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"My
friend," she said, "buckle this sword to your side. It may be useful
to you."

Rainouart took the sword and drew it from its scabbard, but it seemed
so light that he threw it down again. "Lady," he cried, "what good can
such a plaything do me? But with my staff between my hands there is
not a Pagan that can stand up against me, and if one escapes then let
Count William drive me from his door."

At this Gibourc felt sure this was indeed her brother, but she did not
yet like to ask him more questions, and in her joy she began to weep.
"Lady," said Rainouart, "do not weep. As long as my staff is whole
William shall be safe."

"My friend, may Heaven protect you," she answered, "but a man without
armour is soon cut down; so take these things and wear them in battle,"
and she laced on the helmet, and buckled the breastplate, and fastened
the sword on his thigh. "If your staff breaks, it may serve you," said
she.

Rainouart was proud indeed when the armour was girded on him, and he
sat himself down well pleased at William's table. The Knights vied
with each other in pouring him out bumpers of wine, and after dinner
every man tried to lift his iron-bound staff, but none could raise it
from the ground, except William himself, who by putting forth all his
strength lifted it the height of a foot.

"Let me aid you," said Rainouart, and he whirled it round his head,
throwing it lightly from hand to hand. "We are wasting time," he said.
"I fear lest the Saracens should fly before we come up with them. If I
only have the chance to make them feel the weight of my staff, I will
soon sweep the battlefield." And William embraced him for these words,
and ordered the trumpets to be sounded and the army to march.

From her window Gibourc watched them go. She saw the Knights stream
out into the plain, their banners floating on the wind, their helmets
shining in the sun, their shields glittering with gold. She heard
their horses neigh, and she prayed God to bless all this noble host.


PART XII.

After two days' march they came within sight of the Aliscans, but for
five miles round the country was covered by the Saracen army. William
saw that some of his men quailed at the number of the foe, so he turned
and spoke to his soldiers. "My good lords," he said, "a fearful battle
awaits us, and we must not give way an inch. If any man feels afraid
let him go back to his own land. This is no place for cowards."

The cowards heard joyfully, and without shame took the road by which
they had come. They spurred their horses and thought themselves safe,
but they rejoiced too soon.

At the mouth of a bridge Rainouart met them, and when he saw that they
were part of the Christian host he raised his staff and barred their
passage. "Where are you going?" asked he. "To France, for rest,"
answered the cowards; "the Count has dismissed us, and when we reach
our homes we shall see to the rebuilding of our castles, which have
fallen into ill-repair during the wars. Come with us, if you are a
wise man."

"Ask some one else," said Rainouart; "Count William has given me the
command of the army, and it is to him that I have to render account.
Do you think I shall let you run away like hares?" And, swinging his
staff round his head, he laid about him.

Struck dumb with terror at the sight of their comrades falling rapidly
round them, they cried with one voice, "Sir Rainouart, we will return
and fight with you."

[Illustration: Rainouart stops the cowards]

So they turned their horses' heads and rode the way they had come, and
Rainouart followed, keeping guard over them with his staff. When they
reached the army he went straight to William, and begged that he might
have the command of them. "I will change them into a troop of lions,"
said he.

Harsh words and gibes greeted the cowards, but Rainouart soon forced
the mockers to silence. "Leave my men alone!" he cried, "or by the
faith I owe to Gibourc I will make you. I am a King's son, and the
time has come to show you what manner of man I am. I have idled long,
but I will idle no longer. I am of the blood royal, and the saying is
true that good blood cannot lie."

"How well he speaks!" whispered the Franks to each other, for they
dared not let their voices be heard.


PART XIII.

Now the battle was to begin, for the two armies were drawn up in
fighting array, and Rainouart took his place at the head of his cowards
opposite the Saracens, from which race he sprang.

The charge was sounded, and the two armies met with a shock, and many a
man fell from his horse and was trampled under foot. "Narbonne!
Narbonne!" shouted Aimeri, advancing within reach of a crossbow shot,
and he would have been slain had not his sons dashed to his rescue.
Count William did miracles, and the Saracens were driven so far back
that Rainouart feared the battle would be ended before he had struck a
blow.

Followed by his troop of cowards Rainouart made straight for the enemy,
and before him they fell as corn before a sickle. "Strike, soldiers,"
shouted he; "strike and avenge the noble Vivian."

Rainouart and his cowards pressed on and on, and the Saracens fell
back, step by step, till they reached the sea, where their ships were
anchored.

Then Rainouart drove his staff in the sand, and by its help swung
himself on board a small vessel, which happened to be the very one in
which the nephews of William were imprisoned. He laid about him right
and left with his staff, till he had slain all the gaolers, and at last
he came to a young man whose eyes were bandaged and his feet tied
together. "Who are you?" asked Rainouart.

"I am Bertrand, nephew of William Short Nose. Four months ago I was
taken captive by the Saracens, and if, as I think, they carry me into
Arabia, then may God have pity on my soul, for it is all over with my
body."

"Sir Count," answered Rainouart, "for love of William I will deliver
you."

Seizing the weapons of the dead Saracens, they scrambled on shore, and,
while fighting for their lives, looked about for their uncle, whom they
knew at last by the sweep of his sword, which kept a clear space around
him. More than once Rainouart swept back fresh foes that were pressing
forwards, till the tide of battle carried him away and brought him
opposite Desramé the King. "Who are you?" asked Desramé, struck by his
face, for there was nothing royal in his dress or his arms.

"I am Rainouart, vassal of William whom I love, and if you do hurt to
him I will do hurt to you also."

"Rainouart, I am your father," cried Desramé, and he besought him to
forswear Christianity and to become a follower of Mahomet; but
Rainouart turned a deaf ear, and challenged him to continue the combat.
Desramé was no match for his son, and was soon struck from his horse.
"Oh, wretch that I am," said Rainouart to himself, "I have slain my
brothers and wounded my father--it is my staff which has done all this
evil," and he flung it far from him. He would have been wiser to have
kept it, for in a moment three giants surrounded him, and he had only
his fists with which to beat them back. Suddenly his hand touched the
sword buckled on him by Gibourc, which he had forgotten, and he drew it
from its scabbard, and with three blows clove the heads of the giants
in twain. Meanwhile King Desramé took refuge in the only ship that had
not been sunk by the Christians, and spread its sails. "Come back
whenever you like, fair father," called Rainouart after him.


PART XIV.

The fight was over; the Saracens acknowledged that they were beaten,
and the booty they had left behind them was immense. The army, wearied
with the day's toil, lay down to sleep, but before midnight Rainouart
was awake and trumpets called to arms. "Vivian must be buried," said
he, "and then the march to Orange will begin."

Rainouart rode at the head, his sword drawn, prouder than a lion; and
as he went along a poor peasant threw himself before him, asking for
vengeance on some wretches who had torn up a field of beans, which was
all he had with which to feed his family. Rainouart ordered the
robbers to be brought before him and had them executed. Then he gave
to the peasant their horses and their armour in payment of the ruined
beans. "Ah, it has turned out a good bargain for me," said the
peasant. "Blessed be the hour when I sowed such a crop."

William entered into his Palace, where a great feast was spread for the
visitors, but one man only remained outside the walls and that was
Rainouart, of whom no one thought in the hour of triumph. His heart
swelled with bitterness as he thought of the blows he had given, and
the captives he had set free, and, weeping with anger, he turned his
face towards the Aliscans.

On the road some Knights met him, and asked him whither he was going
and why he looked so sad. Then his wrath and grief burst out, and he
told how he mourned that ever he had slain a man in William's cause,
and that he was now hastening to serve under the banner of Mahomet, and
would shortly return with a hundred thousand men behind him, and would
avenge himself on France and her King. Only towards Alix would he show
any pity!

In vain the Knights tried to soften his heart, it was too sore to
listen. So they rode on fast to Orange and told the Count what
Rainouart had said.

"I have done him grievous wrong," answered William, and ordered twenty
Knights to ride after him. But the Knights were received with threats
and curses, and came back to Orange faster than they had left it,
thinking that Rainouart was at their heels.

William smiled when he heard the tale of his messengers, and bade them
bring his horse, and commanded that a hundred Knights should follow
him, and prayed Gibourc to ride at his side. They found Rainouart
entering a vessel whose sails were already spread, and all William's
entreaties would have availed nothing had not Gibourc herself implored
his forgiveness.

"I am your brother," cried Rainouart, throwing himself on her neck; "I
may confess it now, and for your sake I will pardon the Count's
ingratitude, and never more will I remind you of it."

There was great joy in Orange when William rode through the gates with
Rainouart beside him, and the next day the Count made him his
Seneschal, and he was baptised.



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