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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Knights Of The Cross - Part 8 - Chapter 3
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The Knights Of The Cross - Part 8 - Chapter 3 Post by :Dwayne_Garrett Category :Long Stories Author :Henryk Sienkiewicz Date :July 2011 Read :2463

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The Knights Of The Cross - Part 8 - Chapter 3


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 humid wilderness, and as his hands were bound and his legs fastened beneath the horse's belly, he was unable to drive them away. Hlawa did not directly torture him in the least, but he had no compassion for him, and only unfastened his right hand to enable him to eat when he stopped for refreshment.

"Eat, ravening wolf, so that I may bring you alive to the lord of Spychow." Such were the words of inducement to stimulate Zygfried's appetite. At first Zygfried resolved to starve himself to death; but when be heard the announcement that in such case Hlawa would forcibly open his teeth with a knife and stuff the food down his throat, he gave up his intention in order to avoid such a degradation of the Order and knightly honor.

But the Bohemian was particularly anxious to arrive at Spychow before his master, so that he might spare his adored young lady from shame. Simple, but courageous and fearless, he was not void of knightly noble sentiment, and he well understood that Jagienka would be humiliated if she were at Spychow together with Danusia. "It will be possible to tell the bishop, in Plock (he thought) that the old knight of Bogdaniec, owing to his guardianship, thought it necessary to take her with him, and then, as soon as it was known that she was the bishop's ward, and besides Zgorzelice she was also entitled to the abbot's estate, then even the _wojewoda's son would not be too great for her." That thought contributed to soothe his troubled mind. The very reason of his conveying good news to Spychow troubled his mind, as it would be the source of misfortune to Jagienka.

The beautiful face of Sieciechowna, as red as an apple, often appeared before his eyes. On such occasions, he would, if the road permitted, tickle the horse's sides with his spurs, because he wanted to reach Spychow as soon as possible.

They traveled along intricate roads, or rather no roads at all, through the woods, going straight ahead as the reaper does. The Bohemian knew that by pushing on a little toward the west and constantly in a southerly direction, he would reach Mazowsze and then all would go well. During the daytime he followed the sun, and at night he marched by the stars. The wilderness in front of him appeared endless. Days and nights passed by. More than once he thought that Zbyszko would not succeed in bringing the woman through the terrible wilderness alive, where there was no food to be procured, and where the horses must be guarded by night from wolves and bears. During the daytime they had to get out of the way of herds of bison and aurochs; where the terrible wild-boar sharpens his crooked tusks against the roots of the pine-trees, and very often it happened that those who made no use of the crossbow, or did not strike with the pike into the sides of a deer or young boar, such passed whole days without food.

"How will it be here," thought Hlawa, "with a maiden who is already almost tortured to death!"

Now and then, it happened that they had to cross swamps and deep ravines, which continuous spring rains filled for days with rushing streams. Lakes, too, were not wanting in the wilderness, in which they saw at sunset whole flocks of deer and elk disporting in the red transparent waters.

Often they also perceived smoke which showed the presence of people. On several occasions Hlawa approached such forest settlements, whence wild people would issue, clothed with skins upon their naked bodies, armed with clubs and bows, and looking from under their shaggy-tangled hair; the men took them to be werewolves. It was necessary to take advantage of their first astonishment whilst they were looking at the knights, and leave them in the greatest haste.

Arrows whistled twice near the Bohemian's ears, and he heard the shouts of "Wokili" (Germans!) But he preferred to run away rather than to make himself known. Finally, after a few days he began to think that perhaps he had already crossed the frontier, but there was nobody from whom he could ascertain. Only when he met some colonists who spoke the Polish language did he get the information, that he finally stood upon Mazowszian soil.

There it was better, although the whole eastern part of Mazowsze was also one wilderness. But it did not terminate uninhabitated as the other did. When the Bohemian arrived at a colony they were less shy--perhaps because they were not so much brought up in constant hatred, or that the Bohemian could converse with them in Polish. The only trouble with them was the boundless curiosity of the people who surrounded the travelers, and overwhelmed them with questions. When they were informed that he carried a prisoner, a Knight of the Cross, they said:

"Give him to us, sir, we will take care of him!"

They importuned the Bohemian so much, that he often became very angry with them, but at the same time, he explained, that he could not grant their request because the prisoner belonged to the prince. Then only they relented. Later on when he arrived in the inhabited places among the nobles and land-owners, he did not get off so easily. The hatred against the Order was raging, because everywhere they still remembered vividly the wrongs which the prince had suffered at its hands when, in time of peace, the Knights of the Cross had kidnapped the prince near Zlotorja and imprisoned him. They did not wish to dispatch Zygfried at once. But here and there, one of the doughty Polish nobles would say: "Unbind him and we will give him arms, and then challenge him to deadly combat." To such the Bohemian would give a potent reason: that the right to vengeance belonged to the unfortunate lord of Spychow, and one must not deprive him of that privilege.

The journey through the inhabited region was easy; because there were good roads and there was plenty of provender for the horses. The Bohemian continued his uninterrupted march until after ten days' travel he arrived before Corpus Christi day at Spychow.

He arrived in the evening, at the same time as when he had brought the news from Macko, that he had left Szczytno for the Zmudz country. It also happened now as before, that Jagienka, observing him through the window, rushed toward him, and he fell at her feet. He was speechless for a while. But she soon lifted him up and took him aside, as she did not wish to interrogate him in the presence of others.

"What news?" she asked, trembling with impatience, and scarcely able to catch her breath. "Is she alive? Well?"

"Alive! Well!"

"Has she been found?"

"She has. They rescued her."

"Praised be Jesus Christ!"

But whilst she spoke these words her face assumed a deathly pallor, because all her hopes crumbled into dust.

However, her strength did not forsake her, neither did she lose consciousness. After a moment she mastered herself entirely and enquired again:

"When will she be here?"

"Within a few days! She is sick and the road is very bad."

"Is she sick?"

"Martyred. Her reason is confused with her tortures."

"Merciful Jesus!"

Silence reigned for a moment. Jagienka's lips became pale and they moved as though in prayer.

"Did she recognize Zbyszko?" she asked again.

"She may have done so, but I am not sure, because I left at once, in order to inform you, lady, of the news. That is the reason why I am standing here."

"God reward you. Tell me how it happened!"

The Bohemian related briefly how they rescued Danusia, how they captured the giant Arnold together with Zygfried. He also informed them that he had brought Zygfried with him, because the young knight wished to present him to Jurand so that the latter might avenge himself.

"I must now go to Jurand," said Jagienka, when he had finished.

Then she left, but Hlawa had not been long alone when Sieciechowna rushed toward him from the next apartment; but either because not entirely conscious, owing to the fatigue and exceeding great troubles he had passed through, or owing to his yearning for her, he entirely forgot himself when he saw her; suffice it to say he caught her by the waist, pressed her to his breast and kissed her eyes, cheeks and mouth in such a manner as though he had previously informed her of everything that was necessary for her to know before the kissing began.

Perhaps he had already told her everything in spirit, when upon the road, therefore he kissed her and kept on kissing endlessly. He embraced her so strongly that she lost her breath. Yet she did not defend herself, at first from surprise and then, from faintness, so that were it not for Hlawa's powerful grasp she would have fallen to the ground.

Fortunately this did not last too long because distant steps were heard on the stairs, and after a moment, Father Kaleb rushed into the room.

They then quickly separated, and the priest began to overwhelm him with questions. But Hlawa was unable to catch his breath and replied with difficulty. The priest thought that his condition was owing to fatigue. But when the news of the finding of Danusia, her rescue and the presence of her torturer in Spychow was confirmed by Hlawa, he fell upon his knees to thank God for it. Meanwhile Hlawa quieted down a little, and when the priest got up, he was able to repeat his story in a more intelligent and quiet manner in what way Danusia had been found and how they had rescued her.

"God did not deliver her," the priest said, whilst listening to his narrative, "in order that her reason and soul should be restored whilst she was in the darkness and in the power of the unclean. Let Jurand only lay his saintly hand upon her, and offer only one of his prayers, and he will restore her reason and health."

"Knight Jurand?" asked the Bohemian, with astonishment. "Does he possess so much power? Can he become a saint whilst he is alive?"

"Before God he is considered a saint even whilst he is alive. But when he dies the people will have one more patron saint in heaven;--a martyr."

"But you said, reverend father,'that if he were only to lay his saintly hands upon the head of his daughter.' Has his right hand grown again? for I know you prayed for it."

"I said: 'the hands,' as it is customary to say," replied the priest. "But one hand is enough, if God will."

"Surely," answered Hlawa.

But in his voice there was something discouraging when he thought that it appeared like a miracle. Jagienka's entrance interrupted further conversation.

"Now I have informed him carefully of the news," she said. "To avoid the death, which sudden joy might cause, but he fell with the cross in his hands and prayed."

"I am sure that he will be in such a condition till morning, as he is accustomed to lie prostrate in prayer whole nights," said Father Kaleb.

And so it happened; they called to see him several times and each time they found him stretched on the ground, not asleep but in such a fervent prayer that it bordered on perfect ecstasy. Now the watchman, whose duty it was to watch according to custom over Spychow from the top of the tower, said afterward that he observed that night an extraordinary brightness in the house of the "Old lord."

Very early on the following morning when Jagienka called again to see him, he showed his desire to see Hlawa and the prisoner. The prisoner was brought before him immediately from the dungeon. He was tightly bound with his hands crossed upon his chest. All, including Tolima, advanced toward the old man.

But owing to a dark, cloudy day and the insufficient light of a threatening tempest, which penetrated the bladder panes, the Bohemian was unable to see Jurand well. But as soon as his keen eyes grew accustomed to the darkness and looked upon him, he scarcely recognized him. The gigantic man had dwindled to a giant skeleton. His face was so white that it did not much differ from his snow-white hair, and when he bowed on the arm of his chair, with his eyelids closed, he appeared to Hlawa like a real corpse.

In front of the chair stood a table; upon it were a crucifix, a pitcher of water, and a loaf of black bread in which stuck the _misericordia_, that terrible knife which the knights made use of in dispatching the wounded. Besides bread and water, Jurand enjoyed no other nourishment. His only garment consisted of coarse sackcloth upon his naked body fastened with a straw girdle. Such was the manner of living of that once powerful and terrible knight of Spychow, since his return from his captivity in Szczytno.

Now, when he heard them arrive, he kicked aside the tame she-wolf which gnawed at his bare feet, It was then that Jurand appeared to the Bohemian like a real corpse. There was suspense for a moment, because they expected some sign from him ordering them to talk: but he sat motionless, pale, and peaceful; his mouth, a little opened, had the real appearance of one who is plunged in the everlasting sleep of death.

Jagienka finally announced that Hlawa was there, and gently enquired:

"Do you wish to hear him?"

Old Jurand nodded his head affirmatively, and the Bohemian began, for the third time, to narrate briefly the story of the battles with the Germans near Gotteswerder. He told him of the fight with Arnold von Baden and how they had rescued Danusia. Not wishing to add new pains to the sufferings of the old martyr and destroy the effect produced by the good news of Danusia's rescue, he purposely avoided relating that her mind suffered for a long time on account of terrible distress. But, on the other hand, as his heart was filled with rancor against the Knights of the Cross, and thirsting to see Zygfried receive his deserved terrible chastisement, he purposely mentioned the fact that when they found her she was terrified, emaciated and sick, and it was evident that they must have treated her as executioners do, and had she remained longer in their terrible hands she would have withered and perished as a little flower withers and perishes when trodden under foot.

Whilst Hlawa recited the news, the sky was overcast and the clouds grew darker, which showed the approach of a storm. The copper-colored masses of clouds which hung over Spychow rolled more heavily upon one another.

Jurand was motionless and listened to the recital without any trembling, so that he appeared to be in deep sleep. Nevertheless, he heard and understood everything, for when Hlawa told the story of Danusia's woes, two large drops of tears rolled down his cheeks from the hollows of his eyes. Only one earthly feeling still remained in his breast, and that was love for his child.

Then his blue lips began to move in prayer. The first distant thunderclaps were heard outside. Now and then lightning illuminated the windows. He prayed long, and again the tears trickled down upon his white beard. When he finally ceased to pray, long silence reigned, which was so much prolonged as to cause uneasiness to those present because they did not know what to do.

Finally, old Tolima, who was Jurand's right hand, his companion in all battles, and the chief guard of Spychow, said:

"That man of Hades, that werewolf Knight of the Cross who tortured you and your child stands now before you. Give a sign what shall be done to him, and in what manner we shall chastise him!"

Upon hearing these words, rays of light crossed Jurand's face and he nodded to them to bring the prisoner near him. And in the twinkling of an eye, two men grasped him by the shoulders and placed him in front of the old man, who stretched out his hand to Zygfried's face, which he touched as though to feel the outlines and recognize it for the last time. Then he lowered his hand to Zygfried's chest upon which he felt his bound hands, touched the fastening ropes, again closed his eyelids and bowed his head.

They thought that he was absorbed in thought, but whether that was so or not, it was not of long duration, because after a while he started out of his reverie and pointed with his hand in the direction of the loaf of bread, in which the ill-omened _misericordia stuck.

Then, Jagienka, the Bohemian, even old Tolima and all present held their breath. It was a hundredfold well-deserved punishment, a righteous revenge. Yet their hearts palpitated at the thought that the half-alive old man should be groping to slash the bound prisoner.

But Jurand, seizing the knife in the middle, ran his finger along its sharp edge, so that he might feel the thing he was cutting, and began to sever the bonds upon Zygfried's arms.

At that sight, all were seized with amazement, because they understood his desire and could scarcely believe it. However, that was too much for them. Hlawa was the first to murmur; he was followed by Tolima and the other men. Only the priest Kaleb began to ask, in a voice broken with unrestrained weeping:

"Brother Jurand, what are your wishes? Do you intend to give the prisoner his liberty?"

"It is so!" replied Jurand, nodding his head affirmatively.

"No punishment for him, nor vengeance? Is that your desire?"

"It is!" and he nodded again.

Open discontent was shown in the murmurs and anger of the men, but the priest did not wish to belittle such an unheard-of deed of mercy. He turned to the murmurers and exclaimed:

"Now who dares to oppose the saint? Down upon your knees!"

Then he knelt down himself and began to say:

"Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come...."

And he repeated the Lord's Prayer to the end. At the words: "And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us," he directed his eyes involuntarily toward Jurand, whose face actually assumed an unearthly radiance.

That sight, and that expressive prayer crushed the hearts of all present; even old Tolima, the confirmed, hardened warrior, made the sign of the Holy Cross, and immediately embraced Jurand's feet and said:

"Lord, if you want your wishes to be accomplished, then the prisoner should be led to the frontier."

"Yes!" nodded Jurand.

The storm approached nearer and nearer and the lightning more frequently illuminated the windows.

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The Knights Of The Cross - Part 8 - Chapter 4 The Knights Of The Cross - Part 8 - Chapter 4

The Knights Of The Cross - Part 8 - Chapter 4
PART EIGHTH: CHAPTER IV Two horsemen, in the midst of the storm and pouring rain, reached the frontier of Spychow. They were Zygfried and Tolima. The last mentioned accompanied the German to protect him from the waylaying peasants and the servants of Spychow, who burned with hatred and revenge toward him. Zygfried was unarmed, but he was not fettered. The rainstorm, driven by the tempest, had already overtaken them. Now and then, when it suddenly thundered, the horses reared. They traveled in deep silence in a ravine. Owing to the narrowness of the road, they were at times so near that

The Knights Of The Cross - Part 8 - Chapter 2 The Knights Of The Cross - Part 8 - Chapter 2

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