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Our Little Norman Cousin of Long Ago by  Evaleen Stein

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THE TOURNAMENT

[62] 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.

[63] "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 his lady.

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. [64] 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 ponies?"

"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 [65] 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 the tower!"

"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, [66] 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 fluttered everywhere.

"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 [67] 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.


[Illustration]

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 tournament began.

Blanchette and Marie, each with a long [68] "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 else.

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 [69] 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 other knights.

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 delight.

"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 [70] 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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