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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Tournament
By Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832)
 
From ‘Ivanhoe’

THE LISTS now presented a most splendid spectacle. The sloping galleries were crowded with all that was noble, great, wealthy, and beautiful in the northern and midland parts of England, and the contrast of the various dresses of these dignified spectators rendered the view as gay as it was rich; while the interior and lower space, filled with the substantial burgesses and yeomen of merry England, formed, in their more plain attire, a dark fringe or border around this circle of brilliant embroidery, relieving and at the same time setting off its splendor.  1
  The heralds finished their proclamation with their usual cry of “Largesse, largesse, gallant knights!” and gold and silver pieces were showered on them from the galleries,—it being a high point of chivalry to exhibit liberality toward those whom the age accounted at once the secretaries and the historians of honor. The bounty of the spectators was acknowledged by the customary shouts of “Love of Ladies—Death of Champions—Honor to the Generous—Glory to the Brave!” To which the more humble spectators added their acclamations, and a numerous band of trumpeters the flourish of their martial instruments. When these sounds had ceased, the heralds withdrew from the lists in gay and glittering procession; and none remained within them save the marshals of the field, who, armed cap-à-pie, sat on horseback, motionless as statues, at the opposite ends of the lists. Meantime the inclosed space at the northern extremity of the lists, large as it was, was now completely crowded with knights desirous to prove their skill against the challengers, and when viewed from the galleries, presented the appearance of a sea of waving plumage, intermixed with glistening helmets and tall lances; to the extremities of which were in many cases attached small pennons of about a span’s breadth, which, fluttering in the air as the breeze caught them, joined with the restless motion of the feathers to add liveliness to the scene.  2
  At length the barriers were opened, and five knights, chosen by lot, advanced slowly into the area; a single champion riding in front, and the other four following in pairs. All were splendidly armed, and my Saxon authority (in the Wardour Manuscript) records at great length their devices, their colors, and the embroidery of their horse trappings. It is unnecessary to be particular on these subjects. To borrow lines from a contemporary poet, who has written but too little:—
  The knights are dust,
And their good swords are rust;
Their souls are with the saints, we trust. 1
Their escutcheons have long moldered from the walls of their castles. Their castles themselves are but green mounds and shattered ruins; the place that once knew them knows them no more: nay, many a race since theirs has died out and been forgotten in the very land which they occupied with all the authority of feudal proprietors and feudal lords. What then would it avail the reader to know their names, or the evanescent symbols of their martial rank?
  3
  Now, however, no whit anticipating the oblivion which awaited their names and feats, the champions advanced through the lists, restraining their fiery steeds and compelling them to move slowly, while at the same time they exhibited their paces, together with the grace and dexterity of the riders. As the procession entered the lists, the sound of a wild barbaric music was heard from behind the tents of the challengers, where the performers were concealed. It was of Eastern origin, having been brought from the Holy Land; and the mixture of the cymbals and bells seemed to bid welcome at once, and defiance, to the knights, as they advanced. With the eyes of an immense concourse of spectators fixed upon them, the five knights advanced up the platform upon which the tents of the challengers stood; and there separating themselves, each touched slightly, and with the reverse of his lance, the shield of the antagonist to whom he wished to oppose himself. The lower orders of the spectators in general—nay, many of the higher class, and it is even said several of the ladies—were rather disappointed at the champions choosing the arms of courtesy. For the same sort of persons who, in the present day, applaud most highly the deepest tragedies, were then interested in a tournament exactly in proportion to the danger incurred by the champions engaged.  4
  Having intimated their more pacific purpose, the champions retreated to the extremity of the lists, where they remained drawn up in a line; while the challengers, sallying each from his pavilion, mounted their horses, and headed by Brian de Bois-Guilbert, descended from the platform, and opposed themselves individually to the knights who had touched their respective shields.  5
  At the flourish of clarions and trumpets, they started out against each other at full gallop; and such was the superior dexterity or good fortune of the challengers, that those opposed to Bois-Guilbert, Malvoisin, and Front-de-Bœuf rolled on the ground. The antagonist of Grantmesnil, instead of bearing his lance point fair against the crest or the shield of his enemy, swerved so much from the direct line as to break the weapon athwart the person of his opponent,—a circumstance which was accounted more disgraceful than that of being actually unhorsed; because the latter might happen from accident, whereas the former evinced awkwardness and want of management of the weapon and of the horse. The fifth knight alone maintained the honor of his party, and parted fairly with the knight of St. John, both splintering their lances without advantage on either side.  6
  The shouts of the multitude, together with the acclamations of the heralds and the clangor of the trumpets, announced the triumph of the victors and the defeat of the vanquished. The former retreated to their pavilions; and the latter, gathering themselves up as they could, withdrew from the lists in disgrace and dejection, to agree with their victors concerning the redemption of their arms and their horses, which, according to the laws of the tournament, they had forfeited. The fifth of their number alone tarried in the lists long enough to be greeted by the applause of the spectators, amongst whom he retreated,—to the aggravation, doubtless, of his companions’ mortification.  7
  A second and a third party of knights took the field; and although they had various success, yet upon the whole the advantage decidedly remained with the challengers, not one of whom lost his seat or swerved from his charge,—misfortunes which befell one or two of their antagonists in each encounter. The spirits, therefore, of those opposed to them seemed to be considerably damped by their continued success. Three knights only appeared on the fourth entry; who, avoiding the shields of Bois-Guilbert and Front-de-Bœuf, contented themselves with touching those of the three other knights, who had not altogether manifested the same strength and dexterity. This politic selection did not alter the fortune of the field: the challengers were still successful; one of their antagonists was overthrown, and both the others failed in the attaint,—that is, in striking the helmet and shield of their antagonist firmly and strongly, with the lance held in a direct line, so that the weapon might break unless the champion was overthrown.  8
  After this fourth encounter, there was a considerable pause; nor did it appear that any one was very desirous of renewing the contest. The spectators murmured among themselves; for among the challengers, Malvoisin and Front-de-Bœuf were unpopular from their characters, and the others, except Grantmesnil, were disliked as strangers and foreigners.  9
  But none shared the general feeling of dissatisfaction so keenly as Cedric the Saxon, who saw, in each advantage gained by the Norman challengers, a repeated triumph over the honor of England. His own education had taught him no skill in the games of chivalry; although with the arms of his Saxon ancestors he had manifested himself, on many occasions, a brave and determined soldier. He looked anxiously to Athelstane, who had learned the accomplishments of the age, as if desiring that he should make some personal effort to recover the victory which was passing into the hands of the Templar and his associates. But though both stout of heart and strong of person, Athelstane had a disposition too inert and unambitious to make the exertions which Cedric seemed to expect from him.  10
  “The day is against England, my lord,” said Cedric in a marked tone: “are you not tempted to take the lance?”  11
  “I shall tilt to-morrow,” answered Athelstane, “in the mêlée; it is not worth while for me to arm myself to-day.”  12
  Two things displeased Cedric in this speech. It contained the Norman word mêlée (to express the general conflict), and it evinced some indifference to the honor of the country; but it was spoken by Athelstane, whom he held in such profound respect that he would not trust himself to canvass his motives or his foibles. Moreover, he had no time to make any remark; for Wamba thrust in his word, observing “it was better, though scarce easier, to be the best man among a hundred than the best man of two.”  13
  Athelstane took the observation as a serious compliment: but Cedric, who better understood the Jester’s meaning, darted at him a severe and menacing look; and lucky it was for Wamba, perhaps, that the time and place prevented his receiving, notwithstanding his place and service, more sensible marks of his master’s resentment.  14
  The pause in the tournament was still uninterrupted, excepting by the voices of the heralds exclaiming, “Love of ladies, splintering of lances! Stand forth, gallant knights: fair eyes look upon your deeds!”  15
  The music also of the challengers breathed from time to time wild bursts expressive of triumph or defiance, while the clowns grudged a holiday which seemed to pass away in inactivity; and old knights and nobles lamented in whispers the decay of martial spirit, spoke of the triumphs of their younger days, but agreed that the land did not now supply dames of such transcendent beauty as had animated the jousts of former times. Prince John began to talk to his attendants about making ready the banquet, and the necessity of adjudging the prize to Brian de Bois-Guilbert, who had with a single spear overthrown two knights and foiled a third.  16
  At length, as the Saracenic music of the challengers concluded one of those long and high flourishes with which they had broken the silence of the lists, it was answered by a solitary trumpet, which breathed a note of defiance from the northern extremity. All eyes were turned to see the new champion which these sounds announced, and no sooner were the barriers opened than he paced into the lists. As far as could be judged of a man sheathed in armor, the new adventurer did not greatly exceed the middle size, and seemed to be rather slender than strongly made. His suit of armor was formed of steel, richly inlaid with gold; and the device on his shield was a young oak-tree pulled up by the roots, with the Spanish word Desdichado, signifying Disinherited. He was mounted on a gallant black horse, and as he passed through the lists he gracefully saluted the Prince and the ladies by lowering his lance. The dexterity with which he managed his steed, and something of youthful grace which he displayed in his manner, won him the favor of the multitude, which some of the lower classes expressed by calling out, “Touch Ralph de Vipont’s shield—touch the Hospitaler’s shield: he has the least sure seat, he is your cheapest bargain.”  17
  The champion, moving onward amid these well-meant hints, ascended the platform by the sloping alley which led to it from the lists; and to the astonishment of all present, riding straight up to the central pavilion, struck with the sharp end of his spear the shield of Brian de Bois-Guilbert until it rung again. All stood astonished at his presumption; but none more than the redoubted knight whom he had thus defied to mortal combat, and who, little expecting so rude a challenge, was standing carelessly at the door of the pavilion.  18
  “Have you confessed yourself, brother,” said the Templar, “and have you heard mass this morning, that you peril your life so frankly?”  19
  “I am fitter to meet death than thou art,” answered the Disinherited Knight; for by this name the stranger had recorded himself in the books of the tourney.  20
  “Then take your place in the lists,” said Bois-Guilbert, “and look your last upon the sun; for this night thou shalt sleep in Paradise.”  21
  “Gramercy for thy courtesy,” replied the Disinherited Knight; “and to requite it I advise thee to take a fresh horse and a new lance, for by my honor you will need both.”  22
  Having expressed himself thus confidently, he reined his horse backward down the slope which he had ascended, and compelled him in the same manner to move backward through the lists, till he reached the northern extremity, where he remained stationary in expectation of his antagonist. This feat of horsemanship again attracted the applause of the multitude.  23
  However incensed at his adversary for the precautions which he recommended, Brian de Bois-Guilbert did not neglect his advice; for his honor was too nearly concerned to permit his neglecting any means which might insure victory over his presumptuous opponent. He changed his horse for a proved and fresh one of great strength and spirit. He chose a new and a tough spear, lest the wood of the former might have been strained in the previous encounters he had sustained. Lastly he laid aside his shield, which had received some little damage, and received another from his squires. His first had only borne the general device of his rider, representing two knights riding upon one horse,—an emblem expressive of the original humility and poverty of the Templars; qualities which they had since exchanged for the arrogance and wealth that finally occasioned their suppression. Bois-Guilbert’s new shield bore a raven in full flight, holding in its claws a skull, and bearing the motto, Gare le Corbeau.  24
  When the two champions stood opposed to each other at the two extremities of the lists, the public expectation was strained to the highest pitch. Few augured the possibility that the encounter could terminate well for the Disinherited Knight, yet his courage and gallantry secured the general good wishes of the spectators.  25
  The trumpets had no sooner given the signal than the champions vanished from their posts with the speed of lightning, and closed in the centre of the lists with the shock of a thunderbolt. The lances burst into shivers up to the very grasp, and it seemed at the moment that both knights had fallen, for the shock had made each horse recoil backward upon his haunches. The address of the riders recovered their steeds by use of the bridle and spur; and having glared on each other for an instant with eyes which seemed to flash fire through the bars of their visors, each made a demivolte, and retiring to the extremity of the lists, received a fresh lance from the attendants.  26
  A loud shout from the spectators, waving of scarfs and handkerchiefs, and general acclamations, attested the interest taken by the spectators in this encounter; the most equal, as well as the best performed, which had graced the day. But no sooner had the knights resumed their station, than the clamor of applause was hushed into a silence so deep and so dead that it seemed the multitude were afraid even to breathe.  27
  A few minutes’ pause having been allowed, that the combatants and their horses might recover breath, Prince John with his truncheon signed to the trumpets to sound the onset. The champions a second time sprung from their stations, and closed in the centre of the lists, with the same speed, the same dexterity, the same violence, but not the same equal fortune as before.  28
  In the second encounter the Templar aimed at the centre of his antagonist’s shield, and struck it so fair and forcibly that his spear went to shivers, and the Disinherited Knight reeled in his saddle. On the other hand, that champion had, in the beginning of his career, directed the point of his lance toward Bois-Guilbert’s shield; but changing his aim almost in the moment of encounter, he addressed it to the helmet,—a mark more difficult to hit, but which if attained rendered the shock more irresistible. Fair and true he hit the Norman on the visor, where his lance’s point kept hold of the bars. Yet even at this disadvantage, the Templar sustained his high reputation; and had not the girths of his saddle burst, he might not have been unhorsed. As it chanced, however, saddle, horse, and man rolled on the ground under a cloud of dust.  29
  To extricate himself from the stirrups and fallen steed was to the Templar scarce the work of a moment; and stung with madness, both at his disgrace and at the acclamations with which it was hailed by the spectators, he drew his sword and waved it in defiance of his conqueror. The Disinherited Knight sprung from his steed, and also unsheathed his sword. The marshals of the field, however, spurred their horses between them, and reminded them that the laws of the tournament did not, on the present occasion, permit this species of encounter.  30
  “We shall meet again, I trust,” said the Templar, casting a resentful glance at his antagonist; “and where there are none to separate us.”  31
  “If we do not,” said the Disinherited Knight, “the fault shall not be mine. On foot or horseback, with spear, with axe, or with sword, I am alike ready to encounter thee.”  32
  More and angrier words would have been exchanged; but the marshals, crossing their lances betwixt them, compelled them to separate. The Disinherited Knight returned to his first station, and Bois-Guilbert to his tent, where he remained for the rest of the day in an agony of despair.  33
  Without alighting from his horse, the conqueror called for a bowl of wine; and opening the beaver, or lower part of his helmet, announced that he quaffed it “To all true English hearts, and to the confusion of foreign tyrants.” He then commanded his trumpet to sound a defiance to the challengers; and desired a herald to announce to them that he should make no election, but was willing to encounter them in the order in which they pleased to advance against him.  34
  The gigantic Front-de-Bœuf, armed in sable armor, was the first who took the field. He bore on a white shield a black bull’s head, half defaced by the numerous encounters which he had undergone, and bearing the arrogant motto, Cave, adsum. Over this champion the Disinherited Knight obtained a slight but decisive advantage. Both knights broke their lances fairly; but Front-de-Bœuf, who lost a stirrup in the encounter, was adjudged to have the disadvantage.  35
  In the stranger’s third encounter, with Sir Philip Malvoisin, he was equally successful; striking that baron so forcibly on the casque that the laces of the helmet broke, and Malvoisin, only saved from falling by being unhelmeted, was declared vanquished like his companions.  36
  In his fourth combat, with De Grantmesnil, the Disinherited Knight showed as much courtesy as he had hitherto evinced courage and dexterity. De Grantmesnil’s horse, which was young and violent, reared and plunged in the course of the career so as to disturb the rider’s aim; and the stranger, declining to take the advantage which this accident afforded him, raised his lance, and passing his antagonist without touching him, wheeled his horse and rode back again to his own end of the lists, offering his antagonist by a herald the chance of a second encounter. This De Grantmesnil declined, avowing himself vanquished as much by the courtesy as by the address of his opponent.  37
  Ralph de Vipont summed up the list of the stranger’s triumphs, being hurled to the ground with such force that the blood gushed from his nose and mouth; and he was borne senseless from the lists.  38
  The acclamations of thousands applauded the unanimous award of the prince and marshals, announcing that day’s honors to the Disinherited Knight.  39
 
Note 1. These lines are part of an unpublished poem by Coleridge. [back]
 
 
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