Adjoining the ancient palace of Westminster, where King Henry IV was then holding his court, was a no less ancient stone building known as the Painted Room. Upon the walls were depicted a series of battle scenes in long bands reaching around this room, one above another. Some of these pictures had been painted as far back as the days of Henry III, others had been added since his time. They chronicled the various wars of the King of England, and it was from them that the little hall took its name of the Painted Room.
This ancient wing, or offshoot, of the main buildings was more retired from the hurly-burly of outer life than other parts of the palace, and thither the sick King was very fond of retiring from the business of State, which ever rested more and more heavily upon his shoulders, sometimes to squander in quietness a spare hour or two; sometimes to idle over a favorite book; sometimes to play a game of chess with a favorite courtier. The cold painted walls had been hung with tapestry, and its floor had been spread with arras carpet. These and the cushioned couches and chairs that stood around gave its gloomy antiquity an air of comfort--an air even of luxury.
It was to this favorite retreat of the King's that Myles was brought that morning with his father to face the great Earl of Alban.
In the anteroom the little party of Princes and nobles who escorted the father and son had held a brief consultation. Then the others had entered, leaving Myles and his blind father in charge of Lord Lumley and two knights of the court, Sir Reginald Hallowell and Sir Piers Averell.
Myles, as he stood patiently waiting, with his father's arm resting in his, could hear the muffled sound of voices from beyond the arras. Among others, he recognized the well-remembered tones of the King. He fancied that he heard his own name mentioned more than once, and then the sound of talking ceased. The next moment the arras was drawn aside, and the Earl entered the antechamber again.
"All is ready, cousin," said he to Lord Falworth, in a suppressed voice. "Essex hath done as he promised, and Alban is within there now." Then, turning to Myles, speaking in the same low voice, and betraying more agitation than Myles had thought it possible for him to show, "Sir Myles," said he, "remember all that hath been told thee. Thou knowest what thou hast to say and do." Then, without further word, he took Lord Falworth by the hand, and led the way into the room, Myles following close behind.
The King half sat, half inclined, upon a cushioned seat close to which stood the two Princes. There were some dozen others present, mostly priests and noblemen of high quality who clustered in a group at a little distance. Myles knew most of them at a glance having seen them come and go at Scotland Yard. But among them all, he singled out only one--the Earl of Alban. He had not seen that face since he was a little child eight years old, but now that he beheld it again, it fitted instantly and vividly into the remembrance of the time of that terrible scene at Falworth Castle, when he had beheld the then Lord Brookhurst standing above the dead body of Sir John Dale, with the bloody mace clinched in his hand. There were the same heavy black brows, sinister and gloomy, the same hooked nose, the same swarthy cheeks. He even remembered the deep dent in the forehead, where the brows met in perpetual frown. So it was that upon that face his looks centred and rested.
The Earl of Alban had just been speaking to some Lord who stood beside him, and a half-smile still hung about the corners of his lips. At first, as he looked up at the entrance of the newcomers, there was no other expression; then suddenly came a flash of recognition, a look of wide-eyed amazement; then the blood left the cheeks and the lips, and the face grew very pale. No doubt he saw at a flash that some great danger overhung him in this sudden coming of his old enemy, for he was as keen and as astute a politician as he was a famous warrior. At least he knew that the eyes of most of those present were fixed keenly and searchingly upon him. After the first start of recognition, his left hand, hanging at his side, gradually closed around the scabbard of his sword, clutching it in a vice-like grip.
Meantime the Earl of Mackworth had led the blind Lord to the King, where both kneeled.
"Why, how now, my Lord?" said the King. "Methought it was our young Paladin whom we knighted at Devlen that was to be presented, and here thou bringest this old man. A blind man, ha! What is the meaning of this?"
"Majesty," said the Earl, "I have taken this chance to bring to thy merciful consideration one who hath most wofully and unjustly suffered from thine anger. Yonder stands the young knight of whom we spake; this is his father, Gilbert Reginald, whilom Lord Falworth, who craves mercy and justice at thy hands."
"Falworth," said the King, placing his hand to his head. "The name is not strange to mine ears, but I cannot place it. My head hath troubled me sorely to-day, and I cannot remember."
At this point the Earl of Alban came quietly and deliberately forward. "Sire," said he, "pardon my boldness in so venturing to address you, but haply I may bring the name more clearly to your mind. He is, as my Lord of Mackworth said, the whilom Baron Falworth, the outlawed, attainted traitor; so declared for the harboring of Sir John Dale, who was one of those who sought your Majesty's life at Windsor eleven years ago. Sire, he is mine enemy as well, and is brought hither by my proclaimed enemies. Should aught occur to my harm, I rest my case in your gracious hands."
The dusty red flamed into the King's pale, sickly face in answer, and he rose hastily from his seat.
"Aye," said he, "I remember me now--I remember me the man and the name! Who hath dared bring him here before us?" All the dull heaviness of sickness was gone for the moment, and King Henry was the King Henry of ten years ago as he rolled his eyes balefully from one to another of the courtiers who stood silently around.
The Earl of Mackworth shot a covert glance at the Bishop of Winchester, who came forward in answer.
"Your Majesty," said he, "here am I, your brother, who beseech you as your brother not to judge over-hastily in this matter. It is true that this man has been adjudged a traitor, but he has been so adjudged without a hearing. I beseech thee to listen patiently to whatsoever he may have to say.
The King fixed the Bishop with a look of the bitterest, deepest anger, holding his nether lip tightly under his teeth--a trick he had when strongly moved with anger--and the Bishop's eyes fell under the look. Meantime the Earl of Alban stood calm and silent. No doubt he saw that the King's anger was likely to befriend him more than any words that he himself could say, and he perilled his case with no more speech which could only prove superfluous.
At last the King turned a face red and swollen with anger to the blind Lord, who still kneeled before him.
"What hast thou to say?" he said, in a deep and sullen voice.
"Gracious and merciful Lord," said the blind nobleman, "I come to thee, the fountain-head of justice, craving justice. Sire, I do now and here deny my treason, which denial I could not before make, being blind and helpless, and mine enemies strong and malignant. But now, sire, Heaven hath sent me help, and therefore I do acclaim before thee that my accuser, William Bushy Brookhurst, Earl of Alban, is a foul and an attainted liar in all that he hath accused me of. To uphold which allegation, and to defend me, who am blinded by his unknightliness, I do offer a champion to prove all that I say with his body in combat."
The Earl of Mackworth darted a quick look at Myles, who came forward the moment his father had ended, and kneeled beside him. The King offered no interruption to his speech, but he bent a look heavy with anger upon the young man.
"My gracious Lord and King," said Myles, "I, the son of the accused, do offer myself as his champion in this cause, beseeching thee of thy grace leave to prove the truth of the same, being a belted knight by thy grace and of thy creation and the peer of any who weareth spurs." Thereupon, rising, he drew his iron gauntlet from his girdle, and flung it clashing down upon the floor, and with his heart swelling within him with anger and indignation and pity of his blind father, he cried, in a loud voice, "I do accuse thee, William of Alban, that thou liest vilely as aforesaid, and here cast down my gage, daring thee to take it up.
The Earl of Alban made as though he would accept the challenge, but the King stopped him hastily.
"Stop!" he cried, harshly. "Touch not the gage! Let it lie--let it lie, I tell thee, my Lord! Now then," said he, turning to the others, "tell me what meaneth all this coil? Who brought this man hither?"
He looked from one to another of those who stood silently around, but no one answered.
"I see," said he, "ye all have had to do with it. It is as my Lord of Alban sayeth; ye are his enemies, and ye are my enemies as well. In this I do smell a vile plot. I cannot undo what I have done, and since I have made this young man a knight with mine own hands, I cannot deny that he is fit to challenge my Lord of Alban. Ne'theless, the High Court of Chivalry shall adjudge this case. Meantime," said he, turning to the Earl Marshal, who was present, "I give thee this attainted Lord in charge. Convey him presently to the Tower, and let him abide our pleasure there. Also, thou mayst take up yon gage, and keep it till it is redeemed according to our pleasure."
He stood thoughtfully for a moment, and then raising his eyes, looked fixedly at the Earl of Mackworth. "I know," he said, "that I be a right sick man, and there be some who are already plotting to overthrow those who have held up my hand with their own strength for all these years." Then speaking more directly: "My Lord Earl of Mackworth, I see your hand in this before all others. It was thou who so played upon me as to get me to knight this young man, and thus make him worthy to challenge my Lord of Alban. It was thy doings that brought him here to-day, backed by mine own sons and my brother and by these noblemen." Then turning suddenly to the Earl of Alban: "Come, my Lord," said he; "I am aweary with all this coil. Lend me thine arm to leave this place." So it was that he left the room, leaning upon the Earl of Alban's arm, and followed by the two or three of the Alban faction who were present.
"Your Royal Highness," said the Earl Marshal, "I must e'en do the King's bidding, and take this gentleman into arrest."
"Do thy duty," said the Prince. "We knew it must come to this. Meanwhile he is to be a prisoner of honor, and see that he be well lodged and cared for. Thou wilt find my barge at the stairs to convey him down the river, and I myself will come this afternoon to visit him."