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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Knights Of The Cross - Part 7 - Chapter 7
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The Knights Of The Cross - Part 7 - Chapter 7 Post by :Marcio_Dias Category :Long Stories Author :Henryk Sienkiewicz Date :July 2011 Read :2722

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The Knights Of The Cross - Part 7 - Chapter 7

PART SEVENTH: CHAPTER VII

Zbyszko gave orders for him to be laid upon one of the captured wagons which were laden with spare wheels and axles for the expedition coming to relieve the castle. He mounted another horse, and with Macko they continued the pursuit of the fleeing Germans. It was not a difficult pursuit, because the German horses were not speedy enough, particularly upon the ground softened by the spring rains, more especially for Macko, who had with him a light and fleet mare which belonged to the deceased _wlodyka of Lenkawice. After a distance of several furlongs he passed almost all the Zmudzians. He soon reached the first German trooper, whom he at once challenged according to the then prevailing custom among the knights, to surrender or fight. But the German feigned deafness. He even threw away his shield to relieve the horse, and bent in the saddle and spurred his horse. The old knight struck him with his broad axe between the shoulder-blades, and he fell to the ground.

Thus Macko avenged himself upon the fleeing Germans for the treacherous shot he had once received. They ran before him like a herd of frightened deer. They had no thought of continuing the fight or defending themselves, but of fleeing before that terrible man. Some dashed into the forest, but one stuck fast near the stream: him the Zmudzians strangled with a halter. Then a hunt as if after wild beasts began after the crowd of fugitives which sprang into the woods.

The depths of the forests rang with the shouts of the hunters and the shrieks of the hunted until the latter were exterminated. Then the old knight, accompanied by Zbyszko and the Bohemian, returned to the battlefield upon which lay the hacked bodies of the German infantry. They were already stripped naked. Some were mutilated by the revengeful Zmudzians. It was an important victory, and the soldiers were drunk with joy. After the last defeat suffered by Skirwoilla near Gotteswerder, a sort of apathy had seized the Zmudzians, more especially because the promised relief from Prince Witold had not yet arrived as quickly as expected. However, now hope revived and the fire was kindled anew as when wood is thrown upon glowing embers. The number of slain Germans, as well as Zmudzians to be buried, was very great, but Zbyszko ordered a special grave to be dug for the _wlodykas of Lenkawice, who contributed so much toward the victory. They were buried there among the pine-trees, and Zbyszko cut a cross with his sword upon the bark. Then he ordered the Bohemian to keep watch over de Lorche who was still unconscious; he stirred up the people and hurried on along the road toward Skirwoilla to lend him affective assistance in case of emergency.

But after a long march he came across a deserted battlefield that resembled the former, being covered with German and Zmudzian corpses. It was easy for Zbyszko to conclude that the terrible Skirwoilla had also gained an equally important victory over the enemy, because if he had been defeated, Zbyszko would have met the victorious Germans marching to the castle. But the victory must have been a bloody one, because for some distance a great number of dead were met with. The experienced Macko was able to deduce from this that some Germans had even succeeded in retreating from the defeat.

It was difficult to tell whether Skirwoilla was pursuing them or not, because the tracks were mingled and confused. He also concluded that the battle had taken place quite early, perhaps earlier than Zbyszko's fight, for the corpses were livid and swollen, and some of them torn by wolves, that scattered in the thickets at the approach of armed men.

In face of these circumstances Zbyszko resolved not to wait for Skirwoilla, but to return to the original safe camp. He arrived there late at night and found the leader of the Zmudzians who had arrived somewhat early. His face, which usually wore a sullen expression, was now lighted with fiendish joy. He asked at once about the result of the fight, and when he was told of the victory he said in tones that sounded like the croaking of a crow:

"I am glad of your victory, and I am glad of mine. They will send no more relief expeditions for some time, and when the great prince arrives there will be more joy, for the castle will be ours."

"Have you taken any prisoners?" inquired Zbyszko.

"Only small fry, no pike. There was one, there were two but they got away. They were pikes with sharp teeth! They cut the people and escaped."

"God granted me one." replied the young knight. "He is a powerful and renowned knight, although a Swede--a guest!"

The terrible Zmudzian raised his hands to his neck and with the right hand made a gesture like the up-jerk of a halter:

"This shall happen to him," he said, "to him as well as to the other prisoners ... this!"

Then Zbyszko's brow furrowed.

"Listen, Skirwoilla," he said. "Nothing will happen to him, neither _this nor _that because he is my prisoner and my friend. Prince Janusz knighted both of us. I will not even permit you to cut off one finger from his hand."

"You will not permit?"

"No, I will not."

Then they glared fiercely into each other's eyes. Skirwoilla's face was so much wrinkled that it had the appearance of a bird of prey. It appeared as if both were about to burst out. But Zbyszko did not want any trouble with the old leader, whom he prized and respected; moreover his heart was greatly agitated with the events of the day. He fell suddenly upon his neck, pressed him to his breast and exclaimed:

"Do you really desire to tear him from me, and with him my last hope? Why do you wrong me?"

Skirwoilla did not repel the embrace. Finally, withdrawing his head from Zbyszko's arm, he looked at him benignantly, breathing heavily.

"Well," he said, after a moment's silence. "Well, to-morrow I will give orders for the prisoners to be hanged, but if you want any one of them, I will give him to you."

Then they embraced each other again and parted on good terms--to the great satisfaction of Macko, who said:

"It is obvious that you will never be able to do anything with him by anger, but with kindness you can knead him like wax."

"Such is the whole nation," replied Zbyszko; "but the Germans do not know it."

Then he gave orders for de Lorche, who had taken rest in the booth, to be brought to the camp-fire. A moment later the Bohemian brought him in; he was unarmed and without a helmet, having only his leather jacket upon which the marks of the coat of mail were visible. He had a red cap on his head. De Lorche had already been informed by Hlawa that he was a prisoner and therefore he came in looking cool and haughty, and the light of the flames revealed defiance and contempt in his countenance.

"Thank God," Zbyszko said, "that He delivered you in my hands, because nothing evil shall happen to you by me."

Then he extended a friendly hand; but de Lorche did not even move.

"I decline to give my hand to knights who outrage knightly honor, by joining pagans in fighting Christian knights."

One of the Mazovians present, who could not restrain himself, owing to Zbyszko's importance, on hearing this became excited and his blood boiled.

"Fool!" he shouted and involuntarily grasped the handle of his "_misericordia_."

But de Lorche lifted up his head.

"Kill me," he said. "I know that you do not spare prisoners."

"But, do you spare prisoners?" the Mazur who could not restrain himself, exclaimed: "Did you not hang on the shore of the island all the prisoners you took in the last fight? That is the reason why Skirwoilla will hang all his prisoners."

"Yes! they did hang them, but they were pagans."

There was a certain sense of shame in his reply; it could easily be seen that he did not entirely approve of such deeds.

Meanwhile, Zbyszko controlled himself, and in a quiet and dignified manner said:

"De Lorche, you and I received our belts and spurs from the same hand, you also know well that knightly honor is dearer to me than life and fortune. Listen, therefore, to my words which I say under oath to Saint Jerzy: There are many among this people whose Christianity does not date from yesterday, and those who have not yet been converted stretch out their hands toward the Cross for salvation. But, do you know who hinder them and prevent their salvation and baptism?"

The Mazur translated all Zbyszko's words to de Lorche, who looked into the young knight's face questioningly.

"The Germans!" said Zbyszko.

"Impossible," shouted de Lorche.

"By the spear and spurs of Saint Jerzy, the Germans! Because if the religion of the Cross were to be propagated here, they would lose a pretext for incursions, and domination and oppression of this unhappy people. You are well acquainted with these facts, de Lorche! You are best informed whether their dealings are upright or not."

"But I think that in fighting with the pagans they are only banishing them to prepare them for baptism."

"They are baptizing them with the sword and blood, not with water that saves. Read this letter, I pray, and you will be convinced that you yourself are the wrongdoer, plunderer and the hell-_starosta of those who fight religion and Christian love."

Then he handed him the letter which the Zmudzians had written to the kings and princes, which was distributed everywhere; de Lorche took it and perused it rapidly by the light of the fire. He was greatly surprised, and said;

"Can all that be true?"

"May God, who sees best, so help you and me that I am not only speaking the truth but I also serve justice."

De Lorche was silent for a moment and then said:

"I am your prisoner."

"Give me your hand," replied Zbyszko. "You are my brother, not my prisoner."

Then they clasped hands and sat down in company to supper, which the Bohemian ordered the servant to prepare.

De Lorche was greatly surprised when he was informed on the road that Zbyszko, in spite of his letters, had not got Danusia, and that the _comthurs had refused important and safe conduct on account of the outbreak of the war.

"Now I understand why you are here," he said to Zbyszko, "and I thank God that He delivered me into your hands, because I think that through me the Knights of the Order will surrender to you what you wish. Otherwise there will be a great outcry in the West, because I am a knight of importance and come from a powerful family...."

Then he suddenly threw down his cap and exclaimed:

"By all the relics of Akwizgran! Then those who were at the head of the relief train to Gotteswerder, were Arnold von Baden and old Zygfried von Loeve. That we learned from the letters which were sent to the castle. Were they taken prisoners?"

"No!" said Zbyszko, excitedly. "None of the most important! But, by God! The news you tell me is important. For God's sake, tell me, are there other prisoners from whom I can learn whether there were any women with Zygfried?"

Then he called the men to bring him lit resinous chips and he hastened to where the prisoners were gathered by order of Skirwoilla. De Lorche, Macko and the Bohemian ran with him.

"Listen," said de Lorche to Zbyszko, on the way. "If you will let me free on parole I will run and seek her throughout the whole of Prussia, and when I find her, I will return to you and you will exchange me for her."

"If she lives! If she lives!" replied Zbyszko.

Meanwhile they reached the place where Skirwoilla's prisoners were. Some were lying upon their backs, others stood near the stumps of trees to which they were cruelly fastened with fibre. The bright flame of the chips illuminated Zbyszko's face. Therefore all the prisoners' looks were directed toward him.

Then from the depths of the road there was heard a loud and terrible voice:

"My lord and protector! Oh, save me!"

Zbyszko snatched from the hands of the servant a couple of burning chips and ran into the forest toward the direction whence the voice proceeded, holding aloft the burning chips, and cried:

"Sanderus!"

"Sanderus!" repeated the Bohemian, in astonishment.

But Sanderus, whose hands were bound to the tree, stretched his neck and began to shout again.

"Mercy!... I know where Jurand's daughter is!... Save me."

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PART SEVENTH: CHAPTER VIII The soldiers unbound him at once, but his limbs were benumbed and he fell; when they lifted him up he was seized with successive fainting fits. In spite of Zbyszko's orders for him to be taken to the fire and given food and drink, and rubbed over with fat and then covered with warmed skins, Sanderus did not recover consciousness, but lapsed into a very deep sleep, which continued until noon of the following day when the Bohemian succeeded in awakening him. Zbyszko, who was burning with fiery impatience, immediately went to him, but at first he
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