The Outlaw of Torn
Some hours later, fifty men followed Norman of Torn on foot through the ravine below the castle where John de Fulm, Earl of Buckingham, had his headquarters; while nearly a thousand more lurked in the woods before the grim pile.
Under cover of the tangled shrubbery, they crawled unseen to the little door through which Joan de Tany had led him the night before. Following the corridors and vaults beneath the castle, they came to the stone stairway, and mounted to the passage which led to the false panel that had given the two fugitives egress.
Slipping the spring lock, Norman of Torn entered the apartment followed closely by his henchmen. On they went, through apartment after apartment, but no sign of the Earl or his servitors rewarded their search, and it was soon apparent that the castle was deserted.
As they came forth into the courtyard, they descried an old man basking in the sun, upon a bench. The sight of them nearly caused the old fellow to die of fright, for to see fifty armed men issue from the untenanted halls was well reckoned to blanch even a braver cheek.
When Norman of Torn questioned him, he learned that De Fulm had ridden out early in the day bound for Dover, where Prince Edward then was. The outlaw knew it would be futile to pursue him, but yet, so fierce was his anger against this man, that he ordered his band to mount, and spurring to their head, he marched through Middlesex, and crossing the Thames above London, entered Surrey late the same afternoon.
As they were going into camp that night in Kent, midway between London and Rochester, word came to Norman of Torn that the Earl of Buckingham, having sent his escort on to Dover, had stopped to visit the wife of a royalist baron, whose husband was with Prince Edward’s forces.
The fellow who gave this information was a servant in my lady’s household who held a grudge against his mistress for some wrong she had done him. When, therefore, he found that these grim men were searching for De Fulm, he saw a way to be revenged upon his mistress.
“How many swords be there at the castle?” asked Norman of Torn.
“Scarce a dozen, barring the Earl of Buckingham,” replied the knave; “and, furthermore, there be a way to enter, which I may show you, My Lord, so that you may, unseen, reach the apartment where My Lady and the Earl be supping.”
“Bring ten men, beside yourself, Shandy,” commanded Norman of Torn. “We shall pay a little visit upon our amorous friend, My Lord, the Earl of Buckingham.”
Half an hour’s ride brought them within sight of the castle. Dismounting, and leaving their horses with one of the men, Norman of Torn advanced on foot with Shandy and the eight others, close in the wake of the traitorous servant.
The fellow led them to the rear of the castle, where, among the brush, he had hidden a rude ladder, which, when tilted, spanned the moat and rested its farther end upon a window ledge some ten feet above the ground.
“Keep the fellow here till last, Shandy,” said the outlaw, “till all be in, an’ if there be any signs of treachery, stick him through the gizzard--death thus be slower and more painful.”
So saying, Norman of Torn crept boldly across the improvised bridge, and disappeared within the window beyond. One by one the band of cut-throats passed through the little window, until all stood within the castle beside their chief; Shandy coming last with the servant.
“Lead me quietly, knave, to the room where My Lord sups,” said Norman of Torn. “You, Shandy, place your men where they can prevent my being interrupted.”
Following a moment or two after Shandy came another figure stealthily across the ladder and, as Norman of Torn and his followers left the little room, this figure pushed quietly through the window and followed the great outlaw down the unlighted corridor.
A moment later, My Lady of Leybourn looked up from her plate upon the grim figure of an armored knight standing in the doorway of the great dining hall.
“My Lord Earl!” she cried. “Look! Behind you.”
And as the Earl of Buckingham glanced behind him, he overturned the bench upon which he sat in his effort to gain his feet; for My Lord Earl of Buckingham had a guilty conscience.
The grim figure raised a restraining hand, as the Earl drew his sword.
“A moment, My Lord,” said a low voice in perfect French.
“Who are you?” cried the lady.
“I be an old friend of My Lord, here; but let me tell you a little story.
“In a grim old castle in Essex, only last night, a great lord of England held by force the beautiful daughter of a noble house and, when she spurned his advances, he struck her with his clenched fist upon her fair face, and with his brute hands choked her. And in that castle also was a despised and hunted outlaw, with a price upon his head, for whose neck the hempen noose has been yawning these many years. And it was this vile person who came in time to save the young woman from the noble flower of knighthood that would have ruined her young life.
“The outlaw wished to kill the knight, but many men-at-arms came to the noble’s rescue, and so the outlaw was forced to fly with the girl lest he be overcome by numbers, and the girl thus fall again into the hands of her tormentor.
“But this crude outlaw was not satisfied with merely rescuing the girl, he must needs mete out justice to her noble abductor and collect in full the toll of blood which alone can atone for the insult and violence done her.
“My Lady, the young girl was Joan de Tany; the noble was My Lord the Earl of Buckingham; and the outlaw stands before you to fulfill the duty he has sworn to do. En garde, My Lord!”
The encounter was short, for Norman of Torn had come to kill, and he had been looking through a haze of blood for hours--in fact every time he had thought of those brutal fingers upon the fair throat of Joan de Tany and of the cruel blow that had fallen upon her face.
He showed no mercy, but backed the Earl relentlessly into a corner of the room, and when he had him there where he could escape in no direction, he drove his blade so deep through his putrid heart that the point buried itself an inch in the oak panel beyond.
Claudia Leybourn sat frozen with horror at the sight she was witnessing, and, as Norman of Torn wrenched his blade from the dead body before him and wiped it on the rushes of the floor, she gazed in awful fascination while he drew his dagger and made a mark upon the forehead of the dead nobleman.
“Outlaw or Devil,” said a stern voice behind them, “Roger Leybourn owes you his friendship for saving the honor of his home.”
Both turned to discover a mail-clad figure standing in the doorway where Norman of Torn had first appeared.
“Roger!” shrieked Claudia Leybourn, and swooned.
“Who be you?” continued the master of Leybourn addressing the outlaw.
For answer Norman of Torn pointed to the forehead of the dead Earl of Buckingham, and there Roger Leybourn saw, in letters of blood, NT.
The Baron advanced with outstretched hand.
“I owe you much. You have saved my poor, silly wife from this beast, and Joan de Tany is my cousin, so I am doubly beholden to you, Norman of Torn.”
The outlaw pretended that he did not see the hand.
“You owe me nothing, Sir Roger, that may not be paid by a good supper. I have eaten but once in forty-eight hours.”
The outlaw now called to Shandy and his men, telling them to remain on watch, but to interfere with no one within the castle.
He then sat at the table with Roger Leybourn and his lady, who had recovered from her swoon, and behind them on the rushes of the floor lay the body of De Fulm in a little pool of blood.
Leybourn told them that he had heard that De Fulm was at his home, and had hastened back; having been in hiding about the castle for half an hour before the arrival of Norman of Torn, awaiting an opportunity to enter unobserved by the servants. It was he who had followed across the ladder after Shandy.
The outlaw spent the night at the castle of Roger Leybourn; for the first time within his memory a welcomed guest under his true name at the house of a gentleman.
The following morning, he bade his host goodbye, and returning to his camp started on his homeward march toward Torn.
Near midday, as they were approaching the Thames near the environs of London, they saw a great concourse of people hooting and jeering at a small party of gentlemen and gentlewomen.
Some of the crowd were armed, and from very force of numbers were waxing brave to lay violent hands upon the party. Mud and rocks and rotten vegetables were being hurled at the little cavalcade, many of them barely missing the women of the party.
Norman of Torn waited to ask no questions, but spurring into the thick of it laid right and left of him with the flat of his sword, and his men, catching the contagion of it, swarmed after him until the whole pack of attacking ruffians were driven into the Thames.
And then, without a backward glance at the party he had rescued, he continued on his march toward the north.
The little party sat upon their horses looking in wonder after the retreating figures of their deliverers. Then one of the ladies turned to a knight at her side with a word of command and an imperious gesture toward the fast disappearing company. He, thus addressed, put spurs to his horse, and rode at a rapid gallop after the outlaw’s troop. In a few moments he had overtaken them and reined up beside Norman of Torn.
“Hold, Sir Knight,” cried the gentleman, “the Queen would thank you in person for your brave defence of her.”
Ever keen to see the humor of a situation, Norman of Torn wheeled his horse and rode back with the Queen’s messenger.
As he faced Her Majesty, the Outlaw of Torn bent low over his pommel.
“You be a strange knight that thinks so lightly on saving a queen’s life that you ride on without turning your head, as though you had but driven a pack of curs from annoying a stray cat,” said the Queen.
“I drew in the service of a woman, Your Majesty, not in the service of a queen.”
“What now! Wouldst even belittle the act which we all witnessed? The King, my husband, shall reward thee, Sir Knight, if you but tell me your name.”
“If I told my name, methinks the King would be more apt to hang me,” laughed the outlaw. “I be Norman of Torn.”
The entire party looked with startled astonishment upon him, for none of them had ever seen this bold raider whom all the nobility and gentry of England feared and hated.
“For lesser acts than that which thou hast just performed, the King has pardoned men before,” replied Her Majesty. “But raise your visor, I would look upon the face of so notorious a criminal who can yet be a gentleman and a loyal protector of his queen.”
“They who have looked upon my face, other than my friends,” replied Norman of Torn quietly, “have never lived to tell what they saw beneath this visor, and as for you, Madame, I have learned within the year to fear it might mean unhappiness to you to see the visor of the Devil of Torn lifted from his face.” Without another word he wheeled and galloped back to his little army.
“The puppy, the insolent puppy,” cried Eleanor of England, in a rage.
And so the Outlaw of Torn and his mother met and parted after a period of twenty years.
Two days later, Norman of Torn directed Red Shandy to lead the forces of Torn from their Essex camp back to Derby. The numerous raiding parties which had been constantly upon the road during the days they had spent in this rich district had loaded the extra sumpter beasts with rich and valuable booty and the men, for the time satiated with fighting and loot, turned their faces toward Torn with evident satisfaction.