"Saint George!" he cried, "Merry Saint George for England! — To the charge, bold yeomen! — why leave ye the good knight and noble Cedric to storm the pass alone? — make in, mad priest, show thou canst fight for thy rosary, — make in, brave yeomen! — the castle is ours, we have friends within — See yonder flag, it is the appointed signal — Torquilstone is ours! — Think of honour, think of spoil — One effort, and the place is ours!"
With that he bent his good bow, and sent a shaft right through the breast of one of the men-at-arms, who, under De Bracy's direction, was loosening a fragment from one of the battlements to precipitate on the heads of Cedric and the Black Knight. A second soldier caught from the hands of the dying man the iron crow, with which he heaved at and had loosened the stone pinnacle, when, receiving an arrow through his head-piece, he dropped from the battlements into the moat a dead man. The men-at-arms were daunted, for no armour seemed proof against the shot of this tremendous archer.
"Do you give ground, base knaves!" said De Bracy; "'Mount joye Saint Dennis!' — Give me the lever!"
And, snatching it up, he again assailed the loosened pinnacle, which was of weight enough, if thrown down, not only to have destroyed the remnant of the drawbridge, which sheltered the two foremost assailants, but also to have sunk the rude float of planks over which they had crossed. All saw the danger, and the boldest, even the stout Friar himself, avoided setting foot on the raft. Thrice did Locksley bend his shaft against De Bracy, and thrice did his arrow bound back from the knight's armour of proof.
"Curse on thy Spanish steel-coat!" said Locksley, "had English smith forged it, these arrows had gone through, an as if it had been silk or sendal." He then began to call out, "Comrades! friends! noble Cedric! bear back, and let the ruin fall."
His warning voice was unheard, for the din which the knight himself occasioned by his strokes upon the postern would have drowned twenty war-trumpets. The faithful Gurth indeed sprung forward on the planked bridge, to warn Cedric of his impending fate, or to share it with him. But his warning would have come too late; the massive pinnacle already tottered, and De Bracy, who still heaved at his task, would have accomplished it, had not the voice of the Templar sounded close in his ears: —
"All is lost, De Bracy, the castle burns."
"Thou art mad to say so!" replied the knight.
"It is all in a light flame on the western side. I have striven in vain to extinguish it."
With the stern coolness which formed the basis of his character, Brian de Bois-Guilbert communicated this hideous intelligence, which was not so calmly received by his astonished comrade.
"Saints of Paradise!" said De Bracy; "what is to be done? I vow to Saint Nicholas of Limoges a candlestick of pure gold — "
"Spare thy vow," said the Templar, "and mark me. Lead thy men down, as if to a sally; throw the postern-gate open — There are but two men who occupy the float, fling them into the moat, and push across for the barbican. I will charge from the main gate, and attack the barbican on the outside; and if we can regain that post, be assured we shall defend ourselves until we are relieved, or at least till they grant us fair quarter."
"It is well thought upon," said De Bracy; "I will play my part — Templar, thou wilt not fail me?"
"Hand and glove, I will not!" said Bois-Guilbert. "But haste thee, in the name of God!"
De Bracy hastily drew his men together, and rushed down to the postern-gate, which he caused instantly to be thrown open. But scarce was this done ere the portentous strength of the Black Knight forced his way inward in despite of De Bracy and his followers. Two of the foremost instantly fell, and the rest gave way notwithstanding all their leader's efforts to stop them.
"Dogs!" said De Bracy, "will ye let TWO men win our only pass for safety?"
"He is the devil!" said a veteran man-at-arms, bearing back from the blows of their sable antagonist.
"And if he be the devil," replied De Bracy, "would you fly from him into the mouth of hell? — the castle burns behind us, villains! — let despair give you courage, or let me forward! I will cope with this champion myself."
And well and chivalrous did De Bracy that day maintain the fame he had acquired in the civil wars of that dreadful period. The vaulted passage to which the postern gave entrance, and in which these two redoubted champions were now fighting hand to hand, rung with the furious blows which they dealt each other, De Bracy with his sword, the Black Knight with his ponderous axe. At length the Norman received a blow, which, though its force was partly parried by his shield, for otherwise never more would De Bracy have again moved limb, descended yet with such violence on his crest, that he measured his length on the paved floor.
"Yield thee, De Bracy," said the Black Champion, stooping over him, and holding against the bars of his helmet the fatal poniard with which the knights dispatched their enemies, (and which was called the dagger of mercy,) — "yield thee, Maurice de Bracy, rescue or no rescue, or thou art but a dead man."
"I will not yield," replied De Bracy faintly, "to an unknown conqueror. Tell me thy name, or work thy pleasure on me — it shall never be said that Maurice de Bracy was prisoner to a nameless churl."
The Black Knight whispered something into the ear of the vanquished.
"I yield me to be true prisoner, rescue or no rescue," answered the Norman, exchanging his tone of stern and determined obstinacy for one of deep though sullen submission.
"Go to the barbican," said the victor, in a tone of authority, "and there wait my further orders."
"Yet first, let me say," said De Bracy, "what it imports thee to know. Wilfred of Ivanhoe is wounded and a prisoner, and will perish in the burning castle without present help."
"Wilfred of Ivanhoe!" exclaimed the Black Knight — "prisoner, and perish! — The life of every man in the castle shall answer it if a hair of his head be singed — Show me his chamber!"
"Ascend yonder winding stair," said De Bracy; "it leads to his apartment — Wilt thou not accept my guidance?" he added, in a submissive voice.
"No. To the barbican, and there wait my orders. I trust thee not, De Bracy."
During this combat and the brief conversation which ensued, Cedric, at the head of a body of men, among whom the Friar was conspicuous, had pushed across the bridge as soon as they saw the postern open, and drove back the dispirited and despairing followers of De Bracy, of whom some asked quarter, some offered vain resistance, and the greater part fled towards the court-yard. De Bracy himself arose from the ground, and cast a sorrowful glance after his conqueror. "He trusts me not!" he repeated; "but have I deserved his trust?" He then lifted his sword from the floor, took off his helmet in token of submission, and, going to the barbican, gave up his sword to Locksley, whom he met by the way.
As the fire augmented, symptoms of it became soon apparent in the chamber, where Ivanhoe was watched and tended by the Jewess Rebecca. He had been awakened from his brief slumber by the noise of the battle; and his attendant, who had, at his anxious desire, again placed herself at the window to watch and report to him the fate of the attack, was for some time prevented from observing either, by the increase of the smouldering and stifling vapour. At length the volumes of smoke which rolled into the apartment — the cries for water, which were heard even above the din of the battle made them sensible of the progress of this new danger.
"The castle burns," said Rebecca; "it burns! — What can we do to save ourselves?"
"Fly, Rebecca, and save thine own life," said Ivanhoe, "for no human aid can avail me."
"I will not fly," answered Rebecca; "we will be saved or perish together — And yet, great God! — my father, my father — what will be his fate!"