The monarch rode along the van,
The foe’s approaching force to scan.
His line to marshal and to range.
And ranks to square, and fronts to change.
Alone he rode — from head to heel
Sheathed in his ready arms of steel ;
THE LORD OF THE ISLES
Nor mounted yet on war-horse wight,
But, till more near the shock of fight,
Reining a palfrey low and light.
A diadem of gold was set
Above his bright steel basinet.
And clasped within its glittering twine
Was seen the glove of Argentine ;
Truncheon or leading staff he lacks,
Bearing instead a battle-axe.
He ranged his soldiers for the fight
Accoutred thus, in open sight
Of either host. — Three bowshots far.
Paused the deep front of England’s war,
And rested on their arms awhile,
To close and rank their warlike file.
And hold high council if that night
Should view the strife or dawning light.
0’ gay yet fearful to behold.
Flashing with steel and rough with gold.
And bristled o’er with bills and spears,
With plumes and pennons waving fair, a
Was that bright battle-front! for there
Rode England’s king and peers:
And who, that saw that monarch ride,
His kingdom battled by his side,
Could then his direful doom foretell ! —
Fair was his seat in knightly selle,
And in his sprightly eye was set
Some spark of the Plantagenet.
Though light and wandering was his glance,
It flashed at sight of shield and lance.
‘Know’st thou,’ he said, ‘De Argentine,
Yon knight who marshals thus their line?’ —
‘The tokens on his helmet tell
The Bruce, my liege: I know him well.’ —
‘And shall the audacious traitor brave
The presence where our banners wave?’ —
‘So please my liege,’ said Argentine,
‘Were he but horsed on steed like mine.
To give him fair and knightly chance,
I would adventure forth my lance.’ —
‘In battle-day,’ the king replied,
‘ Nice tourney rules are set aside. —
Still must the rebel dare our wrath?
Set on him — Sweep him from our path ! *
And at King Edward’s signal soon
Dashed from the ranks Sir Henry Boune.
Of Hereford’s high blood he came,
A race renowned for knightly fame.
He burned before his monarch’s eye
To do some deed of chivalry.
He spurred his steed, he couched his lance,
And darted on the Bruce at once.
As motionless as rocks that bide
The wrath of the advancing ride,
The Bruce stood fast. — Each breast beat high
And dazzled was each gazing eye —
The heart had hardly time to think,
The eyelid scarce had time to wink,
While on the king, like flash of flame,
Spurred to full speed the war-horse came!
The partridge may the falcon mock,
If that slight palfrey stand the shock —
But, swerving from the knight’s career.
Just as they met, Bruce shunned the spear.
Onward the baffled warrior bore
His course — but soon his course was o’er ! —
High in his stirrups stood the king.
And gave his battle-axe the swing.
Right on De Boune, the whiles he passed.
Fell that stern dint — the first — the last ! —
Such strength upon the blow was put
The helmet crashed like hazel-nut ;
The axe-shaft with its brazen clasp
Was shivered to the gauntlet grasp.
Springs from the blow the startled horse,
Drops to the plain the lifeless corse ;
First of that fatal field, how soon,
How sudden, fell the fierce De Boune!
One pitying glance the monarch sped
Where on the field his foe lay dead ;
Then gently turned his palfrey’s head,
And, pacing back his sober way,
Slowly he gained his own array.
There round their king the leaders crowd,
And blame his recklessness aloud
That risked ‘gainst each adventurous spear
A life so valued and so dear.
His broken weapon’s shaft surveyed
The king, and careless answer made,
*My loss may pay my folly’s tax;
I’ve broke my trusty battle-axe.’
*T was then Fitz-Louis bending low
Did Isabel’s commission show;
Edith disguised at distance stands,
And hides her blushes with her hands.
The monarch’s brow has changed its hue,
Away the gory axe he threw,
While to the seeming page he drew,
Clearing war’s terrors from his eye.
Her hand with gentle ease he took
With such a kind protecting look
As to a weak and timid boy
Might speak that elder brother’s care
And elder brother’s love were there.
‘Fear not,’ he said, ‘young Amadine!’
Then whispered, ‘Still that name be thine.
Fate plays her wonted fantasy,
Kind Amadine, with thee and me,
And sends thee here in doubtful hour.
But soon we are beyond her power;
For on this chosen battle-plain,
Victor or vanquished, I remain.
Do thou to yonder hill repair ;
The followers of our host are there,
And all who may not weapons bear. —
Fitz-Louis, have him in thy care. —
Joyful we meet, if all go well ;
If not, in Arran’s holy cell
Thou must take part with Isabel;
For brave Lord Ronald too hath sworn,
Not to regain the Maid of Lorn —
The bliss on earth he covets most —
Would he forsake his battle-post.
Or shun the fortune that may fall
To Bruce, to Scotland, and to all. —
But, hark! some news these trumpets tell;
Forgive my haste — farewell ! — farewell ! ‘
And in a lower voice he said,
*Be of good cheer — farewell, sweet maid!’
[ Part of ‘Lord of the Isles’ by Sir Walter Scott ]