MoboReader > Literature > Romance of Roman Villas (The Renaissance)

   Chapter 7 THE ORDEAL

Romance of Roman Villas (The Renaissance) By Elizabeth W. Champney Characters: 19629

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

One maiden trimly girt

Bore in her gleaming upheld skirt

Fair silken balls sewed round with gold;

Which when the others did behold

Men cast their mantles unto earth,

And maids within their raiment's girth

Drew up their gown skirts, loosening here

Some button on their bosoms dear

Or slender wrists, then making tight

The laces round their ankles light;

For folk were wont within that land

To cast the ball from hand to hand,

Dancing meanwhile full orderly.

Lovely to look on was the sway

Of the slim maidens neath the ball

As they swung back to note its fall

With dainty balanced feet; and fair

The bright out-flowing, golden hair,

As swiftly yet in measured wise

One maid ran forth to gain the prize;

Eyes glittered and young cheeks glowed bright

And gold-shod feet, round limb and light,

Gleamed from beneath the girded gown

That, unrebuked, untouched was thrown

Hither and thither by the breeze;

Shrill laughter smote the thick-leaved trees,

Till they, for very breathlessness,

With rest the trodden daisies bless.

William Morris.

Cold and calculating, nay coarse also seemed the motives of Aldobrandino to Richard as he pondered them. "Not so," thought he, "would I set about the choosing of my wife-as it were the purchase of a brood-mare." Still more his soul revolted at this low animalism when that afternoon he for the first time beheld sweet Sancie playing at ball with her sisters in the pleasance of the palace of Aries.

The game was set to music, the measured beating of a tambour with the light chiming of silver bells. Some said that Marguerite was most regal; so stately she moved to the rhythm of the dance, that one might have fancied that the glorious statue of the Venus of Arles had descended from her ancient shrine to tread a measure with her maidens. But Eleanor danced with more vivacity and passion. You would have thought her of Spanish blood as she leapt and whirled, catching the ball with the lithe ferocity of a panther. For Beatrice, Richard had no eyes, for as he watched Sancie, he knew what her three kingly brothers-in-law had meant when each could name only his own heart's dearest as her superior. He saw, too, why Aldobrandino had likened her to a peach-blossom, for her complexion had that even delicate flush, not white and red in spots, but roseate everywhere, like the heart of a conch shell or the breast of a pink curlew.

Abounding health spake in her buoyant step, but she was fine as well as strong. The rounded contours of her cheeks and shoulders were soft as those of a babe, and Richard had seen naught in all his life so exquisite as her dimpling smile. Would you know with more particularity how she appeared to him, look you straightway at the sweet maid in the foreground of that Coronation of the Virgin which Fra Lippo Lippi painted; and from the framing of wayward little curls that make their escape from a veil of silver tissue, a tangle withal to mesh a man's heart in, from that face, I say (though the painter-monk had ne'er the felicity to see her), Sancie's round eyes will search your soul and will remain in your memory for evermore.

You will not wonder then that Richard blessed God in his heart for making a thing so fair, and stood as one in amaze until the ball with which she was playing fell at his feet.

Needs must then that he return it to her and join in the game, for this was the custom when one of the players dropped out, as had Beatrice from weariness.

So he played, but he saw not the ball, only her who sped it, and making many faults the game was adjudged to her.

Face of Young Girl in the Coronation of the Virgin

By Fra Filippo Lippi Permission of Alinari

Then they walked together, others of the company following in twos and threes at a discreet distance, in that allée which still retains its ancient name, Les Alyscamps (Champs Elysées-Elysian Fields), where 'neath the taller trees the oleanders shot in long curves bursting in pink fire, like rockets, above their heads. Here, seated upon one of those carven tombs which now make benches for lovers in that enchanting spot, she told him old legends of St. Trophime, how he and his fellows sculptured about the portal of his abbey descend from their niches and keep here the eve of Toussaint. "You will see them," she said, "when you go to hang your shield in the cloister, where it must be displayed, if so be you fight in this foolish joust. Truly sorry and shamed am I that so many gallant knights must run the risk of wounds and death for little me."

"'Tis a small venture for so great a prize," said Richard.

"Then, as you fight, let it be your best, for-" but here she paused and ended her sentence differently from her first intention-"for I would not have you hurt," and her face grew yet rosier.

Richard cursed his fate that he might not fight his best, but his cursing was in his heart, what he said was: "The fortunes of such a joust are very fickle and it must needs happen that many a good knight will fight his doughtiest and yet not succeed. If I am among that number, sweet lady, I pray you set not my mischance down to lack of will, for in no tournament that I have ever entered had I so great desire to win."

She looked no higher than the Plantagenet leopards gold-embroidered upon the breast of his doublet. "Since, to spare the knights the mortification of public discomfiture, my father hath decreed that they fight incognito (their true names being known only to the roi d'armes who passes upon their qualifications), will you not tell me the device which you have chosen?"

"Choose my device for me," he said, "and I will cause it to be blazoned on my shield and embroidered on my pennant."

"It has been foretold," she answered pensively, "that I shall wed the King of Cups. Therefore, if you honestly desire to win choose that emblem."

"My cup runneth over," he murmured-and their lips met.

Ere they parted there was heard a sound of laughter, as it were the crackling of light flame, for there was no mirth in the sound, and Aldobrandino stood before them regarding the pair with a derisive leer. "There is an old proverb which it were well you should both remember," he said. "If I mistake not it runneth in this wise, 'There is many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip.' It were meet that the cup you blazon should be a spilling one."

"Better spilling than swilling," cried Richard, his eyes aflame, and Sancie affrighted ran away.

"I forgive you those stolen sweets for this once," said Aldobrandino, "for you had great provocation. Said I not rightly a peach-blossom? Nay, a peach rather, ripe and luscious. Watered not your mouth in that game of ball when the strain of her deep breathing and the violent turning and twisting of her lithe body burst the lacing of her corsage and half her fair bosom broke covert? What a pillow was that for a bridegroom, eh, Ricciardo?"

"Nay," retorted Richard, "while she repaired that accident I lifted not my eyes above the hem of her robe, that so her rare modesty might take no offence."

"And had you kept them there throughout the game you would have seen much to admire," continued Aldobrandino. "Ah! the pretty little feet, the shapely ankles! But marked you those of her sisters? Cranes and ostriches! storks and sandpipers! And they call themselves not water-fowl but women!"

"Swine!" said Richard to himself, "hog, not another word or I shall burst. And what unspeakable villainy is this that I should have taken service to deliver so pure and precious a maiden into the power of such a beast!"

This feeling grew upon him in the short space of time before the tournament, for he met her daily, and as he marked her,-the flicker of her eyelashes upon her cheeks and the quick in-drawing of breath through her sensitive nostrils when the tales of the trouvères and jests of the jongleurs offended her exquisite modesty-his heart swelled with pain intolerable that so pure a flower should be set up as a prize for the hardest fighter to snuff at. Not so, he made bold to express his mind to Aldobrandino, should such a maid be won.

"How then," snorted the other in astonishment. "What method were fairer, I ask you?"

"What than to appeal to her own heart," Richard made answer, "and that by gentle observance, delicate attentions, and such refinements of self-sacrifice as in their practice might elevate a lover to some worthiness of the honour he courts?"

Aldobrandino sniffed his scorn. "Appeal to her heart in the last resort I grant you, but only thus: Lady, will you have me? An she will not, what would your servility gain? An she will, it is needless. In either case it is ridiculous. Trust me, a woman sets more store by the man who compels her admiration than by him who sues for it. If he breaks the bones of other men to win her, that is compliment enough and mark you well, Ricciardo, it is all that I demand of you in my service."

So the week sped before the tournament; and Richard loved Sancie more and more, and ever Aldobrandino was at his side taunting him until he burst forth into many a torrent of indignation, whereat the other but laughed and leered, so that Richard loathed and hated him to the death.

At last came the great day, and among the pennons of the challenging knights, which made gay the ancient amphitheatre of Arles where the lists were staked, there fluttered one bearing the device of a golden cup from which ran a stream of silver water. Also when Richard, with visor drawn and all in mail of shining steel, caracoled in the field, he was hailed Knight of the Spilling Cup, and Sancie's hand at that sign trembled so that had it held a beaker her robe would have been well besprinkled.

As the

prize of this joust was a peculiar one, so was the manner of its contention. King René had not then formulated his rules for the conduct of a tourney, and the public tournaments at this time were of so savage a character that King Louis held them in reprehension and was determined that this trial of arms, which was but a friendly joust, should be a model of chivalric self-restraint and courtesy. There was much grumbling when the rules were published by the heralds that there was to be no fighting to the death with weapons of war, no sharp steel points to the lances, nor hacking with battle-axes, and though the mace was allowed this bludgeon was shorn of its iron knobs and points.

But when it was known that the King had stricken out the mêlée, or pitched battle of the second day, when all comers gentle and simple were by ancient custom allowed to range themselves in two parties under the banners of the victorious knight and him who stood second, all were of one opinion, namely that Louis had so emasculated the sport of all its zest that now was neither opportunity for young and unknown knights to distinguish themselves or a spectacle sufficiently diverting to keep the ladies from yawning.

Nevertheless the King would not budge from his ruling, and the descendants of the very barbarians for whom C?sar had built the amphitheatre in order that their savage instincts might be sated came sulkily to their seats ready to deride this gentle passage at arms. But certes they had more thrilling sensations than they had counted upon, more of tingling along the spine and lifting of the hair as knight after knight went down and esquires dragged their masters from the tawny dust clouds that hid the plunging chaos. Tender maids, noble ladies, yea, and strong men felt their hearts stop and their stomachs turn as these pale, blood-bedabbled contestants were carried away, their heads wagging from limp necks, to the pavilion where the leeches provided by Raymond Berenger awaited them. But I do anticipate the order of my relation.

Eight noble knights, lords of neighbouring provinces and some as well of foreign countries, all sumptuously accoutred and mounted on gaily caparisoned steeds, entered the arena in procession, and, having saluted the King and the ladies, took their positions in two companies at either extremity of the lists. For in this wise had it been ordered-that they should tilt in single combat, their adversaries having been previously determined by lot, one couple succeeding another until each knight had fought once.

And after these four trial courses had been run, the four knights adjudged to have won therein the greatest glory must be matched again in two other duels, whereof the two victors might contest in the final combat for the great prize of the tourney.

Hautboys and trumpets sounded shrilly the onset, and the first pair of knights, laying their lances in rest, rushed to the encounter.

It may well be understood that in this series of preliminary single combats, Sancie had eyes alone for that in which Richard figured. Easy was his victory, for charging against young Raymond of Toulouse (seventh of that name) so violent was the shock of his spear against his opponent's shield that both Raymond and his steed rolled upon the ground. Fortunate was that knight to have broken only his thigh, a mischance which Richard strove to mitigate by most assiduous tendance during Raymond's convalescence. But now for the glory of the feat he was apportioned a weightier warrior, Barral des Baux, who had won like renown in the trial contest, having thrust his antagonist out of his saddle in such wise that he dinted the field with the back of his head, and to such effect that thereafter he had no memory either for good or ill, no, not so much as of this astounding adventure or of his sweetheart's face. When Richard met the redoutable Des Baux their lance-heads were planted squarely each upon the shield of the other, but the polished curving surface offering no purchase both lances slipped, and Barral's splintering and glancing downward was thrust into the haunch of Richard's horse. The creature uttered a piteous, human-like cry which was echoed by Sancie, and Richard hearing that wail and feeling himself sinking so that his feet touched the ground, believed that he had lost the day. But even then a roar echoed around the concave of the amphitheatre: "The cup hath it, the cup! the cup!" and he saw the Lord of Les Baux lying at a little distance with blood trickling upon the sand from the bars of his helmet. For Richard's lance had slipped upward and penetrating between gorget and helmet had pierced and dislocated Barral's jaw. This alone was enough to give Richard his second victory, but there were three added points of humiliation for the Knight of Les Baux, namely: his lance had been broken, he had been unhorsed, and, with maladroitness worthy of the merest tyro, had injured a horse when he had aimed at its rider.

On the other hand Richard was untouched in person, his arms also in good condition, and he could not be said even to have quit his saddle since he remained astride his steed with his feet still in the stirrups.

But Alphonso of Aragon, had also won laurels for the second time, for though his lance had slipped on the shield of his opponent precisely as Richard's had done, it had wrought far greater damage, for, tearing away the visor from the helmet of his antagonist it had blinded and disfigured him for life.

Therefore honours remained equal between these two champions who must now run the final and deciding course.

But Richard's good horse was cruelly maimed and could scarce be gotten from the arena, nor had he thought to have another ready outside the lists. Raymond Berenger sent a page to his own stables for his best horse, but ere he returned the loss was repaired by another, and Richard entered upon a powerful coal black stallion, tricked with scarlet housings. A noise of clapping greeted his entrance for the favourite horse of Aldobrandino had been recognised and it was supposed (though in this they much mistook their man), that by this courtesy he signified his renunciation of any intention to compete.

The heralds also made proclamation that if the knights chose they might fight this last passage at arms with swords or maces, and swords being chosen each spurred toward the other, their good blades flashing in the sunshine and Richard with a sweep of his arm sheared the plume from his adversary's crest. But Alphonso, who missed his proper stroke, dealt him a dirty thrust in the side as he was passing. It pricked through Richard's armour but scratched him only and roused him to such energy that he swung around, clasped Alphonso in his arms, and all on horseback as they were, wrestled with him till he threw him over his charger's crupper to the earth.

Then the King asked Sancie loudly: "Are you content to give your hand to the winner of this contest?" and the herald shouted her answer so that all heard it: "The high and puissant Lady, Sancie, willingly grants her hand as prize to the victor."

But even as he cried, all were aware that the end was not yet, for the roi d'armes pricked to the King's balcony and again the herald blew his trumpet and announced that another challenger, delayed from appearing at the first, contested this decision. Having been bidden enter, a burly knight mounted upon a giant percheron rode into the lists, all cased in sable armour and carrying a shield which displayed Atlas supporting the globe.

Then Charles of Anjou, who fought not, but sat by the side of his betrothed, scoffed, "Ho, mountain of flesh, globe of blubber, and colossus of conceit, here is a whale indeed among fishes, a world-bearing monster, who fancieth that all the affairs of this earth rest upon his shoulders. 'Tis a cup which our gallant knight will soon spill for him. Hold fast, fair ladies, for the globe is about to topple from its foundations!"

But, to the astonishment of the speaker and of all present, the knight of Atlas riding full tilt against him of the Spilling Cup, drove him backward, as it seemed, by his sheer weight, so that the barrier crashed behind his horse's haunches, and the rider, letting fall his lance acknowledged himself vanquished.

Only Richard himself knew what that submission cost him. For while their spears were crossed, the head of Aldobrandino's tapping his opponent's shield, it was with a weak and wavering touch; while Richard's had found a joint in the armour of the knight of Atlas, and had he not generously and dexterously withdrawn his lance, Aldobrandino by the very force of his onset, would have transpierced himself upon it.

For the moment he had his adversary in his power, and even as he withheld the spear he cried to Aldobrandino, "What hinders me from rolling you in the dust and myself winning that prize inestimable?"

Aldobrandino, knowing well in what emergency he stood, replied calmly, "But one thing hinders-your word as a belted knight," and at that answer Richard's head drooped and he sank to earth as one sore wounded.

But the spectators knew naught of this byplay. Hearing not the words, they put their own construction on the pantomime. Judge then what was their surprise, what the vexation of the two Queens and the despair of the fair Sancie, when the knight of Atlas, raising his visor, displayed the features of Aldobrandino.

King Louis announced him victor, though it was noted that he had never done anything with so ill a grace, and indeed the good King's conscience smote him so sorely, knowing himself a partner in the trick, that he could never have made the ruling but that he hoped it would be reversed in the poetical contest yet to come.

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top