|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 |
FOR THE SAKE OF A FALCON
 OSMOND DE CENTEVILLE was soon convinced that no immediate peril
threatened his young Duke at the Court of Laon. Louis seemed to
intend to fulfil his oaths to the Normans by allowing the child to be
the companion of his own sons, and to be treated in every respect as
became his rank. Richard had his proper place at table, and all due
attendance; he learnt, rode, and played with the Princes, and there
was nothing to complain of, excepting the coldness and inattention
with which the King and Queen treated him, by no means fulfilling the
promise of being as parents to their orphan ward. Gerberge, who had
from the first dreaded his superior strength and his roughness with
her puny boys, and who had been by no means won by his manners at
their first meeting, was especially distant and severe with him,
 ever speaking to him except with some rebuke, which, it must
be confessed, Richard often deserved.
As to the boys, his constant companions, Richard was on very friendly
terms with Carlo-man, a gentle, timid, weakly child. Richard looked
down upon him; but he was kind, as a generous-tempered boy could not
fail to be, to one younger and weaker than himself. He was so much
kinder than Lothaire, that Carloman was fast growing very fond of
him, and looked up to his strength and courage as something noble and
It was very different with Lothaire, the person from whom, above all
others, Richard would have most expected to meet with affection, as
his father's god-son, a relationship which in those times was thought
almost as near as kindred by blood. Lothaire had been brought up by
an indulgent mother, and by courtiers who never ceased flattering
him, as the heir to the crown, and he had learnt to think that to
give way to his naturally imperious and violent disposition was the
way to prove his power and assert his rank. He had
 always had his
own way, and nothing had ever been done to check his faults; somewhat
weakly health had made him fretful and timid; and a latent
consciousness of this fearfulness made him all the more cruel,
sometimes because he was frightened, sometimes because he fancied it
He treated his little brother in a way which in these times boys
would call bullying; and, as no one ever dared to oppose the King's
eldest son, it was pretty much the same with every one else, except
now and then some dumb creature, and then all Lothaire's cruelty was
shown. When his horse kicked, and ended by throwing him, he stood
by, and caused it to be beaten till the poor creature's back streamed
with blood; when his dog bit his hand in trying to seize the meat
with which he was teazing it, he insisted on having it killed, and it
was worse still when a falcon pecked one of his fingers. It really
hurt him a good deal, and, in a furious rage, he caused two nails to
be heated red hot in the fire, intending to have them thrust into the
poor bird's eyes.
"I will not have it done!" exclaimed Richard,
 expecting to be obeyed
as he was at home; but Lothaire only laughed scornfully, saying, "Do
you think you are master here, Sir pirate?"
"I will not have it done!" repeated Richard. "Shame on you, shame on
you, for thinking of such an unkingly deed."
"Shame on me! Do you know to whom you speak, master savage?" cried
Lothaire, red with passion.
"I know who is the savage now!" said Richard. "Hold!" to the servant
who was bringing the red-hot irons in a pair of tongs.
"Hold?" exclaimed Lothaire. "No one commands here but I and my
father. Go on Charlot—where is the bird? Keep her fast, Giles."
"Osmond. You I can command—"
"Come away, my Lord," said Osmond, interrupting Richard's order,
before it was issued. "We have no right to interfere here, and cannot
hinder it. Come away from such a foul sight."
"Shame on you too, Osmond, to let such a deed be done without
hindering it!" exclaimed Richard, breaking from him, and rushing on
the man who carried the hot irons. The French servants were
 not very
willing to exert their strength against the Duke of Normandy, and
Richard's onset, taking the man by surprise, made him drop the tongs.
Lothaire, both afraid and enraged, caught them up as a weapon of
defence, and, hardly knowing what he did, struck full at Richard's
face with the hot iron. Happily it missed his eye, and the heat had
a little abated; but, as it touched his cheek, it burnt him
sufficiently to cause considerable pain. With a cry of passion, he
flew at Lothaire, shook him with all his might, and ended by throwing
him at his length on the pavement. But this was the last of
Richard's exploits, for he was at the same moment captured by his
Squire, and borne off, struggling and kicking as if Osmond had been
his greatest foe; but the young Norman's arms were like iron round
him; and he gave over his resistance sooner, because at that moment a
whirring flapping sound was heard, and the poor hawk rose high,
higher, over their heads in ever lessening circles, far away from her
enemies. The servant who held her, had relaxed his grasp in the
consternation caused by Lothaire's fall, and she was mounting up and
up, spying, it might be,
 her way to her native rocks in Iceland, with
the yellow eyes which Richard had saved.
"Safe! safe!" cried Richard, joyfully, ceasing his struggles. "Oh,
how glad I am! That young villain should never have hurt her. Put
me down, Osmond, what are you doing with me?"
"Saving you from your—no, I cannot call it folly,—I would hardly
have had you stand still to see such—but let me see your face."
"It is nothing. I don't care now the hawk is safe," said Richard,
though he could hardly keep his lips in order, and was obliged to
wink very hard with his eyes to keep the tears out, now that he had
leisure to feel the smarting; but it would have been far beneath a
Northman to complain, and he stood bearing it gallantly, and pinching
his fingers tightly together, while Osmond knelt down to examine the
hurt. "'Tis not much," said he, talking to himself, "half bruise,
half burn—I wish my grandmother was here—however, it can't last
long! 'Tis right, you bear it like a little Berserkar, and it is no
bad thing that you should have a scar to show, that they may not be
able to say you did all the damage."
 "Will it always leave a mark?" said Richard. "I am afraid they will
call me Richard of the scarred cheek, when we get back to Normandy."
"Never mind, if they do—it will not be a mark to be ashamed of, even
if it does last, which I do not believe it will."
"Oh, no, I am so glad the gallant falcon is out of his reach!"
replied Richard, in a somewhat quivering voice.
"Does it smart much? Well, come and bathe it with cold water—or
shall I take you to one of the Queen's women?"
"No—the water," said Richard, and to the fountain in the court they
went; but Osmond had only just begun to splash the cheek with the
half-frozen water, with a sort of rough kindness, afraid at once of
teaching the Duke to be effeminate, and of not being as tender to him
as Dame Astrida would have wished, when a messenger came in haste
from the King, commanding the presence of the Duke of Normandy and
Lothaire was standing between his father and mother on their throne-
like seat, leaning against the Queen, who had her arm round him; his
 was red and glazed with tears, and he still shook with subsiding
sobs. It was evident he was just recovering from a passionate crying
"How is this?" began the King, as Richard entered. "What means this
conduct, my Lord of Normandy? Know you what you have done in
striking the heir of France? I might imprison you this instant in a
dungeon where you would never see the light of day."
"Then Bernard de Harcourt would come and set me free," fearlessly
"Do you bandy words with me, child? Ask Prince Lothaire's pardon
instantly, or you shall rue it."
"I have done nothing to ask his pardon for. It would have been cruel
and cowardly in me to let him put out the poor hawk's eyes," said
Richard, with a Northman's stern contempt for pain, disdaining to
mention his own burnt cheek, which indeed the King might have seen
"Hawk's eyes!" repeated the King. "Speak the truth, Sir Duke; do not
add slander to your other faults."
 "I have spoken the truth—I always speak it!" cried Richard.
"Whoever says otherwise lies in his throat."
Osmond here hastily interfered, and desired permission to tell the
whole story. The hawk was a valuable bird, and Louis's face darkened
when he heard what Lothaire had purposed, for the Prince had, in
telling his own story, made it appear that Richard had been the
aggressor by insisting on letting the falcon fly. Osmond finished by
pointing to the mark on Richard's cheek, so evidently a burn, as to
be proof that hot iron had played a part in the matter. The King
looked at one of his own Squires and asked his account, and he with
some hesitation could not but reply that it was as the young Sieur de
Centeville had said. Thereupon Louis angrily reproved his own people
for having assisted the Prince in trying to injure the hawk, called
for the chief falconer, rated him for not better attending to his
birds, and went forth with him to see if the hawk could yet be
recaptured, leaving the two boys neither punished nor pardoned.
"So you have escaped for this once," said
 Gerberge, coldly, to
Richard; "you had better beware another time. Come with me, my poor
darling Lothaire." She led her son away to her own apartments, and
the French Squires began to grumble to each other complaints of the
impossibility of pleasing their Lords, since, if they contradicted
Prince Lothaire, he was so spiteful that he was sure to set the Queen
against them, and that was far worse in the end than the King's
displeasure. Osmond, in the meantime, took Richard to re-commence
bathing his face, and presently Carloman ran out to pity him, wonder
at him for not crying, and say he was glad the poor hawk had escaped.
The cheek continued inflamed and painful for some time, and there was
a deep scar long after the pain had ceased, but Richard thought
little of it after the first, and would have scorned to bear ill-will
to Lothaire for the injury.
Lothaire left off taunting Richard with his Norman accent, and
calling him a young Sea-king. He had felt his strength, and was
afraid of him; but he did not like him the better—he never played
with him willingly—scowled, and
 looked dark and jealous, if his
father, or if any of the great nobles took the least notice of the
little Duke, and whenever he was out of hearing, talked against him
with all his natural spitefulness.
Richard liked Lothaire quite as little, contemning almost equally his
cowardly ways and his imperious disposition. Since he had been Duke,
Richard had been somewhat inclined to grow imperious himself, though
always kept under restraint by Fru Astrida's good training, and Count
Bernard's authority, and his whole generous nature would have
revolted against treating Alberic, or indeed his meanest vassal, as
Lothaire used the unfortunate children who were his playfellows.
Perhaps this made him look on with great horror at the tyranny which
Lothaire exercised; at any rate he learnt to abhor it more, and to
make many resolutions against ordering people about uncivilly when
once he should be in Normandy again. He often interfered to protect
the poor boys, and generally with success, for the Prince was afraid
of provoking such another shake as Richard had once given him, and
though he generally repaid
 himself on his victim in the end, he
yielded for the time.
Carloman, whom Richard often saved from his brother's unkindness,
clung closer and closer to him, went with him everywhere, tried to do
all he did, grew very fond of Osmond, and liked nothing better than
to sit by Richard in some wide window-seat, in the evening, after
supper, and listen to Richard's version of some of Fru Astrida's
favourite tales, or hear the never-ending history of sports at
Centeville, or at Rollo's Tower, or settle what great things they
would both do when they were grown up, and Richard was ruling
Normandy—perhaps go to the Holy Land together, and slaughter an
unheard-of host of giants and dragons on the way. In the meantime,
however, poor Carloman gave small promise of being able to perform
great exploits, for he was very small for his age and often ailing;
soon tired, and never able to bear much rough play. Richard, who had
never had any reason to learn to forbear, did not at first understand
this, and made Carloman cry several times with his roughness and
violence, but this always vexed him so much that he grew
 careful to
avoid such things for the future, and gradually learnt to treat his
poor little weakly friend with a gentleness and patience at which
Osmond used to marvel, and which he would hardly have been taught in
his prosperity at home.
Between Carloman and Osmond he was thus tolerably happy at Laon, but
he missed his own dear friends, and the loving greetings of his
vassals, and longed earnestly to be at Rouen, asking Osmond almost
every night when they should go back, to which Osmond could only
answer that he must pray that Heaven would be pleased to bring them
Osmond, in the meantime, kept a vigilant watch for anything that
might seem to threaten danger to his Lord; but at present there was
no token of any evil being intended; the only point in which Louis
did not seem to be fulfilling his promises to the Normans was, that
no preparations were made for attacking the Count of Flanders.
At Easter the court was visited by Hugh the White, the great Count of
Paris, the most powerful man in France, and who was only prevented by
 his own loyalty and forbearance, from taking the crown from the
feeble and degenerate race of Charlemagne. He had been a firm friend
of William Longsword, and Osmond remarked how, on his arrival, the
King took care to bring Richard forward, talk of him affectionately,
and caress him almost as much as he had done at Rouen. The Count
himself was really kind and affectionate to the little Duke; he kept
him by his side, and seemed to like to stroke down his long flaxen
hair, looking in his face with a grave mournful expression, as if
seeking for a likeness to his father. He soon asked about the scar
which the burn had left, and the King was obliged to answer hastily,
it was an accident, a disaster that had chanced in a boyish quarrel.
Louis, in fact, was uneasy, and appeared to be watching the Count of
Paris the whole time of his visit, so as to prevent him from having
any conversation in private with the other great vassals assembled at
the court. Hugh did not seem to perceive this, and acted as if he
was entirely at his ease, but at the same time he watched his
opportunity. One evening, after supper, he came up to the window
 and Carloman were, as usual, deep in story telling; he
sat down on the stone seat, and taking Richard on his knee, he asked
if he had any greetings for the Count de Harcourt.
How Richard's face lighted up! "Oh, Sir," he cried, "are you going
"Not yet, my boy, but it may be that I may have to meet old Harcourt
at the Elm of Gisors."
"Oh, if I was but going with you."
"I wish I could take you, but it would scarcely do for me to steal
the heir of Normandy. What shall I tell him?"
"Tell him," whispered Richard, edging himself close to the Count, and
trying to reach his ear, "tell him that I am sorry, now, that I was
sullen when he reproved me. I know he was right. And, sir, if he
brings with him a certain huntsman with a long hooked nose, whose
name is Walter,
tell him I am sorry I used to order him about so
unkindly. And tell him to bear my greetings to Fru Astrida and Sir
Eric, and to Alberic."
"Shall I tell him how you have marked your face?"
 "No," said Richard, "he would think me a baby to care about such a
thing as that!"
The Count asked how it happened, and Richard told the story, for he
felt as if he could tell the kind Count anything—it was almost like
that last evening that he had sat on his father's knee. Hugh ended
by putting his arm round him, and saying, "Well, my little Duke, I am
as glad as you are the gallant bird is safe—it will be a tale for my
own little Hugh and Eumacette
at home—and you must one day be
friends with them as your father has been with me. And now, do you
think your Squire could come to my chamber late this evening when the
household is at rest?"
Richard undertook that Osmond should do so, and the Count, setting
him down again, returned to the dais. Osmond, before going to the
Count that evening, ordered Sybald to come and guard the Duke's door.
It was a long conference, for Hugh had come to Laon chiefly for the
purpose of seeing how it went with his friend's son, and was anxious
to know what Osmond thought of the matter. They agreed that at
present there did not seem to be any evil intended, and that
rather appeared as if Louis wished only to keep him as a hostage for
the tranquillity of the borders of Normandy; but Hugh advised that
Osmond should maintain a careful watch, and send intelligence to him
on the first token of mischief.
The next morning the Count of Paris quitted Laon, and everything went
on in the usual course till the feast of Whitsuntide, when there was
always a great display of splendour at the French court. The crown
vassals generally came to pay their duty and go with the King to
Church; and there was a state banquet, at which the King and Queen
wore their crowns, and every one sat in great magnificence according
to their rank.
The grand procession to Church was over. Richard had walked with
Carloman, the Prince richly dressed in blue, embroidered with golden
fleur-de-lys, and Richard in scarlet, with a gold Cross on his
breast; the beautiful service was over, they had returned to the
Castle, and there the Seneschal was marshalling the goodly and noble
company to the banquet, when horses' feet were
 heard at the gate
announcing some fresh arrival. The Seneschal went to receive the
guests, and presently was heard ushering in the noble Prince, Arnulf,
Count of Flanders.
Richard's face became pale—he turned from Carloman by whose side he
had been standing, and walked straight out of the hall and up the
stairs, closely followed by Osmond. In a few minutes there was a
knock at the door of his chamber, and a French Knight stood there
saying, "Comes not the Duke to the banquet?"
"No," answered Osmond: "he eats not with the slayer of his father."
"The King will take it amiss; for the sake of the child you had
better beware," said the Frenchman, hesitating.
"He had better beware himself," exclaimed Osmond, indignantly, "how
he brings the treacherous murderer of William Longsword into the
presence of a free-born Norman, unless he would see him slain where
he stands. Were it not for the boy, I would challenge the traitor
this instant to single combat."
"Well, I can scarce blame you," said the Knight,
 "but you had best
have a care how you tread. Farewell."
Richard had hardly time to express his indignation, and his wishes
that he was a man, before another message came through a groom of
Lothaire's train, that the Duke must fast, if he would not consent to
feast with the rest.
"Tell Prince Lothaire," replied Richard, "that I am not such a
glutton as he—I had rather fast than be choked with eating with
All the rest of the day, Richard remained in his own chamber,
resolved not to run the risk of meeting with Arnulf. The Squire
remained with him, in this voluntary imprisonment, and they occupied
themselves, as best they could, with furbishing Osmond's armour, and
helping each other out in repeating some of the Sagas. They once
heard a great uproar in the court, and both were very anxious to
learn its cause, but they did not know it till late in the afternoon.
Carloman crept up to them—"Here I am at last!" he exclaimed. "Here,
Richard, I have brought you some bread, as you had no dinner:
 it was
all I could bring. I saved it under the table lest Lothaire should
Richard thanked Carloman with all his heart, and being very hungry
was glad to share the bread with Osmond. He asked how long the
wicked Count was going to stay, and rejoiced to hear he was going
away the next morning, and the King was going with him.
"What was that great noise in the court?" asked Richard.
"I scarcely like to tell you," returned Carloman.
Richard, however, begged to hear, and Carloman was obliged to tell
that the two Norman grooms, Sybald and Henry, had quarrelled with the
Flemings of Arnulf's train; there had been a fray, which had ended in
the death of three Flemings, a Frank, and of Sybald himself—And
where was Henry? Alas! there was more ill news—the King had
sentenced Henry to die, and he had been hanged immediately.
Dark with anger and sorrow grew young Richard's face; he had been
fond of his two Norman attendants, he trusted to their attachment,
and he would have wept for their loss even if it
 had happened in any
other way; but now, when it had been caused by their enmity to his
father's foes, the Flemings,—when one had fallen overwhelmed by
numbers, and the other been condemned hastily, cruelly, unjustly, it
was too much, and he almost choked with grief and indignation. Why
had he not been there, to claim Henry as his own vassal, and if he
could not save him, at least bid him farewell? Then he would have
broken out in angry threats, but he felt his own helplessness, and
was ashamed, and he could only shed tears of passionate grief,
refusing all Carloman's attempts to comfort him. Osmond was even
more concerned; he valued the two Normans extremely for their courage
and faithfulness, and had relied on sending intelligence by their
means to Rouen, in case of need. It appeared to him as if the first
opportunity had been seized of removing these protectors from the
little Duke, and as if the designs, whatever they might be, which had
been formed against him, were about to take effect. He had little
doubt that his own turn would be the next; but he was resolved to
endure anything, rather than give the smallest opportunity of
re-  moving him, to bear even insults with patience, and to remember
that in his care rested the sole hope of safety for his charge.
That danger was fast gathering around them became more evident every
day, especially after the King and Arnulf had gone away together. It
was very hot weather, and Richard began to weary after the broad cool
river at Rouen, where he used to bathe last summer; and one evening
he persuaded his Squire to go down with him to the Oise, which flowed
along some meadow ground about a quarter of a mile from the Castle;
but they had hardly set forth before three or four attendants came
running after them, with express orders from the Queen that they
should return immediately. They obeyed, and found her standing in
the Castle hall, looking greatly incensed.
"What means this?" she asked, angrily. "Knew you not that the King
has left commands that the Duke quits not the Castle in his absence?"
"I was only going as far as the river—" began Richard, but Gerberge
cut him short. "Silence, child—I will hear no excuses. Perhaps you
 Sieur de Centeville, that you may take liberties in the King's
absence, but I tell you that if you are found without the walls
again, it shall be at your peril; ay, and his! I'll have those
haughty eyes put out, if you disobey!"
She turned away, and Lothaire looked at them with his air of
gratified malice. "You will not lord it over your betters much
longer, young pirate!" said he, as he followed his mother, afraid to
stay to meet the anger he might have excited by the taunt he could
not deny himself the pleasure of making; but Richard, who, six months
ago could not brook a slight disappointment or opposition, had, in
his present life of restraint, danger, and vexation, learnt to curb
the first outbreak of temper, and to bear patiently instead of
breaking out into passion and threats, and now his only thought was
of his beloved Squire.
"Oh, Osmond! Osmond!" he exclaimed, "they shall not hurt you. I
will never go out again. I will never speak another hasty word. I
will never affront the Prince, if they will but leave you with me!"
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics