| 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 the day of the tournament and every one in the
castle was up at dawn. Breakfast was soon over, and
then, while the rest were getting ready, Hugh brought
Count Bertram his armor and helped him to put it on.
First came the hauberk, a tunic of leather over which
were sewed hundreds of small iron rings, so close
together that a spear point could not pierce them. Hugh
slipped this over the count's shoulders and then on his
head he placed the helmet: a close-fitting pointed cap
also of leather sewn with iron rings.
Though the helmet did not entirely cover Count
Bertram's face, it came over his ears and laced under
his chin and a stiff piece of leather hung down over
his forehead and nose, giving him such as odd look that
Hugh smiled as he fastened it on.
"Are my lance and shield ready?" asked Count Bertram.
 "Yes, sir count," answered Hugh. "There they are," and
he pointed to a long lance leaning against the wall and
close by it a large kite-shaped shield of wood on which
was painted a red two-legged dragon.
Here the little page, Josef, came running in, and
making a stiff bow he sank on one knee and bashfully
holding out a scarlet embroidered ribbon, he said, "Sir
Count Bertram, here is the—the—the token Lady
Gisla made for you!"
"Good!" said Count Bertram, smiling, "that was a hard
word to remember, wasn't it, Josef?" And the little lad
blushed and nodded his head as Hugh, taking the ribbon,
tied it in one of the rings on Count Bertram's helmet.
For at tournaments each knight usually wore some token
given him by his lady love. Often it was a ribbon, a
glove or a flower, and if he won the prize the knight
always declared that he had striven for it in honor of
By the time Count Bertram was ready so were all the
rest; and Lady Gisla herself came into the hall looking
lovely in a green gown embroidered in silver. She wore
a jewelled girdle and necklace and on her head a
wonderful tall cap from the back of which floated a
veil of fine lace.
 Blanchette and Marie, who were to go along, fairly
danced with excitement as they put on their frocks of
blue silk and little caps and
riding capes of scarlet cloth.
"Oh, mother, aren't we ready to start?" cried
Blanchette, running to the door of the great hall.
"Alan! Alan!" called Marie impatiently. "Where are our
"Do not be in such a hurry, children," said Lady Gisla,
"we will soon be off. The pages and squires are putting
the trappings on the horses now; for you know they must
be dressed in their best, just as we are."
"Oh, how fine they look!" exclaimed Marie, as she and
Blanchette ran down to the courtyard.
The horses, indeed, looked very gay, with saddles and
bridles of richly worked leather and bright colored
rosettes and tassels dangling from their ears and the
various straps about their bodies. Over the saddles for
the ladies of the party were flung pieces of scarlet
cloth embroidered in colors.
Presently all was ready and off they started. And what
a merry ride it was, the five miles to the castle of
Brecey! By and by, across a field
 of red poppies, they
saw tall towers rising from a steep hill.
"See!" cried Blanchette to Alan who was next to her,
"that must be Brecey castle, for silk banners are on
"Yes," said Alan, "but I do not believe we will go up
there yet. You know the herald said the tournament
would be held in the meadow near by."
Just then as they rounded another bend in the road,
"Oh," said Marie, "there is the place now!" And, sure
enough, they could see the meadow where a large number
of gayly dressed people had already gathered.
On reaching the place, Count Bertram and his party were
warmly welcomed by the lord and lady of Brecey, who at
once sent a page to conduct Lady Gisla and her
attendants to the raised wooden seats that had been
built at one side of the meadow. In the middle of these
was a throne-like chair covered with bright tapestry, and there sat
a beautiful lady richly dressed and wearing a wreath of
flowers in her hair.
Blanchette and Marie, who had clung shyly to Lady Gisla
as they followed the page, now gazed at the lady in
rapt admiration. "Oh,
 mother," whispered Blanchette,
"is she a queen?"
"Yes, dear," said Lady Gisla with a smile, "not a real
queen, but the Queen of the Tournament, and she will
give the prize to the winner."
When they took their places on the seats a number of
ladies were all around them, and bright banners
"See, children," said Lady Gisla, pointing to a large
oval space in front of the seats and in-closed by a
double railing of wood, "that is called the 'lists,'
and is where the knights will fight one another. The
squires and pages will stand outside, between the
railings, so that if any one in the lists is hurt or
needs anything they will be ready to help."
"Oh, Lady Gisla!" cried Marie, whose bright eyes had
been eagerly searching the groups of horsemen gathered
behind a rope at each end of the lists. "There is Count
Bertram at the far end!"
"Yes!" cried Blanchette. "And Alan and Henri are fixing
his spurs and doing something to his saddle!"
"They are probable seeing that none of the straps have
become unfastened," said Lady
 Gosla, watching with
interest as all was being made ready.
In a little while a herald rode around the lists
blowing short sharp blasts on a trumpet. When everybody
pricked up their ears to listen, he stood up in his
stirrups and in a loud voice called out the rules of
the tournament and what the prizes were to be.
BLOWING SHORT, SHARP BLASTS ON A TRUMPET.
"What does he mean by saying the lances of the knights
must all have 'coronals' on them?" asked Blanchette.
"I am not quite sure," answered Lady Gisla, for
tournaments and their rules were still rather too new
in Normandy to be very well known, "but I think
coronals are the pieces of wood that are put on the
tips of the lances to blunt them so the fight will not
be so dangerous." And Lady Gisla sighed for sports in
those days were very rough and in the mock fights
people were often as badly hurt as in real ones.
But here a shout went up at either end of the lists as,
at a signal from the Baron of Brecey, the ropes were
drawn aside and the knights, spurring their horses,
rushed at each other with levelled lances and the
Blanchette and Marie, each with a long
 "Oh!" leaned
forward in breathless interest, and Lady Gisla, with
anxious gaze, fixed her eyes on Count Bertram, who was
trying to overthrow a tall knight from whose helmet
dangled the embroidered glove of his lady.
"Oh, hear!" cried Blanchette, "See, he has almost
pushed father from his saddle!"
But in another moment Count Betram, dextrously turning
his horse, by a powerful thrust of his lance sent the
tall knight tumbling to the ground; and instantly his
squires and pages rushed into the lists and bore off
their master to a place of safety. For by this time
there was a general prancing of horses and clashing of
lances as each knight was trying to overthrow some one
Before long more than one had been borne from the field
severely hurt; for in spite of the coronals on the
lances there were plenty of ways to get hard knocks in
a tournament, especially those earlier ones. But then,
people expected such things, and no one except their
nearest friends paid much attention to the wounded.
Through it all Lady Gisla and the little girls had been
watching Count Bertram with eager interest; and though
sometimes in the thick of the
 struggle they lost sight
of him, when the herald blew the trumpet, which was the
signal to stop fighting, to their great delight they
saw that he still sat his horse erect and unharmed. And
what was their pride and joy to hear the herald, as he
rode slowly around the lists, proclaim that Count
Bertram, of the castle of Noireat, had won the first
prize of the gilded spurs, as he had overthrown four
The other ladies seated around them turned envious eyes
on Lady Gisla, who was smiling her pleasure, while
Blanchette and Marie were clapping their hands with
"Watch, children," said Lady Gisla, "and see the Queen
of the Tournament bestow the prize.
Again the little girls bent forward eagerly and looked
as Count Bertram, slowly riding past the benches on
which the ladies were seated, paused in front of the
throne of the queen. Alan and Henri, who were walking
on either side of him, at once took his bridle and
helped him dismount. Then, bowing low, he knelt before
the Queen of the Tournament, as, placing the spurs in
his hands, she said, "Count Bertram, I bestow this
prize upon you, and may you
 live long and happily and
always do honor to your lady!"
Count Bertram, after thanking her with all knightly
courtesy, rose to his feet, and the winner of the
second prize took his place before the queen.
The next thing, the Baron of Brecey invited the company
to make their way across the meadow and up the narrow
path to his castle where a great feast was spread.
After the feast some musicians came in and played on
curious old stringed instruments while the grown people
danced; the boys and girls, who were not expected to
join, gathered in little groups at the sides of the
hall and looked on.
Late in the afternoon the party from Noireat took their
leave, Count Bertram wearing his new golden spurs, and
everybody in the little procession fairly bursting with
pride because he had won them.
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