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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Knights Of The Cross - Part 7 - Chapter 1
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The Knights Of The Cross - Part 7 - Chapter 1 Post by :logiealmond Category :Long Stories Author :Henryk Sienkiewicz Date :July 2011 Read :987

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The Knights Of The Cross - Part 7 - Chapter 1

PART SEVENTH: CHAPTER I

To a certain extent the Bohemian adored Jagienka, but his love for the charming Sieciechowna was on the increase, nevertheless his young and brave heart caused him to be eager above all for war. He returned to Spychow with Macko's message, in obedience to his master, and therefore he felt a certain satisfaction that he would be protected by both masters, but when Jagienka herself told him what was the truth, that there was none to oppose him in Spychow and that his duty was to be with Zbyszko, he gladly assented. Macko was not his immediate authority. It was therefore an easy matter to justify himself before him, that he had left Spychow at the command of his mistress to go to Zbyszko.

But Jagienka did it purposely, that the valiant and clever armor-bearer might always be of assistance to Zbyszko and save him in many dangerous situations. He had already shown his ability at the prince's hunting party in which Zbyszko nearly perished from the attack of a urus; much more so would he be useful in war, specially such as the present one on the Zmudz frontier. Glowacz was so eager for the field, that when he left Jurand with Jagienka he embraced her feet and said:

"I desire to kneel before you at once and beg you for a good word for my journey."

"How is that?" asked Jagienka. "Do you want to go to-day?"

"Early to-morrow, so that the horses may rest during the night, for the expedition to Zmudz is very far."

"Then go so that you may easily overtake Macko."

"It will be a hard task. The old gentleman is hardy in all kinds of toil, and he is several days ahead of me. In order to shorten my way I shall have to travel through Prussia, through pathless forests. Pan Macko has letters from Lichtenstein which he can show when necessary; but I have nothing to show, I shall therefore be obliged to make a free road for myself."

Then he placed his hand upon his sword. At that Jagienka exclaimed:

"Be careful! It is necessary to travel as fast as possible, but on the other hand you must be careful to avoid being caught and imprisoned by the Knights of the Cross. Also be careful whilst you are in the wild forests, for there are just now all kinds of gods whom the people of that land who have not been converted to Christianity worship. I remember what Macko and Zbyszko said about them in Zgorzelice."

"I too remember what they said about those gods, but I am not afraid of them; they are puny things and no gods, and they have no power whatever. I shall manage them as well as the Germans whom I shall meet in the field and make it hot for them."

"But you can't kill gods! Tell me, what did you hear of them among the Germans?"

Then the discreet Bohemian wrinkled his brow, stopped for a moment, and said:

"Killing or no killing, we informed ourselves of everything, specially Pan Macko, who is cunning and able to circumvent every German. He asks for one thing or another, or pretends to salute, and says nothing that might betray him, and whatever he says is to the point and draws his information as the angler draws out the fish. If your grace will listen patiently I will tell you: Some years ago, Prince Witold planned an expedition against the Tartars, but wished to be at peace with the Germans; he therefore ceded to them the province of Zmudz. Then there was great friendship and peace. He allowed them to build castles. Bah, he even assisted them. They, including the master, met at an island, where they ate, drank and showed each other much friendship. They were even permitted to hunt in those wild forests. When the poor people of Zmudz rose in arms against the rule of the Order, Prince Witold helped the Germans with his own soldiers. The people throughout Lithuania murmured that the prince was against his own blood. All this the under-bailiff of Szczytno related to us; he praised the courts of the Knights of the Cross in Zmudz because they sent priests to that country to convert the people to Christianity and feed them in time of dearth. Something of that kind was done, for the grand master, who fears God more than the others, ordered it. But instead of it, they gathered together the children and sent them to Prussia, and they outraged the women in the presence of their husbands and brothers; whoever dared to oppose it was hanged. This, lady, is the cause of the present war."

"And Prince Witold?"

"The prince had his eyes shut for a long time to the wrongs of the oppressed people of Zmudz, and he loved the Knights of the Cross. It is not long since the princess, his wife, went to Prussia to visit Malborg. They received her with great pomp, as though she were the queen of Poland. That happened quite recently! They showered gifts upon her, and gave numerous tourneys, feasts, and all kinds of fetes wherever she went. The people thought that it would result in everlasting friendship between the Knights of the Cross and Prince Witold. But suddenly his heart was changed...."

"This confirms what I heard from my lamented father and Macko more than once, that the prince often changed his heart."

"Not often toward the upright, but frequently toward the Knights of the Cross, owing to the very reason that they themselves keep no faith, and are unreliable in everything. They asked him to give up deserters to them. His reply was that he would give up only those of ill repute, but free men he would not, because, as such, they were entitled to live wherever they chose. Just now they are soured and engaged in writing letters, complaining against each other. The people of Zmudz, now in Germany, heard of it; they left the garrisons, stirred up the people in the small castles, and now they make raids in Prussia itself and Prince Witold not only does not hinder them any longer, but he also laughs at the German trouble, and assists the Zmudzians secretly."

"I understand," said Jagienka. "But if he assists them secretly, open war is not yet declared."

"There is open war with the Zmudz people, but as a matter of fact there is also war against Prince Witold. Germans are coming from all parts of the country to defend their strongholds on the frontier and are contemplating a great expedition to invade Zmudz. But they cannot execute it before the winter season arrives, because it is a swampy country and impossible for them to fight in, and where a Zmudz warrior could pass, a German knight would stick fast. Winter, therefore, would be favorable to the Germans. As soon as it begins to freeze, the whole German forces will move, but Prince Witold will come to the aid of the Zmudz people. He will come with the permission of the king of Poland, since the king is the head of all great princes and, above all, Lithuania."

"Then there will be war against the king?"

"The people here, as well as in Germany, say that there will be war. The Knights of the Cross are probably now collecting forces in all courts, with cowls upon their heads like thieves. For every Knight of the Cross knows that the king's army is no joke, and, most likely, the Polish knights would easily vanquish them."

Jagienka sighed, and said:

"A boy is always more happy than a girl is. Here is proof of what I say. You will go to the war, as Zbyszko and Macko went, and we shall remain here, in Spychow."

"How can it be otherwise, lady? It is true that you remain here, but perfectly secure. The name of Jurand I have learned in Szczytno, is still a terror to the Germans, and if they learn that he is now at Spychow they will be terrified at once."

"We know that they will not dare to come here, because the swamps and old Tolima defend this place, but it will be hard to sit here without news."

"I will let you know if anything occurs. Even before we departed for Szczytno, two good young noblemen volunteered to start for the war. Tolima was unable to prevent it, because they are noblemen and come from Lenkawice. We shall now depart together and if anything occurs, one of them will be sent to you with the news."

"May God reward you. I have always known that you are wise in any adventure, but for your willingness and good heart toward me I shall thank you as long as I live."

Then the Bohemian knelt upon one knee and said:

"I have had nothing but kindness from you. Pan Zych captured me near Boleslawce, when I was a mere boy, and set me free without any ransom. But I preferred captivity under you to freedom. God grant that I might shed my blood for you, my lady."

"God lead you and bring you back!" replied Jagienka, holding out her hand to him.

But he preferred to bow to her knees and kiss her feet to honor her the more. Then he lifted up his head and said submissively and humbly:

"I am a simple boy, but I am a nobleman and your faithful servant. Give me therefore some token of remembrance for my journey. Do not refuse me this request; war time is approaching and I take Saint Jerzy to witness that I shall always try to be one of those in front, but never in the rear."

"What kind of souvenir do you ask for?"

"Girdle me with a strip of cloth for the road, so that if I fall in the field my pain may be lessened in having, when dying, the belt you fastened round my body."

Then he bowed again at her feet, folded his arms and gazed into her eyes imploringly.

But Jagienka's face assumed a troubled look, and after a while she replied as if with involuntary bitterness:

"O, my dear! Ask me not for that, my girdling will be of no use to you. Whoever is happy can impart happiness to you. Only such an one can bring you fortune. But I, surely, have nothing but sorrow! Alas! I can give happiness neither to you nor others; for that which I do not possess myself I cannot impart to others. I feel so, Hlawa. There is nothing, now, for me in the world, so, so that...."

Then she suddenly ceased, because she knew that if she said another word it would cause her to burst into tears, even so her eyes became clouded. But the Bohemian was greatly moved, because he understood that it would be equally bad for her, in case she had to return to Zgorzelice and be in the neighborhood of the rapacious villains Cztan and Wilk: or to remain in Spychow, where sooner or later Zbyszko might come with Danusia. Hlawa seemed to understand Jagienka's troubles, but he had no remedy for them. He therefore embraced her knees again and repeated.

"Oh! I will die for you! I will die!"

"Get up!" she said. "Let Sieciechowna gird you for the war, or let her give you some other keepsake, because you have been friends for some time past."

Then she began to call her, and Sieciechowna entered from the neighboring room immediately. She had heard before she entered, but she dared not enter although she burned with desire to take leave of the handsome armor-bearer. She therefore was frightened and confused, and her heart was beating violently when she entered; her eyes were glistening with tears, and with lowered eyelashes she stood before him; she looked like an apple blossom, and could not utter a single word.

Hlawa worshipped Jagienka, but with deepest respect, and he dared not reach her even in mind. He often thought familiarly about Sieciechowna because the blood in his veins coursed rapidly at the very sight of her and he could not withstand the presence of her charms. But now his heart was taken by her beauty, especially when he beheld her confusion and tears, through which he saw affection as one sees the golden bed of a crystal stream.

He therefore turned toward her and said:

"Do you know that I am going to war. Perchance I shall perish. Will you be sorry for me?"

"I shall feel very sorry for you!" replied the girl, in soft tones. Then she shed copious tears as she was always ready to do. The Bohemian was moved and began to kiss her hands, smothering his desire for more familiar kisses in the presence of Jagienka.

"Gird him or give him something else as a memento for the road, so that he may fight under your colors and in your name."

But Sieciechowna had nothing to give him, because she was attired in boy's clothes. She searched for something but found neither ribbon, nor anything that could be fastened, because her women's dresses were still packed up in the baskets, which had not been touched since they left Zgorzelice. She was therefore greatly perplexed until Jagienka came to her rescue by advising her to give him the little net upon her head.

"My God!" Hlawa joyously exclaimed, "let it be the net, attach it to the helmet, and woe betide that German who attempts to reach it."

Then Sieciechowna took it down with both hands and immediately her bright golden hair fell upon her shoulders and arms. At the sight of her beautiful disheveled hair, Hlawa's face changed, his cheeks flamed and then paled. He took the net, kissed it, and hid it in his breast. Then he embraced Jagienka's feet once more, and did the same, though a little more strongly than was necessary, to Sieciechowna. Then with the words: "Let it be so," he left the house without another word.

Although he was about to travel and in want of rest, he did not go to sleep. With his two companions who were to accompany him to Zmudz, he drank throughout the whole night. But he was not intoxicated, and at the first ray of light he was already in the courtyard where the horses were ready for the journey.

From the membrane window above the carriage house two blue eyes were looking upon the courtyard. When the Bohemian observed them, he wished to approach and show the net which he had attached to his helmet, then wish her good-bye once more, but Father Kaleb and old Tolima, who came to give him advice for his journey, interrupted him.

"Go first to the court of Prince Janusz," said the priest. "Perhaps Pan Macko stopped there. At all events, you will get there proper information; you will find there numerous acquaintances. Also the road there to Lithuania is known, and it is not difficult there to procure guides for the wilderness. If you are indeed bent on seeing Pan Zbyszko, then do not go directly to Zmudz, for there is the Prussian reservation, but go via Lithuania. Remember that the Zmudzians themselves might kill you even before you could shout to them who you were. But it is quite a different matter in Lithuania in the direction where Prince Witold is. Finally, may God bless you, and those two knights. May you return in good health and bring the child with you. I shall daily lie prostrate before the cross from vespers to the rising of the first star in prayer for this cause."

"I thank you, father, for your blessing," replied Hlawa. "It is not an easy task to rescue one alive from their devilish hands. But since everything is in God's hands, it is better to hope than to sorrow."

"It is better to hope, for this reason I do not despair. Hope lives, although the heart is full of anxiety.... The worst is, that Jurand himself, when his daughter's name is mentioned, immediately points with his finger toward heaven as though he already sees her there."

"How could he see her without eyes?"

The priest then replied, partly to himself and partly to Hlawa:

"Perchance he who has lost his bodily vision sees more with his spiritual eyes.... It may be so. It may be! But this, that God should permit so much wrong to be done to such an innocent lamb I do not understand clearly. Why should she suffer so much, even if she had offended the Knights of the Cross. But there was nothing against her and she was as pure as the divine lily, loving to others and lovely as yonder little free singing bird. God loves children, and is compassionate. Bah! If they were to kill her, He is able to resuscitate her as He did Piotrowina, who after having risen from the grave lived for many long years.... Depart in peace, and may God's hand protect you all!"

Then he returned to the chapel to say early Mass. The Bohemian mounted his horse, for it was already broad daylight, and bowed once more toward the window and departed.

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PART SEVENTH: CHAPTER II Prince and Princess Janusz had left with part of the court for the spring fishing at Czerska, of which sport he was extremely fond, and loved it above all others. The Bohemian got much important information from Mikolaj of Dlugolas, treating of private affairs as well as of the war. First he learned that Macko had apparently given up his intended route to Zmudz, the "Prussian enclosure," that a few days ago he had left for Warsaw where be found the princely pair. As to the war, old Mikolaj informed him all that he had already heard
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PART SIXTH: CHAPTER VII But she wiped away her tears, took the armor-bearer with her and went to Jurand to tell him the news. She found him in a bright room, the tame she-wolf at his feet, sitting with Father Kaleb, old Tolima and Sieciechowa. Supporting their heads with their hands, absorbed in thought, and sorrowful, they were listening to a poem which the village beadle, who was also the _rybalt_, accompanied by his lute, sang of Jurand's former exploits against the "abominable Knights of the Cross." The room was lit up by the moon. A very warm and quiet night
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