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HOME > Classical Novels > Men of Iron > CHAPTER 27
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As Myles took his place at the south end of the lists, he found the Sieur de la Montaigne already at his station. Through the peep-hole in the face of the huge helmet, a transverse slit known as the occularium, he could see, like a strange narrow picture, the farther end of the lists, the spectators upon either side moving and shifting with ceaseless restlessness, and in the centre of all, his opponent, sitting with spear point directed upward, erect, motionless as a statue of iron, the sunlight gleaming and flashing upon his polished plates of steel, and the trappings of his horse swaying and fluttering in the rushing of the fresh breeze.
Upon that motionless figure his sight gradually centred with every faculty of mind and soul. He knew the next moment the signal would be given that was to bring him either glory or shame from that iron statue. He ground his teeth together with stern resolve to do his best in the coming encounter, and murmured a brief prayer in the hallow darkness of his huge helm. Then with a shake he settled himself more firmly in his saddle, slowly raised his spear point until the shaft reached the exact angle, and there suffered it to rest motionless. There was a moment of dead, tense, breathless pause, then he rather felt than saw the Marshal raise his baton. He gathered himself together, and the next moment a bugle sounded loud and clear. In one blinding rush he drove his spurs into the sides of his horse, and in instant answer felt the noble steed spring forward with a bound.
Through all the clashing of his armor reverberating in the hollow depths of his helmet, he saw the mail-clad figure from the other end of the lists rushing towards him, looming larger and larger as they came together. He gripped his saddle with his knees, clutched the stirrup with the soles of his feet, and bent his body still more forward. In the instant of meeting, with almost the blindness of instinct, he dropped the point of his spear against the single red flower-de-luce in the middle of the on-coming shield. There was a thunderous crash that seemed to rack every joint, he heard the crackle of splintered wood, he felt the momentary trembling recoil of the horse beneath him, and in the next instant had passed by. As he checked the onward rush of his horse at the far end of the course, he heard faintly in the dim hollow recess of the helm the loud shout and the clapping of hands of those who looked on, and found himself gripping with nervous intensity the butt of a broken spear, his mouth clammy with excitement, and his heart thumping in his throat.
Then he realized that he had met his opponent, and had borne the meeting well. As he turned his horse's head towards his own end of the lists, he saw the other trotting slowly back towards his station, also holding a broken spear shaft in his hand.
As he passed the iron figure a voice issued from the helmet, “Well done, Sir Myles, nobly done!” and his heart bounded in answer to the words of praise. When he had reached his own end of the lists, he flung away his broken spear, and Gascoyne came forward with another.
“Oh, Myles!” he said, with sob in his voice, “it was nobly done. Never did I see a better ridden course in all my life. I did not believe that thou couldst do half so well. Oh, Myles, prithee knock him out of his saddle an thou lovest me!”
Myles, in his high-keyed nervousness, could not forbear a short hysterical laugh at his friend's warmth of enthusiasm. He took the fresh lance in his hand, and then, seeing that his opponent was walking his horse slowly up and down at his end of the lists, did the same during the little time of rest before the next encounter.
When, in answer to the command of the Marshal, he took his place a second time, he found himself calmer and more collected than before, but every faculty no less intensely fixed than it had been at first. Once more the Marshal raised his baton, once more the horn sounded, and once more the two rushed together with the same thunderous crash, the same splinter of broken spears, the same momentary trembling recoil of the horse, and the same onward rush past one another. Once more the spectators applauded and shouted as the two knights turned their horses and rode back towards their station.
This time as they met midway the Sieur de la Montaigne reined in his horse. “Sir Myles,” said his muffled voice, “I swear to thee, by my faith, I had not thought to meet in thee such an opponent as thou dost prove thyself to be. I had thought to find in thee a raw boy, but find instead a Paladin. Hitherto I have given thee grace as I would give grace to any mere lad, and thought of nothing but to give thee opportunity to break thy lance. Now I shall do my endeavor to unhorse thee as I would an acknowledged peer in arms. Nevertheless, on account of thy youth, I give thee this warning, so that thou mayst hold thyself in readiness.”
“I give thee gramercy for thy courtesy, my Lord,” answered Myles, speaking in French; “and I will strive to encounter thee as best I may, and pardon me if I seem forward in so saying, but were I in thy place, my Lord, I would change me yon breast-piece and over-girth of my saddle; they are sprung in the stitches.”
“Nay,” said the Sieur de la Montaigne, laughing, “breast-piece and over-girth have carried me through more tilts than one, and shall through this. An thou give me a blow so true as to burst breast-piece and over-girth, I will own myself fairly conquered by thee.” So saying, he saluted Myles with the butt of the spear he still held, and passed by to his end of the lists.
Myles, with Gascoyne running beside him, rode across to his pavilion, and called to Edmund Wilkes to bring him a cup of spiced wine. After Gascoyne had taken off his helmet, and as he sat wiping the perspiration from his face Sir James came up and took him by the hand.
“My dear boy,” said he, gripping the hand he held, “never could I hope to be so overjoyed in mine old age as I am this day. Thou dost bring honor to me, for I tell thee truly thou dost ride like a knight seasoned in twenty tourneys.”
“It doth give me tenfold courage to hear thee so say, dear master,” answered Myles. “And truly,” he added, “I shall need all my courage this bout, for the Sieur de la Montaigne telleth me that he will ride to unhorse me this time.”
“Did he indeed so say?” said Sir James. “Then belike he meaneth to strike at thy helm. Thy best chance is to strike also at his. Doth thy hand tremble?”
“Not now,” answered Myles.
“Then keep thy head cool and thine eye true. Set thy trust in God, and haply thou wilt come out of this bout honorably in spite of the rawness of thy youth.”
Just then Edmund Wilkes presented the cup of wine to Myles, who drank it off at a draught, and thereupon Gascoyne replaced the helm and tied the thongs.
The charge that Sir James Lee had given to Myles to strike at his adversary's helm was a piece of advice he probably would not have given to so young a knight, excepting as a last resort. A blow perfectly delivered upon the helm was of all others the most difficult for the recipient to recover from, but then a blow upon the helm was not one time in fifty perfectly given. The huge cylindrical tilting helm was so constructed in front as to slope at an angle in all directions to one point. That point was the centre of a cross formed by two ir............
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