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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Knights Of The Cross - Part 7 - Chapter 3
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The Knights Of The Cross - Part 7 - Chapter 3 Post by :utopiart Category :Long Stories Author :Henryk Sienkiewicz Date :July 2011 Read :1785

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The Knights Of The Cross - Part 7 - Chapter 3

PART SEVENTH: CHAPTER III

In the woods, about a mile to the east of Kowno, which Witold had destroyed, were stationed the principal forces of Skirwoillo, extending in time of need from point to point in the neighborhood. They made quick expeditions sometimes to the Prussian frontier, and at others against the castles and smaller fortified places which were still in the hands of the Knights of the Cross, and filled the country with flame of war. There the faithful armor-bearer found Zbyszko and Macko only two days after the latter arrived. After greetings, the Bohemian slept like a rock the whole night, only on the following evening he went out to greet the old knight who looked fatigued and ill-humored and received him angrily, and asked him why he had not remained at Spychow as ordered. Hlawa restrained himself till Zbyszko had left the tent, when he justified his conduct, which was owing to Jagienka's command.

He also said that apart from her order, and his natural inclination for war, he was urged by the desire, in case of emergency, to carry the news to Spychow at once. "The young lady," he said, "who has a soul like an angel, is praying against her own interest for Jurandowna. But there must be an end to everything. If Danusia is not alive, then let God give her eternal glory, because she was an innocent lamb. But should she be found, then it will be necessary to let Jagienka know it immediately, so that she may at once leave Spychow, and not wait until the actual return of Jurandowna, which would seem as though she were driven away in shame and dishonor."

Macko listened unwillingly, repeating from time to time: "It is not your business." But Hlawa had resolved to speak openly; he did not entirely agree in this with Macko; at last he said:

"It would have been better if the young lady had been left at Zgorzelice. This journey is in vain. We told the poor lady that Jurandowna was dead and that something else might turn up."

"Nobody but you said that she was dead," exclaimed the knight, with anger. "You ought to have held your tongue. I took her with me because I was afraid of Cztan and Wilk."

"That was only a pretext," replied the armor-bearer. "She might have safely remained at Zgorzelice, and those fellows would have hurt each other. But, you feared, sir, that, in case of Jurandowna's death Jagienka might escape Zbyszko. That is the reason why you took her with you."

"How dare you speak so? Are you a belted knight and not a servant?"

"I am a servant, but I serve my lady; that is the reason why I am watching that no evil betide her."

Macko reflected gloomily, because he was not satisfied with himself. More than once he had blamed himself for taking Jagienka with him, because he felt that in any case, under such circumstances, it would be, to a certain extent, to her disadvantage. He also felt that there was truth in the Bohemian's bold words, that he had taken the girl with him in order to preserve her for Zbyszko.

"It never entered my head," he said, nevertheless, to deceive the Bohemian. "She was anxious to go herself."

"She persisted because we said that the other was no more in this world, and that her brother would be safer without than with her; it was then that she left."

"You persuaded her," shouted Macko.

"I did, and I confess my guilt. But now, sir, it is necessary to do something; otherwise we shall perish."

"What can one do here?" said Macko, impatiently, "with such soldiers, in such a war?... It will be somewhat better, but that cannot be before July, because the Germans have two favorable seasons for war, viz: winter when everything is frozen, and the dry season. Now it is only smouldering, but does not burn. It seems that Prince Witold went to Krakow to interview the king and ask his permission and help."

"But in the neighborhood are the fortresses of the Knights of the Cross. If only two could be taken, we might find there Jurandowna, or hear of her death."

"Or nothing."

"But Zygfried brought her to this part of the country. They told us so at Szczytno, and everywhere, and we ourselves were of the same opinion."

"But did you observe these soldiers; go into the tents and look for yourself. Some of them are armed with clubs, whilst others with antiquated swords made of copper."

"Bah! As far as I have heard they are good fighters."

"But they cannot conquer castles with naked bodies, especially those of the Knights of the Cross."

Further conversation was interrupted by the arrival of Zbyszko and Skirwoillo, who was the leader of the Zmudzians. He was a small man and looked like a boy, but broad shouldered and strong, his chest protuded so much that it looked like a deformity, his hands were long, they almost reached his knees. In general he resembled Zyndram of Maszkow, a famous knight, whom Macko and Zbyszko had formerly known in Krakow, because he also had a tremendous head and bowed legs. They said that he too understood the art of war very well. He had spent a lifetime in fighting the Tartars in Russia, and the Germans, whom he hated like the plague. In those wars he had learned the Russian language, and later on, at the court of Witold, he had learned some Polish. He knew German, at least he repeated only the three words: "Fire, blood and death." His big head was always filled with ideas and stratagems of war, which the Knights of the Cross could neither foresee nor prevent. He was therefore banished from the lands on the other side of the frontier.

"We were talking of an expedition," said Zbyszko to Macko, with unusual animation, "and that is the reason why we came here so that we too might learn your opinion."

Macko sat down with Skirwoilla upon a pine stump covered with a bear skin. Then he ordered the servants to bring little tubs full of mead from which the knights drew with tin cups and drank. Then after they had taken refreshment, Macko asked:

"Do you want to undertake an expedition?"

"Burn the German castles...."

"Which?"

"Ragnety, or Nowe (new) Kowno."

"Ragnety," said Zbyszko. "We were three days in the neighborhood of Nowe Kowno, and they beat us."

"Just so," said Skirwoilla.

"How so?"

"Well."

"Wait," said Macko, "I am a stranger here, and do not know where Nowe Kowno and Ragnety are."

"From this place to Old Kowno is less then a mile,"(115) replied Zbyszko, "and from that place to Nowe Kowno, is the same distance. The castle is situated upon an island. We wanted to cross over yesterday, but we were beaten in the attempt; they pursued us half the day, then we hid ourselves in the woods. The soldiers scattered and only this morning some of them returned."

(Footnote 115: One Polish mile is about three American miles.)


"And Ragnety?"

Skirwoilla stretched his long arms, pointed toward the north, and said:

"Far! Far...."

"Just for the reason that it is distant," replied Zbyszko, "there is quiet in the neighborhood, because all the soldiers were withdrawn from there and sent to this place. The Germans there expect no attack; we shall therefore fall upon those who think themselves secure."

"He speaks reasonably," said Skirwoilla.

Then Macko asked:

"Do you think that it will also be possible to storm the castle?"

Skirwoillo shook his head and Zbyszko replied:

"The castle is strong, therefore it can only be taken by storm. But we shall devastate the country, burn the towns and villages, destroy provisions, and above all take prisoners, among whom we may find important personages, for whom the Knights of the Cross will eagerly give ransom or exchange...."

Then he turned toward Skirwoillo and said:

"You yourself, prince, acknowledged that I am right, but now consider that Nowe Kowno is upon an island, there we shall neither stir up the people in the villages, drive off the herds of cattle, nor take prisoners, the more so because they have repulsed us here. Ay! Let us rather go where they do not expect us."

"Conquerors are those who least expect an attack," murmured Skirwoillo.

Here Macko interrupted and began to support Zbyszko's plans, because he understood that the young man had more hope to hear something near Ragnety than near Old Kowno, and that there were more chances to take important hostages at Ragnety who might serve for exchange. He also thought that it was better to go yonder at all events and attack an unguarded land, than an island, which was a natural stronghold and in addition was guarded by a strong castle and the customary garrison.

He spoke as a man experienced in war, he spoke in a clear manner, he adduced such excellent reasons that convinced everybody. They listened to him attentively. Skirwoillo raised his brows now and then as an affirmative sign; at times he murmured: "Well spoken." Finally he moved his big head between his broad shoulders so that he looked like a hunchback, and was absorbed in thought.

Then he rose, said nothing, and began to take leave.

"How then will it be, prince?" inquired Macko. "Whither shall we move?"

But he replied briefly:

"To Nowe Kowno."

Then he left the tent.

Macko and the Bohemian looked at each other for some time in surprise; then the old knight placed his hands upon his thighs and exclaimed:

"Phew! What a hard stump!... He listens, listens and yet keeps his mouth shut."

"I heard before that he is such a man," replied Zbyszko. "To tell the truth all people here are obstinate; like the little fellow, they listen to the reasoning of others, then ... it is like blowing in the air."

"Then why does he consult us?"

"Because we are belted knights and he wants to hear the thing argued on both sides. But he is not a fool."

"Also near Nowe Kowno we are least expected," observed the Bohemian, "for the very reason that they have beaten you. In that he is right."

"Come, let us see the people whom I lead," said Zbyszko, "because the air in the tent is too close. I want to tell them to be ready."

They went out. A cloudy and dark night had set in, the scene was only lit up by the fire around which the Zmudzians were sitting.

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