When at length the attack upon the castle was commenced all was at once bustle and clamour within its gloomy walls. The heavy step of men-at-arms traversed the battlements, or resounded on the narrow and winding passages and the stairs which led to the various bartizans and points of defence. The voices of the knights were heard animating their followers, or directing means of defence; while their commands were often drowned in the clashing of armour or the clamourous shouts of those whom they addressed. The shrill bugle without was answered by a flourish of Norman trumpets from the battlements, while the cries of both parties augmented the fearful din. Showers of well-directed arrows came pouring against each embrasure and opening in the parapets, as well as every window where a defender might be suspected to be stationed; and these were answered by a furious discharge of whizzing shafts and missiles from the walls.
And so for some time the fight went on; many combatants falling on either side. But soon the conflict became even more desperate when the Black Knight, at the head of a body of his followers, led an attack upon the outer barrier of the barbican. Down came the piles and palisades before their irresistible onslaught; but their headlong rush through the broken barriers was met by Front-de- Boeuf himself and a number of the defenders.
The two leaders came face to face, and fought hand to hand on the breach amid the roar of their followers who watched the progress of the strife. Hot and fierce was the combat that ensued between them; but ere many minutes had passed the giant form of Front-de- Boeuf tottered like an oak under the steel of the woodman, and dropped to the ground.
His followers rushed forward to where he lay, and their united force compelling the Black Knight to pause, they dragged their wounded leader within the walls.
An interval of quiet now succeeded, the besiegers remaining in possession of the outer defences of the castle, and the besieged retiring for the time within the walls of the fortress.
During the confusion which reigned amongst the followers of Front- de-Boeuf when the attack had commenced, Rebecca had been allowed to take the place of the old crone, Ulrica, who was in close attendance on the wounded man who had been brought into the castle in company with Isaac of York and the other captives. The sufferer was Ivanhoe himself, who had so mysteriously disappeared on the conclusion of the tournament, when his father, Cedric, had sent his servants to attend him to a place of safety. The gallant young warrior, who, as he fell fainting to the ground, seemed to be abandoned by all the world, had been transported from the lists at the entreaty of Rebecca, to the house at Ashby then occupied by Isaac of York, where his wounds were dressed and tended by the Jewish maiden herself. So great was her skill and knowledge of medicine, that she undertook to restore the injured knight to health in eight days' time; but she informed him of the necessity they were under of removing to York, and of her father's resolution to transport him thither, and tend him in his own house until his wound should be healed. It was on their journey to that town that they were overtaken on the road by Cedric and his party, in whose company they were afterwards carried captive to the Castle of Torquilstone.
But to return to the assault. When Front-de-Boeuf, deeply wounded, was rescued by his followers from the fury of the Black Knight, he was conveyed to his chamber. As he lay upon his bed, racked with pain and mental agony, and filled with the fear of rapidly approaching death, he heard a voice address him.
"Think on thy sins," it said, "Reginald Front-de-Boeuf; on rebellion, on rapine, on murder."
"Who is there? What art thou?" he exclaimed in terror. "Depart, and haunt my couch no more; let me die in peace."
"In peace thou shalt NOT die," repeated the voice; "even in death shalt thou think on the groans which this castle has echoed, on the blood that is engrained in its floors."
"Go, leave me, fiend!" replied the wounded Norman. "Leave me and seek the Saxon witch, Ulrica, who was my temptress; let her, as well as I, taste the tortures which anticipate hell."
"She already tastes them," said Ulrica, stepping before the couch of Front-de-Boeuf; "she hath long drunken of this cup, and its bitterness is now sweetened to see that thou dost partake it."
"Detestable fury!" exclaimed the Norman. "Ho! Giles, Clement, Eustace, seize this witch, and hurl her from the battlements; she has betrayed us to the Saxon."
"Call on them again, valiant baron," said the hag, with a smile of grisly mockery; "but know, mighty chief, thou shalt have neither answer nor aid. Listen to these horrid sounds," for the din of the recommenced assault and defence now rung fearfully loud from the battlements of the castle; "in that war-cry is the downfall of thy house. And know, too, even now, the doom which all thy power and strength is unable to avoid, though it is prepared for thee by this feeble hand. Markest thou the smouldering and suffocating vapour which already eddies in sable folds through the chamber?
Rememberest thou the magazine of fuel that is stored beneath these apartments?"
"Woman!" exclaimed the wounded man with fury, "thou hast not set fire to it? By heaven thou hast, and the castle is in flames!"
"They are fast rising, at least," said Ulrica; "and a signal shall soon wave to warn the besiegers to press hard upon those who would extinguish them. Farewell, Front-de-Boeuf; farewell for ever."
So saying, she left the apartment; and Front-de-Boeuf could hear the crash of the ponderous key, as she locked and double-locked the door behind her.
Meanwhile, the Black Knight had led his forces again to the attack; and so vigorous was their assault, that before long the gate of the castle alone separated them from those within. At this moment the besiegers caught sight of the red flag upon the tower which Ulrica had described to Cedric; and, as she had bade them do, the assailants at once redoubled their efforts to break in the postern gate.
The defenders, finding the castle to be on fire, now determined to sell their lives as dearly as they could; and, headed by De Bracy, they threw open the gate, and were at once involved in a terrific conflict with those outside. The Black Knight, with portentous strength, forced his way inward in despite of De Bracy and his followers. Two of the foremost instantly fell, and the rest gave way, notwithstanding all their leaders' efforts to stop them. The Black Knight was soon engaged in desperate combat with the Norman chief, and the vaulted roof of the hall rung with their furious blows. At length De Bracy fell.
"Yield thee, De Bracy," said the Black Champion, stooping over him, and holding against the bars of his helmet the fatal poniard with which the knights despatched their enemies. "Yield thee, rescue or no rescue, or thou art but a dead man."
"I will not yield," replied the Norman faintly, "to an unknown conqueror. Tell me thy name, or work thy pleasure on me."
The Black Knight whispered something into the ear of the vanquished.
"I yield me to be true prisoner, rescue or no rescue," then answered De Bracy, in a tone of sullen submission.
"Go to the barbican," said the victor in a tone of authority, "and wait there my further orders."
"Yet first let me say," said De Bracy, "what it imports thee to know. Wilfred of Ivanhoe is wounded and a prisoner, and will perish in the burning castle without present help."
"Wilfred of Ivanhoe!" exclaimed the Black Knight--"prisoner, and perish! The life of every man in the castle shall answer it if a hair of his head be singed. Show me his chamber!"
When the Black Knight reached the room, Ivanhoe was alone.
Rebecca, who had remained with him until a few moments before, had just been carried off forcibly by Bois-Guilbert. Raising the wounded man with ease, the Black Knight rushed with him to the postern gate, and having there delivered his burden to the care of two yeomen, he again entered the castle to assist in the rescue of the other prisoners.
One turret was now in bright flames, which flashed out furiously from window and shot-hole. But in other parts the besiegers pursued the defenders of the castle from chamber to chamber, and satiated in their blood the vengeance which had long animated them against the soldiers of the tyrant, Front-de Boeuf. Most of the garrison resisted to the uttermost; few of them asked quarter, none received it.
As the fire commenced to spread rapidly through all parts of the castle, Ulrica appeared on one of the turrets. Her long dishevelled gray hair flew back from her uncovered head, while the delight of gratified vengeance contended in her eyes with the fire of insanity. Before long the towering flames had surmounted every obstruction, and rose to the evening skies one huge and burning beacon, seen far and wide through the adjacent country; tower after tower crashed down, with blazing roof and rafter. The vanquished, of whom very few remained, scattered and escaped into the neighbouring wood. The maniac figure of Ulrica was for a long time visible on the lofty stand she had chosen, tossing her arms abroad with wild exultation. At length, with a terrific crash, the whole turret gave way, and she perished in the flames which had consumed her tyrant.
When day dawned the outlaws and their rescued prisoners assembled around the trysting-tree in the oak forest, beside the now ruined castle. Two only of Front-de-Boeuf's captives were missing: Athelstane and the Jewish maiden, the former being reported as amongst the slain, and Rebecca having been carried off by Bois- Guilbert before her friends could effect her rescue.
When the outlaws had divided the spoils which they had taken from the Castle of Torquilstone, Cedric prepared to take his departure.
He left the gallant band of foresters sorrowing deeply for his lost friend, the Lord of Coningsburgh; and he and his followers had scarce departed, when a procession moved slowly from under the greenwood branches in the direction which he had taken, in the centre of which was the car in which the body of Athelstane was laid.
When the funeral train had passed out of sight, Locksley addressed the Black Knight, and asked him if he had any request to make, as his reward for the gallantry he had displayed.
"I accept the offer," said the knight; "and I ask permission to dispose of Sir Maurice de Bracy at my own pleasure."
"He is already thine," said Locksley, "and well for him!"
"De Bracy," said the knight, "thou art free; depart. He whose prisoner thou art scorns to take mean revenge for what is past.
But beware of the future, lest a worse thing befall thee. Maurice de Bracy, I say, BEWARE!" De Bracy bowed low and in silence, threw himself upon a horse, and galloped off through the wood.
"Noble knight," then said Locksley, "I would fain beg your acceptance of another gift. Here is a bugle, which an English yeoman has once worn; I pray you to keep it as a memorial of your gallant bearing. If ye should chance to be hard bestead in any forest between Trent and Tees, wind three notes upon it, and ye shall find helpers and rescue."
"Gramercy for the gift, bold yeoman," said the knight; "and better help than thine and thy rangers would I never seek, were it at my utmost need."
So saying, he mounted his strong war-horse, and rode off through the forest.
During all this time Isaac of York sat mournfully apart, grieving for the loss of his dearly-loved daughter Rebecca. He was assured that she was still alive, but that there was no hope of rescuing her from the clutches of Bois-Guilbert, except by the payment of a ransom of six hundred crowns. On consenting to pay this amount to the Prior of Jorvaulx, who had just then joined the party in the wood, the Jew was given a letter, written by the prior himself, directed to Bois-Guilbert at the Preceptory of Templestowe, whither the maiden had been carried off, commanding that Rebecca should be set at liberty. And with this epistle the unhappy old man set out to procure his daughter's liberation.
Meanwhile there was brave feasting in the Castle of York to which Prince John had invited those nobles, prelates, and leaders by whose assistance he hoped to carry through his ambitious projects upon his brother's throne. Deep was the prince's disappointment when he learnt of the fall of Torquilstone, and the defeat of the knights who failed to defend it, and on whose support he strongly relied. The rumoured intelligence had scarcely reached him, when De Bracy was ushered into his presence, his armour still bearing the marks of the late fray, and covered with clay and dust from crest to spur.
"The Templar is fled," said De Bracy, in answer to the prince's eager questions; "Front-de-Boeuf you will never see more; and," he added in a low and emphatic tone, "Richard is in England; I have seen him and spoken with him."
Prince John turned pale, tottered, and caught at the back of an oaken bench to support himself.
On awakening from the stupor into which he had been thrown by the unexpected intelligence, he determined to endeavour to seize his brother, and hold him a prisoner. He appealed to De Bracy to assist him in this project, and became at once deeply suspicious of the knight's loyalty towards him when he declined to lift hand against the man who had spared his own life.
Driven almost to desperation, and with bitter complaints against those who had promised to support him, John now treacherously directed Waldemar Fitzurse, one of his most intimate attendants, to depart at once, with a chosen band of followers, for the purpose of overtaking King Richard, and, if possible, securing him as a prisoner.
In the meantime, Isaac of York, though suffering much from the ill-treatment he had received at Torquilstone, made his way to the Preceptory of Templestowe, for the purpose of negotiating his daughter's redemption. Before reaching his destination he was told that Lucas de Beaumanoir, the Grand Master of the Order of the Templars, was then on visit to the preceptory. He had come, the Jew was informed, for the purpose of correcting and punishing many of the members of the body whose conduct had of late been open to severe censure; and he was recognised, besides, as the most tyrannical oppressor of the Jewish people.
In spite of this ominous intelligence, Isaac pursued his way, and on arriving at Templestowe was at once shown into the presence of the Grand Master himself. With fear and trembling he produced the letter of the Prior of Jorvaulx to Bois-Guilbert. Beaumanoir tore open the seal and perused the letter in haste, with an expression of surprise and horror. He had not until then been informed of the presence of the Jewish maiden in the abode of the Templars, and great was his fury and indignation on learning that she was amongst them. He denounced Rebecca as a witch, by whose enchantment Bois-Guilbert had been led to offend against the rules of the Holy Order, and in tones of passion and scorn he refused to listen to Isaac's protestations of her innocence.
"Spurn this Jew from the gate," he said to one of his attendants, "and shoot him dead if he oppose or turn again. With his daughter we will deal as the Christian law and our own high office warrant."
Poor Isaac was hurried off accordingly, and expelled from the preceptory, all his entreaties, and even his offers, unheard and disregarded. He had hitherto feared for his daughter's honour; he was now to tremble for her life.