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The Knights of the Cross

Henryk Sienkiewicz

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The Knights of the Cross or The Teutonic Knights (Polish: Krzyżacy) is a 1900 historical novel written by Henryk Sienkiewicz. It tells the story of a young nobleman, Zbyszko of Bogdaniec, who together with his uncle Maćko of Bogdaniec returns from the war against the Order (Knights of the Cross) in nearby Lithuania. In a tavern inn Zbyszko falls in love with the lovely Danusia, who is traveling with the court of the Duchess Anna. He swears to her his knight's oath and promises to bring her 'three trophies' from the Teutonic Knights.

This book has 676 pages in the PDF version. This translation by Samuel A. Binion was originally published in 1900.

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Excerpt from 'The Knights of the Cross'

In Tyniec, in the inn under "Dreadful Urus," which belonged to the abbey, a few people were sitting, listening to the talk of a military man who had come from afar, and was telling them of the adventures which he had experienced during the war and his journey.

He had a large beard but he was not yet old, and he was almost gigantic but thin, with broad shoulders; he wore his hair in a net ornamented with beads; he was dressed in a leather jacket, which was marked by the cuirass, and he wore a belt composed of brass buckles; in the belt he had a knife in a horn scabbard, and at his side a short traveling sword.

Near by him at the table, was sitting a youth with long hair and joyful look, evidently his comrade, or perhaps a shield-bearer, because he also was dressed as for a journey in a similar leather jacket. The rest of the company was composed of two noblemen from the vicinity of Krakow and of three townsmen with red folding caps, the thin tops of which were hanging down their sides to their elbows.

The host, a German, dressed in a faded cowl with large, white collar, was pouring beer for them from a bucket into earthen mugs, and in the meanwhile he was listening with great curiosity to the military adventures.

The burghers were listening with still greater curiosity. In these times, the hatred, which during the time of King Lokietek had separated the city and the knighthood, had been very much quenched, and the burghers were prouder than in the following centuries. They called them still des allerdurchluchtigsten Kuniges und Herren and they appreciated their readiness ad concessionem pecuniarum; therefore one would very often see in the inns, the merchants drinking with the noblemen like brothers. They were even welcome, because having plenty of money, usually they paid for those who had coats of arms.

Therefore they were sitting there and talking, from time to time winking at the host to fill up the mugs.

"Noble knight, you have seen a good piece of the world!" said one of the merchants.

"Not many of those who are now coming to Krakow from all parts, have seen as much," answered the knight.

"There will be plenty of them," said the merchant. "There is to be a great feast and great pleasure for the king and the queen! The king has ordered the queen's chamber to be upholstered with golden brocade, embroidered with pearls, and a canopy of the same material over her. There will be such entertainments and tournaments, as the world has never seen before."

"Uncle Gamroth, don't interrupt the knight," said the second merchant.

"Friend Eyertreter, I am not interrupting; only I think that he also will be glad to know about what they are talking, because I am sure he is going to Krakow. We cannot return to the city to-day at any rate, because they will shut the gates."

"And you speak twenty words, in reply to one. You are growing old, Uncle

"But I can carry a whole piece of wet broadcloth just the same."

"Great thing! the cloth through which one can see, as through a sieve."

But further dispute was stopped by the knight, who said:

"Yes, I will stay in Krakow because I have heard about the tournaments and I will be glad to try my strength in the lists during the combats; and this youth, my nephew, who although young and smooth faced, has already seen many cuirasses on the ground, will also enter the lists."

The guests glanced at the youth who laughed mirthfully, and putting his long hair behind his ears, placed the mug of beer to his mouth.

The older knight added:

"Even if we would like to return, we have no place to go."

"How is that?" asked one of the nobles.

"Where are you from, and what do they call you?"

"I am Macko of Bogdaniec, and this lad, the son of my brother, calls himself Zbyszko. Our coat of arms is Tempa Podkowa, and our war-cry is Grady!"

"Where is Bogdaniec?"

"Bah! better ask, lord brother, where it was, because it is no more. During the war between Grzymalczyks and Nalenczs, Bogdaniec was burned, and we were robbed of everything; the servants ran away. Only the bare soil remained, because even the farmers who were in the neighborhood, fled into the forests. The father of this lad, rebuilt; but the next year, a flood took everything. Then my brother died, and after his death I remained with the orphan. Then I thought: 'I can't stay!' I heard about the war for which Jasko of Olesnica, whom the king, Wladyslaw, sent to Wilno after he sent Mikolaj of Moskorzowo, was collecting soldiers. I knew a worthy abbot, Janko of Tulcza, to whom I gave my land as security for the money I needed to buy armor and horses, necessary for a war expedition. The boy, twelve years old, I put on a young horse and we went to Jasko of Olesnica."

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