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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Knights Of The Cross - Part 8 - Chapter 4
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The Knights Of The Cross - Part 8 - Chapter 4 Post by :Richie_Carey Category :Long Stories Author :Henryk Sienkiewicz Date :July 2011 Read :1785

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The Knights Of The Cross - Part 8 - Chapter 4


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 they struck each other's stirrups. Tolima, who had been accustomed to guard prisoners for many years, frequently looked at Zygfried watchfully, as though he were guarding against his escaping suddenly, and an involuntary shudder seized him every time he looked at Zygfried, because his eyes appeared to him to be shining in the darkness like the eyes of an evil spirit, or of a vampire. It struck Tolima that it would be advisable to make the sign of the cross over Zygfried, but he refrained from doing so, because, he thought, that under the sign of the cross, he would hear unearthly voices, and Zygfried would be transformed into a hideous being. His teeth chattered and his fear increased. The old soldier who could fight singly against a whole band of Germans and fall fearlessly upon them, as a hawk swoops upon a flock of partridges, was nevertheless afraid of unclean spirits, and wanted to have nothing to do with them. He would have preferred simply to point out to the German the road and return; but he was ashamed of himself, therefore he led him as far as the frontier.

It was then, when they had drawn near the border of the Spychow forest, that the rain ceased, and the clouds were lit up with a strange yellowish light, that Zygfried's eyes lost that above-mentioned unnatural glare. But Tolima was seized with another temptation: "They ordered me," he said to himself, "to lead this mad dog safely as far as the frontier. I have done that; but must the torturer of my master and his daughter leave without revenge and punishment? Would it not be a proper and God-pleasing deed to kill him? Ay! I should like to challenge him to deadly combat, but he is not armed. Very soon at _Pan Warcimow's farm, about a mile from here, they will supply him with some weapon, and then I will challenge him. With God's help I shall overthrow him, then kill him, and fitly, cut off his head and bury it in the dung!" These were the words which Tolima said to himself. Then looking greedily at the German he began to dilate his nostrils as if he already smelt fresh blood. He fought hard in his mind with that desire; it was hard wrestling with himself, until he reflected that Jurand had not only granted to the prisoner his life and freedom as far as the frontier, but also beyond it, otherwise Jurand's holy deed would have no merit and the heavenly reward for him would thereby be lessened. He finally prevailed over himself, and reining in his horse, said;

"Here is our border; your side is not far from here; proceed, you are free; and if the qualms of conscience do not take you off, or God's thunder does not strike you, then you need not fear man."

Then Tolima returned; and Zygfried proceeded. His face looked as if petrified and a savage expression was depicted upon it. He did not reply a single word, as though he heard nothing that was said to him. He continued his journey now upon a wider road and had the appearance of one who is fast asleep.

The break in the storm and the brightening of the sky only lasted a short time. It darkened again; so much so that it looked like the darkness of night. The clouds traveled so low that they quite enveloped the forest and from the hills came down an ill-boding obscurity, a kind of hissing and growling of impatient vampires, who were kept back by the angel of the storm. Blinding lightning illuminated the threatening sky every moment and terrified the land. Then one could see the broad highway extending between the two black walls of forest, and upon it a lonely horseman. Zygfried moved on in a semi-conscious condition, consumed by fever. Despair had lacerated his heart since Rotgier's death and filled it with crimes of revenge. Remorse, awful visions, soul stirrings had already tortured his mind in the past to such a degree that with great effort he had to fight madness; there were even moments when he could fight no longer and he surrendered. But the new troubles, fatigue upon the road under the strong hand of the Bohemian, the night he had passed in the dungeon of Spychow, the uncertainty of his fate, and above all, that unheard-of and almost superhuman deed, had quite terrified him. All this had brought him to a climax. There were moments when his mind became so stupefied that he entirely lost his judgment and he did not know what he was doing. Then the fever awoke him and, at the same time awoke within him a certain dull feeling of despair, destruction, and perdition,--a feeling that all hope was already gone, extinguished and ended. He felt that about him was only night, night and darkness, a horrible abyss into which he must plunge.

Suddenly a voice whispered in his ear:

"Go! Go!"

And he looked around him and saw the very image of death, a skeleton mounted upon a skeleton horse, pressing closely beside him, with his white rattling bones.

"Is it you?" asked Zygfried.

"Yes it is. Go! Go!"

But at that moment he glanced to the other side and observed that he had another companion there. Stirrup to stirrup rode a form, appearing somewhat like a human being but for his face and head. It had the head of an animal, with raised long pointed ears, covered with black shaggy hair.

"Who are you?" asked Zygfried.

But the being, instead of replying, showed its teeth and growled.

Zygfried closed his eyes, but in a moment he heard a louder clattering of bones and the voice speaking to him in the same ear:

"Time! Time! Hurry on, go!"

"I go!" he replied.

But that last reply came from his breast and seemed to have been uttered by somebody else. Then, impelled as it were by an external unconquerable power, he dismounted and took off his high knight's saddle, and then the bridle. His companions also dismounted, and did not leave him for a moment. They left the middle of the road and went toward the margin of the wood. There, the black being bent down a branch of a tree and assisted him in fastening to it the strap of the bridle.

"Hurry!" whispered Death.

"Hurry!" whistled some voices from the tops of the trees.

Zygfried, who was like one plunged in deep sleep, drew through the buckle the other end of the strap so as to form a noose. Then he stepped upon the saddle which he had placed in front of the tree, and adjusted the noose upon his neck.

"Push back the saddle! ... Already! Ah!"

The saddle, which he pushed with his feet, rolled away several paces and the body of the unfortunate Knight of the Cross hung heavily. It seemed to him, only for a short moment, that he heard a kind of smothering, snorting and roaring, and that abominable vampire threw itself upon him, shook him and then began to tear his breast with its teeth to rend his heart. Then, as the light of his eyes was about extinguished he yet saw something else; for lo, death dissolved into a whitish cloud, which slowly approached him, embraced him, and finally surrounded and covered all with a dismal and impenetrable veil.

At that moment the storm broke with great fury. Thunder roared in the middle of the road with such a terrible crash that it seemed as though the earth was shaken to its very foundations. The whole forest bent under the tempest. The noise of whistling, hissing, howling, creaking of the trunks, and cracking of the broken branches, filled the depths of the woods. The tempest-driven sheets of rain hid the world from sight. Only at short intervals, when lit up by blood-colored lightning, could be seen the wild dangling body of Zygfried by the roadside.

* * * * *

The following morning, advancing upon the same road, a numerous train might be seen. In front was Jagienkna, with Sieciechowna and the Bohemian. Behind them moved the wagons, surrounded by four servants, armed with bows and swords. Every driver had also a spear and an axe near him, not counting forged hayforks and other cutting arms suitable upon the road. Those arms were necessary for protection against wild beasts, as well as robbers, who always swarmed upon the border of the Knights of the Cross. This caused Jagiello to complain in his letters to the Grand Master of the Order, and when they met at Racionza.

But being provided with skilful men and good arms, the retinue traveled without fear.

The stormy day was succeeded by a wonderful one; cheerful, silent and so bright that the eyes of the travelers were blinded when not in the shade. Not a single leaf stirred; from each of them hung large drops of rain which the sun changed into a rainbow. Among the pine-needles they had the appearance of large glistening diamonds. The rainfall produced small streams upon the road, which ran with glad sound toward the lower places, where they formed shallow little lakes. The whole neighborhood was wet and bedewed, but smiling in the morning brightness. On such mornings, also, the human heart is filled with gladness. Therefore the ostlers and servants began to sing; they marveled at the silence which reigned among those riding in front of them.

But they were quiet because a heavy burden oppressed Jagienka's heart. There was something which had ended in her life, something broken. Although she was not experienced in meditation and could not determine distinctly the cause and what was going on in her mind, yet she felt that all that had lived hitherto had vanished, that all her hopes had dissipated as the morning mist upon the fields is dissipated. She felt that she must now renounce and give up everything and forget, and begin almost a new life. She also thought that although, with God's will, her present position was not of the worst, yet it could not be otherwise than sad, and in no way could the new life turn out to be as good as that which had just terminated. And an immense sorrow had taken hold of her heart, so that, at the thought that every past hope was gone forever, tears came to her eyes. But not wishing to add shame to her other troubles, she restrained herself from weeping. She wished that she had never left Zgorzelice; in that case she would not now have to return thither. Then, she thought, it was not only to remove the cause for attacks upon Zgorzelice by Cztan and Wilk that Macko brought her to Spychow. That she could not believe. "No," she said, "Macko also knew that that was not the only cause for taking me away. Perhaps Zbyszko will also know it." At that thought, her cheeks became crimson and bitterness filled her heart.

"I was too daring," she said to herself, "and now I have what I deserved. Trouble and uncertainty to-morrow, suffering and deep sorrow in the future and with it humiliation."

But the train of oppressing thoughts was interrupted by a man coming hastily from the opposite direction. The Bohemian, whose eyes nothing escaped, rushed toward the man, who with crossbow upon his shoulder and badger-skin pouch at his side, and with a feather of a black woodcock in his cap, was recognized as a forester.

"Hey! Who are you? Stop!" exclaimed the Bohemian.

The man approached quickly, his face was agitated, and had the expression of those who have something extraordinary to communicate. He cried:

"There upon the road ahead of you is a man hanging on a tree!"

The Bohemian was alarmed, thinking that it might be a murder, and he asked the man quickly:

"How far from here is it?"

"A bowshot distance, and upon this road."

"Is there nobody with him?"

"Nobody; I frightened away a wolf that was smelling around him."

The mention of a wolf quieted Hlawa, for it told him that there were neither people nor farms in the neighborhood.

Then Jagienka said:

"Look there, what is that?"

Hlawa rushed ahead, and soon returned hurriedly.

"Zygfried is hanging there!" he exclaimed while reining in his horse in front of Jagienka.

"In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost! You do not mean Zygfried, the Knight of the Cross?"

"Yes, it is he. He hung himself with the bridle."

"Did you say by himself?"

"It seems so, because the saddle lies alongside him, and if there were robbers they would have killed him outright and made off with the saddle, because it is valuable."

"Shall we proceed?"

"Let us not go that way! No!" cried Anula Sieciechowna, afraid. "Something evil might happen to us!"

Jagienka was also somewhat afraid, because she believed that the body of a suicide is surrounded by crowds of evil spirits. But Hlawa, who was fearless and bold, said:

"Bah! I was near him, and even pushed him with the lance, and do not feel any devil upon my neck."

"Do not blaspheme!" cried Jagienka.

"I am not blaspheming," replied the Bohemian, "I only trust in God's power. Nevertheless, if you are afraid we will go around it."

Sieciechowna begged him to do so; but Jagienka, having reflected for a moment, said:

"It is not proper to leave the dead unburied. It is a Christian act commanded by the Lord. Anyhow it is the body of a man."

"Yes, but it is the body of a Knight of the Cross, a hangman and executioner! Let the crows and wolves occupy themselves with his body."

"It was not specified. God will judge for his sins, but we must do our duty; and if we fulfil God's commandment nothing evil will befall us."

"Well, then, let it be done according to your wishes," replied the Bohemian.

Accordingly he gave the order to the servants, who were reluctant. But they feared Hlawa, to oppose whom was a dangerous thing. Not having the necessary spades to dig a hole in the ground, they therefore gathered pitchforks and axes for that purpose and left. The Bohemian also went with them and to give them an example, he crossed himself and cut with his own hands the leather strap upon which the body was hanging.

Zygfried's face had become blue whilst hanging; he had an awful appearance, because his eyes were open and terror-stricken, his mouth was also open as though in the act of trying to catch his last breath. They quickly dug a pit near by and pushed therein the corpse of Zygfried with the handles of their pitchforks; they laid him with his face downward and covered it first with dust, then they gathered stones and placed them upon it, because it was an immemorial custom to cover the graves of suicides with stones; otherwise they would come out during the night and frighten the passers-by.

As there were many stones upon the road and under the mosses, the grave was soon covered with a considerable mound. Then Hlawa cut a cross with his axe upon the trunk of the pine-tree near. He did that, not for Zygfried, but to prevent evil spirits from gathering at that place. Then he returned to the retinue.

"His soul is in hell and his body is already in the ground," he said to Jagienka. "We can travel now."

They started; but Jagienka, whilst passing along, took a small branch of pine-tree and pressed it upon the stones. Then everybody of the train followed the example of the lady. That, too, had been an old custom.

They traveled for a long while absorbed in thought, thinking of that wicked monk and knight. Finally Jagienka said:

"God's justice cannot be escaped. It does not even permit the prayer, 'Everlasting rest'(118) to be offered up because there is no mercy for him."

(Footnote 118: _Wieczny odpoczynek racz
mu daj Panie_. "God rest his soul.")


"You have shown by your order to bury him that you possess a compassionate soul," replied the Bohemian.

Then he spoke hesitatingly: "People talk. Bah! maybe they are not people, but witches and wizards--that a halter or a strap taken from the hanging body secures to the possessor certain luck in everything. But I did not take the strap from Zygfried, because I wish that your luck should proceed from the Lord Jesus and not from necromancers."

Jagienka did not reply to that at once, but after awhile she sighed several times and said as it were to herself:

"Hey! My happiness is behind, not in front of me."

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The Knights Of The Cross - Part 8 - Chapter 5 The Knights Of The Cross - Part 8 - Chapter 5

The Knights Of The Cross - Part 8 - Chapter 5
PART EIGHTH: CHAPTER V It was not until the end of the ninth day after Jagienka's departure that Zbyszko reached the frontier of Spychow, but Danusia was already so near death that he entirely lost all hope of bringing her alive to her father. On the following day, when she began to be incoherent in her replies, he observed that not only her mind was out of order, but that she was also suffering from a certain malady against which that childlike frame, exhausted by so much suffering, prison, torture and continuous fright, could not fight. Perhaps the noise of the

The Knights Of The Cross - Part 8 - Chapter 3 The Knights Of The Cross - Part 8 - Chapter 3

The Knights Of The Cross - Part 8 - Chapter 3
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