Ivanhoe Told to the Children - Ethel Lindsay

The Fool and the Swineherd

One afternoon as the sun was going down, two men turned into a wide glade of the forest near Rotherwood and sat down to rest. One was garbed as a fool, and the other, as could be seen from his dress and the engraved brass collar which he wore round his neck, was a thrall or slave of Cedric. As the sun was getting low he rose and blew his horn; but although the pigs of which he had charge and which were scattered about amongst the trees answered his call, they made no effort to leave their feast of acorns.

"Curse those infernal porkers!" he said to his companion; "if a two-legged wolf snap not them up ere nightfall, I am no true man;" then, "Fangs! Fangs!" he called to his dog, a ragged-looking sort of lurcher which ran about limping, but was unable to do much to help his master. The reason of this was that the noble who owned most of the lands in that part had had the front claws of all dogs cut off so that they could not attack the deer which he had the sole right of killing as overlord of the forests round.

"By St. Dunstan!" said Gurth, for that was his name, "the Normans seem to have left us little but the air we breathe. The finest and fattest game seems preserved for their board, our best men have to serve as soldiers to our foreign masters, leaving few here who have either the will or the power to protect the unfortunate Saxon. God's blessing on our master Cedric, but Reginald Front-de-Boeuf, the Norman, is coming down in person. Here, here Fangs! Well done! Thou hast the swine before thee now and bring'st them on bravely."

"Gurth," said the Jester as they rose to follow, "I know thou thinkest me a fool, or thou would'st not be so rash as to speak treason against the Normans. One word to Reginald Front-de-Boeuf or our other neighbour Philip de Malvoisin, and thou would'st be hung on yonder trees by them as a terror to all speakers of treason against them."

"Dog! thou would'st not betray me," said Gurth, turning suddenly on his companion.

"Betray thee!" answered the Jester; "of course not, but soft, whom have we here?" he said, listening to the trampling of several horses which became audible.

"Never mind," answered Gurth, who had now got his herd before him. "Hark! there is a terrible storm of thunder approaching; we must hurry on." And with the aid of Fangs he drove them down one of the glades.

Soon, as they hurried along, they found that the horsemen, who numbered ten, were following them and quickly catching them up. As they got close Gurth saw that the two leading were persons of character and distinction. One, in spite of his gay clothes, he recognised as a monk. He rode upon a well-fed mule, whose harness was highly decorated. The other rider leading was a man of middle age, tall and vigorous. His features, strong and expressive, had been burnt almost to the colour of a negro by constant exposure to the tropical sun. He wore a long scarlet cloak, and on the right shoulder of his mantle there was cut in white cloth a cross of peculiar form, which showed him to be a Knight Templar of war. This upper robe concealed a shirt of mail, with sleeves and gloves of the same. He rode a strong hackney, while his gallant war-horse was led behind by one of his squires. On one side of this animal hung his master's short battle-axe, while on the other was his plumed head-piece and hood of mail with a long, heavy, two-handled sword. A second squire who rode behind carried the knight's lance, from the extremity of which fluttered a smaller banderole or streamer, bearing a cross of the same form as that embroidered on his cloak.

The two squires were followed by two dark men in oriental garments, natives of some distant eastern land. Each of them had at his saddle-bow a bundle of darts or javelins, such as the Saracens used. The whole appearance of this warrior and his attendants was wild and gorgeous. Needless to say the singular appearance of this cavalcade startled and excited the curiosity of Gurth and his companion as it caught them up.

"Tell us, my children," said the monk, whom Gurth now recognised as Prior Aymer of Jorvaulx Abbey, and who was famed for many miles round, "tell us where we can find a night's lodging."

"If the reverend fathers love good cheer," said Wamba the fool, "they will find it after riding a few miles farther on at the Priory of Brinxworth," for fool as he was he knew the Normans would not be welcome at his master's house, even though Cedric would not be inhospitable enough to turn them away.

"Tell me, good fellow," said the Prior, "are we not near the dwelling of Cedric?"

"The road will be uneasy to find," broke in Gurth for the first time, "and the family retire early to rest."

"Tush, fellow!" said the rider with the white cross roughly; "it will be easy for them to arise and supply the wants of travelers who have the right to command."

"I know not," answered Gurth sullenly, "if I should show the way to my master's house to them who demand the shelter which most ask as a favour."

"Do you dispute with me, slave!" said the rider; and he angrily raised the rod in his hand with the purpose of chastising the peasant.

"Nay, brother Brian," said the Prior, hastily interrupting, "you must not think you are now in Palestine. Tell me, good fellow," he said to Wamba, "the way to Cedric's house."

Wamba gave the Prior lengthy directions and so the cavalcade moved off.

"If they follow thy wise direction," said Gurth as soon as they were out of earshot, "they will hardly reach Rotherwood tonight."

"No," said the Jester, grinning, "but they may with good luck reach Sheffield."

"Thou art right," said Gurth; "it were ill for our master Cedric to quarrel with the military monk, as he most likely would," and so talking, they hurried on their way home.