THE KNIGHTS OF THE CROSS
By HENRYK SIENKIEWICZ
Author Of "Quo Vadis," "The Deluge," "With Fire And Sword," "Pan Michael," Etc., Etc.
Translated From The Original Polish By Samuel A. Binion
Author Of "Ancient Egypt," Etc. Translator Of "Quo Vadis," Etc.
HON. WILLIAM T. HARRIS, LL.D.
Commissioner of Education
My Dear Doctor:—
This translation, of one of the greatest novels of Poland's foremost modern writer, Henryk Sienkiewicz, I beg to dedicate to you. Apart for my high personal regard for you, my reason for selecting you among all my literary friends, is: that you are a historian and philosopher, and can therefore best appreciate works of this kind.
SAMUEL A. BINION,
New York City.
To the Reader.
Here you have, gentle reader—old writers always called you gentle—something very much more than a novel to amuse an idle hour. To read it will be enjoyable pastime, no doubt; but the brilliant romance of the brilliant author calls upon you for some exercise of the finest sympathy and intelligence; sympathy for a glorious nation which, with only one exception, has suffered beyond all other nations; intelligence, of the sources of that unspeakable and immeasurable love and of the great things that may yet befall before those woes are atoned for and due punishment for them meted out to their guilty authors.
Poland! Poland! The very name carries with it sighings and groanings, nation-murder, brilliance, beauty, patriotism, splendors, self-sacrifice through generations of gallant men and exquisite women; indomitable endurance of bands of noble people carrying through world-wide exile the sacred fire of wrath against the oppressor, and uttering in every clime a cry of appeal to Humanity to rescue Poland.
It was indeed a terrible moment in history, when the three military monarchies of Europe, Russia, Austria and Prussia, swooped down upon the glorious but unhappy country, torn by internal trouble, and determined to kill it and divide up its dominions. All were alike guilty, as far as motive went. But Holy Russia—Holy!—since that horrible time has taken upon herself by far the greatest burden of political crime in her dealings with that noble nation. Every evil passion bred of despotism, of theological hatred, of rancorous ancient enmities, and the ghastliest official corruption, have combined in Russian action for more than one hundred and fifty years, to turn Poland into a hell on earth. Her very language was proscribed.
This is not the place to give details of that unhappy country's woes. But suffice it to say, that Poland, in spite of fatuous prohibitions, has had a great literature since the loss of her independence, and that literature has so kept alive the soul of the nation, that with justice Poland sings her great patriotic song:
"Poland is not yet lost As long as we live...."
The nation is still alive in its writers and their works, their splendid poetry and prose.
It is a pity that so few of these great writers are widely known. But most people have heard of Jan Kochanowski, of Mikolaj Rey, of Rubinski, of Szymanowicz, of Poland's great genius in this century, one of the supreme poets of the world, Adam Mickiewicz, of Joseph Ignac, of Kraszewski, who is as prolific in literary and scientific works as Alexander von Humboldt, and of hundreds of others in all branches of science and art, too numerous to mention here.
And it is remarkable that the author of this book, Henryk Sienkiewicz, should of late have attained such prominence in the public eye and found a place in the heart of mankind. It is of good omen. Thus, Poland, in spite of her fetters, is keeping step in the very van of the most progressive nations.
The romance of Sienkiewicz in this volume is perhaps the most interesting and fascinating he has yet produced. It is in the very first rank of imaginative and historical romance. The time and scene of the noble story are laid in the middle ages during the conquest of Pagan Lithuania by the military and priestly order of the "Krzyzacy" Knights of the Cross. And the story exhibits with splendid force the collision of race passions and fierce, violent individualities which accompanied that struggle. Those who read it will, in addition to their thrilling interest in the tragical and varied incidents, gain no little insight into the origin and working of the inextinguishable race hatred between Teuton and Slav. It was an unfortunate thing surely, that the conversion of the heathen Lithuanians and Zmudzians was committed so largely to that curious variety of the missionary, the armed knight, banded in brotherhood, sacred and military. To say the least, his sword was a weapon dangerous to his evangelizing purpose. He was always in doubt whether to present to the heathen the one end of it, as a cross for adoration, or the other, as a point to kill with. And so, if Poland was made a Catholic nation, she was also made an undying and unalterable hater of the German, the Teutonic name and person.
And so this noble, historical tale, surpassed perhaps by none in literature, is commended to the thoughtful attention and appreciation of the reader.
SAMUEL A. BINION.
NEW YORK, May 9, 1899.
KNIGHTS OF THE CROSS.
In Tyniec, in the inn under "Dreadful Urus," which belonged to the abbey, a few people were sitting, listening to the talk of a military man who had come from afar, and was telling them of the adventures which he had experienced during the war and his journey.
He had a large beard but he was not yet old, and he was almost gigantic but thin, with broad shoulders; he wore his hair in a net ornamented with beads; he was dressed in a leather jacket, which was marked by the cuirass, and he wore a belt composed of brass buckles; in the belt he had a knife in a horn scabbard, and at his side a short traveling sword.
Near by him at the table, was sitting a youth with long hair and joyful look, evidently his comrade, or perhaps a shield-bearer, because he also was dressed as for a journey in a similar leather jacket. The rest of the company was composed of two noblemen from the vicinity of Krakow and of three townsmen with red folding caps, the thin tops of which were hanging down their sides to their elbows.
The host, a German, dressed in a faded cowl with large, white collar, was pouring beer for them from a bucket into earthen mugs, and in the meanwhile he was listening with great curiosity to the military adventures.
The burghers were listening with still greater curiosity. In these times, the hatred, which during the time of King Lokietek had separated the city and the knighthood, had been very much quenched, and the burghers were prouder than in the following centuries. They called them still des allerdurchluchtigsten Kuniges und Herren and they appreciated their readiness ad concessionem pecuniarum; therefore one would very often see in the inns, the merchants drinking with the noblemen like brothers. They were even welcome, because having plenty of money, usually they paid for those who had coats of arms.
Therefore they were sitting there and talking, from time to time winking at the host to fill up the mugs.
"Noble knight, you have seen a good piece of the world!" said one of the merchants.
"Not many of those who are now coming to Krakow from all parts, have seen as much," answered the knight.
"There will be plenty of them," said the merchant. "There is to be a great feast and great pleasure for the king and the queen! The king has ordered the queen's chamber to be upholstered with golden brocade, embroidered with pearls, and a canopy of the same material over her. There will be such entertainments and tournaments, as the world has never seen before."
"Uncle Gamroth, don't interrupt the knight," said the second merchant.
"Friend Eyertreter, I am not interrupting; only I think that he also will be glad to know about what they are talking, because I am sure he is going to Krakow. We cannot return to the city to-day at any rate, because they will shut the gates."
"And you speak twenty words, in reply to one. You are growing old, Uncle Gamroth!"
"But I can carry a whole piece of wet broadcloth just the same."
"Great thing! the cloth through which one can see, as through a sieve."
But further dispute was stopped by the knight, who said:
"Yes, I will stay in Krakow because I have heard about the tournaments and I will be glad to try my strength in the lists during the combats; and this youth, my nephew, who although young and smooth faced, has already seen many cuirasses on the ground, will also enter the lists."
The guests glanced at the youth who laughed mirthfully, and putting his long hair behind his ears, placed the mug of beer to his mouth.
The older knight added:
"Even if we would like to return, we have no place to go."
"How is that?" asked one of the nobles.
"Where are you from, and what do they call you?"
"I am Macko of Bogdaniec, and this lad, the son of my brother, calls himself Zbyszko. Our coat of arms is Tempa Podkowa, and our war-cry is Grady!"
"Where is Bogdaniec?"
"Bah! better ask, lord brother, where it was, because it is no more. During the war between Grzymalczyks and Nalenczs, Bogdaniec was burned, and we were robbed of everything; the servants ran away. Only the bare soil remained, because even the farmers who were in the neighborhood, fled into the forests. The father of this lad, rebuilt; but the next year, a flood took everything. Then my brother died, and after his death I remained with the orphan. Then I thought: 'I can't stay!' I heard about the war for which Jasko of Olesnica, whom the king, Wladyslaw, sent to Wilno after he sent Mikolaj of Moskorzowo, was collecting soldiers. I knew a worthy abbot, Janko of Tulcza, to whom I gave my land as security for the money I needed to buy armor and horses, necessary for a war expedition. The boy, twelve years old, I put on a young horse and we went to Jasko of Olesnica."
"With the youth?"
"He was not even a youth then, but he has been strong since childhood. When he was twelve, he used to rest a crossbow on the ground, press it against his chest and turn the crank. None of the Englishmen, whom I have seen in Wilno, could do better."
"Was he so strong?"
"He used to carry my helmet, and when he passed thirteen winters, he could carry my spear also."
"You had plenty of fighting there!"
"Because of Witold. The prince was with the Knights of the Cross, and every year they used to make an expedition against Lithuania, as far as Wilno. Different people went with them: Germans, Frenchmen, Englishmen, who are the best bowmen, Czechs, Swiss and Burgundians. They cut down the forests, burned the castles on their way and finally they devastated Lithuania with fire and sword so badly, that the people who were living in that country, wanted to leave it and search for another land, even to the end of the world, even among Belial's children, only far from the Germans."
"We heard here, that the Lithuanians wanted to go away with their wives and children, but we did not believe it."
"And I looked at it. Hej! If not for Mikolaj of Moskorzowo, for Jasko of Olesnica, and without any boasting, if not for us, there would be no Wilno now."
"We know. You did not surrender the castle."
"We did not. And now notice what I am going to say, because I have experience in military matters. The old people used to say: 'furious Litwa'—and it's true! They fight well, but they cannot withstand the knights in the field. When the horses of the Germans are sunk in the marshes, or when there is a thick forest—that's different."
"The Germans are good soldiers!" exclaimed the burghers.
"They stay like a wall, man beside man, in their iron armor. They advance in one compact body. They strike, and the Litwa are scattered like sand, or throw themselves flat on the ground and are trampled down. There are not only Germans among them, because men of all nations serve with the Knights of the Cross. And they are brave! Often before a battle a knight stoops, stretches his lance, and rushes alone against the whole army."
"Christ!" exclaimed Gamroth. "And who among them are the best soldiers?"
"It depends. With the crossbow, the best is the Englishman, who can pierce a suit of armor through and through, and at a hundred steps he will not miss a dove. Czechowie (Bohemians) cut dreadfully with axes. For the big two-handed sword the German is the best. The Swiss is glad to strike the helmets with an iron flail, but the greatest knights are those who come from France. These will fight on horseback and on foot, and in the meanwhile they will speak very brave words, which however you will not understand, because it is such a strange language. They are pious people. They criticise us through the Germans. They say we are defending the heathen and the Turks against the cross, and they want to prove it by a knightly duel. And such God's judgment is going to be held between four knights from their side, and four from our side, and they are going to fight at the the court of Waclaw, the Roman and Bohemian king."
Here the curiosity so increased among the noblemen and merchants, that they stretched their necks in the direction of Macko of Bogdaniec and they asked:
"And who are the knights from our side? Speak quickly!" Macko raised the mug to his mouth, drank and then answered:
"Ej, don't be afraid about them. There is Jan of Wloszczowa, castellan of Dobrzyn; there's Mikolaj of Waszmuntow; there are Jasko of Zdakow and Jarosz of Czechow: all glorious knights and sturdy fellows. No matter which weapons they choose,—swords or axes—nothing new to them! It will be worth while for human eyes to see it and for human ears to hear it—because, as I said, even if you press the throat of a Frenchman with your foot, he will still reply with knightly words. Therefore so help me God and Holy Cross they will outtalk us, but our knights will defeat them."
"That will be glory, if God will bless us," said one of the nobles.
"And Saint Stanislaw!" added another. Then turning toward Macko, he asked him further:
"Well! tell us some more! You praised the Germans and other knights because they are valiant and have conquered Litwa easily. Did they not have harder work with you? Did they go against you readily? How did it happen? Praise our knights."
But evidently Macko of Bogdaniec was not a braggart, because he answered modestly:
"Those who had just returned from foreign lands, attacked us readily; but after they tried once or twice, they attacked us with less assurance, because our people are hardened and they reproached us for that hardness: 'You despise,' they used to say,'death, but you help the Saracens, and you will be damned for it.' And with us the deadly grudge increased, because their taunt is not true! The king and the queen have christened Litwa and everyone there tries to worship the Lord Christ although not everyone knows how. And it is known also, that our gracious lord, when in the cathedral of Plock they threw down the devil, ordered them to put a candle before him—and the priests were obliged to tell him that he ought not to do it. No wonder then about an ordinary man! Therefore many of them say to themselves:
"'The kniaz ordered us to be baptized, therefore I was baptized; he ordered us to bow before the Christ, and I bowed; but why should I grudge a little piece of cheese to the old heathen devils, or why should I not throw them some turnips; why should I not pour the foam off of the beer? If I do not do it, then my horses will die; or my cows will be sick, or their milk will turn into blood—or there will be some trouble with the harvest.' And many of them do this, and they are suspected. But they are doing it because of their ignorance and their fear of the devils. Those devils were better off in times of yore. They used to have their own groves and they used to take the horses which they rode for their tithe. But to-day, the groves are cut down and they have nothing to eat—in the cities the bells ring, therefore the devils are hiding in the thickest forest, and they howl there from loneliness. If a Litwin goes to the forest, then they pull him by his sheep-skin overcoat and they say: 'Give!' Some of them give, but there are also courageous boys, who will not give and then the devils catch them. One of the boys put some beans in an ox bladder and immediately three hundred devils entered there. And he stuffed the bladder with a service-tree peg, brought them to Wilno and sold them to the Franciscan priests, who gave him twenty skojcow he did this to destroy the enemies of Christ's name. I have seen that bladder with my own eyes; a dreadful stench came from it, because in that way those dirty spirits manifested their fear before holy water."
"And who counted them, that you know there were three hundred devils," asked the merchant Gamroth, intelligently.
"The Litwin counted them, when he saw them entering the bladder. It was evident that they were there, because one would know it from the stench, and nobody wished to take out the peg to count them."
"What wonders, what wonders!" exclaimed one of the nobles.
"I have seen many great wonders, because everything is peculiar among them. They are shaggy and hardly any kniaz combs his hair; they live on baked turnips, which they prefer to any other food, because they say that bravery comes from eating them. They live in the forests with their cattle and snakes; they are not abstinent in eating nor drinking. They despise the married women, but greatly respect the girls to whom they attribute great power. They say that if a girl rubs a man with dried leaves, it will stop colic."
"It's worth while to have colic, if the women are beautiful!" exclaimed Uncle Eyertreter.
"Ask Zbyszko about it," answered Macko of Bogdaniec.
Zbyszko laughed so heartily that the bench began to shake beneath him.
"There are some beautiful ones," he said. "Ryngalla was charming."
"Who is Ryngalla? Quick!"
"What? you haven't heard about Ryngalla?" asked Macko.
"We have not heard a word."
"She was Witold's sister, and the wife of Henryk, Prince Mazowiecki."
"You don't say! Which Prince Henryk? There was only one Prince Mazowiecki, elect of Plock, but he died."
"The same one. He expected a dispensation from Rome, but death gave him his dispensation, because evidently he had not pleased God by his action. Jasko of Olesnica sent me with a letter to Prince Witold, when Prince Henryk, elect of Plock, was sent by the king to Ryterswerder. At that time, Witold was tired of the war, because he could not capture Wilno, and our king was tired of his own brothers and their dissipation. The king having noticed that Witold was shrewder and more intelligent than his own brothers, sent the bishop to him, to persuade him to leave the Knights of the Cross, and return to his allegiance, for which he promised to make him ruler over Litwa. Witold, always fond of changing, listened with pleasure to the embassy. There were also a feast and tournaments. The elect mounted a horse, although the other bishops did not approve of it, and in the lists he showed his knightly strength. All the princes of Mazowsze are very strong; it is well known, that even the girls of that blood can easily break horseshoes. In the beginning the prince threw three knights from their saddles; the second time he threw five of them. He threw me from my saddle, and in the beginning of the encounter, Zbyszko's horse reared and he was thrown. The prince took all the prizes from the hands of the beautiful Ryngalla, before whom he kneeled in full armor. They fell so much in love with each other, that dining the feasts, the clerici pulled him from her by his sleeves and her brother, Witold, restrained her. The prince said: 'I will give myself a dispensation, and the pope, if not the one in Home, then the one in Avignon, will confirm it, but I must marry her immediately—otherwise I will burn up!' It was a great offence against God, but Witold did not dare to oppose him, because he did not want to displease the embassador—and so there was a wedding. Then they went to Suraz, and afterward to Sluck, to the great sorrow of this youth, Zbyszko, who, according to the German custom, had selected the Princess Ryngalla to be the lady of his heart and had promised her eternal fidelity."
"Bah!" suddenly interrupted Zbyszko, "it's true. But afterward the people said that Ryngalla regretted being the wife of the elect (because he, although married, did not want to renounce his spiritual dignity) and feeling that God's blessing could not be over such a marriage, poisoned her husband. When I heard that, I asked a pious hermit, living not far from Lublin, to absolve me from that vow."
"He was a hermit," answered Macko, laughing, "but was he pious? I don't know; we went to him on Friday, and he was splitting bear's bones with an axe, and sucking the marrow so hard, that there was music in his throat."
"But he said that the marrow was not meat, and besides he had received permission to do it, because after sucking marrow, he used to have marvelous visions during his sleep and the next day he could prophesy until noontime."
"Well, well!" answered Macko. "And the beautiful Ryngalla is a widow and she may call you to her service."
"It would be in vain, because I am going to choose another lady, whom I will serve till death, and then I will find a wife."
"You must first find the girdle of a knight."
"Owa! There will be plenty of tournaments. And before that the king will not dub a single knight. I can measure myself against any. The prince could not have thrown me down, if my horse had not reared."
"There will be knights here better than you are."
Here the noblemen began to shout:
"For heaven's sake! Here, in the presence of the queen, will fight not such as you, but only the most famous knights in the world. Here will fight Zawisza of Garbow and Farurej, Dobko of Olesnica, Powala of Taczew, Paszko Zlodzie of Biskupice, Jasko Naszan and Abdank of Gora. Andrzej of Brochocice, Krystyn of Ostrow, and Jakob of Kobylany! Can you measure your sword against the swords of those, with whom neither the knights here, nor of the Bohemian court, nor of the Hungarian court can compete? What are you talking about? Are you better then they? How old are you?"
"Eighteen," answered Zbyszko.
"Everyone of them could crush you between his fingers."
"We will see."
But Macko said:
"I have heard that the king rewarded those knights munificently who returned from the Lithuanian war. Speak, you belong here; is it true?"
"Yes, it is true!" answered one of the nobles. "The king's munificence is known to the world; but it will be difficult to get near him now, because the guests are swarming to Krakow; they are coming to be in time for the queen's confinement and for the christening, wishing to show reverence to our lord and to render him homage. The king of Hungary is coming; they say the Roman emperor will be here also, and plenty of princes, counts and knights, will come because not one of them expects to return with empty hands. They even say that Pope Boniface, himself will arrive, because he also needs favor and help from our lord against his adversary in Avignon. Therefore in such a crowd, it will be difficult to approach the king; but if one would be able to see him and bow at his feet, then he will liberally reward him who deserves it."
"Then I will bow before him, because I have served enough, and if there is another war, I shall go again. We have taken some booty, and we are not poor; but I am getting old, and when one is old, and the strength has left his bones, one is pleased to have a quiet corner."
"The king was glad to see those who returned from Litwa with Jasko of Olesnica; and they feast well now."
"You see I did not return at that time; I was still at the war. You know that the Germans have suffered because of that reconciliation between the king and Kniaz Witold. The prince cunningly got the hostages back, and then rushed against the Germans! He ruined and burned the castle and slaughtered the knights and a great many of the people. The Germans wanted revenge, as did also Swidrygello, who went to them. There was again a great expedition started. The grand master Kondrat himself went with a great army; they besieged Wilno, and tried from their towers to ruin the castles; they also tried to capture the city by treachery—but they did not succeed! While retreating there were so many killed, that even half of them did not escape. Then we attacked Ulrich von Jungingen, the grand master's brother, who is bailiff in Swabja. But the bailiff was afraid of the kniaz and ran away. On account of this flight there is peace, and they are rebuilding the city. One pious monk, who could walk with bare feet on hot iron, has prophesied since that time, that as long as the world exists, no German soldier will be seen under the walls of Wilno. And if that be so, then whose hands have done it?"
Having said this, Macko of Bogdaniec, extended his palms, broad and enormous; the others began to nod and to approve:
"Yes, yes! It's true what he says! Yes!"
But further conversation was interrupted by a noise entering through the windows from which the bladders had been taken out, because the night was warm and clear. From afar thrumming, singing, laughing and the snorting of horses were heard. They were surprised because it was quite late. The host rushed to the yard of the inn, but before the guests were able to drink their beer to the last drop, he returned shouting:
"Some court is coming!"
A moment afterward, in the door appeared a footman dressed in a blue jacket and wearing a red folding cap. He stopped, glanced at the guests, and then having perceived the host, he said:
"Wipe the tables and prepare lights; the princess, Anna Danuta, will stop here to-night."
Having said this, he withdrew. In the inn a great commotion began; the host called his servants, and the guests looked at one another with great surprise.
"Princess Anna Danuta," said one of the townsmen, "she is Kiejstutowna, Janusz Mazowiecki's wife. She was in Krakow two weeks, but she went to Zator to visit Prince Waclaw, and now she is coming back."
"Uncle Gamroth," said the other townsman, "let us go to the barn and sleep on the hay; the company is too high for us."
"I don't wonder they are traveling during the night," said Macko, "because the days are very warm; but why do they come to the inn when the monastery is so near?"
Here he turned toward Zbyszko:
"The beautiful Ryngalla's own sister; do you understand?"
And Zbyszko answered:
"There must be many Mazovian ladies with her, hej!"
At that moment the princess entered. She was a middle-aged lady with a smiling face, dressed in a red mantle and light green dress with a golden girdle around her hips. The princess was followed by the ladies of the court; some not yet grown up, some of them older; they had pink and lilac wreaths on their heads, and the majority of them had lutes in their hands. Some of them carried large bunches of fresh, flowers, evidently plucked by the roadside. The room was soon filled, because the ladies were followed by some courtiers and young pages. All were lively, with mirth on their faces, talking loudly or humming as if they were intoxicated with the beauty of the night. Among the courtiers, there were two rybalts; one had a lute and the other had a gensla at his girdle. One of the girls who was very young, perhaps twelve years old, carried behind the princess a very small lute ornamented with brass nails.
"May Jesus Christ be praised!" said the princess, standing in the centre of the room.
"For ages and ages, amen!" answered those present, in the meanwhile saluting very profoundly.
"Where is the host?"
The German having heard the call, advanced to the front and kneeled, in the German fashion, on one knee.
"We are going to stop here and rest," said the lady. "Only be quick, because we are hungry."
The townsmen had already gone; now the two noblemen, and with them Macko of Bogdaniec and young Zbyszko, bowed again, intending to leave the room, as they did not wish to interfere with the court.
But the princess detained them.
"You are noblemen; you do not intrude, you are acquainted with courtiers. From where has God conducted you?"
Then they mentioned their names, their coats of arms, their nicknames and the estates from which they received their names. The lady having heard from wlodyka Macko that he had been to Wilno, clapped her hands, and said:
"How well it has happened! Tell us about Wilno and about my brother and sister. Is Prince Witold coming for the queen's confinement and for the christening?"
"He would like to, but does not know whether he will be able to do so; therefore he sent a silver cradle to the queen for a present. My nephew and I brought that cradle."
"Then the cradle is here? I would like to see it! All silver?"
"All silver; but it is not here. The Basilians took it to Krakow."
"And what are you doing in Tyniec?"
"We returned here to see the procurator of the monastery who is our relative, in order to deposit with the worthy monks, that with which the war has blessed us and that which the prince gave us for a present."
"Then God gave you good luck and valuable booty? But tell me why my brother is uncertain whether he will come?"
"Because he is preparing an expedition against the Tartars."
"I know it; but I am grieved that the queen did not prophesy a happy result for that expedition, and everything she predicts is always fulfilled."
"Ej, our lady is a prophetess, I cannot deny; but with Prince Witold, the might of our knighthood will go, splendid men, against whom nobody is able to contend."
"Are you not going?"
"No, I was sent with the cradle, and for five years I have not taken off my armor," answered Macko, showing the furrows made by the cuirass on his reindeer jacket; "but let me rest, then I will go, or if I do not go myself then I will send this youth, my nephew, Zbyszko, to Pan Spytko of Melsztyn, under whose command all our knights will go."
Princess Danuta glanced at Zbyszko's beautiful figure; but further conversation was interrupted by the arrival of a monk from the monastery, who having greeted the princess, began to humbly reproach her, because she had not sent a courier with the news that she was coming, and because she had not stopped at the monastery, but in an ordinary inn which was not worthy of her majesty. There are plenty of houses and buildings in the monastery where even an ordinary man will find hospitality, and royalty is still more welcome, especially the wife of that prince from whose ancestors and relatives, the abbey had experienced so many benefits.
But the princess answered mirthfully:
"We came here only to stretch our limbs; in the morning we must be in Krakow. We sleep during the day and we travel during the night, because it is cooler. As the roosters were crowing, I did not wish to awaken the pious monks, especially with such a company which thinks more about singing and dancing than about repose."
But when the monk still insisted, she added:
"No. We will stay here. We will spend the time well in singing lay songs, but we will come to the church for matins in order to begin the day with God."
"There will be a mass for the welfare of the gracious prince and the gracious princess," said the monk.
"The prince, my husband, will not come for four or five days."
"The Lord God will be able to grant happiness even from afar, and in the meanwhile let us poor monks at least bring some wine from the monastery."
"We will gladly repay," said the princess.
When the monk went out, she called:
"Hej, Danusia! Danusia! Mount the bench and make our hearts merry with the same song you sang in Zator."
Having heard this, the courtiers put a bench in the centre of the room. The rybalts sat on the ends, and between them stood that young girl who had carried behind the princess the lute ornamented with brass nails. On her head she had a small garland, her hair falling on her shoulders, and she wore a blue dress and red shoes with long points. On the bench she looked like a child, but at the same time, a beautiful child, like some figure from a church. It was evident that she was not singing for the first time before the princess, because she was not embarrassed.
"Sing, Danusia, sing!" the young court girls shouted.
She seized the lute, raised her head like a bird which begins to sing, and having closed her eyes, she began with a silvery voice:
"If I only could get The wings like a birdie, I would fly quickly To my dearest Jasiek!"
The rybalts accompanied her, one on the gensliks, the other on a big lute; the princess, who loved the lay songs better than anything else in the world, began to move her head back and forth, and the young girl sang further with a thin, sweet childish voice, like a bird singing in the forest:
"I would then be seated On the high enclosure: Look, my dear Jasiulku, Look on me, poor orphan."
And then the rybalts played. The young Zbyszko of Bogdaniec, who being accustomed from childhood to war and its dreadful sights, had never in his life heard anything like it; he touched a Mazur standing beside him and asked:
"Who is she?"
"She is a girl from the princess' court. We do not lack rybalts who cheer up the court, but she is the sweetest little rybalt of them all, and to the songs of no one else will the princess listen so gladly."
"I don't wonder. I thought she was an angel from heaven and I can't look at her enough. What do they call her?"
"Have you not heard? Danusia. Her father is Jurand of Spychow, a comes mighty and gallant."
"Hej! Such a girl human eyes never saw before!"
"Everybody loves her for her singing and her beauty."
"And who is her knight?"
"She is only a child yet!"
Further conversation was stopped by Danusia's singing. Zbyszko looked at her fair hair, her uplifted head, her half-closed eyes, and at her whole figure lighted by the glare of the wax candles and by the glare of the moonbeams entering through the windows; and he wondered more and more. It seemed to him now, that he had seen her before; but he could not remember whether it was in a dream, or somewhere in Krakow on the pane of a church window.
And again he touched the courtier and asked in a low voice:
"Then she is from your court?"
"Her mother came from Litwa with the princess, Anna Danuta, who married her to Count Jurand of Spychow. She was pretty and belonged to a powerful family; the princess liked her better than any of the other young girls and she loved the princess. That is the reason she gave the same name to her daughter—Anna Danuta. But five years ago, when near Zlotorja, the Germans attacked the court,—she died from fear. Then the princess took the girl, and she has taken care of her since. Her father often comes to the court; he is glad that the princess is bringing his child up healthy and in happiness. But every time he looks at her, he cries, remembering his wife; then he returns to avenge on the Germans his awful wrong. He loved his wife more dearly than any one in the whole Mazowsze till now has loved; but he has killed in revenge a great many Germans."
In a moment Zbyszko's eyes were shining and the veins on his forehead swelled.
"Then the Germans killed her mother?" he asked.
"Killed and not killed. She died from fear. Five years ago there was peace; nobody was thinking about war and everybody felt safe. The prince went without any soldiers, only with the court, as usual during peace, to build a tower in Zlotorja. Those traitors, the Germans, fell upon them without any declaration of war, without any reason. They seized the prince himself, and remembering neither God's anger, nor that from the prince's ancestor, they had received great benefits, they bound him to a horse and slaughtered his people. The prince was a prisoner a long time, and only when King Wladyslaw threatened them with war, did they release him. During this attack Danusia's mother died."
"And you, sir, were you there? What do they call you? I have forgotten!"
"My name is Mikolaj of Dlugolas and they call me Obuch. I was there. I saw a German with peacock feathers on his helmet, bind her to his saddle; and then she died from fear. They cut me with a halberd from which I have a scar."
Having said this he showed a deep scar on his head coming from beneath his hair to his eyebrows.
There was a moment of silence. Zbyszko was again looking at Danusia. Then he asked:
"And you said, sir, that she has no knight?"
But he did not receive any answer, because at that moment the singing stopped. One of the rybalts, a fat and heavy man, suddenly rose, and the bench tilted to one side. Danusia tottered and stretched out her little hands, but before she could fall or jump, Zbyszko rushed up like a wild-cat and seized her in his arms.
The princess, who at first screamed from fear, laughed immediately and began to shout:
"Here is Danusia's knight! Come, little knight and give us back our dear little girl!"
"He grasped her boldly," some among the courtiers were heard to say.
Zbyszko walked toward the princess, holding Danusia to his breast, who having encircled his neck with one arm, held the lute with the other, being afraid it would be broken. Her face was smiling and pleased, although a little bit frightened.
In the meanwhile the youth came near the princess, put Danusia before her, kneeled, raised his head and said with remarkable boldness for his age:
"Let it be then according to your word, my gracious lady! It is time for this gentle young girl to have her knight, and it is time for me to have my lady, whose beauty and virtues I shall extol. With your permission, I wish to make a vow and I will remain faithful to her under all circumstances until death."
The princess was surprised, not on account of Zbyszko's words, but because everything had happened so suddenly. It is true that the custom of making vows was not Polish; but Mazowsze, being situated on the German frontier, and often being visited by the knights from remote countries, was more familiar with that custom than the other provinces, and imitated it very often. The princess had also heard about it in her father's court, where all eastern customs were considered as the law and the example for the noble warriors. Therefore she did not see in Zbyszko's action anything which could offend either herself or Danusia. She was even glad that her dear girl had attracted the heart and the eyes of a knight.
Therefore she turned her joyful face toward the girl.
"Danusia! Danusia! Do you wish to have your own knight?"
The fair-haired Danusia after jumping three times in her red shoes, seized the princess by the neck and began to scream with joy, as though they were promising her some pleasure permitted to the older people only.
"I wish, I wish——!"
The princess' eyes were filled with tears from laughing and the whole court laughed with her; then the lady said to Zbyszko:
"Well, make your vow! Make your vow! What will you promise her?"
But Zbyszko, who preserved his seriousness undisturbed amidst the laughter, said with dignity, while still kneeling:
"I promise that as soon as I reach Krakow, I will hang my spear on the door of the inn, and on it I will put a card, which a student in writing will write for me. On the card I will proclaim that Panna Danuta Jurandowna is the prettiest and most virtuous girl among all living in this or any other kingdom. Anyone who wishes to contradict this declaration, I will fight until one of us dies or is taken into captivity."
"Very well! I see you know the knightly custom. And what more?"
"I have learned from Pan Mikolaj of Dlugolas that the death of Panna Jurandowna's mother was caused by the brutality of a German who wore the crest of a peacock. Therefore I vow to gird my naked sides with a hempen rope, and even though it eat me to the bone, I will wear it until I tear three such tufts of feathers from the heads of German warriors whom I kill."
Here the princess became serious.
"Don't make any joke of your vows!"
And Zbyszko added:
"So help me God and holy cross, this vow I will repeat in church before a priest."
"It is a praiseworthy thing to fight against the enemy of our people; but I pity you, because you are young, and you can easily perish."
At that moment Macko of Bogdanice approached, thinking it proper to reassure the princess.
"Gracious lady, do not be frightened about that. Everybody must risk being killed in a fight, and it is a laudable end for a wlodyka, old or young. But war is not new nor strange to this man, because although he is only a youth, he has fought on horseback and on foot, with spear and with axe, with short sword and with long sword, with lance and without. It is a new custom, for a knight to vow to a girl whom he sees for the first time; but I do not blame Zbyszko for his promise. He has fought the Germans before. Let him fight them again, and if during that fight a few heads are broken, his glory will increase."
"I see that we have to do with a gallant knight," said the princess.
Then to Danusia, she said:
"Take my place as the first person to-day; only do not laugh because it is not dignified."
Danusia sat in the place of the lady; she wanted to be dignified, but her blue eyes were laughing at the kneeling Zbyszko, and she could not help moving her feet from joy.
"Give him your gloves," said the princess.
Danusia pulled off her gloves and handed them to Zbyszko who pressed them with great respect to his lips, and said:
"I will fix them on my helmet and woe to the one who stretches his hands for them!"
Then he kissed Danusia's hands and feet and arose. Then his dignity left him, and great joy filled his heart because from that time the whole court would consider him a mature man. Therefore shaking Danusia's gloves, he began to shout, half mirthfully, half angrily:
"Come, you dog-brothers with peacock's crests, come!"
But at that moment the same monk who had been there before entered the inn, and with him two superior ones. The servants of the monastery carried willow baskets which contained bottles of wine and some tidbits. The monks greeted the princess and again reproached her because she had not gone directly to the abbey. She explained to them again, that having slept during the day, she was traveling at night for coolness; therefore she did not need any sleep; and as she did not wish to awaken the worthy abbot nor the respectable monks, she preferred to stop in an inn to stretch her limbs.
After many courteous words, it was finally agreed, that after matins and mass in the morning, the princess with her court would breakfast and rest in the monastery. The affable monks also invited the Mazurs, the two noblemen and Macko of Bogdaniec who intended to go to the abbey to deposit his wealth acquired in the war and increased by Witold's munificent gift. This treasure was destined to redeem Bogdaniec from his pledge. But the young Zbyszko did not hear the invitation, because he had rushed to his wagon which was guarded by his servants, to procure better apparel for himself. He ordered his chests carried to a room in the inn and there he began to dress. At first he hastily combed his hair and put it in a silk net ornamented with amber beads, and in the front with real pearls. Then he put on a "jaka" of white silk embroidered with golden griffins; he girded himself with a golden belt from which was hanging a small sword in an ivory scabbard ornamented with gold. Everything was new, shining and unspotted with blood, although it had been taken as booty from a Fryzjan knight who served with the Knights of the Cross. Then Zbyszko put on beautiful trousers, one part having red and green stripes, the other part, yellow and purple, and both ended at the top like a checkered chessboard. After that he put on red shoes with long points. Fresh and handsome he went into the room.
In fact, as he stood in the door, his appearance made a great impression. The princess seeing now what a handsome knight had vowed to Danusia, was still more pleased. Danusia jumped toward him like a gazelle. But either the beauty of the young man or the sounds of admiration from the courtiers, caused her to pause before she reached him, drop her eyes suddenly and blushing and confused, begin to wring her fingers.
After her, came the others; the princess herself, the courtiers, the ladies-in-waiting, the rybalts and the monks all wanted to see him. The young Mazovian girls were looking at him as at a rainbow, each regretting that he had not chosen her; the older ones admired the costly dress; and thus, a circle of curious ones was formed around him. Zbyszko stood in the centre with a boastful smile on his youthful face, and turned himself slightly, so that they could see him better.
"Who is he?" asked one of the monks.
"He is a knight, nephew of that wlodyka" answered the princess, pointing to Macko; "he has made a vow to Danusia."
The monks did not show any surprise, because such a vow did not bind him to anything. Often vows were made to married women, and among the powerful families where the eastern custom was known, almost every woman had a knight. If a knight made a vow to a young girl, he did not thus become her fiance; on the contrary he usually married another; he was constant to his vow, but did not hope to be wedded to her, but to marry another.
The monks were more astonished at Danusia's youth, and even not much at that, because in those times sixteen year old youths used to be castellans. The great Queen Jadwiga herself, when she came from Hungary, was only fifteen years old, and thirteen year old girls used to marry. At any rate, at that moment they were more occupied looking at Zbyszko than at Danusia; they also listened to Macko's words, who, proud of his nephew, was telling how the youth came in possession of such beautiful clothes.
"One year and nine weeks ago," said he, "we were invited by the Saxon knights. There was another guest, a certain knight, from a far Fryzjan nation, who lived there on the shores of a sea. With him was his son who was three years older than Zbyszko. Once at a banquet, that son began to taunt Zbyszko because he has neither moustache nor beard. Zbyszko being quick tempered, was very angry, and immediately seized him by his moustache, and pulled out all the hair. On account of that I afterward fought until death or slavery."
"What do you mean?" asked the Pan of Dlugolas.
"Because the father took his son's part and I took Zbyszko's part; therefore we fought, in the presence of the guests, on level ground. The agreement was, that the one who conquered, should take the wagons, horses, servants and everything that belonged to the vanquished one. God helped us. We killed those Fryzes, although with great labor, because they were brave and strong. We took much valuable booty; there were four wagons, each one drawn by two horses, four enormous stallions, ten servants, and two excellent suits of armor which are difficult to find. It is true we broke the helmets in the fight, but the Lord Jesus rewarded us with something else; there was a large chest of costly clothing; those in which Zbyszko is now dressed, we found there also."
Now the two noblemen from the vicinity of Krakow, and all the Mazurs began to look with more respect on both the uncle and the nephew, and the Pan of Dlugolas, called Obuch, said:
"I see you are terrible fellows, and not lazy."
"We now believe that this youngster will capture three peacocks' crests."
Macko laughed, and in his face there really appeared an expression similar to that on the face of a beast of prey.
But in the meanwhile, the servants of the monastery had taken the wine and the dainties from the willow baskets, and the servant girls were bringing large dishes full of steaming boiled eggs, surrounded by sausage, from which a strong and savory smell filled the whole room. This sight excited everybody's appetite, and they rushed to the tables.
But nobody sat down until the princess was seated at the head of the table; she told Zbyszko and Danusia to sit opposite her and then she said to Zbyszko:
"It is right for you both to eat from one dish; but do not step on her feet under the table, nor touch her with your knees, as the other knights do to their ladies, because she is too young."
To this he answered:
"I shall not do it, gracious lady, for two or three years yet, until the Lord Jesus permits me to accomplish my vow, and then this little berry will be ripe; as for stepping on her feet, even if I would like to do it I can not, because they do not touch the floor."
"True," answered the princess; "but it is pleasant to see that you have good manners."
Then there was silence because everybody was busy eating. Zbyszko picked the best pieces of sausage, which he handed to Danusia or put directly into her mouth; she was glad that such a famous knight served her.
After they had emptied the dishes, the servants of the monastery began to pour out the sweet-smelling wine—abundantly for the men, but not much for the ladies. Zbyszko's gallantry was particularly shown when they brought in the nuts which had been sent from the monastery. There were hazel nuts and some very rare nuts imported from afar, called Italians; they all feasted so willingly, that after awhile there was heard no sound in the whole room but the cracking of shells, crushed between the jaws. But Zbyszko did not think only about himself; he preferred to show to the princess and Danusia his knightly strength and abstinence. Therefore he did not put the nuts between his jaws, as the others did, but he crushed them between his fingers, and handed to Danusia the kernels picked from the shells. He even invented for her an amusement; after having picked out the kernel, he placed his hand near his mouth and, with his powerful blowing, he blew the shells to the ceiling. Danusia laughed so much, that the princess fearing that the young girl would choke, was obliged to ask him to stop the amusement; but perceiving how merry the girl was, she asked her:
"Well, Danusia, is it good to have your own knight?"
"Oj! Very!" answered the girl.
And then she touched Zbyszko's white silk "jaka" with her pink finger, and asked:
"And will he be mine to-morrow?"
"To-morrow, and Sunday, and until death," answered Zbyszko.
Supper lasted a long time, because after the nuts, sweet cakes with raisins were served. Some of the courtiers wished to dance; others wished to listen to the rybalts or to Danusia's singing; but she was tired, and having with great confidence put her little head on the knight's shoulder, she fell asleep.
"Does she sleep?" asked the princess. "There you have your 'lady.'"
"She is dearer to me while she sleeps than the others are while they dance," answered Zbyszko, sitting motionless so as not to awaken the girl.
But she was awakened neither by the rybalts' music nor by the singing. Some of the courtiers stamped, others rattled the dishes in time to the music; but the greater the noise, the better she slept.
She awoke only when the roosters, beginning to crow, and the church bell to ring, the company all rushed from the benches, shouting:
"To matins! To matins!"
"Let us go on foot for God's glory," said the princess.
She took the awakened Danusia by the hand and went out first, followed by the whole court.
The night was beginning to whiten. In the east one could see a light glare, green at the top, then pink below, and under all a golden red, which extended while one looked at it. It seemed as though the moon was retreating before that glare. The light grew pinker and brighter. Moist with dew, the rested and joyous world was awakening.
"God has given us fair weather, but there will be great heat," said the courtiers.
"No matter," answered the Pan of Dlugolas; "we will sleep in the abbey, and will reach Krakow toward evening."
"Sure of a feast."
"There is a feast every day now, and after the confinement and tournaments, there will be still greater ones."
"We shall see how Danusia's brave knight will acquit himself."
"Ej! They are of oak, those fellows! Did you hear what they said about that fight for four knights on each side?"
"Perhaps they will join our court; they are consulting with each other now."
In fact, they were talking earnestly with each other; old Macko was not very much pleased with what had happened; therefore while walking in the rear of the retinue, he said to his nephew:
"In truth, you don't need it. In some way I will reach the king and it may be he will give us something. I would be very glad to get to some castle or grodek—— Well we shall see. We will redeem Bogdaniec from our pledge anyhow, because we must hold that which our forefathers held. But how can we get some peasants to work? The land is worth nothing without peasants. Therefore listen to what I am going to tell you: if you make vows or not to anyone you please, still you must go with the Pan of Mielsztyn to Prince Witold against the Tartars. If they proclaim the expedition by the sound of trumpets before the queen's confinement, then do not wait either for the lying-in, or for the tournaments; only go, because there will be found some profit. Prince Witold is munificent, as you know; and he knows you. If you acquit yourself well, he will reward you liberally. Above all, if God help you, you will secure many slaves. The Tartars swarm in the world. In case of victory, every knight will capture three-score of them."
At this, Macko being covetous for land and serfs, began to fancy:
"If I could only catch fifty peasants and settle them in Bogdaniec! One would be able to clear up quite a piece of forest. You know that nowhere can you get as many as there."
But Zbyszko began to twist his head.
"Owa! I will bring hostlers from the stables living on horse carrion and not accustomed to working on the land! What use will they be in Bogdaniec? Then I vowed to capture three German crests. Where will I find them among the Tartars?"
"You made a vow because you were stupid; but your vow is not worth anything."
"But my honor of wlodyka and knight? What about that?"
"How was it with Ryngalla?"
"Ryngalla poisoned the prince, and the hermit gave me absolution."
"Then in Tyniec, the abbot will absolve you from this vow also. The abbot is greater than a hermit."
"I don't want absolution!"
Macko stopped and asked with evident anger:
"Then how will it be?"
"Go to Witold yourself, because I shall not go."
"You knave! And who will bow to the king? Don't you pity my bones?"
"Even if a tree should fall on your bones, it would not crush them; and even if I pity you, I will not go to Witold."
"What will you do then? Will you turn rybalt or falconer at the Mazowiecki court?"
"It's not a bad thing to be a falconer. But if you would rather grumble than to listen to me, then grumble."
"Where will you go? Don't you care for Bogdaniec? Will you plow with your nails without peasants?"
"Not true! You calculated cleverly about the Tartars! You have forgotten what the Rusini told us, that it is difficult to catch any prisoners among the Tartars, because you cannot reach a Tartar on the steppes. On what will I chase them? On those heavy stallions that we captured from the Germans? Do you see? And what booty can I take? Scabby sheep-skin coats but nothing else! How rich then I shall return to Bogdaniec! Then they will call me comes!"
Macko was silent because there was a great deal of truth in Zbyszko's words; but after a while he said:
"But Prince Witold will reward you."
"Bah, you know; to one he gives too much, to another nothing."
"Then tell me, where will you go?"
"To Jurand of Spychow."
Macko angrily twisted the belt of his leather jacket, and said:
"May you become a blind man!"
"Listen," answered Zbyszko quietly. "I had a talk with Mikolaj of Dlugolas and he said that Jurand is seeking revenge on the Germans for the death of his wife. I will go and help him. In the first place, you said yourself that it was nothing strange for us to fight the Germans because we know them and their ways so well. Secundo, I will thus more easily capture those peacock's crests; and tercio, you know that peacock's crests are not worn by knaves; therefore if the Lord Jesus will help me to secure the crests, it will also bring booty. Finally: the slaves from those parts are not like the Tartars. If you settle such slaves in a forest, then you will accomplish something."
"Man, are you crazy? There is no war at present and God knows when there will be!"
"How clever you are! The bears make peace with the bee-keepers and they neither spoil the beehives, nor eat the honey! Ha! ha! ha! Then it is news to you, that although the great armies are not fighting and although the king and the grand master stamped the parchment with their seals, still there is always great disturbance on the frontiers? If some cattle are seized, they burn several villages for one cow's head and besiege the castles. How about capturing peasants and their girls? About merchants on the highways? Remember former times, about which you told me yourself. That Nalencz, who captured forty knights going to join the Knights of the Cross, and kept them in prison until the grand master sent him a cart full of grzywien; did he not do a good business? Jurand of Spychow is doing the same and on the frontier the work is always ready."
For a while they walked along silently; in the meanwhile, it was broad daylight and the bright rays of the sun lighted up the rocks on which the abbey was built.
"God can give good luck in any place," Macko said, finally, with a calm voice; "pray that he may bless you."
"Sure; all depends on his favor!"
"And think about Bogdaniec, because you cannot persuade me that you go to Jurand of Spychow for the sake of Bogdaniec and not for that duck's beak."
"Don't speak that way, because it makes me angry. I will see her gladly and I do not deny it. Have you ever met a prettier girl?"
"What do I care for her beauty! Better marry her, when she is grown up; she is the daughter of a mighty comes."
Zbyszko's face brightened with a pleasant smile.
"It must be. No other lady, no other wife! When your bones are old, you shall play with the grandchildren born to her and myself."
Now Macko smiled also and said:
"Grady! Grady!—— May they be as numerous as hail. When one is old, they are his joy; and after death, his salvation. Jesus, grant us this!"
Princess Danuta, Macko and Zbyszko had been in Tyniec before; but in the train of attendants there were some courtiers who now saw it for the first time; these greatly admired the magnificent abbey which was surrounded by high walls built over the rocks and precipices, and stood on a lofty mountain now shining in the golden rays of the rising sun. The stately walls and the buildings devoted to various purposes, the gardens situated at the foot of the mountain and the carefully cultivated fields, showed immediately the great wealth of the abbey. The people from poor Mazowsze were amazed. It is true there were other mighty Benedictine abbeys in other parts of the country; as for instance in Lubusz on Odra, in Plock, in Wielkopolska, in Mogila and in several other places: but none of them could compare with the abbey in Tyniec, which was richer than many principalities, and had an income greater than even the kings of those times possessed.
Therefore the astonishment increased among the courtiers and some of them could scarcely believe their own eyes. In the meanwhile, the princess wishing to make the journey pleasant, and to interest the young ladies, begged one of the monks to relate the awful story about Walgierz Wdaly which had been told to her in Krakow, although not very correctly.
Hearing this, the ladies surrounded the princess and walked slowly, looking in the rays of the sun like moving flowers.
"Let Brother Hidulf tell about Walgierz, who appeared to him on a certain night," said one of the monks, looking at one of the other monks who was an old man.
"Pious father, have you seen him with your own eyes?" asked the princess.
"I have seen him," answered the monk gloomily; "there are certain moments during which, by God's will, he is permitted to leave the underground regions of hell and show himself to the world."
"When does it happen?"
The old monk looked at the other monks and became silent. There was a tradition that the ghost of Walgierz appeared when the morals of the monastic lives became corrupted, and when the monks thought more about worldly riches and pleasures than was right.
None of them, however, wished to tell this; but it was also said that the ghost's appearance portended war or some other calamity. Brother Hidulf, after a short silence, said:
"His appearance does not foretell any good fortune."
"I would not care to see him," said the princess, making the sign of the cross; "but why is he in hell, if it is true as I heard, that he only avenged a wrong?"
"Had he been virtuous during his whole life," said the monk sternly, "he would be damned just the same because he was a heathen, and original sin was not washed out by baptism."
After those words the princess' brows contracted painfully because she recollected that her father whom she loved dearly, had died in the heathen's errors also.
"We are listening," said she, after a short silence.
Brother Hidulf began thus:
During the time of heathenism, there was a mighty grabia whose name was Walgierz, whom on account of his great beauty, they called Wdaly. This whole country, as far as one can see, belonged to him, and he lead all the expeditions, the people on foot and a hundred spearmen who were all wlodykas; the men to the east as far as Opole, and to the west as far as Sandomierz, were his vassals. Nobody was able to count his herds, and in Tyniec he had a towerful of money the same as the Knights of the Cross have now in Marienburg."
"Yes, they have, I know it!" interrupted the princess.
"He was a giant," continued the monk. "He was so strong he could dig up an oak tree by the roots, and nobody in the whole world could compare with him for beauty, playing on the lute or singing. One time when he was at the court of a French king, the king's daughter, Helgunda, fell in love with him, and ran away with him to Tyniec, where they lived together in sin. No priest would marry them with Christian rites, because Helgunda's father had promised her to the cloister for the glory of God. At the same time, there lived in Wislica, Wislaw Piekny, who belonged to King Popiel's family. He, while Walgierz Wdaly was absent, devastated the county around Tyniec. Walgierz when be returned overpowered Wislaw and imprisoned him in Tyniec. He did not take into consideration this fact: that every woman as soon as she saw Wislaw, was ready immediately to leave father, mother and even husband, if she could only satisfy her passion. This happened to Helgunda. She immediately devised such fetters for Walgierz, that that giant, although he could pluck an oak up by its roots, was unable to break them. She gave him to Wislaw, who took and imprisoned him in Wislica. There Rynga, Wislaw's sister, having heard Walgierz singing in his underground cell, soon fell in love with him and set him at liberty. He then killed Wislaw and Helgunda with the sword, left their bodies for the crows, and returned to Tyniec with Rynga."
"Was it not right, what he did?" asked the princess.
Brother Hidulf answered:
"Had he received baptism and given Tyniec to the Benedictines, perhaps God would have forgiven his sins; but he did not do this, therefore the earth has devoured him."
"Were the Benedictines in this kingdom at that time?"
"No, the Benedictines were not here; only the heathen lived here then."
"How then could he receive baptism, or give up Tyniec?"
"He could not; and that is exactly why he was sent to hell to endure eternal torture," answered the monk with authority.
"Sure! He speaks rightly!" several voices were heard to say.
In the meanwhile they approached the principal gate of the monastery, where the abbot with numerous monks and noblemen, was awaiting the princess. There were always many lay people in the cloister: land stewards, barristers and procurators. Many noblemen, even powerful wlodykas, held in fief from the monastery numerous estates; and these, as "vassals," were glad to pass their time at the court of their "suzerain," where near the main altar it was easy to obtain some gift and many benefits. Therefore the "abbas centum villarum" could greet the princess with a numerous retinue.
He was a man of great stature, with a thin, intelligent face; his head was shaved on the top with a fringe of grey hair beneath. He had a deep scar on his forehead, which he had evidently received during his youth when he performed knightly deeds. His eyes looked penetratingly from beneath dark eyebrows. He wore a monk's dress similar to that worn by the other monks, but over it he wore a black mantle, lined with purple; around his neck was a gold chain from which was hanging a gold cross set with precious stones. His whole figure betrayed a proud man, accustomed to command and one who had confidence in himself.
But he greeted the princess affably and even humbly, because he remembered that her husband belonged to the family of the princes of Mazowsze, from which came the kings, Wladyslaw and Kazimierz; and that her mother was the reigning queen of one of the most powerful kingdoms in the world. Therefore he passed the threshold of the gate, bowed low, and then having made the sign of the cross over Anna Danuta and over her court, he said;
"Welcome, gracious lady, to the threshold of this poor monastery. May Saint Benedictus of Nursja, Saint Maurus, Saint Bonifacius, Saint Benedictus of Aniane and also Jean of Tolomeia—our patrons living in eternal glory,—give you health and happiness, and bless you seven times a day during the remainder of your life."
"They would be deaf, if they did not hear the words of such a great abbot," said the princess affably; "we came here to hear mass, during which we will place ourselves under their protection."
Having said this she stretched her hand toward him, which he falling upon one knee, kissed in knightly manner. Then they passed through the gate. The monks were waiting to celebrate mass, because immediately the bells were rung; the trumpeters blew near the church door in honor of the princess. Every church used to make a great impression on the princess who had not been born in a Christian country. The church in Tyniec impressed her greatly, because there were very few churches that could rival it in magnificence. Darkness filled the church except at the main altar where many lights were shining, brightening the carvings and gildings. A monk, dressed in a chasuble, came from the vestry, bowed to the princess and commenced mass. Then the smoke from the fragrant incense arose, veiled the priest and the altar, and mounted in quiet clouds to the vaulted ceiling, increasing the solemn beauty of the church. Anna Danuta bent her head and prayed fervently. But when an organ, rare in those times, began to shake the nave with majestic thunderings, filling it with angelic voices, then the princess raised her eyes, and her face expressed, beside devotion and fear, a boundless delight; and one looking at her would take her for some saint, who sees in a marvelous vision, the open heaven.
Thus prayed Kiejstut's daughter, who born in heathenism, in everyday life mentioned God's name just as everybody else did in those times, familiarly; but in the Lord's house she used to raise her eyes with fear and humility, toward his secret and unmeasurable power.
The whole court, although with less humility, prayed devoutly. Zbyszko knelt among the Mazurs, and committed himself to God's protection. From time to time he glanced at Danusia who was sitting beside the princess; he considered it an honor to be the knight of such a girl, and that his vow was not a trifle. He had already girded his sides with a hempen rope, but this was only half of his vow; now it was necessary to fulfill the other half which was more difficult. Consequently now, when he was more serious than when in the inn drinking beer, he was anxious to discover how he could fulfill it. There was no war. But amidst the disturbances on the frontier, it was possible to meet some Germans, and either kill them or lay down his own life.
He had told this to Macko. But he thought: "Not every German wears peacock or ostrich feathers on his helmet. Only a few among the guests of the Knights of the Cross are counts, and the Knights of the Cross themselves are only comthurs; and not every one of them is a comthur either. If there be no war, then years may pass before I shall get those three crests; I have not been knighted yet and can challenge only those who are not knights like myself. It is true I expect to receive the girdle of a knight from the king's hands during the tournaments, which have been announced to take place during the christening, but what will happen then? I will go to Jurand of Spychow; he will help me kill as many knechts as possible; but that will benefit me little. The knechts are not knights, with peacock feathers on their heads."
Therefore in his uncertainty, seeing that without God's special favor, he could do nothing, he began to pray:
"Jesus, grant a war between the Knights of the Cross and the Germans who are the foes of this kingdom and of all other nations confessing Your Holy Name. Bless us; but crush them who would rather serve the starosta of hell, than serve you; they have hatred in their hearts against us, being angry because our king and queen, having baptized the Lithuanians, forbade them cut your Christian servants with the sword. For which anger punish them!"
"And I, Zbyszko a sinner, repent before you and from your five wounds beseech for help, that in your mercy you permit me to kill as soon as possible three Germans having peacock feathers on their morions. These crests I promised upon my knightly honor to Panna Anna Danuta, Jurand's daughter, and your servant."
"If I shall find any booty on those defeated Germans, I shall faithfully pay to holy church the tithe, in order that you also, sweet Jesus, may have some benefit and glory through me; and also that you may know, that I promise to you with a sincere heart. As this is true, so help me, amen!"
But as he prayed, his heart softened under the influence of his devotions and he made another promise, which was that after having redeemed Bogdaniec from its pledge, he would give to the church all the wax which the bees could make during the whole year. He hoped that his Uncle Macko would not make any opposition to this, and that the Lord Jesus would be especially pleased with the wax for the candles, and wishing to get it, would help him sooner. This thought seemed to him so right, that joy filled his soul; and he was almost sure that his prayer would be heard and that the war would soon come, so that he could accomplish his vow. He felt such might in his legs and in his arms, that at that moment he would have attacked a whole army. He even thought that having increased his promises to God, he would also add for Danusia, a couple of Germans! His youthful anger urged him to do it, but this time prudence prevailed, as he was afraid to exhaust God's patience by asking too much.
His confidence increased, however, when after mass and a long rest, he heard the conversation between the abbot and Anna Danuta.
The wives of the reigning kings and princes, both on account of devotion as well as on account of the magnificent presents, sent them by the Master of the Order, were very kindly disposed toward the Knights of the Cross. Even the pious Jadwiga, as long as she lived, restrained her husband's anger against them. Anna Danuta alone, having experienced dreadful wrongs from the knights hated them with her whole soul. Therefore when the abbot asked her about Mazowsze and its affairs, she began to complain bitterly against the Order:
"Our affairs are in a bad condition and it cannot be otherwise with such neighbors! Apparently it is the time of peace; they exchange ambassadors and letters, but notwithstanding all that nobody can be sure of anything. The one who lives on the borders of the kingdom, never knows when he goes to bed in the evening, whether he will awaken in fetters, or with the blade of a sword in his throat, or with a burning ceiling over his head. Neither oaths, nor seals, nor parchment will protect from treachery. Thus it happened at Zlotorja where during the time of peace, they seized the prince and imprisoned him. The Knights of the Cross said that our castle was a menace to them; but the castles are repaired for defence not for an onset; and what prince has not the right to build and repair in his own land? Neither the weak nor the powerful can agree with the Order, because the knights despise the weak and try to ruin the mighty. Good deeds they repay with evil ones. Is there anywhere in the world another order which has received as many benefits from other kingdoms as the knights have received from Polish princes? And how have they repaid? With threats, with devastation of our lands, with war and with treachery. And it is useless to complain, even to our apostolic capital, because they do not listen to the Roman pope himself. Apparently they have sent an embassy now for the queen's confinement and the expected christening, but only because they wish to appease the anger of this mighty king for the evil deeds they performed in Litwa. But in their hearts they are always plotting means to annihilate this kingdom and the whole Polish nation."
The abbot listened attentively with approval and then said:
"I know that Comthur Lichtenstein came to Krakow at the head of the embassy; he is very much respected in the Order for his bravery and intelligence. Perhaps you will see him here soon, gracious lady, because he sent me a message yesterday, saying that as he wished to pray to our holy relics, he would pay a visit to Tyniec."
Having heard this, the princess began to complain again:
"The people say—and I am sure rightly—that there will soon be a great war, in which on one side will be the kingdom of Poland and all the nations speaking a language similar to the Polish tongue, and on the other side will be all the Germans and the Order. There is a prophecy about this war by some saint."
"Bridget," interrupted the scholarly abbot; "eight years ago she was canonized. The pious Peter from Alvastra and Matthew from Linkoeping have written her revelations, in which a great war has been predicted."
Zbyszko shuddered at these words, and not being able to restrain himself, asked:
"How soon will it be?"
But the abbot being occupied with the princess, did not hear, or probably did not wish to hear, the question.
The princess spoke further:
"Our young knights are glad that this war is coming, but the older and prudent ones speak thus: 'We are not afraid of the Germans, although their pride and power are great, but we are afraid of their relics, because against those all human might is powerless.'"
Here Anna Danuta looked at the abbot with fear and added in a softer voice:
"They say they have a true piece of the holy cross; how then can one fight against them?"
"The French king sent it to them," answered the abbot.
There was a moment of silence, then Mikolaj of Dlugolas, called Obuch, a man of great experience, said:
"I was in captivity among the Knights of the Cross; I saw a procession in which they carried this great relic. But beside this, there are many other relics in the monastery in Oliva without which the order would not have acquired such power."
The Benedictines stretched their necks toward the speaker, and began to ask with great curiosity:
"Tell us, what are they?"
"There is a piece of the dress of the Most Holy Virgin," answered the wlodyka of Dlugolas; "there is a molar tooth of Marya from Magdala and branches from the bush in which God the Father revealed himself to Moses; there is a hand of Saint Liberjus, and as for the bones of other saints, I cannot count them on the fingers of both hands and the toes of both feet."
"How can one fight them?" repeated the princess, sighing.
The abbot frowned, and having thought for awhile, said:
"It is difficult to fight them, for this reason; they are monks and they wear the cross on their mantles; but if they have exceeded the measure of their sins, then even those relics will refuse to remain with them; in that case they will not strengthen the knights, but will take their strength away, so that the relics can pass into more pious hands. May God spare Christian blood; but, if a great war should come, there are some relics in our kingdom also which will succor us."
"May God help us!" exclaimed Zbyszko.
The abbot turned toward the princess and said:
"Therefore have confidence in God, gracious lady, because their days are numbered rather than yours. In the meanwhile, accept with grateful heart this box, in which there is a finger of Saint Ptolomeus, one of our patrons."
The princess extended her hand and kneeling, accepted the box, which she immediately pressed to her lips. The courtiers shared the joy of the lady. Zbyszko was happy because it seemed to him that war would come immediately after the Krakowian festivals.
It was in the afternoon that the princess left hospitable Tyniec and went toward Krakow. Often the knights of those times, coming into larger cities or castles to visit some eminent person, used to put on their entire battle armor. It is true it was customary to take it off immediately after they arrived at the gates; in fact it was the custom for the host himself to invite them to remove it in these words: "Take off your armor, noble lord; you have come to friends!" This entrance was considered to be more dignified and to increase the importance of the knight. To conform with this ostentatious custom Macko and Zbyszko took with them those excellent suits of armor and shoulder-bands—won from the conquered Fryzjan knights,—bright, shining and ornamented on the edges with a gold band. Mikolaj of Dlugolas, who had seen the world and many knights, and was very expert in judging war things, immediately recognized that the suits of armor had been made by a most famous armorer of Milan; armor which only the richest knights could afford; each of them being worth quite a fortune. He concluded that those Fryzes were mighty lords among their own people, and he looked with more respect on Macko and Zbyszko. Their helmets, although not common ones, were not so rich; but their gigantic stallions, beautifully caparisoned, excited envy and admiration among the courtiers. Macko and Zbyszko, sitting on very high saddles, could look down proudly at the whole court. Each held in his hand a long spear; each had a sword at at his side and an axe at the saddlebow. For the sake of comfort they had left their shields in the wagons, but even without them, both men looked as though they were going to battle and not to the city.
Both were riding near the carriage, in which was seated the princess, accompanied by Danusia, and in front of them a dignified court lady, Ofka, the widow of Krystyn of Jarzombkow and the old Mikolaj of Dlugolas. Danusia looked with great interest at the two iron knights, and the princess, pulling from time to time the box with the relics of Saint Ptolomeus from her bosom, raised it to her lips.
"I am very anxious to see what bones are inside," said she, "but I will not open it myself, for I do not want to offend the saint; the bishop in Krakow will open it."
To this the cautious Mikolaj of Dlugolas answered:
"Ej, it will be better not to let this go out of your hands; it is too precious a thing."
"May be you are right," said the princess, after a moment of reflection; then she added:
"For a long time nobody has given me such pleasure, as this worthy abbot has by this present; and he also calmed my fears about the relics of the Knights of the Cross."
"He spoke wisely and well," said Macko of Bogdaniec. "At Wilno they also had different relics, and they wanted to persuade the guests that they were at war with the heathen. And what? Our knights noticed that if they could only make a blow with an axe, immediately the helmet gave way and the head fell down. The saints help—it would be a sin to say differently—but they only help the righteous, who go to war justly in God's name. Therefore, gracious lady, I think that if there be another war, even if all Germans help the Knights of the Cross, we will overcome them, because our nation is greater and the Lord Jesus will give us more strength in our bones. As for the relics,—have we not a true particle of the holy cross in the monastery of Holy Cross?"
"It is true, as God is dear to me," said the princess. "But ours will remain in the monastery, while if necessary they carry theirs."
"No matter! There is no limit to God's power."
"Is that true? Tell me; how is it?" asked the princess, turning to the wise Mikolaj of Dlugolas; and he said:
"Every bishop will affirm it. Rome is distant too, and yet the pope rules over the whole world; cannot God do more!"
These words soothed the princess so completely that she began to converse about Tyniec and its magnificence. The Mazurs were astonished not only at the riches of the abbey, but also at the wealth and beauty of the whole country through which they were now riding. All around were many flourishing villages; near them were orchards full of trees, linden groves, storks' nests on the linden trees, and beneath the trees were beehives with straw roofs. Along the highway on both sides, there were fields of all kinds of grain. From time to time, the wind bent the still greenish sea of grain, amidst which shone like the stars in the sky, the blue heads of the flowers of the bachelor button, and the light red wild poppies. Far beyond the fields appeared the woods, black in the distance but bathed in sunlight; here and there appeared moist meadows, full of grass and birds flying round the bushes; then appeared hills with houses; again fields; and as far as one could see, the country appeared to flow not only with milk and honey but also with quiet and happiness.
"That is King Kazimierz' rural economy," said the princess; "it must be a pleasure to live here."
"Lord Jesus rejoices to see such a country," answered Mikolaj of Dlugolas; "and God's blessing is over it; but how can it be different; when they ring the bells here, there is no corner where they cannot be heard! And it is known that no evil spirit can endure the ringing of the bells, and they are obliged to escape to the forests on the Hungarian frontier."
"I wonder," said Pani Ofka, the widow of Krystyn of Jarzombkow, "how Walgierz Wdaly, about whom the monk was talking, can appear in Tyniec, where they ring the bells seven times a day."
This remark embarrassed Mikolaj for a moment, who after thinking, quietly said:
"In the first place, God's decrees are not well known; and then you must remember that every time he appears he has had special permission."
"At any rate, I am glad that we shall not pass the night in the monastery. I would die from fear if I saw such an infernal giant."
"Hej! I doubt it, because they say, he is very handsome."
"If he were very beautiful, I would not want a kiss from such a man, from whose mouth one could smell sulphur."
"I see that when the conversation is even about devils, you are still thinking about kisses."
At these words the princess, Pan Mikolaj and both wlodykas of Bogdaniec began to laugh. Danusia laughed also, following the example of the others. But Ofka of Jarzombkow turned her angry face toward Mikolaj of Dlugolas, and said:
"I should prefer him to you."
"Ej! Don't call the wolf out of the forest;" answered the merry Mazur; "the ghost often wanders on the high road, between Krakow and Tyniec, especially toward night; suppose he should hear you and appear to you in the form of a giant!"
"Let the enchantment go on the dog!" answered Ofka.
But at that moment Macko of Bogdaniec, who being seated on a high stallion, could see further than those who were in the carriage, reined in his horse, and said:
"O, as God is dear to me, what is it?"
"Some giant of the forest is coming!"
"And the word became flesh!" exclaimed the princess. "Don't say that!"
But Zbyszko arose in his stirrups and said:
"It is true; the giant Walgierz; nobody else!"
At this the coachman reined in the horses, but not dropping the reins, began to make the sign of the cross, because he also perceived on an opposite hill the gigantic figure of a horsemen.
The princess had risen; but now she sat down, her face changed with fear. Danusia hid her face in the folds of the princess' dress. The courtiers, ladies and rybalts, who were on horseback behind the carriage, having heard the ill-omened name, began to surround the carriage. The men tried to laugh, but there was fear in their eyes; the young girls were pale; only Mikolaj of Dlugolas maintained his composure and wishing to tranquilize the princess, said:
"Don't be frightened, gracious lady. The sun has not yet set; and even if it were night, Saint Ptolomeus will manage Walgierz."
In the meanwhile, the unknown horseman, having mounted the top of the hill, stopped his horse and stood motionless. In the rays of the setting sun, one could see him very distinctly; his stature seemed greater than ordinary human dimensions. The space separating him from the princess' retinue was not more than three hundred steps.
"Why is he stopping?" asked one of the rybalts.
"Because we stopped," answered Macko.
"He is looking toward us as if he would like to choose somebody," said another rybalt; "if I were sure he was a man and not an evil spirit, I would go and give him a blow on the head with the lute."
The women began to pray aloud, but Zbyszko wishing to show his courage to the princess and Danusia, said:
"I will go just the same. I am not afraid of Walgierz!"
Danusia began to scream: "Zbyszko! Zbyszko!" But he went forward and rode swiftly, confident that even if he did meet the true Walgierz, he could pierce him through and through with his spear.
Macko who had sharp sight, said:
"He appears like a giant because he is on the hill. It is some big man, but an ordinary one, nothing else! Owa! I am going also, to see that he does not quarrel with Zbyszko."
Zbyszko, while riding was debating whether he should immediately attack with the spear, or whether first take a close view of the man standing on the hill. He decided to view him first, and immediately persuaded himself that it was the better thought, because as he approached, the stranger began to lose his extraordinary size. He was a large man and was mounted on a large horse, which was bigger than Zbyszko's stallion; yet he did not exceed human size. Besides that he was without armor, with a velvet cap shaped like a bell on his head; he wore a white linen dust cloak, from beneath which a green dress could be seen. While standing on the hill he was praying. Evidently he had stopped his horse to finish his evening devotions.
"It is not Walgierz," thought the boy.
He had approached so close that he could touch the unknown man with his spear. The man who evidently was a knight, smiled at him benevolently, and said:
"May Jesus Christ be praised!"
"For ages and ages."
"Is that the court of the Princess of Mazowsze below?"
"Yes, it is!"
"Then you come from Tyniec?"
But he did not receive any answer, because Zbyszko was so much surprised that he did not even hear the question. For a moment he stood like a statue, scarcely believing his own eyes, for, behold! about half a furlong behind the unknown man, he perceived several soldiers on horseback, at the head of whom was riding a knight clad in full armor, with a white cloth mantle with a red cross on it, and with a steel helmet having a magnificent peacock tuft in the crest.
"A Knight of the Cross!" whispered Zbyszko. Now he thought that God had heard his prayers; that he had sent him the German knight for whom he had asked in Tyniec. Surely he must take advantage of God's kindness; therefore without any hesitation,—before all these thoughts had hardly passed through his head, before his astonishment had diminished,—he bent low on the saddle, let down his spear and having uttered his family shout: "Grady! Grady!" he rushed with the whole speed of his horse against the Knight of the Cross.
That knight was astonished also; he stopped his horse, and without lowering his spear, looked in front of him, uncertain whether the attack was against him or not.
"Lower your spear!" shouted Zbyszko, pricking his horse with the iron points of the stirrups.
The distance separating them began to diminish. The Knight of the Cross seeing that the attack was really against him, reined in his horse and poised his spear. At the moment that Zbyszko's lance was nearly touching his chest, a powerful hand broke it like a reed; then the same hand reined in Zbyszko's horse with such force, that the charger stopped as though rooted to the ground.
"You crazy man, what are you doing?" said a deep, threatening voice; "you are attacking an envoy, you are insulting the king!"
Zbyszko glanced around and recognized the same gigantic man, whom he had taken for Walgierz, and who had frightened the princess and her court.
"Let me go against the German! Who are you?" he cried, seizing his axe.
"Away with the axe! for God's sake! Away with the axe, I say! I will throw you from your horse!" shouted the stranger more threateningly. "You have offended the majesty of the king and you will be punished."
Then he turned toward the soldiers who were riding behind the Knight of the Cross.
"At this time Macko appeared and his face looked threatening. He understood that Zbyszko had acted like a madman and that the consequences of this affair might be very serious; but he was ready to defend him just the same. The whole retinue of the stranger and of the Knight of the Cross contained only fifteen men, armed with spears and crossbows; therefore two knights in full armors could fight them with some hope of being victorious. Macko also thought that as they were threatened with punishment, it would be better perhaps to avoid it, by overcoming these men, and then hiding somewhere until the storm had passed over. Therefore his face immediately contracted, like the jaws of a wolf ready to bite, and having pushed his horse between Zbyszko and the stranger's horse, he began to ask, meanwhile handling his sword:
"Who are you? What right have you to interfere?"
"My right is this," said the stranger, "that the king has intrusted to me the safety of the environs of Krakow, and they call me Powala of Taczew."
At these words, Macko and Zbyszko glanced at the knight, then returned to their scabbards the half drawn swords and dropped their heads, not because they were frightened but in respect for this famous and very well-known name. Powala of Taczew, a nobleman of a powerful family and a mighty lord, possessor of large estates round Radom, was at the same time one of the most famous knights in the kingdom. Rybalts sang about him in their songs, citing him as an example of honor and gallantry, praising his name as much as the names of Zawisza of Garbow and Farurej, Skarbek of Gora, Dobek of Olesnica, Janko Nanszan, Mikolaj of Moskorzowo, and Zandram of Maszkowic. At this moment he was the representative of the king, therefore to attack him was to put one's head under the executioner's axe.
Macko becoming cooler, said with deep respect:
"Honor and respect to you, sir, to your fame and to your gallantry."
"Honor to you also, sir," answered Powala; "but I would prefer to make your acquaintance under less serious circumstances."
"Why?" asked Macko.
Powala turned toward Zbyszko.
"What have you done, you youngster? You attacked an envoy on the public highway in the king's presence! Do you know the consequences of such an act?"
"He attacked the envoy because he was young and stupid; therefore action was easier for him than reflection," said Macko. "But you will not judge him so severely, after I tell you the whole story."
"It is not I who will judge him. My business is only to put him in fetters."
"How is that?" said Macko, looking gloomy again.
"According to the king's command."
Silence followed these words.
"He is a nobleman," said Macko finally.
"Let him swear then upon his knightly honor, that he will appear at the court."
"I swear!" exclaimed Zbyszko.
"Very well. What do they call you?"
Macko mentioned the name and the coat of arms of his nephew.
"If you belong to Princess Janusz' court, beg her to intercede for you with the king."
"We are not with her court. We are returning from Litwa, from Prince Witold. Better for us if we had never met any court! This misfortune has come from that."
Here Macko began to tell about what had happened in the inn; he spoke about the meeting with the princess and about Zbyszko's vow. Then suddenly he was filled with anger against Zbyszko, whose imprudence had caused their present dreadful plight; therefore, turning toward him, he exclaimed:
"I would have preferred to see you dead at Wilno! What have you done, you young of a wild boar!"
"Well," said Zbyszko, "after the vow, I prayed to the Lord Jesus to give me some Germans; I promised him a present; therefore when I perceived the peacock feathers, and also a mantle embroidered with a cross, immediately some voice cried within me: 'Strike the German! It is a miracle!' Well I rushed forward then; who would not have done it?"
"Listen," interrupted Powala, "I do not wish you any evil. I see clearly that this youngster sinned rather from youthful giddiness than from malice. I will be only too glad to ignore his deed and go forward as if nothing had happened. But I cannot do this unless that comthur will promise that he will not complain to the king. Beseech him; perhaps he also will pity the lad."
"I prefer to go before the courts, than to bow to a Krzyzak!" exclaimed Zbyszko. "It would not be befitting my dignity as a wlodyka."
Powala of Taczew looked at him severely and said:
"You do not act wisely. Old people know better than you, what is right and what is befitting a knight's dignity. People have heard about me; but I tell you, that if I had acted as you have, I would not be ashamed to ask forgiveness for such an offence."
Zbyszko felt ashamed; but having glanced around, answered:
"The ground is level here. Instead of asking him for forgiveness, I would prefer to fight him on horseback or on foot, till death or slavery."
"You are stupid!" interrupted Macko. "You wish then to fight the envoy?"
Here he turned to Powala:
"You must excuse him, noble lord. He became wild during the war. It will be better if he does not speak to the German, because he may insult him. I will do it. I will entreat him to forgive. If this comthur be willing to settle it by combat, after his mission is over, I will meet him."
"He is a knight of a great family; he will not encounter everybody," answered Powala.
"What? Do I not wear a girdle and spurs? Even a prince may meet me."
"That is true; but do not tell him that, unless he mentions it himself; I am afraid he will become angry if you do. Well, may God help you!"
"I am going to humiliate myself for your sake," said Macko to Zbyszko; "wait awhile!"
He approached the Knight of the Cross who had remained motionless on his enormous stallion, looking like an iron statue, and had listened with the greatest indifference to the preceding conversation. Macko having learned German during the long wars, began to explain to the comthur in his own language what had happened; he excused the boy on account of his youth and violent temper, and said that it had seemed to the boy as though God himself had sent the knight wearing a peacock tuft, and finally he begged forgiveness for the offence.
The comthur's face did not move. Calm and haughty he looked at Macko with his steely eyes with great indifference, but also with great contempt. The wlodyka of Bogdaniec noticed this. His words continued to be courteous but his soul began to rebel. He talked with increasing constraint and his swarthy face flushed. It was evident that in the presence of this haughty pride, Macko was endeavoring to restrain his anger.