| Our Little Norman Cousin of Long Ago|
|by Evaleen Stein|
|A story of Normandy in the time of William the Conqueror, giving a vivid picture of manners and customs through the eyes of two boys of the court. Describes castle life, dress, amusements, training for knighthood, and other aspects of feudal life. Also relates stories of William's early days, as well as tales of his Northmen forefathers, Duke Robert the Magnificent, Little Duke Richard, and Rolf the Ganger. Ages 8-10 |
 It was a May morning in Normandy in the year 1066, and
through all the grassy valleys the pear and apple trees
were clouds of white and rosy bloom. Some of them
overhung the little thatched huts of the peasant folk,
which stood close together making the tiny village of
Noireat; and some of the flowery trees clambered up the
slopes of the steep limestone cliff that rose behind
the village. Crowning this cliff was the great gray
castle of Count Bertram, the lord of Noireat.
Within the walls of the castle was a large courtyard,
where two boys were playing ball. Each was dressed in
a tunic of dark green cloth; that is, a close-fitting
garment belted at the waist
 and with a scant skirt reaching to just above the knew;
on the boys' legs were long black hose and on their
feet shoes of thick soft leather without heels and with
long pointed toes; on their heads were little caps,
each with a black cock's feather stuck into a buckle at
Presently, "Hark, Alan!" cried one of the boys, "I
thought I heard a trumpet!"
Both lads paused in their play; then as they caught
clearly another shrill blast, "Come, Henri," said Alan,
"let us go to the battlements and see who is coming!"
Off they scampered across the courtyard, through a
narrow doorway in a strong tower near the gate of the
castle and up a winding flight of stone steps that led
to the top of the wall. This wall, which inclosed the
castle, and to which parts of it were joined, was very
thick and strong; and in a small tower over the
gate-way stood a man-at-arms whose duty it was to watch
all who came thither, and, if foes, to warn the lord so
that he might make ready to defend himself. For in
those days nobleman often made war on one another and
people who lived in castles expected to keep constant
watch for enemies.
 But they were quite often friends as foes who rode
along the steep bridle path to Noireat; for people
played almost as much as they fought, and liked
entertainment as well as we do to-day.
As Alan and Henri reached the top step of the winding
stair, the man-at-arms, who had been gazing down at the
bridle path, turned, and said with a smile, "Well,
youngsters. I think we may look for one of those play
fights that folks call tourneys. I'll wager yonder
horseman are coming to invite Count Bertram, for they
are heralds of his friend the Baron of Brecey. Do you
see that zig-zag green band and the three red spots
worked on the little flags hanging from their trumpets?
That is the device of the Baron of Brecey."
The lads looked eagerly down at the two riders who were
by this time quite near the gate-way, and, sure enough,
they could make out the embroidery of which the
"I don't think that device is so handsome as the red
two-legged dragon on Count Bertram's flag," said Alan
"Why does he have that dragon on his flag, and his
shield, too?" asked Henri.
 "Well," answered the watchman, rubbing his forehead, "I
don't exactly know. Maybe Count Bertram, or some of
his kinfolks, fought a red two-legged dragon somewhere,
or maybe he just liked its looks. I don't know either
whether there is any particular meaning to those spots
and things the Baron of Brecey has. But it's a good
thing for a knight to have some kind of device."
"Why is it?" asked Alan.
"Why, there is a reason for it, youngster," said the
watchman, "and it's this; when they go to fight in war
or those play-battle tourneys or tournaments, or
whatever they call them, their faces and bodies are so
covered up by the armor they have to wear to protect
themselves, that no one can tell who they are unless
they have a device somewhere about them, painted on
their shields or worked on their banners. And as most
of the knights know the devices of the rest, it is
about as good as having one's name told to everybody.
The trouble is though that they don't all stick to the
same device they pick out, but a good many of them
change it sometimes when they take a notion to, and
that gets people mixed up about their names."
 "Count Bertram always has the red two-legged dragon,"
"Yes," replied the watchman, "and he says that by and
by all the knights will have to settle on regular
devices and hand them down in their families, so people
can always be sure who they are.—And maybe they will,"
But while Alan and Henri had been talking with the
watchman, the heralds had reached the gate of the
castle where they halted and each blew another shrill
blast on his trumpet.
At this the lads, with eyes dancing, turned about and
racing down the stairs and back to the courtyard joined
a group of younger boys, all, like themselves, pages in
the household. Indeed, everybody in the castle had
come into the courtyard by this time, from Count
Bertram, the lord of Noireat and Lady Gisla, his wife,
down to the cooks and scullions; for visitors were few,
and if they came on peaceful errands were always warmly
Meantime Master Herve, the gate-keeper, opened the
heavy door at the end of an arched passage under the
watch-tower and let down the narrow drawbridge that was
held up by ropes to the castle wall. Outside the wall
 moat, a ditch filled with water deep enough to drown
any one who tried to ride through it; and the
drawbridge was so called because it could be drawn up
and folded against the wall until the gate-keeper knew
whether it was friend or foe who wished to enter.
As now the two horsemen rode into the courtyard of
Noireat, a pair of little pages hurried out and held
their bridles while Alan and Henri helped them
dismount. One of the heralds then blew a third blast
on his trumpet as the other, taking his place on the
high curb of a well near by and raising his voice,
called out "My master, the Baron of Brecey, sends
greeting to the Count of Noireat and his household, and
proclaims a tourney to be held four weeks from to-day
in the meadow adjoining his castle, and he invites all
Norman knights who so desire to contest for the prizes,
which will be a pair of gilded spurs for the first
champion and a silver hunting-horn for him adjudged
When he had finished, everybody clapped their hands;
and "Oh Henri," whispered Alan, "do you suppose Count
Bertram will take us along?"
 "I'm sure I hope so!" answered Henri.
"What is a tourney?" asked one of the little pages, in
a low voice, as he clung tightly to the bridle of the
"Why," said Henri, with a superior air, for he had been
to one, "it is a kind of game where knights ride on
horseback and fight for fun. Their lances aren't
sharp, and they don't try to kill each other, but only
to see which is the best fighter, and he gets a prize.
The most beautiful lady there gives it to him. And
there are always lots of ladies go, for somebody has to
look on, you know, and most all the men are doing the
"Oh," said the little page, with round eyes, "I wish I
"You probably can't, though," said Henri. "You are too
At this tears sprang to the eyes of the little page,
who was only seven years old and very homesick for the
castle of Briouze, which was his real home and from
which he had lately been brought to Noireat. "Oh," he
sobbed, "I wish I was home! Father would let me go! I
don't see why everybody has to live in somebody else's
house, anyway! I don't know why
 I had to come here!" and he began to cry in good
"There," said Henri, taking the bridle from his shaking
little hand, "don't cry! You must be here, because
your father is a vassal of Count Bertram. So is my
father and Alan's and all the other pages'. That's why
we're here, too. And I'm twelve and have been here
five years. You'll like it when you get used to it:
--isn't everybody good to you?"
"Y-e-s," sobbed the little page, "but I want my
mother!" Here his tears broke out afresh. "Why—why
can't I go home?" he quavered.
"Because," said Henri severely, "you're here to be
trained. You will be a page for seven years and learn
to mind, and run errands, and ride a pony, and ever so
many things, and then you will be a squire for seven
years more, and learn how to go hunting on horseback,
and to fight, and lots more things, and then, if you
have behaved right, when you are twenty-one you will be
made a knight!" and Henri's eyes sparkled as he added,
"And just think how grand that will be! You will have
your own war-horse and armor and spurs and lance and
banner and can ride out and go where you please and
 and have all kinds of adventures!" For in those days
this was a gentleman's idea of life; it seldom entered
their heads to do any real work in the world.
But the poor little seven-year-old was not to be
comforted, and crept off to a corner of the courtyard
still sobbing, "I want my mother! I want to go home!
I don't see why people are other people's vassals! I
don't want to be a page! Boo-hoo-hoo!"
And it did seem strange that most of the gently born
children of that time had to be brought up in "somebody
else's house," as the little page complained. To
understand how it came about you must know, to begin
with, that the ruler of Normandy was called the duke;
that the people were divided into three classes; first,
the nobles who lived in castles, and, next to the duke,
were of highest rank; second, the people who lived in
towns and worked at trades and kept shops and inns for
travelers; and the third, or lowest class, who were
poor peasants little better than slaves, and who lived
in little huts in the country where they had to farm
the land for the nobles. Most of the land was owned by
these nobles and they, too, were of
 different degrees of rank, some having stronger castles
than others and more fighting men under them. As a
great deal of fighting was always going on, it followed
that each weaker noble wanted the help and protection
of some one more powerful than he was. In order to get
his he must become a vassal; that is, he must promise
to be loyal to his overlord, to fight for him in
return, and in time of war to furnish him men and
supplies. In this way it had come about that everybody
in Normandy was the vassal of some one else, and it
became the custom for children to be sent to their
father's overlord that they might be brought up in his
home and trained to be loyal to him. The lord and lady
of every castle became foster parents to the boys and
girls sent to them and did their best to be kind to
them and to teach them all they could.
Count Bertram and Lady Gisla took a real interest in
the group of squires and pages at Noireat and were much
beloved in return. And now, as the little page still
sobbed in his corner, Lady Gisla noticed him and a
pitying look came into her eyes. "Poor little man!"
she murmured to herself. Then turning to two
 little girls who, hand in hand, had been standing near
by watching things, "Blanchette," she said, "go over to
little Josef and bring him to me!"
"Yes, mother!" answered the little girl, as she ran off
to do Lady Gisla's bidding.
Blanchette was the only child of Count Bertram and Lady
Gisla; and though her companion, Marie, was the
daughter of one of the Count's vassals, and been sent
to Noireat to be trained, Blanchette herself had stayed
in her own home because Count Bertram's overlord lived
in a castle near the sea where the winters were so
sharp and cold that Lady Gisla feared for the health of
the little girl who had been delicate since babyhood.
Moreover, it was not thought so important to send girls
away from home as the boys who must be trained to fight
loyally, if need be, for their overlord.
In a moment Blanchette led little Josef, still sobbing,
to Lady Gisla, who taking him in her arms hugged and
kissed him just as his own mother might have done.
"There, there!" she whispered softly to him as she
dried his eyes. "Never mind! You must learn to be a
little man, and we are all going to help you!"
 And then she kissed him again and comforted him, till
presently the little page was smiling through his tears
and ran along quite happily when Blanchette and Marie
too him off between them to romp with one of the big
brown dogs, who were barking in the general excitement
caused by the coming of the heralds.
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