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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Knights Of The Cross - Part 8 - Chapter 2
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The Knights Of The Cross - Part 8 - Chapter 2 Post by :tonybhachu Category :Long Stories Author :Henryk Sienkiewicz Date :July 2011 Read :1973

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The Knights Of The Cross - Part 8 - Chapter 2

PART EIGHTH: CHAPTER II

Sir Arnold was informed in the morning of the flight of the servant of the Order; he chuckled at the news, on the other hand he held the same opinion as Macko, viz, that she might fall a prey to the wolves, or be slain by the Lithuanians. The latter was not at all improbable, since the inhabitants of that locality who were descendants of the Lithuanians abhorred the Order and all those who came in contact with it. Some of the male population had joined Skirwoillo, others had risen in arms and slaughtered the Germans here and there; they, their families and their cattle hid themselves in the inaccessible fastnesses of the forest. They searched the following day for the servant, but without success, because Macko and Zbyszko were occupied with more important matters; hence the lack of indispensable ardor in the searchers.

They were obliged to push on toward Mazowsze; they wished to start at once, at the rising of the sun, but they were unable to do so because Danuska was in a profound sleep, and Zbyszko would not permit her to be disturbed.

He listened to her moanings during the night-time and thought that she was not asleep. He, therefore, promised himself good results. Twice he stealthily went into the hut; twice he saw by the light falling through crevices of the logs her closed eyes, open mouth and glowing face, as little children are wont to have when asleep. His tears melted his heart at that sight, and he said to her:

"May God grant you health my most beloved little flower." Then he continued: "Your troubles are ended, your tears are ended. May the most merciful Lord Jesus grant that your happiness may be as inexhaustible as the flowing river."

Then, lifting up his simple and upright heart heavenward, he asked himself: "With what can I thank Thee? What shall I render to Thee for Thy favors? Shall I offer to the Church some of my wealth, grain, herds, wax, or something of the same nature acceptable to God?" He was even about to vow and name accurately his offerings, but he wished to wait and see the result when Danusia awoke, whether she had recovered her senses so that there might be reason for thanksgiving.

Although Macko knew well that there would be perfect safety when once in the domains of Prince Janusz, nevertheless he was also of the opinion that it was better not to disturb Danusia's rest. He therefore kept his horses and servants in readiness but waited.

Nevertheless when it was past noon and Danusia continued to sleep, they were somewhat alarmed. Zbyszko, who was incessantly watching, looking through the crevices and door, entered suddenly for the third time into the hut and sat down upon the block where the servant had dressed Danusia yesterday.

He sat and gazed at her, but she had her eyes closed. But after the lapse of a short time, not more than it takes to say one "Pater" and "Ave Maria," her lips began to twitch a little, and she whispered as though she saw through her closed eyelids:

"Zbyszko...."

In an instant be threw himself upon his knees in front of her, grasped her emaciated hands, which he kissed in ecstasy. Then he addressed her in a broken voice:

"Thank God! Danuska! You recognize me."

His voice awoke her completely. Then she sat up in the bed and with open eyes she repeated:

"Zbyszko!"

Then she began to blink and look around her in amazement.

"You are no more in captivity," said Zbyszko. "I have rescued you from their hands and I am taking you to Spychow."

But she withdrew her hands from Zbyszko's and said:

"All this came to pass because there was no permission from dear papa. Where is the princess?"

"Awake, then, dear little berry! The princess is far away and we have rescued you from the Germans."

Then she appeared not to notice his words but seemed to try to recollect something.

"They have also taken away my little lute and have broken it against the wall. Hey!"

"O God!" exclaimed Zbyszko.

He then observed that she was absent-minded and her eyes were glassy and her cheeks were glowing, and it struck him that she must be very ill, and the mention of his name twice was due to feverish hallucinations.

This caused his heart to tremble within him with despair and a cold sweat covered his brow.

"Danuska!" he said. "Do you see and understand me?"

But she replied in a low voice:

"Drink! Water!"

"Gracious Lord!"

And he rushed out, and at the door encountered Macko, who was coming to ascertain her condition. Zbyszko could only tell him hurriedly, "Water;" and then hastened to the stream which ran among neighboring bushes.

He returned after a moment with a full pitcher of water and handed it to Danusia who drank it with much avidity. Macko entered the hut before Zbyszko and seeing the patient he became gloomy.

"She is feverish?" he said.

"Yes!" groaned Zbyszko.

"Does she understand what you say?"

"No."

The old knight furrowed his brow, then he began to rub his neck and nape with his hands.

"What is to be done?"

"I do not know."

"There is only one thing to be done," said Macko.

But Danusia, who finished drinking, interrupted him at that moment; she fixed her dilated pupils on him, and said:

"You too I have not offended, have mercy upon me!"

"We have pitied you already, child. We only desire your welfare," replied the old knight, somewhat agitated.

Then he turned to Zbyszko:

"Listen, there is no use to leave her here. The wafting of the wind and the rays of the sun will probably benefit her. Do not lose your head, boy, but take her to the same cradle wherein she was when they brought her here--or upon the saddle and let us move on! Do you understand?"

Then he left the hut to give the last orders, but he had scarcely looked in front of him, when he suddenly stood still--as if nailed to the spot.

A numerous host of infantry armed with pikes and spears was surrounding the huts, ovens and clearing, on all sides like a wall.

"Germans!" thought Macko.

He was greatly terrified, but in a moment he grasped the hilt of his sword, clenched his teeth, and had the appearance of a wild beast at bay, ready to defend himself desperately.

Then the giant-like Arnold, and another knight, advanced toward them from the shanty, and when he approached Macko, Arnold said:

"Fortune's wheel turns rapidly. I was your prisoner yesterday; you are mine to-day."

Then he looked haughtily at the old knight as one looks upon an inferior person. He was neither a very bad man, nor a very cruel one, but he had the defect common to all Knights of the Cross, who in spite of their being well-bred and even humane, looked with contempt upon those whom they conquered, neither could they suppress their great pride when they felt themselves the stronger.

"You are prisoners," he repeated, haughtily.

The old knight looked around gloomily; he was very serious but audacious in his heart.

Were he armored, upon his charger, and with Zbyszko at his side;--if both had swords in their hands and were armed with axes, or the terrible "woods," which the Polish noblemen knew how to wield dexterously, he would then have probably attempted to break through, that wall of lances and spears. Not without reason did the foreign knights, quoting it as an objection, exclaim to the Polish in the fight near Wilno: "You scorn death too much."

But Macko was on foot facing Arnold, alone, without his coat of mail. He therefore looked around and observed that his men had already thrown down their arms, and he thought that Zbyszko too was with Danusia in the hut, entirely unarmed. As an experienced man, and much accustomed to war, he knew that there was no chance whatever.

Therefore he slowly drew the short sword from its sheath and threw it at the feet of the knight who stood at Arnold's side, who without the least of Arnold's haughtiness, but at the same time with benevolence, replied in excellent Polish:

"Your name, sir? I shall not put you in bonds but shall parole you, because I see you are a belted knight, and you treated my brother well."

"My word!" replied Macko.

Having informed him who he was, Macko inquired whether he would be permitted to go to the hut and warn his nephew against any mad action. His request was granted. He entered and remained there for a while and emerged with the _misericordia in his hands.

"My nephew is even without a sword, and he begs you to permit him to remain with his wife as long as you intend to stay here."

"Let him remain," said Arnold's brother. "I shall send him food and drink; we shall not move soon, because the people are tired out and we too are in need of refreshment and rest. Sir, we also invite you to accompany us."

Then they turned and went to the same fireplace near which Macko had spent the night. But either from pride, or from ignorance they permitted him to walk behind them. But he, being a great warrior, knowing how it ought to be, and adhering strictly to custom, inquired:

"Pray, sir, am I your guest or a prisoner?"

Arnold's brother was shamed at first; he halted and said:

"Proceed, sir."

The old knight went in front, not wishing to hurt the self-respect of the very man from whom he expected much.

"It is evident, sir, that you are not only acquainted with courteous speech, but your behavior is also courtly."

Then, Arnold, who only understood a few words, asked:

"Wolfgang, what are you talking about?"

"I am doing the right thing," said Wolfgang, who was evidently flattered by Macko's words.

They sat down at the fireside, and began to eat and drink. The lesson which Macko had given to the German was not in vain. Wolfgang regaled Macko first at the repast.

The old knight learned, from the conversation which followed, how they were caught in the trap. Wolfgang, the younger brother of Arnold, led also the Czluch infantry to Gotteswerder, against the rebellious Zmudzians. Those, however, proceeding from distant counties could not arrive in time to assist Arnold. The latter did not think it necessary to wait for them because be expected to meet on the road other bodies of infantry proceeding from the towns and castles situated on the adjacent Lithuanian frontier. This was the reason that his younger brother delayed his march several days, and thus it happened that he found himself on the road in the neighborhood of the tar-burners, where the fugitive woman-servant of the Order informed him of the ill-luck which had happened to his older brother. Arnold, whilst listening to the narrative which was told him in German, smiled with satisfaction; finally he affirmed that he expected such a result.

But the crafty Macko, who, in whatever situation he was, always tried to find some remedy, thought that it would be of advantage to him to make friends with the Germans, therefore he said after a while:

"It is always hard to fall into captivity. Nevertheless, thank God, I am fortunate to have been delivered into nobody else's hands but yours, because, I believe, that you are real knights and mindful of its honor."

Then Wolfgang closed his eyes and nodded his head somewhat stiffly but evidently with a feeling of satisfaction.

The old knight continued:

"That you speak our language well. God has given you understanding in everything."

"I know your language, because the Czluchs speak Polish, and my brother and I served for seven years in those counties."

"You will in time take office after him. It cannot be otherwise, because your brother does not speak our language."

"He understands it a little, but cannot speak it. My brother is more powerful, although I am not a weakling either, but of duller wit."

"Hey! He does not seem to me dull."

"Wolfgang, what does he say?" asked Arnold again.

"He praises you," replied Wolfgang.

"True, I praised him," added Macko, "because he is a true knight, and that is the reason. I tell you frankly that I intended to let him go entirely free to-day on parole, so that he might go wherever he wished to, even if he were to present himself in a year's time. Such treatment is customary among belted knights."

Then he looked attentively into Wolfgang's face, but it was wrinkled, and he said:

"Were it not for the assistance you have given to the pagan dogs against us, I also might have let you go on parole."

"This is not true," replied Macko.

Then the same asperity of discussion as in yesterday's dispute between Arnold and himself was repeated. However, although right was on the old knight's side, it went on with more difficulty, because Wolfgang was of a more severe disposition than his older brother. Nevertheless, one good thing resulted from the dispute, that Wolfgang learned of all the abominable practices of the Order at Szczytno, their crooked actions and treachery--at the same time he learned of Danusia's misfortunes and tortures. To those very iniquities which Macko had thrown in his teeth he had no reply. He was obliged to acknowledge that the revenge was justifiable, and that the Polish knights were right in their acts, and finally said:

"Upon the glorified bones of St. Liborus! I swear, that I also will not pity Danveld. They said of him that he practiced black magic, but God's power and justice is mightier than black magic. As to Zygfried, I am not sure whether he also served the devil or not. But I shall not hunt for him, because first, I have no horses, and on the other hand, if what you said is true that he outraged that girl, then let him also never return from Hades!"

Here he stretched himself and continued:

"God! Help me till the hour of my death."

"But how will it be with that unfortunate martyr?" inquired Macko. "Are you not going to permit us to take her home? Has she to suffer agony in your underground prisons? Remember, I beseech you, God's wrath!..."

"I have nothing against the woman," replied Wolfgang, roughly. "Let one of you take her home to her father, on condition that he present himself afterward, but the other must remain here."

"Bah! But what if he swears upon his knightly honor and upon the lance of St. Jerzey?"

Wolfgang hesitated a little because it was a great oath; but at that moment Arnold asked a third time:

"What does he say?"

When he informed himself of the matter he opposed it vehemently and rudely. He had his private reasons for it. First, he was conquered by Skirwoillo, then in single combat, by the Polish knight. He also knew that owing to the destruction of the army at the previous engagement it would be impossible for his brother to advance with his infantry to Gotteswerder and he would be obliged to return to Malborg. Moreover he knew that be would be obliged to give an account to the Master and marshal for the defeat, and that it would be to his advantage if he were able to show even one important prisoner. To produce one knight alive is of more value than to explain that two such were captured....

When Macko heard the loud protestations and oaths of Arnold, he resolved, since nothing else could be obtained, to take what was previously offered. Turning to Wolfgang he said:

"Then, I beg one more favor--permit me to acquaint my nephew; I am sure he will see the wisdom of remaining with his wife, while I go with you. At all events, permit me to let him know that he has nothing to say against it, for it is your will."

"Well, it is all the same to me," replied Wolfgang. "But let us talk about the ransom which your nephew must bring for himself and you. Because all depends on that."

"About ransom?" inquired Macko, who would have preferred to postpone that conversation to a later period. "Have we not time enough to talk about it? Where a belted knight is concerned his word is of equal value with ready money, and as to the sum it can be left to conscience. There, near Gotteswerder, we captured one of your important knights, a certain de Lorche. And my nephew (it was he who captured him) paroled him. No allusion whatever was made to the amount of ransom."

"Have you captured de Lorche?" inquired Wolfgang, sharply. "I know him. He is a powerful knight. But why did we not meet him on the road?"

"He, evidently, did not go this way, but went to Gotteswerder, or to Ragniec," replied Macko.

"That knight comes from a powerful and renowned family," repeated Wolfgang. "You have made a splendid capture! It is well then, that you mentioned it. But I cannot let you go for nothing."

Macko chewed his mustache; nevertheless he lifted up his head haughtily, and said:

"Apart from that, we know our value."

"So much the better," said the younger von Baden, and immediately added:

"So much the better. It is not for us, for we are humble monks, who have vowed poverty, but for the Order that will enjoy your money, to God's praise."

Macko did not reply to that but only looked at Wolfgang, with such an expression as to say: "Tell that to somebody else." After awhile they began to bargain. It was a difficult and irritable task for the old knight. On the one hand he was very sensitive to any loss, and on the other hand, he understood that he would not succeed in naming a too small sum for Zbyszko and himself. He therefore wriggled like an eel, especially when Wolfgang, in spite of his polished words and manners, had shown himself excessively grasping and as hard hearted as a stone. Only one thought comforted Macko and that was, that de Lorche would have pay for all, but even that, the loss of de Lorche's ransom, worried him. Zygfried's ransom he did not count in the affair because he thought that Jurand, and even Zbyszko, would not renounce his head for any price.

After long haggling they finally compromised upon the sum in _grzywiens and the time of payment, and stipulated upon the number of horses and men Zbyszko should take with him. Macko went to inform Zbyszko, and advised him not to tarry but depart at once, for something else might meanwhile come into the German's head.

"So it is with knightly conditions," said Macko, sighing. "Yesterday you held them by the head, to-day they hold you. Well, it is a hard lot. God grant that our turn may come. But now, it is necessary not to lose time. If you hasten on, you may yet overtake Hlawa and you will be safer together, and once out of the wilderness and in the inhabited region of Mazowsze you will find hospitality and assistance in every nobleman's or _wlodyka's house. In our country they do not refuse those things even to a foreigner, how much more to one of their own people! The condition of the poor woman might also be improved thereby."

Then he looked at Danusia, who was in feverish half-sleep, breathing quickly and loudly, with her transparent hands stretched upon the black bearskin, trembling with fever.

Macko made the sign of the cross at her and said:

"Hey, take her and go! May God restore her, for it appears to me that her thread of life is being spun very thin."

"Do not say that!" exclaimed Zbyszko, in a distressed tone.

"God's power! I will order your horses to be brought here--and you must leave at once!"

He went out and arranged everything for the journey. The Turks, whom Zawisza had presented to them, led the horses and the litter, filled with mosses and fur, and they were headed by Zbyszko's man, Wit. Zbyszko left the hut in a moment, carrying Danusia in his arms. There was something touching in that, so that even the brothers von Baden, whose curiosity had drawn them to the hut, looked curiously into the childlike face of Danuska. Her face was like that of the holy images in the churches of Our Lady, and her sickness was so great that she could not hold up her head which lay heavily on the young knight's arm. They looked at each other with astonishment, and in their hearts arose a feeling against the authors of her woes.

"Zygfried has the heart of a hangman, and not that of a knight," whispered Wolfgang to Arnold, "and that serpent, although she is the cause of your liberty, I will order to be beaten with rods."

They were also touched when they saw Zbyszko carrying her in his arms, as a mother is wont to carry her child. They comprehended how great was his love for her, for youthful blood coursed in the veins of them both.

He hesitated for awhile whether to keep the patient on horseback near his breast on the road or to lay her in the litter. Finally he resolved upon the latter course, thinking that she might feel more comfortable in a recumbent posture. Then he approached his uncle and bowed to kiss his hand and bid him good-bye. But Macko, who, as a matter of fact, loved Zbyszko as the apple of his eye, was somewhat disinclined to show his agitation in the presence of the Germans; nevertheless he could not restrain himself, and embracing him strongly, pressed his lips to his abundant golden hair.

"May God guide you," he said. "But remember the old man, for it is always a hardship to be in captivity."

"I shall not forget," replied Zbyszko. "May the most Holy Mother comfort you."

"God will recompense you for this and for all your kindness."

Zbyszko mounted his horse immediately, but Macko recollected something and hastened to his side, and placing his hand upon Zbyszko's knee, he said:

"Listen, if you should overtake Hlawa, remember not to molest Zygfried, otherwise you will bring down reproach upon yourself and upon my gray head. Leave him to Jurand, but do nothing to him yourself. Swear to me upon your sword and honor."

"As long as you do not return," replied Zbyszko, "I shall even prevent Jurand from harming him in order to prevent the Germans from injuring you on Zygfried's account."

"So, and you seem to care for me?"

And the young knight smiled sadly. "You well know that, I am sure."

"Move on and good-bye."

The horses moved on, and in a little while disappeared in the hazelnut thickets. Macko felt suddenly very much troubled and lonely and his heart was torn for that beloved boy in whom rested the entire hope of the family. But he soon got rid of his sorrow, for he was a man of valor and could master his emotions.

"Thank God that I am a prisoner and not he."

Then he turned toward the Germans and said:

"And you, gentlemen, when will you start and whither are you going?"

"When it is agreeable to us," replied Wolfgang, "but we go to Malborg, where, sir, you must first appear before the Master."

"Hey! I shall yet have to forfeit my head there, for the help I have given to the Zmudzians," said Macko to himself.

Nevertheless his mind was at rest when he thought that de Lorche was in reserve; the Baden knights themselves would protect his head even if it were only for the ransom.

"Otherwise," he said to himself, "Zbyszko will neither be obliged to present himself nor lessen his fortune."

That thought caused him a certain relief.

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PART EIGHTH: CHAPTER III Zbyszko was unable to overtake Hlawa, because the latter traveled day and night, and only rested as much as was absolutely necessary to avoid the breaking down of the horses, which only subsisted on grass, and were consequently faint and unable to withstand such long marches as they could in regions where oats could be easily procured. Hlawa neither spared himself, nor took into consideration the advanced age and weakness of Zygfried. The old knight suffered terribly, especially because the sinewy Macko had previously wrenched his bones. But still worse were the mosquitoes which swarmed in the
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PART EIGHTH: CHAPTER I Neither loving words nor tender persuasion availed. Danusia recognized nobody and did not regain consciousness. The only feeling which pervaded her whole being was fear, a kind of fear shown by captured birds. When food was brought to her she refused to eat it in the presence of others. In the glances of rejection which she cast upon the food one could detect habitual hunger. Left alone, she sprang upon the eatables like a ravenous little wild beast. But when Zbyszko entered she rushed into the corner and hid herself under a bundle of dry hops. Zbyszko
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