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"William!" cried the Saracen, "this time you will not
escape me." But the sun was in his eyes, and his sword missed his aim.
Before he could strike another blow William had borne him from his
horse and galloped away.

The mountain that he was climbing now was beset with enemies, like all
the rest, and William looked in vain for a way of escape. He jumped
from his horse and rubbed his flanks saying to him, "What will you do?
Your sides are bleeding, and you can scarcely stand; but remember, if
once you fall it means my death."

At these words the good horse neighed, pricked up his ears and shook
himself, and as he did so the blood seemed to flow strongly in his
veins, as of old. Then the count rode down into the field of the
Aliscans, and found his nephew, Vivian, lying under a tree.

"Ah!" cried William, "what sorrow for me! To the end of my life I
shall mourn this day. Lady Gibourc, await me no longer, for never more
shall I return to Orange!"

So he lamented, grieving sore, till Vivian spoke to him. The Count was
full of joy to hear his words, and, kneeling beside the youth, took him
in his arms, and bade him confess his sins to him, as to his own
father. One by one Vivian remembered them all, then a mist floated
before his eyes, and, murmuring a farewell to the Lady Gibourc, his
soul left the world.

[Illustration: Vivian's last confession]

William laid him gently down on his shield, took another shield for
covering, and turned to mount his horse, but at this his heart failed
him.

"Is it you, William, that men look to as their leader, who will do this
cowardly deed?" he said to himself, and he went back to his nephew's
side, and lifted the body on to his horse, to bury it in his city of
Orange.

He had done what he could to give honour to Vivian, but he might as
well, after all, have left him where he fell, for in a fierce combat
with some Saracens on the road the Count was forced to abandon his
nephew's body and fight for his own life. He knew the two Saracens
well as brave men, but he soon slew one, and the other he unhorsed
after a struggle.

"Come back, come back," cried the Saracen; "sell me your horse, for
never did I behold his like! I will give you for him twice his weight
in gold, and set free besides all your nephews that have been taken
prisoners." But William loved his horse, and would not have parted
with him to Charles himself.

At length, after fighting nearly every step of the way, he saw the
towers of Orange before him, and his palace, Gloriette, where dwelt his
wife, the Lady Gibourc. "Ah, with what joy did I leave these walls,"
he said to himself, "and how many noble Knights have I lost since then!
Oh, Gibourc, my wife, will you not go mad when you hear the tidings I
have brought!" And, overcome with grief, the Count bowed his head on
the neck of his horse.


PART III.

When he recovered himself he rode straight to the City Gate, and
commanded the porter to let him in. "Let down the drawbridge," called
he, "and be quick, for time presses." But he forgot that he had
changed his own arms, and had taken instead those of a Saracen;
therefore the porter, seeing a man with a shield and pennon and helmet
that were strange to him, thought he was an enemy, and stood still
where he was. "Begone!" he said to William, "if you approach one step
nearer I will deal you a blow that will unhorse you! Begone, I tell
you, and as quick as you can, or when William Short Nose returns from
the Aliscans it will be the worse for you."

"Fear nothing, friend," replied the Count, "for I am William himself.
I went to the Aliscans to fight the Saracens, and to help Vivian; but
all my men are dead, and I only am left to bring these evil tidings.
So open the gates, for the Saracens are close behind."

"You must wait a moment," answered the porter, and he quitted the
turret and hastened to the Lady Gibourc. "Noble Countess," cried he,
"there knocks at the drawbridge a Knight in Pagan armour, who seems
fresh from battle, for his arms are bloody. He is tall of stature and
bears himself proudly, and he says he is William Short Nose. I pray
you, my lady, come with me and see him for yourself."

The face of Gibourc grew red when she heard the porter's words, and she
left the Palace and mounted the battlements, where she called,
"Warrior, what is your will?"

"Oh, lady," answered he, "open the gate, and that quickly. Twenty
thousand Saracens are close upon my track; if they reach me, I am a
dead man."

"You cannot enter," replied Gibourc. "I am alone here except for this
porter, a priest, a few children, and some ladies whose husbands are
all at the war. Neither gate nor wicket will be opened until the
return of my beloved lord, William the Count." Then William bowed his
head for a moment, and tears ran down his cheeks.

"My lady, I am William himself," said he. "Do you not know me?"

"Saracen, you lie," replied Gibourc. "Take off your helmet and let me
see who you are!"

"Noble Countess," cried he, "this is no time to parley. Look round
you! Is not every hill covered with enemies?"

"Ah, now I know you are not William," answered she, "for all the
Saracens in the world would never have stirred him with fear. By St.
Peter! neither gate nor wicket shall be opened till I have seen your
face. I am alone and must defend myself. The voices of many men are
alike."

Then the Count lifted his helmet: "Lady look and be content. I am
William himself. Now let me in."

Gibourc knew that it was indeed the Count who had returned, and was
about to order the gates to be opened when there appeared in sight a
troop of Saracens escorting two hundred prisoners, all of them young
Knights, and thirty ladies with fair, white faces. Each one was loaded
with chains, and cowered under the blows of their captors. Their cries
and prayers for mercy reached the ears of Gibourc, and, changing her
mind, she said quickly: "There is the proof that you are not William,
my husband, whose fame has spread far! For he would never have
suffered his brethren to be so shamefully entreated while he was by!"

"Heavens!" cried the Count, "to what hard tests does she put me! But
if I lose my head I will do her bidding, for what is there that I would
_not_ do for the love of God and of her!"


PART IV.

Without a word more he turned, and spurred his horse at the Saracens.
So sudden and fierce was his attack that the foremost riders fell back
on those behind, who were thrown into confusion, while William's sword
swept him a path to the centre, where the prisoners stood bound. The
Saracens expected the city gates to open and a body of Franks to come
forth to destroy them, and without waiting another moment they turned
and fled.

[Illustration: The Captives--William Short-nose rides to the rescue]

"Oh, fair lord," called Gibourc, who from the battlements had watched
the fight, "come back, come back, for now indeed you may enter." And
William heard her voice, and left the Saracens to go where they would
while he struck the chains off the prisoners, and led them to the gates
of Orange, when he himself rode back to the Saracens.

Not again would the Lady Gibourc have reason to call him coward.

And Gibourc saw, and her heart swelled within her, and she repented her
of her words. "It is my fault if he is slain,", she wept. "Oh, come
back, come back!"

And William came.

Now the drawbridge was let down, and he entered the city followed by
the Christians whom he had delivered, and the Countess unlaced his
helmet, and bathed his wounds, and then stopped, doubting.

"You cannot be William after all," said she, "for William would have
brought back the young kinsmen who went with him; and would have been
encircled by minstrels singing the great deeds he had done."

"Ah, noble Countess, you speak truth," answered he. "Henceforth my
life will be spent in mourning, for my friends and comrades who went to
war with me are lying dead at the Aliscan."

Great was the sorrow in the city of Orange and in the palace of her
lord, where the ladies of the Countess mourned for their husbands. But
it was Gibourc who first roused herself from her grief for Vivian and
others whom she had loved well. "Noble Count," she said, "do not lose
your courage. Remember it is not near Orleans, in safety, that your
lands lie, but in the very midst of the Saracens. Orange never will
have peace till they are subdued. So send messengers to King Louis,
and to your father, Aimeri, asking for aid."

"Heavens!" cried William, "has the world ever seen so wise a lady?"

"Let no one turn you from your road," she went on. "At the news of
your distress all the Barons that are your kin will fly to your help.
Their numbers are as the sands of the sea."

"But how shall I make them believe in what has befallen us?" answered
William. "If I do not go myself I will send nobody, and go myself I
will not, for I will not leave you alone again for all the gold in
Pavia."

"Sir, you must go," said Gibourc, weeping. "I will stay here with my
ladies, and each will place a helmet on her head, and hang a shield
round her neck, and buckle a sword to her side, and with the help of
the Knights whom you have delivered, we shall know how to defend
ourselves."

William's heart bounded at her words; he took her in his arms, and
promised that he himself would go, and that he would never lie soft
till he returned again to Orange.


PART V.

Thus William Short Nose set forth and the next day passed through
Orleans. There he met with his brother Ernaut, who had ridden home
from escorting King Louis back to Paris. Ernaut promised his help and
that of his father and brothers, but counselled William to go to Laon,
where a great feast would be held and many persons would be assembled.
The Count followed Ernaut's counsel, but refused the troop of Knights
which Ernaut offered him, liking rather to ride alone.

He made his entrance into Laon, and the people laughed at him and made
jests on his tall, thin horse; but William let them laugh, and rode on
until he reached the Palace.



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