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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Knights Of The Cross - Part 7 - Chapter 8
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The Knights Of The Cross - Part 7 - Chapter 8 Post by :kevins Category :Long Stories Author :Henryk Sienkiewicz Date :July 2011 Read :2458

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The Knights Of The Cross - Part 7 - Chapter 8

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 could get no information from him, because either from his terrible experiences or from the relaxation which usually overpowers weak natures when the threatening danger has passed, Sanderus burst into long and uncontrollable weeping, so that for some time he could give no answer to the questions put to him. He was choked with sobs, his lips trembled, and tears flowed down his cheeks so copiously that it seemed as though his very life was flowing out with them.

Finally he succeeded to some extent in controlling himself, and he strengthened himself a little with mares' milk, which mode of refreshing themselves the Lithunians learned from the Tartars. He began to complain that the "sons of Belial" had thrust him with their pikes against a wild apple-tree; that they had taken away his horse which was laden with relics of priceless virtue; and finally when they had bound him to the tree, the ants had attacked his feet and body so that he expected to die from it, if not to-day, to-morrow.

Zbyszko's anger overcame him and he could restrain himself no longer, and he interrupted Sanderus and said:

"You vagabond, answer the questions I am going to put to you and take care that you tell the truth, or you will fare worse."

"There are red ants yonder," said the Bohemian, "order them to be pat upon him, and he will soon find a tongue in his mouth."

Hlawa did not say this seriously; he even smiled as he spoke, for his heart was well inclined toward Sanderus. The latter, however, was terror-stricken, and shouted.

"Mercy! Mercy! Give me some more of that pagan drink and I will tell you all that I have and that I have not seen."

"If you tell lies, even one word that is not true, I will drive a wedge between your teeth," said the Bohemian.

They brought him another skin full of mares' milk; he grasped it and fastened his lips to it with the avidity that a child does to its mother's breast, and began to gulp it down, alternatively opening and closing his eyes. When he had drank from it about half a gallon or more, he shook himself, placed the skin upon his knees, and as if submitting himself to the inevitable, he said:

"Vile stuff!..." Then he turned toward Zbyszko. "Now, deliverer! ask."

"Was my wife in that division with you?"

Sanderus' face assumed a certain air of surprise. In fact he had heard that Danusia was Zbyszko's wife, but it had been a secret marriage, and immediately afterward she had been abducted, and he had always thought of her as Jurandowna, (Miss Jurand).

He replied quickly:

"Yes, _voyevode! She was! But Zygfried von Loeve and Arnold von Baden broke through the enemy's ranks and escaped."

"Did you see her?" asked Zbyszko, with beating heart.

"I did not see her face, sir, but I saw a closed litter made of brushwood, suspended between two horses, in which there was somebody, led by that very lizard, the same servant of the Order who came from Danveld to the Forest Court. I also heard sad singing proceeding from the litter...."

Zbyszko grew pale with emotion; he sat down on the stump and was unable to ask another question for a while. Macko and the Bohemian were also much moved at this great and important news. The latter, probably, thought about his beloved lady who remained at Spychow, and upon whom this news would fall like a doom.

There was silence for a moment. Finally, the shrewd Macko who did not know Sanderus, and who had scarcely heard of him previously, looked at him with suspicion, and asked:

"Who are you and what were you doing among the Knights of the Cross?"

"Who am I, powerful knight?" replied Sanderus. "Let this valiant prince answer for me," (here he pointed toward Zbyszko), "and this manly Bohemian noble who has known me long."

The effect of the kumys (mares' milk) upon Sanderus apparently began to show itself, for he grew lively, and turning to Zbyszko he spoke in a loud voice and showed no trace of his previous feeble condition.

"Sir, you have saved my life twice. If it were not for you, the wolves would have devoured me, or the punishment of the bishops who were misguided by my enemies. (Oh, what a wicked world this is!) They issued an order to hunt me for selling relics which they thought were not genuine, simply because they took me for one of your people. But you, O lord, protected me, and thanks to you I was not destroyed by the wolves, nor shall their persecution harm me. Food and drink was never lacking whilst I was with you--better than the mares' milk here which makes me sick, but I drink it in order to show how a poor but pious pilgrim can stand all kinds of privations."

"Speak, you bear-trainer; tell us quickly what you know, and do not play the fool," exclaimed Macko.

But he lifted the skin to his mouth again and entirely emptied it; apparently not hearing Macko's words, he turned again to Zbyszko: "This is another reason why I love you. The saints, as it is written in the Scriptures, sinned nine times an hour, consequently, sometimes also Sanderus transgresses, but Sanderus never was nor shall be ungrateful. Therefore, when misfortune came upon you, you remember, sir, what I told you; I said, 'I will go from castle to castle, and, instructing the people along the road, I will search for your lost one.' Whom did I not ask? Where did I not go?--It would take me a long time to tell you.--But, suffice it to say, I found her; and from that moment on, burrs do not cling as tenaciously to the cloak as I attached myself to old Zygfried. I became his servant, and from castle to castle, from one _comthur to another, from town to town I went with him without intermission until this last battle."

Zybszko meanwhile mastered his emotion and said:

"I am very thankful to you and I shall surely reward you. But now, answer my questions. Will you swear, by the salvation of your soul, that she is alive?"

"I swear by the salvation of my soul that she is alive," replied Sanderus, with a serious air.

"Why did Zygfried leave Szczytno?"

"I do not know, sir. But I surmise that as he was never the _starosta of Szczytno, he left it; perhaps he feared the grand master's orders, which were, they say, to give up the little lamb to the Mazovian court. Perhaps that very letter was the cause of his flight, because his soul burned within him with pain and vengeance for Rotgier who, they say now, was Zygfried's own son. I cannot tell what happened there, but this I do know, that something turned his head and he raved, and determined not to surrender Jurand's daughter--I meant to say, the young lady--as long as he lives."

"All this seems to me very strange," suddenly interrupted Macko. "If that old dog thirsts so much for the blood of all who belong to Jurand, he would have killed Danuska."

"He wanted to do so," replied Sanderus, "but something happened to him and he became very sick, and was at the point of death. His people whisper much over that affair. Some say that upon a certain night when he went to the tower intending to kill the young lady he met the Evil Spirit--some say it was an angel whom he met--well--they found him lying upon the snow in front of the tower wholly lifeless. Now, when he thinks about it, his hair stands up upon his head like oak-trees; this is the reason why he does not himself dare to lift up his hand against her, he even fears to order others to do it. He has with him the dumb executioner of Szczytno, but it is not known why, because the executioner as well as others, are equally afraid to harm her."

These words made a great impression. Zbyszko, Macko and the Bohemian came near Sanderus, who crossed himself and then continued:

"It was not well to be among them. More than once I heard and saw things that made my flesh creep. I have told your lordship already that something was wrong with the old _comthur's head. Bah! How could it be otherwise, when spirits from the other world visit him. He would have remained there, but some presence is always near him which sounds like one who is breathless. And that is that very Danveld, whom the terrible lord of Spychow killed. Then Zygfried says to him: 'What shall I do? I cannot avenge you on anything; what profit will you get?' But the other (the ghost) gnashes his teeth and then pants again. Very often Rotgier appears, and the odor of sulphur is noticeable, and the _comthur has a lengthy conversation with him. 'I cannot,' he says to him. 'I cannot. When I come myself then I will do it, but now I cannot.' I also heard the old man asking: 'Will that comfort you, dear son,' and other expressions of the same character. When this happens, the old _comthur speaks to nobody for two or three days in succession, and his face seems as if he is suffering intense pain. He and the woman servant of the Order watch the litter carefully, so that the young lady is always unable to see anybody."

"Do they not torture her?" asked Zbyszko, in hollow tones.

"I will tell your lordship the candid truth, that I did not hear any beating or crying; the only thing I heard proceeding from the litter was sad melodies; sometimes it seemed to me like sweet, sad warblings of a bird...."

"That is terrible," exclaimed Zbyszko, his voice hissing between his set teeth.

But Macko interrupted further questioning.

"That is enough," he said. "Speak now of the battle. Did you see how they departed and what became of them?"

"I saw and will give a faithful account. At first they fought terribly. But when they saw that they were surrounded on all sides, then only they thought of escape. Sir Arnold, who is quite a giant, was the first to break the ring, and opened such a road, that he, the old _comthur and some people with the horse-litter succeeded in passing through it."

"How is it that they were not pursued?"

"They were pursued, but nothing could be done, because when they came too near them, then Sir Arnold faced the pursuers and fought them all. God protect those who meet him, because he possesses such extraordinary strength; he considers it a trifle to fight against a hundred. Thrice he thus turned, thrice he kept the pursuers in check. All the people who were with him perished. It seems to me that he too was wounded, and so was his horse, but he escaped, and meanwhile the old _comthur succeeded in making good his escape."

When Macko heard the story he thought that Sanderus was telling the truth, for he recollected that when he entered the field where Skirwoilla had given battle, the whole stretch of the road on the line of the Germans' retreat, was covered with dead Zmudzians, so terribly hacked as though it had been done by giant hands.

"Nevertheless, how could you observe all that?" he asked Sanderus.

"I saw it," replied the vagabond, "because I grasped the tail of one of the horses which carried the litter, and held on until I received a kick in my stomach. Then I fainted, and that was the reason that you captured me."

"That might happen," said Hlawa, "but take care, if anything you say turns out to be false; in such case you shall fare badly."

"There is another proof," replied Sanderus; "let one who wishes take a note of it; yet it is better to believe a man's word than to condemn him as one who does not tell the truth."

"Although you sometimes unwillingly tell the truth, you will howl for simony."

And they began to tease each other as they formerly did, but Zbyszko interrupted their chatter.

"You have passed through that region, then you must be acquainted with the localities in the neighborhood of the castles; where do you suppose Zygfried and Arnold hide themselves?"

"There are no strongholds whatever in that neighborhood; all is one wilderness, through which a road was recently cut. There are neither villages nor farms. The Germans burned those that were there, for the reason that the inhabitants of those places who are also Zmudzians, had also risen in arms against the Knights of the Cross with their brethren here. I think, sir, that Zygfried and Arnold are now wandering about the woods; either they are trying to return to the place whence they came, or attempting furtively to reach that fortress whither we were going to before that unfortunate battle."

"I am sure that it is so," said Zbyszko. He became absorbed in thought so that he contracted his brows; he was obviously trying to find some plan, but it did not last long. After a while he lifted up his head and said:

"Hlawa! See that the horses and men get ready; we must move at once."

The Bohemian, whose custom was never to ask for reasons when commanded, without saying a single word, got up and ran toward the horses; then Macko opened wide his eyes at his nephew and said with surprise:

"And ... Zbyszko? Hey! Where are you going? What?... How?..."

But he answered his questions with another:

"And what do you think? Is it not my duty?"

The old knight had nothing to say. His looks of astonishment disappeared little by little from his face; he shook his head once or twice and finally drew a deep breath and said as though replying to himself:

"Well! there you are.... There is no other remedy!"

And he also went to the horses, but Zbyszko returned to de Lorche, and by means of a Mazovian interpreter spoke to him thus:

"I cannot ask you to go with me against the people with whom you served. You are therefore free and you may go wherever you please."

"I cannot serve you now with my sword against my knightly honor," replied de Lorche; "but as to your granting me my freedom, I cannot accept that either. I remain your prisoner on parole and shall be at your command whithersoever you send me. And in case you want to exchange prisoners, remember that the Order will exchange for me any prisoner, because I am not only a powerful knight, but I am a descendant of a line of Knights of the Cross of great merit."

Then they embraced each other according to custom, placing their hands on each other's arms and kissing each other on the cheeks, and de Lorche said:

"I will go to Malborg or to the Mazovian court, so that you may know if I am not in one place you can find me in the other. Thy messenger need only tell me the two words, '_Lotaryngia-Geldria_'"

"Well," said Zbyszko, "still I will go to Skirwoilla to obtain a pass for you which the Zmudzians will respect."

Then he called upon Skirwoilla; the old leader gave the pass for his departure without any difficulty, for he knew all about the affair and loved Zbyszko; he was grateful to him for his bravery in the last battle, and for this very reason he made no objection whatever to the departure of the knight who belonged to another country and came on his own account. Then, thanking Zbyszko for the great services which he had rendered, he looked at him in surprise at his courage in undertaking a journey in the wild lands; he bid him good-bye, expressing his wishes to meet him again in some greater and more conclusive affair against the Knights of the Cross.

But Zbyszko was in a great hurry, for he was consumed as with a fever. When he arrived at the post he found everybody ready, and his uncle, Macko, on horseback, among them; he was armed and had on his coat of mail and his helmet upon his head. Zbyszko approached him and said:

"Then you too go with me!"

"But what else could I do?" replied Macko, a little testily.

Zbyszko did not reply, but kissed the right hand of his uncle, then mounted his horse and proceeded.

Sanderus went with them. They knew the road as far as the battlefield very well, but beyond that he was to guide them. They also counted upon the local inhabitants whom they might meet in the woods; who, out of hatred of their masters, the Knights of the Cross, would aid them in tracking the old _comthur and the knight, Arnold von Baden, to whom Sanderus attributed such superhuman strength and bravery.

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PART SEVENTH: CHAPTER IX The road to the battlefield where Skirwoilla had routed the Germans was easy, because they knew it, and so they soon reached it. Owing to the insufferable stench arising from the unburied dead, they crossed it in a hurry. As they did so, they drove away wolves, and large flights of crows, ravens and jackdaws. Then they began to look for traces along the road. Although a whole division had passed over it on the previous day, nevertheless, the experienced Macko found upon the trampled road without trouble, the imprint of gigantic hoofs leading in an opposite
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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
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