A pilgrim, at length, who sat by the chimney, took compassion upon him, and resigned his seat, saying briefly, "Old man, my garments are dried, my hunger is appeased, thou art both wet and fasting."
And, so saying, he placed some food before the Jew on the small table at which he had himself supped, and, without waiting for the old man's thanks, went to the other side of the hall.
As the feast proceeded, a discussion arose amongst the banqueters as to which knights had borne them best in Palestine among the champions of the Cross. De Bois-Guilbert seemed to speak slightingly of the English warriors, while giving the place of honour to the Knights of the Temple.
"The English chivalry were second to NONE" said the pilgrim, who had listened to this conversation with marked impatience. "SECOND to NONE, I say, who ever drew sword in defence of the Holy Land. I say, besides, for I saw it, that King Richard himself and five of his knights held a tournament after the taking of St. John-de- Acre, as challengers, and proved themselves superior to all comers."
The swarthy countenance of the Templar grew darker with a bitter scowl of rage as he listened to these words; but his angry confusion became only more marked as the pilgrim went on to give the names of the English knights who had so distinguished themselves. He paused as he came to the name of the sixth.
"His name dwells not in my memory," he said; "but he was a young knight of lesser renown and lower rank."
"Sir palmer," said Brian de Bois-Guilbert scornfully, "this assumed forgetfulness, after so much has been remembered, comes too late to serve your purpose. I will myself tell the name of the knight before whose lance I fell: it was the Knight of Ivanhoe; nor was there one of the six that, for his years, had more renown in arms. Yet this will I say, and loudly, that, were he in England, I would gladly meet him in this week's tournament, mounted and armed as I now am."
"If Ivanhoe ever returns from Palestine I will be his surety that he meets you," replied the palmer.
Not long after, the grace-cup was served round, and the guests, after making deep obeisance to their landlord and the Lady Rowena, arose, and retired with their attendants for the night.
As the palmer was being guided to his chamber he was met by the waiting-maid of Rowena, who informed him that her mistress desired to speak with him.
A short passage and an ascent of some steps led him to the lady's apartment.
As the pilgrim entered she ordered her attendants, excepting only one, to retire.
"Pilgrim," said the lady, after a moment's pause, during which she seemed uncertain how to address him, "you this night mentioned a name--I mean the name of Ivanhoe--I would gladly hear news of him.
Where and in what condition did you leave him?"
"I know little of the Knight of Ivanhoe," answered the palmer with a troubled voice. "He hath, I believe, surmounted the persecution of his enemies in Palestine, and is on the eve of returning to England."
The Lady Rowena sighed deeply.
"Would to God," she then said, "he were here safely arrived, and able to bear arms in the approaching tourney. Should Athelstane of Coningsburgh obtain the prize, Ivanhoe is like to hear evil tidings when he reaches England."
Finding that there was no further information to be obtained about the knight, in whose fate she seemed to take so deep an interest, she bade her maidens to offer the sleeping-cup to the holy man, and having presented him with a piece of gold, wished him good- night.
As the palmer was being conducted to his room he inquired of his attendant where Isaac the Jew was sleeping, and learned that he occupied the room next to his own.
As soon as it was dawn the pilgrim entered the small apartment where the Jew was still asleep. Stirring him with his pilgrim's staff, he told him that he should rise without delay, and leave the mansion. "When the Templar crossed the hall yesternight," he continued, "I heard him speak to his Mussulman slaves in the Saracen language, which I well understand, and he charged them to watch the journey of the Jew, to seize upon him when at a convenient distance from the mansion, and to conduct him to the castle of Philip de Malvoisin, or to that of Reginald Front-de- Boeuf."
It is impossible to describe the extremity of terror which seized upon the Jew at this information. He knew only too well of the relentless persecution to which his kindred were subjected at this period, and how, upon the slightest and most unreasonable pretences, their persons and their property were exposed to every turn of popular fury.
He rose, accordingly, in haste.
It was not, however, such an easy matter to make their exit from the mansion. Gurth, the swineherd, a servant of much importance at that time, when appealed to open the gate, refused to let the visitors out at such an unseasonable hour.
"Nevertheless," said the pilgrim, "you will not, I think, refuse _me_ that favour."
So saying, he whispered something in his ear in Saxon. Gurth started as if electrified, and hastened at once to procure their mules for the travellers, and to open the postern gate to let them out.
As the pilgrim mounted, he reached his hand to Gurth, who kissed it with the utmost possible veneration. The two travellers were soon lost under the boughs of the forest path.
They continued their journey at great speed; and the Jew noticed with amazement that the palmer appeared to be familiar with every path and outlet of the wood. When they had travelled some distance from Rotherwood, and were approaching the town of Sheffield, the Jew expressed a wish to recompense the palmer for the interest he had taken in his affairs.
"I desire no recompense," answered his fellow traveller.
"Yet I can tell thee something thou lackest," said Isaac, "and, it may be, supply it too. Thy wish even now is for a horse and armour."
The palmer started.
"What fiend prompted that guess?" said he hastily.
"Under that palmer's gown," replied the Jew, "is hidden a knight's chain and spurs of gold. I saw them as you stooped over my bed this morning."
Without waiting to hear his companion's reply, he wrote some words in Hebrew on a piece of paper, and handed it to the pilgrim, saying:
"In the town of Leicester all men know the rich Jew, Kirjath Jairam of Lombardy; give him this scroll, and he will give thee everything that can furnish thee forth for the tournament; when it is over thou wilt return them safely. But hark thee, good youth, thrust thyself not too forward in this vain hurly-burly. I speak not for endangering the steed and coat of armour, but for the sake of thine own life and limbs."
"Gramercy for thy caution," said the palmer, smiling; "I will use thy courtesy frankly--and it will go hard with me but I will requite it."
They then parted, and took different roads for the town of Sheffield.
When the morning of the tournament arrived the field of contest at Ashby-de-la-Zouche presented a brilliant and romantic scene. On the verge of a wood was an extensive meadow, of the finest and most beautiful green turf, surrounded on one side by the forest, and fringed on the other by straggling oak-trees. The ground, as if fashioned on purpose for the martial display which was intended, sloped gradually down on all sides to a level bottom, which was enclosed for the lists with strong palisades. At each end of the enclosure two heralds were stationed, and a strong body of men-at-arms, for maintaining order and ascertaining the quality of the knights who proposed to engage in the contest.
On a platform beyond the southern entrance were pitched five magnificent pavilions, adorned with pennons of russet and black-- the chosen colours of the five knights challengers. That in the centre, as the place of honour, had been assigned to Brian de Bois-Guilbert, whose renown in all games of chivalry had occasioned him to be adopted as the chief and leader of the challengers.
Outside the lists were galleries, spread with tapestry and carpets, for the convenience of the ladies and nobles who were expected to attend the tournament. Another gallery raised higher than the rest, and opposite to the spot where the shock of combat was to take place, was decorated with much magnificence, and graced by a sort of throne and canopy, on which the royal arms were emblazoned. Squires, pages, and yeomen, in rich liveries, waited around the place of honour, which was designed for Prince John, the brother of the absent king, and his attendants. Opposite to this royal gallery was another, even more gaily decorated, reserved as the seat of honour for the Queen of Beauty and of Love. But who was to fill the place on the present occasion no one was prepared to guess.
Gradually the galleries became filled with knights, nobles and ladies, while the lower space was crowded with yeomen and burghers.
Amongst the latter was Isaac the Jew, richly and magnificently dressed, and accompanied by his daughter, the beautiful Rebecca, whose exquisite form, shown to advantage by a becoming Eastern dress, did not escape the quick eye of the prince himself, as he rode by at the head of his numerous and gaily-dressed train.
As the prince assumed his throne, he gave signal to the heralds to proclaim the laws of the tournament, which were briefly as follows:
First: The five challengers were to undertake all comers.
Secondly: Any knight might select any antagonist for combat by touching his shield. If he did so with the reverse of his lance, the trial of skill was made with what were called the arms of courtesy, that is, with lances at whose extremity a piece of round flat board was fixed, so that no danger was encountered, save from the shock of the horses and riders. But if the shield was touched with the sharp end of the lance, the knights were to fight as in actual battle.
Thirdly: The knight whom the prince should declare to be the victor was to receive as prize a war-horse of exquisite beauty and matchless strength, and in addition to this reward, he should have the peculiar honour of naming the Queen of Love and Beauty.
When the proclamation was made the heralds retired, and through the open barriers five knights advanced slowly into the arena.
Approaching the challengers, each touched slightly, and with the reverse of his lance, the shield of the antagonist to whom he wished to oppose himself, and then retreated to the extremity of the lists, where all remained drawn up in a line.
At the flourish of clarions and trumpets they started out against each other at full gallop; and such was the superior skill or good fortune of the challengers, that those opposed to Bois-Guilbert, Malvoisin, and Front-de-Boeuf rolled on the ground. The antagonist of Grantmesnil broke his spear; while the fifth knight alone maintained the honour of his party.
A second and 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. A fourth combat followed; and here, too, the challengers came off victorious.
Prince John now began to talk of awarding the prize to Brian de Bois-Guilbert, who had proved himself to be the best of the Norman knights; but his attention, and that of the other spectators, was arrested by the sound of a solitary trumpet, which breathed a note of defiance from the northern end of the enclosure.
All eyes were turned to see the new champion, and no sooner were the barriers opened than he paced into the lists. His suit of armour 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 word "Disinherited" inscribed upon it. Riding straight up to Brian de Bois-Guilbert, he struck with the sharp end of his spear the shield of the victorious Norman until it rang again. All stood astonished at his presumption, but none more than the redoubted knight whom he had thus defied to mortal combat.
When the two champions stood opposed to each other at the two extremities of the lists the public expectation was strained to highest pitch.