place, whence so
many have journeyed home; all the Romans who are dead, when it was
their fortress, and the Saxons who came after them, and others
Then they turned and entered the old church—one of the first
that ever was in Britain, rough-built of Roman stone by the very
hands of Chad, the Saxon saint, more than five hundred years before
their day. Here they knelt a while at the rude altar and prayed,
each of them in his or her own fashion, then crossed themselves,
and rose to seek their horses, which were tied in the shed hard
Now there were two roads, or rather tracks, back to the Hall at
Steeple— one a mile or so inland, that ran through the village of
Bradwell, and the other, the shorter way, along the edge of the
Saltings to the narrow water known as Death Creek, at the head of
which the traveller to Steeple must strike inland, leaving the
Priory of Stangate on his right. It was this latter path they
choose, since at low tide the going there is good for horses—which,
even in the summer, that of the inland track was not. Also they
wished to be at home by supper-time, lest the old knight, Sir
Andrew D'Arcy, the father of Rosamund and the uncle of the orphan
brethren, should grow anxious, and perhaps come out to seek
For the half of an hour or more they rode along the edge of the
Saltings, for the most part in silence that was broken only by the
cry of curlew and the lap of the turning tide. No human being did
they see, indeed, for this place was very desolate and unvisited,
save now and again by fishermen. At length, just as the sun began
to sink, they approached the shore of Death Creek—a sheet of tidal
water which ran a mile or more inland, growing ever narrower, but
was here some three hundred yards in breadth. They were well
mounted, all three of them. Indeed, Rosamund's horse, a great grey,
her father's gift to her, was famous in that country-side for its
swiftness and power, also because it was so docile that a child
could ride it; while those of the brethren were heavy-built but
well-trained war steeds, taught to stand where they were left, and
to charge when they were urged, without fear of shouting men or
Now the ground lay thus. Some seventy yards from the shore of
Death Creek and parallel to it, a tongue of land, covered with
scrub and a few oaks, ran down into the Saltings, its point ending
on their path, beyond which were a swamp and the broad river.
Between this tongue and the shore of the creek the track wended its
way to the uplands. It was an ancient track; indeed the reason of
its existence was that here the Romans or some other long dead
hands had built a narrow mole or quay of rough stone, forty or
fifty yards in length, out into the water of the creek, doubtless
to serve as a convenience for fisher boats, which could lie
alongside of it even at low tide. This mole had been much destroyed
by centuries of washing, so that the end of it lay below water,
although the landward part was still almost sound and level.
Coming over the little rise at the top of the wooded tongue, the
quick eyes of Wulf, who rode first—for here the path along the
border of the swamp was so narrow that they must go in single
file—caught sight of a large, empty boat moored to an iron ring set
in the wall of the mole.
"Your fishermen have landed, Rosamund," he said,"and doubtless
gone up to Bradwell."
"That is strange," she answered anxiously,"since here no
fishermen ever come." And she checked her horse as though to
"Whether they come or not, certainly they have gone," said
Godwin, craning forward to look about him; so, as we have nothing
to fear from an empty boat, let us push on."
On they rode accordingly, until they came to the root of the
stone quay or pier, when a sound behind them caused them to look
back. Then they saw a sight that sent the blood to their hearts,
for there behind them, leaping down one by one on to that narrow
footway, were men armed with naked swords, six or eight of them,
all of whom, they noted, had strips of linen pierced with eyelet
holes tied beneath their helms or leather caps, so as to conceal
"A snare! a snare!" cried Wulf, drawing his sword. "Swift!
follow me up the Bradwell path!" and he struck the spurs into his
horse. It bounded forward, to be dragged next second with all the
weight of his powerful arm almost to its haunches. "God's mercy!"
he cried, "there are more of them!" And more there were, for
another band of men armed and linen-hooded like the first, had
leapt down on to that Bradwell path, amongst them a stout man, who
seemed to be unarmed, except for a long, crooked knife at his
girdle and a coat of ringed mail, which showed through the opening
of his loose tunic.
"To the boat!" shouted Godwin, whereat the stout man laughed—a
light, penetrating laugh, which even then all three of them heard
Along the quay they rode, since there was nowhere else that they
could go, with both paths barred, and swamp and water on one side
of them, and a steep, wooded bank upon the other. When they reached
it, they found why the man had laughed, for the boat was made fast
with a strong chain that could not be cut; more, her sail and oars
"Get into it," mocked a voice; "or, at least, let the lady get
in; it will save us the trouble of carrying her there."
Now Rosamund turned very pale, while the face of Wulf went red
and white, and he gripped his sword-hilt. But Godwin, calm as ever,
rode forward a few paces, and said quietly:
"Of your courtesy, say what you need of us. If it be money, we
have none—nothing but our arms and horses, which I think may cost
Now the man with the crooked knife advanced a little,
accompanied by another man, a tall, supple-looking knave, into
whose ear he whispered.
"My master says," answered the tall man, "that you have with you
that which is of more value than all the king's gold—a very fair
lady, of whom someone has urgent need. Give her up now, and go your
way with your arms and horses, for you are gallant young men, whose
blood we do not wish to shed."
At this it was the turn of the brethren to laugh, which both of
them did together.
"Give her up," answered Godwin, "and go our ways dishonoured?
Aye, with our breath, but not before. Who then has such urgent need
of the lady Rosamund?"
Again there was whispering between the pair.
"My master says," was the answer, "he thinks that all who see
her will have need of her, since such loveliness is rare. But if
you wish a name, well, one comes into his mind; the name of the
"The knight Lozelle!" murmured Rosamund, turning even paler than
before, as well she might. For this Lozelle was a powerful man and
Essex-born. He owned ships of whose doings upon the seas and in the
East evil tales were told, and once had sought Rosamund's hand in
marriage, but being rejected, uttered threats for which Godwin, as
the elder of the twins, had fought and wounded him. Then he
vanished—none knew where.
"Is Sir Hugh Lozelle here then?" asked Godwin, "masked like you
common cowards? If so, I desire tomeet him, to finish the work I
began in the snow last Christmas twelvemonths."
"Find that out if you can," answered the tall man. But Wulf
said, speaking low between his clenched teeth:
"Brother, I see but one chance. We must place Rosamund between
us and charge them."
The captain of the band seemed to read their thoughts, for again
he whispered into the ear of his companion, who called out:
"My master says that if you try to charge, you will be fools,
since we shall stab and ham-string your horses, which are too good
to waste, and take you quite easily as you fall. Come then, yield,
as you can do without shame, seeing there is no escape, and that
two men, however brave, cannot stand against a crowd. He gives you
one minute to surrender."
Now Rosamund spoke for the first time.
"My cousins," she said, "I pray you not to let me fall living
into the hands of Sir Hugh Lozelle, or of yonder men, to be taken
to what fate I know not. Let Godwin kill me, then, to save my
honour, as but now he said he would to save my soul, and strive to
cut your way through, and live to avenge me."
The brethren made no answer, only they looked at the water and
then at one another, and nodded. It was Godwin who spoke again, for
now that it had come to this struggle for life and their lady,
Wulf, whose tongue was commonly so ready, had grown strangely
silent, and fierce-faced also.
"Listen, Rosamund, and do not turn your eyes," said Godwin.
"There is but one chance for you, and, poor as it is, you must
choose between it and capture, since we cannot kill you. The grey
horse you ride is strong and true. Turn him now, and spur into the
water of Death Creek and swim it. It is broad, but the incoming
tide will help you, and perchance you will not drown."
Rosamund listened and moved her head backwards towards the boat.
Then Wulf spoke—few words and sharp: "Begone, girl! we guard the
She heard, and her dark eyes filled with tears, and her stately
head sank for a moment almost to her horse's mane.
"Oh, my knights! my knights! And would you die for me? Well, if
God wills it, so it must be. But I swear that if you die, that no
man shall be aught to me who have your memory, and if you live—"
And she looked at them confusedly, then stopped.
"Bless us, and begone," said Godwin.
So she blessed them in words low and holy; then of a sudden
wheeled round the great grey horse, and striking the spur into its
flank, drove straight at the deep water. A moment the stallion
hung, then from the low quay-end sprang out wide and clear. Deep it
sank, but not for long, for presently its rider's head rose above
the water, and regaining the saddle, from which she had floated,
Rosamund sat firm and headed the horse straight for the distant
bank. Now a shout of wonderment went up from the woman thieves, for
this was a deed that they had never thought a girl would dare. But
the brethren laughed as they saw that the grey swam well, and,
leaping from their saddles, ran forward a few paces—eight or
ten—along the mole to where it was narrowest, as they went tearing
the cloaks from their shoulders, and, since they had none, throwing
them over their left arms to serve as bucklers.
The band cursed sullenly, only their captain gave an order to
his spokesman, who cried aloud:
"Cut them down, and to the boat! We shall take her before she
reaches shore or drowns."
For a moment they wavered, for the tall twin warriors who barred
the way had eyes that told of wounds and death. Then with a rush
they came, scrambling over the rough stones. But here the causeway
was so narrow that while their strength lasted, two men were as
good as twenty, nor, because of the mud and water, could they be
got at from either side. So after all it was but two to two, and
the brethren were the better two. Their long swords flashed and
smote, and when Wulf's was lifted again, once more it shone red as
it had been when he tossed it high in the sunlight, and a man fell
with a heavy splash into the waters of the creek, and wallowed
there till he died. Godwin's foe was down also, and, as it seemed,
Then, at a muttered word, not waiting to be attacked by others,
the brethren sprang forward. The huddled mob in front of them saw
them come, and shrank back, but before they had gone a yard, the
swords were at work behind. They swore strange oaths, they caught
their feet among the rocks, and rolled upon their faces. In their
confusion three of them were pushed into the water, where two sank
in the mud and were drowned, the third only dragging himself
ashore, while the rest made good their escape from the causeway.
But two had been cut down, and three had fallen, for whom there was
no escape. They strove to rise and fight, but the linen masks
flapped about their eyes, so that their blows went wide, while the
long swords of the brothers smote and smote again upon their helms
and harness as the hammers of smiths smite upon an anvil, until
they rolled over silent and stirless.
"Back!" said Godwin; "for here the road is wide; and they will
get behind us."
So back they moved slowly, with their faces to the foe, stopping
just in front of the first man whom Godwin had seemed to kill, and
who lay face upwards with arms outstretched.
"So far we have done well," said Wulf, with a short laugh. "Are
"Nay," answered his brother, "but do not boast till the battle
is over, for many are left and they will come on thus no more. Pray
God they have no spears or bows."
Then he turned and looked behind him, and there, far from the
shore now, swam the grey horse steadily, and there upon its back
sat Rosamund. Yes, and she had seen, since the horse must swim
somewhat sideways with the tide, for look, she took the kerchief
from her throat and waved it to them. Then the brethren knew that
she was proud of their great deeds, and thanked the saints that
they had lived to do even so much as this for her dear sake
Godwin was right. Although their leader commanded them in a
stern voice, the band sank from the reach of those awful swords,
and, instead, sought for stones to hurl at them. But here lay more
mud than pebbles, and the rocks of which the causeway was built
were too heavy for them to lift, so that they found but few, which
when thrown either missed the brethren or did them little hurt.
Now, after some while, the man called "master" spoke through his
lieutenant, and certain of them ran into the thorn thicket, and
thence appeared again bearing the long oars of the boat.
"Their counsel is to batter us down with the oars. What shall we
do now, brother?" asked Godwin.
"What we can," answered Wulf. "It matters little if Rosamund is
spared by the waters, for they will scarcely take her now, who must
loose the boat and man it after we are dead."
As he spoke Wulf heard a sound behind him, and of a sudden
Godwin threw up his arms and sank to his knees. Round he sprang,
and there upon his feet stood that man whom they had thought dead,
and in his hand a bloody sword. At him leapt Wulf, and so fierce
were the blows he smote that the first severed his sword arm and
the second shore through cloak and mail deep into the thief's side;
so that this time he fell, never to stir again. Then he looked at
his brother and saw that the blood was running down his face and
"Save yourself, Wulf, for I am sped," murmured Godwin.
"Nay, or you could not speak." And he cast his arm round him and
kissed him on the brow.
Then a thought came into his mind, and lifting Godwin as though
he were a child, he ran back to where the horses stood, and heaved
him onto the saddle
"Hold fast!" he cried, "by mane and pommel. Keep your mind, and
hold fast, and I will save you yet."
Passing the reins over his left arm, Wulf leapt upon the back of
his own horse, and turned it. Ten seconds more, and the pirates,
who were gathering with the oars where the paths joined at the root
of the causeway, saw the two great horses thundering down upon
them. On one a sore wounded man, his bright hair dabbled with
blood, his hands gripping mane and saddle, and on the other the
warrior Wulf, with starting eyes and a face like the face of a
flame, shaking his red sword, and for the second time that day
shouting aloud: "A D'Arcy! a D'Arcy! Contre D'Arcy, contre
They saw, they shouted, they massed themselves together and held
up the oars to meet them. But Wulf spurred fiercely, and, short as
was the way, the heavy horses, trained to tourney, gathered their
speed. Now they were on them. The oars were swept aside like reeds;
all round them flashed the swords, and Wulf felt that he was hurt,
he knew not where. But his sword flashed also, one blow—there was
no time for more—yet the man beneath it sank like an empty
By St. Peter! They were through, and Godwin still swayed upon
the saddle, and yonder, nearing the further shore, the grey horse
with its burden still battled in the tide. They were through! they
were through! while to Wulf's eyes the air swam red, and the earth
seemed as though it rose up to meet them, and everywhere was
But the shouts had died away behind them, and the only sound was
the sound of the galloping of their horses' hoofs. Then that also
grew faint and died away, and silence and darkness fell upon the
mind of Wulf.