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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Knights Of The Cross - Part 4 - Chapter 1
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The Knights Of The Cross - Part 4 - Chapter 1 Post by :BizPro Category :Long Stories Author :Henryk Sienkiewicz Date :July 2011 Read :694

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The Knights Of The Cross - Part 4 - Chapter 1

PART FOURTH: CHAPTER I

After abundant snowfalls, heavy frost and dry, clear days set in. By day the wood sparkled in the rays of the sun, the ice fettered the rivers and hardened the marshes; serene nights followed in which the frost was intensified to such a degree that the wood in the forest cracked loudly. The birds approached the dwelling-places. Wolves rendered the roads unsafe, gathering in packs and attacking not only solitary people, but also villages. The people however enjoyed themselves at the firesides in their smoky shanties, presaging from the intensely cold winter an abundant year, and they waited gladly for the approaching holidays. The princely Forest Court was deserted. The princess with the court and priest Wyszoniek left for Ciechanow. Zbyszko, who, though considerably improved, was not yet strong enough to ride on horseback, remained in the Forest Court together with Sanderus, his Bohemian armor-bearer and the servants of the place, who were under the superintendence of a noble-woman fulfilling the household duties.

But the knight greatly yearned after his young wife. It is true, it was an immensely consoling thought to him that Danusia was already his, and that no human power could take her from him; but, on the other hand, that same thought intensified his longing. For whole days he hoped for that moment when he should be able to leave the court, and pondered on what he should then do, where to go, and how to appease Jurand. He had, likewise, bad and restless moments. But on the whole the future appeared joyful to him. To love Danusia and pluck peacock plumes from helmets--such a life would he lead. Many a time he desired to speak of it to his Bohemian whom he loved, but he reflected, since the Bohemian, he thought, was with his whole soul Jagienka's, it would be imprudent to speak to him about Danusia, but he, bound to secrecy, could not tell everything that happened.

However, his health improved daily. A week before Vigil (Christmas Eve) he mounted his horse for the first time, and although he felt that he could not do this in his armor, nevertheless he gathered confidence. Besides, he did not expect soon to be obliged to put on the coat of mail and helmet. At the worst he hoped soon to be strong enough to do that too. Indoors, in order to kill time, he attempted to lift up the sword, which he accomplished well, but the wielding of the axe seemed to him yet a difficult task. Nevertheless, he believed that if he grasped the axe with both hands he would be able to wield it effectively.

Finally, two days before the Vigil, he gave orders to repair the carriage, saddle the horses, and notified the Bohemian that they were going to Ciechanow. The faithful armor-bearer was somewhat anxious, the more so on account of the intense frost out-of-doors. But Zbyszko said to him:

"Glowacz,(105) it concerns not your head, there is nothing for us in this court, and even should I happen to be sick, I would not miss seeing the old gentleman in Ciechanow. Moreover, I shall not ride on horseback, but in a sleigh, up to the neck in hay and under furs, and only when quite near Ciechanow shall I mount my horse."


(Footnote 105: _Glowacz the Polish for the
Bohemian _Hlawa_, the latter means "head,"
but the former means also "big" or "thick head."--(S.A.B.))


And so it happened. The Bohemian knew his young master and was aware that it was not good to oppose him, and still worse not to attend scrupulously to his orders. Therefore they started at an early hour. At the moment of departure, Zbyszko seeing Sanderus placing himself and his boxes in the sleigh, said to him: "Why are you sticking to me like burs to sheep's wool?... You told me you wished to go to Prussia."

"Yes, I said so," Sanderus replied. "But can I get there alone in such snows? The wolves would devour me before the first star made its appearance, and I have nothing to stay here for. I prefer the town, to edify the people in godliness, and bestow upon them my holy wares and rescue them from the devil's grasp, as I have sworn to the father of all Christendom in Rome. Besides this, I am exceedingly attached to your grace, whom I shall not leave before my return to Rome, for it may happen that I may be enabled to render you some service."

"He is always for you, sir! He is ready to eat and drink for you," said the Bohemian. "Such service he would be too glad to render, but if a pack of wolves should happen to attack us in the forests near Przasnysz then I shall feed the wolves with him, for he is unfit for anything else."

"Better take care that the sinful words don't freeze to your moustache," replied Sanderus, "for such icicles can only melt in hellfire."

"Owa!" replied Glowacz, reaching with his gauntlet to his incipient moustache, "I shall first try to warm some beer for refreshment, but I'll give none to you."

"But it is forbidden there to give drink to the thirsty,--another sin."

"I shall give you a pail full of water, but meanwhile take what I have in my hand!" Thus saying he gathered as much snow as he could hold with both gauntlets and threw it at Sanderus' beard, but the latter bent aside and said:

"There is nothing for _you in Ciechanow, for there is already a grown-up bear that plays with snow."

Thus they loved to tease each other. But Zbyszko did not forbid Sanderus to ride with him because that strange man amused him, and at the same time it seemed to him that the man was really attached to him.

They moved from the Forest Court in the bright morning. The frost was so intense that they had to cover the horses. The whole landscape was under snow. The roofs of the cottages were covered and hardly visible. Smoke seemed to issue directly from white hills, shooting up skyward, red-hued in the morning, widening out on the roof like a brush, and looking like the plumes on helmets.

Zbyszko sat in the sleigh, first to gather strength, secondly on account of the severe cold, against which it was easy to protect oneself; he commanded Glowacz to sit down beside him so as to be ready with the crossbow against an attack of wolves, meanwhile he chatted with him merrily.

"In Przasnysz, we shall only feed the horses and warm ourselves a little and then immediately continue our journey."

"To Ciechanow?"

"First to Ciechanow, to pay homage to the court and attend worship."

"After that?" inquired Glowacz.

Zbyszko smiled and replied,

"Afterward, who knows, may be to Bogdaniec."

The Bohemian looked at him with astonishment, the thought crossed his mind: Maybe he has quarrelled with Jurandowna, and this seemed to him most likely, because she had gone away. The Bohemian had also heard in the Forest Court that the lord of Spychow was opposed to the young knight, therefore the honest armor-bearer was glad although he loved Jagienka, but he looked upon her as upon a star in heaven for whose happiness he was willing even to shed his blood. He therefore loved Zbyszko, and from his very soul he longed to serve both of them even unto death.

"Then your grace thinks to settle down on the estate," he exultingly said.

"How can I settle down on my estate," replied Zbyszko, "when I challenged those Knights of the Cross, and even before that, I challenged Lichtenstein. De Lorche said that the Master would invite the king to visit Torun. I shall attach myself to the king's retinue, and I think that at Torun, either _Pan Zawisza of Garbow or Powala of Taczew will ask permission from our lord to allow me to fight those monks. They will certainly come to fight accompanied by their armor-bearers; in that case you will also have to meet them."

"If I were to kill any one, I should like him to be a monk," said the Bohemian.

Zbyszko looked at him with satisfaction. "Well, he will not fare well who happens to feel your steel. God has given you great strength, but you would act badly if you were to push it to excess, because humility is becoming in the worthy armor-bearer."

The Bohemian shook his head as a sign that he would not waste his strength, but would not spare it against the Germans.

Zbyszko smiled, not on account of what the armor bearer had said, but at his own thoughts.

"The old gentleman will be glad when we return, and in Zgorzelice there will also be joy."

Jagienka stood before Zbyszko's eyes as though she were sitting with him in the sleigh. That always happened, whenever he thought of her he saw her very distinctly.

"Well," he said to himself, "she will not be glad, for when I shall return to Bogdaniec it will be with Danusia. Let her take somebody else...." Here, the figures of Wills of Brzozowa, and young Cztan of Rogow passed through his mind, and suddenly a disagreeable feeling crept over him, because the girl might fall into the hands of one of them, and he said to himself: "I wish I could find some better man, for those fellows are beer-gulpers and gourmands, and the girl is upright." And he thought of this and of that; of his uncle when he should learn what had happened, it would be irksome, no matter how it turned out; but he immediately consoled himself with the thought that with his uncle, matters concerning kinship and wealth were always paramount, and these could advance the interest of the family. Jagienka was indeed nearer, but Jurand was a greater land owner than Zych of Zgorzelice. Moreover the former could easily foresee that Macko could not be long opposed to such a liaison, the more so when he should behold his nephew's love for Danusia and her requital. He would grumble for a while, then he would be glad and begin to love Danuska as his own daughter.

Suddenly his heart was moved with tenderness and yearning toward that uncle who although a severe man, loved him like the pupil of his own eye; that uncle cared for him on the battlefield more than for himself, he took booty for him, and for his sake he was driven out from his estate. Both of them were lonely in the world without near relatives, with only distant ones like the abbot. Moreover, when the time arrived to separate from each other, neither of them knew what to do, particularly the older one, who no more desired anything for himself.

"Hej! he will be glad, he will be glad!" repeated Zbyszko to himself. "Only one thing I should like,--that he should receive Jurand and me as well as he would receive me by myself."

Then he attempted to imagine what Jurand would say and do when he learned of the marriage. There was some alarm in this thought, but not too much of it, for the simple reason that it was an accomplished fact. It would not do for Jurand to challenge him to fight, and even should Jurand oppose, Zbyszko could answer him thus: "Forbear, I ask you; your right to Danuska is human, but mine is divine; she is therefore no more yours, but mine." He once heard from a certain clergyman who was versed in the Scriptures that the woman must leave her father and mother and go with her husband. He felt therefore that the greater part of strength was in his favor; nevertheless he did not expect that intense strife and passion would arise between Jurand and himself, for he counted upon Danusia's petition which would be granted, and quite as much, if not more, upon that which would be obtained by the intercession of the prince under whom Jurand was serving and that of the princess whom Jurand loved as the protectress of his child.

Owing to the severe frosts, wolves appeared in such great packs, that they even attacked people traveling together. Zbyszko was advised to remain over night at Przasnysz, but he took no notice of it, because it happened that, at the inn, they met some Mazovian knights with their trains who were also on their way to meet the prince at Ciechanow, and some armed merchants from that very place convoying loaded wagons from Prussia. There was no danger to travel with such a great crowd; they therefore started toward evening, although a sudden wind arose after nightfall which chased the clouds, and snow began to fall. They traveled keeping close to one another, but they advanced so slowly that it occurred to Zbyszko that they would not arrive in time for the Vigil. They were obliged to dig through the drift in some places where it was impossible for the horses to pass through. Fortunately the road in the woods was not obliterated. It was already dusk when they saw Ciechanow.

Were it not for the fire on the heights where the new castle stood, they would not have known that they were so close to town, and would have strayed much longer in the midst of the blinding snowstorm and gust of wind. They were not sure whether fire was burning there in honor of the guests at Christmas Eve, or whether it was put there according to some ancient custom. But none of Zbyszko's companions thought about it, for all were anxious to find a place of shelter in town as quickly as possible.

Meanwhile the snowstorm constantly increased, the keen, freezing wind carried immense snowclouds; it dragged at the trees, it howled, maddened, it tore whole snowdrifts, carrying them upward, it shifted, heaved up, and almost covered the sleighs and horses and struck the faces of the occupants like sharp gravel; it stifled their breath and speech. The sound of the bells fastened to the poles of the sleighs could not be heard at all, but instead of it there were audible, in the midst of the howling and whistling of the whirlwind, plaintive voices like the howling of wolves, like distant neighing of horses, and at times like human voices in great distress, calling for help. The exhausted horses began to pant, and gradually slacken their pace.

"Hej! what a blizzard! what a blizzard!" said the Bohemian in a choking voice. "It is fortunate, sir, that we are already near the town, and that yonder fires are burning; if it were not for that we should fare badly."

"There is death for those who are in the field," answered Zbyszko, "but even the fire I don't see there any more. The gloom is so thick that even the fire is invisible; perhaps the wood and coal were swept away by the wind."

The merchants and knights in the other wagons were saying: that should the snowstorm carry off anybody from the seat, that one would never hear the morning bell. But Zbyszko became suddenly alarmed and said:

"God forbid that Jurand should be anywhere on the road!"

The Bohemian, although entirely occupied in looking toward the fire, on hearing the words of Zbyszko, turned his head and asked:

"Is the knight of Spychow expected?"

"Yes."

"With the young lady?"

"And the fire is really gone," answered Zbyszko.

And indeed the fire was extinguished, but, instead, several horsemen appeared immediately in front of the horses and sleighs.

"Why dost thou follow?" cried the watchful Bohemian, grasping his crossbow; "Who are you?"

"The prince's people, sent to assist the travelers."

"Jesus Christ be praised!"

"Forever and ever."

"Lead us to town," said Zbyszko.

"Is there nobody left behind?"

"Nobody."

"Whence do you come?"

"From Przasnysz."

"Did you not meet other travelers on the road?"

"We met nobody, but they may be on other roads."

"People are searching on all roads, come with us, you lost your route! To the right."

They turned the horses, and for some time nothing was perceptible but the blast of the storm.

"Are there many guests in the castle?" asked Zbyszko, after a while.

The nearest horseman, who did not hear the question bent toward him.

"What did you say, sir?"

"I asked whether there were many guests at the prince's?"

"As customary: there are enough."

"But is the lord of Spychow there?"

"He is not there, but they expect him. People ware dispatched to meet him too."

"With torches?"

"If the weather permits."

They were unable to continue their conversation, for the boisterous snowstorm was increasing in force.

"Quite a devil's marriage," said the Bohemian. Zbyszko, however, told him to keep quiet, and not to conjure up the evil name.

"Dost thou not know," he said, "that on such a Holy Day, the devil's power is subdued, and the devils hide themselves in the ice-holes? Once the fishermen near Sandomierz on Christmas Eve found him in their net, he had a pike in his mouth, but when the sound of the bells reached his ears, he immediately fainted; they pounded him with their clubs till the evening. The tempest is certainly vehement, but it is with the permission of the Lord Jesus, who desires that the morrow shall be the more joyful."

"Bah! we were quite near the city," said Glowacz. "Yet if it were not for these people, we should have strayed till midnight, since we had deviated from the right path."

"Because the fire was extinguished."

Meanwhile they arrived in town. The snowdrifts in the streets were larger, so big that in some places they even covered the windows, so much so that the wayfarers could not see the light from within. But the storm was not so much felt here. The streets were deserted. The inhabitants were already celebrating the Christmas Eve festival. In front of some houses, boys with small cribs and goats, in spite of the snowstorm, were singing Christmas hymns. In the market-place there were seen men wrapped up in pease straw imitating bears; otherwise the streets were deserted. The merchants who accompanied Zbyszko and the noblemen on the road, remained in town, but they continued their journey toward the prince's residence in the old castle, and, as the windows of the castle were made of glass, the bright light, notwithstanding the blizzard, cast its rays upon the advancing party.

The drawbridge over the moat was lowered, because the Lithuanian incursions of old had diminished, and the Knights of the Cross, who carried on war against the King of Poland, were now themselves seeking the friendship of the Prince of Mazowsze. One of the prince's men blew the horn and immediately the gate was opened. There were in it several archers, but upon the walls and palisades there was not a living soul when the prince permitted the guard to go out. Old Mrokota, who had arrived two days before, went out to meet the guests, and greeted them in the name of the prince and brought them into the house where they could prepare themselves properly for table.

Zbyszko immediately asked him for news of Jurand of Spychow, but he replied that he had not arrived, but was expected because he promised to come, and that if he were very ill he would send word. Nevertheless several horsemen were sent out to meet him, for even the oldest men did not remember such a blizzard.

"Then he may soon be here."

"I believe he will soon be here. The princess ordered dishes for them near the common table."

But Zbyszko, although he was somewhat anxious about Jurand, was nevertheless glad in his heart, and said to himself: "Though I do not know what to do, yet one thing is certain, my wife is coming, my woman, my most beloved Danuska." When he repeated those words to himself, he could hardly believe his own happiness. Why, he reflected, it may be that she has already confessed all to her father, she may have moved him to pity and begged him to give her up at once. "In truth, what else could he do? Jurand is a clever fellow, he knows, that although he keeps her from me, I shall nevertheless take her away, for my right is stronger."

Whilst he was dressing himself he conversed with Mrokota, inquiring after the prince's health and specially that of the princess, whom he loved like his mother since that time when he sojourned in Krakow. He was glad to learn that everybody in the castle was well and cheerful, although the princess greatly yearned after her beloved songstress. Jagienka now played the lute for her and the princess loved her much, but not as much as the songstress.

"Which Jagienka?" inquired Zbyszko with astonishment.

"Jagienka of Wielgolasu, the granddaughter of the old lord of Wielgolasu. She is a fine girl. The Lotarynczyk(106) fell in love with her."

(Footnote 106: Lotarynczyk means the man from Lotaringen.)


"Then is Sir de Lorche here?"

"Where then should he be? He has been here since he arrived from the Forest Court, for it is well to be here. Our prince never lacks guests."

"I shall be glad to see him, he is a knight with whom none can find fault."

"And he also loves you. But let us go, their Highnesses will soon be at the table."

They went into the dining hall where big fires burned in the two fireplaces and they were taken care of by the servants.

The room was already filled with guests and courtiers. The prince entered first accompanied by the Voyevode and several life guards. Zbyszko knelt and kissed his hands.

The prince pressed Zbyszko's head, then he took him aside and said:

"I know it all already, I was displeased at first, because it was done without my permission, but there was no time, for I was then in Warsaw where I intended to spend the holidays. It is a well-known fact that, if a woman desires anything, opposition is useless, and you gain nothing by it. The princess wishes you well like a mother, and I always desire to please rather than to oppose her wishes, in order to spare her trouble and tears."

Zbyszko bowed again to the prince's knees.

"God grant that I may requite your princely love."

"Praise His name that you are already well. Tell the princess how I received you with good wishes, so that she may be pleased. As I fear God, her joy is my joy! I shall also say a good word in your behalf to Jurand, and I think that he will consent, for he too loves the princess."

"Even if he refused to give her to me, my right stands first."

"Your right stands first and must be acknowledged, but a blessing might fail you. Nobody can forcibly wrest her from you, but without a father's blessing God's is also lacking."

Zbyszko felt uneasy on hearing these words, for he had never before thought about it; but at that moment the princess entered, accompanied by Jagienka of Wielgolasu and other court ladies; he hastened to bow before her, but she greeted him even more graciously than the prince had done, and at once began to tell him of the expectation of Jurand's arrival. "Here are the covers ready for him, and people have been dispatched to guide them through the snowdrifts. We shall not wait any longer for them with the Christmas Eve supper, for the prince does not approve of it, but they will be here before supper is over."

"As far as Jurand is concerned," continued the princess, "he will be here in God's good time. But I shall tell him all to-day or to-morrow after the shepherd service (pasterce), and the prince also promised to say a word in your behalf. Jurand is obstinate but not with those whom he loves, nor those to whom he owes obedience."

Then she began to instruct Zbyszko how he should act with his father-in-law, and that God forbid he should anger him or rouse his obstinacy. It was apparently good advice, but an experienced eye looking at Zbyszko and then at her could discern in her words and looks a certain alarm. It may be because the lord of Spychow was not an accommodating man, and it may also be that the princess was somewhat uneasy at his non-appearance. The storm increased in strength, and all declared that if any one were caught in the open country he would not survive. The princess, however, concluded that Danuska had confessed to her father her marriage to Zbyszko, and he being offended, was resolved not to proceed to Ciechanow. The princess however, did not desire to reveal her thoughts to Zbyszko; there was not even time to do so, for the servants brought in the viands and placed them on the table. Nevertheless Zbyszko endeavored to follow her up and make further inquiries.

"And if they arrive, what will happen then, beloved lady? Mrokota told me that there are special quarters set apart for Jurand; there will be hay enough for bedding for the chilled horses. How then will it be?"

The princess laughed and tapped him lightly on the face with her glove and said: "Be quiet, do you see him?"

And she went toward the prince and was assisted to a chair. One of the attendants placed before the prince a flat dish with thin slices of cake, and wafers, which he was to distribute among the guests, courtiers and servants. Another attendant held before the prince a beautiful boy, the son of the castellan of Sokhochova. On the other side of the table stood Father Wyszoniek who was to pronounce a benediction upon the fragrant supper.

At this moment, a man covered with snow entered and cried: "Most Gracious Prince!"

"What is it?" said the prince. "Is there no reverence; they have interrupted him in his religious ceremonies."

"Some travelers are snowbound on the road to Radzanow, we need people to help us to dig them out."

On hearing this all were seized with fear--the prince was alarmed, and turning toward the castellan of Sokhochova, he commanded:

"Horses and spades! Hasten!"

Then he said to the man who brought the news: "Are there many under the snow?"

"I could not tell, it blew terribly; there are a considerable number of horses and wagons."

"Do you not know who they are?"

"People say that they belong to Jurand of Spychow."

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