The trumpets had no sooner given the signal than the combatants 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, both the knights being almost unhorsed.
Retiring to the extremity of the lists, each received a fresh lance from the attendants; and again, amidst a breathless silence, they sprung from their stations, and closed in the centre of the open space, with the same speed, the same dexterity, the same violence, but not the same equal fortune, as before.
The Norman's spear, striking the centre of his antagonist's shield, went to shivers, and the Disinherited Knight reeled in his saddle. On the other hand, the unknown champion had aimed his spear's point at the helmet of his opponent. Fair and true he hit the Norman on the visor, and saddle, horse, and man rolled on the ground under a cloud of dust.
"We shall meet again, I trust," said the defeated champion, as he extricated himself from the stirrups and fallen steed.
"If we do not," said the Disinherited Knight, "the fault will not be mine. On foot or horseback, with spear, with axe, or with sword, I am alike ready to encounter thee."
Without alighting from his horse, the conqueror called for a bowl of wine, and, opening the beaver of his helmet, announced that he quaffed it "To all true English hearts, and to the confusion of foreign tyrants."
He then desired a herald to proclaim that he was willing to encounter the rest of the challengers in the order in which they pleased to advance against him.
The gigantic Front-de-Boeuf, armed in sable armour, was the first who took the field. But he was soon defeated.
Sir Philip Malvoisin next advanced; and against him the stranger was equally successful. De Grantmesnil soon after avowed himself vanquished; and Ralph de Vipont summed up the list of the stranger's triumphs, being hurled to the ground with such force that he was borne senseless from the lists.
The acclamations of thousands applauded the award of the prince, announcing that day's honours to the Disinherited Knight.
The marshal of the field now approached the victor, praying him to suffer his helmet to be unlaced, ere they conducted him to receive the prize of the day's tourney from the hands of Prince John. But the Disinherited Knight, with all courtesy, declined their request. The prince himself made many inquiries of those in his company about the unknown stranger; but none could guess who he might be. Someone suggested that it might, perhaps, be King Richard himself; and John turned deadly pale as he heard the words, for he had been plotting to seize the throne during his brother's absence.
The victorious knight received his prize, speaking not a word in reply to the complimentary expressions of the prince, which he only acknowledged with a low bow. Leaping into the saddle of the richly-accoutred steed which had been presented to him, he rode up to where the Lady Rowena was seated, and, heedless of the many Norman beauties who graced the contest with their presence, gracefully sinking the point of his lance he deposited the coronet which it supported at the feet of the fair Saxon. The trumpets instantly sounded, while the heralds proclaimed the Lady Rowena the Queen of Beauty and of Love for the ensuing day.
Soon after the vast multitude had retired from the deserted field and lights began to glimmer through the twilight, announcing the toil of the armourers, which was to continue through the whole night in order to repair or alter the suits of armour to be used again on the morrow.
The next day dawned in unclouded splendour, and at ten o'clock the whole plain was crowded with horsemen, horsewomen, and foot- passengers, hastening to the tournament; and shortly after a grand flourish of trumpets announced the arrival of Prince John and his gorgeous retinue.
About the same time arrived Cedric the Saxon with the Lady Rowena.
He had been accompanied on the previous day by another noble Saxon, Athelstane, Lord of Coningsburgh, a suitor for the hand of Rowena, and one who considered his union with that lady as a matter already fixed beyond doubt, by the assent of Cedric and her other friends. Rowena herself, however, had never given her consent to such an alliance; and entertained but a poor opinion of her would-be lover, whose pretensions for her hand she had received with marked disdain. Her Saxon lover was not one of her party at the tourney on the second day. He had observed with displeasure that Rowena was selected by the victor on the preceding day as the object of that honour which it became his privilege to confer, and Athelstane, confident of his own strength and skill, had himself donned his armour with a determination to make his rival feel the weight of his battle-axe.
The combat on the second day of the tournament was on a much more extended scale than that of the previous one; and when the signal for battle was given some fifty knights, at the same moment, charged wildly at each other in the lists. The champions encountered each other with the utmost fury, and with alternate success; the tide of battle seeming to flow now toward the southern, now toward the northern extremity of the lists as the one or the other party prevailed. The clang of the blows, and the shouts of the combatants, mixed fearfully with the sound of the trumpets, and drowned the groans of those who fell, and lay rolling beneath the feet of the horses. The splendid armour of the knights was now defaced with dust and blood, and gave way at every stroke of the sword and battle-axe; while the gay plumage, shorn from the crests, drifted upon the breeze like snowflakes.
In the thick of the press and turmoil of the fight Bois-Guilbert and the Disinherited Knight repeatedly endeavoured to single out each other, spurred by mutual animosity. Such, however, was the crowd and confusion that, during the earlier part of the conflict, their efforts to meet were unavailing. But when the field became thin, by the numbers on either side who had yielded themselves vanquished or had been rendered incapable of continuing the strife, the Templar and the unknown knight at length encountered, hand to hand, with all the fury that mortal animosity, joined to rivalry of honour, could inspire. Such was the skill of each in parrying and striking that the spectators broke forth into a unanimous and involuntary shout of delight and admiration.
But at this moment the party of the Disinherited Knight had the worst. Front-de-Boeuf and Athelstane, having defeated those immediately opposed to them, were now free to come to the aid of their friend the Templar; and, turning their horses at the same moment, the two spurred against the Disinherited Knight.
This champion, exposed as he was to the furious assaults of three opponents each of whom was almost a match for him single-handed, must now have soon been overpowered when an unexpected incident changed the fortunes of the day.
Amongst the ranks of the Disinherited Knight was a champion in black armour, mounted on a black horse, whose shield bore no device of any kind. He had engaged with some few combatants, and had easily defeated them during the earlier stages of the contest, but seemed to take no further interest in the event of the fight, acting the part rather of a spectator than of a party in the tournament.
The moment, however, he saw his leader so hard bestead he seemed to throw aside his apathy, and setting spurs to his horse he came to his assistance like a thunderbolt, exclaiming, in a voice like a trumpet call, "Disinherited to the rescue!"
Under the fury of his first stroke, Front-de-Boeuf, horse and all, rolled stunned to the ground. He then turned his steed upon Athelstane, and, wrenching from the hand of the bulky Saxon the battle-axe which he wielded, bestowed him such a blow upon the crest, that the Lord of Coningsburgh also lay senseless on the field. Having achieved this double feat, he returned calmly to the extremity of the lists, leaving his leader to cope as best he could with Brian de Bois-Guilbert. This was no longer matter of so much difficulty as formerly. The Templar's horse had bled much, and gave way under the shock of the Disinherited Knight's charge.
As Bois-Guilbert rolled on the field, his antagonist sprung from horseback, and was in the act of commanding his adversary to yield or die, when Prince John gave the signal that the conflict was at an end.
It being now the duty of the prince to name the knight who had done best, he determined, although contrary to the advice of those about him, that the honour of the day remained with the Black Knight.
To the surprise of all present, however, the knight thus preferred was nowhere to be found. He had left the lists immediately when the conflict ceased, and had been observed by some spectators to move slowly down one of the forest glades. After he had been summoned twice by sound of trumpet, it became necessary to name another; and the Disinherited Knight was for the second time named champion of the day.
As the victor was led towards the throne of the Lady Rowena, it was observed that he tottered. Rowena was about to place the chaplet which she held in her hand upon the helmet of the champion who kneeled before her, when the marshals exclaimed, "It must not be thus, his head must be bare;" and at once removed his helmet.
The features which were exposed were those of a young man of twenty-five; but his countenance was as pale as death, and marked in one or two places with streaks of blood.
Rowena had no sooner beheld him than she uttered a faint shriek; but at once summoning up all her energies, she placed upon the drooping head of the victor the splendid chaplet which was the destined reward of the day.
The knight bent low, and kissed the hand of the lovely Sovereign by whom his valour had been rewarded; and then, sinking yet farther forward, lay prostrate at her feet.
There was a general consternation. Cedric, who had been struck mute by the sudden appearance of his banished son, now rushed forward, as if to separate him from Rowena. But this had been already accomplished by the marshals of the field, who, guessing the cause of Ivanhoe's swoon, had hastened to undo his armour, and found that the head of a lance had penetrated his breast-plate and inflicted a wound in his side.
The name of Ivanhoe was no sooner pronounced than it flew from mouth to mouth throughout the vast assembly. It was not long ere it reached the circle of the prince, whose brow darkened as he heard the news. He knew that Ivanhoe had been a close attendant on his brother King Richard in the Holy Land; and as such he looked upon him as his own enemy. He was about to give the signal for retiring from the lists, when a small billet was put into his hand. He broke the seal with apparent agitation, and read the words, "Take heed to yourself, for the devil is unchained."
He turned as pale as death; and taking two of his courtiers aside, he put the billet into their hands. "It means," he said in a faltering voice, "that my brother Richard has obtained his freedom."
"It is time, then," said Fitzurse, his confidential attendant, "to draw our party to a head, and prepare our forces to meet him."
In sullen ill-humour the prince left the place of tournament to hold high festival at the Castle of Ashby; but it was more than his courtiers could do to rouse him from the overpowering gloom which seemed to agitate his mind throughout the evening. On the next day it was settled that the prince and all those who were ready to support him should attend a meeting at York for the purpose of making general arrangements for placing the crown upon the head of the usurper, and ousting King Richard from his sovereign rights.
Meanwhile, Cedric the Saxon, when he saw his son drop down senseless in the lists at Ashby, had given orders, half in pity, half in anger, to his attendants to convey Ivanhoe to a place where his wound might be dressed as soon as the crowd had dispersed. The attendants were, however, anticipated in this good office. The crowd dispersed, indeed, but the knight was nowhere to be seen. The only information which could be collected from the bystanders was, that he had been raised with care by certain well- attired grooms, and placed in a litter belonging to a lady among the spectators, in which he had immediately been transported out of the press.
Cedric and his friends, having seen the last of the tournament and the festivities which followed it, now set out on their return to Rotherwood. Their way lay through a thickly-wooded country, which was at the time held to be dangerous to travellers from the number of outlaws whom oppression and poverty had driven to despair, and who occupied the forests in large bands. From these rovers, however, Cedric and Athelstane accounted themselves secure, as they had in attendance ten servants. They knew, besides, that the outlaws were chiefly peasants and yeomen of Saxon descent, and were generally supposed to respect the persons and property of their countrymen.
As the travellers journeyed on their way, they were alarmed by repeated cries for assistance; and when they rode up to the place from whence they came, they were surprised to find a horse-litter placed upon the ground, beside which sat a young woman, richly dressed in the Jewish fashion, while an old man, whose yellow cap proclaimed him to belong to the same nation, walked up and down, wringing his hands, as if affected by some strange disaster.
It was some time before Isaac of York, for it was he, could explain the nature of his trouble. When at length he began to come to himself out of his agony of terror, he said that he had hired a body-guard of six men at Ashby, together with mules for carrying the litter of a sick friend; but that they all had fled away from him, having heard that there was a strong band of outlaws lying in wait in the woods before them. When he implored permission to continue his journey under the protection of Cedric and his party, Athelstane was strongly opposed to allowing the "dog of a Jew," as he called him, to travel in their company. The Lady Rowena, however, had at the same time been approached by the old man's daughter, who, kissing the hem of her garment, implored her to have compassion on them. "It is not for myself that I pray this favour," said Rebecca; "nor is it even for that poor old man; but it is in the name of one dear to many, and dear even to you, that I beseech you to let this sick person be transported with care and tenderness under your protection."
So noble and solemn was the air with which Rebecca made this appeal, that on the intercession of Rowena Cedric readily consented to allow the Jew and his daughter, together with their sick friend, to attach themselves to his party.
Twilight was already coming on as the company proceeded on their journey. The path upon which the party travelled was now so narrow as not to admit above two riders abreast. They accordingly quickened their pace, in order to get as rapidly as possible out of the dangerous neighborhood which they were traversing. They had just crossed a' brook, whose banks were broken, swampy, and overgrown with dwarf willows, when they were assailed in front, flank and rear by a large body of men in the dress of outlaws, and with an impetuosity to which, in their confused and ill-prepared condition, it was impossible to offer effectual resistance. Both the Saxon chiefs were made prisoners at the same moment, while the attendants, embarrassed with baggage, surprised and terrified at the fate of their masters, fell an easy prey to the assailants; and the Lady Rowena, the Jew and his daughter experienced the same misfortune. Wamba, the jester, alone escaped, showing upon the occasion much more courage than those who pretended to greater sense. As he wandered through the forest, a dog, which he recognised, jumped up and fawned upon him, and Gurth, the swineherd, shortly after made his appearance. He was horrified to hear from his fellow-servant of the misfortune which had befallen their master and his party; and the two were about to hasten away for the purpose of procuring aid, when a third person suddenly appeared, and commanded them both to halt. Notwithstanding the twilight, and although his dress and arms showed him to be an outlaw, Wamba recognised him to be Locksley, the yeoman, a man who had carried off the prize for archery at the tournament a day or two before.
"What is the meaning of all this," he said; "or who is it that rifle and ransom and make prisoners in these forests?"
The yeoman then left, bidding Gurth and Wamba, on the peril of their lives, not to stir until he returned.
He was not long away, and on returning said that he had found out who the attacking party were and whither they were bound.
"Cedric the Saxon," he said, "the friend of the rights of Englishmen, shall not want English hands to help him in this extremity. Come, then, with me, until I gather more aid."
So saying, he walked through the wood at a great pace, followed by the jester and the swineherd.
It was after three hours' good walking that the servants of Cedric, with their mysterious guide, arrived at a small opening in the forest. Beneath an enormous oak-tree several yeomen lay stretched on the ground, while another, as sentinel, walked to and fro in the moonlight shade. Locksley, on being recognised, was welcomed with every token of respect and attachment; and he at once gave orders to collect what force they could.
"A set of gallants," he said, "who have been masquerading in such guise as our own, are carrying a band of prisoners to Torquilstone, the castle of Front-de-Boeuf. Our honour is concerned to punish them, and we will find means to do so."
In the meantime Cedric and the other prisoners had been hurried along by Bois-Guilbert and De Bracy, and safely lodged in the strong and ancient castle of Reginald Front-de-Boeuf. Once within the castle, the prisoners were separated. Cedric and Athelstane were confined in one apartment, the Lady Rowena in another, while the poor Jew was hastily thrust into a dungeon-vault, the floor of which was deep beneath the level of the ground, and his daughter Rebecca was locked into a cell in a distant and sequestered turret.
The dungeon occupied by Isaac of York was dark and damp. Chains and shackles, which had been the portion of former captives, hung rusted on the gloomy walls, and in the rings of one of those sets of fetters there remained the mouldering bones of some unhappy prisoner who had been left to perish there in other days. At one end of this ghastly apartment was a large fire-grate, over the top of which were stretched some transverse bars of iron, half devoured with rust.
For nearly three hours the wretched Jew remained sitting in a corner of his dungeon, when steps were heard on the stair by which it was approached. The bolts were withdrawn, the hinges creaked as the wicket opened, and Reginald Front-de-Boeuf, followed by two Saracen slaves of the Templar, entered the prison.
"Most cursed dog of an accursed race!" he said to Isaac, "see'st thou these scales? In these shalt thou weigh me out a thousand silver pounds."