Sunday, November 2, 2008

1.20 (Chap. 20)


This time also they would not have an opportunity to fight. When Mikolaj of Dlugolas learned about the challenge he required both Zbyszko and the other knight to give him their knightly word that they would not fight without the prince and the komtur's permission. If they refused, he said, he would shut the gates and not permit them to leave the castle.

Zbyszko wished to see Danusia as soon as possible so he did not resist; de Lorche, although willing to fight when necessary, was not a bloodthirsty man, therefore he swore upon his knightly honor, to wait for the prince's consent. He did it willingly, because he was fond of pompous feasts and preferred to fight in the presence of the court, the dignitaries and the ladies. He believed that such a victory would bring him greater renown, and he would win the golden spurs more easily. He also wanted to become acquainted with the country and the people therefore he preferred a delay. Mikolaj of Dlugolas, who had been in German captivity for a long time and could speak the language easily began to tell him great tales about the prince's hunting parties for different kinds of beasts not seen anymore in the western countries. Therefore de Lorche and Zbyszko left the castle around midnight, and went toward outpost in Przasnysz, having with them their armed retinues and men with lanterns to protect them from the wolves which during the winter gathered in innumerable packs and were too dangerous even for several well armed riders. On this side of the town were deep forests, which shortly merged into the enormous wilderness, which in the west joined the impassable forest. Usually through these forests the Lithuanian tribes came to Masovia, and in 1337 reached Ciechanow, which they leveled. De Lorche listened with the greatest interest to the stories, told him by the old guide, Macko. He desired to fight the Lithuanians, whom as many other western knights did, he had thought were Saracens. In fact he had come on a crusade, wishing to gain fame and salvation. He thought that even a war with the Mazurs, partially still pagan people, would secure for him entire pardon. Therefore he could scarcely believe his own eyes, when having reached Masovia, he saw churches in the towns, crosses on the towers, priests, knights with holy signs on their armor and the people, very daring indeed, and ready for a fight, but Christian and not more rapacious than the Germans, among whom the young knight had traveled. Therefore, when he was told that these people had confessed Christ for centuries, he did not know what to think about the Knights of the Cross; and when he learned that Lithuania was baptized by the command of the late queen, his surprise and sorrow were boundless.

He began to inquire from the guide, if in the forest toward which they were riding, there were any dragons to whom the people were obliged to sacrifice young girls, and with whom one could fight. But Macko's answer greatly disappointed him.

"In the forest, there are many beasts, wolves, bisons and bears with which there is plenty of work," answered the Mazur. "Perhaps in the swamps there are some unclean spirits; but I never heard about dragons, and even if they were there, we would not give them girls, but we would hunt them down. Bah! had there been any, those people would have worn belts of their skins long ago."

"What kind of people are they; is it possible to fight with them?" asked de Lorche.

"One can fight with them, but it is not desirable," answered Macko; "and then it is not proper for a knight, because they are peasants."

"The Swiss are peasants also. Do they confess Christ?"

"There are no such people in Masovia. Those are our people and duke’s subjects. Did you see the archers in the castles? They are all the Kurpie, because there are no better archers than they are."

"They cannot be better than the Englishmen and the Scotch, whom I saw at the Burgundian court."

"I have seen them also in Malborg," interrupted the Mazur. "They are strong, but they cannot compare with the Kurpie, among whom a boy seven years old, will not be allowed to eat, until he has knocked the food with an arrow from the summit of a pine."

"About what are you talking?" suddenly asked Zbyszko, who had heard the word "Kurpie" several times.

"About the English and the Kurpie archers. This knight says that the English and the Scotch are the best."

"I saw them at Wilno. I heard their darts passing my ears. There were knights there from all countries, and they announced that they would eat us up without salt; but after they tried once or twice, they lost their appetite."

Macko laughed and translated Zbyszko's words to Sir de Lorche.

"I have heard about that at different courts," answered the de Lorche; "they praised your knights' bravery, but they cursed them because they helped the pagans against the Knights of the Cross."

"We defended the nation which wished to be baptized, against the invasion. The Germans wished to keep them in paganism, so as to have a pretext for war."

"God shall judge them," answered de Lorche.

"Perhaps He will judge them soon," answered the guide.

But de Lorche having heard that Zbyszko had been at Wilno, began to question Macko, because the fame of the knightly combats fought there had spread widely throughout the western world. That duel, fought by four Polish and four French knights, especially excited the imagination of western warriors. In consequence de Lorche began to look at Zbyszko with more respect, as upon a man who had participated in such a famous battle; he also rejoiced that he was going to duel with such a knight.

Therefore they rode along apparently good friends, rendering each other small services during the time for refreshment on the journey and treating each other with wine. But when it appeared from the conversation between de Lorche and the guide, that Ulryka von Elner was not a young girl, but a married woman forty years old with six children, Zbyszko became indignant, because this foreigner dared not only to compare an old woman with Danusia, but even asked him to acknowledge her to be the first among women.
"Do you not think," he said to Macko, the guide, "that an evil spirit has turned his brain? Perhaps the devil is sitting in his head like a worm in a nut and is ready to jump on one of us during the night. We must be on our guard."

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