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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Knights Of The Cross - Part 7 - Chapter 6
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The Knights Of The Cross - Part 7 - Chapter 6 Post by :candyman340 Category :Long Stories Author :Henryk Sienkiewicz Date :July 2011 Read :3545

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The Knights Of The Cross - Part 7 - Chapter 6


Zbyszko inquired hurriedly, how many horsemen and infantry were among them, in what manner they were advancing, and above all the exact distance; and he learned from the Zmudzian that their number did not exceed one hundred and fifty warriors and that about fifty of that number were horsemen led by a Knight of the Cross, who appears to be of the secular knights; that they were marching in ranks and had empty wagons with a supply of wheels upon them; and that at a distance in front of the detachment were bodies of archers composed of eight men who frequently left the road and searched the woods and thickets, and finally that the detachment was about one quarter of a mile distant.

Zbyszko was not particularly pleased with the information of the manner of their advancing in battle array. He knew by experience how difficult it was to break the ordered German ranks, and how such a crowd could retreat and fight in the same manner as a wild-boar that defends itself when brought to bay by dogs. On the other hand, he was glad of the news that they were only a quarter of a mile distant, because he calculated that the people who were detached to cut off their retreat had already done so,--and, in case of the Germans being routed, not a single soul could escape. As to the outpost at the head of the detachment he did not care much, because he knew from the first that such would be the case and was prepared for them; he had given orders to his men to allow them to advance, and if they were engaged in searching the thickets to capture them quietly one by one.

But the last order seemed unnecessary; the scouts advanced without delay. The Zmudzians who were hidden in the growths near the highway had a perfect view of the advancing party when they halted at the turning and took counsel. The chief, a powerful red-bearded German, who signalled to them to keep silence, began to listen. It was visible for a moment that he hesitated whether to penetrate the forest or not. At last, as there was only audible the hammering of the woodpeckers, and he apparently thought that the birds would not be working so freely if people were hidden among the trees. Therefore he waved his hand for the detachment to go forward.

Zbyszko waited until they were near the second turning, then he approached the road, at the head of his well-armed men, including Macko, the Bohemian, and the two noble volunteers from Lenkawice, and three young knights from Ciechanow, and a dozen of the better armed Zmudzian nobles. Further concealment was not necessary. Nothing remained for Zbyszko but to station himself in the middle of the road and, as soon as the Germans appeared, to fall upon them, and break their ranks. If that might be accomplished, he was sure that his Zmudzians would take care of the Germans.

There was silence for a little while, which was only disturbed by the usual forest noises, but soon there were heard the voices of people proceeding from the east side; they were yet a considerable distance away but the voices grew little by little more distinct as they approached.

Without losing a moment's time, Zbyszko and his men placed themselves in the form of a wedge in the middle of the road. Zbyszko himself formed the sharp end and directly behind him were Macko and the Bohemian, in the row behind them were three men, behind those were four; all of them were well armed. Nothing was wanting but the "wooden" lances of the knights which could greatly impede the advance of the enemy in forest marches, instead of those long handled lances; theirs were shorter and lighter. Zmudzian weapons were well adapted for the first attack, and the swords and axes at their saddles were handy for combat at close quarters.

Hlawa was wide awake and listening; then he whispered to Macko:

"They are singing, they shall be destroyed."

"But what surprises me is that the woods obscure them from our sight," replied Macko.

Then Zbyszko, who considered further hiding and silence unnecessary, replied:

"Because the road leads along the stream; that is the reason for its frequent windings."

"But how merrily they are singing!" repeated the Bohemian.

One could judge from the melody that the Germans were singing profane songs indeed. It could also be distinguished that the singers were not more than about a dozen, and that they all repeated only one burden which resounded far and wide in the forest, like a thunderstorm.

Thus they went to death, rejoicing and lusty.

"We shall soon see them," said Macko.

Then his face suddenly darkened and assumed a wolf-like and savage expression. He had a grudge against the knights for the shots which he had received at the time when he went to Zbyszko's rescue, on that occasion when he was the carrier of letters from Prince Witold's sister to the grand master. Therefore his blood began to boil, and a desire for vengeance overflowed his soul.

The fellow who first attacks will not fare well, thought Hlawa, as he looked at the old knight.

Meanwhile the wind carried the sound of the phrase which the singers repeated:

"Tandaradei! Tandaradei!" The Bohemian at once recognized the song known to him:

"Bi den rosen er wol mac
Merken wa mir'z houlet lac...."

Then the song was interrupted, because upon both sides of the road was heard such a croaking noise that it seemed as if the crows were holding parliament in that corner of the forest. The Germans were wondering whence so many crows came, and why they proceeded from the ground and not from the tops of the trees. In fact the first line of the soldiers appeared at the turning and halted as though nailed to the spot, when they observed unknown horsemen facing them.

At the same moment Zbyszko sat down in his saddle, spurred his horse, and rushed forward, crying:

"At them!"

The others galloped with him. The terrible shouting of the Zmudzian warriors was heard from the woods. Only a space of about two hundred feet separated Zbyszko from the enemy, who, in the twinkling of an eye, lowered a forest of lances toward Zbyszko's horsemen; the remaining lines placed themselves with the utmost dispatch on both sides to protect themselves against an attack from the direction of the forest. The Polish knights might have admired the dexterity of the German tactics, but there was no time for contemplation, owing to the great speed and impetus of their horses in their charge upon the close phalanx of the Germans.

Happily for Zbyszko, the German cavalry were in the rear of the division near the wagon train; in fact, they hastened at once to their assistance, but they could neither reach them in time nor pass beyond them so as to be of any assistance at the first attack. The Zmudzians, pouring from the thickets, surrounded them like a swarm of poisonous wasps upon whose nest a careless traveler had trod. Meanwhile Zbyszko and his men threw themselves upon the infantry.

The attack was without effect. The Germans planted the ends of their heavy lances and battle-axes in the ground, held them fast and even so that the Zmudzian light horses could not break the wall. Macko's horse, which received a blow from a battle-axe in the shin, reared and stood up on his hind legs, then fell forward burying his nostrils in the ground. For a while death was hovering above the old knight; but he was experienced and had seen many battles, and was full of resources in accidents. So he freed his legs from the stirrups, and grasped with his powerful hand the sharp end of the pike which was ready to strike him, and instead of penetrating his chest it served him as a support. Then he freed himself, and, springing among the horsemen, he obtained a sword and fell upon the pikes and battle-axes with such fury as an eagle swoops upon a flock of long-beaked cranes.

At the moment of attack Zbyszko sat back on his horse, charged with his spear--and broke it; then he also got a sword. The Bohemian, who, above all, believed in the efficacy of an axe, threw it in the midst of the Germans. For a while he remained without arms. One of two _wlodykas who accompanied him was slain in the onset; at the sight of that, the other lost his reason and raved so that he began to howl like a wolf, stood up upon his blood-covered horse and charged blindly into the midst of the throng. The Zmudzian noblemen cut with their sharp blades the spearheads and wooden handles, behind which they observed the faces of the _knechts (common soldiers) upon which was depicted alarm, and at the same time they were frowning with determination and stubbornness. But the ranks remained unbroken. Also the Zmudzians, who made a flank attack, quickly retreated from before the Germans, as one runs away from a venomous snake. Indeed they returned immediately with yet greater impetuosity, but they did not succeed. Some of them climbed up the trees in the twinkling of an eye and directed their arrows into the midst of the _knechts_, but when their leader saw this he ordered the soldiers to retreat toward the cavalry. The German ranks also began to shoot, and from time to time a Zmudzian would fall down and tear the moss in agony, or wriggle like a fish drawn from the water. The Germans, indeed, could not count upon a victory, but they knew the efficacy of defending themselves, so that, if possible, a small number, at least, might manage to escape disaster and reach the shore.

Nobody thought of surrendering, because they did not spare prisoners, they knew that they could not count upon mercy from people who were driven to despair and rebellion. They therefore retreated in silence, in close rank, shoulder to shoulder, now raising, now lowering their javelins and broad axes, hewing, shooting with their crossbows as much as the confusion of the fighting permitted them, and continuing to retreat slowly toward their horsemen, who were engaged in life and death battle with another section of the enemy.

Meanwhile something strange occurred which decided the fortune of the stubborn fight. It was caused by the young _wlodyka of Lenkawice, who became mad at the death of his companion; he did not dismount, but bent down and lifted up the body of his companion with the object of depositing it in a safe place to save it from mutilation, and so that he might find it after the battle was over. But at that very moment a fresh wave of madness came over him and he entirely lost his mind, so that instead of leaving the road, he rushed toward the German soldiers and threw the body upon the points of their pikes, which penetrated the corpse in various parts, and the weight caused them to bend, and before the Germans were able to withdraw their weapons, the raving man fell in, breaking the ranks and overturning the men like a tempest.

In the twinkling of an eye, half a score of hands were extended toward him and as many pikes penetrated the flanks of his horse, but the ranks were thrown into disorder, and one Zmudz noble who was near, rushed through and immediately after him came Zbyszko, then the Bohemian, and the terrible confusion increased every moment. Other _bojars followed the example, seized corpses and thrust them against the enemies' arms, whilst the Zmudzians again attacked the flanks. The order which had hitherto reigned in the German ranks wavered; it began to shake like a house whose walls are cracked; it was cleft like a log by a wedge, and finally it burst open.

In a moment the fighting turned to slaughter, the long German pikes and broad axes were of no use at close quarters. Instead of it the swords of the horsemen fell upon helmet and neck. The horses pressed into the midst of the throng, upsetting and trampling the unfortunate Germans. It was easy for the horsemen to strike from above and they took advantage of the opportunity and ceaselessly cut the enemy. From the woods on both sides continually arrived wild warriors, clothed in wolves' skins, and with a wolfish desire for blood in their hearts. Their howling drowned the voices praying for mercy and those of the dying. The conquered threw away their arms; some tried to escape into the forest, others feigned death and fell to the earth, others stood erect, their faces white as snow, and bloodshot eyes, whilst others prayed. One of them, apparently demented, began to play the pipe, then looked upward and smiled, until a Zmudzian crushed his head with a club. The forest ceased to rustle and death dominated it.

Finally the small army of the Knights of the Cross melted away; only at times there were heard voices of small bands fighting in the woods, or a terrible cry of despair. Zbyszko, Macko and all their horsemen now galloped toward the cavalry. They were still defending themselves, placing themselves in the form of a wedge. The Germans were always accustomed to adopt that manoeuvre when surrounded by an overwhelming force of the enemy. The cavalry were mounted upon good horses and were better armed than the infantry; they fought manfully and obstinately and deserved admiration. There was none with a white mantle among them, but they were of the middle classes and small nobility of the Germans who were obliged to go to war when called upon by the Order. Most of their horses were also armed, some had body armor; but all had iron head covers with a spike of steel protruding from the centre. Their leader was a tall, sturdy knight; he wore a dark blue coat of mail and a helmet of the same color, with a lowered steel visor.

A rain of arrows was showered upon them from the depths of the forest. But they did but little harm. The Zmudzian infantry and cavalry came nearer and surrounded them like a wall, but they defended themselves, cutting and thrusting with their long swords so furiously that in front of the horses' hoofs lay a ring of corpses. The first lines of the attackers wanted to retire, but they were unable to do so. There was a press and confusion all around. The eyes became dazzled by the glint of the spears and the flash of the swords. The horses began to neigh, bite, rear and kick. Then the Zmudz noblemen charged down; Zbyszko, Hlawa and the Mazovians fell upon them. By dint of the press, the German throng began to waver, and swayed like trees before a storm, but they hewed like choppers of firewood in the forest thickets, and advanced slowly amidst fatigue and excessive heat.

But Macko ordered his men to gather together the long-handled German battle-axes from the battlefield, and armed with them thirty of his wild warriors pressed on eagerly toward the Germans. "Strike the horses' legs!" he shouted. A terrible effect was soon apparent. The German knights were unable to reach the Zmudzians with their swords, at the same time the battle-axes were crushing the horses' legs. It was then that the blue knight recognized that the end of the battle was at hand, and that he had only two resources left--either to fight his way through the army and retreat, or to remain and perish.

He chose the first plan, and in a moment his knights turned their faces in the direction whence they came. The Zmudzians fell upon their rear. Nevertheless the Germans threw their shields upon their shoulders and cut in front and to the sides, and broke through the ranks of the attacking party, and hurricane-like, fled toward the east. But that division which had been despatched for that purpose, rushed to meet them; but by dint of superior fighting and the greater weight of the horses, they fell in a moment like flax before a storm. The road to the castle was open, but escape thither was insecure and too far away, because the Zmudzian horses were fleeter than those of the Germans. The blue knight was quite aware of it.

"Woe!" he said to himself. "Here none will escape; perhaps I may purchase their salvation with my own blood."

Then he shouted to his men to halt, and himself turned around toward the foe, not caring whether any one overheard his command.

Zbyszko galloped up to him first, the German struck him upon the visor, but without breaking it or harming Zbyszko. At the same time, Zbyszko, instead of giving stroke for stroke, grasped the knight by the middle, but, in the attempt to take him alive, engaged in a close struggle, during which the girth of his horse gave way from the intense strain of the contest, and both fell to the ground. For a while they wrestled; but the extraordinary strength of the young man soon prevailed against his antagonist; he pressed his knees against his stomach, holding him down as a wolf does a dog who dares to oppose him in the woods.

But there was no need to hold him, because the German fainted. Meanwhile Macko and the Bohemian arrived at a gallop. Zbyszko shouted: "Quick, here! A rope!"

The Bohemian dismounted, but seeing the helplessness of the German, he did not bind him, but disarmed him and unbuckled his armlets and his belt, and with the attached "_misericordia_," (dagger of mercy) cut the gorget, and lastly he unscrewed the helmet.

But he had scarcely glanced in the face of the knight, when he started back and exclaimed:

"Master! master! please only look here!"

"De Lorche!" shouted Zbyszko.

And there lay de Lorche pale and motionless as a corpse, with closed eyes and face covered with perspiration.

Content of PART SEVENTH: CHAPTER VI (Henryk Sienkiewicz's novel: The Knights of the Cross)

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The Knights Of The Cross - Part 7 - Chapter 7 The Knights Of The Cross - Part 7 - Chapter 7

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

The Knights Of The Cross - Part 7 - Chapter 5 The Knights Of The Cross - Part 7 - Chapter 5

The Knights Of The Cross - Part 7 - Chapter 5
PART SEVENTH: CHAPTER V They arrived very early at Niewiazy where they crossed the river, some on horseback, some upon bundles of osier. Everything went with such dispatch that Macko, Zbyszko, Hlawa and the Mazovian volunteers were astonished at the skilfulness of the people; only then they understood why neither woods, nor swamps, nor rivers could prevent Lithuanian expeditions. When they emerged from the river none had taken off his wet clothing, not even the sheep and wolfskin coats, but exposed themselves to the rays of the sun until they steamed like pitch-burners, and after a short rest they marched hastily