“Nay, hold the sword like this James…so! Cover your left side. Nay, like this….”
The sounds of the boys’ martial training drifted up towards Lady Jane where she sat on a vine-entwined trellis. Jenny sat next to her, knitting. Both watched Sir Terence show Robert and James how to cover, strike and move in a duel with wooden swords.
Lady Jane was worried. The plague that Sir George had mentioned had been spreading rapidly, but now for a month they had had no news. Perhaps, she thought wildly, oh, perhaps he had fallen under the influence of that dreadful sickness! Perhaps –
A scream interrupted her thoughts. It was a blood-curdling, high-pitched scream, and Lady Jane recognized the voice. Her heart missed a beat, for the chair next to her was empty! She started to shout orders into the courtyard below, but saw Sir Terence and James jumping onto their horses and galloping off. Where was Robert? Then she glimpsed a fleeting figure, bareback, tearing up sod, already out of sight in the distance towards the south pasture, where all the lambs were. Then she fainted, and knew no more.
When Robert heard Jenny scream, instead of freezing, like the other men in the courtyard, he leapt onto the back of the nearest horse, and started racing towards the south pasture, carrying his sword. His faithful collie, Bruce, galloped alongside him. Racing like a madman, he reached the rim of a depression in the ground where the sheep were housed. He pulled up short, took in the sight at a glance, and then continued racing down the hill, his mouth set in a grim line.
Jenny had slipped out of the trellis, and had gone down to the south pasture, where she often went. Arriving there, she had sat down and continued her knitting, lost in thought. But not a moment later a huge bear, at least five feet at the shoulder, had emerged from the trees a short distance away. Jenny did not notice it until it was nearly upon her, at which point she turned around and saw it bearing down upon her and screamed. Then she grabbed a chinaberry branch that was lying nearby and threw it at the bear, but it only thudded dully and fell to the ground. She picked up another, prepared to defend herself to the last.
This was the sight that met Robert’s eye. He knew she had no chance against the mammoth giant and that he had to kill it somehow. He decided upon a daring plan: to leap onto the bear’s back and from there hope to wound and kill it somehow.
His horse flew down the hill with the speed of an arrow. Robert gathered himself, then sprang to the back of the bear, at the same time yelling,
“Jenny, get on the horse!”
Robert was swinging his sword at the bear’s head but it twisted itself in a corkscrew turn, threw the boy from his back and charged again. Bruce tore into the bear and stalled him long enough for Robert to regain his feet. Then a claw-studded paw lashed out and ripped his left arm from shoulder to elbow. Robert gasped with the pain, but then flew at the bear and with all of his young strength he wrestled the bear to the ground, then leaped on his back and swung at the beast’s head again, but his sword only rang dully against the beast’s skull. The bear ripped another gash in Robert’s leg, but then the valiant boy drew his sword high above his head, plunged it into the animal’s heart and the bear dropped to the ground, dead.
Slowly he rose, the victor of the terrible conflict, blood streaming from his wounds. Bruce licked his hand. A voice reached him. It was Jenny’s. She was trying to staunch the wounds, wailing while she did so. Then, from loss of blood, he fled from his pains into blessed unconsciousness.
Sir Terence, James and other men-at-arms reached the crest of the hill just as the bear fell. Then they spurred the horses on and leaped to the side of the boy and the weeping girl.
“He…he saved me,” Jenny managed between tears, “Oh, it was…terrible! The bear jumped on me, then he…landed on top of it…and…killed it.”
Under Sir Terence’s skilled hands the bleeding was stopped and they put Robert on his horse and rode back to the castle.