Beltane The Smith
Part 10 out of 11
together and covered with raw-hide--by the which means the besiegers
make their first approaches. Then might I descant at goodly length upon
the Mine and Furnace, with divers and sundry other stratagems, devices,
engines and tormenta, but methinks this shall mayhap suffice thee for
"Aye, verily--'twill suffice!" said Beltane, rising. "Truly war is even
more terrible than I had thought."
"Why lord, 'tis an art--a notable art and--ha! this doth mind me of my
heart, heigho! And of all terrible things, of all the woes and ills
man-hearts may know is--love. O me, alack and woe!"
"When doth thy watch end, Giles?"
"It ended an hour agone, but to what end? Being a lover I sleep little
and pine much, and this is a fair good place and solitary, so will I
pine awhile and likewise mope and languish, alack!"
So presently, as Beltane descended the stair, he heard the archer break
forth again in doleful song.
Across the wide market-square went Beltane, with brow o'ercast and head
low-bowed until he came to one of the many doors of the great minster;
there paused he to remove bascinet and mail-coif, and thus bareheaded,
entered the cathedral's echoing dimness. The new-risen sun made a glory
of the great east window, and with his eyes uplifted to this
many-coloured glory, Beltane, soft-treading, crossed dim aisle and
whispering transept; but, as he mounted the broad steps of the
sanctuary he paused with breath in check, for he heard a sound--a soft
sound like the flutter of wings or the rustle of silken draperies. Now
as he stood thus, his broad, mail-clad shoulders and golden hair bathed
in the refulgence of the great window, it seemed to him that from
somewhere near there breathed a sigh, tremulous and very soft, and
thereafter was the quick, light tread of feet, and silence.
A while stood Beltane scarce breathing, then, slow and reverent, he
approached the high altar; and ever as he went was a fragrance,
wonder-sweet, that grew stronger and stronger until he was come behind
the high altar where was his mother's grave. And lo! upon that long,
white stone lay flowers a-bloom, roses and lilies whose dewy loveliness
filled the place with their pure and fragrant sweetness. So looked he
round about and upon these flowers with grateful wonder, and sinking to
his knees, bowed his head and folded his hands in prayer.
But presently, as he knelt thus, he was roused by the clank of steel
and a shuffling step, wherefore he arose and crossing to the shadows of
the choir, sat him down within the deeper gloom to wait until his
disturber should be gone. Slowly these halting steps advanced, feet
that stumbled oft; near they came and nearer, until Beltane perceived
a tall figure whose armour gleamed dully and whose shoulders were bowed
like one that is feeble or very weary.
"Yolande!" said a voice, a hoarse voice but very tender, "Yolande,
beloved!" And on the word the voice broke and ended upon a great sob,
swift followed by another and yet another, the fierce sobbing of a
Then Beltane clenched his hands and rose up, for behold! this man was
Sir Benedict. But now, and very suddenly, Sir Benedict was upon his
knees, and bent and kissed that white, smooth stone whereon as yet was
"Yolande!" he whispered, "now thou art one among the holy angels, O
forget not thy most unworthy Benedict. God--O God! Father to whom all
hearts are open, Thou dost know how as child and maid I loved her, how
as a wife I loved her still--how, in my madness, I spake my love--and
she, being saint and woman, bade me to my duty. So, by her purity, kept
she my honour unstained--"
Beltane's long scabbard struck the carven panelling, a soft blow that
yet echoed and re-echoed in vaulted arch and dim roof, and, glancing
swiftly up, Sir Benedict beheld him.
And kneeling thus beside the grave of the woman he had loved, Sir
Benedict looked up into Beltane's face with eyes wide, eyes unflinching
but dimmed with great grief and pain.
Quoth he, firm-voiced:
"My lord, thou hast learned my life's secret, but, ere thou dost judge
me, hear this! Long ere thy princely father met thy mother, we loved,
she and I, and in our love grew up together. Then came the Duke thy
father, a mighty lord; and her mother was ambitious and very guileful--
and she--but a maid. Thus was she wed. Then rode I to the foreign wars
seeking death--but death took me not. So, the wars ended, came I home
again, burning ever with my love, and sought her out, and beholding the
sadness in her eyes I spake my love; and forgetful of honour and all
save her sweet soul and the glory of her beauty, I tempted her--aye,
many times!--tempted her in fashion merciless and cruel insomuch that
she wept many bitter tears, and, upon a day, spake me thus: 'Benedict,
'tis true I loved thee, for thou wert a noble knight--but now, an thy
love for me be so small that thou canst bring me to this shame, then--
take me where thou wilt--but--ne'er shall all thy love nor all my
tears thereafter cleanse us from the shame of it.' Thus went I from
her, nor have I looked on woman since. So followed I thy father in all
his warring and all my days have I fought much--fierce foes within me
and without, and lived--a very solitary life. And to-day she lieth
dead--and I am here, old and worn, a lonely man and sinful, to be
judged of as ye will."
Then came Beltane and looked down into Sir Benedict's pale, sad face.
And beholding him thus in his abasement, haggard with wounds and bowed
with grief, needs must Beltane kneel also and thereafter spake thus:
"Sir Benedict, who am I, to judge of such as thou?"
"I tempted her--I wooed her to shame, I that loved her beyond life--did
cause her many bitter tears--alas!"
"Yet in the end, Sir Benedict, because thy love was a great and noble
love, thou didst triumph over base self. So do I honour thee and pray
that I, in like case, may act as nobly."
"And now--she lieth dead! So for me is life ended also, methinks!"
"She is a saint in heaven, Benedict, living forever. As to thee, on
whose skill and valiance the safety of this fair city doth hang--so
hath God need of thee here, methinks. So now for thy sake and for her
sake needs must I love thee ever and always, thou noble knight. She,
being dead, yet liveth and shall go betwixt us henceforth, drawing us
together in closer bonds of love and amity--is it not so, dear my
friend?" And speaking, Beltane reached out his hands across his
mother's narrow grave, and straightway came Sir Benedict's hands, swift
and eager, to meet and clasp them.
For a while knelt they thus, hand clasping hand above that long, white
stone whence stole to them the mingled fragrance of the flowers, like a
silent benediction. And presently, together they arose and went their
way; but now, seeing how Sir Benedict limped by reason of his wounds,
Beltane set an arm about him. So came they together out of the shadows
into the glory of the morning.
Now as they came forth of the minster, the tocsin rang loud in sudden
HOW GILES CURSED BELSAYE OUT OF HER FEAR
Within the market-place all was dire confusion; men hasted hither and
thither, buckling on armour as they went, women wept and children
wailed, while ever the bell clashed out its fierce summons.
Presently, through the populace cometh Sir Brian of Hartismere,
equipped in his armour and leaning on the mailed arm of his brother
Eric of the wry neck, but perceiving Sir Benedict and Beltane, they
turned and came up forthwith.
"Eric--Brian, what meaneth the tumult?" questioned Sir Benedict, his
eye kindling, "are we attacked--so soon?"
"Not so," answered Sir Brian, "at the least--not by Ivo's men."
"'Tis worse than that," sighed Eric, shaking his head, "yonder cometh a
churchman, borne on the shoulders of his monks, and with choristers and
"Ha!" said Sir Benedict, frowning and rubbing his chin, "I had dreaded
this! The citizens do shake and shiver already, I'll warrant me! There
is nought like a cowl with bell, book and candle to sap the courage of
your citizen soldier. Let us to the walls!"
In a corner hard by the main gate they beheld Giles, holding forth to
Roger and Walkyn and Ulf, but perceiving Sir Benedict he ceased
abruptly, and advancing, saluted the noble company each in turn, but
addressed himself to Sir Benedict.
"My lord," quoth he, eyes a-dance, "yonder cometh a pompous prior that
was, not very long since, nought but massy monk that did upon a time
(though by dint of some small persuasion) bestow on me a goodly ass. My
lord, I was bred a monk, so do I know, by divers signs and portents,
he cometh here to ban the city with book, bell and candle, wherefore
the townsfolk, fearing greatly, do shiver and shake, especially the
women and maids--sweet souls! And, lord, by reason of the matter of the
ass, I do know this priest prolific of damnatory pronouncements and
curses contumacious (O verily). Yet I, messire (having been bred a
monk) shall blithely him out-curse, an the joy be permitted me, thus
turning tears to laughter and gloomy fear to loud-voiced merriment--my
lord, messires, how say you?"
"'Tis blasphemy unheard!" quoth Sir Brian.
"Save in the greenwood where men do breathe God's sweet air and live
free!" said wry-necked Eric.
"And," spake Sir Benedict, stroking his square chin, "there is a fear
can be quelled but by ridicule, so may thy wit, sir archer, avail more
than our wisdom--an thou canst make these pale-cheeked townsfolk laugh
indeed. How think you, my Beltane?"
"That being the wise and valiant knight thou art, Sir Benedict, thy
will during the siege is law in Belsaye, henceforth."
Now hereupon Giles made his obeisance, and together with Roger and
Walkyn and Ulf, hasted up to the battlement above the gateway.
"Benedict," said Sir Brian as they climbed the turret stair, "blasphemy
is a dread and awful thing. We shall be excommunicate one and all--
better methinks to let the populace yield up the city and die the
death, than perish everlastingly!"
"Brian," quoth Sir Benedict pausing, something breathless by reason of
his recent sickness, "I tell thee fire and pillage and ravishment of
women is a thing more dread and awful--better, methinks, to keep
Innocence pure and unspotted while we may, and leave hereafter in the
hands of God and His holy angels!"
Upon the tower there met them the Reeve, anxious of brow, who pointed
where the townsfolk talked together in fearful undertones or clustered,
mute and trembling, while every eye was turned where, in the open,
'twixt town and camp, a procession of black-robed priests advanced,
chanting very solemn and sweet.
"My lords," said the Reeve, looking round with haggard eyes, "an these
priests do come to pronounce the Church's awful malediction upon the
city--then woe betide! Already there be many--aye, some of our chiefest
citizens do fear the curse of Holy Church more than the rapine of Ivo's
vile soldiery, fair women shamed, O Christ! Lords--ha, messires, there
is talk afoot of seizing the gates, of opening to this churchman and
praying his intercession to Ivo's mercy--to Ivo the Black, that knoweth
nought of mercy. Alas, my lords, once they do ope the gates--"
"That can they in nowise do!" said Sir Benedict gently, but with face
grim and hawk-like. "Every gate is held by stout fellows of my own
following, moreover I have good hope yon churchman may leave us yet
uncursed." And Sir Benedict smiled his wry and twisted smile. "Be you
our tongue, good Reeve, and speak this churchman as thy bold heart
Solemn and sweet rose the chanting voices growing ever more loud, where
paced the black-robed priests. First came acolytes swinging censers,
and next, others bearing divers symbolic flags and standards, and after
these again, in goodly chair borne on the shoulders of brawny monks, a
portly figure rode, bedight in full canonicals, a very solid cleric he,
and mightily round; moreover his nose was bulbous and he had a drooping
Slow and solemn the procession advanced, and ever as they came the
choristers chanted full melodiously what time the white-robed acolytes
swung their censers to and fro; and ever as they came, the folk of
Belsaye, from wall and turret, eyed these slow-pacing, sweet-singing
monks with fearful looks and hearts cold and full of dire misgiving.
Beyond the moat over against the main gate, the procession halted, the
chair with its portly burden was set down, and lifting up a white,
be-ringed hand, the haughty cleric spake thus, in voice high-pitched,
mellifluous and sweet:
"Whereas it hath pleased ye, O rebellious people of Belsaye, to deny,
to cast off and wantonly repudiate your rightful allegiance to your
most just, most merciful and most august lord--Ivo, Duke of Pentavalon
(whom God and the saints defend--amen!) and whereas ye have moreover
made captive and most barbarously entreated certain of your lord Duke
his ambassadors unto you sent; now therefore--and let all ears be
opened to my pronouncements, since Holy Church doth speak ye, one and
all, each and every through humble avenue of these my lips--list, list,
O list, rebellious people, and mark me well. For inasmuch as I, Prior
of Holy Cross within Pentavalon City, do voice unto ye, one and all,
each and every, the most sacred charge of Holy Church, her strict
command or enactment, mandate or caveat, her holy decree, _senatus
consultum_, her writ, edict, precept or decretal, namely and to wit:
That ye shall one and all, each and every, return to your rightful
allegiance, bowing humbly, each and every, to the will of your lawful
lord the Duke (whom God and the saints defend) and shall forthwith make
full and instant surrender of this his ancient city of Belsaye unto
your lord the Duke (whom God and the saints defend--amen!) Failing the
which, I, in the name of Holy Church, by power of papal bull new come
from Rome--will, here and now, pronounce this most rebellious city
(and all that therein be) damned and excommunicate!"
Now hereupon, from all the townsfolk crowding wall and turret a groan
went up and full many a ruddy cheek grew pale at this dire threat.
Whereupon the Prior, having drawn breath, spake on in voice more stern
and more peremptory:
"Let now your gates unbar! Yield ye unto your lord Duke his mercy! Let
the gates unbar, I say, lest I blast this wicked city with the most
dread and awful ban and curse of Holy Church--woe, woe in this life,
and, in the life to come, torment and everlasting fire! Let the gates
Now once again the men of Belsaye sighed and groaned and trembled in
their armour, while from crowded street and market-square rose buzz of
fearful voices. Then spake the Reeve in troubled tones, his white head
low-stooped above the battlement.
"Good Prior, I pray you an we unbar, what surety have we that this our
city shall not be given over to fire and pillage and ravishment?"
Quoth the Prior:
"Your lives are your lord's, in his hand resteth life and death,
justice and mercy. So for the last time I charge ye--set wide your
"Not so!" cried the Reeve, "in the name of Justice and Mercy ne'er will
we yield this our city until in Belsaye no man is left to strike for
maid and wife and child!"
At the which bold words some few men shouted in acclaim, but for the
most part the citizens were mumchance, their hearts cold within them,
while all eyes stared fearfully upon the Prior, who, lifting white
hand again, rose up from cushioned chair and spake him loud and clear:
"Then, upon this rebellious city and all that therein is, on babe, on
child, on youth, on maid, on man, on wife, on the hale, the sick, the
stricken in years, on beast, on bird, and on all that hath life and
being I do pronounce the church's dread curse and awful ban:--ex--"
The Prior's mellifluous voice was of a sudden lost and drowned in
another, a rich voice, strong and full and merry:
"Quit--quit thy foolish babblement, thou fat and naughty friar; too
plump art thou, too round and buxom to curse a curse as curses should
be cursed, so shall thy curses avail nothing, for who doth heed the
fatuous fulminations of a fat man? But as to me, I could have out-cursed
thee in my cradle, thou big-bellied thing of emptiness--go to for a
sounding brass and tinkling cymbal!"
Thus, from his "mockery" perched high above the battlement, spake
Giles, with many and divers knowing gestures of arm, waggings of the
head, rollings of the eyes and the like, what time Roger and Walkyn and
Ulf, their heads bent close together, busied themselves above a great
and bulging wine-skin.
And now on wall and tower and market-square a great silence had fallen,
yet a silence broken now and then by sound of stifled laughter, while
the Prior, staring in wonder and amaze, suddenly clenched white fist,
and, albeit very red and fiery of visage, strove whole-heartedly to
"Ha--now upon the lewd populace of this most accursed and rebellious
city do I call down the--"
"Upon thy round and barrel-like paunch," cried Giles, "do I pronounce
this dire and dreadful ban, _videlicet_, Sir Fatness, _nota bene_ and
to wit: may the fiend rend it with gruesome gripings--aye, rend it with
claws and beak, _unguibus et rostro_, most mountainous monk!"
Here, once again came sounds of stifled merriment, what time the Prior,
puffing out his fat cheeks, fell to his curses full-tongued:
"Upon this evil city be the malison of Holy Church, her maledictions
bitter, her imprecation and anathema. I do pronounce all within this
"Abate thee, friar, abate!" roared Giles, "cease thy rumbling, thou
empty wine-butt. An thou must deal in curses, leave them to one more
apt and better schooled--to Giles, in faith, who shall forthwith curse
thee sweet and trippingly as thus--now mark me, monk! Aroint, aroint
thee to Acheron dark and dismal, there may the foul fiend seize and
plague thee with seven and seventy plaguey sorrows! May Saint Anthony's
fire frizzle and fry thee--woe, woe betide thee everlastingly--(bate
thy babble, Prior, I am not ended yet!) In life may thou be accursed
from heel to head, within thee and without--(save thy wind, Prior, no
man doth hear or heed thee!) Be thou accursed in father and in mother,
in sister and in brother, in oxen and in asses--especially in asses! Be
thou accursed in sleeping and in waking, eating and drinking, standing,
sitting, lying--O be thou accursed completely and consumedly! Here now,
methinks, Sir Monkish Tunbelly, is cursing as it should be cursed. But
now--(hush thy vain babbling, heed and mark me well!)--now will I to
dictums contumacious, from cursing thee I will to song of thee, of thy
plump and pertinacious person--a song wherein shall pleasant mention be
o' thy round and goodly paunch, a song that shall be sung, mayhap, when
thee and it are dusty dust, O shaveling--to wit:
"O frater fat and flatulent, full foolish, fatuous Friar
A prime plump priest in passion seen, such pleasure doth inspire,
That sober souls, 'spite sorrows sad, shall sudden, shout and sing
Because thy belly big belittleth baleful ban ye bring.
Wherefore with wondrous wit withal, with waggish wanton wiles,
I joyful chant to glorify the just and gentle Giles."
And now behold! fear and dread were forgotten quite, and wheresoever
Beltane looked were men who bent and contorted themselves in their
merriment, and who held their laughter yet in check to catch the
archer's final words.
"Thus, thou poor and pitiful Prior, for thy rude speech and curses
canonical we do requite thee with song sweet-sung and of notable rhyme
and metre. Curse, and Belsaye shall out-curse thee; laugh, and Belsaye
laugheth at thee--"
"Sacrilege!" gasped the Prior, "O 'tis base sacrilege! 'Tis a vile,
unhallowed city and shall go up in flame--"
"And thou," cried Giles, "thou art a fiery churchman and shall be
cooled. Ho, Rogerkin--loose off!"
Came the thudding crash of a powerful mangonel, whose mighty beam,
swinging high, hurled aloft the bulging wine-skin, the which, bursting
in mid-air, deluged with water all below--prior and monk, acolyte and
chorister; whereat from all Belsaye a shout went up, that swelled to
peal on peal of mighty laughter, the while, in stumbling haste, the
dripping Prior was borne by dripping monks back to Duke Ivo's mighty
camp. And lo! from this great camp another sound arose, a roar of
anger, fierce and terrible to hear, that smote Belsaye to silence. But,
out upon the battlement, plain for all folk to see, sprang Giles
flourishing his six-foot bow.
"Archers!" he cried, "archers, ye hear the dogs bay yonder--fling back
"Ho, archers! shout and rend the skies,
Bold archers shout amain
Belsaye, Belsaye--arise, arise!
Then from tower and turret, from wall and keep and market-square a
great and joyous shout was raised--a cry fierce and loud and very
purposeful, that rolled afar:
"Arise, arise!--ha, Beltane--Pentavalon!"
"Beltane," quoth Sir Benedict, smiling his wry smile as he turned to
descend the tower, "methinks yon roguish archer's wit hath served us
better than all our wisdom. Belsaye hath frighted away fear with
laughter, and her men, methinks, will fight marvellous well!"
TELLETH OF ROSES
A fair and strong city was Belsaye, for (as hath been said) to north
and east of it the river flowed, a broad stream and deep, while south
and west it was fortified by a goodly moat; wherefore it was to south
and west that the besiegers mustered their chief force and set up their
mightiest engines and towers. Day in, day out, mangonel, trebuchet and
balista whirred and crashed from keep and tower and curtain-wall, while
from every loophole and crenelle long-bows twanged and arrows flew; yet
with each succeeding dawn the besiegers' fence-works crept nearer,
closing in upon the city until, within close bowshot of the walls, they
set up earthworks and stockades and from these strong barriers plied
the defenders with cloth-yard shaft and cross-bow bolt what time their
mighty engines advanced, perriers and rams wherewith to batter and
breach the city's massy walls.
So day in, day out, Eric's chosen men plied trebuchet and balista, and
Beltane, beholding the dire havoc wrought by heavy stone and whizzing
javelin among the dense ranks of the besiegers despite their mantlets
and stout palisades, grew sick at times and was fain to look
otherwhere. But the besiegers were many and Duke Ivo had sworn swift
destruction on Belsaye; thus, heedless of all else, he pushed on the
attack until, despite their heavy losses, his men were firmly
established close beyond the moat; wherefore my Beltane waxed full
anxious and was for sallying out to destroy their works: at the which,
gloomy Sir Hacon, limping in his many bandages, grew suddenly jovial
and fain was to call for horse and lance forthwith.
Quoth Sir Benedict placidly:
"Nay, let them come, messires; they are a sea, but Belsaye is a rock.
Duke Ivo is cunning in war, but is, mark me! a passionate man, and he
who fighteth in blind anger, fighteth ill. So let them come, I say the
time for us to beware is when Ivo's hot temper shall have cooled. Ha,
look yonder!" and Sir Benedict pointed where a great wooden tower,
urged forward by rope and pulley and winch, was creeping near and
nearer the walls, now stopping jerkily, now advancing, its massy
timbers protected from fire by raw hides, its summit bristling with
archers and cross-bow men, who from their lofty post began to sweep
wall and turret with their whizzing shafts.
"Now mark yon tower," said Sir Benedict, closing his vizor, "here shall
be good sport for Eric's perriers--watch now!" and he nodded where on
the battlement below, crouched Eric with Walkyn and Roger who laboured
at the winches of a great trebuchet hard by. To left and right on wall
and turret, Eric glanced, then blew a blast upon the horn he carried;
and immediately, from wall and turret mangonels, trebuchets and
balistae unknown of until now crashed and whirred, and the tall tower
shook and quivered 'neath the shock of great stones and heavy bolts,
its massy timbers were split and rent, insomuch that it was fain to be
Thereafter the besiegers brought up a long pent-house or cat unto the
edge of the moat, and sheltered within this cat were many men who fell
to work filling up the moat with bags of earth and stone werewith to
form a causeway across which they might assault the wall with bore and
ram; and because this cat was builded very strong, Eric's engines
battered it in vain, wherefore he presently desisted; thus, hour by
hour the causeway grew and lengthened. So needs must Beltane seek Sir
Benedict and point this out with anxious finger.
"Let them come, Beltane!" quoth Sir Benedict, placid as was his wont,
"once they are close against the wall with ram a-swing, I will make
their labour of no avail; you shall see me burn them with a devil's
brew I learned of in the foreign wars. So, let them come. Beltane!"
Thus, day in, day out, was roar of conflict about the walls of Belsaye
town, and ever Sir Benedict, with Beltane beside him, went to and fro,
quick of eye and hand, swift to foresee and counteract the tactics of
the besiegers, meeting cunning artifice with crafty strategem;
wheresoever was panic or pressing need there was Sir Benedict,
calm-voiced and serene. And Beltane, watching him thus, came to
understand why this man had withstood the powers of Duke Ivo all these
years, and why all men trusted to his judgment.
Thus, all day was rage of battle, but with the night peace came, since
in the dark men might not see to aim and slay each other. And by night
the folk of Belsaye made good their battered walls what time the
besiegers prepared fresh devices of attack. Every morning at sunrise it
was Beltane's custom to steal to the great minster and, soft-treading
despite his armour, come to his mother's grave to hold communion with
her in his prayers. And lo! upon that hallowed stone there always he
found fragrant flowers, roses and lilies, new-gathered, upon whose
sweet petals the dew yet sparkled, and ever his wonder grew.
More than once he had thought to hear again that indefinable stir and
whisper the which had thrilled him on that first morning, and, starting
up, he would peer into the vague shadows. Twice he had thought to see a
draped figure bending above that long, white stone, a veiled figure
slender and graceful, that upon his approach, soft though it was,
flitted swiftly into the dark recesses of the choir. Once he had
followed, and stood amazed to see it vanish through the carven
panelling, though door could he find none. Therefore was he sore
perplexed and oft would touch the dewy flowers as half expecting they
should vanish also. Now upon a certain dawn he had hid himself within
the shadows and waited with bated breath and heart strangely a-throb.
And with the day-spring she came again, tall and gracious in her
clinging draperies and long green veil. Then, even as she bent to lay
the flowers upon the grave came Beltane, soft of foot, and spake ere
she was 'ware of him.
"Lady--!" now though his voice was very low and gentle she started, the
flowers fell from her loosened clasp, and, after a moment, she turned
and fronted him, proud head up-flung beneath her veil. So stood they
within that place of silence, while high above, the great window grew
luminous with coming day.
"Lady," said he again, "for thy sweet flowers, for thy sweeter thought
for one that is--gone, fain would I thank thee, for she who lieth here
I found, and loved, and have lost again a while. She did love all fair
things, so loved she the flowers, methinks; yet I, who have grieved for
my noble mother, ne'er thought to bring her flowers--this did need a
woman's gentle soul. So, for thy flowers, I do most truly thank thee."
Very still she stood, nor spake nor moved, save for the sweet hurry of
her breathing; and beholding her thus, of a sudden Beltane's heart
leapt and he fell a-trembling though wherefore he knew not, only
yearned he mightily to look beneath her veil. And now it seemed to him
that, in the stillness, she must needs hear the passionate throbbing of
his heart; twice would he have spoken yet could not; at last:
"Beseech thee," he whispered, "O beseech thee unveil, that I may behold
the face of one so tender to her that was my dear-loved mother--O
As he spake, he drew a swift pace nearer, hand outstretched in
supplication, but, because this hand shook and quivered so, he clenched
it, whereat the unknown shrank back and back and, turning swift and
sudden, was gone.
A while stood my Beltane, his head a-droop, and fell to wonderment
because of the so painful throbbing of his heart. Then knelt he above
his mother's grave with hands tight-clasped.
"Dear mother in heaven," he sighed, "being an angel, thou dost know all
my heart, its hopes and fears--thou hast seen me tremble--thou dost
know wherefore this my heart doth yearn so bitterly. O sweet mother
with God, plead thou on my behalf that I may be worthy her love--meet
to her embracements--fit for so great happiness. Angel of God, thou
dost know how great is my desire--how empty life without her--O
In a while he arose and immediately beheld that which lay beyond his
mother's grave full in the radiance of the great east window--a thing
small and slender and daintily wrought; and stooping, he picked up a
little shoe. Of soft leather it was fashioned, cunningly pinked, and
sewn, here and there, with coloured silks; and as he stared down at it,
so small-seeming in his mailed hand, his heart leapt again, and again
his strong hand fell a-trembling. Of a sudden he raised his eyes to
heaven, then, coming to his mother's grave, very reverently took thence
a single great bloom and thrusting the shoe in the wallet at his girdle
(that same wallet Sir Fidelis had borne) went out into the golden dawn.
Like one in a dream went Beltane, heedless of his going; by silent
street and lane where none stirred at this early hour, thus he wandered
on until he was stayed by a high wall wherein was set a small, green
As he stood, staring down at the rose he held and lost in pleasant
dream, he was aroused by a scrambling sound near by, and, glancing up,
beheld a mailed head and shoulders rise suddenly above the wall and so
looked into the face of Giles o' the Bow. Now in his teeth Giles bare a
great red rose--even as that which Beltane held.
"Giles," quoth he, sharp and stern, "whence had ye that flower?"
For answer, Giles, straddling the wall, laid finger to lip, then
dropping cat-like to his feet, drew Beltane down an adjacent lane.
"Lord," said he, "yonder is the Reeve's garden and in the Reeve's
garden cometh the Reeve to taste the sweet dawn, wherefore Giles doth
incontinent vanish him over the Reeve's wall because of the Reeve;
nevertheless needs must I bless the Reeve because of the Reeve's
daughter--though verily, both in my speech and in the Reeve's garden is
too much Reeve, methinks. As to this rose, now--ha!"
"How came you by the rose, Giles?"
"Why, in the first place, tall brother, I stole it--"
"Stole it!" repeated Beltane, and behold! his frown was gone
"But, in the second place, brother, 'twas given to me--"
"Given to thee--by whom?" and immediately Beltane's frown was back
"And therefore, in the third place, brother, Giles this day would not
change skins with any lord, duke, archduke, pope or potentate that e'er
went in skin--"
"Who gave it thee?--speak, man!"
"Faith, lord, I had it from one as pure, as fair, as--"
"Aye, but what like is she?"
"Like unto this flower for sweetness, lord, and--ha, saints and
martyrs! whence had ye that bloom, tall brother--speak!" and Giles
pointed to the rose in Beltane's fingers.
"What like is she--answer me!"
"Alack!" sighed Giles, shaking gloomy head, "she is very like a woman,
after all, methinks--"
"Mean ye the Reeve's daughter?"
"Even so, lord!"
"Doth she wear ever a--a green veil, Giles?"
"Verily, lord, and with a most sweet grace--"
"And her shoes--"
"Her shoes, tall brother, O methinks her sweet shoe doth kiss the earth
so sweet and light poor earth must needs love and languish as doth poor
Giles! Her shoe--"
"Is it aught like to this, Giles?" and forthwith Beltane took out the
"Aye, 'tis her very own, master!" groaned Giles. "Ah, woe is me, for if
she hath given to thee rose and therewith her pretty shoe--thou hast,
belike, her heart also, and with her heart--"
"Nay, take it, Giles,--take it!" quoth Beltane, sighing. "I did but
find it in my going, and this rose--I found also, but this will I keep.
Methinks thy love is what thy heart telleth thee--a maid very gentle
and sweet--so God prosper thy wooing, Giles!"
So saying, Beltane thrust the shoe upon bewildered Giles and, turning
swiftly about, hasted away. But even then, while the archer yet stared
after him, Beltane turned and came striding back.
"Giles," quoth he, "how tall is the Reeve's daughter?"
"Lord, she is better than tall--"
"Ha--is she short of stature, good Giles?"
"Messire, God hath shaped her lovely body no higher and no lower than
my heart. Small is she and slender, yet in her sweet and slender
shapeliness is all the beauty of all the women that all men have ever
"Small, say you, Giles--small? Then give me back yon lovely thing!"
Saying the which, Beltane caught the shoe from Giles's hold and strode
away blithe and debonair, leaving the garrulous archer dumb for once
and beyond all words amazed.
Now as Beltane went very deep in thought there met him Friar Martin,
who bore upon his arm a great basket full of green vegetables and
sweet herbs. Quoth Beltane:
"Good friar, what do ye abroad so early?"
"Sweet son, I praise the good God for His mercies and pant by reason of
this my weighty basket."
"Indeed 'tis a something well-laden basket," said Beltane, relieving
the friar of his burden with gentle force.
"Why, verily, my children are hungry children and clamour to be filled.
And see you, my son, I have a secret of a certain broth whereof these
lentils and these sweet herbs do so tickle their palates that to
satisfy them is a hard matter--more especially Orson and Jenkyn--who
being nigh cured of their hurts do eat like four men and vaunt my
cooking full-mouthed, insomuch that I must needs grow heedful of vain
"Fain would I see these children of thine an I may, good friar, so will
I bear thy burden for thee."
"Verily they shall rejoice to see thee," quoth the friar, "but for my
basket, methinks 'tis better suited to my habit than thy knightly mail--"
For answer Beltane slipped the basket on his arm and they went on
together talking whole-heartedly of many things. Thus the gentle friar
brought him at last to a low-arched portal within a narrow lane, and
pushing open the door, ushered him into the great refectory of the
abbey, where Beltane set down the basket, and Friar Martin, rolling up
his sleeves, brought pot and pannikin but paused to smile and shake his
head, as from a stone-flagged passage hard by came the sound of voices
raised in altercation.
"My children do grow a little fractious at times," quoth he, "as is but
natural, methinks. Yonder you shall hear Orson and Jenkyn, who having
saved each other's life in battle and loving like brothers, do oft
contend together with tongues most ungentle; go you, my son, and quiet
me the naughty rogues."
So saying, Friar Martin fell to washing and preparing his herbs and
vegetables whiles Beltane, hasting down the passage, opened a certain
door and entered a cool and airy dormitory, where upon pallets neat and
orderly lay divers fellows whose hurts were swathed in fair white
linen, and who, despite their bandages, started up on hand or elbow to
greet Beltane right gladly. And behold! beside each man's couch was a
bowl wherein roses bloomed.
"Master," quoth Tall Orson, "us do be glad to see thee--in especial me--
and Jenkyn that I did save the carcase of and as do be a liar as do
say my roses do be a-fading, master, and as his roses do bloom fairer
than my roses and--"
"And look'ee master, so they be, for I ha' watered mine wi' Orson's
drinking-water, while he snored, look'ee--" "So Jenkyn do be thief as
"Nay," said Beltane smiling, and seating himself on Orson's bed, "stint
now your angers and tell me who gave ye flowers so fair?"
"Master, she do be an angel!"
"Heed him not, lord, for look'ee, she is a fair and lovely woman, and
look'ee, a good woman is better than an angel, look'ee!"
"And what like is she?" questioned Beltane.
"She do be like to a stag for grace o' body, and wi' the eyes of a
"Nay, master, her eyes do be maid's eyes, look'ee, very soft and sweet,
and her hair, look'ee--"
"Her hair do be like a forest-pool brim-full o' sunset--"
"Not so, master, her hair is red, look'ee--"
"And each day she do bring us flowers, master--"
"And suckets, look'ee, very sweet and delicate, master."
In a while Beltane arose and going from bed to bed spake with each and
every, and went his way, leaving Orson and Jenkyn to their
Being come back into the refectory, he found Friar Martin yet busied
with the preparations of his cooking, and seating himself upon the
great table hard by, fell to a profound meditation, watched ever and
anon by the friar's kindly eyes: so very silent and thoughtful was he
that the friar presently looked up from slicing and cutting his
vegetables and spake with smile wondrous tender:
"Wherefore so pensive, my son?"
"Good father, I think and dream of--red roses!"
Friar Martin cut and trimmed a leek with great care, yet surely here
was no reason for his eyes to twinkle within the shadow of his white
"A sweet and fragrant thought, my son!" quoth he.
"As sweet, methinks, holy father, as pure and fragrant as she herself!"
"'She,' my son?"
"As Helen, good friar, as Helen the Beautiful, Duchess of Mortain!"
"Ah!" sighed the friar, and forthwith popped the leek into the pot. "I
prithee, noble son, reach me the salt-box yonder!"
CONCERNING A BLUE CAMLET CLOAK
Next morning, ere the sun was up, came Beltane into the minster and
hiding within the deeper gloom of the choir, sat there hushing his
breath to listen, trembling in eager anticipation. Slowly amid the
dimness above came a glimmer from the great window, a pale beam that
grew with dawn until up rose the sun and the window glowed in many-hued
And in a while to Beltane's straining senses came the faint creak of a
door, a soft rustle, the swift light tread of feet, and starting forth
of his lurking place he stepped forward with yearning arms
outstretched--then paused of a sudden beholding her who stood at gaze,
one slender foot advanced and white hands full of roses and lilies, one
as fair, as sweet and pure as the fragrant blooms she bore. Small was
she and slender, and of a radiant loveliness, red of lip and grey-eyed:
now beholding Beltane thus suddenly, she shrank and uttered a soft cry.
"Nay," quoth he, "fear me not, sweet maid, methought thee other than
thou art--I grieve that I did fright thee--forgive me, I pray," so
saying, he sighed and bowing full humbly, turned, but even so paused
again: "Thou art methinks the Reeve's fair daughter--thou art the lady
Genevra?" he questioned.
"Aye, my lord."
"Then, an thou dost love, gentle maid, heaven send thee happier in thy
love than I." At the which Genevra's gentle eyes grew softer yet and
her sweet mouth full pitiful and tender.
"Art thou so unhappy, lord Beltane?"
"Aye, truly!" he sighed, and drooped mournful head.
"Ah, messire, then fain would I aid thee an I might!" said she,
"Then where, I pray you, is she that came here yesterday?"
"Nay, lord, how may I tell thee this? There be many women in Belsaye
"For me," quoth Beltane, "in all the world there is but one and to this
one, alas! thou canst not aid me, yet for thy kind intent I thank thee,
and so farewell, sweet maid." Thus saying, he took three steps away
from her, then turning, came back in two. "Stay," quoth he, slipping
hand in wallet, "know you this shoe?"
Now beholding this, Genevra's red lips quivered roguishly, and she
bowed her little, shapely head:
"Indeed, my lord, 'tis mine!" said she.
"Then pray you, who was she did wear it yesterday--?"
"Aye, messire, 'twas yesterday I--missed it, wilt not give it me
therefore? One shoe can avail thee nothing and--and 'tis too small for
thee to wear methinks--"
"Did she--she that lost this yesterday, send thee to-day in her
"Wilt not give a poor maid her shoe again, messire?"
"O Genevra, beseech thee, who was she did wear it yesterday--speak!"
"Nay, this--this I may not tell thee, lord Beltane."
"For that I did so promise--and yet--what seek you of her, my lord?"
"Forgiveness," said Beltane, hot and eager, "I would woo her sweet
clemency on one that hath wrought her grievous wrong. O sweet Genevra,
wilt not say where I may find her?"
A while stood the maid Genevra with bowed head as one in doubt, then
looked on him with sweet maiden eyes and of a sudden smiled
compassionate and tender.
"Ah, messire," said she, "surely thine are the eyes of one who loveth
greatly and well! And I do so love her that fain would I have her
greatly loved--so will I tell thee despite my word--hearken!" And
drawing him near she laid white finger to rosy lip and thereafter spake
in whispers. "Go you to the green door where yesterday thou didst meet
with Gi--with the captain of the archers--O verily we--she and I, my
lord, did see and hear all that passed betwixt you--and upon this door
knock you softly three times. Go--yet, O prithee say not 'twas Genevra
told thee this!" and again she laid white finger to roguish, pouting
Then Beltane stooped, and catching that little hand kissed it, and
thereafter hasted blithely on his way.
Swift of foot went he and with eyes a-dance, nor paused in his long
stride until he was come to a certain high wall wherein was set the
small, green door, whereon he knocked three times. And presently he
heard the bar softly raised, the door was opened slow and cautiously,
and stooping, Beltane stepped beneath the lintel and stood suddenly
still, staring into the face of Black Roger. And even as Beltane stared
thus amazed, so stared Roger.
"Why, master--" quoth he, pushing back his mail-coif to rumple his
black hair, "why, master, you--you be early abroad--though forsooth
'tis a fair morning and--"
"Roger," quoth Beltane, looking round upon a fair garden a-bloom with
flowers, "Roger, where is the Duchess Helen?"
"Ha, so ye do know, master--who hath discovered it--?"
"Where is she, Roger?"
"Lord," quoth Roger, giving a sudden sideways jerk of his head, "how
should Roger tell thee this?" Now even as he spake, Roger must needs
gesture again with his head and therewith close one bright, black eye,
and with stealthy finger point to a certain tall hedge hard by; all of
which was seen by one who stood beyond the hedge, watching Beltane with
eyes that missed nought of him, from golden spur to golden head; quick
to note his flushing cheek, his parted lips and the eager light of his
blue eyes; one who perceiving him turn whither Roger's sly finger
pointed, gathered up her flowing robe in both white hands that she
might flee the faster, and who, speeding swift and light, came to a
certain leafy bower where stood a tambour frame, and sitting there,
with draperies well ordered, caught up silk and needle, yet paused to
close her eyes and set one hand upon rounded bosom what time a quick,
firm step drew near and ever nearer with clash and ring of heavy mail
until Beltane stood before her. And how was he to know of the eyes that
had watched him through the hedge, or that the hand that held the
needle had paused lest he should see how direfully it trembled: how
should my Beltane know all this, who was but a very man?
A while stood he, viewing her with eyes aglow with yearning tenderness,
and she, knowing this, kept her face down-bent, therefore. Now
beholding all the beauty of her, because of her gracious loveliness,
his breath caught, then hurried thick and fast, insomuch that when he
would have spoken he could not; thus he worshipped her in a look and
she, content to be so worshipped, sat with head down-bent, as sweetly
demure, as proud and stately as if--as if she ne'er in all her days had
fled with hampering draperies caught up so high!
So Beltane stood worshipping her as she had been some young goddess in
whose immortal beauty all beauty was embodied.
At last he spake, hoarse and low and passionate:
"Helen!" said he, "O Helen!"
Slowly, slowly the Duchess lifted stately head and looked on him: but
now, behold! her glance was high and proud, her scarlet mouth firm-set
like the white and dimpled chin below and her eyes swept him with look
calm and most dispassionate.
"Ah, my lord Beltane," she said, sweet-voiced, "what do you here within
the privacy of Genevra's garden?"
Now because of the sweet serenity of her speech, because of the calm,
unswerving directness of her gaze, my Beltane felt at sudden loss, his
outstretched arms sank helplessly and he fell a-stammering.
"Helen, I--I--O Helen, I have dreamed of, yearned for this hour! To see
thee again--to hear thy voice, and yet--and yet--"
"Well, my lord?"
Now stood Beltane very still, staring on her in dumb amaze, and the
pain in his eyes smote her, insomuch that she bent to her embroidery
and sewed three stitches woefully askew.
"O surely, surely I am mad," quoth he wondering, "or I do dream. For
she I seek is a woman, gentle and prone to forgiveness, one beyond all
women fair and brave and noble, in whose pure heart can nothing evil
be, in whose gentle eyes her gentle soul lieth mirrored, whose tender
lips be apt and swift to speak mercy and forgiveness. Even as her soft,
kind hands did bind up my wounds, so methought she with gentle sayings
might heal my grieving heart--and now--now--"
"O my lord," she sighed, bending over idle fingers, "methinks you came
seeking an angel of heaven and find here--only a woman."
"Yet 'tis this woman I do love and ever must--'tis this woman I did
know as Fidelis--"
"Alas!" she sighed again, "alas, poor Fidelis, thou didst drive him
from thee into the solitary wild-wood. So is poor Fidelis lost to thee,
"Nay, Helen--O Helen, be just to me--thou dost know I loved Fidelis--"
"Yet thou didst spurn and name him traitor and drave him from thee!"
Now of a sudden he strode towards her, and as he came her bosom
swelled, her lashes drooped, for it seemed he meant to clasp her to his
heart. But lo! being only man, my Beltane paused and trembled, and
dared not touch her, and sinking before her on his knees, spake very
humbly and with head low-bowed.
"Helen--show me a little mercy!" he pleaded. "Would'st that I abase
myself? Then here--here behold me at thy feet, fearing thee because of
my unworthiness. But O believe--believe, for every base doubt of thee
this heart hath known, now doth it grieve remorseful. For every harsh
and bitter word this tongue hath spoke thee, now doth it humbly crave
thy pitiful forgiveness! But know you this, that from the evil hour I
drave thee from me, I have known abiding sorrow and remorse, for
without thee life is indeed but an empty thing and I a creature lost
and desolate--O Helen, pity me!"
Thus spake he, humble and broken, and she, beholding him thus, sighed
(though wondrous softly) and 'neath her long lashes tears glittered
(though swift dashed away) but--slowly, very slowly, one white hand
came out to him, faltered, stopped, and glancing up she rose in haste
and shrank away. Now Beltane, perceiving only this last gesture, sprang
"How?" quoth he, "am I then become a thing so base my presence doth
offend thee--then, as God liveth, ne'er shalt see me more until thou
thyself do summon me!"
Even as he spake thus, swift and passionate, Giles clambered the
adjacent wall and dropping softly within the garden, stared to behold
Beltane striding towards him fierce-eyed, who, catching him by the arm
yet viewing him not, spun him from his path, and coming to the green
door, sped out and away.
Now as Giles stood to rub his arm and gape in wonderment, he started to
find the Duchess beside him; and her eyes were very bright and her
cheeks very red, and, meeting her look, poor Giles fell suddenly
"Noble lady--" he faltered.
"Foolish Giles!" said she, "go, summon me my faithful Roger." But as
she spake, behold Roger himself hasting to her through the roses.
"Roger," said she, frowning a little, "saw you my lord go but now?"
"Aye, verily, dear my lady," quoth he, ruffling up his hair, "but
"And I," said Giles, cherishing his arm, "both saw and felt him--"
"Ha," quoth Roger, "would'st have him back, sweet mistress?"
"Why truly I would, Roger--"
"Then forsooth will I go fetch him."
"Nay--rather would I die, Roger."
"But--dear lady--an thou dost want him--"
"I will bring him by other means!" said the Duchess, "aye, he shall
come despite himself," and her red lips curved to sudden roguish smile,
as smiling thus, she brought them to a certain arbour very shady and
remote, and, seating herself, looked from one tanned face to the other
and spake them certain matters, whereat the archer's merry eyes grew
merrier yet, but Roger sighed and shook his head; said he:
"Lady, here is tale shall wring his noble heart, methinks, wherefore
the telling shall wring mine also--"
"Then speak not of it, Roger. Be this Giles's mission."
"Aye, Rogerkin, leave it to me. In faith, noble lady, I will with
suggestion soft and subtle, with knowing look and wily wag of head, so
work upon my lord that he shall hither hot-foot haste--"
"At moonrise," said the Duchess softly, "this evening at moonrise!"
"Verily, lady, at moonrise! And a blue camlet cloak, say you?"
"Come, Giles, and I will give it thee."
Meanwhile, Beltane, hurt and angry, betook him to the walls where bow
and perrier had already begun their deadly morning's work; and coming
to a quiet corner of the battlement, he leaned him there to watch
where the besiegers, under cover of the cat that hourly crept more
nigh, worked amain to dam the moat.
Now as he leaned thus, a hand slipped within his arm, and turning, he
beheld Sir Benedict.
"A right fair morning, my Beltane," quoth he.
"Aye, truly, Benedict," sighed Beltane, "though there be clouds to the
west. And the causeway across the moat groweth apace; I have watched
yon cat creep a full yard--"
"Aye, verily, by mid-day, Beltane, 'twill reach our wall, then will
they advance their ram to the battery, methinks."
"And what then, Benedict?"
"Then shall we destroy their ram forthwith with devil-fire, dear lad!"
"Aye, and how then, Benedict?"
"Then, belike will they plant ladders on the causeway and attempt the
wall by storm, so shall we come to handstrokes at last and beset them
with pitch and boiling oil and hew their ladders in sunder."
"And after, Benedict?"
"Hey-day, Beltane, here be a many questions--"
"Aye, Benedict, 'tis that I do look into the future. And what future
can there be? Though we maintain our walls a year, or two, or three,
yet in the end Belsaye must fall."
"And I tell thee, Beltane, were Ivo twice as strong Belsaye should yet
withstand him. So gloom not, lad, Belsaye is safe, the sun shineth and
behold my arm--'tis well-nigh healed, thanks to--to skilful nursing--"
"Of the Duchess Helen, Benedict?"
"Ha--so hast found it out--at last, lad--"
"Knew you she was here?"
"And told me not?"
"For that she did so command, Beltane."
"And wherefore came she hither?"
"For thy dear sake in the first place, and--"
"Nay, mock me not, friend, for I do know myself of none account."
"And in the second place, Beltane, to save this fair city of Belsaye."
"Nay, how mean you?"
"I mean that Belsaye cannot fall whiles it holdeth Helen the Proud. And
the reason this--now mark me, Beltane! Since her father's death Duke
Ivo hath had his glutton eye on fair Mortain, whereof her counsellors
did ken, yet, being old men and averse to war, would fain have had her
wed with him. Now upon a day word reached me in Thrasfordham bidding me
come to her and Waldron of Brand at Winisfarne. So, as thou dost know,
stole I from my goodly castle and marched north. But on the way she
came to me bedight in mail, and she and I took counsel together.
Wherefore came she hither to Belsaye and sent speedy messengers to Sir
Jocelyn of Alain and others of her greatest lords and knights, bidding
them come down with all their powers--nay, why shake ye gloomy head,
fond boy? Body o' me, Beltane, I tell thee this--to-day she--"
"To-day," sighed Beltane, frowning, "to-day she spurneth me! Kneeling
at her feet e'en as I was she shrank away as I had leprous been!"
"Aye, lad, and then--didst woo as well as kneel to her, didst clasp her
to thee, lift her proud head that needs must she give to thine her
eyes--she is in sooth very woman--did you this, my Beltane?"
"Ah, dear Benedict, she that I love was not wont to shrink from me
thus! 'Tis true I am unworthy--and yet, she spurned me--so is her love
"So art thou but youth, and foolish youth, and belike, foolish, hungry
youth--so come, let us break our fast together."
"Not I, Benedict, for if love be dead, no mind have I to food."
"O lad--lad!" sighed Sir Benedict, "would I had one as fair and noble
to love me in such sort!" And turning, he gazed sad-eyed towards
Belsaye's great minster, and sighing, went his way.
And presently, as Beltane leaned thus, grieving and alone, cometh Giles
that way, who, pausing beside him, peered down where the besiegers, but
ill-sheltered by battered mantlet and palisades, strove amain to bring
up one of their rams, since the causeway across the moat was well-nigh
"Holy saints!" quoth Giles, "the rogues grow bold and venturesome,
methinks!" So saying, he strung his powerful bow, and laying arrows to
his hand fell to drawing and loosing amain. So swift shot he and with
aim so true, that in a while the enemy gave over their attempt and
betook them to cover what time their archers and cross-bowmen plied the
wall with a storm of shafts and bolts.
Upon this Giles, laying by his bow, seated himself in corner well
screened from harm, beckoning Beltane to do the like, since the enemy's
missiles whizzed and whistled perilously near. But sighing, Beltane
closed his vizor and heedless of flying bolt and arrow strode to the
narrow stair that led up to the gate-tower and being come there sat him
down beside the great mangonel. But lo! very soon Giles was there also
and even as Beltane sighed, so sighed Giles.
"Heigho--a sorry world, brother!" quoth he, "a sorry world!" and
forthwith fell to his archery, yet now, though his aim was true as
ever, he sighed and murmured plaintively 'twixt every shot: "Alack, a
sorry world!" So deep and oft were his sighs, so plaintive his groans,
that Beltane, though plunged in bitter thought, must needs at length
take heed of him.
"Giles," quoth he, looking up, "a heaven's name, what aileth thee,
"'Tis my eyes, lord."
"Thine eyes are well enough, Giles, and see wondrous well to judge by
"Wondrous well--aye, there it is, tall brother, mine eyes do see
wondrous well, mine eyes do see so much, see you, that they do see
over-much, over-much, aye--too, too much. Alack, 'tis a sorry and
woeful world, brother! beshrew my eyes, I say!"
"And wherefore, Giles?"
"For that these eyes do see what other eyes see not--thine, methinks,
saw nought of a fine, lusty and up-standing fellow in a camlet cloak
within the Reeve's garden this morning, I'll warrant me now? A tall,
shapely rogue, well be-seen, see you, soft-voiced and very debonair?"
"Nay, not I," said Beltane, and sighing he arose and descended to the
battlement above the gates. And presently, behold Giles was there also!
"Brother," quoth he, selecting an arrow with portentous care, "'tis an
ill thing to be cursed with eyes such as mine, I tell thee!"
"Aye, and wherefore, Giles?" said Beltane, yet intent on his own
"For that they do see more than is good for this heart o' mine--as this
fellow in the blue camlet cloak--"
"What fellow, Giles?"
"The buxom fellow that was in the Reeve's garden this morning."
"Why then," quoth Beltane, turning away, "go you not to the Reeve's
All day long Beltane kept the wall, eating not at all, wherefore his
gloom waxed the more profound; so spake he to few men and oft exposed
himself to shaft and missile. And so, all day long, wheresoever he
came, on tower or keep, in corners most remote, there sure was Giles to
come also, sighing amain and with brow of heavy portent, who, so oft as
he met Beltane's gloomy eye, would shake his head in sad yet knowing
fashion. Thus, as evening fell, Beltane finding him at his elbow yet
despondent, betook him to speech at last; quoth he:
"Giles, art thou sick?"
"Aye, lord, by reason of this fellow in the blue camlet--"
"The tall and buxom fellow in the Reeve's garden."
"Ha!" quoth Beltane, frowning. "In the garden, say you--what manner of
man is this?"
"O brother--a shapely man, a comely man--a man of words and cunning
phrases--a man shall sing you sweet and melodious as any bird--why, I
myself can sing no sweeter!"
"Cometh he there often, Giles?"
"Why lord, he cometh and he goeth--I saw him there this morning!"
"What doeth he there?"
"Nay, who shall say--Genevra is wondrous fair, yet so is she that is
Genevra's friend, so do I hope belike 'tis she--"
"Hold thy peace, Giles!"
Now beholding Beltane's fierce eye and how his strong hands clenched
themselves, Giles incontinent moved further off and spake in accents
soft and soothing:
"And yet, tall brother, and yet 'tis belike but some gentle troubadour
that singeth songs to their delectation, and 'tis meet to hark to songs
sweet-sung--at moonrise, lord!"
"And wherefore at moonrise?"
"'Tis at this sweet hour your minstrel singeth best. Aye me, and to-night
there is a moon!" Hereupon Beltane must needs turn to scowl upon
the moon just topping the distant woods. Now as they sat thus, cometh
Roger with bread and meat for his lord's acceptance; but Beltane,
setting it aside, stared on Roger with baleful eye.
"Roger," said he, "wherefore hast avoided me this day?"
"Avoided thee, master--I?"
"And what did you this morning in the Reeve's garden?"
"Master, in this big world are two beings that I do truly love, and
thou art one and the other Sir Fidelis thy right sweet and noble lady--
so is it my joy to serve her when I may, thus daily do I go aid her
with the sick."
"And what of him that singeth; saw you this troubadour within the
"Troubadour?" quoth Roger, staring.
"Why verily," nodded Giles, "my lord meaneth the tall and goodly fellow
in the cloak of blue camlet, Roger."
"Ne'er have I seen one in blue cloak!" said Roger, "and this do I
"None the less," said Beltane, rising, "I will seek him there myself."
"At moonrise, lord?" questioned Giles.
"Aye," said Beltane grimly; "at moonrise!" and scowling he turned away.
"Aha!" quoth Giles, nudging Roger with roguish elbow, "it worketh,
Roger, it worketh!"
"Aye, Giles, it worketh so well that an my master get his hands on this
singing fellow--then woe betide this singing fellow, say I."
TELLETH WHAT BEFELL IN THE REEVE'S GARDEN
The moon was already filling the night with her soft splendour when
Beltane, coming to a certain wall, swung himself up, and, being there,
paused to breathe the sweet perfume of the flowers whose languorous
fragrance wrought in him a yearning deep and passionate, and ever as
love-longing grew, bitterness and anger were forgot. Very still was it
within this sheltered garden, where, fraught by the moon's soft magic,
all things did seem to find them added beauties.
But, even as he paused thus, he heard a step approaching, a man's
tread, quick and light yet assured, and he beheld one shrouded in a
long cloak of blue, a tall figure that hasted through the garden and
vanished behind the tall yew hedge.
Down sprang Beltane fierce-eyed, trampling the tender flowers under
cruel feet, and as he in turn passed behind the hedge the moon
glittered evilly on his dagger blade. Quick and soft of foot went he
until, beholding a faint light amid the leaves, he paused, then hasted
on and thus came to an arbour bowered in eglantine.
She sat at a table where burned a rushlight that glowed among the
splendour of her hair, for her head was bowed above the letter she was
Now as he stood regarding her 'neath frowning brows, she spake, yet
lifted not her shapely head.
"Well, my lord?"
"Helen, where is he that came here but now?"
Slowly she lifted her head, and setting white hands 'neath dimpled
chin, met his frown with eyes of gentleness.
"Nay, first put up thy dagger, my lord."
"Helen," said he again, grim-lipped, "whom dost wait for?"
"Nay, first put up thy dagger, messire."
Frowning he obeyed, and came a pace nearer.
"What do you here with pen and ink-horn?"
"My lord, I write."
"To such as it pleaseth me."
"I pray you--show me."
"Nay, for that doth not please me, messire."
"I pray you, who was he that came hither but now--a tall man in a long
"I saw him not, my lord."
"So needs must I see thy letter."
"Nay, that thou shalt not, my lord," said she, and rose to her stately
"Aye, but I shall!" quoth Beltane softly, and came a pace yet nearer.
Now because of the grim and masterful look of him, her heart fell
a-fluttering, yet she fronted him scornful-eyed, and curled her red lip
"Messire," said she, "methinks you do forget I am the--"
"I remember thou art woman and thy name--Helen!"
Now at this laughed she softly and thereafter falleth to singing very
sweet and blithe and merry withal.
"The letter!" said he, "give me thy letter!"
Hereupon she took up the letter, and, yet singing, crumpled it up
within white fingers.
Then Beltane set by the table and reaching out sudden arms, caught her
up 'neath waist and knee, and lifting her high, crushed her upon his
"Helen!" said he, low-voiced and fierce, "mine art thou as I am thine,
forever, 'twas so we plighted our troth within the green. Now for thy
beauty I do greatly love thee, but for thy sweet soul and purity of
heart I do reverence and worship thee--but an thou slay my reverent
worship then this night shalt thou die and I with thee--for mine art
thou and shalt be mine forever. Give me thy letter!"
But now her eyes quailed 'neath his, her white lids drooped, and
sighing, she spake small-voiced:
"O my lord, thine arms are so--so tyrannous that I do fear thee--
almost! And how may a poor maid, so crushed and helpless thus, gainsay
thee? So prithee, O prithee take my poor letter an thou wilt ravish it
from one so defenceless--O beseech thee, take it!"
So she gave the crumpled parchment into his hand, yet while he read it,
nestled closer in his arms and hid her face against him; for what he
read was this:
"Beloved, art thou angered, or sorrowful, or humble in thy foolish
jealousy? If angered, then must I woo thee. If sorrowful, cherish thee.
But being Beltane, needs must I love thee ever--so write I this,
bidding thee come, my Beltane the Smith, for I--"
The crumpled letter fell to the ground.
"Helen!" he whispered, "Beloved, I am all of this, so do I need thy
comfort, thy cherishing, and all thy dear love--turn thy head--O Helen,
how red is thy sweet mouth!" Then stooped he, and so they kissed each
other, such kisses as they ne'er had known, until she sighed and
trembled and lay all breathless in his arms.
"O my lord," she whispered, "have mercy, I pray! Dear Beltane, loose me
for I--I have much to tell thee."
And because of her pleading eyes he loosed her, and she, sinking upon
the bench, leaned there all flushed and tremulous, and looking on him,
sighed, and sighing, put up her hands and hid her face from his regard.
"Beltane," she whispered, "how wondrous a thing is this our love, so
great and fierce it frighteth me--see how I tremble!" and she held out
to him her hands.
Then came he and knelt before her, and kissed those slender fingers
"Dear hands of Fidelis," said he, "but for their tender skill and
gentle care I had not lived to know this night--O brave, small hands
"Poor Fidelis!" she sighed, "but indeed it wrung my heart to see thy
woeful face when I did tell thee Fidelis was lost to thee--Nay,
Beltane, stay--O prithee let me speak--"
Quoth Beltane 'twixt his kisses:
"Wherefore wert so cold and strange to me but yesterday?"
"Dear my heart," she murmured, "I needs must make thee suffer a little--
just a very little, for that I had known so much of pain and heartache
because of thee. But I was glad to see thee bear the wallet of poor
Fidelis--and O, 'twas foolish in thee to grieve for him, for he being
gone, thy Helen doth remain--unless, forsooth, thou had rather I came
to thee bedight again in steel--that did so chafe me, Beltane--indeed,
my tender skin did suffer much on thy account--"
"Then soon with my kisses will I seek--" But a cool, soft hand schooled
his hot lips to silence and the while he kissed those sweet arresting
fingers, she spake 'twixt smiling lips: "Prithee where is my shoe that
was Genevra's? Indeed, 'twas hard matter to slip it off for thee,
Beltane, for Genevra's foot is something smaller than mine--a very
little! Nay, crush me not, messire, but tell me, what of him ye came
hither seeking--the man in the long cloak--what of him?"
"Nought!" answered Beltane, "the world to-night doth hold but thee and
"Aye, my Beltane, as when sick of thy wound within the little cave I
nursed thee, all unknown. O love, in all thy sickness I was with thee,
to care for thee. Teaching good Roger to tend thee and--to drug thee to
gentle sleep that I might hold thee to me in the dark and--kiss thy
"Ah!" he sighed, "and methought 'twas but a dream! O Helen, sure none
ever loved as we?"
"Nay, 'twere thing impossible, Beltane."
"And thou art truly mine?"
"Beltane--thou dost know this! Ah, love--what would you?" For of a
sudden his mighty arms were close about her, and rising, he lifted her
upon his breast. "What would'st do with me, Beltane?"
"Do?" quoth he, "do? This night, this very hour thou shalt wed me--"
"Nay, dear my lord--bethink thee--"
"It hath been my thought--my dearest dream since first I saw thee
within the woods at Mortain--so now shalt wed me--"
"Shalt wed me!"
"Nay, love, I--I--thou art so sudden!"
"Aye, within this hour shalt call me 'husband'!"
"Wilt force me, my lord?"
"Aye, verily," said Beltane, "as God sees me, I will!"
"Why then," she sighed, "how may I gainsay thee!" and she hid her face
against him once more. But, as he turned to leave the arbour, she
"I prithee, now, whither dost take me, Beltane?"
"To the minster--anywhere, so that I find good Friar Martin."
"Nay, prithee, Beltane, prithee set me down!"
"What would'st, my Helen?"
"Loose me and shalt see."
So Beltane, sighing, let her go, whereupon she took a small silver
whistle that hung at her girdle and sounded it.
"Ah--what do you?" he questioned.
"Wait!" said she, roguish-eyed.
And in a while came the sound of steps from the outer garden, and
looking thither, Beltane beheld a tall man in cloak of blue camlet, and
when this man drew near, behold! it was Giles.
"Giles!" quoth he, "thou wily rogue--"
"Giles," spake the Duchess softly, "I pray you let them come!"
Then Giles bowed him low, and smiling, hasted joyously away.
"Beltane, dear my lord," said the Duchess a little breathlessly,
"because thou art true man and thy love is a noble love, I did lure
thee hither to-night that I might give myself to thee in God's holy
sight--an so it be thy will, my lord. O Beltane, yonder Giles and Roger
do bring--Friar Martin to make me--thy wife--wherefore I do grow
something fearful. 'Tis foolish in me to fear thee and yet--I do--a
little, Beltane!" So saying, she looked on him with eyes full sweet
and troubled, wherefore he would have kissed her, but steps drew nigh
and lo! without the arbour stood the white friar with Giles and Roger
in the shadows behind.
Now came Beltane and took the friar's hand.
"Holy father," said he, "O good Friar Martin, though I am but what I
am, yet hath this sweet and noble lady raised me up to be what I have
dreamed to be. To-night, into my care she giveth her sweet body and
fair fame, of which God make me worthy."
"Sweet children," spake the friar, "this world is oft-times a hard and
cruel world, but God is a gentle God and merciful, wherefore as he hath
given to man the blessed sun and the sweet and tender flowers, so hath
he given him love. And when two there be who love with soul as well as
body, with mind as well as heart, then methinks for them this world may
be a paradise. And, my children, because I do love thee for thy sweet
lives and noble works, so do I joy now to bind ye one to another."
Then hand in hand, the Duchess and my Beltane knelt together, and
because he had no ring, needs must she give to him one of hers; so were
As one that dreamed, Beltane knelt there murmuring the responses, and
thus knelt he so long that he started to feel a soft touch upon his
cheek, and looking up, behold! they were alone.
"Dost dream, my lord?" she questioned, tender-voiced.
"Aye, verily," he answered, "of the wonder of our love and thee,
beloved, as I did see thee first within the thicket at Mortain,
beautiful as now, though then was thy glorious hair unbound. I dream of
thine eyes beneath thy nun's veil when I did bear thee in my arms from
Thornaby--but most do I dream of thee as Fidelis, and the clasp of thy
dear arms within the dark."
"But thou didst leave me in Mortain thicket despite my hair, Beltane!
And thou didst tell me mine eyes were not--a nun's eyes, Beltane--"
"Wherefore this night do I thank God!" said he, drawing her close
beside him on the bench.
"And for my arms, Beltane, thou didst think them man's arms--because
they went bedight in mail, forsooth!"
"So this night shall they go bedight in kisses of my mouth! loose me
this sleeve, I pray--"
"Nay, Beltane,--I do beseech thee--"
"Art not my wife?"
"Aye, my lord."
"Then loose me thy sleeve, Helen."
So blushing, trembling, needs must she obey and yield her soft arms to
his caresses and hide her face because of their round, white nakedness.
But in a while she spake, low and very humble.
"Dear my lord, the moon doth set already, methinks!"
"Aye, but there is no cloud to dim her glory to-night, Helen!"
"But the hour waxeth--very late, my lord and I--must away."
"Aye, beloved, let us go."
"Nay my lord, I--O dear Beltane--"
"Wife!" said he, "dear my love and wife, have I not waited long
Hand in hand they walked amid the flowers with eyes only for each other
until came they to a stair and up the stair to a chamber, rich with
silk and arras and sweet with spicy odours, a chamber dim-lighted by a
silver lamp pendent from carven roof-beam, whose soft glow filled the
place with shadow. Yet even in this tender dimness, or because of it,
her colour ebbed and flowed, her breath came apace and she stood before
him voiceless and very still save for the sweet tumult of her bosom.
Then Beltane loosed off his sword and laid it upon the silken couch,
but perceiving how she trembled, he set his arm about her and drew her
to the open lattice where the moon made a pool of glory at their feet.
"Dost fear me, Helen?"
"Nay, my lord, I--think not."
"Then wherefore dost tremble?"
"Ah, Beltane, thou methinks dost--tremble also?"
Then Beltane knelt him at her feet and looked upon her loveliness with
yearning eyes, yet touched her not:
"O beloved maid!" said he, "this is, methinks, because of thy sweet
virgin eyes! For I do so love thee, Helen, that, an it be thy will,
e'en now will I leave thee until thy heart doth call me!"
Now stooped she and set her white arms about him and her soft cheek to
his hot brow.
"Dear my lord and--husband," she whispered, "'tis for this so sweet
tenderness in thee that I do love thee best, methinks!"
"And fear me no more?"
"Aye, my lord, I do fear thee when--when thou dost look on me so, but--
when thou dost look on me so--'tis then I do love thee most, my
Up to his feet sprang Beltane and caught her to him, breast to breast
and lip to lip.
The great sword clattered to the floor; but now, even as she sank in
his embrace, she held him off to stare with eyes of sudden terror as,
upon the stilly night broke a thunderous rumble, a shock, and
thereafter sudden roar and outcry from afar, that swelled to a wild
hubbub of distant voices and cries, lost, all at once, in the raving
clamour of the tocsin.
Locked thus within each other's arms, eye questioned eye, while ever
the bell beat out its fierce alarm. And presently, within the garden
below, was the sound of running feet and, coming to the casement,
Beltane beheld a light that hovered to and fro, growing ever nearer and
brighter, until he saw that he who bore it was Black Roger; and Roger's
face shone with sweat and his breath laboured with his running.
"Master!" he panted, "O master--a mine! a mine! They have breached the
wall beside the gate--hark, where they storm the city! Come, master, O
come ere it be too late!"
Now Beltane clenched his fists and scowled on pale-faced Roger and from
him to the radiant sky, yet when he spake his voice was low and even:
"I thank thee, faithful Roger! Go you and summon such of our foresters
as ye may, muster them in the market-square, there will I come to
Now when Roger's flickering light had vanished he turned, and found
Helen close beside him; her cheeks were pale, but in her hand she held
"'Tis well thou wert not all unarmed, my lord!" she sighed, and
forthwith belted the weapon about him. "Kneel down, I prithee, that I
may lace for thee thy hood of mail." And when it was done she knelt
also, and taking his hand pressed it to her throbbing heart, and
holding him thus fell to prayer:
"O God of mercy, have in care those that fight in our defence this
night, in especial guard and shield this man of mine that I do love
beyond all men--O God of mercy, hear us!"
So they arose, and as he looked on her so looked she on him, and of a
sudden clasped him in close and passionate embrace:
"Beltane--Beltane!" she sobbed, "God knoweth I do so love thee that thy
dear flesh is mine, methinks, and the steel that woundeth thee shall
hurt me also. And--O love--an thou should'st die to-night, then surely
will this heart of mine die with thee--no man shall have my love other
than thou--so to my grave will I go thy virgin wife for thy dear sake.
Fare thee well Beltane, O dear my husband, fare thee well. Tarry no
longer, lest I pray thee on my knees to go not to the battle."
So Beltane kissed her once and went forth of the chamber, looking not
back. She heard the ring of his armour a-down the stair, the quick
tread of his feet, and leaning from the casement watched him go; and
he, knowing her there, looked not up, but with teeth hard shut and iron
hands clenched, strode fast upon his way.
And now, since he looked not up, it seemed to her she was out of his
thoughts already, for his face was stern and set, and in his eyes was
the fierce light of battle.
And she, kneeling alone in the failing glory of the moon, hid her face
within yearning, desolate arms and wept long and bitterly.
FRIAR MARTIN'S DYING PROPHECY
Now as Beltane hasted along he heard the tread of mailed feet, and
looking round beheld the white friar, and 'neath his white frock mail
gleamed, while in his hand he grasped a heavy sword. Close on his heels
came many men, old men these for the most part, grey of beard and white
of head, and their armour, even as they, was ancient and rusty; but the
faces that stared from casque and mail-hood were grim and sorrow-lined,
stern faces and purposeful, and the eyes that gleamed 'neath shaggy
brows ere now had looked on sons and brothers done to death by fire and
gallows, and wives and daughters shamed and ravished. And ever as they
came Friar Martin smote, sword in hand, on door and shuttered window,
and cried hoarse and loud:
"Ye men of Belsaye--fathers and husbands, arm ye, arm ye! Ye greybeards
that have seen Duke Ivo's mercy, arm ye! Your foes be in, to burn, to
loot again and ravish! O ye husbands and fathers, arise, arise--arm,
arm and follow me to smite for wife and children!"
So cried the tall white friar, pallid of cheek but dauntless of eye,
and ever as he cried, smote he upon door and shutter with his sword,
and ever his company grew.
Within the square was Roger, hoarse-voiced, with Beltane's battered
war-helm on a pike whereto the foresters mustered--hardy and brown-faced
men, fitting on bascinet and buckling belt, yet very quiet and
orderly. And beside Roger, Ulf the Mighty leaned him upon his axe, and
in the ranks despite their bandages stood Orson the Tall and Jenkyn o'
the Ford, even yet in wordy disputation.
"How many muster ye, Roger?"
"One hundred and nine, master."
"And where is Walkyn--where Giles?"
"With Sir Benedict, hard by the gate, master. My lord, come take thy
helm--come take it, master, 'twill be a close and bitter fight--and
thou art no longer thine own man--bethink thee of thy sweet wife, Sir
So Beltane did on the great casque and even now came Sir Brian beside
whom Sir Hacon limped, yet with sword bloody.
"Ha, my lord," he cried, "mine eyes do joy to see thee and these goodly
fellows--'tis hard and fierce business where Benedict and his pikes do
hold the gate--"
"Aye, forsooth," quoth Sir Brian, "they press their attack amain, for
one that falleth, two do fill his place."
"Verily, and what fighting man could ask more of any foe? And we be
fighting men, praise be to Saint Cuthbert--"
"Aye," quoth Roger, crossing himself, "Saint Cuthbert be our aid this
Forthwith Beltane formed his column and with Ulf and Roger beside him
marched from the square. By narrow streets went they, 'neath dim-lighted
casements where pale faces looked down to pray heaven's aid on
So came they where torch and lanthorn smoked and gleamed, by whose
fitful light they beheld a barricade, rough and hastily contrived,
whence Sir Benedict fought and Walkyn smote, with divers of their stout
company and lusty fellows from the town. Above, upon the great flanking
tower of the gate, was Giles with many archers who plied their whizzing
shafts amain where, 'twixt outer and inner wall, the assailants sought
to storm the barricade; but the place was narrow, and moreover, beyond
the breach stout Eric, backed by his fierce townsmen, fought in
desperate battle: thus, though the besiegers' ranks were constantly
swelled by way of the breach, yet in that confined space their very
numbers hampered them, while from sheltered wall and gate-tower Giles
and his archers showered them with whistling shafts very fast and
furious; so in that narrow place death was rife and in the fitful
torch-glare was a sea of tossing steel and faces fierce and wild, and
ever the clamour grew, shouts and screams and cries dreadful to be
Now as Beltane stood to watch this, grim-lipped, for it needed but few
to man the barricade, so narrow was it, Roger caught his arm and
pointed to the housetops above them; and what he saw, others saw also,
and a cry went up of wonder and amaze. For, high upon the roof, his
mail agleam, his white robe whiter in the torch-glare, stood Friar
Martin, while crouched behind him to left and right were many men in
ancient and rusty armour, men grey-bearded and white of head, at sight
of whom the roar of battle died down from sheer amaze until all men
might hear the friar's words:
"Come, ye men of Belsaye!" he cried, "all ye that do love wife or
daughter or little child--all ye that would maintain them innocent and
As he ended, his sword flashed, and, even as he sprang, so sprang all
those behind him--down, down they leapt upon the close-ranked foemen
below, so swift, so sudden and unexpected, that ere they could be met
with pike or sword the thing was done. And now from that narrow way,
dim-lit by lanthorn and torch-glare, there rose a sound more awful to
hear than roar of battle, a hoarse and vicious sound like to the
worrying snarl of many great and fierce hounds.
With ancient swords, with axe and dagger and fierce-rending teeth they
fought, those fathers of Belsaye; thick and fast they fell, yet never
alone, while ever they raved on, a company of madmen, behind the
friar's white robe. Back and back the besiegers reeled before that
raging fury--twice the white friar was smitten down yet twice he arose,
smiting the fiercer, wherefore, because of his religious habit, the
deathly pallor of his sunken cheek and the glare of his eyes, panic
came, and all men shrank from the red sweep of his sword.
Then Sir Benedict sounded his horn, and sword in hand leapt over the
barricade, and behind him Beltane with Roger and Ulf and Walkyn and
their serried pikemen, while Sir Brian and Sir Hacon limped in their
"The breach!" cried Sir Benedict, "seize we now the breach!"
"The breach! The breach!" roared a hundred voices. And now within the
gloom steel rasped steel, groping hands seized and griped with
merciless fingers; figures, dim-seen, sank smitten, groaning beneath
the press. But on they fought, slipping and stumbling, hewing and
thrusting, up and up over ruined masonry, over forms that groaned
beneath cruel feet--on and ever on until within the narrow breach
Beltane's long sword darted and thrust and Ulf's axe whirled and fell,
while hard by Walkyn's hoarse shout went up in roaring triumph.
So within this narrow gap, where shapeless things stirred and whimpered
in the dark, Beltane leaned breathless upon his sword and looked down
upon the watch-fires of Duke Ivo's great camp. But, even as he gazed,
these fires were blotted out where dark figures mounted fresh to the
assault, and once again sword and axes fell to their dire work.
And ever as he fought Beltane bethought him of her whose pure lips
voiced prayers for him, and his mighty arm grew mightier yet, and he
smote and thrust untiring, while Walkyn raged upon his left, roaring
amain for Red Pertolepe, and Ulf the strong saved his breath to ply his
axe the faster.
Now presently as they fought thus, because the breach was grown very
slippery, Beltane tripped and fell, but in that instant two lusty
mailed legs bestrode him, and from the dimness above Roger's voice
"Get thee back, master--I pray thee get back and take thy rest awhile,
my arm is fresh and my steel scarce blooded, so get thee to thy rest--
moreover thou art a notch, lord--another accursed notch from my belt!"
Wherefore Beltane presently crept down from the breach and thus beheld
many men who laboured amain beneath Sir Benedict's watchful eye to
build a defence work very high and strong where they might command the
breach. And as Beltane sat thus, finding himself very spent and weary,
cometh Giles beside him.
"Lord," said he, leaning him on his bow, "the attack doth languish,
methinks, wherefore I do praise the good God, for had they won the
town--ah, when I do think on--her--she that is so pure and sweet--and
Ivo's base soldiery--O sweet Jesu!" and Giles shivered.
"Forsooth, thou didst see fair Belsaye sacked--five years agone,
"Aye, God forgive me master, for I--I--O, God forgive me!"
"Thou once did show me a goodly chain, I mind me, Giles."
"Aye, but I lost it--I lost it, master!" he cried eagerly, "O verily I
did lose it, so did it avail me nothing."
"Moreover, Giles, thou didst with knowing laugh, vaunt that the women
of Belsaye town were marvellous fair--and methinks didst speak truly,
Now at this Giles bowed his head and turning him about, went heavily
upon his way. Then, sighing, Beltane arose and came where stood Sir
Benedict who forthwith hailed him blithely:
"Can we but hold them until the dawn, Beltane--and mark me, we can,
here is a work shall make us strong 'gainst all attacks," and he
pointed to the growing barricade. "But what of our noble Friar Martin?
But for him, Beltane, but for him and his ancient company we had been
hard put to it, lad. Ha, 'neath that white gown is saint and friar,
and, what is better--a man! Now God be praised, yonder cometh the dawn
at last! Though forsooth this hath been a sorry wedding-night for thee,
dear lad--and for her, sweet maid--"
"Thou dost know then, Benedict?"
"Think ye not good Roger hasted to tell me, knowing thy joy is my joy--
ha! list ye to those blessed joy-bells! glory be to God, there doth
trusty Eric tell us he hath made an end of such as stormed the breach.
But who cometh here? And by this hand, in tears!"
Already in the east was a roseate glory by whose soft light Beltane
beheld Tall Orson, who grasped a bloody sword in one hand and wiped
away his tears with the other. He, perceiving Beltane and Sir Benedict,
limped to them forthwith and spake, albeit hoarse and brokenly.
"Lords, I do be bid hither to bring ye where he lieth a-dying--the
noblest as do be in this world alive--his white robe all bloodied,
lords, yet his face do be an angel's face!"
"Ah," sighed Beltane rising, "is it the noble Friar Martin, Orson?"
"Aye, lord, it do be he--as blessed me wi' his poor hand as do be so
faint and feeble."
So saying, Orson brought them to a house beside the wall, wherein, upon
a pallet, the white friar lay with Jenkyn beside him, and the
white-haired Reeve and many other of the sturdy townsfolk about him.
Now came Beltane to kneel beside the friar, who, opening swooning eyes,
smiled and spake faint-voiced:
"My lord Beltane--noble son, my work on earth is ended, methinks--so
doth God call me hence--and I do go right gladly. These dying eyes grow
dim--but with the deathless eyes of the soul I do see many things most
plainly--so, dear and valiant children, hear ye this! The woes of
Belsaye are past and done--behold, thy deliverance is at hand! I see
one that rideth from the north--and this I give thee for a sign--he is
tall, this man, bedight in sable armour and mounted upon a great white
horse. And behind him marcheth a mighty following--the woods be bright
with the gleam of armour! O ye valiant men--O children of Belsaye that
I have loved so well, let now your hearts be glad! O Belsaye town, thy
shames and sorrows be passed away forever. I see thee through the years
a rich city and a happy, thy gates ever open to the woeful and
distressed! Rejoice, rejoice--thy sorrows are past and done--even as
mine. Ah, list--list ye to those bells! Hear ye not their joyful
But indeed, silence had fallen upon Belsaye, and no sound brake the
quiet save the distant hum and stir of conflict upon the broken wall.
Nevertheless the friar's dying face waxed bright with a wondrous
"O blessed--blessed sound!" he whispered. Of a sudden he rose up from
his pillow with radiant eyes uplifted, and stretched up arms in eager
"Sweet Jesu!" he whispered. Slowly his arms sank, the thin hands strove
to fold themselves--fell apart, and, sighing rapturously, Friar Martin
sank back upon his pillows like one that is weary, and, with the sigh,
was dead. And lo! in that same moment, from tower and belfry near and
far, rose a sudden wild and gladsome clamour of bells ringing out peal
on peal of rapturous joy, insomuch that those who knelt beside that
couch of death lifted bowed heads--eye questioning eye in a wonder
And now, all at once was the ring and tramp of mailed feet coming
swiftly, and in the doorway stood Roger, his riven mail befouled with
"Lords!" he panted, "rejoice--rejoice! our woes and sorrows be past and
done--hark ye to the bells! Our deliverance cometh from the north--you
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