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I will help you and my brothers also, and between us we
shall have twenty thousand men to fight with any Saracens we shall
find."

"You speak weak words," cried Aimeri; "he is Seneschal of France, and
also her Standard Bearer; he has a right to our help." And Alix
approved of his saying, and the Queen likewise. The King saw that none
were on his side and dared refuse no longer. "Count William, for love
of you I will call together my army, and a hundred thousand men shall
obey your commands. But I myself will not go with you, for my kingdom
needs me badly."

"Remain, Sire," answered William, "I myself will lead the host." And
the King sent out his messengers, and soon a vast army was gathered
under the walls of Laon.


PART VIII.

It was on one of these days, when the Count stood in the great hall,
that there entered from the kitchen a young man whom he had never seen
before. The youth, whose name was Rainouart, was tall, strong as a
wild boar, and swift as a deer. The scullions and grooms had played
off jests upon him during the night, but had since repented them
sorely, for he had caught the leaders up in his arms and broken their
heads against the walls.

The rest, eager to avenge their comrades' death, prepared to overcome
him with numbers, and in spite of his strength it might have gone ill
with Rainouart had not Aimeri de Narbonne, hearing the noise, forbade
more brawling.

Count William was told of the unseemly scuffle, and asked the King who
and what the young man was who could keep at bay so many of his
fellows. "I bought him once at sea," said Louis, "and paid a hundred
marks for him. They pretend that he is the son of a Saracen, but he
will never reveal the name of his father. Not knowing what to do with
him, I sent him to the kitchen."

"Give him to me, King Louis," said William, smiling, "I promise you he
shall have plenty to eat."

"Willingly," answered the King.

Far off in the kitchen Rainouart was chafing at the sound of the
horses' hoofs, and at the scraps of talk let fall by the Knights, who
were seeing to the burnishing of their armour before they started to
fight the Saracens. "To think," he said to himself, "that I, who am of
right King of Spain, should be loitering here, heaping logs on the fire
and skimming the pot. But let King Louis look to himself! Before a
year is past I will snatch the crown from his head."

When the army was ready to march he made up his mind what to do, and it
was thus that he sought out William in the great hall. "Noble Count,
let me come with you, I implore you. I can help to look after the
horses and cook the food, and if at any time blows are needed I can
strike as well as any man."

"Good fellow," answered William, who wished to try what stuff he was
made of, "how could you, who have passed your days in the kitchen,
sleeping on the hearth when you were not busy turning the spit--how
could you bear all the fatigue of war, the long fasts, and the longer
watches? Before a month had passed you would be dead by the roadside!"

"Try me," said he, "and if you will not have me I will go alone, and
fight barefoot. My only weapon will be an iron-bound staff, and it
shall kill as many Saracens as the best sword among you all."

"Come then," answered the Count.


PART IX.

The next morning the army set forth, and Alix and the Queen watched
them go from the steps of the Palace. When Alix saw Rainouart stepping
proudly along with his heavy staff on his shoulder her heart stirred,
and she said to her mother, "See, what a goodly young man! In the
whole army there is not one like him! Let me bid him farewell, for
nevermore shall I see his match."

"Peace! my daughter," answered the Queen, "I hope indeed that he may
never more return to Laon." Alix took no heed of her mother's words,
but signed to Rainouart to draw near. Then she put her arms round his
neck, and said, "Brother, you have been a long time at Court, and now
you are going to fight under my uncle's banner. If ever I have given
you pain, I ask your pardon." After that she kissed him, and bade him
go.

[Illustration: Alix kisses Rainouart]

At Orleans William took leave of his father and his mother, who
returned to their home at Narbonne; and also of his brothers, who
promised to return to meet William under the walls of Orange, which
they did faithfully.

He pressed on with his army quickly till he came in sight of his native
city. But little of it could he see, for a great smoke covered all the
land, rising up from the burning towers which the Saracens had that
morning set on fire. Enter the city they could not, for Gibourc and
her ladies held it firm, and, armed with helmets and breastplates,
flung stones upon the enemy.

When William beheld the smoke, and whence it came, he cried: "Orange is
burning! Gibourc is carried captive! To arms! To arms!" And he
spurred his horse, Rainouart running by his side.

From her tower Gibourc saw through the smoke a thousand banners waving
and the sparkle of armour, and heard the sound of the horses' hoofs,
and it seemed to her that the Saracens were drawing near anew. "O
William!" cried she, "have you really forgotten me? Noble Count, you
linger overlong! Never more shall I look upon your face." And so
saying she fell fainting on the floor.

But something stirred the pulses of Gibourc, and she soon sat up again,
and there at the gate was William, with Rainouart behind him. "Fear
nothing, noble lady," said he, "it is the army of France that I have
brought with me. Open, and welcome to us!"

The news seemed so good to Gibourc that she could not believe it, and
she bade the Count unlace his helmet, so that she might indeed be sure
that it was he. William did her bidding, then she ran swiftly to the
gate and let down the drawbridge, and William stepped across it and
embraced her tenderly. Then he ordered his army to take up its
quarters in the city.


PART X.

Gibourc's eyes had fallen upon Rainouart, who had passed her on his way
to the kitchen, where he meant to leave his stout wooden staff. "Tell
me," said she to the Count, "who is the young man who bears lightly on
his shoulder that huge piece of wood which would weigh down a horse?
He is handsome and well made. Where did you find him?"

"Lady," answered William, "he was given me by the King."

"My Lord," said Gibourc, "be sure you see that he is honourably
treated. He looks to me to be of high birth. Has he been baptised?"

"No, Madam, he is not a Christian. He was brought from Spain as a
child, and kept for seven years in the kitchen. But take him, I pray
you, under your protection, and do with him as you will."

The Count was hungry, and while waiting for dinner to be served he
stood with Gibourc at the windows which looked out beyond the city. An
army was drawing near; thousands of men, well mounted and freshly
equipped. "Gibourc!" cried the Count joyfully, "here is my brother
Ernaut with his vassals. Now all the Saracens in the world shall not
prevent Bertrand from being delivered to-morrow."

On all sides warriors began to arrive, led by the fathers of those who
had been taken prisoners with Bertrand, and with them came Aimeri and
the brothers of William. Glad was the heart of the Count as he bade
them welcome to his Palace, and ordered a feast to be made ready, and
showed each Knight where he should sit.

It was late before the supper was served, but when every man had his
trencher filled Rainouart entered the hall, armed with his staff, and
stood leaning against a pillar, watching the noble company. "Sir,"
said Aimeri, the man whom the Saracens most dreaded, "who is it that I
see standing there holding a piece of wood that five peasants could
hardly lift? Does he mean to murder us?"

"That youth," replied William, "is a gift to me from King Louis. None
living is as strong as he." Then Aimeri called Rainouart, and bade him
sit at his side, and eat and drink as he would. "Noble Count," said
Aimeri, "such men grow not on every bush. Keep him and cherish him,
and bring him with you to the Aliscans. For with his staff he will
slay many Pagans."

"Yes," answered Rainouart, "wherever I appear the Pagans will fall dead
at the sight of me." Aimeri and William laughed to hear him, but ere
four days were past they had learned what he was worth.


PART XI.

Rainouart went back to the kitchen and slept soundly, but as he had
drunk much wine the cooks and scullions thought to play jokes upon him,
and lighted some wooden shavings with which to burn his moustache. At
the first touch of the flame Rainouart leapt to his feet, seized the
head cook by his legs, flung him on to the blazing fire, and turned for
another victim, but they had all fled.

At daybreak they went to William to pray for vengeance on the murderer
of the cook. If the Count would not forbid him the kitchen, not a
morsel of food would they cook. But William only laughed at their
threats, and said, "Beware henceforth how you meddle with Rainouart.
Did I not forbid anyone to mock at him, and do you dare to disobey my
orders? Lady Gibourc, take Rainouart to your chamber, and keep him
beside you."

So the Countess went to the kitchen and found Rainouart sitting on a
bench, his head leaning against his staff. She sat down by him and
said graciously, "Brother, come with me and we will have some talk
together."

[Illustration: The Lady Gibourc with Rainouart in the kitchen]

"Willingly," answered Rainouart, "the more so that I can hardly keep my
hands off these scoundrels."

He followed Gibourc to her room, and then she questioned him about his
childhood.

"Have you brothers or sisters?" asked she.

"Yes," he answered, "beyond the sea I have a brother who is a King, and
a sister who is more beautiful than a fairy," and as he spoke he bent
his head. Something in her heart told Gibourc that this might be her
brother, but she only asked again, "Where do you come from?"

"Lady," he replied, "I will answer that question the day I come back
from the battle which William shall have won, thanks to my aid."

Gibourc kept silence, but she opened a chest and drew from it a white
breastplate that had belonged to her uncle, which was so finely wrought
that no sword could pierce it; likewise a helmet of steel and a sword
that could cut through iron more easily than a scythe cuts grass.



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