And yet, if you have space in your ranks for two more cavaliers, both the Prince and I would ride with you that night."
The young man stooped and kissed his father's hand.
"Take this man in your charge, Walter, and do with him as you will. Guard well lest he betray us once again. Take him from my sight, for his breath poisons the room. And now, Nigel, if that worthy graybeard of thine would fain twang his harp or sing to us - but what in God's name would you have?"
He had turned, to find his young host upon his knee and his flaxen head bent in entreaty.
"What is it, man? What do you crave?"
"A boon, fair liege!"
"Well, well, am I to have no peace to-night, with a traitor kneeling to me in front, and a true man on his knees behind? Out with it, Nigel. What would you have?"
"To come with you to Calais."
"By the rood! your request is fair enough, seeing that our plot is hatched beneath your very roof. How say you, Walter? Will you take him, armor and all?" asked King Edward.
"Say rather will you take me?" said Chandos. "We two are rivals in honor, Walter, but I am very sure that you would not hold me back."
"Nay, John, I will be proud to have the best lance in Christendom beneath my banner."
"And I to follow so knightly a leader. But Nigel Loring is my Squire, and so he comes with us also."
"Then that is settled," said the King, "and now there is no need for hurry, since there can be no move until the moon has changed. So I pray you to pass the flagon once again, and to drink with me to the good knights of France. May they be of great heart and high of enterprise when we all meet once more within the castle wall of Calais!"
XI. IN THE HALL OF THE KNIGHT OF DUPLIN
The King had come and had gone. Tilford Manor house stood once more dark and silent, but joy and contentment reigned within its walls. In one night every trouble had fallen away like some dark curtain which had shut out the sun. A princely sum of money had come from the King's treasurer, given in such fashion that there could be no refusal. With a bag of gold pieces at his saddle-bow Nigel rode once more into Guildford, and not a beggar on the way who had not cause to bless his name.
There he had gone first to the goldsmith and had bought back cup and salver and bracelet, mourning with the merchant over the evil chance that gold and gold-work had for certain reasons which only those in the trade could fully understand gone up in value during the last week, so that already fifty gold pieces had to be paid more than the price which Nigel had received. In vain the faithful Aylward fretted and fumed and muttered a prayer that the day would come when he might feather a shaft in the merchant's portly paunch. The money had to be paid.
Thence Nigel hurried to Wat the armorer's and there he bought that very suit for which he had yearned so short a time before. Then and there he tried it on in the booth, Wat and his boy walking round him with spanner and wrench, fixing bolts and twisting rivets.
"How is that, my fair sir?" cried the armorer as he drew the bassinet over the head and fastened it to the camail which extended to the shoulders. "I swear by Tubal Cain that it fits you as the shell fits the crab! A finer suit never came from Italy or Spain."
Nigel stood in front of a burnished shield which served as a mirror, and he turned this way and that, preening himself like a little shining bird. His smooth breastplate, his wondrous joints with their deft protection by the disks at knee and elbow and shoulder, the beautifully flexible gauntlets and sollerets, the shirt of mail and the close-fitting greave-plates were all things of joy and of beauty in his eyes. He sprang about the shop to show his lightness, and then running out he placed his hand on the pommel and vaulted into Pommers' saddle, while Wat and his boy applauded in the doorway.
Then springing off and running into the shop again he clanked down upon his knees before the image of the Virgin upon the smithy wall.