“Thus Died Bayard” – Part II

April 2, 2020

Part I

The Spanish Enemy

When with difficulty Bayard again opened his eyes, he beheld a knight in splendid armor covered with silks and with plumes in helmet. Bayard smiled, for it was an adversary worthy of him, a brave warrior: the Marquis de Pescara.

The Spanish general wondered at seeing a man resting against a tree, with a weeping lad beside him. When he recognized the knight “sans peine et sans reproche,” the Spaniard quickly dismounted and went up to him, full of respect and compassion.

Fernando Francesco d’Avalos, Marquis de Pescara.

“Would to God, Lord de Bayard, that I made thee my prisoner even if I were to lose a quarter of my blood. In the battle we would have you would discover the great esteem I have for your qualities. Since the day I took arms, I have not heard of a knight who approaches thee in virtue!” Thus he spoke because of the fame Bayard had won for his life of valor and devotion — a life that made even his enemies admire, respect and fear him.

“I should be much relived to see thee so,” the Marquis went on, “knowing that in war the Emperor, my lord, has no greater or fiercer enemy. But when I consider the tremendous loss chivalry suffers this day, God is my witness if it is not true that I would rather give half of what I possess, that this had not happened. Yet, since there is no cure for death, I pray Him Who created us in His Image to deign to bear thy soul to Him.”

Nevertheless, he insisted that Bayard allow him to remove him to his castle, assuring him that his physicians would cure him. Knowing that he was at death’s door, Bayard graciously declined the offer.

Never did a gentleman make such kind and insistent invitations to attract a noble guest to his castle. Bayard knew Pescara was sincere and that he would been treated as a knight by that honored enemy.

“I prefer the simplicity of the battlefield: I want to die as the warrior I always was.”

Pescara yielded. In order to attend to the wishes of the Knight, he had his own tent sent up around the tree. He had a litter made, and with this own hands placed his wounded enemy upon it. And then it was no longer two warring enemies serving opposing causes, but two knights, fraternally united by the spirit of chivalry, inspired by the same ideal, whom circumstances had brought to war even though they had for each other virile admiration.

Bayard was loathe to accept the physicians brought to heal him. He devoutly receive the Marquis’ chaplain, and make again the confession heard minutes before by Joffrey. He then asked to left alone.

While he was in recollection, Pescara organized his army to pass in review. Commands resounded throughout the ranks, and all ears were filled with the din of galloping horses, beating drums, and the blare of trumpets — familiar sounds that also made their way to the enclosure of the agonizing man.

The air was rent by the martial sound of a grand fanfare, accompanied by the cadenced steps of the horses and the heavy march of Bayard’s enemies. The Spanish army paraded before the dying Knight, and standards were lowered as they passes the old oak. Thus was Pescara’s last farewell to Bayard, the last homage of one brave man to another.

“France has suffered an irreparable loss in this noble knight,” exclaimed Francois d’Avalos as he took his final leave of the cavalier.

The day was waning, and dusk was nigh. The noise of the marching army moved into the distance. The calm of silence and the twilight would soon surround the oak. Bayard prayed.

Last Meeting

A familiar voice disturbed his meditation. “Ah! My lord of Bayard, whom I always admired for thy prowess and loyalty. How I lament to see thee in this state!”

The face of Bayard became grave and hostile. Why should he be troubled by such a man, at such a moment? The Constable of Bourbon stood facing him, and in his gaze the Knight found both sincere compassion and unfeigned admiration, perhaps even remorse.

But now was not the time for explanations. Bayard did not want to know the reasons that led this man to fight in a foreign army against his King. There was no doubt that Bourbon had come to justify and explain, but Bayard refused to hear him. He had no ears for the excuses of a man who had committed against his King such a felony.

Armor of Chevalier Bayard, Musée de l’Armée, Hôtel des Invalides (Paris)

Yet, Bourbon waited for a word, be it of judgement or of pardon. He wished to depart having obtained the absolution of this honorable man. But Bayard disdained any further discussion. “My lord, I thank thee. I pity not myself, who die in the right, serving my King. But thee I pity, who takes up arms against thy Prince, thy country, and thy faith.”

And having said this, he was silent. He was already beyond vain human quarrels, ambitions and interests. Now he was to leave behind absurd wars, petty intrigues, and useless slaying. Bayard now belonged to God, and it was to Him that he directed his last thoughts. The farther he journeyed from earth, the closer he approached the light of supreme truth, of definitive certainties. He prayed.

Statue of Chevalier de Bayard in Sainte-Anne-d’Auray, Brittany

“My God, it was Thee Who said, this I know, that he who turns to Thee, though he be a sinner, Thou wild always be ready to receive and forgive. Oh! My God, Creator and Redeemer, I have grievously offended Thee during my life; I ask Thee pardon with a contrite heart. I know that if I were to wander in the desert for a thousand years, living on bread and water, it would still not suffice for me to enter into Thy reign if, in Thy great and infinite goodness Thou didst not deign to receive me there, for no one can merit in this world such a high reward. My Father and Saviour, I beseech Thee to heed not the sins I have committed. Judge me according to Thy great mercy, and not according to the rigors of Thy justice.”

The sun disappeared over the horizon, and night followed day. The Knight’s prayer ended…Bayard was in the presence of God.

 

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 720

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