| In the Days of William the Conqueror|
|by Eva March Tappan|
|Story of the life of William the Conqueror, telling of his boyhood in Normandy, beset by dangers, of his knighting by the King of France and of the after-deeds which made him famous, including the conquest of England. Ages 11-15 |
THE BANQUET AT ROUEN
IVE a child a knife and its first thought is to cut.
So it was with the count. Here he was in a castle that
ought to be his. Its walls were solid, its keep was
massy. Men who were eager to fight under his banner
were pressing upon him. What should hinder him from
holding fast to his own?
"I wish Ermenoldus was here," he thought. Then his mind
wandered back to the last time that he had seen the
wizard, as he called him, and more than half in
"We were talking about the castle and its thick walls
and the great precipice below it," he thought, "and
then he disappeared and left me the mysterious message
that I could read only in the glow of the fire." Ever
since the strange guest had departed, Robert had
carried the little scroll in his bosom. He drew it out
and read it anew. Another interpretation flashed upon
 "The castle of Falaise is that which I 'would have,' "
he said aloud. " 'Let him see to it that he hold it
fast.' That will I do. Brother or demon, duke or king,
let them come on. Here is my castle—my castle—and
here are bold fighters, and up there in the little room
in the thickness of the wall is as beautiful a lady to
fight for as ever sat on a royal throne. Here I am and
here will I remain." In an hour the castle was in
commotion. There was a great polishing of shields and
spears. Armor that had grown rusty in the time of
quiet, so unusual in those stormy days, was rubbed and
strengthened and its breaks repaired. The forges blazed
night and day. War-horses were to be shod. Arrowheads
were to be made. Swords were to be sharpened to a keen
edge that would cut through head and helmet at a blow.
Axes were ground, and the helve of each was carefully
tested, for on its strength might depend a fighter's
chance of life or the defence of the castle gate.
In the midst of all the eager preparations, a man
appeared at the gate. He was muddy. His shoes were in
fragments, and his clothes were torn to rags by the
thick briers through
 which he had forced his way; but when he spoke, men
listened as if their lives hung upon his words. The
words were few, they were only these:—
"Duke Richard and a great force are coming through the
forest at the other side of the town."
Robert's first thought was of the security of the fair
bride whom he had taken from the home of her father. In
general, the keep of a castle was the safest place in a
siege, but in this instance, when a duke was trying to
regain possession of his own, then, however much he
might be forced to injure the castle, he would do no
needless damage to the peasants living on his land. The
best place for Arletta was in her father's house, and
there she was carried with as much of form and ceremony
as the hasty departure would permit.
Hardly had the castle gate been closed upon the return
of the men who had acted as her escort, when the
glitter of the spears of Richard's soldiers was seen in
the distance. Nearer and nearer they came. First rode
the standard-bearer and the guards of the standard.
Then came the duke himself, with flashing helmet and
shield and coat
 of mail, his armorial bearings blazoned on even the
trappings of his horse. The coat of mail was in one
piece, and was shaped like a tunic, falling to the
knees, and protecting his arms down to the wrists. His
legs were guarded by wide thongs of leather crossed and
recrossed. To the broad belt that fell across his
shoulder hung a dirk and a short, stout sword. His
shield was oblong, rounded at the top and narrowing to
a point at the bottom. That there should be no little
crevice where an unfriendly lance might enter, his coat
of mail had a kind of hood, also of mail, that covered
the back of his head to the helmet, and shielded his
cheeks. He carried a lance, and from its head waved the
gonfalon, or pennant, around which his men were to
rally at the call of their lord.
The knights who accompanied Richard were armed and
equipped in much the same way, save that their
accoutrements were less rich, and not always as
complete. Around each knight were grouped his own
vassals, whom he was required to arm and mount and lead
in the service of the duke.
No coat of mail had the men of low degree. That
belonged to the knights, and every one knew
 that a man of humble birth could never be worthy of
being made a knight. They were allowed to wear a
stuffed tunic that afforded some little protection, and
under it they might have a sort of breastplate of
leather. They carried a round shield. Their weapons
were the lance, the battle-axe, the bow, the sling,
even clubs and flails and maces, and staves with
prongs. They were permitted to carry a sword, but it
must be long and slender—not short and thick like
that of the nobles. Together with these vassals were
many of the same eager, restless adventurers that had
entered the service of Robert.
Up the winding road came the troops of Richard, closer
and closer to the castle. Robert's men stood on the
wall hurling down great stones, firing deadly arrows,
and thrusting back with their long lances the foremost
men in the ranks of the duke. The contest was the more
bitter in that the foes were brothers. Wild shouts
arose from both sides—of rage from one and defiance
from the other. Richard's arbalests, unwieldy machines
for hurling great stones, drove Robert's men down from
the walls; or rather their dead bodies were dragged
down by their fellow-fighters to make room for
 other men. The outer walls were captured, and there was
Robert's men were few, and there was no way to make
good his losses; while Richard's followers had been
more in number at first, and additions had been
continually coming up. The walls of the donjon were
thick and heavy, but the art of using stone as a
material for castle-building was in its infancy, and
there were weaknesses in the structure of which a
determined assailant might take advantage. After the
moment's rest, Richard's men were rousing themselves
for a final attack, and this, Robert knew, could hardly
fail to be successful. He stood with grim, set face,
and around him gathered his fighters, watching him, and
ready to obey the least indication of his wishes.
"It is of no use. The castle must yield," said Robert
"True, my lord," said a grave voice behind him.
"Ermenoldus! wizard that you are, give me your aid. How came
"I wish I was a wizard, my lord," said Ermenoldus sadly.
"I would run the risk of the flame
 and the fagot if I could help you, for I have done you
nothing but harm when I meant to work you good."
"But how came you here?"
"By no wizardry, my lord. There is a tiny crevice under
a jutting rock which is hidden by bushes. A slender man
like me can easily make his way up the crack, for it is
scarcely more than that. A sudden twist, a writhing
through a little gap between the foundation rocks, and
I am in your fortress. It was as well that your
servants should think it witchcraft. Unrevealed
knowledge is unshared power."
'"Is there no hope, Ermenoldus?"
"None, my lord. To save yourself from death—no,
perhaps not death, that is easy—but from a life in
the lowest depths of the castle dungeon, you must
yield. Take down your standard. Put up the white flag
and sue for peace. Make what terms you can, but yield."
The white flag was put up, and in the gloomy keep of
the castle, red and slippery with the blood of
slaughtered men, the two brothers debated again the
question of the heritage—Richard calmly, as with the
manner of a man who did but
 claim his own; Robert gloomily, but with a certain
ready meekness that might have made those who knew him
best question whether all his thoughts were made clear
by his words. The end of the discussion was this:
Robert might have the district of the Hiesmois, and
hold it free from his brother's interference, but the
castle of Falaise must still belong to Richard.
All was quiet and concord. The soldiers marched to
Richard's capital, Rouen, the two brothers riding
together at the head of their men. A great banquet was
made ready in the castle—a strange mixture of luxury
and discomfort. The chairs of that day were heavy and
clumsy. At family dinners people sat on stools, but at
a ceremonious feast like this benches were used, and
the guests huddled together as best they could. There
were nutcrackers, but there were no forks. Warriors
noted for their bravery were given bulls' horns bound
with rings of silver or of gold for their drinking
cups, and these were filled over and over again with
beer or wine. There were vegetables of many kinds, fish
of all varieties, rabbits, fowl, venison, and lamb.
Pork appeared in the shape of ham, sausages, black
pudding, and roast.
 It was the most common meat, though it was often eaten
with a little fear lest it should produce leprosy.
For dessert there were baked fruits and nuts of all the
kinds that could be obtained, cheese, red and white
sugar-plums, and on a raised platform in the middle of
the table were jellies, elaborately fashioned in the
shape of a swan, heron, bittern, or peacock. The real
peacock was the dish of honor, and was called the "food
for the brave." It was stuffed and roasted. Its beak
was gilded with gold, and sometimes its whole body was
covered with silver gilt. The bird was brought in with
a waving of banners, and a flourish of trumpets like
that which announced the coming of some great
The feast was elaborate, but it was served with no
attempt at any special order. After orange preserves
came chickens, and after lamb sausages came a delicate
pie made of larks. Nuts were quite likely to appear
before ham, and sweet jellies before soup.
Such a banquet as this required a kitchen of generous
dimensions, and so it was that the kitchen of a noble
must have great spits on which
 many joints of different kinds could be roasted,
together with whole sheep and venison and long rows of
poultry. There must be many utensils, and in the houses
of men of highest rank there was a special servant to
take care of the copper dishes, kettles, saucepans, and
caldrons, and to see to it that they were safe and
bright and shining.
The banquet hall was lighted by hanging lamps, and
lamps on standards, and countless wax candles set in
chandeliers and in candlesticks. The walls were hung
with finely woven tapestries. Within the hall there was
a barbaric sort of luxury, but in the town in which the
hall of feasting stood, the pigs were still running
wild in the streets.
When men began to weary of feasting, jugglers and
minstrels came in to amuse them. The minstrels sang to
the music of a sort of double-barrelled flute, or
recited long poems of war or adventure in doggerel
rhymes. Lavish gifts were presented to them, and they
went away rejoicing in generous sums of money, or
clothing of scarlet or violet cloth, or in fur robes or
jewels or noble horses.
The jugglers were treated equally well, and
 perhaps the amusements which they provided were even
more generally appreciated by the guests. These
jugglers performed all sorts of sleight-of-hand tricks.
They boxed and they wrestled and they danced. They
threw up lances and caught them by the point, or they
spun naked swords over their heads and caught the
flashing weapons as they fell. Then, too, they led
about bears and monkeys and dogs that fought or danced
together. The dogs would walk about on their hind legs,
the monkeys would ride horseback, while the bears
pretended to be dead and the goats played on the harp.
Hour after hour the feasting and the amusements and
the rejoicing continued. Every one drank the health of
every one else. Especially friendly and harmonious did
the two brothers appear, who had so recently fought
together as the deadliest of foes. In many a
golden-bound horn of wine they pledged each other. At
last the time came when men could feast no more. The
words of farewell were said, and the banquet was over.
Scarcely had the festival lights been extinguished when
the bells began to toll for the sudden death of
re-  turned to Falaise. The castle was his, and he was Duke of
The new duke began his reign by a generosity that made
his followers rejoice.
"He's the duke for me," said one of them jubilantly.
"Duke Richard gave me one suit a year, and Duke Robert
will give me two."
"Yes," said a second retainer, "when Arcy showed him
his sword all dinted and bent in the fight and asked
for another, he gave him a sword and a new coat of mail
and a fine new horse and a helmet."
"Was that what killed Arcy? Did he die of joy?"
"That is what some one said, but I think he ate too
much at the feast, and they didn't bleed him soon
"Perhaps he drank of the wrong cup by mistake," said
another, with a significant look.
"I don't quarrel with any duke that doubles my salary,"
said the first. "He is my friend who shows himself a
friend, and I'll stand by Robert the Magnificent.
Richard died, to be sure; but then he might have been
killed in the battle so it would have been all the same
 It mattered little to Robert who was pleased and who
was displeased at his accession. He was duke, and he
meant to rule, and that was enough. Falaise pleased
him. The hunting was good, the castle was the strongest
in his domain; it was the place for which he had
fought, and now that it was in his hands, he meant to
keep it. Moreover, in the home of a man who had once
been a tanner, there was the fairest lady in the duchy.
It seemed best that she should remain for a while in
her father's house. Those were stormy times, and until
Robert's position was perfectly established, she would
be more safe from secret foes in the humbler home of
her parents than in the castle itself, with all its
mighty walls and its store of weapons.
He had lost one upon whom he had been more than a
little inclined to rely—the "wizard" Ermenoldus—and
in a way to make him feel the loss the more keenly.
Ermenoldus had accused certain nobles of being
unfaithful to Robert. One by one they challenged him to
single combat. One by one they were defeated, but at
last in a final duel with a forester he was slain.
Sorrow, pleasure, anxiety, triumph, contended in
 mind. It is no wonder that he was restless and uneasy.
"One would think that the great folks might let us
sleep of nights," said a peasant woman sleepily to her
husband, as she turned wearily on the heap of straw
that was their bed.
"That was the duke," said her husband. "Listen! you
can hear his horse's hoof-beats even now, and he must
be almost up to the castle. He gallops faster than any
"Why can't he do his galloping by day?" grumbled the
woman. "They take our cattle, and they make us work in
their fields and on their roads. If we turn around we
have to pay a tax, and if we stand still, we have to
pay a tax. They might let us sleep at night."
"Perhaps the duke cannot sleep either," said the
peasant; and he added significantly: "It is not good to
fight with one's brother. I have heard that if a man
does, little demons will come at night and torment
"Perhaps evil spirits made him do it," said the wife
making the sign of the cross; but the husband said:—
"I don't believe he is a very good man, for
 they say that sometimes he burns a whole armful of wax
candles in a night, because he won't be in the dark."
"Well, everybody knows that wax candles ought to be
given to the church," said the wife.
"A wizard used to come to see him sometimes," said the
man, "and no one knew how he ever got into the castle
or how he got out of it. The porter said that once when
the wizard was standing close to him and the gate was
shut, he looked away for just a minute, and when he
turned, the wizard was gone; but when he opened the
gate half an hour later, the wizard was going down the
hill as free as might be, and the porter declared that
when the man waved his hand, he could see a streak of
"It might have been his ghost," said the woman.
"It might now," said her husband, "but he wasn't dead
then. Mayhap, though, it was his ghost that fought the— No,
he was not dead then, either. They used to say that
he could make a vine grow fast or slow as he would, and
that if he looked at you over the right shoulder, you
would have good luck, but that if he looked at
 you over the left shoulder, whatever you planted would die
or your house would burn down or the spring would dry
up or something bad would come to you. I have heard
that if he said some good words over the ground, there
would be a great harvest, and that if he shook his head
at the moon and said something that no one could
understand, any one that went out into the moonlight
that night would fall down dead."
"Duke Richard fell down dead right after the great
feast, didn't he? They say that the wizard was
"No, he wasn't there; but what happened then is why they
call the duke 'Robert the Devil.' They say it was only
Richard and the very bravest of his knights that died,
and that not one of Duke Robert's men was hurt."
"I think it was all that wizard," said the wife
positively. "A wizard can do things if he isn't there;
and then he might have been there, even if they
couldn't see him. A wizard doesn't have to be seen if
he doesn't choose to be. He might have looked at the
wine over the left shoulder. Duke Robert is kind and
good, I am sure of that, for when he was riding at full
speed one day,
 Pierre's little girl stood still in the road right in
front of his horse. He had a right to run over her, of
course, but he dashed out among those great stones just
at the turn of the road and did not harm her at all.
And there's something more to tell, for instead of
going down on her knees and thanking him for sparing
her life, the silly little thing only opened her mouth
and cried at the top of her voice."
"Didn't he even tell some one to beat her?"
"No, that he did not; he bent away down from the saddle—and
he might have fallen off and rolled down the bank
and been killed; only think of it, the duke killed for
the child of a serf!—he bent down from the saddle and
caught her up. The mother thought he was going to throw
her down over the rocks, and she began to cry too; but
he gave the child a ride on that great black horse of
his, and then lifted her down and filled both her hands
with red and white sugar-plums, the kind that they say
great folks have at their feasts. No one in the village
ever saw any before, and all the people around here
have been in to see them. The child is so proud that
when she plays with the other children, she is all the
time saying, 'You never rode on the great black
 horse'; and really her mother isn't much better, for she
says her daughter shall never marry any man who isn't
at least a freeman."
"She will marry the one that the duke chooses, of course,"
said the husband; "but she was certainly a fortunate
child. Not many nobles would have let her off so easily
when she was right in the road. Perhaps it was the
wizard, after all, and Duke Robert had nothing to do
with the wine."
"I heard one of the knights call the duke 'Robert the
Magnificent,' " said the woman.
"And I heard one call him 'Robert the Devil,' " said the man.
"I suppose the great folks have some way of knowing
which is right," said the woman, and then they went to
More than once that night did the great black horse
gallop up and down the winding road between the castle
and the village below the hill. More than once did the
rider in his restlessness fling himself from the saddle
and stride impatiently up and down in front of his
stronghold. Then he would mount again and ride
furiously down the hill, the hoofs of his horse
striking fire on the stones in his path.
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