Yet his discovery had its effect upon the Knight of the Sepulcher as just for an instant it had distracted his attention from the thought that should have been uppermost in his mind—gaining the primary advantage by the skill of his opening attack.
He saw his antagonist’s horse swing out just before they met. He stood in his stirrups, as had Sir Malud, to deliver a terrific cut; then Blake threw his horse straight into the shoulder of Sir Guy’s. The latter’s sword fell and with a loud, clanging noise slipped harmlessly from the blade of the Knight of Nimmr. Guy had raised his buckler to protect his own head and neck and could not see Sir James. Guy’s horse stumbled and nearly fell. As it recovered itself Blake’s blade slipped beneath the buckler of the Knight of the Sepulcher and its point pierced the gorget of his adversary and passed through his throat.
With a cry that ended in a blood choked gurgle Sir Guy of the Sepulcher toppled backward upon his horse’s rump and rolled upon the ground while the south stands went mad with joy.
The laws of the Great Tourney account the knight who is unhorsed as slain, so the coup-de-grace is never given and no knight is killed unnecessarily. The victor rides to the tilt of the vanquished, wheels about and gallops to his own tilt, the full length of the lists, where he waits until a herald of the opposing side fetches the prize to him.
And so it was that as Blake swung from his saddle, sword in hand, and approached the fallen Sir Guy, a gasp arose from the south stands and a roar of angry protest from the north.
Marshals and heralds galloped madly from the tilt of the fallen Backer and, seeing this, Sir Richard, fearing that Blake would be set upon and slain, led a similar party from his end of the field.
Blake approached the fallen knight, who lay upon his back, feebly struggling to arise, and when the spectators looked to see him run Sir Guy through with his sword they saw him instead toss the weapon to the ground and kneel beside the wounded man.
With an arm beneath Sir Guy’s shoulders he raised him and held him against his knee while he tore off his helm and gorget, and when the marshals and the heralds and the others drew rein beside him. Blake was trying to staunch the Sow of blood.
“Quick!” he cried to them, “a chirurgeon! His jugular is not touched, but this flow of blood must be stopped.”
Several of the knights dismounted and gathered about, and among them was Sir Richard. A herald of Sir Guy’s faction kneeled and took the youth from Blake’s arms.
“Come!” said Richard. “Leave the sir knight to his own friends.”
Blake arose. He saw how peculiar were the expressions upon the faces of the knights about him, but as he drew away one of them spoke. An older man, who was one of Bohun’s marshals.
“Thou art a generous and chivalrous knight,” he said to Blake, “and a courageous one too who would thus set at naught the laws of the Great Tourney and the customs of centuries.”
Blake faced him squarely. “I do not give a damn for your laws or your customs,” he said. “Where I come from a decent man wouldn’t let a yellow dog bleed to death without trying to save him, much less a brave and gallant boy like this, and because he fell by my hand, by the customs of my country I should be compelled to aid him.”
“Yes,” explained Sir Richard, “as otherwise he would be punished with a raspberry.”
The winning of the first event of the day was but a forerunner of a series of successes on the part of the Knights of Nimrar until, at the opening of the last event, the score showed four hundred fifty two points for them against four hundred forty eight for their opponents. A margin of four points, however, was as nothing at this stage of the tourney, as the final event held one hundred points which Fate might allot almost entirely to one side.
This was the most spectacular event of the whole tourney and one which the spectators always looked forward to with the greatest anticipation. Two hundred knights were engaged in it, one hundred Knights of Nimmr against one hundred Knights of the Sepulcher. They formed at opposite ends of the lists and as the trumpets sounded the signal they charged with lances, and thus they fought until all of one side had been unhorsed or had retired from the field because of wounds. Broken lances could be replaced as a polo player may ride out and obtain a fresh mallet when he breaks his. Otherwise there were few rules to govern this concluding number of the Great Tourney, which more nearly approximated a battle scene than any other event of the three days of conflict.
Blake had won his fifteen points for the Knights of Nimmr in the opening event of the day and again with four other comrades, pitted against five mounted swordsmen from the north, he had helped to add still further points to the growing score of the Fronters.
He was entered in the last event largely because the marshals appreciated the value of his horsemanship and felt that it would more than compensate for his inexperience with the lance.
The two hundred mailed knights had paraded for the final event and were forming line at opposite ends of the lists, one hundred Knights of the Sepulcher at one end and one hundred Knights of Nimmr at the other. Their chargers, especially selected for this encounter, were powerful and fleet, chosen for their courage as were the youths who bestrode them.
The knights, with few exceptions, were youths in their twenties, for to youth went the laurels of this great sport of the Middle Ages as they still do in the sports of today. Here and there was a man of middle age, a hardened veteran whose heart and hand had withstood the march of years and whose presence exerted a steadying influence upon the young knights the while it spurred them to their utmost efforts, for these were champions whose deeds were sung by minstrels in the great balls of the castles of Nimmr.
In proud array, with upright lances and fluttering pennons, the sunlight glinting from burnished mail and bit and boss and shining brightly upon the gorgeous housings of their mounts, the two hundred presented a proud and noble spectacle as they awaited the final summons of the trumpet.
Rearing and plunging, eager to be off, many a war horse broke the line as will a thoroughbred at the barrier, while at one side and opposite the center of the lists a herald waited for the moment that both lines should be formed before he gave the signal that would send these iron men hurtling into combat.
Blake found himself well toward the center of the line of Nimmr’s knights, beneath him a great black that fretted to be off, before him the flower of the knighthood of the Sepulcher. In his right hand he grasped a heavy, iron-shod lance, the butt of which rested in a boot at his stirrup, and upon his left arm he bore a great shield, nor had he any wish to discard it in the face of all those sturdy, iron-tipped lances. As he looked down the long length of the lists upon the hundred knights that would presently be racing toward him in solid array with lance points projecting far ahead of their horses, Blake felt that his shield was entirely inadequate and he experienced a certain nervousness that reminded him of similar moments of tense waiting for the referee’s’ whistle during his football days—those seemingly long gone days of another life that he sensed now as a remote and different incarnation.
As last came the signal! He saw the herald raise his sword on high. With the two hundred he gathered his restive charger and couched his lance. The sword fell! From the four corners of the lists trumpets blared; from two hundred throats rose the cri de guerre; four hundred spurs transmitted the awaited signal from man to horse.
The thundering lines bore down the field while a score of heralds raced along the flanks and rear to catch any infraction of the sole regulation that bore upon the final tumultuous collision. Each knight must engage the foe upon his bridle hand, for to couch his lance upon the one to his right was an unknightly act, since thus a single knight might have two lances set upon him at once, against which there could be no defence.
From above the rim of his shield Blake saw the solid front of lances, iron-shod chargers and great shields almost upon him. The speed, the weight, the momentum seemed irresistible and, metaphorically, with deep respect Blake took his hat off to the knights of old.
Now the two lines were about to meet! The spectators sat in spellbound silence; the riders, grim-jawed, with tight set lips, were voiceless now.
Blake, his lance across his horse’s withers, picked the knight racing toward him upon his left hand; for an instant he caught the other’s eyes and then each crouched behind his shield as the two lines came together with a deafening crash.
Blake’s shield smashed back against his face and body with such terrific force that he was almost carried from his saddle. He felt his own lance strike and splinter and then, half stunned, he was through the iron line, his charger, frantic and uncontrolled, running wildly toward the tilts of Bohun’s knights.
With an effort Blake pulled himself together, gathered his reins and finally managed to get his horse under control, and it was not until he had reined him about that he got his first glimpse of the result of the opening encounter. A half dozen chargers were scrambling to their feet and nearly a score more were galloping, riderless, about the lists. A full twenty-five knights lay upon the field and twice that many squires and serving men were running in on foot to succor their masters.
Already several of the knights bad again set their lances against an enemy and Blake saw one of the Knights of the Sepulcher bearing down upon him, but he raised his broken spear shaft above his head to indicate that he was momentarily hors de combat and galloped swiftly back to his own end of the lists where Edward was awaiting him with a fresh weapon.
“Thou didst nobly well, beloved master,” cried Edward.
“Did I get my man?” asked Blake.
“That thou didst, sir,” Edward assured him, beaming with pride and pleasure, “and all be thou breakest thy lance upon his shield thou didst then so unhorse him.”
Armed anew Blake turned back toward the center of the lists where many individual encounters were taking place. Already several more knights were down and the victors looking for new conquests in which the stands were assisting with hoarse cries and advice, and as Blake rode back into the lists he was espied by many in the north stands occupied by the knights and followers of the Sepulcher.
“The black knight!” they cried. “Here! Here! Sir Wildred! Here is the black knight that overthrew Sir Guy. Have at him, Sir Wildred!”
Sir Wildred, a hundred yards away, couched his lance. “Have at thee, Sir Black Knight!” he shouted.
“You’re on!” Blake shouted back, putting spurs to the great black.
Sir Wildred was a large man and he bestrode a raw-boned roan with the speed of a deer and the heart of a lion. The pair would have been a match for the best of Nimmr’s knighthood.
Perhaps it was as well for Blake’s peace of mind that Wilfred appeared to him like any other knight and that he did not know that he was the most sung of all the heroes of the Sepulcher.
As a matter of fact, any knight looked formidable to Blake, who was still at a loss to understand how he had unhorsed his man in the first encounter of this event.
“The bird must have lost both stirrups,” is what he had mentally assured himself when Edward had announced his victory.
But he couched his lance like a good sir knight and true and bore down upon the redoubtable Sir Wildred. The Knight of the Sepulcher was charging diagonally across the field from the south stands. Beyond him Blake caught a glimpse of a slim, girlish figure standing in the central loge. He could not see her eyes, but he knew that they were upon him.
“For my Princess!” he whispered as Sir Wildred loomed large before him.
Lance smote on shield as the two knights crashed together with terrific force and Blake felt himself lifted clear of his saddle and hurled heavily to the ground. He was neither stunned nor badly hurt and as he sat up a sudden grin wreathed his face, for there, scarce a lance length from him, sat Sir Wildred. But Sir Wildred did not smile.
“’Sdeath!” he cried. “Thou laughest at me, sir-rah?”
“If I look as funny as you do,” Blake assured him, “you’ve got a laugh coming too.”
Sir Wildred knit his brows. “’Ods blud!” he exclaimed. “An thou beest a knight of Nimmr I be a Saracen! Who beest thou? Thy speech savoreth not of the Valley.”
Blake had arisen. “Hurt much?” he asked stepping forward. “Here, I’ll give you a hand up.”
“Thou art, of a certainty, a strange sir knight,” said Wildred. “I recall now that thou didst offer succor to Sir Guy when thou hadst fairly vanquished him.”
“Well, what’s wrong with that?” asked Blake. “I haven’t anything against you. We’ve had a bully good scrap and are out of it. Why should we sit here and make faces at one another?”
Sir Wildred shook his head. “Thou art beyond my comprehension,” he admitted.
By this time their squires and a couple of serving men had arrived, but neither of the fallen knights was so badly injured that he could not walk without assistance. As they started for their respective tilts Blake turned and smiled at Wildred.
“So long, old man!” he cried cheerily. “Hope we meet again some day.”
Still shaking his head Sir Wildred limped away, followed by the two who had come to assist him.
At his tilt Blake learned that the outcome of the Great Tourney still hung in the balance and it was another half hour before the last of the Knights of Nimmr went down in defeat, leaving two Knights of the Sepulcher victorious upon the field. But this was not enough to overcome the lead of four points that the Fronters had held at the opening of the last event and a moment later the heralds announced that the Knights of Nimmr had won the Great Tourney by the close margin of two points.
Amidst the shouting of the occupants of the stands at the south the Knights of Nimmr who had taken part in the tourney and had won points for the Fronters formed to ride upon the lists and claim the grand prize. Not all were there, as some had been killed or wounded in encounters that had followed their victories, though the toll on both sides had been much smaller than Blake had imagined that it would be. Five men were dead and perhaps twenty too badly injured to ride, the casualties being about equally divided.
As the Knights of Nimmr rode down the field to claim the five maidens from the City of the Sepulcher, Bohun gathered all his knights at his side of the lists as though preparing to ride back to his camp. At the same time a Knight of the Sepulcher, wearing the leopard skin bassinet of Nimmr, entered the stands upon the south side of the field and made his way toward the loge of Prince Gobred.
Bohun watched. The Knights of Nimmr were at the far end of the field engrossed in the ritualistic rites that the laws of the Great Tourney prescribed for the reception of the five maidens.
Close beside Bohun two young knights sat their chargers, their eyes upon their king, and one of them held the bridle of a riderless horse.
Suddenly Bohun raised his hand and spurred across the field followed by his knights. They moved a little toward the end of the field where the Knights of Nimmr were congregated so that the bulk of them were between this end of the field and Gobred’s loge.
The young knight who had sat close beside Bohun, and his companion leading the riderless horse, spurred at a run straight for the stands of Nimmr and the loge of the Prince. As they drew in abreast of it a knight leaped into the loge from the rear, swept Guinalda into his arms, tossed her quickly to the young knight waiting to receive her, sprang to the edge of the rail and leaped into the saddle of the spare horse being held in readiness for him; then they both wheeled and spurred away before the surprised Gobred or those about him could raise a hand to stay them. Behind them swept Bohun and the Knights of the Sepulcher, out toward the camp among the oaks.
Instantly all was pandemonium. A trumpeter in Gobred’s loge sounded the alarm; the prince ran from the stands to the spot where his horse was being held by a groom; the Knights of Nimmr, ignorant of what had occurred, not knowing where to rally or against whom, milled about the lists for a few moments.
Then Gobred came, spurring swiftly before them. “Bohun has stolen the Princess Guinalda!” he cried. “Knights of Nimmr—” but before he could say more, or issue orders to his followers, a black knight on a black charger spurred roughly through the ranks of surrounding men and was away after the retreating Knights of the Sepulcher.