Our Little Norman Cousin of Long Ago - Evaleen Stein

Hugh Becomes a Knight

The summer was wearing away and the time drawing near for Count Bertram to go to Dives to join the expedition against Britain.

Meantime Hugh had reached his twenty-first birthday and was soon to become a knight. He had served faithfully his seven years as page and seven more as squire, a long and careful training; and the final ceremony of receiving knighthood was so important that it took two days to go through it, and the lords and ladies from several neighboring castles had been invited to come and help him celebrate.

In the ceremony of knighting there was much that had a symbolic meaning; that is, that was meant to remind the youth of other and higher things. Thus, when Hugh began his preparations, first of all two of the other squires took him to a special bath; and when he put off his ordinary clothes they laid them aside, as he was supposed in like way to put off his old life and enter the new with both a clean heart and clean body.

Alan and Henri were allowed to bring his new garments to him; and as still another squire took them from the chest in the castle hall were they had been kept ready, the two lads looked at them with interest, for there were three different tunics, one white, one red, and one black.

As they watched Hugh's friends help him put on the white tunic first, "Why does he put on a white one?" asked Alan.

"That is to symbolize the whiteness and purity of the life he must lead as a knight," answered the squire. Then over the white tunic they put the red one, "This," the boys were told, "is to symbolize the red blood he must be willing to shed for Christ and the defense of the church. And the black one which goes on last of all, over the red, is to signify the mystery of death which every man must bravely face."

When Hugh was thus dressed, Father Herluin came and led him to the chapel of the castle where he must stay until the next morning. He must touch neither food nor drink, nor must he sleep when night came. He was expected to spend the hours in thinking over the new life he was about to enter, and in praying God to forgive his past sins and to give him strength to keep truly and honorably the solemn vows of knighthood which he would take the next day.

And while Hugh watched and prayed, all the others were busy preparing for the morrow when the guests were to come; of course these would bring along a number of attendants, and a great feast was to follow the knighting. The long boards for the tables were scoured and so were the wooden trenchers and pewter cups for the humbler guests, while the silver flagons and dishes for the noble folks were polished till they shone. Fresh rushes were strewn on the floor, and plenty of logs brought in for the great fireplace where the cooking would go on.

"Oh, mother," said Blanchette, "isn't your new tapestry finished so we can hang it up?"

"Not quite, dear," answered Lady Gisla, who still had a little more to do on the hunting scene she had spent so much time embroidering.

"Oh, but it is so near done and so pretty, please let us put it up for to-morrrow!" begged Blanchette.

"Very well," said Lady Gisla, and she gave orders to have the tapestry hung on the wall over the dais, where it looked very handsome.

Indeed, every one worked so busily and all were so tired when night came that they slept soundly, quite forgetting the young squire who kept his lonely vigil in the chapel.

Hugh tried his best to keep awake and fix his thoughts on higher things; but sometimes his head would nod in spite of himself, and then he would have to rouse himself with an effort and try to forget that he was hungry and thirsty, and to remember that a knight must bear all hardships unflinchingly and must never shrink from any hororable task.

At last the long night wore away and the castle folk began to wake up. Count Bertram and Lady Gisla put on their best clothes and made ready to welcome their guests, who soon began to arrive.

And while the bustle of welcome was going on in the courtyard and within the castle, at the kitchen end of the great hall the cooks were scurrying about in great haste. "Rouse up, Towser! Hurry up, Bowser!" they would cry out to the patient dogs turning the spits by the big fireplace. "Faster, faster! Don't you see that venison is burning?"

And then the poor beasts would burn back their ears and trot round and round, while the venison and woodcocks and hares and whatnot on the long spits sputtered and roasted and dripped savory juices over the glowing coals. "Quick, bring me some honey and spices for these marchpanes," called one of the cooks to a boy scullion, who ran as fast as his legs would carry him to the honey-pot and spice bags so that the sweetmeants might not be delayed. "Here! Fill this flagon with cider and bring another cheese from the store-room!" commanded another; and so the work went busily on till all was ready.

By this time all the guests had come, and the pages had begun to usher them to the chapel. Heading the procession went Count Bertram, who, on greeting Hugh at the chapel door, hung around his neck the sword which was to be his. When all were seated, Hugh walked slowly up the aisle and unbuckling the sword laid it reverently upon the altar. Then, with bowed head, he knelt at the feet of Father Herluin, while the good priest, after praying that the sword might never be drawn for an unworthy cause, blessed both it and Hugh and said the service of the church.

After this the young man was taken possession of for a few minutes by Lady Gisla nd the noble ladies, her guests, for it was their duty to put on him the armor he was to wear as a knight. First of all they buckled on his spurs; and then, as Alan and Henri handed them each piece, they arrayed him in his hauberk, girt on his sword belt and set his helmet upon his head. Last of all, taking his sword from the altar Lady Gisla placed it in the scabbard at the young man's side.

When the ladies had finished their task, Hugh knelt before Count Bertram and solemnly promised to keep faithfully the vows of knighthood which Count Bertram repeated to him. There were a great many of these, the chief being that he must fear, reverence, and serve God religiously, that he must be a loyal defender of his native land and of its ruler, that he must uphold the rights of the weak, must be gentle and courteous to all women and succor them if in distress, and that he must always speak the truth and make any sacrifice to keep his faith and honor untarnished.

When Hugh had taken the vows, and while he still knelt, Count Bertram drew his own sword from its scabbard and with the flat of it lightly struck him three times on the shoulder, at the same time pronouncing the words "In the name of God and Saint Michael I dub thee knight!"

[Illustration] from Our Little Norman Cousin by Evaleen Stein


When Hugh rose to his feet his face beamed with joy to think that his long years of service were ended and he was at last a knight.

There was one thing more, however, that must be done to finish the ceremony. For just as he had put on the three tunics to symbolize different things, so now he must mount his war-horse to signify that he was ready to ride forth to do brave and gallant deeds.

Hugh's young friends had already decked the horse in his finest trappings and led him to the chapel door, where Alan and Henri stood holding his bridle on either side.

As the company came out of the chapel the young knight mounted and rode several times around the courtyard, the horse prancing and stepping proudly and seeming to feel that he, too, had become of more importance since he was no longer to be ridden by a mere squire, but would henceforth be the war-horse of a noble knight.

When Hugh finally halted in front of the keep, and sprang to the ground, everybody crowded around him with smiles and good wishes for the new life he had entered, and then Count Bertram led the way to the castle hall and the knighting ended with a merry feast.