xv. Henry the King
WHEN Hugh reached the manor castle where King Henry and his train were said to be lodging, he clattered over the drawbridge and outer parade ground with considerable confidence. He passed through the great gate with some peasant folk who were bringing in supplies, and then proceeded alone to the inner gate, which admitted only noble guests and those, who had direct business with them. The porter who answered his ringing of the heavy metal gong, looked troubled, as well he might, for the sovereign of England was no easy guest for any manor lord to entertain, and before his none too friendly scrutiny, Hugh felt his self-assurance slipping away from him.
"What wouldst thou of the king?" the man asked, barring the boy's entrance with his broad bulk.
"I have a message for him," said Hugh, "which may be of grave importance, and I have also business with Maurice, the king's minstrel, and Sir Walter Mape."
"They be occupied, I have no doubt, all of them, and I know my duty better than to trouble such high and noble folk for a boy such as you." His eyes travelled critically over Hugh's bedraggled, rain soaked clothes as he continued, "Give me the message for His Majesty; I will convey it to my betters and they to him."
But Hugh shook his head. That message from the outlaw might be his sole means of getting into the centre of the courtly folk and finding what he had come for. He would not let that out of his hands if he could help it.
Suddenly he bethought him of the Lady Eileen's ribbon. He pulled it from the pouch under his tunic where he was carrying it.
"If you will take this," said he, holding it up, "to a young damsel who is the queen's ward, the Lady Eileen, she will vouch for me that I am nobly born and, what is more important, honest and loyal."
The porter took the ribbon, hesitated for a moment and then, evidently deciding that Hugh was not the disreputable character that he looked, let him pass through the gate, bidding him dismount and wait until he should return. Then, with the yellow streamer still in his hand, he trudged away into the castle.
Before long he was back again, the little Lady Eileen beside him.
"Hugh of Glaston!" she cried joyfully as soon as she had got near the boy. "Oh, but I am glad to see thee! And Dickon the oblateis he with thee? But what is it brings thee here so soon? Is it Kenny? Oh, Hugh, do you bear ill news of my little dog?"
She scarcely paused long enough to get even the briefest answers to her questions, and then chattered on so fast that Hugh began to think he would never have a chance to explain himself.
"But come," she said at last, taking his hand, "let the porter have a care to thy horse and come with me into the hall; then we can really talk." And she led the way, leaving the bewildered porter to catch the horse's bridle rein and take him away to the stables.
When they were within the lofty castle hail, Eileen drew Hugh through an arras covered door onto a terrace where they were quite by themselves and could talk freely. "There," said she, seating herself on a stone bench, "now, sit down and tell
So Hugh poured out his story without a break, telling of the precious broken Book of the Seynt Graal; how he had shown it to Sir Walter Mape and the minstrel, Maurice; how they had both declared it should be the property of the king, and then how it had vanished with the departure of the court, so that one could not fail to believe those two had taken it, ostensibly to present it to the monarch.
Such things had been done before. Brother John had once told him how a beautiful and priceless volume had been taken in a similar way, during the reign of a former king, from the neighbouring Cathedral of Wells. In that case His Majesty had sternly insisted on the return of the book to the ecclesiastical library, but he need not have done so, for did not everything in the realm really belong to the king?
When Hugh paused, Eileen said loyally. "Our King Henry is just and honest, too. If the book is given to him and he knows where it came from, he will give it back, immediately, I know he will!"
Hugh sighed and looked doubtful. "If and whenbut Eileen, they may not give it to him for ever so long; they want it for themselves, really, both the minstrel and Sir Walter. And the king moves around so fast it might so easily be lost. And, oh Eileen, we of Glaston need it now!"
And then he went on to tell why The Book of the Seynt Graal was so unique a treasure and how Dickon had found, and he had worked on, some of the missing pages, and how he was almost ready now to put them all together and present them to Brother John.
"Would you search their possessions?" queried the damsel in a troubled voice. "Faith! And that would not be easy!"
Hugh shook his head. "They be gentlemen and not common thieves; if I but charge them to their faces with the taking of our book, like as not they will laugh and say they have borrowed it. Then, if they will in no wise be persuaded to give it back, I will appeal to the king."
Eileen rose up. "Let us be about it immediately," said she. They went into the hall again. Innumerable people were passing to and fro therein; knights, squires, pages, ladies, tire women, and servants. At the far end, a huge hooded fireplace jutted out into the room, and at one side of this sat a group, laughing and talking together, undisturbed by the stir and movement in the rest of the room. The leaping flames played on the faces of those that sat about it and made a spot of colour and light in the dimly lit, high-ceilinged hall. Hugh and Eileen made their way into the outer edge of the circle. The king held the place of honour in a huge carved oak chair near the blaze. At his elbow stood Maurice, the minstrel, and farther off, talking to some gaily clad courtiers at the other side of the fireplace, sat Sir Walter Mape. It seemed hardly the moment to step forth and ask for the return of a stolen volume! Hugh decided to bide his time.
King Henry was speaking in his customary quick, authoritative voice. "It might well have been all an invention of the monks of Glaston," said he. At the name Hugh pricked up his ears and listened intently. "Our friend the archdeacon would have us believe it was naught else, but I am inclined to think otherwise. Walter" he raised his voice and the talking in the small group on the opposite side of the huge fireplace ceased abruptly. "I say, Walter Mape, come hither and defend your cynical doubts in this matter of King Arthur's grave in Glastonbury. Tongues are wagging and the tale waxes or wanes with each telling."
"What tale, my lord?" questioned Sir Walter. He had risen and moved nearer the king.
"The lad and the vision," prompted King Henry somewhat irritably. "Thou shouldst know; thine own books have prophesied the finding of King Arthur's bones in Avalon, which, they say, is the marshy country round about the abbey, and a name frequently applied to the monastic property itself. But they say that which led the brothers to go digging and unearth the grave itself was a dream, a vision seen by a sick lad lost in the fog out on the marshes. Faith! We have all heard the story a dozen times by now! The monks were all agog with it. Why dost thou mistrust the truth of it?"
Sir Walter Mape shrugged his shoulders. "It may be true, Sire, yet it hath the sound of monkish invention."
"The grave was found, was it not? You cannot deny that," spoke up someone in the circle.
"Aye, that is sooth enough, but the vision; who can say that was true?" Sir Walter was evidently in the mood to argue.
"I would that I had summoned the lad himself and questioned him while I was in Glaston," declared the king. "I had much of importance to discuss with Abbot Robert, and the time was short."
Hugh had been edging his way toward the front of the group. He was breathing fast, his heart was in his mouth. Was there ever a more fortuitous time for him to declare his presence and make his request?
"So please Your Majesty," he cried, stepping forth and bowing before the king, "I am the boy who saw the vision of the burial of Arthur in Glaston, and it is all sooth and true, on my life and honour. If you desire to question me, I am here to answer."
A gasp of astonishment and then a moment of bewildered silence held the group in the circle. King Henry broke it with a quick, rather harsh laugh.
"By all the saints! This land must be enchanted! I have but to express a wish and the fellow I wish for literally springs up out of the earth at my feet!"
"May it be ever so when my liege lord graciously consents to honour my dwelling," said a tall man standing behind the king's chair. Evidently he was the host, the lord of the manor.
King Henry grunted, none too courteously, in reply, and kept his eyes still on Hugh.
"Who may you be, boy, and how comes it that a dreamer of dreams and a seer of visions follows after my very worldly court?"
"I am Hugh, son of Sir Hugh de Morville," declared the boy quietly.
There was a sudden, startled exclamation, then a hush. The king's face grew scarlet, the veins at his temples seemed to swell visibly, and the smile that had been on his lips grew strained and frozen.
"I followed your train, Sire, because a book, which is old and broken but very precious in our eyes, hath disappeared from the Painted Aumbry at Glaston, and I bethought me there might be someone among your followers who had borrowed it."
The awkward silence in the group around Hugh was broken by an incredulous laugh, which was almost a gasp. The expression on the king's face changed from painful remembrance to surprise, then relief and amusement. He suddenly clapped his hand upon his thigh and roared with laughter.
"Odd's my life!" he exclaimed, "the whole world is turning dizzy! Let me clutch one handle to this most remarkable business at a time! Whew!" He mopped his brow and the back of his neck, thereby turning into a humorous gesture his humiliating embarrassment. "Now, boy, begin at the beginning, and explain slowly. You are Hugh de Morville's son, how is it you are here at all while he is gone on pilgrimage for his murder of the Archbishop a'Becket, to the Holy Land?"
Hugh winced at the raw reference to the ghastly deed. "My father left me at Glaston when he fled the country," he answered briefly.
"To become a novice and then a monk?"
"As to that I know not yet."
The king gazed at him silently for a few moments.
"Thy sisters are in France," he said at length, dropping into the familiar pronoun. "They be married, I am told, and happy enough. I wonder that thy father did not take thee there also."
"We love England," declared Hugh stoutly. "I think my father would have some of his blood still on English soil. And II am glad. I have been very happy in Glaston."
"Dreaming dreams?" The king's voice was soft and held no shade of scorn in it.
"Aye, dreaming dreams," assented the boy, "and seeking that which is lost, and rebuilding a book that had been brokenand is now lost also."
"Your Majesty," spoke a voice behind Hugh, and Walter Mape stood forth. "The lad is over bold but I think I know whereof he speaks. May I have your gracious permission to ask him a further question, and perchance lay his doubts to rest on a certain score?"
The king nodded.
"Is it The Book of the Seynt Graal, the volume hidden in the Painted Aumbry, to which you refer, boy?"
"Aye, Sir Walter, that it is. It hath not been seen since"
"Since Maurice and I gazed upon it covetously and held it in our itching fingers! And, naturally enough, you thought we had borrowed the same to enrich our own or the king's library! Well, lad, thou hast guessed wrong. We laid no impious hands upon your Glaston treasure. Did we, now, Maurice? Speak up, man; our characters and honour are in question!"
"By the bones of Saint Bridget, I swear we never touched the volume, boy, though I will confess I would have deemed it no sin to transfer it to the king's chamber!"
Hugh looked from one to the other of the two men who were now standing on either side of him. Walter Mape had spoken in a light, bantering tone, the minstrel was forceful and emphatic. But the faces of both were open, honest, concerned. Somehow he could not doubt the truth of either. His heart sank, but there was nothing further to be said. With a little bow to the king, he was about to step back into the circle when the monarch motioned him to remain where he was.
"Art satisfied, lad?" said he with a teasing grin at Maurice and the archdeacon, "for if thou art not, I will have the possessions of these two brought forth and searchedOdd's blood, I will! They have played me many a prank in their day, the both of them, and I would not trust them, at least as far as books and tales are concerned!" His quick, roguish laugh belied his words, and everybody felt at ease again and in a good humour, the unhappy, fearful mood created in them by the mention of A Becket having been already forgotten.
Hugh smiled also. "Sire," said he, "I need no more than the honest word of a gentleman. We must look elsewhere for our stolen treasure."
"But first, boy, tell me of thy vision of King Arthur. I had thought the gods had dropped thee into my presence for no other reason."
So Hugh told the story of his wanderings in the marshes of Avalon, of his strange other-world experience, and of how Dickon and Bleheris, the mad hermit, had found him and borne him to Beckery, and how, later, the monks had dug between the two pyramids in the graveyard outside the Old Church and discovered the king's grave just where the vision had foretold. But of the Holy Grail and the age-old tradition that it had been lost or buried somewhere in Glaston, he said nothing. That was too deep a matter, too sacred and, for him, too precious, to bring forth in this little company of idle courtiers, so worldly-wise and incredulous. Instinctively he knew they would not have understood. But perhaps he was mistaken, for a hush lay upon them as he ceased speaking, and in the king's face was a look of wistfulness as well as interest.
"I would I had a son like thee, my boy," he said impulsively.
The remark thrust a knife, as it were, into Hugh's heart and memory. He had forgotten the message from the tall outlaw, bringing ill news to this father of a rebelling son. He wished he might withhold the folded bit of parchment, but that, of course, he could not do.
"Sire," said he hesitantly. "I had almost forgot; as I passed through a wooded road on my way hither a stranger bade me give Your Majesty this written message."
He knelt as he handed the king the note and then stepped back among the courtiers, watching the sovereign's face with concern and real sympathy as he opened and read the missive. The round face flushed darkly, the colour sweeping up in waves from his thick neck. He leaped to his feet, his stocky body alive with energy and determination.
"By God's eyes!" he cried, using his own peculiar oath, "the ingrate, the inhuman creature that would take up arms against the father that begat him and that loves him! Oh, my son! My son!"
The little company about the fireplace broke up instantly. Those sitting rose to their feet. Faces paled and grew troubled. "What is it? What hath happened?" one after another whispered to his neighbour. King Henry brushed them aside, calling for his personal servants and closest friends.
"My son, Henry, has taken up arms against me!" they heard him state in a voice cold with fury. "We must get back to London at once, without a moment's delay!"
In the confusion that followed Hugh was quite forgotten. He managed to get himself out from underfoot of the courtiers and servitors who immediately began rushing about. Everyone was far too busy to notice or delay him if he wished to depart, and he did so wish. There was no further need for him to stay, save to find the little Lady Eileen again and bid her farewell. She, however, seemed to have been swept away with the hurrying, whispering women folk who had rushed off to prepare the queen and themselves for departure. He made his way toward the outer court to find his horse but, as he was crossing it toward the stables, a light footstep sounded behind him. He turned and saw her running after him.
"Eileen," said he. "My Lady Eileen! I had feared I could not tell thee my thanks for thy help and"
"There is naught to thank me for," interrupted the girl breathlessly. "But I wanted to see thee again and tell thee I am sorry about the bookthat it was not here to be recovered. Oh, Hugh, what can have happened to it? Who would have taken it? What wilt thou do about it now?"
At the sound of his very own thoughts being put into words by the sympathetic girl beside him, all the discouragement and despair Hugh had not yet allowed himself to face seemed suddenly to rise up and overwhelm him. Tears started to his eyes and his lips trembled so that he dared not trust himself to speak.
"Hugh, thou art weary beyond bearing!" Eileen laid a hand gently on his sleeve. "And I doubt not thou art hungry also. Hast eaten at all since leaving Glaston?"
The boy shook his head, forcing a little smile. He was hungry, faint for lack of food. That must be why he seemed to be behaving like such a baby. Things had happened so fast and he had been so desperately eager to overtake the king and his court before they moved beyond his reach, and scattered, perhaps. He had not even thought of food until this moment and, now that the girl mentioned it, he realised how completely empty and hollow he felt.
And Eileen, womanlike, did not need to be told anything further.
"Come with me," she commanded, seizing Hugh's hand and moving down the court in the direction of the cook houses.
In no time at all she had got hold of a friendly servitor, who found a seat for Hugh in a corner of one of the great kitchens and supplied him with a bowl of rice soup and a generous slice of pigeon pie, thick, juicy, and succulent. The boy fell to with a good appetite and soon found both courage and conversation coming back to him.
The little lady hovered over him, replacing his empty soup bowl and his dish of pie with other delicacies, serving him with her own hands, and keeping up a running stream of talk that was friendly and comfortable, but needed little more than nods or brief comments in reply.
When at last the boy stood up, replenished to the full, he felt that he was a new man entirely. Eileen smiled up at him.
"There now," said she, "that is better! 1 wonder thou wert able to stand on thy two legs at all with nothing inside thee since yesterday noon!" She dug into the silken pouch hanging at her girdle and produced the yellow hair ribbon. "My favour is still thine. May it help thee again and to better purpose!"
"Oh, Eileen, thou hast been mortal good to me!" said Hugh, accepting it. "I will never forget thee!"
"I think thou wilt find the book," she continued with hopeful assurance. "Nay, I am certain of it! Thou canst not fail! Farewell and God go with thee!"
Hugh knelt and kissed her hand in true knightly fashion, and then watched her as she walked with easy grace to a door of the cook house that led into the manor hall. Just before she disappeared in the doorway she looked back and waved to him, smiling her wide, friendly smile. Somehow Hugh felt immensely cheered and turned with a far lighter step back into the courtyard to find his horse.
After a bit of searching in the manor stables he spied the beast, untethered him and mounted. Everybody about was too busy getting ready for the sudden, but already announced, departure of the king to bother or question him. He rode across the courtyard and out over the drawbridge, then turned in the direction of Glaston. As his horse fell into a steady trot and the muddy road stretched out evenly before him, his heart grew heavy again. He realised with renewed and devastating force that the treasure of Glaston, the priceless, precious Book of the Seynt Graal, had vanished completely. He had not even the vaguest idea as to what could have happened to it, or who could have taken it.