The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne HTML version

Chapter V
ONE morning early, the Earl discerned a martial band emerging from the verge
of the horizon; his heart welcomed his hopes, which were soon confirmed into
certainty. It was his faithful people, led on by Alleyn. It was their design to
surround and attack the castle; and though their numbers gave them but little
hopes of conquest, they yet believed that, in the tumult of the engagement, they
might procure the deliverance of the Earl. With this view they advanced to the
walls. The centinels had descried them at a distance; the alarm was given; the
trumpets sounded, and the walls of the castle were filled with men. The Baron
was present, and directed the preparations. The secret purpose of his soul was
fixed. The clan surrounded the fosse, into which they threw bundles of faggots,
and gave the signal of attack. Scaling ladders were thrown up to the window of
the tower. The Earl, invigorated with hope and joy, had by the force of his arm,
almost wrenched from its fastening, one of the iron bars of the grate; his foot was
lifted to the stanchion, ready to aid him in escaping through the opening, when he
was seized by the guards of the Baron, and conveyed precipitately from the
prison. He was led, indignant and desperate, to the lofty ramparts of the castle,
from whence he beheld Alleyn and his clan, whose eager eyes were once more
blessed with the sight of their Chief;–they were blessed but for a moment; they
beheld their Lord in chains, surrounded with guards, and with the instruments of
death. Animated, however, with a last hope, they renewed the attack with
redoubled fury, when the trumpets of the Baron sounded a parley, and they
suspended their arms. The Baron appeared on the ramparts; Alleyn advanced to
hear him. "The moment of attack," cried the Baron, "is the moment of death to
your Chief. If you wish to preserve his life, desist from the assault, and depart in
peace; and bear this message to the Countess your mistress:–the Baron
Malcolm will accept no other ransom for the life and the liberty of the Earl, than
her beauteous daughter, whom he now sues to become his wife. If she accedes
to these terms, the Earl is instantly liberated,–if she refuses, he dies." The
emotions of the Earl, and of Alleyn on hearing these words, were inexpressible.
The Earl spurned, with haughty virtue, the base concession. "Give me death,"
cried he with loud impatience; "the house of Athlin shall not be dishonoured by
alliance with a murderer: renew the attack, my brave people; since you cannot
save the life, revenge the death of your Chief; he dies contented, since his death
preserves his family from dishonour." The guards instantly surrounded the Earl.
Alleyn, whose heart, torn by contending emotions, was yet true to the impulse
of honour, on observing this, instantly threw down his arms, refusing to obey the
commands of the Earl; a hostage for whose life he demanded, while he hastened
to the castle of Athlin with the conditions of the Baron. The clan, following the
example of Alleyn, rested on their arms, while a few prepared to depart with him
on the embassy. In vain were the remonstrances and the commands of the Earl;
his people loved him too well to obey them, and his heart was filled with anguish
when he saw Alleyn depart from the walls.