The Tavern Knight by Rafael Sabatini

The Tavern Knight

subjects: Adventure Fiction, Historical Fiction

Description

Take a trip to the distant past with this majestic epic from Rafael Sabatini, regarded as one of the masters of the historical action-adventure genre. Set in the times of knights, maidens, and castles, The Tavern Knight follows the fortunes of a gallant nobleman who has had his fortune and property stripped by evil agents of the king. Left with nothing to call his own, he concocts a complex plot to get his revenge.

Excerpt

He whom they called the Tavern Knight laughed an evil laugh–such a laugh as might fall from the lips of Satan in a sardonic moment.

He sat within the halo of yellow light shed by two tallow candles, whose sconces were two empty bottles, and contemptuously he eyed the youth in black, standing with white face and quivering lip in a corner of the mean chamber. Then he laughed again, and in a hoarse voice, sorely suggestive of the bottle, he broke into song. He lay back in his chair, his long, spare legs outstretched, his spurs jingling to the lilt of his ditty whose burden ran:

      On the lip so red of the wench that's sped
      His passionate kiss burns, still-O!
      For 'tis April time, and of love and wine
      Youth's way is to take its fill-O!
      Down, down, derry-do!

      So his cup he drains and he shakes his reins,
      And rides his rake-helly way-O!
      She was sweet to woo and most comely, too,
      But that was all yesterday-O!
      Down, down, derry-do!

The lad started forward with something akin to a shiver.

“Have done,” he cried, in a voice of loathing, “or, if croak you must, choose a ditty less foul!”

“Eh?” The ruffler shook back the matted hair from his lean, harsh face, and a pair of eyes that of a sudden seemed ablaze glared at his companion; then the lids drooped until those eyes became two narrow slits–catlike and cunning–and again he laughed.

“Gad’s life, Master Stewart, you have a temerity that should save you from grey hairs! What is’t to you what ditty my fancy seizes on? ‘Swounds, man, for three weary months have I curbed my moods, and worn my throat dry in praising the Lord; for three months have I been a living monument of Covenanting zeal and godliness; and now that at last I have shaken the dust of your beggarly Scotland from my heels, you–the veriest milksop that ever ran tottering from its mother’s lap would chide me because, yon bottle being done, I sing to keep me from waxing sad in the contemplation of its emptiness!”

There was scorn unutterable on the lad’s face as he turned aside.

“When I joined Middleton’s horse and accepted service under you, I held you to be at least a gentleman,” was his daring rejoinder.

For an instant that dangerous light gleamed again from his companion’s eye. Then, as before, the lids drooped, and, as before, he laughed.

“Gentleman!” he mocked. “On my soul, that’s good! And what may you know of gentlemen, Sir Scot? Think you a gentleman is a Jack Presbyter, or a droning member of your kirk committee, strutting it like a crow in the gutter? Gadswounds, boy, when I was your age, and George Villiers lived–”

“Oh, have done!” broke in the youth impetuously. “Suffer me to leave you, Sir Crispin, to your bottle, your croaking, and your memories.”

“Aye, go your ways, sir; you’d be sorry company for a dead man–the sorriest ever my evil star led me into. The door is yonder, and should you chance to break your saintly neck on the stairs, it is like to be well for both of us.”

And with that Sir Crispin Galliard lay back in his chair once more, and took up the thread of his interrupted song

      But, heigh-o! she cried, at the Christmas-tide,
      That dead she would rather be-O!
      Pale and wan she crept out of sight, and wept

      'Tis a sorry--

A loud knock that echoed ominously through the mean chamber, fell in that instant upon the door. And with it came a panting cry of–

“Open, Cris! Open, for the love of God!”

Sir Crispin’s ballad broke off short, whilst the lad paused in the act of quitting the room, and turned to look to him for direction.

“Well, my master,” quoth Galliard, “for what do you wait?”

“To learn your wishes, sir,” was the answer sullenly delivered.

“My wishes! Rat me, there’s one without whose wishes brook less waiting! Open, fool!”

Thus rudely enjoined, the lad lifted the latch and set wide the door, which opened immediately upon the street. Into the apartment stumbled a roughly clad man of huge frame. He was breathing hard, and fear was writ large upon his rugged face. An instant he paused to close the door after him, then turning to Galliard, who had risen and who stood eyeing him in astonishment–

“Hide me somewhere, Cris,” he panted–his accent proclaiming his Irish origin. “My God, hide me, or I’m a dead man this night!”

“‘Slife, Hogan! What is toward? Has Cromwell overtaken us?”

“Cromwell, quotha? Would to Heaven ‘twere no worse! I’ve killed a man!”

“If he’s dead, why run?”

The Irishman made an impatient gesture.