Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race

Page: 123

Sir John is to give a great feast on Sunday to many Churchmen and prelates; there will be present a great number of abbots and priors and other holy men. Do you stand as if bound by your post in the hall, and beseech them to release you. If they will be surety for you, your liberty will be gained with no blame to me; if they all refuse, you shall cast aside the unlocked chains, and you and I, with two good staves, can soon win your freedom. Christ’s curse on him who fails his comrade!”

“Yes,” quoth Gamelyn, “evil may I thrive if I fail in my part of the bargain! But if we must needs help them to do penance for their sins, you must warn me, brother Adam, when to begin.”

“By St. Charity, master, I will give you good warning. When I wink at you be ready to cast away your fetters at once and come to me.”

“Lords, for Christ’s sake help poor Gamelyn out of prison!”

The Banquet Disturbed

Adam Spencer, busied about the removal of the cloth, looked anxiously at Gamelyn, and saw how angry he grew. He thought little more of his service, but, making a pretext to go to the pantry, brought two good oak staves, and stood them beside the hall door. Then he winked meaningly at Gamelyn, who with a sudden shout flung off his chains, rushed to the hall door, seized a staff, and began to lay about him lustily, whirling his weapon [Pg 217] as lightly as if it had been a holy water sprinkler. There was a dreadful commotion in the hall, for the portly Churchmen tried to escape, but the mere laymen loved Gamelyn, and drew aside to give him free play, so that he was able to scatter the prelates. Now he had no pity on these cruel Churchmen, as they had been without pity for him; he knocked them over, battered them, broke their arms and legs, and wrought terrible havoc among them; and during this time Adam Spencer kept the door so that none might escape. He called aloud to Gamelyn to respect the sanctity of men of Holy Church and shed no blood, but if he should by chance break arms and legs there would be no sacrilege, because no blood need be shed.

Sir John in Chains

Thus Gamelyn worked his will, laying hands on monks and friars, and sent them home wounded in carts and waggons, while some of them muttered: “We were better at home, with mere bread and water, than here where we have had such a sorry feast!” Then Gamelyn turned his attention to his false brother, who had been unable to escape, seized him by the neck, broke his backbone with one blow from his staff, and thrust him, sitting, into the fetters that yet hung from the post where Gamelyn had stood. “Sit there, brother, and cool thy blood,” said Gamelyn, as he and Adam sat down to a feast, at which the servants waited on them eagerly, partly from love and partly from fear.

The Sheriff’s Men Appear

Now the sheriff happened to be only five miles away, and soon heard the news of this disturbance, and how Gamelyn and Adam had broken the king’s peace; and, as his duty was, he determined to arrest the [Pg 218] law-breakers. Twenty-four of his best men were sent to the castle to gain admittance and arrest Gamelyn and his steward; but the new porter, a devoted adherent of Gamelyn, denied them entrance till he knew their errand; when they refused to tell it, he sent a servant to rouse Gamelyn and warn him that the sheriff’s men stood before the gate.

“Then answered Gamelyn: ‘Good porter, go;
Delay my foes with fair speech at the gate
Till I relieve thee with some cunning wile.
If I o’erlive this strait, I will requite
Thy truth and loyalty. Adam,’ quoth he,
‘Our foes are on us, and we have no friend—
The sheriff’s men surround us, and have sworn
A mighty oath to take us: we must go
Whither our safety calls us.’ He replied:
‘Go where thou wilt, I follow to the last
Or die forlorn: but this proud sheriffs troop
Will flee before our onset, to the fens.’”

The Sheriff Arrives

As Gamelyn and Adam looked round for weapons the former saw a cart-staff, a stout post used for propping up the shafts; this he seized, and ran out at the little postern gate, followed by Adam with another staff. They caught the sheriff’s twenty-four bold men in the rear, and when Gamelyn had felled three, and Adam two, the rest took to their heels. “What!” said Adam as they fled. “Drink a draught of my good wine! I am steward here.” “Nay,” they shouted back; “such wine as yours scatters a man’s brains far too thoroughly.” Now this little fray was hardly ended before the sheriff came in person with a great troop. Gamelyn knew not what to do, but Adam again had a plan ready. “Let us stay no longer, but go to the greenwood: there we shall at least be at liberty.” The advice suited Gamelyn, and each drank a draught of wine, mounted his steed, and [Pg 219] lightly rode away, leaving the empty nest for the sheriff, with no eggs therein. However, that officer dismounted, entered the hall, and found Sir John fettered and nearly dying. He released him, and summoned a leech, who healed his grievous wound, and enabled him to do more mischief.