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CHAPTER XII.

THE CHALLENGE.


Ah! where are they who heard in former hours
The voice of song in these neglected bowers?
They are gone!

Moore.

The chain is loos'd, the sails are spread,
The living breath is fresh behind;
As with dews and sunrise fed,
Comes the laughing morning wind.

Shelley.


This was a gloomy lesson for these young and affectionate beings; they consoled one another, and wept as they consoled. At first Monina despaired; her ceaseless laments and unassuaged grief appeared to undermine her very life; but, when she marked the sorrow she communicated, when she heard Richard exclaim, "Oh! for spring and battle, when I may avenge Monina's grief, or die! Death is a thousand times preferable to the sight of her woe!" and felt that the fate and happiness of those about her depended on her fortitude: she forced smiles back to her lips, and again her sweet eyes beamed, undimmed by tears.

Spring came at last, and with it busy preparation for the siege of Granada; troop after troop defiled through Alcala, bearing the various ensigns of the noble commanders; the Count Tendilla, leaving his mountain nest, united himself to the regal camp before the devoted city; Isabella joined her royal husband accompanied by her children. "Where women looked on the near face of war, even the timid were inspired to bear arms. The reputation the English warrior youths had gained forbade inglorious ease, even had they not aspired with their whole hearts for renown; yet Plantagenet looked forward with reluctance to the leading forth his brave, dear cousin to new dangers; divided between pride in his valour, satisfaction at his thus being schooled to arms, and terror from the perils to which he would be exposed in a war, on the side of the enemy, of despair and fury—his thoughtful eyes rested on the young prince's glowing cheek, his unsullied youth; if wound or fatal hurt maimed his fair proportion, how should he reply to his widowed mother's agony? If, snapt like a poor flowret, he fell upon the death-strewn Vega, what tale should he report to the ardent Yorkists? None! At least he should be pierced only through him, and Edmund's corse would rampart his heart, even when he had died to save him.

Thus they again appeared in the Spanish army, and were hailed as among its ornaments. Whatever desperate enterprise kindled the young Spaniards to heroic frenzy, found the English pair among their numbers. At the beginning of the siege, the Moors, few in numbers, and often defeated, cheated victory of its triumph by various challenges to single combat, where many a Spaniard fell: their frays resembled, in the splendour of their armour and their equipments, the stately ceremonial of the tournaments, but they were deadly in the event. Ferdinand, sure of victory, and reluctant to expose the noble youth of his kingdom to needless peril, forbade these duels; and the Moors enraged, multiplied their insults and their bravadoes, to draw their enemies to the field; nor lost any opportunity of commiting the defence of their beloved city to the risk of battle, rather than the slow progress of famine. One memorable engagement took place on occasion of the visit of Queen Isabella to the hamlet of Zubia, there to obtain a nearer view of beautiful Granada. The Moors seeing the Spanish troops in array before their walls, came out to attack them; a battle was fought under the very eyes of the queen, wherein it was the good fortune of Richard to make so gallant a figure, that on the very spot the Count Tendilla conferred on him the honour of knighthood.

Proud was the young duke of York, and eager to paint his maiden shield with worthy device; he was now nearly eighteen, boyish in aspect, yet well-knit in person, and accustomed to the fatigue of arms. He no longer burst on his foes, like an untrained dog, seeking only to slay: there was forethought in his eye, and a most careful selection of worthy and valorous opponents. Edmund still was to be found within a javelin's throw of him; but he no longer feared his untaught rashness, as before he had done.

In July occurred the conflagration of the Christian camp. The day following, Ferdinand led forth his troops to make a last ravage among the gardens and orchards, the emerald girdle of Granada. During the fray, it was the young duke's chance to throw his javelin so as to slay on the spot a veteran Moor, whose turban having fallen off, exposed him thus. His companion in arms, a tall fierce Moslem, rushed forward to fell the insolent youth; others interposed. Still the Moor kept his eye upon his boyish foe; a thousand times he threw his dart; twice or thrice he rushed on him with uplifted scimitar: the battle racked among the orchard-paths and flowery hedges of the thickly-planted gardens, and ever some obstruction thwarted the infidel. Plantagenet had marked his rage and his purpose; he watched him keenly, and the fierce Gomelez boiled with impatient indignation, as some impediment for ever baffled his design. His last effort was to fling an arrow, which stuck in the ground quivering at Richard's feet: a label was affixed—"Dog and infidel," thus was the cartel worded—"if thou hast courage, meet me at dawn at the Fountain of Myrtles."

The following morning, at the hour when Plantagenet was wont to see his cousin, the prince was absent. Noon approached; the troops reposed after the battle of the day before, or were employed in clearing the dark ruins of the camp: some thoughtless project might occupy the duke: some excursion to the other side of Granada. The shades of evening gathered round the lofty towers, and dimmed the prospect of its Vega: still Richard came not. Sad, anxious night drew near. Edmund roved through the camp, questioning, seeking; at last, on the morrow he heard the report, that the previous evening a cavalier had seen Almoradi Gomelez issue from a little wood half a league from the city, and ride towards a postern; that he was galloping up to him, when he saw the Moor totter in his saddle, and at last fall from his horse; before succour could come, he died. His last words only spoke of the Fountain of Myrtles; in agony of spirit, for Gomelez had surely stricken to death his stripling foe, ere he left the place of combat, Edmund hurried to the spot; the herbage round the fountain was trampled and torn, as by horses' hoofs. It was moistened, but not with water; a bank, thickly overgrown with geraniums, bore the print of a man's form, but none was there.

Monina had been left in Alcala-la-Real, a prey to fear, to gaze from the steep summit on the plain, whereon, beyond her sight, was acted the real drama of her life; to question the wounded, or the messengers that visited Alcala, and to address prayers to the Virgin, were the sad varieties! of her day. In the midst of this suspense, two unexpected guests visited her abode—her father, and an Irish chieftain; a Yorkist, who came to lead the duke from his Spanish abode, to where he might combat for his lost crown. De Faro had not heard of the death of Madeline; and with awe his child beheld the tears that bedewed his rugged checks at this sad termination of his ocean-haunting vision. He embraced his daughter—"Thou wilt not desert me; we will leave this fated spot: and thou, Monina, will sail for ever with thy father on the less barbarous sea."

De Faro's companion was named Lord Barry. He was baron of Buttevant, in the county of Cork, and allied to the Geraldines, chiefs of that soil. He had fought at Stoke, and been attainted by Henry; so that he was forced to wander a banished man. Eager to reinstate himself, every Yorkist plot numbered him among its warmest partizans. He had for some time resided either at Paris or at Brussels, where he often held counsel with Lady Brampton. Weary of delay, he at last stole back to Ireland, to see whether his noble kinsmen there would abet and rise in favour of the duke of York. He came away, proud and delighted with his success; promises of service for the White Rose had been showered on him—his eloquence and enthusiasm conquered even Lady Brampton. War also seemed impending between France and England; if that were once declared, every objection would be obviated. At any rate, the times seemed so fair, that she agreed with Lord Barry to visit the present home of the young English prince; and, as if to further their designs. Sir Edward Brampton was at that moment requested by the Archduke Maximilian to undertake a private embassy to Lisbon. Thither they had sailed, and now, leaving this lady in Portugal, Lord Barry had continued his voyage to Andalusia, with the intention of returning again to Lisbon, accompanied by the promise and hope of the house of York. He met De Faro in the port of Malaga: the name was familiar to him. They journeyed together to Alcala-la-Real.

Lord Barry was all eagerness that the English prince should immediately join Lady Brampton at Lisbon. It was agreed that they should proceed thither in De Faro's caravel. The mariner abhorred the name of warfare betwen Spaniard and Moor; and Madeline's death only added poignancy to this sensation. He would not look on the siege of Granada. While the Irish noble and Monina proceeded to the camp to prepare the cousins, he returned to Malaga to bring round his vessel to the nearer port of Almeria. Lord Barry and the fair Moor commenced their journey on the morning of a most burning day; they wound down the steep declivities of the Sierra, and entered upon the bright blooming plain. Noon with all its heat approached. They rested under a grove of mulberries, reposing by a brook, while Lord Barry's horse. and Monina's mule were tied to the nearest shrubs. Slight accidents are the wires and pullies on which the machinery of our lives hang. Stung by flies, the noble horse grew restive, broke his rein, and galloped away; through the thick shade his master pursued, till tramp of feet and crackling of branches died on Monina's ear. A quarter of an hour, half an hour passed, when on her solitude came a Moorish voice, an exclamation in the name of Allah, and the approach of several men whom already she painted as enemies. To take to her mule, to ride swiftly through the grove, was the impulse of her fear; and, when again silence gave her token of security, she found that she had lost her way. It was only after many vain attempts that she extricated herself from the wood, and then perceived that she had wandered from the direct road to Granada, whose high towers were visible at a distance. The burning July noonday sun scorched her. Her mule lagged in his pace. As a last effort, she sought a plantation of elms, not far distant. The grateful murmur of flowing waters saluted her ears as she approached. For a few minutes more she was exposed to the glaring sunshine, and then entered the cool umbrage of the trees—the soft twilight of woven leaves and branches; a fountain rose in the midst, and she hastened to refresh herself by sprinkling herself with cool waters. Thus occupied, she thought she was alone in this sequestered nook, when a crash among the underwood startled her: the mule snorted aloud, and from the brake issued a mare caparisoned with saddle and bridle. She had lost her rider; vet her distended nostrils, the foam that flaked her sides, the shiver that made her polished skin quiver, spoke of recent contest or flight. She looked on her—could it be? She called her "Daraxa," and the animal recognized her voice; while, in answer to the dreadful surmises that awoke in her heart, a low groan was heard from the near bank. Turning, she beheld the form of a man lying on the herbage; not dead, for he groaned again, and then stirred, as if with returning sense. Quick as lightning, she was at his side; she unlaced his helmet, nor did she need to look at his pallid countenance to be assured of what she already knew, that Richard of England lay there, but for her help, expiring. She filled his helm with water, and sprinkling it over him, he opened his eyes, and groaning again, strove to clasp his head with his unnerved hand. With light fairy fingers she released him from his coat of mail, and saw on his right sight side a mass of congealed blood, which his faintness had made cease to flow from his wound, bearing that it would bleed again as he revived, she bound it with his scarf and her own veil, and then gave him water to drink; after which he showed still more certain signs of recovery.

It was wonder to him to find himself alive, when already he had believed the bitterness of death to be passed; still greater wonder was it to behold his own sweet Monina, like a spirit of good, hovering over to recover him. He tried to raise himself, and she bent down to support him, resting his head on her gentle heart; he felt its beating, and blest her with a thousand soft thanks and endearing names. Though the wound in his side was deep, yet now that the blood was staunched, it did not seem dangerous. The immediate cause of his swoon was a stunning blow on his head, which had beat in the iron of his helm, but inflicted no further injury. It was long, however, before he could move; and the evening shades had made it almost night, before he could sit his horse and slowly quit the wood. Wishing to conduct him to where they might find succour, Monina directed his steps to a village, east of the grove. They had hardly ridden half a mile, when Richard felt dizzy; he faintly called her to his side—she received him as he fell, and, supporting him to a bank, called aloud in agony, in hopes that some wandering soldier or peasant might be near to aid them. It happened to her wish; several countrymen, who had been carrying fruit to the Christian camp, passed them—she conjured them, in the Virgin's name, to assist a soldier of the faith, a crusader in their cause. Such an appeal was sacred in their ears; they contrived, with the poles and baskets in which they had carried their fruit, covering them with a part of their habiliments and the saddle-cloths of the animals, to form a sort of litter, on which they placed Richard. Monina followed on foot, clasping his hand; the men led the horses: and thus they proceeded up the mountains to a village about two leagues from Granada, where every house was open to them. The prince was permitted to repose in the habitation of the Alcalde, and the deep sleep into which he soon fell was a dear assurance to his friend's anxious heart, of the absence of danger, and a promise of speedy recovery.

Yet the night that began so well with the patient, wore a less prosperous appearance towards the conclusion. Monina sat beside his couch, and perceived with alarm symptoms of pain and fever. According to the custom of the time, she had acquired some little skill in surgery; this, when the wound came to be dressed, made her acquainted with its irritated and dangerous appearance. As the heat of the day came on, the prince's sufferings increased. In this little village there was neither physician nor medicaments necessary for the emergency; and the place itself, low-built, hedged in by mountains, and inhabited by peasants only, was ill suited for the patient. She resolved that he should that night be removed to a town on the eastern side of the mountains, overlooking the plain bordering the sea. A litter was prepared; and she, fatigued by her journey, and by long and painful solicitude, yet walked beside it, listening to his low breathing, catching the smallest sound he made in complaint or questioning. Before she quitted the village, she employed a peasant to seek Plantagenet, and convey to him intelligence of the actual state of his friends.

After three days of fear and anxious care, the wound began to heal, and Richard became convalescent. Who could tell, during the long hours that composed those days and nights, the varying emotions that agitated poor Monina? That he should die, was a thought in which, in its extent and reality, she never indulged: but an awful fear of what of suffering the coming hours might produce, never for a moment slept within her. She spent long intervals of time kneeling by his couch—her soft fingers on his pulse, counting the rapid vibration—her cool hand alone tempered the burning of his brow; and often, supported by her, he slept, while she remained in the same position, immovable. The very pain this produced was a pleasure to her, since it was endured for him who was the idol of her innocent and pure thoughts; she almost lamented when he no longer needed her undivided attention: the hours she gave to repose came like beggars following in a procession of crowned heads; they were no longer exalted by being devoted to him.

After the lapse of three anxious days he grew rapidly better, and at evening-tide enjoyed at the open casement the thrilling sweetness of the mountain air. How transporting and ineffable are the joys of convalescence!—the calm of mind—the voluptuous langour—the unrebuked abandonment to mere pleasurable sensation—the delight that every natural object imparts, fill those hours with a dream-like, faint ecstasy, more dear to memory than tumultuous joy. Monina sat near him, and it was dangerous for their young hearts thus to be united and alone in a fairy scene of beauty and seclusion. Monina's ardent spirit was entranced by delight at his recovery: no thought of self mingled with the single idea that he was saved—saved for youth, for happiness, and for his long-lost rights. Darkness crept around them, the clumps of chesnut trees grew more massy and indistinct—the fire-fly was alive among the defiles of the hills—the bat wheeled round their humble dwelling—the heavy-winged owl swept with huge flapping wings out of the copse. "Are ye here?" were the first sounds that broke the silence; it was the voice of Edmund. Monina sprung up, and glad to disburthen her full heart, welcomed with an embrace this beloved friend. "Guardian angel of our lives," he cried; "you are destined at all times to save us!" Dear, soothing expressions, which then, formed the joy, long afterwards the master-impulse of her fervent and devoted spirit.

Each told their tale; the one of hazard and mischance, the other of agonizing inquietude. For Richard, Edmund had feared; but when, wearied, terrified, and in despair, Lord Barry had brought intelligence of Monina's disappearance from the streamlet's side where he had left her, and of a distant view he had caught of Moorish horsemen who took refuge in Granada—heaven seemed at once to empty on him its direst curses, and his fate was sealed with misery for ever.

The peasant dispatched by Monina had delayed; not for three days did he deliver her letter to Plantagenet, who still, trembling in recollection of his past terror, and what might have been the ultimate event of the prince's wound, departed on the moment for ———.

And now farewell to Spain! to romantic Spain, to Moorish and Christian combat, to the gay fields of the Vega, to the sunny mountains of Andalusia! De Faro's caravel, true to its appointment, arrived at Almeria. They embarked; their immediate destination was Lisbon; but their thoughts were fixed on the promised termination of their wanderings. Soon they would. bend their course far away to the islands of the turbid Northern sea, where nature veils herself in clouds, where war assumes a sterner aspect, and the very virtues of the inhabitants grow stubborn and harsh from the struggle they make to be enabled to bear the physical ills of existence.

Farewell to Spain! to boyhood's feats, to the light coursing of shadows as he ran a race with the swift-footed hours. A kingdom calls for Richard! the trials of life attend him, the hope of victory, the fortitude of well-endured defeat.