Wednesday, July 9, 2008

1.6.06


Macko sat down on the bed, because he was so weak he could not stand; for a while he breathed heavily and finally said:

"Here is what castellan said: 'If you wish to divide your land, or attend to your household, then I will release your nephew for a week or two on his knightly word, but not for any longer then that.'"

Zbyszko was so surprised that for a while he could not say a word.

"For two weeks?" he asked after a while. "But I could not even reach the frontier in two weeks! What is it? You did not tell the castellan why I wished to go to Marienburg?"

"I was not the only one who asked in you behalf, but Duchess Anna asked as well."

"And what then?"

"What? The old man told her that he did not want your head, and that he pitied you. 'If I could find,' said he, 'some law in his favor, or only a pretext, I would release him altogether; but I cannot. There would be no order in this country if people shut their eyes to the law, and act according to friendship; I will not do such a thing even if it were a relative of mine, or even my own brother, I will not!' And he alaso said 'We do not care about the Knights of the Cross, but we cannot bring shame on ourselves. What would they think of us, and all their guests who come from all parts of the world, if I released a nobleman sentenced to death, in order to give him a chance to fight? Would they believe that he will be punished, and that there is some law in our country? I prefer to order one head cut off, than to bring contempt on the king and the kingdom.'
The Duchess told him that that was strange justice, when even a king's relative could not obtain pardon for a man; but the old man answered: 'The king may serve a clemency but not injustice.' Then they began to quarrel because the Duchess grew very angry: 'Then,' said she, 'don't let rot in the prison!' To this he replied: 'Very well! Tomorrow I will order a scaffold built on the market square.' Then they departed.
Only the Lord Jesus can help you now."

There was a long moment of silence.

"What?" Zbyszko said, gloomily. "Then it will be very soon?"

"In two or three days. There is no help. I have done what I could. I fell at the castellan's knees; I implored him for mercy, but he repeated: 'Find a law, or a pretext.' But what can I find? I went to see the father Stanislaw of Skarbimierz, and I begged him to come to you. At least you will have this honor that the same priest who heard the queen's confession will hear yours. But I did not find him at his home; he had gone to Duchess Anna."

"Perhaps for Danusia!"

"Not at all. The girl is better. I will go see the priest tomorrow early in the morning. They say that if he bears one's confession, salvation is as sure as if you had it in your pocket."

Zbyszko put his elbows on his knees and dropped his head so that his hair covered his face entirely. The old man looked at him a long time and finally began to call him softly:

"Zbyszko! Zbyszko!"

The boy raised his head. His face had an expression of anger and of cold determination, but not of weakness.

"What?"

"Listen carefully; perhaps I have found a way of escape."

Having said this, he approached and began to whisper:

"Have your heard about Prince Witold, who at one time, being imprisoned by our king in Krewo, went out from the prison disguised in a woman's dress. There is no woman who will remain here instead of you, but take my clothes. Take it and go, do you understand? They should not notice. It is dark behind the door. They will not flash a light into your eyes. They saw me yesterday going out; but they did not look at me closely. Be quiet and listen. They will find me here tomorrow and what? Will they cut my head off? That will be no satisfaction, because I will die anyhow in three or four weeks. And you, as soon as you are out of here, get a horse, and go straight to Duke Witold. You will present yourself to him, you will bow before him; he will take you and you will be as safe with him as if you were sitting at God's right hand. They say here that the Duke's armies have been defeated by the Tatars, because the late queen prophesied defeat. If that is true, the duke will need soldiers and he will welcome you. You must remain with him, because there is no better service in the world. If our king were defeated in a war, it would be his end; but there is such an amount of shrewdness in Duke Witold, that after a defeat he grows still more powerful. And he is also generous, and he loves our family. Tell him everything that happened. Tell him that you wanted to go with him against the Tatars; but you could not because you were imprisoned. If God permits, he will give you some land and peasants; he will dub you a knight and he will intercede for you with the king. He is a good protector, you will see! What?"

Zbyszko listened silently, and Macko, as if excited by his own words, spoke further:

"You must not perish young, but return to Bogdaniec. And when you return, you must immediately take a wife so that our family does not perish. Only when you have children, may you challenge Lichtenstein to fight until death; but before that, you must abstain from seeking vengeance. Take my jacket now, take my clothes and go, in God's name."

Having said this, Macko stood up and began to undress; but Zbyszko arose also, stopped him and said:

"I will not do it, so help me God."

"Why" asked Macko, astonished.

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