|The Little Duke|
|by Charlotte M. Yonge|
|An inspiring story of Richard the Fearless (943-996) who became Duke of Normandy at the age of 8. Relates the perils of his childhood, both at home in Normandy and during his captivity at the court of France, and how at long last he came to embrace the values his father espoused. Ages 9-12 |
DANES TO THE RESCUE
 MONTEMAR was too near the frontier to be a safe abode for the little
Duke, and his uncle, Count Hubert of Senlis, agreed with Bernard the
Dane that he would be more secure beyond the limits of his own duchy,
which was likely soon to be the scene of war; and, sorely against his
will, he was sent in secret, under a strong escort, first to the
Castle of Coucy, and afterwards to Senlis.
His consolation was, that he was not again separated from his
friends; Alberic, Sir Eric, and even Fru Astrida, accompanied him, as
well as his constant follower, Osmond. Indeed, the Baron would
hardly bear that he should be out of his sight; and he was still so
carefully watched, that it was almost like a captivity. Never, even
in the summer days, was he allowed to go beyond the Castle walls; and
his guardians would fain have
 had it supposed that the Castle did not
contain any such guest.
Osmond did not give him so much of his company as usual, but was
always at work in the armourer's forge—a low, vaulted chamber,
opening into the Castle court. Richard and Alberic were very curious
to know what he did there; but he fastened the door with an iron bar,
and they were forced to content themselves with listening to the
strokes of the hammer, keeping time to the voice that sang out, loud
and cheerily, the song of "Sigurd's sword, and the maiden sleeping
within the ring of flame." Fru Astrida said Osmond was quite
right—no good weapon-smith ever toiled with open doors; and when the boys
asked him questions as to his work, he only smiled, and said that
they would see what it was when the call to arms should come.
They thought it near at hand, for tidings came that Louis had
assembled his army, and marched into Normandy to recover the person
of the young Duke, and to seize the country. No summons, however,
arrived, but a message came instead, that Rouen had been surrendered
into the hands of
 the King. Richard shed indignant tears. "My
father's Castle! My own city in the hands of the foe! Bernard is a
traitor then! None shall hinder me from so calling him. Why did we
"Never fear, Lord Duke," said Osmond. "When you come to the years of
Knighthood, your own sword shall right you, in spite of all the false
Danes, and falser Franks, in the land."
"What! you too, son Osmond? I deemed you carried a cooler brain than
to miscall one who was true to Rollo's race before you or yon varlet
were born!" said the old Baron.
"He has yielded my dukedom! It is mis-calling to say he is aught but
a traitor!" cried Richard. "Vile, treacherous, favour-seeking—"
"Peace, peace, my Lord," said the Baron. "Bernard has more in that
wary head of his than your young wits, or my old ones, can unwind.
What he is doing I may not guess, but I gage my life his heart is
Richard was silent, remembering he had been once unjust, but he
grieved heartily when he thought of the French in Rollo's tower, and
it was further reported that the King was about to
 share Normandy
among his French vassals. A fresh outcry broke out in the little
garrison of Senlis, but Sir Eric still persisted in his trust in his
friend Bernard, even when he heard that Centeville was marked out as
the prey of the fat French Count who had served for a hostage at
"What say you now, my Lord?" said he, after a conference with a
messenger at the gate. "The Black Raven has spread its wings. Fifty
keels are in the Seine, and Harald Blue-tooth's Long Serpent at the
head of them."
"The King of Denmark! Come to my aid!"
"Ay, that he is! Come at Bernard's secret call, to right you, and
put you on your father's seat. Now call honest Harcourt a traitor,
because he gave not up your fair dukedom to the flame and sword!"
"No traitor to me," said Richard, pausing.
"No, verily, but what more would you say?"
"I think, when I come to my dukedom, I will not be so politic," said
Richard. "I will be an open friend or an open foe."
"The boy grows too sharp for us," said Sir Eric, smiling, "but it was
spoken like his father."
 "He grows more like his blessed father each day," said Fru Astrida.
"But the Danes, father, the Danes!" said Osmond. "Blows will be
passing now. I may join the host and win my spurs?"
"With all my heart," returned the Baron, "so my Lord here gives you
leave: would that I could leave him and go with you. It would do my
very spirit good but to set foot in a Northern keel once more."
"I would fain see what these men of the North are," said Osmond.
"Oh! they are only Danes, not Norsemen, and there are no Vikings,
such as once were when Ragnar laid waste—"
"Son, son, what talk is this for the child's ears?" broke in Fru
Astrida, "are these words for a Christian Baron?"
"Your pardon, mother," said the grey warrior, in all humility, "but
my blood thrills to hear of a Northern fleet at hand, and to think of
Osmond drawing sword under a Sea-King."
The next morning, Osmond's steed was led to the door, and such men-
at-arms as could be spared
 from the garrison of Senlis were drawn up
in readiness to accompany him. The boys stood on the steps, wishing
they were old enough to be warriors, and wondering what had become of
him, until at length the sound of an opening door startled them, and
there, in the low archway of the smithy, the red furnace glowing
behind him, stood Osmond, clad in bright steel, the links of his
hauberk reflecting the light, and on his helmet a pair of golden
wings, while the same device adorned his long pointed kite-shaped
"Your wings! our wings!" cried Richard, "the bearing of Centeville!"
"May they fly after the foe, not before him," said Sir Eric. "Speed
thee well, my son—let not our Danish cousins say we learn Frank
graces instead of Northern blows."
With such farewells, Osmond quitted Senlis, while the two boys
hastened to the battlements to watch him as long as he remained in
The highest tower became their principal resort, and their eyes were
constantly on the heath where he had disappeared; but days passed,
 grew weary of the watch, and betook themselves to games in
the Castle court.
One day, Alberic, in the character of a Dragon, was lying on his
back, panting hard so as to be supposed to cast out volumes of flame
and smoke at Richard, the Knight, who with a stick for a lance, and a
wooden sword, was waging fierce war; when suddenly the Dragon paused,
sat up, and pointed towards the warder on the tower. His horn was at
his lips, and in another moment, the blast rang out through the
With a loud shout, both boys rushed headlong up the turret stairs,
and came to the top so breathless, that they could not even ask the
warder what he saw. He pointed, and the keen-eyed Alberic exclaimed,
"I see! Look, my Lord, a speck there on the heath!"
"I do not see! where, oh where?"
"He is behind the hillock now, but—oh, there again! How fast he
"It is like the flight of a bird," said Richard, "fast, fast—"
"If only it be not flight in earnest," said Alberic, a little
anxiously, looking into the warder's face,
 for he was a borderer, and
tales of terror of the inroad of the Vicomte du Contentin were rife
on the marches of the Epte.
"No, young Sir," said the warder, "no fear of that. I know how men
ride when they flee from the battle."
"No, indeed, there is no discomfiture in the pace of that steed,"
said Sir Eric, who had by this time joined them.
"I see him clearer! I see the horse," cried Richard, dancing with
eagerness, so that Sir Eric caught hold of him, exclaiming, "You will
be over the battlements! hold still! better hear of a battle lost
"He bears somewhat in his hand," said Alberic.
"A banner or pennon," said the warder; "methinks he rides like the
"He does! My brave boy! He has done good service," exclaimed Sir
Eric, as the figure became more developed. "The Danes have seen how
we train our young men."
"His wings bring good tidings," said Richard. "Let me go, Sir Eric,
I must tell Fru Astrida."
The drawbridge was lowered, the portcullis
 raised, and as all the
dwellers in the Castle stood gathered in the court, in rode the
warrior with the winged helm, bearing in his hand a drooping banner;
lowering it as he entered, it unfolded, and displayed, trailing on
the ground at the feet of the little Duke of Normandy, the golden
lilies of France.
A shout of amazement arose, and all gathered round him, asking
hurried questions. "A great victory—the King a prisoner—Montreuil
Richard would not be denied holding his hand, and leading him to the
hall, and there, sitting around him, they heard his tidings. His
father's first question was, what he thought of their kinsmen, the
"Rude comrades, father, I must own," said Osmond, smiling, and
shaking his head. "I could not pledge them in a skull-goblet—set in
gold though it were."
"None the worse warriors," said Sir Eric. "Ay, ay, and you were
dainty, and brooked not the hearty old fashion of tearing the whole
sheep to pieces. You must needs cut your portion with the fine
French knife at your girdle."
 Osmond could not see that a man was braver for being a savage, but he
held his peace; and Richard impatiently begged to hear how the battle
had gone, and where it had been fought.
"On the bank of the Dive," said Osmond. "Ah, father, you might well
call old Harcourt wary—his name might better have been Fox-heart
than Bear-heart! He had sent to the Franks a message of distress,
that the Danes were on him in full force, and to pray them to come to
"I trust there was no treachery. No foul dealing shall be wrought in
my name," exclaimed Richard, with such dignity of tone and manner, as
made all feel he was indeed their Duke, and forget his tender years.
"No, or should I tell the tale with joy like this?" said Osmond.
"Bernard's view was to bring the Kings together, and let Louis see
you had friends to maintain your right. He sought but to avoid
"And how chanced it?"
"The Danes were encamped on the Dive, and so soon as the French came
in sight, Blue-tooth sent a messenger to Louis, to summon him to
Neustria, and leave it to you, its lawful owner. Thereupon, Louis,
hoping to win him over with wily words, invited him to hold a
"Where were you, Osmond?"
"Where I had scarce patience to be. Bernard had gathered all of us
honest Normans together, and arranged us beneath that standard of the
King, as if to repel his Danish inroad. Oh, he was, in all seeming,
hand-and-glove with Louis, guiding him by his counsel, and, verily,
seeming his friend and best adviser! But in one thing he could not
prevail. That ungrateful recreant, Herluin of Montreuil, came with
the King, hoping, it seems, to get his share of our spoils; and when
Bernard advised the King to send him home, since no true Norman could
bear the sight of him, the hot-headed Franks vowed no Norman should
hinder them from bringing whom they chose. So a tent was set up by
the riverside, wherein the two Kings, with Bernard, Alan of Brittany,
and Count Hugh, held their meeting. We all stood without, and the
two hosts began to mingle together, we Normans making acquaintance
 the Danes. There was a red-haired, wild-looking fellow, who
told me he had been with Anlaff in England, and spoke much of the
doings of Hako in Norway; when, suddenly, he pointed to a Knight who
was near, speaking to a Cotentinois, and asked me his name. My blood
boiled as I answered, for it was Montreuil himself! 'The cause of
your Duke's death!' said the Dane. 'Ha, ye Normans are fallen sons
of Odin, to see him yet live!'"
"You said, I trust, my son, that we follow not the laws of Odin?"
said Fru Astrida.
"I had no space for a word, grandmother; the Danes took the vengeance
on themselves. In one moment they rushed on Herluin with their axes,
and the unhappy man was dead. All was tumult; every one struck
without knowing at whom, or for what. Some shouted, 'Thor Hulfe!'
some 'Dieu aide!' others 'Montjoie St. Denis!' Northern blood
against French, that was all our guide. I found myself at the foot
of this standard, and had a hard combat for it; but I bore it away at
"And the Kings?"
 "They hurried out of the tent, it seems, to rejoin their men. Louis
mounted, but you know of old, my Lord, he is but an indifferent
horseman, and the beast carried him into the midst of the Danes,
where King Harald caught his bridle, and delivered him to four
Knights to keep. Whether he dealt secretly with them, or whether
they, as they declared, lost sight of him whilst plundering his tent,
I cannot say; but when Harald demanded him of them, he was gone."
"Gone! is this what you call having the King prisoner?"
"You shall hear. He rode four leagues, and met one of the baser sort
of Rouennais, whom he bribed to hide him in the Isle of Willows.
However, Bernard made close inquiries, found the fellow had been seen
in speech with a French horseman, pounced on his wife and children,
and threatened they should die if he did not disclose the secret. So
the King was forced to come out of his hiding-place, and is now fast
guarded in Rollo's tower—a Dane, with a battle-axe on his shoulder,
keeping guard at every turn of the stairs."
 "Ha! ha!" cried Richard. "I wonder how he likes it. I wonder if he
remembers holding me up to the window, and vowing that he meant me
"When you believed him, my Lord," said Osmond, slyly.
"I was a little boy then," said Richard, proudly. "Why, the very
walls must remind him of his oath, and how Count Bernard said, as he
dealt with me, so might Heaven deal with him."
"Remember it, my child—beware of broken vows," said Father Lucas;
"but remember it not in triumph over a fallen foe. It were better
that all came at once to the chapel, to bestow their thanksgivings
where alone they are due."
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